The Lost Keys to Management


“I think, therefore, I am” has long been man’s distinguishing characteristic. But, exactly where does thinking take place? Early ideas located thinking in the heart, the gut and along the spinal cord. The Chinese ideogram for think, xiang, has the ideogram xin, meaning heart, as part of its construction, which in the past may reflect the Chinese location of this function. Today, most scientists locate the function of thinking inside the brain. And the way man’s brain “thinks” or to use psychological terminology “processes information” has become a major concern to psychologists and managers.

The Mind in Everyday Affairs

Bell Telephone executive Chester I. Barnard, over 40 years ago, recognized the importance of the “mind in everyday affairs”. In the appendix of his book, Functions of the Executive, he identifies the logical process of the mind as conscious thinking, which utilizes words and symbols, and is referred to as reasoning. The non-logical process is unconscious (intuitive) which is built up from experience and the surrounding environment. Barnard identified the thinking styles of different functional managers, but maintained that the effective manager will have access to either process depending upon the situation. His estimate of the balance of these two processes is: “Logical reasoning process is increasingly necessary but is disadvantaged if not in subordination to highly developed intuitional process.1 Executives such as Alfred P. Sloan of General Motors and Conrad Hilton of Hilton Hotels have made similar endorsements for the role of intuition in their decision-making processes.

Approaches to Human Information Processing

Since Barnard’s recognition, psychologists and management scholars have conducted extensive studies on human information processing, HIP. Three approaches can be identified: The first approach develops a heuristic model describing how an individual makes a decision in a complex situation.

The second approach to HIP focuses on the cognitive complexity of the individual’s conceptual system. Four decision making styles have been identified based on (1) the use of a single or multiple focus and (2) the amount of information utilized. The four styles are: decisive (single focus, low usage), hierarchic (single focus, high usage), flexible (multiple focus, low usage), and integrative (multiple focus, high usage). In addition, an individual’s interaction with environmental complexity is analyzed in order to understand the most efficient combination of information processing configuration. An important application of this approach is the matching of managers to decision situations.

The third approach emphasizes the dual nature of HIP and identifies styles that are qualitatively different from each other. Decision-makers using logical routines are classified as analytic or systematic and those using more non-logical routines are classified as unsystematic or intuitive. The duality of HIP is extensively supported by neurological evidence and also has a well developed philosophical/ psychological foundation, which suggests we consider this approach more closely.

The Duality of HIP

Substantial neurological evidence indicates that the left hemisphere controls the right side of the body and the right hemisphere directs the left. Roger W. Sperry and his associates have tested patients who have had a surgical operation in the treatment of epilepsy, which severs the corpus callosum connecting the two hemispheres of the cerebrum. These tests clearly illustrate the hemispheric specialization. For example, an object, such as a key, placed out of sight in a person’s left hand, cannot be named. The left hand communicates to the right hemisphere that a key is being held, but this information cannot be communicated to the left hemisphere where speech is controlled. The person knows what is being held with one mind, but is not able verbally to express it with the other. Later, when the person is given several objects, including the key, and asked to select the previously given object with his left hand, the key can be identified, although the person cannot state verbally just what he was doing.2

In another experiment, a woman is shown a picture of a nude woman in a series of otherwise routine pictures by only showing it to the left side of each eye, which registers in the right hemisphere. At first she reported seeing nothing, but simultaneously blushes and seems uncomfortable. Her “conscious” left hemisphere is only aware that something has happened to her body, which the “unconscious” right knew and triggered the body reaction.

Although each hemisphere shares the potential of the other, they do tend to specialize. The left hemisphere specializes in logical-analytical thinking, especially utilizing verbal and mathematical functions, which exhibit sequential information processing. The right hemisphere is more holistic/relational and is responsible for orientation in space, body image, recognition of faces, responsibilities requiring a simultaneous information processing. A number of opposites have been proposed to distinguish the left vs. right hemisphere models: Logical vs. non-Logical; sequential vs. simultaneous; objective vs. subjective; deductive vs. inductive; ‘analytic vs. synthetic; active vs. passive; yin vs. yang..

The philosophies of the West and the East also reveal the duality of HIP. Western philosophy’s Greek heritage views nature as dark, chaotic and in need of human control and rationality. This has led to the Western scientific method characterized by action, encountering, manipulating, dissecting, which aligns with the left hemisphere of rational processing.

In contrast, Eastern philosophy considers nature to be in harmony with man and the human response is to flow with its rhythm. The “emphasis” here then is to consider how disorder arises and can be avoided, which aligns with the right hemisphere of non-logical processing. The Chinese, “wu wei” or “taking no unnecessary action” expresses this attitude. The Taoist circular symbol of overlapping dark and light, yin and yang symbolized the unity of hemisphere differentiation and represents a goal to be reached in our individual development.

A number of psychological theories could be presented in order to represent this foundation, but the work of Carl Jung provides a particularly useful one, since he was keenly interested in the Chinese Tao if[ . Jung’s personality theory identifies two HIP dimensions.3 These are perception (receiving information) and judging (manipulating information). Perception can be via the senses (S) which is a conscious process or via intuition (N) which is unconscious.

Additionally, there are two modes of judging; thinking (T) which is rational inference and feeling (F) which is value oriented discriminations. Either mode of perception can pair with those of judging, resulting in four distinct HIP styles: sensing-thinking (ST), intuition-thinking (NT), sensing-feeling (SF), and intuition-feeling (NF). Although all four styles are present, and considered to be inherent in the individual, each person has a constitutional propensity toward the utilization and development of a superior perception-judgment pairing. This constitutional determinant in combination with environmental opportunities and demands is responsible for shaping the individual’s superior function.

However, individuals are potentially capable of two auxiliary perception-judgment combinations and one inferior pairing. These are usually dormant and underdeveloped. The auxiliary modes share one of the functions, either perception or judgment, with the superior mode, while the inferior mode is the opposite combination of the superior pairing.

Consider the characteristics of a person with an ST processing style. This person tends to utilize sensing for gathering information and rational thinking for judging. He would attend to facts with an impersonal analysis. He is more practical and matter of fact and develops abilities with technical skills in working with facts and objects. One likely occupation would be that of a technician, i.e. an accountant.

Taggart and Robey describe how different managers might respond to a subordinate whose performance has been rated marginal. For example, “An ST manager responds with ‘Improve your performance or you’re fired!’ (factual, impersonal, practical). The NT manager’s attitude moderates a bit with ‘If your performance does not improve, you will be transferred to another position.’ (possibilities, impersonal, ingenious). The SF manager approaches the problem with ‘You need to change, what can we do to help you?’ (factual, personal, sympathetic). And the NF manager suggests ‘You can improve you performance, let me suggest an approach.’ (possibilities, personal, insightful).”4 Any of the approaches might be successful depending on the circumstances and a flexible manager, one whose auxiliary styles are not too rusty, will be able to respond appropriately.

 Measuring HIP Styles

A number of approaches to measuring HIP styles are being utilized in research studies and managerial training sessions. One, which is quite new, is the measurement of physiological state indicators (electro-encephalograms and electrical skin resistance). Doktor’s studies of business executives and operation research analysts, who solved two different types of problems (one analytic the other intuitive) found that executives tended to use more right brain processing on both tasks.5 A second measurement approach infers HIP styles by observing a subject’s problem solving behavior. This approach tries to determine what a person actually does in a certain situation. The third approach infers HIP style from self-description inventories which measures a person’s preference by asking him what he would do in various situations. The Mayer-Briggs Type Indicator; which has had extensive validation, identifies the lung personality types.6 Each of these approaches has advantages and disadvantages and research effort is continuing to improve their reliability and validity.

Implications of HIP for Organizational Functioning

Understanding HIP theory and its research findings has a number of implications in every aspect of organizational functioning. The areas of HIP’s impact can be represented by a series of concentric circles beginning at the center with the ancient Greek motto “Know thy self’. It goes without saying that the effective manager is one who knows his strengths and weaknesses. Reflecting on past decision-making situations is helpful, as well as individual testing to analytically identify one’s style. With this knowledge, effort can be taken to develop one’s auxiliary and inferior styles. Consider Abraham Maslow’s (a Western educated psychologist) call for an Eastern way to understanding one’s self, which emphasizes the right hemisphere process. Maslow states, “….one of the necessary methods in the search for identify, the search for self, the search for spontaneity and for naturalness is a matter of closing your eyes, cutting down the noise, turning off the thoughts, putting away all busyness, just relaxing in a kind of  Daoistic and receptive fashion. . . . and just wait to see what happens, what comes to mind. This is what Freud called free association, free-floating attention rather than task-orientation and, if you are successful in this effort, and learn how to do it you can forget about the outside world and the noises and begin to hear these small, delicate impulse-voices from within, the hints from your animal nature, not only from your common species-nature, but also from your own uniqueness.”7

A second application is the identification of subordinate styles, which can greatly assist interpersonal interactions. For example, the delegation of responsibility to different subordinates requires “fine tuning” in the way you explain what is to be done. Barnard states the challenge: “It requires discerning the mental state and processes of the person to be convinced, adopting his mentality, ‘sensing’, what is valid from his point of view and meeting it by apparently rational expression. . . . . .”8 Knowing your subordinate, peer or superior’s cognitive style should direct you in structuring your interactions.

The third concentric circle represents group decision making. The concept of “operations research” originating in England during WWII, combined individuals with different educational background so that different viewpoints would be brought to the decision-making process. A manager with knowledge of individual cognitive styles can select group members to complement each other and thereby be assured of a more effective and efficient decision-making process. The over reliance on left hemisphere rational processing needs to be counter-balanced with the right hemisphere intuitive processing.

The fourth circle is that of the organization and the knowledge that different departments in an organization tend to have different cognitive styles. Lawrence and Lorsch have identified differences between production, personnel, marketing and R & D departments along the dimensions of time, interpersonal and goal orientation and formal structure.9 Such differences invariably lead to inter group conflict, which can be reduced by sensitizing groups to the differences in cognitive styles.

In considering the final concentric circle of society, the work of Geert Hofstede can be cited. Hofstede defines culture as “the collective mental programming of the people in an environment.”10 Cultural mental programming is a result of the common life experiences and education a group of people share. Hofstede was particularly concerned with the influence a national environment has in producing a national characteristic.

After extensive study and research in one large multinational corporation with subsidiaries in 40 countries, Hofstede identified four dimensions along which nations can differ.11 The four dimensions are:

Power Distance – the extent to which a society accepts the fact that power in institutions and organizations is distributed equally.

Uncertainty avoidance – the extent to which a society feels threatened by uncertain and ambiguous situations and tries to avoid this situation by providing greater career stability, establishing more formal rules, not tolerating deviant ideas and behaviors, and believing in absolute truths and the attainment of expertise.

Individualism-(Collectivism) – Individualism implies a loosely knit social framework in which people are supposed to take care of themselves and their immediate families only, while collectivism is characterised by a tight social framework in which people distinguish between in-groups and out-groups; they expect their in-group (relatives, clan, organizations) to look after them, and in exchange for that they feel they owe absolute loyalty to it.

Masculinity-(Femininity) – High masculinity societies are those in which the dominate values are assertiveness, the acquisition of money and things, and not caring for others, the quality of life or people.

Using the data collected from this one corporation, Hofstede constructs three diagrams by plotting the dimension results two dimensions at a time, i.e. Power Distance X Uncertainty Avoidance; Power Distance X Individualism; and Masculinity X Uncertainty Avoidance. These three diagrams represent what Hofstede calls “a composite set of cultural maps of the world.” The implications drawn from these three maps relate to a nation’s optimum organizational structure, motivation patterns, and leadership style.

Of particular interest to us are the results obtained from the Hong Kong sample. Hong Kong’s results are as follows:

. On Power Distance at rank 33 out of the 40 countries (Measured from below) it is above average.
.  On Uncertainty Avoidance at rank 4 out of 40, it is below average.
. On Individualism at rank 9 out of 40, it is low, indicating a collectivist orientation.
. On Masculinity at rank 24 out of 40, it is slightly above average.

For comparison purposes the rank’s of the United States are 15, 9, 40, 28 and those of Great Britain are 10, 6, 38,33.

Hofstede’s findings have many applications with respect to management practices in differing cultures. For example, a society with a large power distance would not likely accept the low power distance implied in Management by Objective schemes. Or a society with low uncertainty avoidance would not adapt well to a highly formalized organizational structure. Or in more collectivist societies there may be a higher propensity to remain loyal to the organization rather than calculative. And in societies with a high masculinity index, motivating employees would take the form of achievement rather than social incentives. It should be apparent from these few examples that understanding a society’s mental programming is a pre-requisite for effective and efficient transnational management.

A final example at the societal level is drawn from the world of science fiction, since yesterday’s science fiction seems to have a habit of coming true. This can be illustrated with the example of science fiction movie hero Flash Gordon of the 1930’s becoming Neil Armstrong walking on the moon in 1969.

In this same light Isaac Asimov’s science fiction novel Foundation Trilogy may give us a glimpse of how differing societies may come to a mutual understanding of one another; an understanding dependent upon the cognitive development of its leaders. The necessary development is expressed by the First Speaker saying to the First Citizen: “Emotional contact such as you and I possess is not a very new development. Actually, it is implicit in the human brain. Most humans can read emotions in a primitive manner by associating it pragmatically with facial expression, tone of voice, and so on. . . . Actually, humans are capable of much more, but the faculty of direct emotional contact tended to atrophy with the development of speech a million years back. . .. A million years of decay is a formidable obstacle and we must educate the sense, exercise it as we exercise our muscles.”12


The more one experiences the differences between the “East” and the ”West” the more one “feels” the need for a new integration. The development of western rationality, with all its accomplishments, needs “wu wei” of eastern intuition and vice versa. The obstacle to finding the lost keys to management is our own “habits of thought”, which prevent us from following Lao Tz’s suggestion, “one often wins over the world through non-action.”13

The above suggestion of Lao Tz may seem “beyond” the active-analytically trained manager and academician until we review the solid medical evidence showing differences in left/right brain wave occurrences. This fact should attract us into considering more closely how our mind works and what some of the “far out signals”, from ZEN, MEDITATION, ESP, Bio-feedback, Dream Analysis, etc. are signaling. The development of man’s total mind ought to be the goal.


  1. Barnard, I. Chester, The Functions  of the Executive, Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1966, p. 301.
  2. Ornstein, Robert E., The Psychology of Consciousness, New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Inc., 1977.
  3. Jung, Carl, “Psychological Types” in the Portable lung edited by Joseph Campbell, New York: Penguin Books, 1976.
  4. Taggart, W. and D. Robey, On the Dual Nature of Human and Management,” Academy of Vol. 6, No.2, 1981, pp. 187-195.
  5. Doktor, R., “The Development and Mapping of Certain Cognitive Styles of Problem Solving”, Doctoral dissertation, Graduate School of Business, Stanford University, 1970.
  6. Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. Palo Alto California: Consulting Psychologists Press, 1962.
  7. Maslow, M. A., Toward a Psychology of Being, New York: D. Van Mostrand Company, 1968, p. 44.
  8. Barnard, op. cit., p. 308.
  9. Lawrence, P. R., and 1. W. Lorsch, Organization and Environment-Managing Differentiation and Integration, Boston: Harvard University Press, 1967.
  10. Hofstede Geert, Culture’s Consequences: International Differences in Work-related Values, Beverly Hills: Sage Pub., 1980.
  11. Hofstede, Geert, “Motivation, Leadership and Organization: Do American Theories Apply Abroad?”, Organizational Dynamics, Summer 1980, p. 45.
  12. Asimov, I., Foundation Trilogy, New York: AVON Books, 1974, p. 242.
  13. Chang Chung-yuan, Tao: A New Way of Thinking: A Translation of the Tao Te Ching with an Introduction and Commentaries, New York: Harper & Row Pub., 1975, 121. 0

Steven Arvid Scherling, BS, MBA, DBA
Lecturer, Department of Marketing & International Business
The Chinese University of Hong Kong

Scherling, SA. (1984, March). The lost keys to management. The Hong Kong Manager. Vol.20, No.3, pp.19-22.


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