Why the Study of Humans is different?

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I have spent over 30 years in the field of HR and involved with Human Process workshops over 20 years. Herein are my reflections on distinctive nature of the function and extended to humans in general.

Unlike most functions, HR does not have a unified coded theory that allows guidance to what one needs to do when influencing and impacting people. It borrows eclectically from many fields: Psychology, Sociology and also from sciences: Maths, Finance (black scholes for ESOP’s) Industrial Engineering, Neuroscience (incentives for manufacturing), etc. It does have a set of rules around compensation benchmarking, and principles around OD designs and learning interventions, but at broad principle levels only.

Not that I am saying, this is a setback. Not at all. It is for this reason that it is fascinating.

Unlike Science which is causal and can be verified by experiments, people practice is different: it is an Art, in service of Business and a Craft – one needs to learn the ABC’s.If you read, 7-8 chapters of any text book, the subsequent chapters become easier. That’s because once a good foundation has been established, subsequent chapters become easier to follow and relate to.

In HR, or to be more broader, in the study of human process, subsequent studies gets even more complex, more astounding, even bewildering at times. In behavioural science as you go deeper, newer insights emerge. I am amused when some amateur Leader remarks, “people are simple: either this or that, or to be seen, by this X axis and that Y axis, as if one or other quadrant make up the entire world. Even worriedly, when someone says, ‘I am an ENTJ (MBTI Type) and he is and ISFP, etc. Interestingly, some even use MBTI as a basis to hire people, the ultimate abomination of ignorance.

Models are akin to maps. The map is not the territory. The maps can be a mere sketch or highly detailed, and as you go deeper, the embellishment is awesome in what unfolds, as if every texture, tone, dimension and element unfold to the keen eye. Almost like Dhyana (full concentration) and Dharana (contemplation) when they come together provides for a wider perspective. In a highly structured analytical world, demand is placed on causality: do this, and the expected phenomena is observed. Every effect has a cause. Not so with human beings, who do not respond to causality. Science is great for interrogation of the material world, but not for the inner world of discovery.

Human behaviour is a function F (I, C), where behaviour is a function of the identity and Self in the location or role. The interaction of these four create multiple forces that enable creative forces, or which leads to mortgage. Identity and its movement, through ‘being and becoming’ is the play of the private self and the public self, while location and roles offers resonance and dissonance and often normativeness around role taking, prescribed by self (thru self injunctions) or by community (a kind of Social Mirror).

As a result no two individuals feel alike, think or act alike. Yet, at the gestalt of all evocations, one sees an array of similar emotions: love, disgust, joy, but the tone, notes, and context, and intensity varies. For example, a woman who discovers her husband is having an affair may not necessarily respond with the expected “ feeling betrayed”, as a large segment would obviously do. A plethora of possible responses can also exist:

  • Good for him, off my back.
  •  I’ll do the same and get my revenge
  • That poor thing (referring to the new girlfriend)
  • I could not care. I like the comfort I am in, so it’s cool

And so on….

The point is, there is no causality: were it so, it would be a science. It would be predictable, made repeatable and lend itself to correlates of validity and reliability quantification.

Another interesting dimension of the world of Human Process study is that learning happens when the events happen: there is no prefix or suffix. The prefix or preface does not accurately reflect the phenomena ahead, nor can the suffix, be the real experience of the event. At best it would be a ‘remembered memory’ not the ‘experienced memory’. Daniel Kahneman, writes quite a bit on this for those interested. All we can recall is the remembered memory, and not the actual experience itself.

Learning takes place within the gestalt of the phenomena. The micro, macro and alter ego looms largely and ever present, exorcising its will over the event. This is the psychodrama, often exaggerated by the ‘shadow’ of the protagonist.

At a phenomenological level multiple substratum’s emerge: initially defined as a problem (eg ‘I am stressed’), seen at the interpersonal level “I have a problem with my boss’), then reflectively, emerges the intra-personal level of self-introjects (‘I can see a pattern of my behaviour as to how I respond to authority’), introjections , splits and projection, of transference and counter transference.

At a intra psychic level (both a sum of personal and collective unconscious), one comes to gain insight of one’s own perceptual filters, and sees the canvas in quite a different way: the observed is the observer himself. Else, there is no observation.

Even deeper is the intra-existential level, the Atmic self; the ‘Brahmi Sthithi’, the true intelligence of the self that sees beyond the absorptive nature of the senses, that is beyond attachment, desire, anger, bewilderment and ignorance and wherein misery awakens. (refer Bhagwad Gita for more on this). Thus, there are multiple depths of exploration.

No two individuals are alike: there is no comparison possible: no better or worse. Each is unique, so how do you compare two unique things – on what parameters? The choice of the criteria’s itself is subjective bias: that is the fallacy. Yet we are always comparing, contrasting, role modelling, aligning with….

No wonder Socrates said, ALL I KNOW IS THAT I KNOW NOTHING.

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