Chester Barnard's lecture on the relative roles of the rational and non rational modes of mind in business was given in 1936. It was reprinted as the Appendix in his highly regarded The Functions of the Executive. Although the main text was well received by the academic community, the lecture received much less attention. Added emphasis appears in red, and my reactions are enclosed in a box: (Note 134)

I have been led to this subject because in my experience in a number of positions in different kinds of work with people of many classes and vocations, I have been impressed with two difficulties especially, both observed in others and experienced personally.

One of these difficulties is that of adjustment to a new kind of work or a new position. I recall that several times when my position was changed, even though I had in advance all the essential knowledge required, it took many months to function adequately and acceptably. A different point of view seemed to call for a rather complete mental readjustment.

The other difficulty is related to the first. It is that of attaining a mutual understanding between persons or groups. Often, where there is extreme difficulty of this character, it is obviously not due to difference in knowledge of facts. Indeed, when there is merely difference in knowledge of facts, it is often comparatively easy to secure mutual understanding.

Of several explanations of these difficulties, each an answer only in part, two have seemed to me of special importance: the difference in mental processes, often reflected and expressed by such phrases as difference in "mental attitude," in "point of view," in "way the mind works" and the wide divergence of opinion, often not realized, as to what constitutes a proper intellectual basis for opinion or deliberate action, that is, what is good evidence, proof, or justification. In other words, a difference in mental processes quite independent of knowledge or experience is at the root of these very important practical difficulties in many cases.

The kind of mental adjustment made in new circumstances and the mental stance taken when trying to reach agreement are direct reflections of how an individual uses their mind. This places differences in thinking style at the heart of business success. I came to believe that a balanced flexible style was the key for personal and organizational navigation through these treacherous waters.

I have found it convenient and significant for practical purposes to consider that these mental processes consist of two groups which I shall call "non-logical" and "logical." These are not scientific classifications, but I shall ask you to keep them in your minds for the present, as I shall use them throughout this lecture. In ordinary experience the two classes of intellectual operations are not clearly separated but meld into each other. By "logical processes" I mean conscious thinking which could be expressed in words, or other symbols, that is, reasoning.

Barnard made the classic distinction between the rational and the intuitive that reverberated down through the ages both East and West in a variety of guises such as Apollo and Dionysus, and Yang and Yin. This reading as a Ph.D. student was my first encounter with the distinctions. It would be another ten years before I studied the left brain right brain literature about these differences.

By "non-logical processes" I mean those not capable of being expressed in words or as reasoning, which are only made known by a judgment, decision or action. This may be because the processes are unconscious, or because they are so complex and so rapid, often approaching the instantaneous, that they could not be analyzed by the person within whose brain they take place. . . .

Since non-logical processes do not lend themselves to exposition, their presence is suggested by outcomes resulting from their exercise. The difficulty in dealing with the non-logical was suggested by the considerable detail Barnard used to clarify what he intended compared to his brief definition of the logical.

A most significant difference in men and in the various types of work that men do lies, in my opinion, in the degree to which actual thinking, that is, reasoning, is used or is required. For example, rigorous logical reasoning is apparently a major characteristic of the work of the mathematician and the exact scientist, and of the lawyer or the accountant in important aspects of his work. On the other hand, reasoning is little evident in some kinds of "high-pressure" trading, in a great deal of salesmanship, in many political activities, in much of the work of business men or executives.

As an academic, my progress depended on logical processes. For this reason, the non-logical atrophied from general disuse and active discouragement in my training and career advancement. My first love was working with students one on one to help them with class work. This non-logical orientation was not compatible with the demands of a research dominated school that measured success by numbers of publications.

The significance of this is obscured by the general belief that reasoning indicates a higher order of intellect than do the non-logical processes underlying quick judgments. In order that you may understand my point of view and get the practical bearing of this lecture, it is necessary that I should first overcome the bias in favor of the thinking processes, and to develop an appreciation of the non-logical processes. The chief causes of the overstressing of logical processes in contrast to the non-logical appear to be two: misconception concerning the nature of logical reasoning, and a deep desire or need to argue and to justify by rationalization; that is, to make action and opinion appear plausible when the real motives are concealed or are unconscious. . . .

The promotion and tenure process rewarded the logical. There was little room for non-logical contributions. In a business school where comparable attention should have been given to both ends of the spectrum, the climate mitigated against the possibility. The inbred intellectual attitude perpetuated the logical dimensions of business education. No wonder so few academics were drawn to Barnard's ideas about the relative roles of the logical and non-logical. It did not fit into the explicit intellectual matrix.

We are, therefore, justified in our distrust of reasoning; but we are also justified in our acclaim of it because we know from experience that it is a useful screen against the errors of non-logical mental processes, or that it is an intermediate stage between idea or hypothesis and test and experience. Its cumulative value to civilization is enormous. . . .

Thus, the real usefulness of genuine logical reasoning, the training in it that goes with education, and the pseudo-logic of rationalization are all causes of the false emphasis on the importance of reasoning. The harm, however, lies in the consequent deprecation of non-logical mental processes more than in the misuse of reason. I shall, therefore, say a few words concerning the intuitions, frequently scorned, and the quick mental processes.

He did not argue to exclude the logical in favor of the non-logical. The former provided a needed check on the claims of over zealous intuitive types. What was needed, given the excessive imbalance on the logical side, was a check on the over zealous rational viewpoint. The number crunching quantitative orientation had taken over the halls of business education.

Non-logical mental processes run all the way from the unreasoning determination not to put the hand in the fire twice, to the handling of a mass of experience or a complex of abstractions in a flash. We could not do any work without this kind of mental process. Some of it is so unexplainable that we call it "intuition." A great deal of it passes under the name of "good judgment." Some of it is called "inspiration" and occasionally it is the "stroke of genius." But most of it is called "sense," "good sense" or "common sense," "judgment" or the "bright idea."

As a practicing executive, Barnard was clear about the indispensable role of the non-logical in the business process. In my academic career, I only found champions for the indispensable role of the logical. Why this would be the case was easy to see. The demand for rigorous conceptualization could not deal with the variety of terms used for non-logical processes.

Despite the constant use of non-logical processes in daily life, they are so unconscious and so much a matter of course that a few concrete illustrations may not be amiss. Take first judgment of distance in golf or for ball throwing. It is a matter of observation that some persons are fast and accurate judges of distance, that frequently the capacity for such judgment increases with practice, and that sometimes the measurement of distance by conscious comparison destroys the capacity for quick judgment. . . .

There are many accountants and business men who can ordinarily take a comparative balance sheet of considerable complexity and within minutes or even seconds get a significant set of facts from it. These facts do not leap from the paper and strike the eye. They lie between the figures in the part filled by the mind out of years of experience and technical knowledge. That is what makes out of a set of figures something to which then reason can usefully be applied. . . .

These examples spoke only to intuition in the small which could be accounted for in terms of education, training and experience. The sports and accounting cases did not allow for a reaching beyond that anticipated a sudden wind shift once the golf ball was in flight or that adjusted for an unexpected antitrust suit in the succeeding quarter.

To be sure, as we all know, the non-logical processes, like the logical processes, are frequently wrong. It should go without saying that both kinds together are much better than either alone if the conditions permit; but when this is not possible, good sense would suggest that if there are various processes available for doing work, one should be selected that is best adapted to it. It seems that this does not occur with sufficient frequency and that it takes a good deal of judgment and experience to do it well.

The more I studied the relative merits of rational versus intuitive styles in personal and professional decision making, the more I believed a flexible balanced style would best serve businesses and their managers in the long run. The key was sensing and applying the logical non-logical mix that was appropriate to each situation. Few business school courses so much as touched on these issues.