The Stanford prison experiment revisited

INN331 – Management Issues for Information Professionals

WEEK THREE: Lecture tangent on manipulating staff.

This comment relates to a university lecture and may not make any sense to anyone who did not attend that lecture.

stanford-prtison-experiement

About 20 years ago I participated in a corporate change management and team building ‘retreat’ during which we played a limited version of the 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment.

Our game was devoid of props like prison cells or handcuffs, and we were divided into ‘patricians’ and plebeians’, with the patricians being encouraged to abuse and bully the plebeians into accomplishing menial tasks in their service.

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On alienation: a missed human opportunity

It was to be a meeting with an old colleague, in old stomping grounds, but it turned into a reflection on the paths by which people become alienated from each other, and even from themselves. Along the way it also turned into a recognition of missed opportunity for something genuinely human, because no meeting ever took place.

The disappeared cafe is out of shot on the left, but the place hasn't changed much.
The disappeared café is out of shot on the left, and the horrid coffee chainstore is on the right, but other than that, the place hasn’t changed much.

I last saw Laurent seven years ago, when we both worked at Elysian Fields.  He had been my divisional chief before he was encouraged to leave the corporation because neither his ambitions nor function were required any longer. I lasted some more months before being deposed by the less noble but more profitable artifice of redundancy.

He moved on to greener pastures, with a smaller company based in West End, which is where I lived at that time, and with which I was in love as the ambient territory of more than a decade’s experiences that included triumphs and desperation enough to make for a melodramatic TV series.

That day, though, Laurent and I were to ‘catch up’ over coffee at a local café.  He chose the place and the time. I confirmed it with him just a couple of hours before the appointed time.

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