Between organisational behaviour and luxury

Isaac Mostovicz writes that luxury is remedy to help us understand our behavioural psychology....

I am often asked about the connection between my two areas of interest, namely organisational behaviour and luxury marketing, since they seem not to have any connection at all. My response typically points to the gap between two schools of psychology, one of which is called behavioural psychology and the other cognitive psychology.

The behavioural school is closely linked to people’s physiology and reflexes. It gained wider fame from the experiments of Ivan Pavlov who caused his dogs to salivate whenever they heard the ring of a bell because of its association with feeding time, despite some having had their throat slit and being unable to eat. Pavlov influenced two well-known American psychologists, J.B. Skinner and J.B. Watson, who followed his experiments and further showed that it is possible to influence behaviour.

Most of us are now familiar with the result of this school of behaviourism. Marketing campaigns are mainly based on the findings of this school, and we are constantly influenced to purchase one product or another. The fashion industry uses this knowledge as well by telling us how to dress, and celebrities are used as role models to put social pressure on us to copy their behaviour.

However, under the surface runs a different current. Many of us were brought up on the idea that “money talks”. After all, were we not incited by sales and discounts of all kinds, the industry would have abandoned this practice long ago. However, many studies show that monetary incentives do not play an important role in people’s decision-making. When asked, people place cost and other similar money matters at the bottom of the list even when choosing a bank. So who is right in this debate? Is it the researchers looking at cognitive views or the marketers who influence behaviour by offering us sales and discounts?

The answer is that both researchers and marketers are correct. There is a gap between what we say and how we act. While we say that money does not matter, we behave differently and we are enticed by monetary offers. I recently met an executive who explained this phenomenon succinctly. When commenting on the huge bonuses that executives receive, sometimes even when their company fails, he told me that even when people receive these fat bonuses their heart tells them a different story. By referring to people’s hearts, this gentleman actually talked about our values and worldviews which are not in sync with our behaviour.

So, how does out heart function? Back in 1955, George Kelly published his seminal work, The Psychology of Personal Constructs, based on his 25 years of clinical experience. This work describes how people interpret and anticipate their personal experience. Kelly was able to describe the rules upon which people interpret and the meaning they attribute to the events in their lives. Explaining the meaning and interpreting events is a verbal exercise and as Kelly noted: “If you do not know what is wrong with a person, ask him, he may tell you.”

However, the language we use to describe our experience is metaphorical. That means that we do not express the meaning we give to an event in a mere poetic way and even our conceptual system that is guided by our values is metaphorical, emphasising certain aspects and hiding others. In other words, different people will explain their worldview in a different language that reflects their values or conceptual system.

Our conceptual system is not something of which we are usually aware. One of Kelly’s last students, Dennis Hinkle devised a system to record this conceptual system. In my research, I provided the structure of this system and showed that two systems identical in structure, yet opposing in meaning, exist. I named one conceptual system Theta and the other one Lambda.

Looking at the behaviour manifested we now have two types of worldview to explore. The first one is the actual one which is influenced by all kinds of bias. Part of it is social and part of it results from a lack of awareness of our conceptual system and an unwillingness to follow it for various reasons. My research into organisational behaviour reveals the magnitude of that bias, which comes at a dear price. Not only does it cause personal damage leading to many phenomena of physical and psychological disorders such as addiction, neuroses of various kinds and more.  Acting not according to our values and worldviews damages the very fabric upon which our society is based and leads to social destruction and to corporate disintegration.

On the other hand, luxury enhances our awareness of our value and conceptual systems. When we use luxury, we pit our actual behaviour against our belief system and worldview; we become more aware of our worldview and act accordingly.

Hence,  I believe that whilst research into organisational behaviour highlights the tension between the two behavioural systems, luxury offers us the needed remedy.

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