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4.3 “Clinical” and “Scientific” Knowledge in the History of Management Theory

4.3.1 Searching for “Clinical” Knowledge: The Methodology of the Human Relations School

In the history of management theory, the Human Relations School was influenced by Henderson to initially study “practical knowledge.” In discussing the findings of the Hawthorne experiments, Roethlisberger said they were “returning to the sturdy common sense.” He also identified follow-up approaches for returning to the sturdy common sense as follows:

1. In having a few simple and clear ideas about the world in which we live.

2. In complicating our ideas, not in a vacuum, but only in reference to things we can observe, see, feel, hear, and touch. Let us not generalize from verbal definitions; let us know in fact what we are talking about.

3. In having a very simple method by means of which we can explore our complex world. We need a tool which will allow us to get the data from which our generalizations are to be drawn. We need a simple skill to keep us in touch with what is sometimes referred to as “reality.”

4. In being “tough-minded,” i.e., in not letting ourselves be too disappointed because the complex world never quite fulfills our most cherished expectations of it. Let us remember that the concrete phenomena will always elude any set of abstractions that we can make of them.

5. In knowing very clearly the class of phenomena to which our ideas and methods relate. Now, this is merely a way of saying, “Do not use a saw as a hammer.” A saw is a useful tool precisely because it is limited and designed for a certain purpose. Do not criticize the usefulness of a saw because it does not make a good hammer. (Roethlisberger 1942: 8)

According to Roethlisberger's idea, an important thing to remember in studying human behavior is to not put too much confidence on transforming abstractions into language. It is very important to observe phenomena and express them with simple conceptual schemes, such as described by Roethlisberger:

1. The need of a conceptual scheme for purposes of investigation

2. A matter of convenience and utility of not of truth or falsity.

3. A way of thinking to be practiced.

4. To be practiced in relation to a class of phenomena.

5. To be used so long as it remained useful.

6. Be prepared for that day when another way of thinking may be more useful. (Roethlisberger 1977: 69–71)

Such a methodology is similar to the interactive problem-solving process between clinicians and patients. Clinicians acquire techniques and knowledge when providing medical treatment to patients, and at the same time, this process is the basis of the development of medical science. Management knowledge is the clinical knowledge provided by managers or management advisers who try to solve problems in business fields using existing conceptual schemes. If these schemes are inefficient, the managers replace them with new schemes, depending on the situation. Such processes sometimes result in the development of management knowledge.

Knowledge acquired through a problem-solving process is not necessarily consistent with “scientific” theoretical knowledge, but there is no doubt that it is based on empirical facts. The acquisition and construction of this practical knowledge is very important for solving management problems. This type of knowledge has been developed for a long time not only in companies or the field of business practice but also in business schools.

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