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the courtroom, the artist seeks to stir up the attention of the
spectator, the advertiser demands the attention of the newspaper
readers. Whoever studies the characteristics of the mental process of
attention may then be able to indicate how in every one of these
unlike cases the attention can be stimulated and retained.
Nevertheless the opposite way which starts from the tasks to be
fulfilled seems more helpful and more fundamentally significant. The
question, then, is what mental processes become important for the
tasks of education, what for the purposes of the courtroom, what for
the hospital, what for the church, what for politics, and so on.

As this whole essay is to be devoted exclusively to the economic
problems, we are obliged to choose the second way; that is, to arrange
applied psychology with reference to its chief ends and not with
reference to the various means. But the same question comes up in the
further subdivision of the material. In the field of economic
psychology, too, we might ask how far the study of attention, or of
perception, or of feeling, or of will, or of memory, and so on, can be
useful for the purposes of the business man. Or here, too, we might
begin with the consideration of the various ends and purposes. The
ends of commerce are different from those of industry, those of
publishing different from those of transportation, those of
agriculture different from those of mining; or, in the field of
commerce, the purposes of the retailer are different from those of the
wholesale merchant. There can be no limit to such subdivisions; each
particular industry has its own aims, and in the same industry a large
variety of tasks are united. We should accordingly be led to an ample
classification of special economic ends with pigeonholes for every
possible kind of business and of labor. The psychologist would have to
find for every one of these ends the right mental means. This would be
the ideal system of economic psychology.

But we are still endlessly far from such a perfect system. Modern
educational psychology and medical psychology have reached a stage at
which an effort for such a complete system might be realized, but
economic psychology is still at too early a stage of development. It
would be entirely artificial to-day to aim at such ideal completeness.
If we were to construct such a complete system of questions, we should
have no answers. In the present stage nothing can be seriously
proposed but the selection of a few central purposes which occur in
every department of business life, and a study of the means to reach
these special ends by the discussion of some typical cases which may
clearly illustrate the methods involved.

From this point of view we select three chief purposes of business
life, purposes which are important in commerce and industry and every
economic endeavor. We ask how we can find the men whose mental
qualities make them best fitted for the work which they have to do;
secondly, under what psychological conditions we can secure the
greatest and most satisfactory output of work from every man; and
finally, how we can produce most completely the influences on human
minds which are desired in the interest of business. In other words,
we ask how to find the best possible man, how to produce the best
possible work, and how to secure the best possible effects.




PART I

THE BEST POSSIBLE MAN




IV

VOCATION AND FITNESS


Instead of lingering over theoretical discussions, we will move
straight on toward our first practical problem. The economic task,
with reference to which we want to demonstrate the new psychotechnic
method, is the selection of those personalities which by their mental
qualities are especially fit for a particular kind of economic work.
This problem is especially useful to show what the new method can do
and what it cannot do. Whether the method is sufficiently developed to
secure full results to-day, or whether they will come to-morrow, is
unimportant. It is clear that the success of to-morrow is to be hoped
for, only if understanding and interest in the problem is already
alive to-day.

When we inquire into the qualities of men, we use the word here in its
widest meaning. It covers, on the one side, the mental dispositions
which may still be quite undeveloped and which may unfold only under
the influence of special conditions in the surroundings; but, on the
other side, it covers the habitual traits of the personality, the
features of the individual temperament and character, of the
intelligence and of the ability, of the collected knowledge and of the
acquired experience. All variations of will and feeling, of perception
and thought, of attention and emotion, of memory and imagination, are
included here. From a purely psychological standpoint, quite
incomparable contents and functions and dispositions of the
personality are thus thrown together, but in practical life we are
accustomed to proceed after this fashion: if a man applies for a
position, he is considered with regard to the totality of his
qualities, and at first nobody cares whether the particular feature is
inherited or acquired, whether it is an individual chance variation or
whether it is common to a larger group, perhaps to all members of a
certain nationality or race. We simply start from the clear fact that
the personalities which enter into the world of affairs present an
unlimited manifoldness of talents and abilities and functions of the
mind. From this manifoldness, it necessarily follows that some are
more, some less, fit for the particular economic task. In view of the
far-reaching division of labor in our modern economic life, it is
impossible to avoid the question how we can select the fit
personalities and reject the unfit ones.

How has modern society prepared itself to settle this social demand?
In case that certain knowledge is indispensable for the work or that
technical abilities must have been acquired, the vocation is
surrounded by examinations. This is true of the lower as well as of
the higher activities. The direct examination is everywhere
supplemented by testimonials covering the previous achievements, by
certificates referring to the previous education, and in frequent
cases by the endeavor to gain a personal impression from the
applicant. But if we take all this together, the total result remains
a social machinery by which perhaps the elimination of the entirely
unfit can be secured. But no one could speak of a really satisfactory
adaptation of the manifold personalities to the economic vocational
tasks. All those examinations and tests and certificates refer
essentially to what can be learned from without, and not to the true
qualities of the mind and the deeper traits. The so-called
impressions, too, are determined by the most secondary and external
factors. Society relies instinctively on the hope that the natural
wishes and interests will push every one to the place for which his
dispositions, talents, and psychophysical gifts prepare him.

In reality this confidence is entirely unfounded. A threefold
difficulty exists. In the first place, young people know very little
about themselves and their abilities. When the day comes on which they
discover their real strong points and their weaknesses, it is often
too late. They have usually been drawn into the current of a
particular vocation, and have given too much energy to the preparation
for a specific achievement to change the whole life-plan once more.
The entire scheme of education gives to the individual little chance
to find himself. A mere interest for one or another subject in school
is influenced by many accidental circumstances, by the personality of
the teacher or the methods of instruction, by suggestions of the
surroundings and by home traditions, and accordingly even such a
preference gives rather a slight final indication of the individual
mental qualities. Moreover, such mere inclinations and interests
cannot determine the true psychological fitness for a vocation. To
choose a crude illustration, a boy may think with passion of the
vocation of a sailor, and yet may be entirely unfit for it, because
his mind lacks the ability to discriminate red and green. He himself
may never have discovered that he is color-blind, but when he is ready
to turn to the sailor's calling, the examination of his
color-sensitiveness which is demanded may have shown the disturbing
mental deficiency. Similar defects may exist in a boy's attention or
memory, judgment or feeling, thought or imagination, suggestibility or
emotion, and they may remain just as undiscovered as the defect of
color-blindness, which is characteristic of four per cent of the male
population. All such deficiencies may be dangerous in particular
callings. But while the vocation of the ship officer is fortunately
protected nowadays by such a special psychological examination, most
other vocations are unguarded against the entrance of the mentally
unfit individuals.

As the boys and girls grow up without recognizing their psychical
weaknesses, the exceptional strength of one or another mental function
too often remains unnoticed by them as well. They may find out when
they are favored with a special talent for art or music or
scholarship, but they hardly ever know that their attention, or their
memory, or their will, or their intellectual apprehension, or their
sensory perceptions, are unusually developed in a particular
direction; yet such an exceptional mental disposition might be the
cause of special success in certain vocations. But we may abstract
from the extremes of abnormal deficiency and abnormal overdevelopment
in particular functions. Between them we find the broad region of the
average minds with their numberless variations, and these variations
are usually quite unknown to their possessors. It is often surprising
to see how the most manifest differences of psychical organization
remain unnoticed by the individuals themselves. Men with a pronounced
visual type of memory and men with a marked acoustical type may live
together without the slightest idea that their contents of
consciousness are fundamentally different from each other. Neither the
children nor their parents nor their teachers burden themselves with
the careful analysis of such actual mental qualities when the choice
of a vocation is before them. They know that a boy who is completely
unmusical must not become a musician, and that the child who cannot
draw at all must not become a painter, just as on physical grounds a
boy with very weak muscles is not fit to become a blacksmith. But as
soon as the subtler differentiation is needed, the judgment of all
concerned seems helpless and the physical characteristics remain
disregarded.

A further reason for the lack of adaptation, and surely a most
important one, lies in the fact that the individual usually knows only
the most external conditions of the vocations from which he chooses.
The most essential requisite for a truly perfect adaptation, namely, a
real analysis of the vocational demands with reference to the
desirable personal qualities, is so far not in existence. The young
people generally see some superficial traits of the careers which seem
to stand open, and, besides, perhaps they notice the great rewards of
the most successful. The inner labor, the inner values, and the inner
difficulties and frictions are too often unknown to those who decide
for a vocation, and they are unable to correlate those essential
factors of the life-calling with all that nature by inheritance, and
society by surroundings and training, have planted and developed in
their minds.

In addition to this ignorance as to one's own mental disposition and
to the lack of understanding of the true mental requirements of the
various social tasks comes finally the abundance of trivial chances
which become decisive in the choice of a vocation. Vocation and
marriage are the two most consequential decisions in life. In the
selection of a husband or a wife, too, the decision is very frequently
made dependent upon the most superficial and trivial motives. Yet the
social philosopher may content himself with the belief that even in
the fugitive love desire a deeper instinct of nature is expressed,
which may at least serve the biological tasks of married life. In the
choice of a vocation, even such a belief in a biological instinct is
impossible. The choice of a vocation, determined by fugitive whims and
chance fancies, by mere imitation, by a hope for quick earnings, by
irresponsible recommendation, or by mere laziness, has no internal
reason or excuse. Illusory ideas as to the prospects of a career,
moreover, often falsify the whole vista; and if we consider all this,
we can hardly be surprised that our total result is in many respects
hardly better than if everything were left entirely to accident. Even
on the height of a mental training to the end of adolescence, we see
how the college graduates are too often led by accidental motives to
the decision whether they shall become lawyers or physicians or
business men, but this superficiality of choice of course appears much
more strongly where the lifework is to be built upon the basis of a
mere elementary or high school education.

The final result corresponds exactly to these conditions. Everywhere,
in all countries and in all vocations, but especially in the economic
careers, we hear the complaint that there is lack of really good men.
Everywhere places are waiting for the right man, while at the same
time we find everywhere an oversupply of mediocre aspirants. This,
however, does not in the least imply that there really are not enough
personalities who might be perfectly fit even for the highest demands
of the vocations; it means only that as a matter of course the result
in the filling of positions cannot be satisfactory, if the placing of
the individuals is carried on without serious regard for the personal
mental qualities. The complaint that there is lack of fit human
material would probably never entirely disappear, as with a better
adjustment of the material, the demands would steadily increase; but
it could at least be predicted with high probability that this lack of
really fit material would not be felt so keenly everywhere if the
really decisive factor for the adjustment of personality and vocation,
namely, the dispositions of the mind, were not so carelessly ignored.

Society, to be sure, has a convenient means of correction. The
individual tries, and when he is doing his work too badly, he loses
his job, he is pushed out from the career which be has chosen, with
the great probability that he will be crushed by the wheels of social
life. It is a rare occurrence for the man who is a failure in his
chosen vocation, and who has been thrown out of it, to happen to come
into the career in which he can make a success. Social statistics show
with an appalling clearness what a burden and what a danger to the
social body is growing from the masses of those who do not succeed and
who by their lack of success become discouraged and embittered. The
social psychologist cannot resist the conviction that every single
one could have found a place in which he could have achieved something
of value for the commonwealth. The laborer, who in spite of his best
efforts shows himself useless and clumsy before one machine, might
perhaps have done satisfactory work in the next mill where the
machines demand another type of mental reaction. His psychical rhythm
and his inner functions would be able to adjust themselves to the
requirements of the one kind of labor and not to those of the other.
Truly the whole social body has had to pay a heavy penalty for not
making even the faintest effort to settle systematically the
fundamental problem of vocational choice, the problem of the psychical
adaptation of the individuality. An improvement would lie equally in
the interest of those who seek positions and those who have positions
to offer. The employers can hope that in all departments better work
will be done as soon as better adapted individuals can be obtained;
and, on the other hand, those who are anxious to make their working
energies effective may expect that the careful selection of individual
mental characters for the various tasks of the world will insure not
only greater success and gain, but above all greater joy in the work,
deeper satisfaction, and more harmonious unfolding of the personality.




V

SCIENTIFIC VOCATIONAL GUIDANCE


Observations of this kind, which refer to the borderland region
between psychology and social politics, are valid for all modern
nations. Yet it is hardly a chance that the first efforts toward a
systematic overcoming of some of these difficulties have been made
with us in America. The barriers between the classes lie lower; here
the choice of a vocation is less determined by tradition; and it
belongs to the creed of political democracy that just as everybody can
be called to the highest elective offices, so everybody ought to be
fit for any vocation in any sphere of life. The wandering from calling
to calling is more frequent in America than anywhere else. To be sure,
this has the advantage that a failure in one vocation does not bring
with it such a serious injury as in Europe, but it contributes much to
the greater danger that any one may jump recklessly and without
preparation into any vocational stream.

It is fresh in every one's mind how during the last decade the
economic conscience of the whole American nation became aroused. Up to
the end of the last century the people had lived with the secure
feeling of possessing a country with inexhaustible treasures. The last
few years brought the reaction, and it became increasingly clear how
irresponsible the national attitude had been, how the richness of the
forests and the mines and the rivers had been recklessly squandered
without any thought of the future. Conservation of the national
possessions suddenly became the battle-cry, and this turned the eye
also to that limitless waste of human material, a waste going on
everywhere in the world, but nowhere more widely than in the United
States. The feeling grew that no waste of valuable possessions is so
reckless as that which results from the distributing of living force
by chance methods instead of examining carefully how work and workmen
can fit one another. While this was the emotional background, two
significant social movements originated in our midst. The two
movements were entirely independent of each other, but from two
different starting-points they worked in one respect toward the same
goal. They are social and economic movements, neither of which at
first had anything directly to do with psychological questions; but
both led to a point where the psychological turn of the problem seemed
unavoidable. Here begins the obligation of the psychologist, and the
possibility of fulfilling this obligation will be the topic of our
discussion concerning the selection of the best man.

These two American movements which we have in mind are the effort to
furnish to pupils leaving the school guidance in their choice of a
vocation, and the nowadays still better known movement toward
scientific management in commerce and industry. The movement toward
vocational guidance is externally still rather modest and confined to
very narrow circles, but it is rapidly spreading and is not without
significant achievements. It started in Boston. There the late Mr.
Parsons once called a meeting of all the boys of his neighborhood who
were to leave the elementary schools at the end of the year. He wanted
to consider with them whether they had reasonable plans for their
future. At the well-attended meeting it became clear that the boys
knew little concerning what they had to expect in practical life, and
Parsons was able to give them, especially in individual discussions,
much helpful information. They knew too little of the characteristic
features of the vocations to which they wanted to devote themselves,
and they had given hardly any attention to the question whether they
had the necessary qualifications for the special work. From this germ
grew a little office which was opened in 1908, in which all Boston
boys and girls at the time when they left school were to receive
individual suggestions with reference to the most reasonable and best
adjusted selection of a calling. There is hardly any doubt that the
remarkable success of this modest beginning was dependent upon the
admirable personality of the late organizer, who recognized the
individual features with unusual tact and acumen. But he himself had
no doubt that such a merely impressionistic method could not satisfy
the demands. He saw that a threefold advance would become necessary.
First, it was essential to analyze the objective relations of the many
hundred kinds of accessible vocations. Their economic, hygienic,
technical, and social elements ought to be examined so that every boy
and girl could receive reliable information as to the demands of the
vocation and as to the prospects and opportunities in it. Secondly, it
would become essential to interest the schools in all these complex
questions of vocational choice, so that, by observation of individual
tendencies and abilities of the pupils, the teachers might furnish
preparatory material for the work of the institute for vocational
guidance. Thirdly, - and this is for us the most important point, - he
saw that the methods had to be elaborated in such a way that the
personal traits and dispositions might be discovered with much
greater exactitude and with much richer detail than was possible
through what a mere call on the vocational counselor could unveil.[3]

It is well known how this Boston bureau has stimulated a number of
American cities to come forward with similar beginnings. The
pedagogical circles have been especially aroused by the movement,
municipal and philanthropic boards have at least approached this group
of problems, two important conferences for vocational guidance have
met in New York, and at various places the question has been discussed
whether or not a vocational counselor might be attached to the schools
in a position similar to that of the school physician. The chief
progress has been made in the direction of collecting reliable data
with reference to the economic and hygienic conditions of the various
vocations, the demand and supply and the scale of wages. In short,
everything connected with the externalities of the vocations has been
carefully analyzed, and sufficient reliable material has been gained,
at least regarding certain local conditions. In the place of
individual advice, we have thus to a certain degree obtained general
economic investigations from which each can gather what he needs. It
seems that sometimes the danger of letting such offices degenerate
into mere agencies for employment has not been avoided, but that is
one of the perils of the first development. The mother institute in
Boston, too, under its new direction emphasizes more the economic and
hygienic side, and has set its centre of gravity in a systematic
effort to propagate understanding of the problems of vocational
guidance and to train professional vocational counselors in systematic
courses, who are then to carry the interest over the land.[4]

The real psychological analysis with which the movement began has,
therefore, been somewhat pushed aside for a while, and the officers of
those institutes declare frankly that they want to return to the
mental problem only after professional psychologists have sufficiently
worked out the specific methods for its mastery. Most counselors seem
to feel instinctively that the core of the whole matter lies in the
psychological examination, but they all agree that for this they must
wait until the psychological laboratories can furnish them with really
reliable means and schemes. Certainly it is very important, for
instance, that boys with weak lungs be kept away from such industrial
vocations as have been shown by the statistics to be dangerous for the
lungs, or that the onrush to vocations be stopped where the statistics
allow it to be foreseen that there will soon be an oversupply of
workers. But, after all, it remains much more decisive for the welfare
of the community, and for the future life happiness of those who leave
the school, that every one turn to those forms of work to which his
psychological traits are adjusted, or at least that he be kept away


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Online LibraryHugo MünsterbergPsychology and Industrial Efficiency → online text (page 2 of 16)