THE TIM MARSH BLOG: Sigmund Freud and Organizational Psychopathy – SHP


Tim Marsh says Freud’s work around distortion, denial, rationalization and projection (mental gymnastics) is worryingly mature in the corporate world.

Freud’s reputation is mixed. Wasn’t he a bit weird and obsessed with sex? Well, most likely. Indeed, the most famous Freudian slip in the world took place during a lecture on Freud himself when a speaker – less than impressed by the great man – began with: “In discussing the work of this man Fraud”.

But in fact, it has contributed enormously to our understanding of the world. It was his work that first underscored the vital importance of sexuality which, over time, spawned Richard Dawkins’ hugely influential sociobiological work on “selfish genes”. He also emphasized the vital importance of early experience (Show me the child and I’ll show you the adult.) It was also Freud who first emphasized the importance of the subconscious a century before Daniel Kahneman don’t write think fast and slow and David Cameron created his ‘boost unit‘.

The Freudian ideas I discuss here, however, relate to distortion, denial, rationalization, and projection. In short, he was everywhere mental gymnastics – especially of the selfish variety. There are a number of politicians around the world that we could discuss now, of course, but it reminded me of the organizational context viewing the (real) film The Good Nurse, starring Eddie Redmayne as serial killer nurse Charles Cullen.

Despite an increase in emergency events at every hospital where he worked and persistent rumors as to why, no less than eight hospitals, fearing a bad reputation and lawsuits, were happy to simply move Cullen. Typically, on a technical point – he would then just go get a new job at a hospital down the street. Despite evidence that he was killing patients by injecting them with insulin, they fired him, for example, for saying he was in a previous hospital from May when it was actually June – His contract stating very clearly that there can be no mistakes on the application form as pointed out by the team of lawyers and risk managers who walked him straight to the door!

When he was finally arrested, he was convicted of 28 murders, but the actual number is believed to be closer to 400 or more. However, no one from any of the hospitals involved has never been charged, let alone convicted, of a crime or professional misconduct. This despite the fact that each hospital simply made the decision to pass the problem on to the next hospital that employed it. In doing so, they effectively signed the death warrants of up to 390 people.

Lethal corporate mental gymnastics is referenced in a precedent article I’ve written about Boeing’s culture; is evident in films like Dark Water (about DuPont of all) and Erin Brockovich; you’ve heard of the tobacco industry suppressing research data for as long as they can; or the Sackler family and their role in the (legal) drug epidemic that allegedly killed and/or addicted millions of people. A great article on this here.

The list is endless and, in short, this kind of deadly corporate mental gymnastics is everywhere and will only increase in a global recession.

I am often asked to intervene in debates on the future of the security professional. May I suggest that job one will remain a front line fight against soulless bastards who go through all sorts of mental gymnastics to convince themselves that it’s okay to hurt and kill random innocent people for the “greater good” the sustainability of their organization. They point to the “bigger picture” to distract from the real one – often after convincing themselves they are doing no such thing.

But there is an old man with a beard and a sofa from Vienna who could have straightened them out.

NB: Abba’s Money Money Money is very catchy but Bob Dylan (of course) nailed it with a bit more insightful line. A free book for the lyric and the song it comes from.

Read more of Tim Marsh’s blogs here.

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