General Articles

Want To Be a Boss?

With 10 little pictures and a big dose of psychology, experts can pick the presidents-to-be from the clerks

PIERRE BERTON June 1 1948
General Articles

Want To Be a Boss?

With 10 little pictures and a big dose of psychology, experts can pick the presidents-to-be from the clerks

PIERRE BERTON June 1 1948

Want To Be a Boss?

With 10 little pictures and a big dose of psychology, experts can pick the presidents-to-be from the clerks

PIERRE BERTON

ARE YOU after the boss’ job? Eager to step into the Old Man’s shoes tomorrow? If so, you’d better stop reading this piece right now. You’ll probably make a lousy business executive. The good executive isn’t concerned about snatching somebody else’s job: he’s too interested in doing

his own properly.

But hold on. We’ll give you one more chance. Do you worry about your work? Lie awake nights trying to find the answers to the day’s business problems, eh? Good . . . good. Don’t worry about worrying. Good executives, according to this list here, worry like mad. They’re terrified of failing and if you’re terrified of failing too, then you’ve got at least one of the 11 things it takes to make a bang-up business executive.

Executives are being pretested these days, just as surely as smart merchandisers pretest automobiles or breakfast foods. Just a few months ago a large manufacturing firm decided to appoint a new personnel manager. They had just the man for the job. He had his pockets stuffed with letters of introduction and an enviable army record (exmajor). But, just to make sure, this firm checked with a brand-new organization called Social Research Inc. Social Research put the man through a new type of quiz, then came up with a firm and flat “No.”

Social Research, which operates out of Chicago, claims that it knows the 11 qualifications of a good executive. It also claims that it can discover in advance whether a man has these qualifications or not. The way it finds this out seems at first glance to be downright ridiculous: The subject is shown 10 different pictures and asked to make up a story and give his comments on each of them. This takes 40 minutes. Then, after three experts who’ve never seen the subject pore over the answers for five hours or more, Social Research gives a thumbs-up or a thumbs-down.

Why was the answer “No” in the case of the sterling character mentioned above? Well, the experts said, this man has outstanding abilities, is an excellent organizer and can make fast, clearcut decisions. Great fellow. BUT. Seems he just can’t co-operate with others. He thinks of himself as a lone wolf. As a personnel manager he’d be a dud.

Take his reply to a fairly abstract picture: There was a dark object in the background with two pin points of light. Most successful executives, the experts had found, regarded this as a cozy home in a storm. But the ex-army officer saw it as a pirate ship, flying a Jolly Roger and himself as captain making a lot of poor devils walk the plank. This sort of answer, carefully weighed against the other answers, helped the psychologists arrive at their lone-wolf theory.

Naturally, the manufacturing firm was shocked. Okay, said Social Research. Why don’t you check back on this man’s letters of recommendation? Find out why those other companies let him go. The firm checked. The former employers were enthusiastic about the man—a brilliant mind, they said. BUT. You couldn’t work with him. So he didn’t get the job.

Dr. Burleigh Gardner, the sleepy-eyed but very alert ex-Texan who runs Social Research, likes to say that his organization can strip the psychological skin from a man to find the “why’s” in his life as easily as you can peel an orange. The picture test, which has the official jawbreaking title of “Thematic Apperception Test” (or simply T.A.T.) is the simplest gimmick yet devised to lay bare the bones of a man’s personality. So far, it seems to have been sure-fire.

Social Research, a two-year-old, college-bred organization whose office boys are candidates for Ph.D.’s, has tested 160 potential executives for such king-Bize big business as General Foods, United Airlines, General Mills, Inc., Martin Aircraft, International Harvester and Container Corp. Only three men have been promoted against the organization’s advice. All have flopped, says Dr. Gardner.

One company asked Social Research to test two

of its executives who were being considered for special training. For the year’s training neither man would have any special title or responsibility except learning the angles of the business. Social Research reported, on the basis of the picture tests, that one man would get along fine in the new training, while the second wouldn’t adapt himself.

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Want to Be a Boss ?

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The first man, said the psychologists, was interested primarily in the work itself. The second was more interested in the symbols of his job— the title (“assistant director”), the private office, the outside secretary. The psychologists proved to be dead right: The first man flung himself

enthusiastically into the new training. The second showed dissatisfaction, inability to learn and little enthusiasm. He failed.

Before Dr. Gardner and his associates could go in for this scientific crystal gazing and assess potential executives for their clients, they had to find out just what qualities the typically successful executive has. His organization, using the 10 little pictures, tested more than 100 executives who had been sensationally successful to find out what qualities they possessed.

The Marks of Greatness

After the sifting and sorting was over, the experts found that all good executives had 11 characteristics in common, to a greater or lesser degree. If you think you have these qualifications, then maybe you too can be a big executive.

1. Have you got a passion for achievement? The successful executive must accomplish and achieve in order to be happy. This passion, more than anything else, animates and stimulates him. But don’t confuse it with that false-front achievement of the man whose real desire is glory and prestige. To the successful executive, it’s the job well done, not the big Cadillac, that counts most.

2. How do you take orders? The successful executive aocepts authority but it doesn’t hamper or inhibit him. To him, the boss is a man of advanced training who can guide him. The type whose concept of authority centres around the self won’t succeed because he can’t share or delegate power.

3. Have you got “drive”? All successful executives have “mobility drives”—a scientific term which implies interest in achievement, material rewards and prestige—but only in that order. The second and third drives (money and position) keep the successful executive working but aren’t as important as the first.

4. Can you bring order out of chaos? The top-notch executive can. He’s an efficient organizer who knows how to tie together seemingly isolated facts or events. More than that, he can predict the outcome of his own actions and decisions.

5. Can you make unwavering deci sions? Even if he’s wrong, the ideal executive will come to some decision —not necessarily a rapid-fire decision, for he may take time out to think it over. But he knows how to make a choice between alternate courses of action. He doesn’t become flustered but forces his way to a conclusion.

6. Do you know what you want and bow to get it? The good executive does—within the limits of his own job. Bad executives haven’t got this strength and firmness. They lack definiteness and are easily influenced by outside pressures.

7. Have you got an active personality? Executives of proven success are active and aggressive (though not hostile). This trait, however, is always well-channeled into their work. The activity is often mental rather than physical, but it can’t be shut off like a tap which may explain why so many successful men can’t take leisurely vacations or stop worrying about already solved problems.

8. Are you haunted by fear of failure, even when things go well? That’s the sign of a good executive and it’s also his dilemma: Because he is constantly striving for greater things, there is no logical place for him to stop (unless he gets to be President or Prime Minister). He is self-propelled and there must for him always be another,»goal ahead. Often this drive is blocÜíal, either by his own limitations or by those of the social system. When this happens his energy is directed into new channels which results in ill-temper, family trouble and a feeling that the world is against him.

9. Have you got your feet on the ground? The ideal executive is realistic. He’s interested in the practical, the immediate, the direct. Social Research found that most executives had few aesthetic qualities. One of the pictures shown them is an abstract painting. The reaction to this one is usually negative.

10. How do you think of your subordinates? Successful men are apt to regard their subordinates impersonally as “doers of work” and don’t worry too much about the feelings of underlings who get ticked off for inefficiency. But the successful man has a warm feeling toward his superiors (who represent the goal he’s striving for) The subordinates represent things he has left behind—they are part of the past.

11. Did it bother you to leave home? The modern executive has left home psychologically. His emotional ties and obligations to his parents have been severed. He doesn’t resent them but has simply broken free. The most clearly broken tie is with his mother. Men still psychologically tied to their mother’s apron strings have invariably failed, the survey discovered. One man they tested was offered a new job in his plant but asked for a few days off to consult with his mother. He didn’t get the job.

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What the Pictures Tell

How can the scientists find these things out in advance? How can they tell whether a man is still dependent on his mother? The answer lies in the ideas the pictures give the subjects tested. One of the pictures shows a sad-looking elderly lady standing in a rtiiddle-class home talking to a young man. One potential executive suggested that was a son apologizing to his mother for a misdemeanor. Another saw it as a boy leaving home and telling his mother quietly but firmly that he had his own life to lead. If the nine other pictures add up the same way, the psychologists will know that the second subject will make the better executive—-he’s psychologically grown up.

One of the pictures shows a young man looking out of the window of a house. Here are three typical but widely differing answers to this picture:

"This appears to be . . . well, you could wander all over . . . not any specific points to pin down . . . This appears to be another boy. It is early in the morning. This boy is interested in aviation and he is working for the day when he will be able to follow his studies along this line. He kn*ws that each morning there is a scheduled flight over his home just about the time he is to get up or a little later and he has adjusted his time of arising to meet the flight schedule. It is getting light outside but it is not bright enough to light up the room. That is obviously a north room and the sun doesn’t come in. He has arisen this morning to watch for the scheduled flight and it is just about this time that they commence coming over the horizon and he can just barely spot them. Fie is young enough and had education in aviation meagre enough so that he is still in awe of a four-motored plane flying over the house. As he watches it he can’t think of a thing to say about it. It approaches worship. To him there is no finer thing in the world than the streamline of the plane and the ease in which it flies through the sky.”

This analysis tells the experts a great deal about a man whom they’ve never seen. His desire at the start to seek out specific points suggests he’s the type who’s obsessed by detail. The rest of the paragraph bears this out: he’s wacky about, times, schedules and routine—they distract him. That phrase, "it approaches worship,” suggests a daydreamer, a man who indulges in wishful thinking rather than action. Finally, there’s no ending to this story—no finality. This is a man who can’t make decisions. Recommendation, based on this and other picture reactions: He’ll make a good

chief clerk, handling a lot of detailed work, but nothing more.

Here’s another reaction to the same picture:

“The çharacter was a man—a rather young rilan. Because of the presence of short hair and the absence of bustline. Anfa he’s looking out of a window. The blackness is on the inside rather than the outside. A casement window.”

Looks like this bird hasn’t much imagination. He’s stuck with the facts as they are—after that, he’s stymied. Like the previous man, he’s occupied by small details (the casement window) that don’t add up to anything. But, more significant, it’s impossible for this fellow to relate the man in the picture to other people. The psychologists suggested he couldn’t work well with others and they were right. He was a highly skilled mechanic working with concrete things. When his firm put him to work with other people he became jittery and his job suffered. They sent him back to his old job.

A third potential executive, tested with the same picture, said this:

"I would judge that to be a man thinking and perhaps doing a little daydreaming too by the expression there . . . Individual has gone to the window, opened itsort of staring out into space, or he might perhaps have problems. He’s trying to come to some sort of solution. A person could get a lot of help by trying to solve their problems in a similar way.”

The psychologists’ verdict: This man is calm, introspective. He prides himself on being able to figure out problems logically for himself and always comes to some sort of conclusion. He doesn’t like to go running to others with them—he can handle them himself. He’ll make a good executive if the other pictures back this one up.

What Do You Like?

Besides the straight reactions to the pictures, the subjects must also tell which pictures they liked and disliked and why. One of the pictures shows a man climbing up or down a rope. One man said he liked it: “There’s

something appealing about the brawn of a person— activity 1 would say.” To the psychologists this meant he felt pleasure in achievement and activity. (Rule No. 1 for successful executives, remember). Another disliked the picture: "It’s hard to determine what

he’s doing. . . The look on his face isn’t one of effort and climbing the rope is hard work and there should be an expression of effort regardless of how muscular he is.” This man apparently dislikes activity.

The experts have also found that successful men generally tend to think of a man as climbing up the rope: those less successful see him on the way down.

It sometimes takes 10 hours to make a complete study of one man’s reactions, though five is considered par. The following two reactions to the same picture give a faint idea of how carefully the results are considered. The psychologist’s analysis is given in italics. The picture shows a man under a street light. It’s dark out and he seems to be thinking carefully.

Here’s what one potential executive said:

"This is one of our own employees. (He feels an identity with the organization.) He lives out in the far suburbs and he is a member of the share-theride club and it is about an hour’s ride to the plant to go to work. It means they probably have to start before seven o’clock to get there on time. CThere’s too much detail here. He seems to he concerned with the mechanics of getting to the job, not with the real work involved. He’s preoccupied with formalities. And notice that word’’plant.” He works in an office hut thinks of it as a factory.) This is a very cold morning and it is snowing and he is standing on the curb under a streetlight waiting for his ride. ( Note that he sees the outside world as a cold, unpleasant place.) Due to the fact that it is very cloudy because of the snow it is still very durk and the street lights are all lit. (An inability to get beyond detail. Lack of vision. Mechanical.) He is not thinking of anything in general (low energy leiel) and it is pretty cold and he has been waiting for some time wondering if his watch is right or if he got there too late or too early (more dependence on times and schedules; selfblame; u>orry). The sun being obscured by the clouds he has no way of estimating how close his watch is. He has stood on this same corner waiting for this ride for many years and he has fallen into a habit and just stands waiting for his ride.” (Drab attitude toward work. Feeling of monotony and routine. No hope for future changes. Doesn’t seem to care what happens at ivork.)

That was our old friend the filing clerk. And he’s still a filing clerk. Now here’s a contrasting reaction to the same picture by a much more successful man:

“Certainly an unhappy scene. (A realistic attitude toward life since the picture is really a pretty unhappy one.) This man appears to be fairly welldressed and certainly not in too great physical discomfort, but he is certainly trying hard to make a decision. (Realistic. Good critical ability. Fie observes details but uses them to come to a logical conclusion. He’s definite about what he says—that word “certainly.” There’s a feeling of self-determination here.) The very circumstances to which he has subjected himself seem to him to be a necessary part of the role he must play in making this decision. (Once 1 again realistic: a man in a bad spot must figure things out for himself.) He will probably soon venture on his way abandoning all risky thoughts for safety and upon awakening in the morning in his own surroundings wonder why he was so undecided the night before.”

(He’s found a solution. This man can worry about real problems but once soiled he tends to forget them.)

The executive who gave the above reaction was promoted to superintendent shortly afterward and has done well in his new job.

It Began in a Madhouse

Who first thought of showing little pictures to the men in chalk-striped suits? The idea had its birth in a lunatic asylum. Back in the late ’20’s, some mental institutions got the idea of letting their patient« paint pictures as a sort of therapy. Then they began to notice a queer thing: all the paranoids were painting one type of picture, all the manic depressives were painting another type and so on. The psychologists began to sort these paintings out and pretty soon it got so that a man in an office several hundred miles away could make a fair fist of diagnosing a mental case simply by studying the patient’s art work.

Out of this modest beginning came the famous Rorschach ink-blot test. People were shown ink blots and asked what they suggested. Answers told the psychologists plenty. Now, instead of ink blots, they use real pictures and get more valuable answers. Dr. Henry Murray of Harvard designed the first T.A.T. pictures to be used on normal people as well as mental cases.

Two University of Chicago men, Dr. William E. Henry, a psychologist, and Dr. W. Lloyd Warner, an anthropologist, tried the T. A. T. technique on American Indian children in 1944. They found that the reactions to the pictures told them much more about Indian life and the young Indians’ personalities than other methods had.

Drs. Henry and Warner, together with Dr. Gardner, another University of Chicago anthropologist, then got the idea for a sort of super-Gallup Poll organization that could take apart any stratum of society and see what made it tick. Dr. Gardner left the university in 1946 to become head of the group, which they called Social Research, Inc. Henry and Warner became chief consultants.

Before long, the new organization was plunging into research on subjects as varied as soap operas, home furnishings, movies and greeting cards. For instance, the organization was able to tell a large greeting-card company exactly who bought greeting cards, what cards they’d reject and why. (Cut flowers were okay for wedding cards, but only flowers in vases could be used for anniversary cards.)

By this time factories and big businesses were nibbling. Could Social Research find out what was wrong with the factories? Dr. Gardner, who had just finished studying the factory system anthropologically, thought he knew already.

The customary gadgets for bringing about industrial peace—pension plans, cafeterias, etc.—are only superficial, he believes. These don’t mean a thing if the worker can’t get along with the people he’s working with. Jittery bosses, who fire subordinates for single mistakes, mean a jittery plant. Sluggish bosses, who keep mediocre men frozen in their jobs, mean a frustrated plant—there’s no chance of promotion for the juniors.

As a solution, Dr. Gardner devised the executive survey which combines psychology and anthropology to pretest businessmen. Social Research charges $75 plus expenses for each executive examined. Firms that engage the organization to look into the whole question of factory relations pay a retainer fee (biggest fee yet: $1,500 a month).

The question has been raised whether Dr. Gardner and his associates think of their subjects as flesh-and-blood people at all or just so many guinea pigs. Dr. Gardner himself has met many of the executives he’s tested. Most of them, he says, are nice, likeable fellows. A lot of them, however, he wouldn’t want to work for. And looking over the composite picture he has painted of the modern successful executive—a hard-working, decisive, realistic, ambitious, enthusiastic, genial, aggressive, independent, worried and frustrated man—Dr. Gardner is just as happy to be someone else. ★