Home > management, technical > Pick Your Theory: X, Y, Or T

Pick Your Theory: X, Y, Or T

If you’re a student (or self-proclaimed/credentialed “expert“) of institutional behavior, there’s no doubt that you’ve heard of Doug MacGregor‘s famous Theory X and Theory Y worldviews regarding social attitudes within organizations. And, if you’re a manager who is not into political suicide, you at least publicly espouse allegiance to the more ethically pleasing Theory Y view.


Well, in “The Management Myth: Why the Experts Keep Getting it Wrong“, philosopher-turned-business-consultant-returned-philosopher Matt Stewart concocts an interesting, but perhaps more pragmatic, Theory T:

Theory T (for tragic): Some degree of conflict is inherent in all forms of social organization. Sometimes the self is at odds with the community, sometimes the community is at odds with itself, and sometimes, as Thomas Hobbes pointed out, it’s a war of all against all. – Matt Stewart

Perhaps shockingly, but not totally out of the realm of possibility, Matt concludes:

It (Theory Y) is an attempt to trick our ethical intuitions— that is, to make workers believe that they are being well treated when in fact they are being exploited.

In this unsettling but thought-tickling view, Mr. Stewart asserts that the aim of both the bad-X and good-Y theories is to ultimately exploit the workery, but only Theory X is transparently upfront about it.

X and Y

  1. Dave Closs
    December 3, 2013 at 5:00 pm

    Is HR ever anything other than “Y”?

    • December 3, 2013 at 6:54 pm

      Some are only Y on the surface. Look under the covers and you might find X. I think X may be more prevalent than Y everywhere: management, HR, AND Labor.

  2. December 4, 2013 at 8:10 pm

    Nice one as usual – I came to that conclusion regarding “niche / boutique consultancies” who pretend to be Theory Y, but as you say are really X. Had this happen recently where a consultancy threw myself (contractor) _and_ employee (since resigned – surprise, surprise 😉 totally under the bus. Funny thing is that even the client (who I caught up with recently) was surprised with the severity of our treatment!

    I’m sure there is some name for a psychological phenomena where an intermediary acts more violently on behalf of an organisation? I wonder what happens when there’s a number of layers of magnification? I suppose you get situations like one in the UK recently where the police killed a guy for just being in the wrong place at the wrong time…

    To get back to Consultancies, I thought that at least everyone knows that the “Big 5+” are absolute a-h’s who will work people in to the ground and throw them under a bus just for amusement sometimes 😉 At least you know what you’re getting…

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