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by Douglas Kirsner


From his intellectual beginnings right throughout his long life, Elliott Jaques, who died in March 2003, undertook a very rich and detailed project that encompassed fields as varied as psychology, psychoanalysis, management, economics, biology, psychiatry, philosophy, semantics, art, and anthropology. The terms ‘polymath’ and ‘renaissance man’ do not begin to describe a person who has made so many substantial contributions across so many fields. Readers of this journal will perhaps be familiar with Jaques’s psychoanalytic contributions (during the 1950s primarily), and, of course, his concept of the mid-life crisis. They may not be so aware of his later work, which developed beyond these ideas. A prevalent myth about Jaques is that he ‘left’ psychoanalysis after departing from the Tavistock in 1953, or when he began working on ‘management’ issues. However, nothing could be further from the truth. Jaques always maintained his interest in and use of a psychoanalytic perspective, although it was scarcely his exclusive standpoint. For Jaques, psychoanalysis always meshed with sociology and social structure and was never reducible to it.

I will chronicle Jaques’s intellectual odyssey, relying mainly on dialogues between us in the early 1990s. I was privileged to be in constant contact with Jaques from 1990 when we met at a conference in Washington DC until his death in 2003. I was fascinated by the reach of his inquiring mind that habitually thought outside the square. I firmly believe that his ideas, when considered seriously and in detail, are those of a genius and will be judged by history to be major contributions to many fields of endeavour. Jaques is the author of some twenty books and dozens of articles of note. His major works include The Changing Culture of the Factory (1951); ‘Social systems as defence against persecutory anxiety’ (1955); ‘Death and the mid-life crisis’ (1965b); A General Theory of Bureaucracy (1976); Creativity and Work (1990); Executive Leadership (Jaques & Clement, 1991); Requisite Organization and  The Life and Behavior of Living Organisms (2002).

Much of Jaques’s work can be seen as taking place in a social laboratory. There is constant interlinking and feedback in the development of concepts and testing them in the field. For Jaques, management was his fieldwork, where he could explore concepts in vivo, while clinical psychoanalysis helped to refine concepts about the life and experience of individuals. The organizations he consulted with demonstrated major differences in types of social institutions across different cultures in different parts of the world. Some of the most important of these were as diverse as the UK Board of Trade; the UK Civil Service in relation to political organization; the Church of England; Australian mining giant CRA; the US Army; Brunel University; UK health Services and social services; Argentine Department of Customs and Excise; Ontario Hydroelectric; and Oakland Police Department.

Jaques and I discussed this trajectory as an overall project that he undertook from the beginning of his intellectual journey at university and as a reason for his going to medical school. He wanted to come to grips with the individual across contexts from social to biological. Going to medical school was part of this grappling with the individual. Jaques himself summarized his project to me
-- his life-long interest was

to understand human behaviour, that is to say the nature of human behaviour in its focus of social interaction. Human behaviour goes on within social institutions, there is no other human behaviour. And that gradually clarified in terms of the decision to try and understand the nature of intrapsychic processes as deeply as possible.Hence into psychoanalysis and hence into child analysis which takes you about as deeply inside the individual as anything can on the one hand; and the attempt to get hold of the nature of social institutions in an appropriately teased-out understandable way on the other. So that, as in biology, one talks not just about organisms and the environment, one talks about foxes and the environment, amoebae and the environment, or paramnesia and the environment, or coral colonies and the environment, and so on. In order to understand these you have to start out by understanding their structure, that is their nature, of the living entity, on the one hand, and then into the processes which that entity uses in living in society, whether it’s an individual or whether it is a social organism, a social institution. So that meant an approach to an understanding of social institutions in depth, by a teased-out understanding of every kind of institution each in its own right as an individual identifiable institution, family, or club, or managerial hierarchy, or church clergy, or university tenured teaching staff, or whatever.

Jaques’ project was, as he put it, ‘an attempt to get into both [individual and social institutions] in depth in order to understand the inter-working’.

According to Jaques, the objective was to try to understand the foundation for understanding and providing the conditions, both psychological and social, to enhance the possibilities in society of individuals behaving constructively, both internally and externally. This means

internally having the opportunity to exercise constructive impulses to the full. In Melanie Klein’s terms it is to provide settings in which the social setting and internal understanding enhances the individual’s capability for mitigating hate by love. That kind of behaviour then is going to contribute to the possibilities of individuals functioning in relation to each other on the basis of trust and confidence, and enhancing trust and confidence in their working relationships (‘philogenic’ processes). This is as against ‘paranoiagenic’ processes, that is circumstances in which hate is not mitigated by love but hate and everything that follows from it –- primal envy, destructiveness and projective identification and mistrust which are enhanced by the living social and psychological circumstances. So that people function in relation to each other with undercurrents of suspicion and mistrust, and it’s this that pulls societies down. Therefore the aim is understanding, in terms of helping individuals on the one hand to understand themselves, which by itself is not sufficient, and enabling society to understand its institutions in such a way that it’s possible to design institutions that will be trust-enhancing as against paranoiagenic, and provide the conditions that enable individuals to work with each other in trust; and that in itself is going to have the impact inside the individual of strengthening  the forces in the direction of mitigation of hate by love. These formulations in terms of Melanie Klein came with a learning of and understanding of Kleinian orientation to human behaviour, and that comes out of my analysis as an indication of the importance of Mrs Klein to me, despite the fact that people say I’ve left Kleinian analysis, and so on; my point is I think the Kleinians are really too ensconced within Kleinian analysis and are failing to get the full value from it.

What follows are summarized extracts from the trajectory of Jaques’s intellectual development. I have divided his journey into eight interrelated yet separable historical phases. This article will discuss the major focus of the first four phases and explore how his ideas developed. I am relying on my discussions with Jaques as primary material for this article.

Phase 1 1933–1942

Phase 2 1942–1946

Phase 3 1946–52

  1. Tavistock


(b) Psychoanalysis

Phase 4 1952–1965 P


PHASE 1 1933–1942

Although it was a vague idea at first, in his undergraduate years Jaques determined that he ‘wanted to work on the relationship between individual behaviour and social institutions’. At the University of Toronto he undertook honours courses in natural sciences, studying very basic physics, chemistry, and biology in the first two years. Physics was important in giving him knowledge of the meaning of particles and waves and so on, force, energy, potential energy, kinetic energy, which he used in his later work. Chemistry was important to him

in terms of concepts relating to flows, fluids, motion, mixtures,  precipitation out, and so on, concepts that I think will be of critical value in systematizing how mental processes work as flow systems, and how conscious knowledge precipitates out of supersaturated flow systems.

He later used these conceptions in ‘developing a more general systematization of mental work and social systems’.

As an undergraduate Jaques became interested in psychology, both in itself and in relation to social organizations. Because he could not decide whether to go on to medical school or into psychology, he did a Master’s degree in psychology with Elizabeth Spilius’s father, Professor Bott, who was, as Jaques put it, ‘a psychologist of the old school. I was going to do research on eye movements and reading, and I got stuck into the making of a glass mechanism magnifying eye movements. I didn’t have the slightest idea of what I was going to magnify for’. So he switched topics in mid-year to a systematic thesis under Professor William Line on the concept of insight in Gestalt psychology. Since he did not understand what Gestalt psychology was about, ‘it was a worthless thesis’.

He wanted to pursue his interest in human behaviour but it was clear that in 1937–1938 there was nowhere where you could study psychology that had anything to do with human beings –- as Tommy Wilson, a Tavistock colleague, used to put it, ‘Psychology is something used by psychologists as a barge-pole not to touch people with’. He was advised that the way to study psychology was to study psychiatry so as ‘to get a foundation for looking at human behaviour’. He chose Johns Hopkins Medical School because it was the centre of US psychiatry and Adolf Meyer was there. As psychoanalysis was then unknown in Toronto Jaques knew nothing about it. He went to Johns Hopkins

as a way of pursuing contact and understanding of people via psychiatry. I was not interested in becoming a doctor. I spent all my time in medical school where I did just enough in the other subjects to pass. I don’t think I ever passed in anything but they were nice enough to let me because of my burning interest in psychiatry, and it was a very interesting medical school, small classes, and everybody pursued their own interests, literally, histology or surgery or brain surgery or various areas of medicine. And I was the psychiatrist in my class, and spent most of my time over in Henry Phipps’ Psychiatric Clinic. I never did qualify in anything, I just graduated from medical school as an MD and not entitled to practice anywhere, and never did practice. I graduated without knowing how to tie a surgical knot.

Jaques found the intellectual environment at Johns Hopkins Medical School from 1938–1941

absolutely fascinating; it was full of very bright people, very broad interests –- politics, music and so on. It was a very free-floating school in which you were able to pursue your own interests. Everybody in the class had quite specific interests which they pursued. It was the richest intellectual environment I’ve ever been in because of the students and the teaching staff, it was really a tremendous experience.

During his last year of medical school, around Christmas 1940, Jaques was roused by an article by Henry A. (Harry) Murray –- just published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology –- on the need for psychology to come to grips with psychoanalysis (Murray 1940; Robinson, 1992, p. 272). Jaques met Murray in New York over Christmas, Murray offered Jaques the Rantoul Fellowship at the Harvard Psychological Clinic and Jaques went to Harvard in September 1941. This was to be Jaques’s first contact with psychoanalysis, as Murray was a practising analyst. In 1942 Jaques published his first article with another member of the Harvard Psychological Clinic, Leo Bellak, ‘On the problem of dynamic conceptualization in case studies’ (1942). Murray was famous for his invention of the Thematic Apperception Test (TAT) (Murray, 1938), and Jaques later reported its clinical use with soldiers (1945).

Jaques’s time at Harvard (1941–1942) was ‘excellent’. In addition to Murray himself, who was eclectic and free-wheeling, encouraging free thought in all his students, those Murray collected around him were interested in personality and research studies about individuals. They included Talcott Parsons, Clyde and Florence Kluckhohn, Gordon Allport, and Edwin Boring who, together with Murray, formed themselves into a group called ‘the Levellers’, focusing on psychoanalysis and psychology. Others included S. S. (‘Smitty’) Stevens, George Homans,
Brewster Smith, Sylvan Tompkins, Bob Holt, Leo Bellak, Jim Miller, and Jurgen Ruch, all of whom later became significant figures in American psychology. The ‘Levellers’ Group’ discussed putting together the departments of psychology, sociology, and cultural anthropology at Harvard and in 1946 this became  the Department of Social Relations, chaired by Parsons (see Robinson 1992,pp.291–292). Jaques felt he had

a special position with Harry Murray as somebody in whom he was deeply interested; I retained this position until he died. That atmosphere also encouraged my own interest in bringing together social anthropological theory with psychological theory.

Because of the Second World War, Murray turned the work of the clinic to officer selection, working with the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) students. Jaques, using some of the skills learned in officer selection, joined the Canadian Army shortly after. This in turn led to contact with the Tavistock group in the British Army, who worked in officer selection. Murray decided that the Psychological Clinic would work on projects to explore whether personality theory could be used to develop instruments for the assessment of officers.

That started off the theory of finding the significant personality variables that made for effective officer and military leadership. That’s something that I then just took for granted until I finally reversed that position in 1988 in developing Executive Leadership with Steve Clement [1991], where we eventually shifted in the other direction of personality variables having no significance whatsoever unless they were there in psychopathological form.

Psychoanalysis at the time was a ‘hostile interest’ for Jaques but ‘nevertheless the general psychoanalytic atmosphere at the clinic had its effect on me’.

Before going into the Army Jaques took a course on measurement run by S. S. (‘Smitty’) Stevens, a leader in measurement theory. Despite Stevens’ negative attitude towards personality theory he was of ‘extraordinary importance’ to Jaques. Jaques learned much about quantification from him, particularly Stevens’ formulations of the distinctions between
univocal, ordinal scaling, interval scaling, and ratio scaling that Jaques used explicitly in his later work. Stevens’ work was for Jaques ‘a real stepping stone’. Jaques refers to Stevens’ paper, ‘Mathematics, measurement and psycho-physics’ (1951) liberally in The Form of Time (Jaques 1982). As an enemy of personality theory, Stevens was persona non grata at the Harvard Psychological Clinic. Yet Jaques did not adhere to the position of either psychoanalysis or sociology, or psychoanalysis or operationalism, or psychoanalysis or other forms of psychology. From the beginning Jaques saw the importance of integrating both types of approaches which Jaques did not see as antithetical.


PHASE 2:1942–1946

Jaques interrupted his studies at Harvard in 1942 to join the Canadian Army because Bill Line, with whom he did his MA at the University of Toronto, became head of Canadian Army Personnel Division. He joined the Canadian Army Personnel Service and became the liaison between personnel work and psychiatry in the Medical Corps. The Canadian Army took on War Office Selection Board (WOSB) procedures for selecting officers, and he was tasked with helping to set up the Canadian Army’s two WOSBs, one in Quebec at Three Rivers and the other out in British Columbia. Sent to the UK, Jaques joined the WOSB, which was involved with officer selection and also was to deal with the repatriation of soldiers to Canada after the war. Assessment centres bringing depth-psychological assessment into the field of personnel selection were developed to counteract the problem of the large number of officers who had been promoted by interviews but later failed (see Hugh Murray, 1990). As a result of that work with WOSBs, Jaques was sent to London in 1944 and then came into contact through British Army psychiatry, which had become Tavistock Group psychiatry, with the group that was later to form the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations. As Canadian Army liaison officer with British psychiatry, Jaques was involved with the Tavistock group. He recalled having some status with them because of his association with Murray and the TAT, which Jaques brought to London and used in the WOSBs. Formerly, British Army personnel department psychology was conventional but J. R. Rees, the Director of the Tavistock Clinic,became Director of British Army psychiatry and brought the Tavistock group with him. This included the psychiatrists Ronald Hargreaves, Tommy Wilson, Wilfred Bion, John Rickman, Jock Sutherland, and John Bowlby and also the psychologists Eric Trist, Ben Morris, and Harold Bridger. They came together for the psychological studies of the ‘Northfield Experiment’, designed by Bion as an experiment in taking soldiers with emotional breakdowns and using a therapeutic community model to help bring them back into service. This provided the first experiences in groups as well as the basis of Bion’s developments about groups, and was then adopted by the Tavistock group for the WOSBs. What became the Tavistock Institute group had its roots inside the army. Protected by J. R. Rees they were not concerned with hospital psychiatry but with psychology and ‘prevention’.

Bion’s concept of the ‘leaderless’ group originated in the group methods of assessment that dominated at the time. As Jaques put it, this type of group was charged with

setting up tasks in which groups of six or eight officer candidates were put together without any appointed leaders to carry out a task such as building a bridge across a river, then watching how leadership emerged within the group and how the leadership role changed from one person to another. So by setting up so-called leaderless groups –- i.e., no appointed leader -– it was possible to observe the emergence of natural leaders within the group.

This was how the group evaluation methods were significantly developed through the WOSB based in central London.

During this period ‘Operation Phoenix’, the idea of establishing a new institute of human relations at the Tavistock Clinic after the war, was elaborated.

It was to be patterned on the Yale Institute of Human Relations, and there were already guarantees of support from Alan Gregg at that time at the Rockefeller Foundation, and the Medical Division of the Rockefeller Foundation. Alan Gregg had agreed to provide financial sponsorship for what became the new Tavistock Institute of Human Relations on the assumption that the Germans would be defeated. The idea of Operation Phoenix was that this was the phoenix would arise from the ashes of the war. The Tavistock Institute was got under way immediately after the end of the war.

Jaques remained in London with the Canadian Army for another year at the end of the War, where he worked on issues of repatriation of the Canadian Army. But his decision to stay was based on the invitation to become a Founder Member of the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations. A number of the Tavistock people had already begun analysis with Melanie Klein, including Bion, and Eric Trist had begun analysis with Joan Riviere.

My first real contact with psychoanalysis began when the invitation to be a Founder Member of Tavistock arose, and the desire to stay in London as an opportunity to work with the Tavistock gang, set up the Institute, and go into Kleinian analysis. And it was at that point, when I was still in the army, that I went to see Mrs Klein and she agreed to take me in for analysis with her.

This period picked up the project of the relation between individual behaviour and society. Jaques was in analysis with Klein and began work on the Glacier Project at Tavistock.


PHASE 3:1946–1952

The Industrial Section of the Tavistock Institute


The Tavistock Institute had divisions which included the Sociological Section, the Cultural Section (films and writing), the Publishing Section, and the Industrial Section, which worked in industry. Jaques was sponsored for the Cultural Section, which resulted in nothing, and the Industrial Section, which led on to the Glacier Project. Although Jock Sutherland, Wilfred Bion, and John Bowlby were nominal members of the Institute, they were mainly involved with the Clinic. Sutherland became Director of the Adult Clinic, John Bowlby became Director of the Child Clinic, and Bion was both in private practice as an analyst and focused on group therapy as head of the group therapy part of the Adult Clinic. Jaques recalled, however, that

they were honorary members of the Institute and on the Institute board, and, as a psychiatrist, I was an honorary member of the Clinic and I did a lot of group therapy personally with Wilfred and separately. I had my own therapy groups in the Clinic. I met Wilfred Brown at that time, because Wilfred had been interested in psychological matters at Glacier and knew the Tavistock gang. So from 1947 I had my first contacts with the Glacier Metal Company, did a bit of work for them on group bonuses in the foundry.

Significantly for the Institute, in 1948 the Lord President of the Council set up the Committee on Industrial Productivity. Sir George Schuster chaired one of its panels, the Human Factors Panel which financed projects that would help revive British industry after the war. That year one of the Institute’s funded projects was the Glacier Project, which was, Jaques recalled,

to undertake an all-encompassing study of one company. The idea was that by looking at one company as a whole rather than at specific aspects of industrial organization, that could lead to a better understanding of the way in which industrial organizations could work. So that was financed from mid-1948, 1949, 1950 to mid-1951; we had a three-year grant, and that allowed me to set up the Glacier Project team.

Jaques brought Ken Rice in to work with Tavistock on the Glacier Project as the second senior member. They recruited six trade unionists as ‘Fellows’, four of whom were graduates of the trade union college. These included Ken Bamforth, who went on to work with Eric Trist on the Yorkshire longwall coal-getting method, which led on to the development of sociotechnical systems. According to Jaques, ‘They were stimulating days at Tavistock; tons of discussions, everything was in terms of group dynamics’. As liaison with the American groups Jaques visited Boston and met Kurt Lewin, Ron Lippitt, Doc Cartwright, Leon Festinger, and Rensis Likert and the Research Center for Group Dynamics. The journal Human Relations was launched, mainly to publish articles on group dynamics in organizations, as well as on the relations between group dynamics and psychoanalysis on the one hand and organizations on the other.

Social analysis


During the Glacier Project, Jaques coined the phrase ‘socialanalysis’ as against psychoanalysis.

It was the idea of doing field work and field research in social institutions by working within an institution that had a pain, that wanted help, and would allow somebody to come in and help not in the sense of bringing a consultancy package in but working with them and helping them to understand more deeply what the problems were about. The idea was to use the same approach to the study of social institutions as one did in psychoanalysis to the study of the individual. Tommy Wilson from the Institute used to put it this way, that you can go up to people in the street and say, “Do you mind if I open your abdomen in the interests of science?”, and you’re unlikely to get much response; on the other hand, if that individual’s got a bad pain in the stomach and really troubled, then they will let you go inside. The same thing in psychoanalysis, the individual will let you inside under very particular circumstances. And the notion was that we would find institutions that were having trouble and would therefore allow a social-analyst in, that is somebody who would come in, like a psychoanalyst, not trying to sell a particular bill of goods but helping the institution understand itself better. [See Jaques, 1965a.]

Jaques recalled that they set up very stringent conditions for a consultant to be invited: first, all of the key people in the institution would have to agree; second, confidentiality; third, no reporting to people about each other in the group; fourth, that the consultant would do analytical work and not make recommendations that the consultant wished the institution to pursue. These prime conditions of social-analysis derived from psychoanalysis –
that you’ll not try to get the patient to do anything, you won’t make recommendations, what you’ll help to do is to help the individual, the patient, the analysand, understand things better as a result of your being directly involved with them in helping them to understand point by point.

Jaques recalled finding

such a situation in the Glacier Metal Company, whose Chairman and CEO, Wilfred Brown, had been trying for years through the war to develop his company into a first class institution technologically and socially. We were able to establish conditions there, first of all just helping with some immediate problems. We then got research money support from Stafford Cripps and his Committee on Industrial Productivity and its subordinate Human Factors Panel to carry out such a study on an unspecified company which would agree to collaborate on a joint study of its processes and structure. Glacier Metal Company considered this proposal since they had a Works Council comprising Wilfred Brown and elected representatives of some of the staff and the trade unions.

The Tavistock and the Works Council agreed to carry out a three-year collaborative study, Jaques explained, ‘in which they would set the issues to be studied and we would try and help them understand them’. They began to work with many sections of that company, including top managers to trade unions, the results of which were published (Jaques, 1951; Jaques, Rice & Hill, 1951).

A major point was reached in 1951–1952 when the research grant terminated.

The question then facing the company and the Institute was whether they wanted to continue with the project. The trade union people were very suspicious of the Institute and they did not like Ken Rice, they felt he had taken advantage of his work in the shops to write papers like his study of the Line Shop, basic assumption groups and so on. And the agreement we had with them was that we would not publish stuff other than material that had been worked through with them. Well, Ken could argue that he submitted this to Line Shop people before he published it -– their view  was that they didn’t know what he was talking about, they couldn’t understand the paper, this was not material that had been worked through with them, they didn’t understand what basic assumptions were, and so on. They felt that he had taken advantage of his relationship with them to publish stuff that interested him as a social scientist that had not been worked through with them. They didn’t oppose his publication but he didn’t win any positive marks for doing so.

In late 1951 the Works Council was clear; they wanted to continue the project and their

individual relationship with me, they didn’t want the Institute because they didn’t like Ken Rice and they didn’t want to finance an institution where they didn’t know which members might be working on the project where somebody like Ken Rice might turn up. At the same time by then I had this experience, the beginning of it with Wilfred Brown and his immediate subordinates, which I’ve described again in The Changing Culture of a Factory, in which I’d had open Bion-type group discussions with them in order to help them sort through this problem of Wilfred Brown’s autocratic personality standing in the way of group decision-making, in which we had come up against the amazing discovery that Wilfred Brown and his subordinates could not arrive at a group decision; that in fact there was a real accountability structure there and any decisions were the decisions of Wilfred Brown as managing director and not of the immediate subordinates.

This is what led Jaques to ‘getting structure clear in the first place’ and to giving up his group approach,replacing it with a structure-first type of analysis.

This was not acceptable in the Tavistock; they never pursued that direction. This idea of getting precision in structure of the managerial hierarchy was unacceptable in the philosophical outlook of the Institute –- as it has been ever since by and large to the social-psychological, personality, group dynamics, approach to organization, which has become a dominant approach in fact, and into self-managing teams and semi-autonomous work groups, all of which I consider to be myths, fantasies and fluff.



The Glacier Project lasted from 1947 to 1977. At the start Jaques consciously adopted the ‘social-analytic method’ for getting deep access to a company by establishing a completely independent role for the project officers who did not work for any particular individual or groups in the company. This was possible because the Works Council was already composed of  the senior managers and elected representatives. The Glacier staff of 5400 at the time were divided into three grades. Although there were three factories across Britain, most of the social analytic work took place in the London factory. Jaques told the Works Council that the consultants would not agree to come in on the project without the Works Council’s unanimous agreement, and this provided the consultants’ independence. They agreed with the Council to review this annually, with the continuation needing to be unanimous each time. The Council agreed to this at Christmas, 1948. Jaques worked with Wilfred Brown and the top management group as well as elected representatives which gave very deep access.

Jaques recalled,

When it started, everything was groups. And the decision technically was that if possible we would not see individuals -– we would see people only in groups. Thus, when we went into the Line Shop, for example, and we were helping to work through issues to do with their first-line management and the shop floor, we would see people in groups of six, never individually, and we would report back to these same groups of six. Everything was groups, groups, groups, Bion and therapeutic groups, and that was the outlook, and we looked at everything in terms of groups and interplay between groups. There were small groups and larger groups but everything was groups; there were no conceptions whatsoever of organization structure or what kind of organizational system we were dealing with anyhow.

They were like today’s Leicester Conferences. Jaques wrote up these first years in The Changing Culture of a Factory (1951), which describes work in the Service Department, in the Line Shop, in the top Management Meeting, in Works Council and in the shop stewards’ committee. During this period, Jaques wrote ‘Social systems as defence against persecutory and depressive anxiety’, which, although published in 1955, was written during 1951 and 1952. The 1950s were transitional for Jaques, and marked his move away from the social analytic model, which attempted to combine psychoanalytic theory with the unconscious, the unconscious of groups, and group dynamics.

A significant event sent Jaques off in a different direction and led to his sharp break with the Tavistock in 1952, around the time that government support ended (see also Jaques, 1998).

Among other areas in the company I had been attending meetings regularly of Wilfred Brown, the Managing Director of Glacier, and his immediate subordinates called Divisional Managers. That group comprised three factory Divisional Managers, the Finance Divisional Manager, the Personnel Divisional Manager, Sales Divisional Manager, Research and Development Manager, and so on; and I used to attend the meetings. Everything in Glacier was groups: group decision, group dynamics, industrial democracy: group decision in the Works Council, group decision in management meetings; so that Wilfred Brown and his subordinates were a team called the Divisional Managers’ Meeting, that is Divisional Manager was the title of his subordinates, and it was interesting that the meeting of the Managing Director with his Divisional Managers was called the Divisional Managers’ Meeting, not the Managing Director’s Meeting, the idea being that it had the group title.
I was sitting at their meetings at their invitation. But in the meetings of Wilfred Brown with his people, tempers used to flare from time to time. They used to get into these terrible wrangles, in which they couldn’t agree on a decision, Whenever they had tough decisions to make, about opening new markets, or financing, or work-mix, going out after particular markets affecting the factories, product development priorities and so on –- major business decisions -- they would talk and discuss things and everybody would put in their points of view; then if there wasn’t agreement and a decision had to be made, Wilfred Brown would say, “Look, we’ve been discussing this for weeks now, we’re going to have to decide, and clearly we don’t have a consensus in the meeting and we can’t wait any more so I’m going to decide that we do and that”. And then they would all say, “That’s all very well, Wilfred, but we were supposed to be taking decisions, and you’re a great democrat until we don’t agree with you and then your authoritarian personality expresses itself”. The “authoritarian personality” was one of the concepts that ruled the roost in the social sciences at that time, it was based on Nevitt Sandford’s book The Authoritarian Personality, and that also was a big thing around Tavistock. So he was criticized as being an authoritarian autocrat who would talk about group decision and industrial democracy but couldn’t do it. And it became quite serious, the meetings were really being hung up by this kind of discussion coming in. And so they got the idea one day that maybe they should have some group discussions apart from the business meetings, à la Bion which they all knew about, and asked me if I would see them in special meetings in free-floating, group dynamics analysis meetings in order to try and help them sort through the group relations and facilitate their making group decisions, and to help Wilfred Brown get over his autocratic, authoritarian behaviour.
And so a series of evening meetings was arranged; we began to meet every Monday evening from 5.30 pm to 7 pm, I remember the times and places very well; and the idea was that they would be straightforward Bion therapy groups and I would be the interpreter of the group relationships, the group analyst. They talked on and I began to hear them all complaining about the fact that Wilfred Brown was an autocrat. They were saying, “Look Wilfred, you are an autocratic personality, and you don’t take disagreement very well, and really the situation is that we can take any decision we like as a group so long as we all agree with you”. And this was all brought up as a criticism of his autocratic and authoritarian ways. The more I listened to this the more it became obvious that it was perfectly true that that group could not take a decision that Wilfred Brown didn’t agree with. And the notion then dawned that, however they thought in terms of groups and group decision, Wilfred Brown would be accountable for the decisions, and there was no way out of that. The meeting was called the Divisional Managers’ Meeting, not the Managing Director’s Meeting but the Divisional Managers’ Meeting. And then it dawned on me that this was not a Divisional Managers’ meeting, that the extant structure, the real structure, whether they liked it or not, was that it was a meeting of the Managing Director who would be accountable for any of the decisions they took, and his immediate subordinates. And this was not a decision-making group. And that there was a structural reality there that you couldn’t push aside. It occurred to me that that group could not take a group decision; and that if in fact Wilfred Brown wanted to take a particular decision and all the others wanted to go in a different way, they would have to go Wilfred Brown’s way because the managing director was accountable, period, and these were his subordinates. And as a result of that, we began to work through to the point where they realized that this was not an industrial democracy, that this was a managerial system, that Wilfred Brown had a group of subordinates for whose work he was accountable, and that he would have to make the decisions. And we then got out for the first time a very clear perception of managerial accountability, and there was substantial relief in that particular so-called group because this felt much more like reality than so-called “industrial democracy”. The phrase “industrial democracy” was used all over the company and all over England at the time, and I noted that it disappeared in the company over the next three-month period, and was never heard of again because employment organizations are not industrial democracies; democracy is a political concept, it is a conception of citizens electing representatives to act for them in government -– and that is not the situation in an employment hierarchy. And so I brought this out and they discussed this for some weeks, and then came to the recognition that there was an organizational reality there that they were simply bucking against. It was not that Wilfred was autocratic -– he might or might not have been –- it was not a personality issue, the fact was that it was true that if Wilfred decided to take a particular decision and all his subordinates were opposed to it, he would have to take it because he was accountable for the decision. At the other extreme, if they appeared to come to a group decision all in agreement – it was not a group decision it was Wilfred Brown’s decision; and that in a meeting of that kind as it’s structured the decisions must be the Managing Director’s decisions because he’s accountable for them. So one began to come up against the realities of structure and the nonsense of imposing group conceptions in a situation in which they were unreal –- there’s no way in which managerial groups can take group decisions. So this was the beginning of the seeds of looking at organizational structure.

This led Jaques to begin to look at the meaning of managerial hierarchy and to the recognition that group decisions were not possible in a managerial hierarchy. The Board of Directors is the only group that makes decisions and is legally and corporately liable. Jaques tried to understand the real properties of social organizations and, he proposed, ‘to recognize the ways in which what we’re doing is using and handling these organizations in ways that run counter to their inherent, real, describable, identifiable properties’.

The realization that there are no group decisions in the managerial hierarchy came as a result of the breakdown of group decision-making processes, and the end of the government grant in 1951 meant that a decision was necessary. Jaques went on with the Glacier Project alone from 1952 because the Tavistock Institute gave him an ultimatum to get Glacier to employ the consultants part time, which was unacceptable.

So I had to stay full-time with the Institute or leave the Institute; so I left the Institute. It was a very very emotional discussion at the time. And that’s when I really went out on my own, psychoanalytic practice in the mornings and Glacier Metal Co. in the afternoons, and never had a better time in my life.

The notion was that as individuals gained a better understanding of group dynamics, the institution would gradually improve, helping both the individual and the insitution. This approach was prevalent, together with a Kleinian approach to understanding group dynamic, because, Jaques suggested,

Klein’s work was based upon her concepts of object relations, that is to say, a social interaction orientation right from birth. Out of that came this notion: that what you had in institutions was the notion of individuals using social institutions as part of defence mechanisms against persecutory and depressive anxiety [Jaques, 1955]. Now if you read that paper, its weaknesses glare at you. That paper did no good at all, was useless with regard to working through stuff in that department, and was never experienced as useful by the groups concerned. The same thing happened for example Ken Rice wrote a number of papers about the Line Shop. None of these conceptions of group dynamics and so on was experienced as of any help whatsoever to people in the company.

Jaques later rejected the arguments of the paper, regarding its formulations as ‘exactly backwards’, the wrong way around. For Jaques, bad institutions produce anxieties and defences that point first of all to structural problems in the institutions that needed to be rectified before any psychoanalysis could have a role.

The real point is that it’s anti-requisite institutions that generate the expression of paranoid anxiety and depressive anxiety or anxieties in individuals in institutions, that it’s institutions that are by their nature anti-requisite that stir up the expression in relationships in work and in working relationships within the institutions, mainly of paranoid anxiety, and breed suspicion, undercurrent of suspicion and mistrust in working relationships among individuals.

Jaques saw two fundamentally different ways, both of which were important for helping individuals. First, by means of psychoanalysis, ‘by helping them develop insight and understanding of themselves, which is extremely important because it’s the only real foundation for personal change in human beings’. Second, through attending to the development of organizations and institutions, within which people work, and the development of requisite organizations which can help individuals behave in the most constructive way possible. ‘That’s what happened to me in 1952, and from 1952 on I never looked back at the other stuff’ (see Jaques, 1995; 1998).



Melanie Klein

Jaques was in analysis with Melanie Klein in 1946 and qualified in 1950 as a psychoanalyst with the British Psychoanalytical Society, but remained in analysis with Klein for another three years. Jaques stayed in London to be in analysis with Melanie Klein ‘because the whole of the orientation of the Tavistock gang was object-relations theory’, which would relate psychoanalysis to social institutions. Melanie Klein was seen to have

the foundation stone of psychoanalysis based on social interaction. That was explicit in their thinking; although within that group there then developed this split between the Klein object-relations people and the Fairbairn group. Jock Sutherland had been analysed by Fairbairn, and Jock went off in that direction. John Bowlby was very much in that direction. Ben Morris and Tommy Wilson, Tommy Wilson was theoretically object relations, in fact he was analysed by -– can’t remember who, but very much middle group in the society. John Rickman was around in that group, stated an interest in Melanie Klein, but in fact was very much middle group orientation. So I would say that of the Tavistock group the only ones who really were involved with Kleinian analysis were Wilfred Bion and myself.

He then went into training in child analysis and had a first supervision with Paula Heimann, a second supervision with Marion Milner (which he felt to be of very little help because of her conceptual loosneness) and finished his analysis with Klein, and ‘had the good fortune to have supervision from her  in my adolescent case and my young child case of a three-year old’. Jaques finished his analysis with Klein in 1953,

by which time I had begun child analysis, and I did my first child supervision, because you had to with a middle group member, with Anna Freud’s deputy, Ilse Helman. But then I had the luck because, when I started my second child case I was over a year out of analysis with Mrs Klein, so I did my young child supervision and my adolescent child supervision both with Mrs Klein. And that was a very, very substantial experience indeed. The supervision with her of the young child case was absolutely tremendous, and that’s probably one of the best educational experiences I’ve ever had. I had a three-year-old child and with her help really got right into the depths of what it’s all about, and one got a very deep understanding of Mrs Klein’s work

This led Klein to ask Jaques to help her with her book on envy in 1955. Jaques contributed the idea of

changing it to Envy and Gratitude(Klein, 1975a), and rewriting it in that light, on the grounds that she always gave the impression that she was interested only in pathological envy, whereas the essence of her work was to get through to positive behaviour by the analysis of the destructive aspects of behaviour; so we got the gratitude in and it had quite an impact on the general design of the book. And these discussions with her, chapter after chapter, again were a tremendous learning experience. And that led her to ask me if I would work with her on Richard, Narrative of a Child Analysis (Klein, 1975b; that went on for a few years and I went through every single section of that book with her  and helped her to work out the commentary, points to be noted, and again it was a tremendous learning experience, a learning opportunity for me.

Jaques began the Glacier Project work in 1947, started with his first patients in 1948, and by 1952 had a caseload of six patients. He saw patients in the mornings and worked on the Glacier Project in the afternoons and evenings for the next twenty years, so that there was always the interplay between the analytic and fieldwork.



Jaques began to think about the mid-life crisis at about the age of thirty-five, in 1952, just as he was finishing his analysis.

That was not accidental, as you can imagine; one was personally involved in a whole series of things. That individual whom I describe as having said, “I feel I’ve been going uphill all the way, and suddenly I got to the top of the hill and I looked over the hill and there was individual death lying behind”, that was right out of one of my own analytic sessions, in fact. And heavily involved, this is very important to me and has remained so since.

 During that period Jaques read all of Dante, which he saw as among other things

an extraordinary mid-life story and how you work through and come out of it. I believe that the essence of the poetic expression of Melanie Klein’s theories of going into darkness, into depression, and then deeply into that persecutory stuff in Inferno is a poetic expression of persecutory phenomena; and then through into the depressive work-through through into purgatory. Then at the end, those last cantos I think are one of the very few poetic expressions that I know of where beauty and love and so on are expressed in very down-to-earth hard primitive terms, as against rather idealized, soft and marshmallowy sort of feeling. So there were a number of years where that kind of reading was at the top of my agenda, out of which I wrote “Death and the mid-life crisis”.

This seminal paper, which was to have enormous social influence, was written for the British Psychoanalytical Society in 1955. He finished it and read it in 1957 and then finally published it in 1965 (Jaques, 1965b). Jaques recalled,

It was my first paper read to the Society. When you become a member of the Society you go through the nerve-wracking experience of reading your first paper; I read it, and there was absolutely no discussion, the meeting ended with about five minutes of discussion as compared to the usual forty-five minutes to an hour of discussion of papers. I was very disappointed about that. I saw Mrs Klein a few days later in supervision, and she laughed about it and her comment was that it was an excellent paper -– which she had said in the meeting –- but if there’s one subject that the older members of the Society could not cope with it was the subject of death.



Jaques’s project of interweaving individual and social analysis was sharply illustrated by the years from the early 1950s until 1965 of mornings continuously working as a psychoanalyst from 7 a.m. until 12.30 p.m. with seven full-time patients, and afternoons in the Glacier Metal Company. ‘That interplay between individuals in depth in the mornings and one social institution in depth in the afternoons was probably the central experience in my whole working life’. He thought them ‘the pleasantest years of my life. I wasn’t worried about the rest of the world at all, had a wonderful opportunity to get on with work, and took advantage of it, and we had major developments under way in Glacier’. Jaques had continued his interest in psychoanalysis, becoming a child analyst trained by Klein, and did continuous adult and child analytic work for another twenty-five years from then and in his view ‘never left it’. But Jaques then found that he could not use psychoanalytic insights to learn about organizational structure.

Psychoanalytic insights have to do with the structuring of the individual, not the structuring of social institutions. Wilfred Brown left Glacier in l965, went into politics and took up an appointment as a junior minister in the Harold Wilson government, and there was then a series of four managing directors all of whom continued the work, and I continued on with them.

Over the decades from 1952, the story of the development of the concepts about the nature of social institutions involved what Jaques termed ‘a thirty-five-year digression’ in clarifying the appropriate concepts. I will outline and discuss these developments in a future article that will follow Jaques’s development of concepts about work and management before he returned to explicitly psychoanalytic formulations.


This article appeared in Free Associations 11 (No. 55):179-204.



Brown, W. & Jaques, E. (1965) The Glacier Project Papers, London: Heinemann.
Jaques, E., (1945), ‘The clinical use of the Thematic Apperception Test (TAT) with soldiers’, The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 40(4): 363–375.
Jaques, E. (1951) The Changing Culture of a Factory, London: Tavistock.
Jaques, E. (1955) ‘Social systems as a defence against persecutory and depressive anxiety’, in M. Klein, P. Heinemann & R. E. Money Kyrle (eds), New Directions in Psycho-Analysis: The Significance of Infant Conflict in the Pattern of Adult Behaviour (pp. 478–498), London: Tavistock.
Jaques, E. (1965a) ‘Social-analysis and the Glacier Project’, in The Glacier Project Papers (pp. 29–47), London: Heinemann.
Jaques, E. (1965b) ‘Death and the mid-life crisis’, International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 46: 502–514. Republished in his Creativity and Work (pp. 297–330), Madison: International Universities Press, 1990.
Jaques, E. (1976) A General Theory of Bureaucracy. London: Heinemann.
Jaques, E. (1982) The Form of Time, London: Heinemann.
Jaques, E. (1995) ‘Why the psychoanalytical approach to organizations is dysfunctional’, Human Relations, 48: 343–349.
Jaques, E. (1998) ‘On leaving the Tavistock Institute’. Human Relations, 51: 251–257.
Jaques, E. (2002) The Life and Behavior of Living Organisms: A General Theory. Westport, CT: Praeger.
Jaques, E. (1997) Requisite Organization: A Total Theory for Effective Management Organization and Management Leadership for the 21st Century. Arlington, VA: Cason Hall.
Jaques E. & Bellak, L., (1942) ‘On the problem of dynamic conceptualization in case studies’, Character and Personality, 11(1): 20– 39.
Jaques, E. & Clement, S. D. (1991) Executive Leadership: A Practical Guide to Managing Complexity, Oxford: Blackwell.
Jaques, E., Rice, K. & Hill, J. M. M. (1951) ‘The social and psychological impact of a change in method of wage payment’, Human Relations, 4: 315–340.
Klein, M. (1975a) Envy and Gratitude and Other Works, 1946–1953. London: Hogarth.
Klein, M. (1975b) Narrative of a Child Analysis—The Conduct of the Psycho-analysis of Children as Seen in the Treatment of a Ten-year Old Boy (1961). London: Hogarth. Foreword by Elliott Jaques.
Murray, H. (1990) ‘The transformation of selection procedures: the War Office Selection Boards’. In E. Trist and H. Murray (eds), The Social Engagement of Social Science: Volume 1: The Socio-Psychological Perspective, London: Free Association Books, pp. 45–67.
Murray, H. A. (1938) Explorations in Personality. New York: Oxford University Press.
Murray, H. A. (1940) ‘What should psychologists do about psychoanalysis?’  Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 35: 150–175.
Robinson, F. (1992) Love’s Story Told: A Life of Henry A. Murray, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Stevens, S. S. (1951) ‘Mathematics, measurement and psycho-physics’, in S. S. Stevens (ed.), Handbook of Experimental Psychology, New York: John Wiley and Sons.

Address for correspondence:
Faculty of Arts, Deakin University,
221 Burwood Highway, Burwood, Victoria 3125 Australia Email:

Douglas Kirsner is Associate Professor of Philosophy and Psychoanalytic Studies at Deakin University, Melbourne Australia. His most recent book is Unfree Asociations: Inside Psychoanalytic Institutes (Process Press, 2000) and his book, The Schizoid World of Jean Paul Sartre and R. D. Laing was republished by The Other Press in 2003. Dr Kirsner has published and presented widely. He is currently writing a book on the history and politics of the international psychoanalytic movement and one on the intellectual development of Elliott Jaques’ ideas.



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