Being There: A Memoir
Marvin D. Dunnette
I was born in Austin, Minnesota
early in the morning of September 30, 1926. My father, Rodney, had graduated
from the University of Michigan Law School in 1921, after having interrupted his
education to serve in the Marine Corps during World War I.
He spent his first years as a
lawyer in the small rural village of Fairfax, Minnesota. In 1923, he had the
good fortune to be offered a desk in a back room of the offices of a well-known
law partnership, Sasse and French, in Austin. Though he received no salary at
first, he was privileged to work as an apprentice to the two partners. He was
paid only for services rendered, but soon proved able to instill sufficient
confidence in his capabilities that he was allowed to work with clients on his
own as they were referred to him from the overflow business coming into the
offices of Sasse and French.
It did not take long for my father
to take notice of an attractive young woman working in the Register of Deeds
office at the County Courthouse. In conversation with her, he learned that her
pay level was less than that of a young male clerk whose job duties were much
the same as hers. Together, they initiated a legal action which moved with
surprising speed through the court system until my father found himself arguing
the case before the State Supreme Court. Pay equity was won for this attractive
young woman. And, in so doing, the two of them must also have won each others
hearts. So it was that Mildred Geneva Notestine married Rodney Arthur Dunnette
in a small ceremony held at Iowa's "Little Brown Church in the Vale"
in the month of June in 1925.
As seemed to be the custom
then, the young bride gave up the job she had held in order to assume the role
of organizing and maintaining the household for "that rising young lawyer,
Dunnette, who was working with the Sasse and French Law Firm of Austin,
Minnesota." Though she probably didn't resent this role at the time, it was
apparent to me by the time my brother was born in 1934 that my mother wanted to
"go back to work." But, then the country was in the midst of the Great
Depression. The mood was that women should not compete with men for those few
jobs that might become available. Apparently, this was especially true for women
married to professional men. Though I don't recall specific conversations
between my parents about this issue, there seemed to be an opinion that my
father's reputation as a successful lawyer and provider would be tarnished if my
mother were to be employed outside the home. As the years unfolded from then on,
it became more and more apparent that my mother was growing increasingly
resentful of being trapped as "just a housewife" carrying with it the
perceived underutilization of her talents and limited opportunities for other
My parents had both been raised as
Methodists, and they continued active membership in the Methodist Episcopal
Church of Austin. My father chaired the Official Board of the Austin church for
as long as I can recall, and my mother was active in the so-called "sewing
circle" and most of the church-wide fund raising programs. I struck a
bargain with my parents. I attended Sunday School every Sunday, but I could skip
the actual church service on alternate Sundays. I recall those alternate Sundays
of "freedom" very warmly. I spent those few hours alone at home
reading the "funnies" and enjoying being alone.
My parents were active
teetotalers. They saw alcohol as one of the major evils of that era. And, as a
member of the Women's Christian Temperance Union, my mother (at a time unknown
to me) consecrated me as a "White Ribbon Baby"--meaning that she
pledged to do all in her power to be certain that liquor would never touch or
pass through my lips. Her pledge was, in fact, quite successful. It was not
until I was twenty-five and halfway through Graduate School that I first tasted
"the demon rum."
As might be inferred, my childhood
and adolescent years were calm, rather uneventful, protected in the sense that
the town was small; and the types of dangers that seem so prevalent today were
virtually non-existent. On the other hand, dangers from disease were
frightening. The wonder drugs had not been discovered, and effective vaccines
for most common diseases had not yet been developed. Cases of whooping cough,
measles, scarlet fever, chicken pox, and especially pneumonia were widespread.
Deaths from pneumonia were quite common during the cold months of winter in
Minnesota. The homes of diseased persons were quarantined. My parent insisted
that I should always cross the street when passing a quarantined home to be as
far away from the "germs" as possible. One of the most serious of the
recurring epidemics at that time was poliomyelitis, which had come to be known
by lay persons as infantile paralysis because of its prevalence among children.
The summer of 1932 witnessed one such epidemic.
On Independence Day of that year,
I was in the midst of spending the day exploding firecrackers and blowing up tin
cans when I developed a splitting headache and a fever of 105 degrees. My father
had grown up on a farm about 15 miles from Rochester, Minnesota, the home of the
Mayo Clinic. Thus, it was natural for him to summon specialists from the Mayo
Clinic to come to Austin to examine me. They arrived late in the night and
performed a spinal tap to confirm that I had, in fact, contracted polio.
Fortunately, it proved to be of the non-paralytic type, and within a few days, I
felt completely healthy, robust, and restless. But, even though I felt fine, I
represented a source of contagion. The house was quarantined, and my father was
excluded from being there. He took a room somewhere so that he could continue
his work, and he came to my bedroom window to talk with me each evening. My
mother, serving as my nurse, could not leave the house. Medical doctrine at the
time dictated that all my toys had to be boiled and my clothing laundered with
strong soap. The bedding had to be destroyed after the period of the quarantine
The meaning of this episode, as I
have viewed it over the years, is that I became fully aware of how secure I was
in the unqualified love of my parents. My mother's care and concern and constant
surveillance over my welfare, and my father's nightly visits marked by love,
respect, and good humor, provided me with a sense of self worth and quiet
confidence that has been an important part of my self concept ever since. In
addition, they served as models of compassion and helpfulness that I might from
then on seek to emulate, albeit with less certain success.
From that time on, throughout my
childhood and adolescent years, Independence Day ranked as the primary holiday
of the year. Each year, as darkness fell on the Fourth of July, my father put on
a magnificent display of fireworks for our family and all our neighbors. For the
neighbors, it was believed to be in recognition of our Nation's birthday. But,
for our family, we recognized that it also celebrated our good fortune and mine
in particular for having been spared from the ravages of paralytic polio.
In school, throughout the primary
grades and in high school, I was always shy and remain so to this day. I never
said much in class unless called upon by the teacher or a classmate. Even so, I
had many friends and apparently was quite popular. I excelled in all the grade
school subjects with the notable exception of Art and Music in which I always
received grades of F - which signified in those years FAIR, just a step away
from the dreaded red U - Unsatisfactory.
I recall a warmth and security and
a closeness to my parents during the grade school years. My father and I felt
especially close, though we didn't really talk much together. His influence was
transmitted through his telling of the day's events, his court cases, and his
humorous characterizations of people in the small and closely knit circle of
persons with whom my parents socialized. Both of them had little time for the so
called "upper crust" of Austin society. In particular, they joked
about the quasi-aristocracy created by the executives of the dominant employer
in Austin, the Hormel Company. In fact, it was evident that my parents stood
proudly apart from what they called the "society crowd." Perhaps my
father's values were revealed most clearly by a bit of advice he gave me in a
letter I received from him during my brief stay in a Rochester hospital after
having my tonsils removed. His letter expressed sympathy for my very very sore
throat and for "being a brave little trooper" in facing the
frightening circumstances of hospitalization and surgery. But his central
message was this: Even when you've done well and you have every right to be
proud, don't ever brag. Let people recognize your merit on their own. Excellence
does not require boasting. In fact, it is weakened thereby. In a word: Don't
toot your own horn!
I have often thought of that
advice. I have wondered why it apparently had such a strong impact on me and on
my values and on the way I feel about myself and about other people. The clarity
of what he said in that letter is with me still, just as strongly as if it were
My younger brother, Roger, was
born just after my eighth birthday. That event marked the beginning of a
different relationship between my mother and me, no less loving, but quite
obviously a sense of shared love instead of the exclusivity I had enjoyed until
then. My brother also suffered for many years from an extremely bothersome skin
condition, eczema. Accordingly, his care as an infant and during early childhood
required extended attention and almost constant care. After some years, this
seemed to wear heavily upon my mother, and the latent resentment about no longer
being employed seemed to surface and to be played out in the form of greater
tension between my parents and within the family. It was during that time that
she began to voice a refrain about "being cooped up in the house all the
time." One result of these tensions was that I came to be a primary source
of baby-sitting for my brother. It became rather frequent that I would be told
to take him with me when I left to do things with my friends. As a result, my
relationship with Roger in those earlier years developed into one of care-giving
upon demand instead of being one of closeness and companionship. Fortunately, we
are close now, though probably considerably less so than probably is the case
for many siblings.
My high school years were filled
with activities. I was on the track team, played intramural basketball, and
appeared in several school plays. I participated in various clubs and was
business manager for two years on the school yearbook. I also spent four years
playing the clarinet in the marching band, reflecting no sudden transition to a
love for music, but instead mostly a participative orientation. I took the
sequence of courses called at that time "college preparatory." Thus, I
took all the math and science courses possible, three years of German and all
the various honors sequences in the usual English, humanities, and social
science courses. My grades were excellent and I graduated with honors, not first
in the class, but somewhere close to the top of the 201 seniors who graduated in
June of 1944.
I was still shy. I dated only
sporadically during the first few years, but by the time I was 15 and toward the
spring of 1942, I was going steady with the person who would later become my
It is at this stage of my life
where it seems to me that events began to unfold for me in what I believe can
best be described as happenstance. I reflected upon several of those events in
the Invited Address I gave upon the occasion of receiving SIOP's Award for
Scientific Contributions at the 94th Meeting of the American Psychological
Association. The title of that talk was the same as I have chosen for this
memoir-- Being There.
In the movie of that name, Peter Sellers
played the role of a Mr. Chance, the gardener for a well-to-do old man. The
movie never shows the old man because his death coincides with the opening scene
of the movie. We do learn that Mr. Chance has never experienced the world
outside the house except through his constant observation of the passing scene
on television. But, with the death of the old man, and upon the insistence of
lawyers for the estate, he must venture forth on his own. Shortly, while
wandering through the streets of Washington, he becomes entranced by his own
image on a TV monitor in the window of an electronics store. Backing up to get a
better view, he steps off the curb into the street where he is injured slightly
by a chauffeur-driven limousine. He is thereby whisked away by the kindly matron
(Shirley MacLaine) to the mansion of a terminally ill and incredibly wealthy
plutocrat (William Douglas) who just happens to be the power behind the election
and governance of the president of the United States. In trying to introduce
himself, Mr. Chance, the gardener, is misunderstood and becomes known as
During a visit by the President
with the plutocrat, Chauncey is asked to voice his opinion about the nation's
condition. Chauncey replies with three pronouncements: "If the roots are
not severed, all will be well in the garden," "The garden must be
fertilized," and, "Prepare in the Fall and Winter for growth in the
Spring." The President, during his nationally televised speech the
following evening, translates Chauncey's words into the administration's
solution for the nation's economy. He states that his young friend, Chauncey
Gardner, has counseled that the "roots of industry must be firmly planted
in the nation's economic soil, that the economy will be stimulated by temporary
incentives, and that the nation should gladly welcome the inevitable seasons of
nature and anticipate renewed growth in the Spring."
From that point on, Chauncey can
do no wrong. He is viewed as the principal architect of the President's
policies. The plutocrat, Ben, dies happily after willing his wife and worldly
possessions to Chauncey. The last scene of the film allows the audience to
eavesdrop on a whispered conversation among Ben's pallbearers as they conclude
that Chauncey is their one and only chance to hold on to the presidency, and
Chauncey disappears in the distance, walking on the surface of a nearby pond.
In reflecting upon my career in
psychology and how I might have been singled out for such an award, I could not
help but be impressed by the importance to me and my career of simply being
Recall that my father had served
in the Marine Corps during World War I. This fact had not been lost in his
memory. He told many stories about his experiences, and whether through his
intention or not, these tales caused me to hold the Marine Corps in high regard.
Thus it was upon graduating from high school during the height of World War II
that I entertained the notion of entering the Marine Corps. I guess at that time
that it seemed desirable to choose one's poison so to speak instead of waiting
to be drafted and assigned through some unknown means to something unknown. I
investigated the various possibilities and learned that I might qualify for
Officers' Training in the Marine Corps and thereby be sent to college via the V-12
program. The first step in the process required enlistment in order to quality.
The recruiting officer convinced my father and me that I would first go to boot
camp and then be assigned after boot camp to the V-12 program. Accordingly, I
was sworn into the United States Marine Corps at the Federal Building in
Minneapolis on June 26, 1944 and left immediately for boot camp in San Diego.
During my medical exam, I learned for the first time that I was color blind. It
was explained to me that I would ordinarily not, therefore, be qualified to be
an officer or to be able to enter the V-12 program. The recruiter claimed that a
"waiver" could be issued so that I would still qualify for V-12, and I
left for San Diego confident that this was not only possible, but that it had,
in fact, already been arranged.
Upon arriving at the
classification and processing station in San Diego, I meekly commented on my
waiver and asked for confirmation of my eventual assignment to the V-12 program.
I was greeted by raucous laughter. It was soon apparent that another
"sucker" had been landed. I experienced what must have been one of the
deepest feelings of despair in my life, either before or since.
The transition to this new and
threatening environment was made immediately evident during introductory remarks
by our squad's drill instructor whose first comforting words were: "Listen
up Shitheads! Get your mind off that cunt at home. Somebody's already taking
care of it by now, anyway."
The physical strain of the eight
week boot camp was easy for me, but the homesickness was severe. Fortunately, I
was made to feel very cared for by my parents and my high school girlfriend. I
received daily letters from all of them, and I wrote daily also. I learned to
swim abruptly and easily when it became known that leaves home would be canceled
for anyone who failed to swim the length of the pool.
The time at home after the eight
weeks was delicious, but marked by the continuing despair of the fictitious
waiver affair. Upon returning, our unit was assigned to the newly formed Fifth
Marine Division and we began training for action in the South Pacific at Camp
Pendleton in Oceanside, California.
As the date for "shipping
out" came closer and closer, my father did something absolutely remarkable.
He wrote a letter to the Commandant of the Marine Corps in which he detailed the
circumstances of my color blindness and the deceit of the recruiter. Incredibly,
an order was received by wire that I should be returned to San Diego to be
examined once more with a different form of color blindness test. After taking
it, I was certain that I had done no better than I had previously. I asked the
physician whether or not he could simply write "Passed with poor
score" on his report. He hesitated, obviously bothered by such a request,
but finally did so. I returned to my unit and showed my "passing"
report to the sergeant. Within a few hours, in accordance with further
directives from the Office of the Commandant, I was on a train heading toward
Berkeley to begin my college career at the University of California.
Shortly thereafter, the Fifth
Marine Division took the rocky atoll of Iwo Jima. Both of the high school
friends who had entered the Marine Corps at the same time as I were wounded. One
died of his wounds shortly afterwards. The other was returned to Letterman
Hospital in San Francisco where I visited him. We were to spend time together
again a few years later when we would both choose to enter Graduate School and
major in psychology at the University of Minnesota.
I believe the above is perhaps one
of the more significant and obviously important examples of where good fortune
combined in part with considered action has affected my life and career in
strange and remarkable ways. It has not been so much a matter of my being in the
right place at the right time. Instead, a more frequent scenario has found me in
quite ordinary places, but surrounded by unusual people who created marvelous
circumstances of opportunity. In effect, things that have happened to affect and
shape my life and my career, though not necessarily sheer luck, have often been
unanticipated and frequently serendipitous.
Upon arriving at Berkeley, I
majored in chemistry for five full semesters. My intention then was to continue
in chemistry to the Ph.D. and then to become a researcher. I was discharged from
the Marine Corps in 1946 and for a time considered continuing at Berkeley. But
my high school sweetheart was intent on staying in Minnesota. Thus, I returned
to Austin in the summer of 1946. Jean Bentrude and I were married in Austin on
September 14, 1946. In retrospect, we were not yet fully grown, though of course
it seemed that we were at the time. She was just over 20 years old. I was still
19, just two weeks short of 20. We moved to Minneapolis. She had finished two
years of Junior College and had worked as a laboratory technician. She obtained
a job at the University in a bacteriology laboratory and I entered the
University as a junior under the GI Bill with the intention of continuing to
major in chemistry. Through a strange accident of registration, however, I ended
up in Chemical Engineering. I graduated with distinction with a B.Ch.E. degree
I spent a dissatisfying year
working in a chemistry research laboratory. It seemed apparent to me at the time
that chemical research was not my proper vocation; so I entered Law School at
Minnesota with the thought, of course, that I might go into practice with my
father. We needed additional income and I landed, quite by accident, a part-time
job counseling with engineering students who were on academic probation. In
order to get that job, though, I was advised that I must enroll in D. G.
Paterson's course in Occupational and Vocational Psychology.
So it was that I found myself in
the Fall of 1949 taking a full course load in Law School, learning all about how
psychological tests could be used in vocational guidance, and
"counseling" failing engineering students. I loved it all! But, I was
most entranced by the substance of that psychology course and by the charisma
and intellect of D. G. Paterson. Thus, it was in January of 1950 that I left my
brief flirtation with the law and graduate school with the intention of getting
a Ph.D. degree in psychology and of working with D. G. Paterson who was willing
to serve as my advisor and mentor.
Graduate School was completely
enjoyable. My interest in mathematics and my engineering training made
statistics easy for me; so I didn't really need to work hard on those courses
and chose to devote more time to those areas that were less familiar subject
matter. I moved over the usual hurdles quite rapidly and was in the midst of
developing a dissertation topic when our first daughter was born. In fact, her
arrival capped off a happy Christmas Eve that we had just spent with both our
families in Minneapolis. She was born about 6 a.m. on Christmas Day in 1952, and
we named her Nancy Dawn.
I completed the Ph.D. degree in
June 1954. It is not incidental that my doctoral dissertation involved the
development and validation of a high level test of engineering knowledge, the
Minnesota Engineering Analogies Test. One of the great high points of my career
in fact, was the time I learned the Psychological Corporation was going to
publish and market that test. It occurred over drinks at the Top of the Mark
Hopkins Hotel in San Francisco where APA was being held that year.
What a fortunate, unexpected, and
wonderful outcome given that I had actually enlisted in the Marine Corps at the
height of a bloody World War only 10 years previously! I could have been dead. I
could have remained an unhappy chemical engineer. I might have become a small
town lawyer in practice with my father in the town of Austin, Minnesota.
Instead, here I was with a Ph.D. in Industrial Psychology, married with a
delightful 18 month old daughter and ready to embark on a new career in Applied
Psychology. I honestly don't believe that Chauncey Gardner's early good fortune
in meeting the wealthy plutocrat stretches the imagination much more than does
the story of my good fortune over those last 10 years between 1944 and 1954.
Focusing on Applied Psychology
If getting a Ph.D. demonstrates that one knows about psychology, an important
next step in a career must certainly be learning to do psychology. For me, that
step took the form of a two-year internship at Minnesota's Industrial Relations
Center and what might be termed a fiveyear residency at 3M Company where I was
hired in 1955 as Manager of Employee Relations Research.
A key developmental step at the
Industrial Relations Center occurred when I was summoned to the office of Dale
Yoder, who at that time was supreme commander of the Industrial Relations
Center. There, I was confronted by the Center's ruling triumvirate, Dale Yoder,
D. G. Paterson, and Herbert Heneman, Jr. As soon as I was settled in my straight-backed
chair, Yoder pronounced, "Dunnette, you can't write worth a damn!" The
three of them proceeded to lecture me on the crucial role of clarity,
succinctness, human interest and simplicity in writing. No direct instruction
was provided, but the message was clear, namely: "Poor writing is a most
obvious indicator of a muddled mind. If one's writing is not worth a damn, then
the scientific stature of that person is typically inferred to be worth even
less." I know I learned much from that timely intervention. But where
simple clarity came very naturally to Chauncey Gardner, I had to sweat blood in
order to achieve it.
In the meantime, however, I became
involved in several team research efforts. One involved the development of
criterion measures for Air Force Officers; another involved building a scale
designed to measure attitudes about unions and membership in unions. We also
studied the effect of the Undecided response in job satisfaction surveys and the
affects on job satisfaction results of surveys administered by company officials
versus surveys administered by Industrial Relations Center proctors. Both sets
of administrations were, of course, answered anonymously; nonetheless, results
suggested quite clearly that a threat to anonymity was evident when a company
official administered the survey.
During the five years at 3M
Company, my boss was the Vice President of Personnel. He was known by his
friends as "Swisher" Fisher because he had been a basketball star at
Northwestern. On my first day on the job, he told me he knew nothing
about psychology and didn't want to learn anything about it. He managed by
exception. My job was to avoid exceptions. His laissez faire style combined
superbly with my own autonomous nature to give me opportunities to carry out a
vast array of interesting studies in applied psychology.
My mentor at Minnesota, D. G. Paterson, had told me to "write up"
everything I did. I adopted the strategy of writing a detailed technical report
to be retained in my files, a clear and understandable executive summary to be
distributed to managers who were in a position to take action on the
recommendations, and an article to be submitted to a professional or trade
journal for publication. I was surprised by the interest generated by the
executive summaries and also by the compliments I received when I circulated
reprints of the more technical and presumably "scientific" journal
articles. I felt especially good about those compliments because it seemed to me
that I had been able to learn to write clearly, after undertaking the long hard
task in response to the Yoder, Heneman, Paterson inquisition that I had suffered
through a few years earlier.
Wayne Kirchner joined me at 3M after my first year there. Together, we reported
everything we did in the form of internal technical reports and publications in
the business and academic literature. Our experiences ranged across job
analysis, performance appraisal, validation studies for sales, clerical,
research and development, and management jobs, individual assessments, measuring
job satisfaction, evaluating consumer reactions to 3M products, and even
carrying out human factors research on matter related to highway safety for 3M's
Reflective Products Division. In effect, we served as internal consultants to
the managers and various divisions of 3M Company.
Those early years of learning to be an applied researcher at the Industrial
Relations Center and at 3M Company were marked by high productivity- stimulated
by circumstances, opportunities, and by close collegial working relationships.
Between 1952 and 1961, my co-authors and I published over 50 articles, chapters,
and reviews all, of course, of inestimable scientific merit.
Our second daughter was born about midway during those exciting years at 3M. She
barely missed being our second Holiday baby. Peggy Jo popped into the world on
July 3rd, 1957 just ahead of our annual Independence Day celebration. Where
Nancy had been a good-natured and rather docile child, Peggy seemed to be wired.
She rarely slept for more than a few hours. Jean and I alternated nights getting
up with her. She was most difficult to console and seemed often to be in pain.
She was hyperactive from the moment of birth. Interestingly, she also showed
very early indications of extremely impressive verbal ability. She knew eight or
ten words by the age of six months and was conversing in sentences by the time
she was a year of age. She was a hyperactive child who seemed to be the source
of all sorts of difficulties in any situation where the persons in charge
attempted orderliness and constraint. By age 14, however, the "difficult
years" had passed and she flowered quite suddenly and surprisingly into an
achievement-oriented and intelligent young woman. She graduated from the
University of Oregon in 1978 with a major in Romance Languages. She had gone to
Oregon to live with her older sister, Nancy, who had also graduated from Oregon
several years earlier with a double major in Dance and Psychology. Nancy had
begun college at Reed College in Portland and had transferred to Oregon at the
beginning of her Junior year.
The outpouring of publications during the 3M years made it rather easy during
the academic year 1961 for Minnesota's Department of Psychology to justify
hiring me as an Associate Professor with tenure to replace D. G. Paterson, as if
anyone could, upon his retirement. This action was, in fact, part of the plan
that had been made between Paul Meehl and me at the time I had taken the 3M job.
At the time, Paul was chair of the Psychology Department, and I had suggested to
him that my career aspirations were to return to the University within a span of
five or six years to handle that part of Paterson's functions that entailed
Industrial Psychology. At about that same time, Lloyd Lofquist and Rene Dawis
were brought in to cover respectively, the Counseling Psychology and
Differential Psychology facets of Paterson's teaching that had over the years
developed what came to be known as the "Minnesota Tradition" in
applied psychology. Over the span of Paterson's career at Minnesota, from 1921
until his retirement in 1962 a total of 83 students obtained their Ph.D. degrees
I was much less aware at that time than I am now that I was indeed exercising
great wisdom by shrewdly avoiding having to serve an academic apprenticeship as
an assistant professor. The timing of this move was also important because my 3M
salary had already climbed to over $11,000 per year, a figure that threatened to
make the transition quite difficult financially. But, as mentioned, I suffered
from a strong urge to at least try to carry on that facet of Paterson's work
which emphasized the psychology of individual differences and the development of
properly constituted Industrial and Organizational Psychologists.
In spite of my gaining immediate tenure, the move was not an easy one.
My teaching load was rather heavy and diverse. Over the first few years
in the department, I taught general psychology, statistics, survey research
methods, differential psychology, and undergraduate courses and graduate
seminars in I-O psychology. The reinforcement schedule was notably different. At
3M, morsels of reinforcement were frequent and tasty; in academia, they were
infrequent and usually ambiguous. Getting underway on a research program
required different strategies and a much more obvious individual effort than had
been the case at 3M.
It was at this point that simply
"being there" paid off handsomely for me yet again. This time,
opportunities came in the form of an influx of intelligent, energetic, and
creative graduate students. In fact, from that time on, throughout my career, I
have often had the feeling that I was being led instead of leading. It has often
seemed that I was barely hanging on as one fine mind after another would come
along to study at Minnesota and thereby to keep me abreast of interesting and
important things going on in the field of psychology.
Let me cite some examples: My very first student, Richard Hatch, called my
attention to the burgeoning research literature during the fifties in the area
of interpersonal perception and empathy; research which, late in that decade,
had been severely criticized on methodological grounds by such notables as
Donald Campbell, Lee Cronbach, and Nathaniel Gage. My student Hatch, for his
dissertation research, proceeded to invent a new item format (called the Forced
Choice Differential Accuracy method) which successfully overcame the sources of
spurious empathic accuracy--assumed similarity, stereotype accuracy, and social
desirability response sets--which had been so roundly criticized. He
demonstrated the practical usefulness of his method by showing that 30 3M sales
managers could accurately discern job satisfaction levels of their subordinates
and that these predictions accurately reflected their own prior judgments about
how well they knew their various subordinates. Hatch's research won the Ford
Foundation's Outstanding Dissertation Award for 1962 and was subsequently
published in book form by the Foundation.
Hatch's contribution resulted in my continued interest and research in
interpersonal perception. Research on the empathic process led ultimately to
results that were reported in my Division 14 presidential address and also to a
significant paper on processes of interpersonal accommodation given a year later at APA. In
addition, T-Group training methods, as they were applied in business settings,
attracted John Campbell's and my attention, and we jointly published significant
review articles in two journals (Psychological Bulletin and Industrial
Relations) in 1968.
As you can see, Hatch's research did stimulate several years of activity in the
area of interpersonal perception.
However, avenues of research in several other areas were also undertaken at
about the same time.
These other areas included research on non-linear prediction models, theories of
human motivation, issues related to the effects of various pay methods on work
motivation, and research on employment interviewing.
The research on non-linear prediction was stimulated by another stroke of good
fortune. Lyman Porter arranged to have me spend a visiting semester at Berkeley
in 1962. While there, I became aware of Ghiselli's demonstrations that moderator
variables could have practical usefulness in predicting job performance. Over
the years from then on, many Minnesota dissertations examined the prospects for
non-linear prediction models; Wayne Sorenson's and John Campbell's in 1964,
Robert Hobert's in 1965, Paul Johnson's in 1970, John Kokosh's in 1975, and Tom
Janz's in 1976.
Over the same span of time, much research was done on several aspects of
motivation. A number of us, including Paul Wernimont, George Graen, John
Campbell, Milt Hakel, and I produced evidence convincing to us at that
Herzberg's notions about two factors of motivation were not sustained when more
rigorous methods than "storytelling" were used to collect information
about previously satisfying and dissatisfying events.
Virginia Loehr, Rich Arvey, and Steve Motowidlo did their dissertation research
on several aspects of expectancy theory and on various parameters (such as goal
specificity) related to the motivational effects of goal setting.
One of the students working with us during the middle sixties was Robert Opsahl.
You may recognize his name as that of the senior author of the Opsahl and
Dunnette review article on the effects of financial compensation on work
motivation. Opsahl completed most of a dissertation in the area of interpersonal
perception, but he made an even more important contribution when he conceived
the idea of setting up a dummy organization for the purpose of studying the
effects of different levels of expectancy and of differing conditions of
perceived pay equity on productivity. Using his design, he and I successfully
applied for funding from the National Science Foundation.
The basic design of the study was that 269 students were hired at 6 different
locations in Minnesota to work for 1 week during their spring break. At the time
they were employed, they believed they were working for a "manpower
overload company." Their work consisted of a simple clerical task. Some
were made to feel overpaid, others equitably paid, and others underpaid. Their
expectancies concerning the relationship between effort and pay were manipulated
by paying some on an hourly basis and others via a modified piece rate plan.
Groups worked under one expectancy condition for three days and were then placed
under the other expectancy condition for the final three days; thus, the design
allowed for a repeated measures comparison between the effects of low and high
expectancy. Three outstanding dissertations were written from the data gathered
in this experiment. Bob Pritchard dealt with the equity manipulation; Dale
Jorgenson dealt with the expectancy manipulation; and Walter Tornow examined the
effects of subjects' beliefs about what constituted work inputs or work outcomes
on their perceptions of equity or inequity.
For me, the most intriguing aspects of the results had to do with the manner in which tested ability was expressed in performance. The highest correlations between ability and
productivity occurred under those conditions where motivational circumstances
might be assumed to be ideal-namely high expectancy and feelings of
equity. The median R between ability and performance for those circumstances was
.75. In contrast, the least favorable circumstances for the expression of
ability might be expected to be those involving low expectancy and feelings of
underpayment. The median R for those conditions was only .25. These results
suggested that ideal motivational circumstances are associated with maximizing
the expression of ability differences in the form of job performance. The extent
to which actual performance departs from what is predicted from ability
differences may provide clues about the degree of involvement of motivational
I was led into yet another area of research by Milt Hakel's interest in
the employment interview. Milt wrote a proposal for an ambitious project focused
on studying person perception in the context of the employment interview. After
I added a few words here and there and an abstract, we sent it to the National
Science Foundation. We had the good fortune not only to get the project funded
by NSF, but we also won that year's Cattell Award. The NSF grant helped fund
Milt's and Tom Hollmann's dissertation research, the publication of several
journal articles, and a book containing
checklists for use in research
on the employment interview.
Shortly after returning to the University, in 1964, our third daughter Sheryl
Jean was born. She also came close to celebrating a special day , this time
Valentine's Day, but her birthday is February 15th. In contrast with Peggy's
very difficult early years, Sheri's early years were quite sublime. Her period
of rebellion came at a time that is presumed, I believe, to be more typical, in
the stormy years of pre- and post pubescence. Her grades in high school were
marginal at best, and she seemed constantly to be on the verge of rebellion. The
transition for her came after high school. Surprisingly, she scored very well on
college aptitude tests and graduated with honors from college five years after
finishing high school.
It was during the years of Sheri's adolescence that Jean's and my marriage began
to flounder. Finally, after several years of tension, indecision, pain, and
sadness, we were divorced on November 8, 1978.
As must be apparent from the foregoing comments about the first decade of my
career as an academic, many good things happened professionally. I had extreme
good fortune during those years in being in a stimulating intellectual hotbed of
eager and bright students and superb colleagues. With that stimulation,
contributions continued to be made to the literature. In fact, over those years,
we published an additional 65 articles, chapters, and books. My favorite
accomplishment during that time was the little paperback titled Personnel
Selection and Placement, which was first published in 1966 and remained in
print through 1985. The years of the 60s were very heady years for other reasons
too. I gave a very well-received invited address titled Fads, Fashions, and
Folderol in Psychology at the APA Convention in Chicago in 1965. Even today,
persons comment occasionally about the excitement they felt as members of
that audience. I feel some pride too in that I advocated in that talk that
psychology's fixation on testing the null hypothesis might be seen as a
millstone around the neck of psychology. But, it was one of my bright graduate
students at the time, Milton Hakel, who carried out what was a sort of
meta-analysis when he, at my request, examined four journals2 and
selected studies in which either t or F had been used as the primary test of a
null hypothesis. He converted the t and F values into magnitude estimates. Of
112 estimates computed by Hakel, the median value was .42, and one-third
were below .30. It is sad but true that in spite of that finding and many others
with similar results that it was still necessary for Cohen3 to point out in his
own invited address sponsored by Division 5 at the 1990 APA Convention that null
hypothesis testing has still not diminished in its widespread use.
It was at that same 1965 APA Convention that I learned I had been elected to
serve as president of Division 14 in the 1966-67 year. And, in fact, 1965 also
was the year that Ed Henry introduced me to Smith Richardson Senior and some of
the other trustees of the Smith Richardson Foundation. Out of that meeting came
an agreement that the Foundation would provide financial support for a study of
managerial effectiveness. My charge specifically was to learn everything that
was then known about methods of identifying, developing, and motivating
managers, executives, and industrial leaders. I put together a team made up of
John Campbell, Ed Lawler, Karl Weick, and me. Together, we surveyed current
literature, current industrial practices, identified gaps in the current state
of knowledge, and suggested the type of research that was needed. A multivolume
report was submitted to the Smith Richardson Foundation in 1968 and was
published in book form4 by McGraw-Hill in 1970. This book has since been
identified by Current Contents as a citation classic, having been cited
over 1200 times in the years since publication.
It was also in the year 1977 that I was approached by Rand McNally to prepare a Handbook
of Industrial and Organizational Psychology. I signed a contract to do so
only to learn shortly thereafter that the Executive Committee of Division 14 had
just appointed an editorial committee to undertake the development of such a
Handbook. Paul Thayer and I had a few conversations, after which it was agreed
that I should push forward with my project in lieu of the Division 14 sponsored
Handbook. This was a most gracious agreement on the part of the Division 14
Executive Committee. I proceeded thereby to obtain agreements from George
England, John Campbell, Robert Guion, and Richard Hackman to serve as associate
editors. The Handbook was published in 1976. In 1981, Rand McNally sold
its College Division to another publisher, and John M. Wiley and Sons took over
publication and distribution of the Handbook in 1982. The Handbook just
went out of print in July of this year. Over the 14 years since publication,
nearly 12,000 copies were distributed throughout the world. It apparently has
had a profound influence on the direction of graduate education in Industrial
and Organizational Psychology and in the area of Organizational Behavior.
A second edition to be published in four volumes is now in press and will be
published over the next 18 months, with the first two volumes scheduled to
appear during the early months of 1991.
intellectual environment and enriched circumstances of those first 15 years
after I returned to Minnesota's Psychology Department continued unabated and
still continue to this very day. Table I lists the names of persons who have
completed their Industrial and Organizational Psychology Ph.D. degrees from the
Minnesota Department over the years 1961 to now. The people listed there did
their dissertations with many of us at Minnesota - in particular John Campbell,
Rene Dawis, Tom Bouchard, and, before his death, H. P. Longstaff. The table is
intended to continue the story of my good fortune in simply "being
there" with such good colleagues and our fine students over the years of my
academic career. In 1984, our Industrial and Organizational Psychology faculty
was enriched even more when Phil Ackerman and Ruth Kanfer joined us. In
addition, the intellectual environment within which our students are working has
been enhanced even further by faculty members Harold Angle, Richard Arvey, Larry
Cummings, Raymond Noe, Cheri Ostroff, and Paul Sackett, who have over the last
few years joined the Industrial Relations and Strategic Management Departments
of the School of Management.
Further evidence of the validity of my choice of Chauncey Gardner as my role
model for understanding how I have come to make contributions to psychology is
provided by an account of the quirks of circumstance that resulted in my
founding and directing consulting and research organizations.
To begin, I ask that you recall the name Richard Hatch, my ingenious first
student who invented the Forced Choice Differential Accuracy method for studying
empathy. As soon as Hatch completed his degree, he moved to San Diego where he
began to consult with the Marine Corps about improving the instruction and
proficiency testing in their various schools for enlisted personnel. For some
reason that I've since forgotten, the Marine Corps encountered administrative
difficulties in paying Hatch directly for his services. The upshot of this was
that he needed an organization to develop a contract with the Office of Naval
Research through which he would receive payment for his activities. In order to
help him out, Wayne Kirchner and I formed a corporation called Dunnette Kirchner
Associates, with the corporate offices being listed as my home. Hatch was happy.
The Marine Corps was happy. ONR was happy. Kirchner and I were happy. And, we
even managed on a few occasions (during winter months) to visit our
"research site" in San Diego.
later, after Hatch had become so busy that he established his own firm
(Decision Systems, Inc.), I met with a Mr. Swanson in my University office. He
was a middle-aged R & D engineer who felt stifled in his current job at the
Pillsbury Company. In my usual non-directive way, I urged him to strike out on
his own and be his own boss.
A few years later, in early 1967, a local consultant died suddenly from a heart
attack. Interestingly, I was contacted by a member of the consultant's Board of
Directors, the same Mr. Swanson, now a fulfilled and highly successful owner of
a small R & D company, who asked whether or not I could take over the
deceased consultant's former clients. The timing could not have been better.
Kirchner and I had been moonlighting some, and we had just arranged for an
advanced graduate student in Counseling Psychology, Lowell Hellervik, to spend
part-time in carrying out some of those consulting activities. We struck an
agreement to pay the consultant's wife a percentage of billings for a time. We
inherited a top notch secretary named Marlys, and Lowell Hellervik agreed to
work fulltime. We changed the name of Dunnette Kirchner Associates to
Personnel Decisions, Incorporated (PDI), and we were in business. Growth was not
rapid at first. Most of the first work involved in-office assessments of
candidates for employment or promotion. But gradually, we began to do project work; a study that John
Campbell and I worked on with Bill Byham at Penneys, attitude surveys at Ford,
Caterpillar, Northern Ordinance, and IBM. We started the first cross-company
multiple assessment center with design help from Rich Arvey, George Milkovich,
and Leaetta Hough. Our first Center was offered in Rochester, Minnesota in
January 1970. At the conclusion of the Center, everyone's car was frozen solid
since the temperature had lingered for too long at 35 below zero the night
I found myself in Washington, DC one day around then. I had the afternoon free.
I wandered into the offices of the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration and
told a Dr. Epstein that we would like to develop improved methods for selecting
police officers. He insisted that in order to be funded we should call the
selection methods "improved psychiatric standards." So we did, and we
So it was that a chance visit led to funding of a nationwide research study on
police selection to be carried out over a period of several years. This got us
into the project business studies for the Navy, the Army, and the Office
of Personnel Management. It became possible for us to hire some very good
people, Bob Heckman who we pirated out of NCR in Dayton, Wally Borman just after
he finished his Ph.D. at Berkeley, Rodney Rosse shortly before he finished his
Ph.D. in statistics at Minnesota, and some topnotch graduate student: Rich
Arvey, Steve Motowidlo, Dave Bownas, Dennis Groner, Ben Dowell, Leaetta Hough,
Janis Houston, and Rob Silzer. During the entire time, from day one, Lowell
Hellervik provided the stabilizing internal management and superb client contact
skills that kept clients coming back even when they may have been ignored or
perhaps even rebuffed on occasion by the more "academic types" amongst
The founding of Personnel Decisions Research Institute was also based on an
unusual convergence of circumstances. In May of 1973, we decided to respond to a
Request for Proposals issued by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The
request was intriguing because the purpose was to develop demographic and
personality predictors of drug involvement and drug abuse by adolescents. Our
proposal was submitted through PDI. Amazingly, we learned within a matter of
days that we were funded. By early July, we were underway on the research
project. But, within six weeks we received a STOP WORK order from NIDA. Funds
were being curtailed throughout the federal government by President Nixon's
Office of Management and the Budget.
Our contract monitor at NIDA was as unhappy about the cancellation of the
project as we were. Finally, after several months, he informed us that OMB did
not have the same control over grant research, as was the case for contract
research, but NIDA could only provide research grant funds to nonprofit
organizations. After a few more months of pondering this state of affairs, we
decided to establish a non-profit research group, Personnel Decisions Research
Institute (PDRI). Wally Borman, Leaetta Hough, and I were the first and founding
members of this new group; we re-submitted the NIDA research proposal through
PDRI and received notification that we had been funded in March of 1975,
coinciding almost perfectly with the date of PDRI's official legal birth. At
that same time, Lowell Hellervik was elected president of PDI.
Both organizations have prospered in the years since 1975. Under Lowell's
leadership, PDI has grown to an organization of over 200 persons with offices in
Minneapolis, St. Paul, New York City, and Dallas. PDI's charter states as its
purpose, "to provide a full range of psychological and human resource
services to enhance individual and organizational effectiveness."
PDRI has grown to an organization of 30 persons. PDRI's mission is "to
conduct research and to implement research findings and products that address
problems of human resource utilization in society and in organizations in the
U.S. and abroad ... we are committed to advancing and influencing the science
and practice of applied psychology through innovative thinking and problem-solving
and disseminating our methods and findings." I wish I could say that this
is all the result of shrewd planning; but, of course, shrewd planning had little
to do with these organizational outcomes. As you have seen, to a great degree,
these outcomes came about through fortuitous and usually surprising
PDRI's research products and scientific contributions are documented in over 200
institute technical reports issued over the last 15 years and by many articles,
chapters, and books published by research staff members. My own productivity has
been buoyed on the waves of the efforts and significant contributions made by
all the members of the research institute.
A glimpse of the content of research studies carried out over these years
by various PDRI research teams is listed in Table 2. The list there obviously
fails to capture the true flavor or detail of the many research
A better appreciation for their range and richness would be given by examining
the technical reports, articles, chapters, and research materials prepared by
such persons as Borman, Hough, Peterson, Pulakos, Bosshardt, Lammlein, Rosse,
Motowidlo, McHenry, McKenna, Ashworth, Carter, Hallam, Hanson, Owens-Kurtz,
Borge, Kamp, McGue, Russell, and many others who have contributed so heavily to
PDRI's research activities and products. My
own career has been enhanced incredibly through their excellence and by the good
fortune of having them involved in these applied research activities.
Over the last 10 years, my personal life has also been wonderfully
enriched by the love, warmth and companionship between my wife, Leaetta Hough,
and me. We have worked together now for over 20 years, and we have been married
for 10. In fact, we were married on what may be regarded as one of the lesser,
but still significant, commemorative days, Groundhog's Day, February 2nd, 1980.
The day was sunny; the Groundhog saw his shadow, and the remainder of the winter
was thereby extended. We both have found much happiness in sharing our lives
together and in the excitement and exhilaration of sharing our zest for the
science/practice of Industrial and Organizational Psychology in our closely
Having described the rather
haphazard circumstances that have marked the unfolding of my career to this
point let me try to tease out what the consistencies may have been. Perhaps some
understanding of whatever success I may have realized to this point may be
discovered amongst them. Here they are:
Choose and reinforce good bosses.
For me, this has almost come to mean not having bosses. At any rate,
I seem to have been graced by working for persons who left me alone
to do my own thing. With the exception
of that sad year as a chemical engineer, I've had such
bosses--especially those who served as chairmen of our Psychology Department at Minnesota--Paul
Meehl, Kenneth Clark, Kenneth MacCorquodale, Jack Darley, Lloyd Lofquist and
Tom Bouchard. A corollary to this is perhaps that, as a boss and as a mentor, I
have given free rein to others. Almost always, persons have (eventually)
responded in incredibly responsible and productive ways. But observers of my
loose management style have sometimes been frustrated beyond belief. And,
sadly, there have been a few instances where more defined direction and
earlier guidance would perhaps have saved persons from failure and/or
disenchantment about what they were being asked to do.
Learn to write with clarity.
Take yourself with a grain of salt.
Live with ambiguity.
Expect much from
Don't burn bridges.
Be there for both yourself and others.
Pomposity is the pre-cursor of much that is evil, the loss of self
knowledge, cessation of humor, the blunting of achievement, and the
dulling of wisdom. It could very well be that the sole usefulness of
pompous asses is to educate others in what to avoid.
Finally, recall the wisdom of Chauncey the gardener: Prepare in the Fall
and Winter for growth in the Spring.
The V-12 program was a program whereby enlisted personnel in the Navy and
Marine Corps, upon demonstrating high aptitude, would be sent to college to
qualify for entry into Officers' Training.
The journals sampled were the Journal of Applied Psychology, Journal
of Abnormal and Social Psychology, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,
and Journal of Experimental Psychology.
Cohen, J. (1990). Things I have learned (so far). American
Psychologist, 45, 1304-1312.
Campbell, J. P., Dunnette, M. D., Lawler, E. E. III, & Weick, K. E.,
Jr. (1970). Managerial behavior,
performance and effectiveness. New
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