CyborgORG: The Human/Machine Organization

CyborgORG: The Human/Machine Organization

From coal mines to WeWork: learning from the Tavistock Tradition, researching the contemporary workplace — a lunchtime talk by Jack Marmorstein.

At the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations (TIHR) 70th Anniversary Festival last October, I was unexpectedly moved by the thread of care that weaves its way through the TIHR diverse history. From radically new ways to heal the war wounded to research that humanized and democratized the mid-century industrial workplace, the work of the TIHR was driven by a paradoxical humanism, one that holds no illusions about human reason or goodness but that quarrels with the dehumanizing trajectory of the 20th century. This work offered alternatives to the Foucauldian mental hospital and to instrumentalist approaches to extracting maximal value from human labour (e.g. Fordism or Taylorism).  After 70 years, we seem to need these alternatives more urgently than ever.

The question I came away with is this: how do we continue this line of inquiry, given the dynamics of the contemporary, high tech workplace? I began writing about this problem immediately after the Festival on a new blog (CyborgNOW.com). The year-long writing journey has been an opportunity to reflect on my 20-year career in the tech industry, as well as what I’ve learned from Group Relations Conferences and from the Socio-Technical and Systems Psychodynamics theoretical traditions. Engaging with our contemporary moment has required that I work out a framework for what’s different today, as well as adapt the research questions that guided previous generations.

In this lunchtime talk, Jack Marmorstein, President of the A.K. Rice Institute, outlined where he thinks we are, and what he thinks we might learn if we can enter today’s technologically-mediated, distributed, gig-economy workplaces the way previous generations entered the coal mines, mills, factories, and ships. Jack’s focused on his work at a twenty-five year old US technology company, examining some of the peculiar dilemmas facing the rapidly changing organization. He addressed the systemic links between the evolution of the business model, technology platform, development philosophy, labour practices, and valuation. Finally, in the talk, he suggests a framework —inspired by the spirit of early TIHR research — for surfacing (and valuing) the human (and humane) dimensions of workplaces and organizations in a global economy that can be increasingly dehumanizing.

Recording of the talk

Jack Marmorstein is President of the A.K. Rice Institute. His twenty-year career in the tech industry has included roles in Research & Development, Sales & Marketing, and Strategy. He has published scholarly articles, journalism and fiction, and holds seven patents. He is an experienced Group Relations Conference consultant and has graduate degrees in literature and psychology. He lives in Philadelphia and blogs at CyborgNOW.com.

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