Danny, Carl and the Triumph of Techne

When did we trade knowledge for applied knowledge?

That question is prompted by a post on Chenected, a site for chemical engineers. The writer gives a cursory review of Daniel Goleman’s ideas about emotional intelligence, evidently prompted by his response to an earlier post.  Between the two posts my head is spinning.

Maybe that’s a function of world view. Both the posters have a connection to engineering and if not business school then the business press. I come from a different angle. Commerce, I’d argue, is as old as civilization so maybe what we’ve achieved in these modern times is the complication of something that arises pretty naturally from the growth of society. Yes, I know, there are issues of scale and complexity and maximizing value and if that string of syllables doesn’t make my point maybe this will: Henry Ford, Thomas Edison and even Bill Gates never finished college, two of them never even finished high school.

Here’s a corollary belief that stems from commerce being social in origin: 95% of business is psychology, by which I mean understanding individual and social psychology. Note my verb of choice, to understand.  I intentionally did not say apply and both the posters are in the business of applying.

This is a split that goes back to the ancient Greeks where epistime and techne duked it out. I don’t think epistimologists are against technology. I do think many technologists lack an appreciation of epistemological truths. Which brings me back to the posts that caught my eye.

I’m not quite sure that applying oneself to online assessment tools and Cliff Notes-like recaps of books is really going to help anyone understand anything beyond the recap and the online tools. People will, when they haven’t spent the time reading Goleman, and reading the footnotes, and reading the underlying papers and the critical responses, default to analogy.

The editors took that approach in shaping Goleman’s Book: Emotional intelligence is important. Intelligence is important. Intelligence has a measure, IQ. Ergo so does emotional intelligence, EQ. Anyone buying that malarkey ought to read The Mismeasure of Man by Steven Jay Gould just to gain some familiarity with what tortured logic applies when you attempt to apply mathematics to human qualities such as intelligence.

I know this sounds critical. I actually read the Goleman book when it first came out and thought it was unbelievably valuable. And while I still think that after rereading it and dwelling on the issue in all honesty Goleman is really just saying the same thing as Kant, Jesus and the guy who wrote Everything I Need to Know I learned in Kindergarten. Because what it boils down to is considering how your actions may affect someone else.

It’s not a program to be mastered or a score to be maximized or a  tool for climbing the corporate ladder. It’s just a simple truth which is never as sexy as a groundbreaking work that redefines being smart.  So let’s just take Dan Goleman’s lesson for the important reminder that it is.

And whither Carl? Well, in the post that launched the EQ challenge the Myers Brigg Type Inventory is listed. Nary a word is mentioned of my old friend Carl Gustav Jung even though MBTI is ostensibly rooted in his work. The bit on the post about MBTI positions it as a tool for making teams and schools work better based on individual ratings on 4 questions. What a neat and useful tool, right? Well, no. That’s not how Jungian psychology works and it’s  not even how MBTI works although might be how it’s sold.

Consider that in the post that the concept of introversion versus extroversion is clarified by the question “What do you prefer?” The terms actually represent the poles of a dimension and everyone scales somewhere in between. It’s not about preference it’s about one’s constitution and whether one draws energy or is drained by engaging with other people.

When you read the Myers Briggs literature there are all sorts of cautions about not labeling people because they are different from you. But there are those 16 different types and the nifty letter combinations and the temptation is just too great. Watch an ESTJ wield 4-letter combinations like a battle axe and you’ll see the danger.

What’s hopeful in all this are the perhaps unintentional juxtapositions that work. MBTI comes right below astrology and that would have amused Jung no end. He had a love of pre-modern explanatory systems that I just don’t get. Even serving as an entree into EQ oddly makes sense. Jungian thinking, in fact, dovetails nicely with EQ if only because the argument isn’t that everyone is one of 16 types but that everyone is different and has to be understood as an individual.

As with so many valuable concepts based on insights about individuals both of these have been transformed into something meant “to benefit the organization.” I think that’s the natural outcome of applying concepts meant for an individual’ s growth and understanding to an organization’s ends. We should not draw the erroneous conclusion that the individual and the organization share the same ends or benefit in the same way from achieving them.

In many ways this approach takes us to  the same place we were 60 years ago. Back then RD Lang and company came to warn us that putting the unit above the individual raised questions about the morality of that approach that were not being addressed. I think that warning remains valid today.

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2 thoughts on “Danny, Carl and the Triumph of Techne

  1. Thanks for your extended thoughts on the posts on ChEnected. I’m sure the posters will appreciate hearing a perspective from someone presumably from outside the engineering profession.

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