Module 1 Concepts



The On Becoming Programme draws on a number of different theoretical traditions including: psychodynamics, humanistic psychology, systems thinking, complexity and emergence theory and social construction. Each of these traditions has a vast literature worthy of years of study. The On Becoming Programme is not the place to undertake this task; however a brief overview of the key concepts of each tradition may be helpful as you work in the programme.

Psychodynamics, also known as dynamic psychology, is the study and theory of the psychological forces that underlie human behaviour, emphasizing the interplay between unconscious and conscious drivers, especially as this plays out in relationships and groups. The original concept of psychodynamics was developed by Sigmund Freud, who referred to flows of psychological energy (mental, emotional, motivational, sexual forces) in a complex brain. Psychodynamics, therefore, attempts to explain or interpret behaviour and/or mental states in terms of emotional forces or processes, many of which are current responses to historic (often childhood) development.

Humanistic psychology
Humanistic psychology developed during the 1950s in response to psychoanalysis and behaviourism. Humanistic thinkers viewed these two earlier traditions as focusing too much on the negative and failing to take human choice into account. Those following the humanistic tradition view humans as innately good and capable of personal growth and development towards self-actualisation. Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers are the two thinkers most frequently associated with the Humanistic tradition. Rogers identified warmth, genuineness and unconditional positive regard as the conditions necessary for human growth and development.

Systems theory
Systems theory explores and seeks to understand systems in nature, society, and science, and uses the understanding gained as a framework by which one can investigate and/or describe the behaviour of, amongst other things, groups of people and organisations. A system is composed of interacting individuals or groups of activities, and the theory postulates that to understand the whole one needs to not dissect the individual parts but to understand the interrelations and overall effect. This is different to earlier models that focus on individuals, structures, departments and units in isolation instead of recognizing the interdependence between groups of individuals, structures and processes.

Complexity and emergence
Complexity and emergence theories are extrapolations of system theory in as much as they study the consequences of complex linkages between elements in a system. The difference here is that the emphasis is on understanding the system (be that groups, organisations, or even the weather) as an entity in a constant state of flux or fluid change from which new order emerges. This assumes that development is self-organised as complex agents in the system interact, so change is influenced yes, but not wholly designed nor hierarchically controlled. As a result emphasise is less on identifying the 'perfect solution', and is more on intuition, adaptability, innovation, and learning by trial and error.

Social construction
Social construction is a strand of postmodernism, and purports that, at individual, group or even whole society levels, the concept of 'reality' is built (constructed) in dialogue (socially) through our interactions with others. In essence, 'reality' does not exist but is created in discussion - and so can be recreated in a different form. Social construction links with emergence in organisational settings by understanding that the business is better understood not as an organisation chart of departments but as the sum total of conversations being held within it. If you want to change the organisation, then change the conversations.