Why The Future of Humanity Depends On Organisational Psychotherapy

Why The Future of Humanity Depends On Organisational Psychotherapy


The future of work is collaborative knowledge work. Most, if not all, brawn (pink muscle) will be supplied by machines, robots and other mechanical automation, augmented by software to control the mechanical parts.

Increasingly, software will also subsume the work of individual specialists, experts and other single knowledge workers.

Only collaborative knowledge work – non-repetitive brain (grey muscle) work done by groups or teams of people – remains the domain of the human. Even this may be subsumed by software in time, but that day yet remains at least a good few decades off.

Software development itself is an example of such collaborative knowledge work.

And if collaborative knowledge work is the future of work, then it’s no stretch to say that the future of Humanity depends on collaborative knowledge work. Both for the employment – in the broadest sense – it provides, and for its outputs (innovation and advancements – e.g. technological, scientific, medical and social).

Yet we as a species are woefully ill-prepared to tackle the challenges of effective collaborative knowledge work. Our education system prepares us but poorly. Our institutions and structures are ill-suited. And our present collective mindsets – predominantly rooted in Theory-X and the Myth of Redemptive Violence as they are – oppose effective collaborative knowledge work at every turn. Only our innate capabilities as highly social animals offer any positive hope. Yet it often seems we do everything we can, especially in business and other forms or organisations, to suppress those innate capabilities and to deny our nature as emotional, social beings.

When will we embrace the challenges of effective collaborative knowledge work? What disciplines might help us in that? I suggest anthropology, sociology, psychiatry, psychology, philosophy, group dynamics, and neuroscience each have a role to play. But above all, I see therapy as the key discipline. In particular, group – or organisational – therapy. And dealing as it does with the collective psyche, I prefer to call it Organisational Psychotherapy.

If you know of any other discipline as suited to tackling the challenges of effective collaborative knowledge work as Organisational Psychotherapy, I’d love to hear about it. Until then, my money’s on Org. Psych..

– Bob

  1. Paul Beckford said:

    “And if collaborative knowledge work is the future of work, ..”

    Yes thats a big IF… I’m not so sure that it is. If you look globally at the countries that are growing the fastest at the moment then you’ll see that they are very much still into “grey muscle”. Countries that build stuff like China, South Korea, Germany, India, etc are doing very well. In contrast, with the loss of well paid industrial jobs, our economies in the West (most of Europe and the US) are floundering.

    It makes sense because people will always *need* things: food, shelter, clothing, transportation etc. In contrast, it is still very unclear how big a role raw information will provide in our futures. Who needs all this information anyway, and why?

    Also… are people any more collaborative today then they ever were? I’m not sure that they are.

    We are living in interesting times, and things are changing rapidly for sure, but were we’ll end up may turn out to be a very different place from what we now think. The global economic facts over the last 10 years or so are definitely at odds with the rhetoric.


    • “People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it.”
      ~ George Bernard Shaw

  2. Paul Beckford said:

    “Cannot be done” is a bit definitive 🙂

    I’m not as definitive as that. I’m questioning your rational and contrasting it with the objective facts on the ground.

    Interested in your thoughts as always.


    • There’s (some) rationale in my post, at least in the sense of a chain of causation. And I see you offering no objective facts, but subjective options. We all have those. 🙂 And then there’s the questions of “what is a fact, anyway?” and “can humans ever be objective?”. Whilst topics close to my heart, I’m a bit busy to debate them at length just now.

      – Bob

      • Paul Beckford said:

        Ok. Rather then just being critical I should at least offer an alternative analysis…

        I use to think as you do… Knowledge work is the future.. blah, blah.. I then started talking to a Social Psychologist and I now see things differently.

        The facts on the ground I refer to is the shrinking of what Americans call “the middle class”; well paid blue collar workers… Well, those jobs haven’t gone away they have merely moved east to emerging countries like China, and are now un-unionised and less well paid 🙂

        What I think is more useful to think about is not knowledge work, but what has happened to skilled work (skilled blue collar work was always knowledge based, it just wasn’t recognised as such).

        What I see happening are skills moving to the East and once those skills are lost to a region they are lost forever. There has been a lot in the media recently about the loss of steel jobs in the UK which is pertinent to this.

        At the moment we are benefiting from low cost imports, but over time the cost of these imports will rise as the Chinese demand higher wages (as we did in the past). Once this happens we may find that all we have to trade in return are services that the Chinese can readily provide for themselves. China, India etc are just as well equipped as we are in IT, and we would have lost most of our industrial base.

        We are seeing this happening now, with people in the West under employed and/or working in low paid jobs like Walmart and Tesco’s.

        If you go back in history you will see that a similar change happened between the UK and the US in the 19th century, with UK investors choosing to invest in America rather then at home (dawn by the opportunity to maker larger returns), resulting in rapid US industrialisation, and the US becoming a global super power (and of course Britain loosing its Empire). There are many who believe that the same is happening now between the US and China.

        In summary what I am suggesting is that the mechanics of global capitalism hasn’t changed. All that is happening now is that we are seeing new winners and losers. To ease the transition it is useful for those in the West who will benefit from this change to promote a certain rhetoric. I see the much touted rise of “the knowledge economy” as part of this..


  3. Paul Beckford said:

    “I’m much more interested in the perspective of a Social Psychologist. Could you share more of that?”

    Sure, but this blog isn’t really the right place… I can give you a taste though.

    She looked at work very differently then we do… more as a social contract between capital (the owners) and labour (the workers). She sees both sides as have having shared and differing interests. Where their interests differ is important and should be addressed by social policy.

    She was pretty scolding of what she called “Inspirational Leadership”, which was difficult for me to take as an Agile Coach 🙂 She saw it as fundamentally dishonest, because it didn’t recognise legitimate differences in interests between workers and their employers. In contrast she advocated “Contractual Leadership”, where the social contract is placed firmly on the table and is openly and honestly discussed. In this regard she felt that Unions played a useful and legitimate social role.

    Anyway it got me thinking….


  4. Good discussion. I agree with what mentioned that the collaborative work has been around for a long time in history of human relationships. I think we we need to find a way to exercise collaboration in the current changing world context. As it seems to be the answer. If it has worked in the past, it can again when we tweak our thinking and distance ourselves from objectivity (as the current dominant discourse) to the notion of inter-subjectivity and its implementation.

  5. fivebaldwin said:

    Organisational Psych is vitally important to the future of knowledge work. Look back to the roots of management theory (Taylor) as the world transitioned to an industrial age. Those theories and practices are still around. ( predominantly rooted in Theory-X and the Myth of Redemptive Violence). Knowledge work is still emergent in the sense that there has not been a body of theory of its own. Mostly what we have seen is derivative of existing manufacturing theory.

    Org psych is rooted in a fundamental theory of people. The first order concern is not commercial gain but the effectiveness of organisations based on the quality of their internal relationships. Just as there will always be muscle work, we are beginning to see there will always be knowledge work as well, and it will need it own set of rules and theories and practices. Org psych should be a standard.

    • Paul Beckford said:

      Hi (Sorry I don’t know your Christian name?),

      “Knowledge work is still emergent in the sense that there has not been a body of theory of its own. Mostly what we have seen is derivative of existing manufacturing theory.”

      I agree that the intellectual effort required to be effective at work is being acknowledged now more then ever before, but the fact that the nature of work hasn’t changed much isn’t an accident I don’t think.

      I believe it is a result of the unrecognised differences of interest between capital and labour. For example ex GM workers in Detroit who played a large role in creating the auto industry as we know it, clearly have differing interests from the GM shareholders who were happy to offshore their jobs:


      Another example is the huge post war investment US citizens made to IT research. This was mostly paid for by government grants (DARPA and various other “military” related research programs). Private companies like Apple are now the beneficiaries. The lack of a social contract means that companies like Apple feel no obligation to the US tax payer and have off-shored what would otherwise be US jobs.


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