|Mind in Everyday Affairs|
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.
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.
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. . . .
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.
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. . . .
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.
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."
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. . . .
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.