The Inherent Conundrum of Operant Behavior
Thoughts, wanderings and questions. Often contradictory, but almost always within the shroud of my world.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

So I had a tiny epiphany today. It was about the dichotomy of the business world. Today was a mandatory meeting for all supervisors and managers across the entire organization. While there are useful bits of information such as the current financials, the bulk of the 3 hour meeting was centered around conflict resolution. You know, all that warm, fuzzy psychobabble that most people agree with, but in practice completely ignore.

Growing up, I always seemed to have these great ideas about business, and was then completely mystified when someone else came up with the same idea and it was touted as "cutting edge". For instance, it just made sense to me that two companies would want to save advertising dollars by combining their product with another companies product in the same ad. It is a win-win, cross merchandising plan. Both companies get their product seen, and reinforced by another product, all for half the cost. The commercial that later aired (about 4-5 years later), combined an airline and hotel chain. See? It just makes sense.

So when I was deciding on a career path while in High School, I thought, "what better way to succeed in business than to pursue psychology?" After all, it really boils down to the understanding and manipulation of people. In my mind, it has always made perfectly logical sense that in many ways, the business world was practical psychology.

But what I was not aware of at the time was that psychology is rarely taken seriously. After all, it is still considered a "Liberal Art", despite nearly every psychology text book opening with the phrase, "Psychology is a science. No really, it is."
Fine, call me manipulated, but Psychology really is a science. But only about 10% of it is. There are hypotheses, theories, and laws. There are experiments that consistenly result in the same outcome. When Pavlov rang that bell, those dogs salivated. Stimulus-Response; Science.
What gets the press however, is the other 90%, "Tell me about your mother" Freudian psycobabble fuzziness. But even in this 90%, I do believe that you can filter out quite a bit of science. It is just really hard. At the root of the problem is the control of the variables. The human organism, in its natural environment simply has too many variables, to clearly identify that consistent causal relationship.

But in this capacity, psychology is also doomed to failure. The closer a researcher gets to being able to predict human nature, then the more capable that researcher is of directly manipulating that behavior. In order to be effective, the manipulation must be done without the subjects knowledge. And that is unethical.

Unethical in the lab. Not business.

Enter the pop-psychologist. These are the used car salesmen of the field, perpetuating the misconceptions that psychology is little more than fuzzy psychobabble. And in quarterly 2 hour sessions you too can learn how to effectively manipulate all those around you to your benefit.

And therein lies my tiny epiphany: In general, businesses tend to reject the notion that psychology is a valuable degree (in relation to business). Instead, corporations choose to spend millions of dollars trying to train their employees through counseling, exercises, retreats and a vast assortment of other en vogue programs, all centering around how to talk and listen to each other.

And that is something that not only makes absolutely no sense to me, it makes no business sense to me either.


About Operant Behavior

Stimulus Response is really about the environment, and how the environment reacts. This envrionment may be as broad as the universe, or as egocentric as a single individual's brain waves.


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