Excess of Rationality?; about Rationality, Emotion and Creativity. A Contribution to the Philosophy of Management and Organization

Article excerpt


Organizations are sometimes said to be overly rational, and it is argued that more attention should be given to the soft side, including feelings and emotions. In the same vain it is said that creativity and rationality do not match. On the other hand however, one can trace the idea of organizations being less rational than supposed. This paper explores the view that 'excess of ...' can only be evaluated on the basis of a nuanced view of rationality and an adequate insight into the relationship of rationality, emotions/feeling and creativity. A philosophical perspective is helpful in this. It will be argued that various forms of rationality are to be distinguished.

Keywords: rationality, emotion/feeling, emotional labor, creativity, power, philosophy.

1. Introduction

Browsing the Internet recently, I came across an article for sale, Successful Business Strategies: Creativity and Intuition Rather Than Rationality (http://www.universitip.com; visited 12-2-08). According to the title, it is saying that organizations are often too rational, a particular kind of organizational excess, putting creativity under pressure. As a general evaluation, this presupposes a particular meaning of both concepts. However, thinking it too pricy for an 8 page text ($ 79,60) - exercising economic rationality -, I did not buy it and will therefore remain uncertain about this meaning.

The text just mentioned is about business. Besides, the concept of rationality functions in various contexts (see for instance Etzioni 1988), such as philosophy, psychology, general economics, organization and management (M&O) studies, as well as in daily life.

In philosophy, the concept of rationality is part of, among others, logic, epistemology, metaphysics and anthropology. It has been involved in articulating human self-images, and related philosophies of education, some thinkers arguing that a 'rationalist' interpretation of the meaning of rationality has detrimental consequences for both (see for example Dewey 1916, 1929). In all this, views of rationality influence those of other human phenomena such as feeling and emotion.

As far as M&O is concerned, the concept of rationality is used, for instance, in order to understand, explain, management action and organizational matters, such as structure. At the same time we see authors saying that rationality has a limited scope, contrasting it, for instance, with 'intuition' and 'emotion', giving a kind of empirical critique of the scope of application of the concept. Designing organizations and thinking about the tasks of management often refers positively to the concept of rationality. If so, then rationality gets a normative emphasis explaining being a more descriptive task - and it is related to other normative notions, such as 'efficiency'. However, giving evaluations can also be more negative, as presumably is the case with the article mentioned at the beginning.

It can be said that the concept of bounded rationality, developed by Simon (1983) especially tries to do justice to empirical facts concerning human decision making and nothing else. Also a normative use comes into focus: it is advisable to look for the most satisfying one amongst the few available alternative courses of action. Another example is Henry Mintzberg, using the, at first sight contradictory, expression "irrational form of "rationality"" (Mintzberg, 1990 p. 342). These words indicate that there are rational and irrational forms of rationality. At the same time it is suggested that a damaging excess will result if 'irrational rationality' is enthroned. On the other hand, however, it also suggests that a, preferable, 'rational form' of rationality is possible. Brunsson (2000) distinguishes "decision" and "action" rationality, and the latter can be irrational from the perspective of the former36. Collins&Porras speak of the ""Tyranny of the Or" - the rational view that cannot easily accept paradox" (Collins&Porras 1997, p. …