IMPROVISING AND MUDDLING THROUGH
Victor H. Vroom
years I have been involved in the teaching of a course at Yale called
Individual and Group Behavior. IGB, as it has been affectionately called by
the students, is an experiential course designed to encourage personal
reflection as well as mastery of psychological concepts and principles. One of
the activities that has historically been a part of that course is a lifeline
exercise in which students are asked to draw their lifelines, including points
marking birth and death, key choice points and the external events which
helped to shape them. While initially resisting the activity, it is customary
for a student to derive a great deal from stepping back from the day-to-day
events which are the usual focus of attention and reflecting on the large
questions of the trails they have taken and of those they have yet to take.
chapter is a comparable experience for me. It has given me an opportunity to
sit back and reflect on what at times seems like an incredibly busy schedule
and to attempt to make sense of where I have been and where I am going. The
reader is, of course, free to look for his or her own patterns in this and in
other chapters which comprise this volume. One conclusion which I have reached
from examining the data which follows is the paucity of long-term planning
that has characterized my own career. Chance has overwhelmed purpose in
influencing the choices with which I have been presented as well as the
outcomes of the choices that I have made. What little planning that has
occurred has been short range, like the novice chess player who looks at most
two steps ahead in choosing the next move.
colleague, Ed Lindblom has given a name (Lindblom, 1959) to this phenomenon
which he feels characterizes much of organizational decision making, despite
what normative theorists argue should be the case. He calls it "muddling
through." Perhaps I am deceiving myself or I am being unduly modest.
Perhaps the astute reader will see deliberateness and the pursuit of long-range
goals in the pages to follow. Perhaps in attributing my behavior in large
measure to situations with which I have been confronted, I am committing what
psychologists have come to call "the fundamental attribution error"the
tendency to see the causes of one's own behavior in the environment and the
causes of others' behavior as residing within them. On with the tale.
I was born in
the heart of the Great Depression. My father, who had been a naval officer
during the first world war, was fortunate enough to maintain his employment at
the Northern Electric Company in a plant that had been described to me as the
Canadian counterpart of the Hawthorne Works. My mother was born in South
Africa where her parents had settled after her father retired from the British
Army to pursue interests in gold and diamond mining. I was the youngest of
three boysAlan was 12 years older, and
Kenneth 5 years older than I.
As a child, I
was not conscious of any scholarly ambitions or pretensions. Learning was
something that came easily to me but was not something that I pursued with
much passion. My passion was rather preserved for music. At about age 10, my
mother bought me a $25 clarinet, later to be followed by a $40 saxophone. For
the next 4 years, the Vroom household was "treated" to an endless
set of squeaks, groans, and then, ultimately, notes and chords. When I was not
practicing my instrument, I was listening to recordings of Benny Goodman and
Artie Shaw or Johnny Hodges and Charlie Parker. Growing up in the suburbs of
Montreal during the "big band era" it was possible to see all of my
favorite performers live. I was, typically, the tall kid standing by the
bandstand gazing with awe at my heroes effortlessly executing passages to
which I could only aspire. My bedroom, in which I practiced as much as 10
hours a day, was adorned with autographs of my favorite performers.
By age 15,
I was finally good enough to be invited to join a local dance band
called the Blue Knights. We all wore sky-blue blazers and navy blue slacks and
played standard arrangements from the big band era. Even today when hearing
Stan Kenton's "Intermission Riff," Glen Miller's "String of
Pearls," or Tommy Dorsey's "Song of India," I find my thoughts
drifting back to life on the bandstand and my fingers revisiting the passages
I have played so many times.
It was a
glamorous life for a high school sophomore. The other members of the band were
all in college or college graduates pursuing successful careers. For the next
3 years, I played at least two or three nights a week in various dance halls
and nightclubs in and around Montreal. My studies suffered but not to the
point of jeopardizing my high school graduation, which occurred on schedule.
confess to not having given much thought to what I would do after high school.
My two brothers had graduated from McGill University, and one had gone on for
a Ph.D. in chemistry. However, I had never regarded myself or, in fact, been
regarded by teachers as "college material." To further complicate
the picture, my father took early retirement from the Northern Electric
Company and did not have the financial resources to pay for my college
education as he had done for my two brothers.
That fact did
not upset my greatly since the thing I wanted most was to play full time with
a "name" band. For me that meant crossing the border to the States.
To be realistic, I felt that I must start with what was called a territory
band which moved from city to city in a region of the country, usually in band
buses. The ultimate objective, of course, was to end up with a
"real" name band as had my idols Oscar Peterson and Maynard
Ferguson, both of whom were Montrealers who had successfully made the
transition to the United States.
I gave myself
the summer after my high school graduation to plan the move to the States. In
retrospect I am taken with the incredible naivety with which I approached the
entire process. The difficulties in obtaining a work permit or finding a band
that needed a 17 year old alto saxophonist who also doubled on clarinet, or
even of learning to live away from a home that had nurtured me since birth
were never confronted or successfully managed.
August of 1949, my father had grown impatient with my lack of progress in
career planning and used his local contacts to get me a job as teller in the
branch of the Royal Bank of Canada less than a mile away from home. My
interview with the manager and observation of the job of teller quickly
convinced me that this was not for me. In desperation I sought an alternative
and took the advice of a fellow member of the Blue Knights to apply to Sir
George Williams College. Situated on the third floor of the YMCA building in
Montreal, Sir George, now called Concordia University, had a relatively simple
admissions process and, of even greater significance, had a tuition of only
$250 a yeara sum that I could easily
afford from my musician's income.
was relatively unique among colleges in one respectall
incoming students had to take a battery of psychological tests, including the
Kuder and the Strong Vocational Interest Tests. The psychologist who presented
me with my results informed me that my interests corresponded with two
occupational groupsmusicians and
psychologists. The latter was a surprise to me. I had only the vaguest of
conceptions of what psychology was all about. However, I looked forward to
taking a course in that field.
opportunity to study psychology did not present itself at Sir George. However,
the core curriculum was most exciting, and unlike my high school experience, I
found myself pouring more and more energy into my studies. To this I credit in
large part an opening lecture by Dean Henry Hall who pointed out that a
college education was one of the few things that people would pay for but
would not necessarily get. In college no one would prod me to learn. What I
learned would be up to me.
The source of
the impact of Dean Hall's remarks is still a bit hazy to me. Perhaps it was
the fact that I was financing my own education; perhaps it was the relative
absence of the external controls that had permeated my educational experience
to date; perhaps it was the discretion that I was to be accorded as an adult.
Most likely it was all three factors that contributed, for the first time in
my 17-year history, to behavior that demonstrated "dedicated
continued to play music at Sir George, I found that my mind was becoming my
"principal instrument." Mastery was still the goal, but notes and
keys were replaced by ideas and concepts. A common theme, however, was
improvisation. I was never content to parrot back the ideas and theories of
others. My college lecture notes reveal a persistent pattern of recording the
key ideas expressed by the instructor on one side of the page and my personal
reactions and thoughts on the other side of the page.
By the end of
my first year, scholarship had clearly acquired the status at least equal to
that of jazz music. I sought to transfer to McGill University and, to my
surprise, was accepted with full credit from my year at Sir George. At McGill
I took my first course in psychology from Donald Hebb, who had just completed
his landmark work entitled The Organization of Behavior (Hebb, 1949). I was impressed both with him and with my
exposure to psychology and by the end of my sophomore year had been admitted
to a special honors program in that field. There were only three or four of us
in that program, and we would meet weekly for lunch with "Hebb" to
discuss psychological questions that we found interesting. My fascination at
that time was with philosophy of
science, particularly the concept of determinism and its implications for free
will, religion, and individual responsibility.
My budding romance with
psychology complimented my continuing interest in music. By now the Blue
Knights had disbanded but was replaced by larger and more professional
orchestrasthis time with five
saxophones, five trumpets, five trombones, full rhythm sections, male and
female vocalists, and their own arrangements. The exciting, glamorous life of
music continued and, in fact, enabled me to not only finance my own college
career but also to pay rent to my parents in whose home I continued to live.
It was too
good a life to cut short precipitously, and on graduation from McGill I
elected to take a master's degree in psychology at that university. At that
time McGill had just introduced two parallel tracks for graduate work in
psychology. The academic track lead to an MSC and Ph.D. The professional
track, which embraced both clinical and industrial psychology, lead to an
MPS.Sc (Master of Psychological Science). I chose the latter path with a
concentration in industrial psychology, even though I did not even know what
industrial psychology was. I knew Edward Webster, who covered that subject,
and he seemed like a nice-enough gentleman. Furthermore, industrial psychology
seemed to offer possibilities other than academic research and teaching, which
appealed to my urbane side.
industrial psychology I was exposed to the works of Joseph Tiffin, Charles
Lawshe, and Jay Otis. It seemed to me that I learned all there was to know
about psychological testing, techniques of hiring and placement, job analysis,
job evaluation, and the technology of merit rating. However, to my dismay I
saw little if any connection between the academic psychology on which I had
labored so diligently in my undergraduate years and this new field. Industrial
psychology seemed more a set of techniques than it did the application of a
set of theories and concepts.
One of the
ingredients of the McGill program was a set of internships in which students
had an opportunity to practice their new profession in the field. My first
internship was at Canadair Ltd.an
aircraft manufacturer in Montreal. There I worked on the development of
weighted application blanks utilizing demographic measures to predict job
turnover. I recall being upset that there was no similarity between the items
which predicted turnover for Assembly Fitters "A" than for Assembly
Fitters "B," and I couldn't figure out the rationale. However, my
advisors urged me not to be discouraged. They sought unsuccessfully to
convince me that the important thing was not theoretical consistency but the
magnitude of r2
or variance explained.
In the late
summer of 1954 after my first year of graduate work, the International
Congress of Applied Psychology was held in Montreal. Among the participants in
that scientific gathering were Rensis Likert and Carroll Shartle. I began
hearing about the University of Michigan's organizational behavior program and
the leadership research then underway at Ohio State University. Once again
there seemed to be an exciting world across the border in the United States,
but this time it was the world of industrial social psychology rather than the
world of big band jazz!
my final year in the master's program at McGill, I interned at the Aluminum
Company of Canada in their staff training and research division, This was
completely different from Canadair and helped me to form a more complete
picture of this new field of which I wanted to be a part. Here I was exposed
to the works of Fritz Roethisberger, Carl Rogers, Douglas McGregor, and Paul
Lawrence. I had ample opportunity to read in unpublished form the latest
research being conducted at Michigan and at Ohio State, and I resolved to
pursue the Ph.D. degree. I applied to five schoolsMichigan,
Illinois, Purdue, Ohio State, and Carnegie Tech. My first choice was Michigan,
and I was delighted in March of 1955 to hear that they too wanted me.
everything that I might have hoped for in a graduate education. Here at long
last was the means of integrating psychological theory with application. I
majored in social psychology where I was exposed to such professors at Ted
Newcomb, Doc Cartwright, Dan Katz, Jack French, and Helen Peak. At the same
time I worked in the Survey Research Center where I was concerned with
applying social psychological ideas to understanding how to make organizations
more effective. While he had died several years previous, the ideas of Kurt
Lewin were very much alive at Michigan, and they had a pervasive influence on
my thinking about individual behavior. Specifically, his reminder that
behavior is a function of person and environment helped me to integrate in my
own mind the social psychological emphasis on situational or environmental
determinants and the prior McGill influence on individual differences. I was
ready for Lee Cronbach's classic treatise (Cronbach, 1957) on the two
disciplines of scientific psychology, which appeared toward the end of my
was also a very strong influence on me at Michigan. My introduction to
experiential learning occurred while serving as a teaching fellow in his
course, Psychology of Human Relations, during my first year. His book, Psychology
in Industry (Maier, 1955), was
used as a text in that course, and his constant attention to the psychological
underpinnings of behavior helped to reinforce my belief that the theoretical
and the practical could be integrated.
dissertation at Michigan, "Some Personality Determinants of the Effects
of Participation," dealt with the moderating effects of two personality
variables authoritarianism and need for
independence on reaction to participation in decision making. It gave tangible
expression to my interest in the interaction between person and environmental
variables. Sometime after the completion of my dissertation, I received a
phone call from Donald Taylor at Yale informing me that my dissertation was to
receive an award from the Ford Foundation in its doctoral dissertation
competition and would be published as a book by Prentice Hall. Needless to say
I was ecstatic, and the red leather bound edition given me by the publisher
still occupies a position of honor on my bookshelf.
recognition encouraged me to pursue a more general formulation of a theory
dealing with the interaction of individual differences and situational
variables. That formulation came to be called "VIE theory" or
"expectancy theory" when it was published several years later in Work
and Motivation (Vroom, 1964).
While I was
at Michigan, my career got another unexpected boost. Norman Maier was invited
to write the chapter on industrial social psychology for the 1960 Annual
Review of Psychology. He had planned to decline since he was going to be on
sabbatical leave in Europe that year. However, he knew that I made a practice
of keeping up on everything that was written in the field and asked me to do
the literature search so that he could organize it into a chapter on his
return. I went beyond the original mandate and wrote the entire chapter.
He changed barely a word before sending it off to the editors.
It was around
this time that I became aware of the fact that my exchange visitor visa status
obligated me to return to Canada for a two-year period. This seemed most
unfortunate since at that time there were no jobs for industrial or
organizational psychologists in Canada. In desperation I went to an office in
the university with responsibility for international students. Together we
devised a plan which they felt had a modest probability of overcoming my
predicament. In the past whenever I had returned to Canada on a visit, I had
in my possession a document from the university requesting a reissuance of my
exchange visitor permit. This time the document referred to a "student
visa" instead of "exchange visitor." (A student visa carried
with it no such requirement of returning to one's native land.)
It was indeed
fortunate that Ann Arbor is relatively close to the Canadian border. I recall
spending a long weekend crossing into Canada at each of the border crossing
routes and immediately turning around and presenting my document. Three times
I received a stern reprimand from the customs official who insisted that I
return to Ann Arbor to get the proper document. At the fourth try the customs
official took pity on me and issued a new student visa. I was now free to
enter the United States job market. I did my best to contain my jubilation
until I was safely out of sight of the official lest he change his mind.
received my degree at Michigan, I was invited to stay on as a study director
in the Survey Research Center and concurrently as a lecturer in the Department
of Psychology. It wasn't something that I wanted to do for the rest of my
life, but Michigan had been so good to me that I felt I could do far worse.
Besides I had formed a small jazz combo called The Intellectuals, which
continued to provide an outlet for my musical talents and rambunctious
I stayed at Michigan for
another 2 years. It was a somewhat ambiguous status. On one hand, I was
treated like a faculty member and invited to faculty meetings and gave
colloquia and the like; on the other hand, I felt a bit like a senior graduate
student who had stayed on past his time. In 1960 1 received an offer from the
University of Pennsylvania to join their Department of Psychology. At that
time Penn's department was in a state of resurgence after many years of
inbreeding. The back bone of the department was mathematical psychology with
Robert Bush as chairman and people like Luce and Galanter among the full
professors. The sole industrial psychologist there was Morris Viteles whose
1932 book was a classic and required reading during my McGill days.
I recall some
discussion of whether I might wish a connection with the Wharton School.
George Taylor, who was then the Chairman of the Department of Geography and
Industry, strongly encouraged me in this direction. I recall being
tremendously impressed by his range of contacts in the field of labor
management relationsa field about which
I knew remarkably little. However, I had been well indoctrinated by colleagues
in psychology at Michigan with a disrespect of business schools which at that
time was all too characteristic of faculty in the arts and sciences. I
politely turned down the invitation.
Penn, I taught large sections of introductory psychology as well as courses in
social psychology, industrial psychology, and motivation to both
undergraduates and doctoral students. During this time, my major preoccupation
was writing Work and Motivation. I should point out that I did this
without a great deal of support from my Penn colleagues, most of whom felt
that attempting to write a major book instead of journal articles was more
appropriately a professorial endeavor rather than a task of a first-term
I had no choice or at least felt I had none. Never before had I pursued any
task (except perhaps learning to play the saxophone!) with such diligence and
dedication. I spent every evening in the library and was frequently there
until closing. I was compulsive about checking every reference and
exhaustively surveying every item that could conceivably be relevant to my
quest. Unlike my experience at Michigan, I was beginning to feel like an
independent scholar. I missed the conviviality and stimulation of a group of
colleagues with similar or complimentary interests but relished the freedom
which Penn provided me to do my own intellectual work.
One of the
casualties of my appointment at the University of Pennsylvania was my part-time
musical career. Such "frivolities" were frowned on by my department
chair and preempted by my intellectual preoccupations. My saxophone and
clarinet became relegated to a distant corner of the basement to gather dust
as remnants of discarded boyhood dreams.
In 1963 my
three-year contract as assistant professor of psychology was up, and I began
to be wooed by several other universities. This time the most attractive
alternatives were not in psychology departments but in schools of business or
management. Among the chief competitors was Yale, which had Chris Argyris, E.
Wight Bakke, Bob Fetter, and Donald Taylor in what was then called the
Department of Industrial Administration. Yale did not then have a doctoral
program, but one seemed likely to be approved in the near future.
I came very
close to going to Yale because it had many attractions but, in the end,
decided on Carnegie. The opportunity to work with Dick Cyert, Jim March,
Harold Leavitt, and Herbert Simon was just too attractive to refuse. I might
point out that I would have chosen Carnegie more quickly had it not been for
the requirement that I teach master's students in their program of industrial
administration. I was still a psychologist first and foremost and still
believed that there was something not quite intellectually pure about the
mercenary interests of those seeking a career in business!
My early days
at Carnegie were filled with mixed emotions. I found myself surrounded by
colleagues in economics, operations research, marketing, and accountingeach
of whom had a different language and set of scholarly pursuits that I found
difficult to encompass into my psychological compartments. For the first few
months, I kept my office door closed and restricted my conversations with my
colleagues to the exploits of the Steelers, the Pirates, or the latest office
gossip. Gradually these social encounters acquired intellectual overtones, and
by the end of my first year, I began to embrace the interdisciplinary
exchanges which then characterized Carnegie's Graduate School of Industrial
One of my
most vivid memories of this period was a lunchtime faculty seminar on
topology. My interest in this aspect of mathematics had been spurred by an
apparent resemblance to some of the ideas of Kurt Lewin. A group of about ten
faculty members agreed to buy a major textbook on the subject, and we devoted
one lunch hour each week to exploring the subject. Each participant took the
responsibility for one class. Now 25 years later, I am painfully aware of the
fragility of this degree of open-minded collaboration among the disciplines.
In fact the oppositeveiled hostility
and at times open warfareseems to be
the norm at many schools of management.
interdisciplinary bent was reflected during this period by a collaboration
with Ken McCrimmon. We pursued a mammoth project aimed at developing a
stochastic model of the careers of managers in the General Electric Company.
It was a very large project indeed, the only one I have been involved with
based solely on archival data. My principal regret is that only the earliest
of our findings were ever published. Ken McCrimmon left to accept a
professorship at the University of British Columbia, and the collaboration
became too difficult to carry out over such a long distance.
At Carnegie I
had a joint appointment between GSIA and psychology and served on the steering
committee of both units. However, my major teaching commitments were in GSIA
with aspiring or experienced managers. Not too long ago I came across a file
containing my lecture notes from one of my early attempts to teach master's
students. I read with embarrassment of my rather unsuccessful efforts to
elicit their interest in the latest issues in psychological theory or to
impress them with the sophistication of new psychological research methods.
The lectures that had proven highly effective with Penn Ph.D. students or
undergraduate psychology majors seemed to be of little interest to this new
was found in a return to the experiential teaching methods, particularly role
playing which I had learned with Norman Maier during my first year of graduate
study. While I rarely use role playing now, I find John Dewey's admonition
that people learn by doing is fundamental to sound education regardless of the
audience. Along with my adaptation to the managerial classroom went an
appreciation of the legitimacy of managerial interests and later a belief that
the managerial world represented a rich source of problems for research.
Carnegie, I had two students with whom I continue to have a strong
intellectual association. One of these was Edward Deci, who received his Ph.D.
not from GSIA but from Psychology. One event during the latter stages of Ed's
doctoral work is suggestive of the serendipity which characterizes the
research process. I had just returned from a research conference on
compensation held at General Electric's Crotonville facility. At the
conference I was a discussant of a paper given by Leon Festinger in which he
argued, based on cognitive dissonance research, for the incompatibility of
intrinsic and extrinsic sources motivation sources. As a discussant of
Festinger's paper, I argued for a contrary position, which Gordon Allport has
termed functional autonomyi.e. means
become ends. One might start pursuing an activity, such as work in the pursuit
of external socially mediated gratification, but end up valuing the work for
its own sake.
conference the debate was spirited and lively, and when I returned to
Carnegie, I resolved to look at the evidence in greater detail. I was
delighted when Ed Deci took up the project, and he quickly embraced it,
ultimately carrying out his doctoral dissertation on the subject. It is a
great source of pride that Ed has continued to explore intrinsic motivation
and has achieved an international reputation for his work in that area.
While he was
at Carnegie, we collaborated on and edited a volume for Penguin Business
Series entitled Management and Motivation. In the 20 years following
its publication, that book sold about 200,000 copies. This fact led Penguin to
try to persuade us to undertake a revision. We accepted, and the revision is
in press at the time of this writing.
A second student was
Philip Yetton. Phil had come from England to do research on the behavioral
theory of the firm. He was surprised to find that very little was going on at
Carnegie on that subject despite Cyert and March's book published less than a
decade earlier (Cyert and March, 1963).
recently authored a chapter in the Handbook of Social Psychology (Lindzey
and Aronson, 1969) in which I reviewed the empirical evidence relevant to the
efficacy of participation and decision making. Below I reproduce a quote from
that chapter which foreshadowed much of my subsequent theoretical and
results suggest that allocating problem-solving and decisionmaking tasks
to entire groups, as compared with the leader or manager in charge of the
groups, requires a greater investment of man-hours but produces higher
acceptance of decisions and a higher probability that the decisions will be
executed efficiently. Differences between these two methods in quality of
decisions and in elapsed time are inconclusive and probably highly variable.
. . . It would be naive to think that group decision making is always more
"effective" than autocratic decision making, or vice versa; the
relative effectiveness of these two extreme methods depends both on the
weights attached to quality, acceptance, and time variables and on
differences in amounts of these outcomes resulting from these methods,
neither of which is invariant from one situation to another. The critics and
proponents of participative management would do well to direct their efforts
toward identifying the properties of situations in which different
decision‑making approaches are effective rather than wholesale
condemnation or deification of one approach. (Vroom, 1969, pp. 239-40)
had used that chapter in a doctoral seminar that I was conducting and
expressed to the seminar participants my interest in going beyond the usual
"bows" to situational relativity. Phil came to me the next day and
expressed interest in the topic, and our collaboration began.
For the next year and a half, we drew decision trees and tested them
against scenarios which came from our joint and
rather limited managerial experience. Since we were somewhat aware of
these limitations, we began asking managers to describe decision-making
situations in which they were involved, the process they had used in resolving
it, and the outcome. Within a year our files were filled with short cases
which gave us a substantially broader base for "testing" the
efficacy of our decision trees.
had the idea of formalizing the logic implicit in our decision trees, and this
spawned the concepts of rules and the related concepts of the feasible set,
both of which became important features of the Vroom-Yetton model. It
was I who conceived the idea of studying the "decision trees" that
managers used. This lead to the idea of a problem seta standardized
set of cases taken from our files which I thought, quite naively, would enable
us to draw the decision tree used by a given manager. This rather ambitious
goal required not only a relatively large number of cases but also the
selection of cases in accordance with a multi-factorial experimental
design. Such a design would render situational variables, which might be
highly correlated in the real world, statistically independent of one another.
a year after our collaboration began, I was granted a sabbatical leave and
decided to spend it at the University of California at Irvine with my old
friend Lyman Porter. Phil accompanied me, and we both devoted full time to
writing and researching our model. While in California we realized that we
needed much more access to data from managers in order to test our emerging
notions of a problem set, and I agreed to give several seminars on
participative decision making to managers in General Electric and in other
organizations. To gain the cooperation of managers, I agreed to give them an
individual analysis of their decision-making styles. I made this
commitment knowing full well that we did not yet have a technology for
carrying out that analysis but confident that a concrete deadline would spur
both of us to get it ready in time.
It was during
those exciting days in California that we began to realize that the research
that we viewed as relevant to basic theoretical issues also had tremendous
applied value. My telephone began ringing off the hook from organizations
wanting to participate in the research program so that their managers could
get feedback. Phil Yetton and I were very clear that we were primarily
academics; on the other hand, we wished to have some control over the future
development of the educational technology without sacrificing our academic
integrity. The options which occurred to us at that time included 1) putting
everything that we had done in the public domain or into scientific journals
and monographs by which it could be accessed by our colleagues, 2) setting up
our own organization which would conduct seminars and further develop the
educational technology in a manner somewhat similar to what Robert Blake had
done with the managerial grid, or 3) licensing to an existing firm the rights
to use the technology. It was at this point that I made what I now view as an
unfortunate error ‑ but more of that later.
on one of the early seminars on the model at General Electric's Management
Education Center at Crotonville, I encountered Bud Smith of the Kepner-Tregoe
organization and communicated some of the enthusiasm that I felt for what we
were doing. Bud expressed an interest in these ideas, and negotiations began
in a serious way with Kepner-Tregoe resulting in a signed contract with
them in April of 1972. My conception of the agreement with Kepner-Tregoe
was that the models (including the decision trees, rules, feasible set,
problem attributes, and the taxonomy of Al through GII) would be available for
all interested parties to use in both teaching or research. Phil Yetton had
the same conception. We both believed Bud Smith did too. Consistent with this
view we published the model in our book Leadership and Decision Making,
published by the University of Pittsburgh Press. Kepner-Tregoe was given
an exclusive license to the problem set and feedback technology including
cases, computer programs, manuals and the
like. This exclusive license was subject to Phil's and my unrestricted
right to continue to use these materials in our own research, teaching, and
In 1972 just
after signing the contract with Kepner-Tregoe, I decided to leave
Carnegie for Yale. Carnegie had been a good place for me for nine years. It
had shaped my intellectual development in several important ways. I had
entered as a organizational psychologist and left as an organizational social
scientist with a passionate interest in management. I came as a person capable
of giving a reasonable lecture; I left as a person committed to the
process of education.
On the other
hand, it seemed time to move on. Carnegie was not the source of
interdisciplinary work that it was in the early 60's. While there were still
no departments within the school, the creation of a strong group of economists
who were committed to theoretical issues within economics foreshadowed similar
coalitions within operations research and in organizational behavior.
Furthermore, Leavitt and March had moved on to other universities; Cyert was
about to become president of the university; and Simon had left the field of
organizational behavior more than a decade earlier.
presented to me as being in transition. Chris Argyris had left for Harvard the
previous year; Richard Hackman and Clay Alderfer, both of whom I had tried to
recruit at Carnegie, were trying to keep the Department of Administrative
Sciences together despite financial and organizational uncertainties.
mammoth endowment, the University had been losing money. I was asked to chair
the department by President Kingman Brewster within weeks of my arrival. It
was a prime candidate for budget cuts if not total elimination. The only
factors in our favor were constant alumni pressure to establish a business
school and, more tangibly, the fact that the University had accepted a large
bequest from the Beinecke family to establish at Yale an educational unit to
develop future managers.
My role as
chair brought with it the responsibility to help shape the manner in which
that educational endeavor would be realized. I was appointed to a task force
along with the Dean of the Graduate School, the Dean of Yale College and the
Director of the Institution of Social and Policy Studies to prepare a report
proposing how Yale should address the challenge of management education and
disliking intensely this sudden emersion into a strange world of power and
politics. I was at a high point in my research production, and academic
administration was never something to which I had aspired. I consoled myself
with the observation that all parties aspired not to replicate any existing
institution but rather to create something that was qualitatively different.
This was a rare opportunity to leave a legacy by shaping an institution which
could influence management education not only at Yale but throughout the
It would have
been completely impossible for me to have continued my research program were
it not for a very rewarding partnership with Art Jagoa
partnership which continues to this day. Art arrived at Yale as a graduate
student at the same time that I did. In fact, he had called me at Carnegie to
inquire whether I was planning to leave for Yale, as had been rumored. I told
him of my intentions even before I had announced it to my colleagues at both
Carnegie and Yale.
During the 4 years in which we worked together at Yale, Art and I carried out a great
deal of research on the descriptive aspects of participation in decision
makingmost notably, research on differences between sexes in use
of participative decision making and hierarchial differences in participative
decision making. Perhaps our best piece of work during this period was
research on the validity of the Vroom-Yetton model, which we published
in the Journal of Applied Psychology and which represented a line of
research which would be followed by many others in years to come.
My 3 years of administrative travail at Yale was rewarded by the creation of the
School of Organization and Management and with the admission of the first
class of students in September of 1976. Pending the appointment of the first
dean, Bill Donaldson, I had agreed to chair the first board of permanent
officers, chair the search committee for a dean, and chair the committee that
designed the first curriculum.
early days Yale's School of Organization and Management was an exciting place.
The students were challenging but a joy to teach; the administrative
mechanisms were highly participative and the faculty highly collegial. I
recall driving home from the orientation of the entering class in 1976, which
we called community building. Clay Alderfer and I had jointly conducted that
session which created a set of eight-person groups, each with their own
two-person faculty advising team. I recall remarking to Clay that I had
never before experienced the tremendous shared level of excitement and
enthusiasm that both faculty and students felt about this joint endeavor. Is
it conceivable that this level of commitment could be maintained indefinitely?
With the appointment of a dean and the institutionalization of many of the
norms and practices that I had sought to create in the School of Organization
and Management, my administrative role declined; and I devoted my attention to
developing and teaching the core course to which I previously referred,
Individual and Group Behavior (IGB), and to resuming my research program.
another unexpected event occurred that was to shape my subsequent career. One
day in June I was sitting in my office when I received an unprecedented phone
call from my physician at the Yale Health Plan. He had received my chest
X-ray taken the previous day during a routine physical examination. He
asked me to report immediately to the X-ray department. Somewhat
alarmed, I dropped what I was doing and found myself spending the next 2 hours having my chest X-rayed from all possible angles. Finally the
technician told me that I could leave. I refused until I received an
explanation of what was going on. When she declined to tell me anything, I
burst through a door to find a radiologist surrounded by what seemed like
hundreds of pictures of my lungs taken from every conceivable angle. He too
refused to give me a diagnosis but referred me to my physician who,
unfortunately, had left for the day. When I threatened him with bodily harm
unless he told me what was happening, he said to prepare myself for bad news.
The next day
my physician confirmed the judgementthe X-rays showed evidence
of carcinoma in both lungs and at a very advanced stage. An appointment was
arranged two days later with an oncologist who confirmed the diagnosis. He
wanted to admit me without delay to the hospital for exploratory surgery.
However, lecture commitments of mine and medical commitments of his precluded
the scheduling of the operation for a full week.
For the next
several days, I contemplated my own
mortality for the first time in my 45-year old life. Routine events,
such as watching my youngest son pitching in a little league game, carried new
meaning when watched for the "last time." I thought of all the
things that had seemed important but no longer had significance and of all the
things that should have been significant but had been overlooked due to
pressure of work and time. In short, I resolved to spend whatever time was
left for me pursuing life with a different set of priorities than I had
week was over, and I went in for the surgery. Awakening from the operation, I
was given the surprising news that the tumors that had almost filled both
lungs were not cancerous but rather a disease called sarcoida disease
that had been overlooked because it rarely afflicts white males living in the
Northeast. While not curable, sarcoid is treatable and has not been of further
that event in detail because of its substantial and continuing impact on how I
choose to live my life. Even though the fear of imminent death was gone, my
resolve to live my life differently did not disappear.
effect involved reconsidering a decision made almost 15 years earlierto abandon my musical talents. My saxophone and clarinet were retrieved from
deep storage and totally reconditioned. It was discouraging to hear what time
had done to my lip. However, practice during the highly restricted time
schedule cures all. In this case practice did not make perfect, but it did
enable me to begin playing on a casual basis with a variety of groups in the
New Haven areaa custom that I continue to this day. It is amazing how
therapeutic it is to play an evening of jazz accompanied by a great rhythm
section to an appreciative audience. Re-establishing this aspect of my
identity did wonders for my sanity and served to re-establish a critical
aspect of my identity.
It was in the
fall of 1978 that I purchased my first serious sailboata 28-foot
sloop called Impulse. I had always been inclined toward sailing, perhaps due
to my father's tales of his sailing adventures (and misadventures) while
growing up in New Brunswick. I was feeling somewhat guilty over time not spent
with my two sons during their early years, and doing cruises seemed like a
marvelous way of building the kind of relationship that I felt had been
to places like Newport and Martha's Vineyard were in fact mutually rewarding
but somewhat cramped in a 28-foot boat. So a much larger Cal 39 was
purchased which my sons affectionately named AI after the leadership style
which they professed that I used when at the helm! Since 1980, AI has cruised
to the Maine coast, to Chesapeake Bay, to Bermuda and amongst many of the
Caribbean islands. On each of these voyages, I have been at the helm
accompanied by at least one and, typically, both of my sons.
late 1970's and early 1980's, the Vroom-Yetton model was a hot topic for
research, and many investigators in the U.S. and abroad sought to determine
its validity along with its strengths and limitations. Meanwhile, hundreds
upon hundreds of textbooks published the now-familiar decision tree
along with the problem attributes and the taxonomy of decision processes. One
day a professor who was visiting Yale from the Peoples Republic of China
showed me a textbook written in Mandarin and turned to a page in Chinese
characters which I could not decipher. However, I did recognize the familiar
structure of the time-efficient decision tree.
confess to being a bit embarrassed by the magnitude of the impact of this
model. When I first wrote Leadership and Decision Making with Phil
Yetton back in 1973, it had seemed much more like an academic exercise than a
guide for practicing or potential managers. Its publication as a research
monograph by the University of Pittsburgh Press pointed to the scholarly
nature of the work. However, its
widespread adoption in the organizational world pointed to the fact that it
addressed issues of widespread concern.
By 1983, Art
Jago and I became convinced that the Vroom-Yetton model had serious
flaws. Our own research on the model's validity along with that of many others
convinced us that it had a reasonable batting average but fell far short of
the potential of such a model.
What to do
about the model's problems was another matter. The VroomYetton model bears
some similarity to the ten commandments. There are seven rules, each of which
takes the form of a "thou shalt not" statement. To have added an
eighth rule would have meant that there would be some situations in which no
action was possible. In other words, none of the five decision processes would
be allowed because each would be contra indicated, albeit in a highly specific
and restricted set of circumstances.
there were many situations in which the seven rules were of no use whatsoever
since they allowed all five decision processes. In order to reflect what we
and others had learned through research, we found it necessary to develop a
vastly different model. It required a fundamental change in the old
Vroom-Yetton model structure. The concept of rules and the feasible set
were eliminated. In their place we substituted functional relationships
between problem attributes, decision processes, and the four criteria which
had been implicit in the Vroom-Yetton modelnamely, quality,
acceptance, time, and development.
this realization, there was another period of intense intellectual excitement
and exchange. Since Art was now at the University of Houston and I was still
at Yale, we could no longer hammer out ideas face-to-face.
Instead, phone and Bitnet messages went back and forth on a daily basis.
Gradually we evolved a new model based not on seven rules but four
mathematical equations. There was
little doubt in our minds that these equations would do a far better job of
forecasting the actual outcome of various forms and degrees of participation
in decision making than the Vroom-Yetton model it replaced. Our concern
was that validity and usability were far from perfectly correlated. How could
managers be encouraged to solve four equations in order to determine which
process to use?
It was Art's
thinking that the personal computer and the floppy disk represented the
solution. He spent more than a thousand hours writing a computer program which
would not only solve the equations but also provide a manager with a highly
usable account of the likely consequences of the different degrees and forms
of participation in a given situation. Once a person had used the software
once or twice, it proved to be almost as fast as using a decision tree and a
great deal more accurate.
form for the model enabled us to overcome another limitation of the
Vroom-Yetton model. It had permitted only two levels of each problem
attribute. Questions which lined the decision tree had to be answered yes or
no. Managers told us that their worlds were not dichotomous but rather
decorated with "shades of grey." Embracing the computer technology
enabled us to allow multiple levels of problem attributes without sacrificing
software problems had been laid to rest, we set about to summarize our
research and thinking (which had now spanned 15 years) into a book form. In
the summer of 1986, Art and I went out on a cruise on AI to put the finishing
touches to our book which we titled, The New Leadership: Managing
Particpation in Organizations.
to the book was authored by Ben Tregoe, the chairman of Kepner-Tregoe.
Kepner-Tregoe had been kept informed of developments of the new model
(including the software) and had expressed interest in phasing out the
Vroom-Yetton model and replacing it with our new one. They extended
contracts to both of us to license our new work. After much deliberation, Art
and I decided not to grant them a license since the nature of their proposals
as well as information gleaned from people within the firm led us to fear that
with such a license Kepner-Tregoe might "shelve" the
Vroom-Jago model and continue to use the Vroom-Yetton model they
already had, with the possible result that the Vroom-Jago model would be
unavailable for ourselves or others. In addition, I had never been happy with
the job that Kepner-Tregoe had done either in developing a suitable
training package based on the Vroom-Yetton model or in marketing the one
that they had developed. The original ideas on which the organization had been
foundedproblem analysis and decision analysisseemed to me to so dominate the culture as to leave
little room for concepts invented by outside scholars.
great excitement at the publication of The New Leadership in 1988. Just
prior to its publication, Art and I founded a little company which we had
initially called AI Software after the autocratic term in our model. However,
we should have realized that AI also signified artificial intelligence, and
that corporate identity subsequently became Leadership Software. We envisioned
it as a small, single-product company solely to produce MPO, the
software program which Art had written to produce the floppy discs which ran
the new model. Art would be the only employee, and the operation would be
conducted out of his home in Houston.
overhead enabled us to advertise the software complete with manual and vinyl
folder in The New Leadership at a very reasonable price. This new
company was one way in which Art could derive some small economic return for
his tremendous investment of time in developing the model and its
feeling of new beginnings that characterized 1988 was interrupted violently by
a visit paid by Benno Schmidt, Jr.the new, young president of
Yaleto the School of Organization and Management in October of
that year. In a meeting with faculty, he announced 1) the appointment of a new
dean, Michael E. Levine, who would assume office immediately with
unprecedented powers (all faculty voting rights granted in the bylaws
of the university were to be suspendeda condition that the university
counsel later described to me as similar to martial law); 2) the
organizational behavior doctoral program was to be terminated, and all
nontenured faculty in that field were to be terminated without review
on the expiration of their current contracts; 3) the faculty in operations
research were to be transferred to the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.
Later the new
dean was to announce other changes. Community building, student participation
in admissions, a weekly student/faculty meeting called liaison and the core
course in organizational behavior, Individual and Group Behavior, (voted by
alumni that year as the most valuable course in the school) were to be
terminated. All of these changes were made without any semblance of faculty
participation and debate. I was filled with such rage that I was speechless.
It seemed to me that all of the things that had made Yale's School of
Organization and Management unique in a world of business schools had been
eliminated by one administrative act that defied
My shock was
undoubtedly heightened by the fact that I had been a member of the search
committee for the dean. To be sure, that committee had not met in over six
months, but our brief discussion of Levine had led me to believe that there
was no support whatsoever for his candidacy. Two weeks before the announcement
I had heard a rumor of Levine's possible appointment and had lunch with him in
which he refused to confirm or deny the rumor. I took it upon myself to
interview as many full professors (who constitute the governing board of the
school) as I could find to learn their feelings about this possibility. The
consensus was striking! Of the twelve professors I interviewed, all but one
found Levine totally unacceptable as dean. I then had a long conversation with
the president in which I relayed my findings. He thanked me profusely for what
I had done, and I left the interaction greatly relieved feeling that an
appointment which I felt would have been a disaster had been averted. I
returned to my colleagues in a style akin to Chamberlain on his return from
Munich in 1939.
following Benno Schmidt's decision has been chronicled in dozens of
publications including The New York Times, Business Week, Newsweek,
and The Wall Street Journal. What has been less publicized are the
long-term effects. As I write these words almost two and one half years
later, it is very, very, difficult for me to see any benefits accruing from
these changes. The school has been dropped from the top 20 schools in the Business
Week survey; alumni in the main are disenfranchised, and most have ceased
making contributions to their alma mater. Some alumni have even hired
airplanes to overfly Yale graduations and the Harvard-Yale football game
trailing banners critical of the president, the dean, or both. Current
students, virtually none of whom knew the school before the changes, are
divided on their support, but many complain about core courses taught by
visitorsa practice brought about by the difficulty of faculty
recruiting after the well publicized events of the past 3 years.
Too often we
take for granted the institutional settings in which scholarship takes place.
Nurturing of collegiality is a function which is either overlooked or
relegated to deans or department chairs. My experience at both Yale and
Carnegie Mellon taught me the fragility of these settingsof how
quickly a tradition of collaboration could erode or be destroyed altogether.
Yale University has a long and impressive past and undoubtedly a long future,
one member of the Yale Corporation of my acquaintance has urged taking a
long-term view. He counseled that Yale's traditions will enable it to
recover from what I see as its current difficulties. I hope that he is right,
but there is precedent for an alternative scenario. An editorial in the latest
issue of the student newspaper asks how long Yale will tolerate a
second-rate imitation of Chicago or Rochester within its ranks.
Less than a
year after the changes at Yale a second personal disaster was to strike. A
sheriff arrived at my front door to serve notice that Kepner-Tregoe had
filed suit in Federal court charging me with copyright infringement and breach
of contract. That was followed by a subsequent suit against Art Jago and
Leadership Software. The claims made by these suits appear to be that the
terms AI . . .GII as well as the problem attributes and their definitions are
owned by Kepner-Tregoe and that their use by others, including me, is an
infringement of their copyright. Kepner-Tregoe's motives, to me, seem
obvious. The Vroom-Jago model threatened to make the Vroom-Yetton
model obsolete. It would be hard for Kepner-Tregoe to justify its
charges (about $300 per participant for materials alone) and its acclaimed
position as market leader in this field if the product it uses was almost 20
years old and Art and I were writing about and lecturing on a vastly improved
product which Kepner-Tregoe did not own. Attempts on my part to discuss
the matter in a meaningful manner and reach some equitable resolution were
totally rebuffed, and I found myself embarked on a course of litigation which
would consume most of my time and energy and financial resources for a period
To those who have not been defendants in litigation launched by a large
corporation (Kepner-Tregoe was bought by U.S. Fidelity and Guaranty in
the middle 1980's), I can describe the experience only with difficulty. Even
though you feel certain that the charges against you are without substance,
you also know that the financial costs of defending your rights ate beyond
comprehension. While there have been some peaks and valleys, I can honestly
state that almost half my time has been spent preparing for depositions,
attending depositions, searching records, and consulting with the three law
firms that are representing my interests. One should add to this the
"nonproductive time," the sleepless nights filled with rage
or self -questioning which accomplishes nothing but consumes precious
Both eventsthe wrenching changes at Yale and the Kepner-Tregoe lawsuithave taken their emotional and intellectual toll. I find it
impossible to carve out the amount of time and space necessary to write, say,
a book like Work and Motivation, Leadership and Decision-‑Making, and
The New Leadership. Ed Deci and I have just
finished a complete revision of our edited book, Management and Motivation,
but even that edited project was delayed a year and a half beyond its expected
deadline by my seeming inability to get my share of the writing done on time.
this piece which in earlier, less stressful times could have been completed in
a week, was written in fits and startshalf an hour here in a hotel
room followed by 45 minutes a month later while flying from New York to
Atlanta. The most sustained investment of time occurred when I dictated the
earliest sections to my wife and soul mate while driving from Connemara to
In spite of
the fragmented nature of the process, I can honestly report that the task was
personally worthwhile and at least mildly therapeutic. As my students in the
now-defunct course, Individual and Group Behavior, have reported,
reflection has been helpful in regaining a perspective on one's life.
And now the
tale is over, at least for the present. Hopefully, future years will bring
trails that are not only more satisfying but also more conducive to
scholarship. Meanwhile it's about time to practice a few chords and scales.
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V.H. Review of Fred E.
Fiedler's Leadership and Management, Contemporary Management: Issues & Viewpoints,
V.H. "Psychology for Managers," Contemporary Psychology, 1973,
Vol. 18, No. 8, 391.
V.H. "Evocative Theory," Contemporary Psychology, 1981, 26.,
No. 1, 29-30.
V.H. "The Essential
Attributes of Norman Maier: A Review of Norman Maier's Psychology in Industry,"
The Academy of
Manaizement Review, 1989, Vol. 14, No. 1, 104-106.
V.H. Preface and
Introduction to Manage People, not Personnel: Motivation and Performance Apppraisal. Boston, MA: Harvard Business
School Press, 1990.
(but Widely-Cited) Papers
Self-Concept: A Balance Theoretical Treatment." Department of
Psychology, University of Pennsylvania, 1963.
Observations on Herzberg's Two-Factor Theory." Paper
delivered at APA, September 1967.
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