A Systems Psychodynamics trilogy, authored by Mannie Sher and David Lawlor

A Systems Psychodynamics trilogy, authored by Mannie Sher and David Lawlor

75-plus years of learning and practice have been distilled into three accessible and highly readable books.

Trilogy, collage by Modern Activity

Dr. Mannie Sher and Dr. David Lawlor have distilled decades of learning and practice into three new books on systems psychodynamics, bringing together theory and practice from 75-plus years of Tavistock Institute work with organisations in an accessible and highly readable format.

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Systems Psychodynamics is a multi-disciplinary paradigm of research and practice born and developed at the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations over seven decades. It draws on psychoanalytic thinking, group relations, and open systems theory, and has integrated further insights from complexity theories, action research, and organisational studies to support the understanding of people and organisations.

Reading Seminars with the authors

Dr Sher and Dr Lawlor draw together the key ideas and theories with the most influential examples of the work in action, interspersed with the voices of those who have contributed and worked with the approach. The books were written for consultants, managers, business and civic leaders, researchers, students, and all who want to understand and address the challenges of being human/change agent in today’s ever-shifting workplaces.

The new books were celebrated at The Tavistock Institute of Human Relations on 3 December with contributions from many of Dr Sher and Dr Lawlor’s co-authors and interviewees.

from l-r — Mannie Sher, David Lawlor, Anton Obholzer, David Armstrong, Eliat Aram, photo by Lucian Hudson

Speakers discussed the foundations of systems psychodynamics, such as understanding how social systems may provide defences against anxiety, and explored the roots and growth of core practices, such as social dreaming. Ex Chief Constable Stephen Otter explained how transformational work has continued in the 6,000 strong police force into which he invited Tavistock consultants 16 years ago, far beyond the two-year long consultants’ intervention.

The utility of the approach for people outside leadership circles was also explored. Early career UX designer Xintong Zou, for example, asked how junior staff in an organisation can engage with systems psychodynamics.

Dr Eliat Aram opened the event on 3 December. Inspired by the current Tate exhibition of the work of painter Philip Guston, Dr Aram said:

“Back in the 60’s Guston was celebrated for his abstract art, but this major retrospective was delayed for several years while the art world argued about whether they should wait until the ‘message of social and racial justice’ at the centre of his work ‘can be more clearly interpreted’.

The issue was his white hooded figures, depicting the KKK in daily activities, an image that the social justice-attuned artist, who was Jewish and involved with leftwing politics, repeated from the early 1930s to his death in 1980.

Guston frequently created work about racism, antisemitism, and fascism and so it was an ironic push back as the systems of racism he was critiquing became weaponised against him under the hegemony of PC (political correctness) cancel culture.

Guston himself said of his Klan images: they are self-portraits… I perceive myself as being behind the hood…well, it could be all of us. We’re all hoods.”

Philip Guston, Flatlands, 1970
Oil on canvas, 177.8 × 290.83 cm, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Gift of Byron R. Meyer © The Estate of Philip Guston

Guston’s message to the world is systemic and psychoanalytic. It reminds us of some fundamentals in Tavistock discourse that Mannie and David have so wonderfully gathered for us in these three volumes:

  • Our responsibility and accountability to the outcomes in the systems of which we are a part.
  • Our obligation as humans to relentlessly seek our moral compass, to face our evil within, and in the words of Hannah Arendt, observe the banality of evil and understand it systemically;
  • Our obligation to learning; to remembering; to forgiving, but not to forgetting.
  • Our commitment to practice and application – or else, what’s the point of a book?

Dr Eliat Aram

Explore the trilogy

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