The soul

The soul of a man

Image by Al_fred via Flickr

Few days ago, something suddenly pop out of my mind. It was an inspiration from US President Abraham Lincoln: A nation is its people. I found this as a quintessential idea we tend to undermine in our so-called ‘modern’ era. I’ve seen so many examples of organizations who were unaware of people who construct them. Many government administrations treat their citizen as the lesser stakeholder of the state. Well, of course they would never say that about themselves, but from their policies and actions, we could comprehend who they are.

Let’s see how this perpetuates in organizational context. Many people I know think that what is essential in an organization is the work process; commonly referred as ‘management system’. When we put this into perspective, most people tend interpret ‘management system’ as work flow, indicators, procedures, rules, and control.

Here’s a question: Through what form an organization can express itself? Most likely these will be the possible answers: packaging, company website, productivity rate, company reputation, brand image, popularity and so on. To put it simple, the organization is a system, and a system is visible through its attributes and superficial structures. This is the underlying argument for it: After all, good or bad is always about what appears in the outside.

I agree with them, with a one caveat: Those who decide whether that system is going to work well, or not, are the people in the organization. What appears from the outside may as well be an engineered presentation of the organization to create a certain intended impression to the public. But, the real thing is what they really do inside the organization. They have the power to make everything go through, as well the power to derail it.

Thus, I think it will be a bit oversimplifying if we deny that an organization is its people. The people are the blood and nerves in the organization, and they constitutes the organization’s state of health and performance. All of the attributes, superficial structures and cultural artifacts are physical figure, clothes and accessories attached in the outward appearance. But, it’s the people’s interaction that gives the organization its heart pulse.

People affect the organization they belong, and at the same time, organization affecting its people. People may believe on the false image they created about ourselves as an organization. Such situation are commonly found when we observe deteriorating and corrupted organization are filled by insensible people with no ability to reflect and to learn from their failures.

On the other hand, organization with enlightened people may create great things beyond their imagination. I experienced frequent encounters with organizations with less structures and lack of fancy attributes, and yet, they’ve done many impressive advancements. With less advanced outward appearance, they prove themselves that they are no less formidable.

What people are doing represents what the organization are really doing. You can burn the building, tore it walls, and put off the fire; but people will rebuild the building, re-erect it walls, and light bonfires, if they decide to rise again.

Organization are its people. If an organization could see its own face in the mirror, then it will see people’s faces. They define the actual life of the organization. They are the soul of the organization.


3 responses to “The soul

  1. I cannot agree more with this article. The big question stands still, what is people? Are they the aggregate of individuals, or have its own ontological status? If yes, what is the ontological status of people?

    Gus Dur once told a story about the ambiguity of people. Many politicians uses “will of the people” as justification for their own political ambition. However, Gus Dur said, where is people’s address? Where do they live? Funny question, but I think it struck to the essence of political philosophy itself, especially the problem of “the social”.

    I dunno how and what the organization experts think about the essence of the people. But maybe like in the philosophical anthropology, the essence of man is relation, and so is the essence of the people is relation.

    Niklas Luhmann once wrote that system is build through communication. Communication is one type of relation. But what kind of relation though?

    Btw, you can see the expression of my thoughts and aspiration here


    • Yes, my dear friend! I think the concept of ‘the people” is the epitome of the paradox of collectivity. I think the frame should not be either-or, but both-and. The people is both singular and plural, as it is composed by diverse individuals in a interwoven collective identity (such as community, society, group, club, gangs, nation, or humanity).

      Some may think that my opinion is generated from fallacy; and it’s fine. I would say that the way we see ‘the social’ in either-or perspective may also be a greater fallacy of all, since the social identity is an attempt to aggregating different individuals in a way that sounds universal; even though there is no such absolute and universal similarity among differences. I think, through either-or paradigm we will only see contradiction; and through both-and paradigm, we’ll see the beauty of the paradoxical life.

      About the organizational sciences has various approaches in this issue. Obviously, this issue is always become an interesting debate. For instance, most organizational practitioners from our generational age tends to see that group and organization are inherently similar. They only differentiated by definition based on their level of formality. But, most of my teachers, which happened to be one generation before us, argue that organization are a singular mechanistic system. On the other hand, group (such as communities or societies) are social entity.

      I say that viewing organization as merely a singular mechanistic system is irrelevant with the fundamental fact that organization is constructed by humans. That is to say that organization is interwoven relationship of diverse individuals (this is the soul of my master thesis too : ) ). So, yes, I agree with you that relationship is the essence. And to comment on your last question, I suggest one alternative based on my master thesis: The relations of power and interests.

      Thanks for the discussion, and let’s carry it through!

      with all appreciation,


      • After reading your comment, I’m curious with your master thesis. You said that there is internal relation between power and interest, to name the title of your thesis.

        I agree with you that group is social entity. Its not a mechanical system. I once wrote a book concerning this matter. It has a chapter which I called the “ontology of the social”. I used some books as references. But till now, I still don’t know what is “social entity”. Is it structure, as in Giddens’s thought? Or habitus? Or hegemony? hmmm.. I do much reading to find some answer. But all I can find is more and more questions concerning this matter. Its quite exciting intellectual journey though.

        Concerning power and interest, as you may know, Juergen Habermas once wrote a book with Knowledge and Human Interest (Erkentniss und interesse) as its title. He argued that there are three types of knowledge and also three types of interests.

        The first one is knowledge in natural sciences with calculation and domination of nature as its interest. The second is social sciences with understanding (verstehen) as its interest. And the third, the most important one, is critical sciences with emancipation from false consciousness as its interest. Philosophy is part of the critical sciences.

        Foucault also wrote a lot about power. In his philosophy, power is something constructive. It helps us to create meaning concerning the world and also epistemological and moral values. In short, both Foucault and Habermas agree that power and interest is an integral part of human activities.

        My question is, what is the different between the two concepts? If it basically the same, something that drive human to create meaning, understand, and control the world, why the names are different? Is there any ontological different between the two concepts?

        The second question is, where is freedom in the midst of power and interest? Or put in other words, what is freedom in this context? Do we have it? We talked about existentialism. This branch of philosophy is full with the discourse concerning freedom. How can we understand existentialism in the debates concerning power and interest?

        I hope i’m not bothering your weekend. Have a nice weekend though.

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