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4.2 “Practice” and “Science” by Barnard

Barnard provided following interesting viewpoints in his article “Notes on Some Obscure Aspects of Human Relations” prepared for his Harvard lecture in 1937.

Now I suspect that most businessmen, executives, administrators, heads of departments and bureaus, and officials and supervisors generally, would suppose themselves in the class of “actors,” of people who do things, who are “practical”; and that they would put into the class of “abstractors” students, professors, scientists, lecturers, writers. Practical people have a preference for themselves as “men of action” rather than as “thinkers,” provided this does not imply lack of “brains” or intelligence.

Nevertheless the differences between men of affairs and scholars are clearly not that one group deals in abstractions and the other not. The slightest observation of most men of affairs at work reveals that their concrete personal physical activities are at a minimum and that they perpetually deal in abstractions. Moreover their conversation is not rarely larded with the broadest and wildest generalizations, as a few moments in most conferences or conventions will demonstrate. The difference lies rather in the purposes of abstractions and the extent to which important abstractions lying below the level of consciousness, thought and verbalization, for their respective purposes, are effective. For the man of affairs the purpose is, in its highest form, truth in concrete action—that events shall conform to a scheme felt to be right. The purpose of the student on the other hand is truth in the highest abstractions—those believed to be significant generalizations. (Wolf and Iino 1986: 68–69)

We tend to treat businesspersons as “practical people” and scientists as “persons of thought.” However, Barnard points out that both are the same type of person, one who deals with abstractions. He says that the difference between businesspersons and scientists is in the purpose of their abstractions. Businesspersons seek “truth in the concrete action,” and scientists seek “truth in the highest abstractions.” This very interesting perspective exemplifies Barnard's theory as a pragmatist.

In addition, Barnard suggested that there was a cosmological (perspectives on time and space) difference between businesspersons and scientists, as follows.

In the first case, what is and what may be are the foci of attention. The past is only significant as knowledge of it may contribute to the directing of action, but not as the origin of what is. In the second case, what has been and is are the foci of attention, and the future is significant as an opportunity for more history testing the truth of past generalizations.' These differences are even greater than are generally supposed, for they exist not so much in the verbalizations of either group as in the feelings below the level of consciousness which in one case are diffused with a sense of immediacy, the now or never, in the other with the sense of timelessness, the yesterday and forever. In one case the sense of reality is things in action whether by design or no; in the other the design by or in which they occur. In the last analysis, the one attends to what, when and how to eat; the other upon the realities of mathematical structure, order, relations. There is no conflict but in sentiment and in method; for mathematicians do not think unless they eat; and men of affairs would be gleaning nuts in the forests but for the mathematicians.

These differences in their superficial aspects are not important. Many men of affairs are good thinkers; and many students are highly resourceful and skilled in executing those concrete processes, which constitute the practice of scientific observation and experimentation, as well as in the ordinary conduct of personal affairs. The essential differences of method lie in what is done with the abstractions with which both groups deal. For the man of affairs exists in a cloud of abstractions which are not really discriminated by any logical process, but by his sense of their bearing upon decision. The student, on the contrary, exists in a cloud of events, which are narrowly discriminated for their bearing upon abstract truth. (Wolf and Iino 1986: 69)

Businesspersons and scientists interpret the world differently; therefore, their purpose, methods, and handling of abstractions also differ. In our opinion, Barnard's perspective is based on his own dual standpoints as a businessman and scientist (or thinker).

In the last chapter of his primary work, Barnard said as follows.

All scientific knowledge is expressed in languages and symbolic systems. These are socially developed with meanings that are socially determined; and all “finally” accepted observations of phenomena are cooperatively arrived at. Therefore, all sciences in the widest sense comprehend both social factors and others of different orders, depending upon their subject matter. Disregarding the social factors of science in the sense just stated, we find two kinds of abstract systems of knowledge other than those stated … as follows: (a) systems which relate exclusively, or substantially so, to one or the other order of factors (physical, biological, social), and (b) those which “cut across” or comprehend two or more orders of factors. (Barnard 1938: 287)

Barnard noted that the interaction of these two kinds of abstract systems of knowledge is very important.

However, it is well to be quite clear as to the significance of a science in its relation to the arts. It is the function of the arts to accomplish concrete ends, effect results, produce situations, that would not come about without the deliberate effort to secure them. These arts must be mastered and applied by those who deal in the concrete and for the future. The function of the sciences, on the other hand, is to explain the phenomena, the events, the situations, of the past. Their aim is not to produce specific events, effects, or situations but explanations which we call knowledge. It has not been the aim of science to be a system of technology; and it could not be such a system. There is required in order to manipulate the concrete a vast amount of knowledge of a temporary, local, specific character, of no general value or interest, that it is not the function of a science to have or to present and only to explain to the extent that it is generally significant. (Barnard 1938: 290–291)

The two kinds of knowledge that Barnard suggests above are “clinical” and “scientific” knowledge. We do not think it is an exaggeration to say that management theories have been developed between these extremes. We will clarify this point by focusing on two topics in the history of management theory.

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