Edgar H. Schein: «The Spirit of Inquiry»

Ed Schein together with his mother, Hildegard, and his father, Marcel Schein, ca. 1936. Photograph courtesy of Edgar H. Schein.

This work presents a collection of original essays composed by friends and ­colleagues of Edgar H. Schein. Each of the fifteen essays in its own way honors Ed’s invigorating and path breaking contributions – over six decades – to several scholarly and applied fields in the social sciences. To those familiar with the sweep of Ed Schein’s work, this collection serves as a testimony to its continuing relevance and usefulness. To those unfamiliar with all or parts of the work, this collection will serve as a crisp but helpful introduction.

But, what I will most treasure from this extraordinary experience was less the ideas than the complex weave of ideas and personas. (…). I will refrain from continuing to empty the lesson inventory from which they are drawn and end with a simple deep bow and “Thank You” to a genuine teacher.

Peter Senge, Senior Lecturer, Leadership and Sustainability, MIT Sloan School of Management, Cambridge MA; Academy for Systems Change, Norwich Vermont.

This book was put together as a labor of love. The original idea was born by Daniel C. Schmid and Gerhard Fatzer at the 2017 Conference of Trias and at HWZ University of Applied Sciences in Business Administration Zurich. The Spiritus Rector or Master Editor was John Van Maanen with his unique network. The work presents a set of essays cobbled together by friends and colleagues of Edgar H. Schein’s to honor his invigorating and path breaking contributions over six decades to a number of scholarly and applied fields in the social sciences. It is also something of a belated but collective present for Ed on his 90th birthday.

Edgar H. Schein about «Humble Leadership»: Conference of Trias and HWZ University of Applied Sciences in Business Administration Zurich, 23 Mai 2017.

As editors of this work, we asked a set of people who had worked closely with Ed at various stages of his long and continuing career to inscribe what they felt were the lessons they have learned from him as well as what they consider to be his major contributions to their respective fields. We have fifteen essays drawn from a variety of authors, some who emphasize the theoretical and research side of Ed’s work, some who emphasize the developmental and practical side the work, and some who pay attention to both sides since each side informs the other.


Edgar H. Schein – The Spirit of Inquiry
Gerhard Fatzer, John Van Maanen, Daniel C. Schmid, Wolfgang G. Weber (Eds.)
ISBN 978-3-903187-39-9

The fifteen essays could easily have been multiplied many times over for Ed’s spheres of influence and acquaintances are extensive (and still expansive). His influence is not strictly bound by discipline nor geography. His work weaves various threads drawn from psychology, sociology, anthroology and attracts interest from North America to Europe to Asia. We have tried to be representative of Ed’s diverse concerns in selecting contributors to this collection but, of necessity, spare in asking for papers. Not surprisingly, we met with success when soliciting commentary. All the contributors were enthusiastic and eager to write and delivered on a relatively tight editorial schedule.

The contributors are roughly divided – with some overlap – into four groupings: Colleagues, coworkers with Ed, in the Organization Studies Group at MIT and associates of Ed who worked with him at MIT outside the group in the areas of organizational change and development; former students of his in the Organization Studies Group; two contributors who know well Ed’s fascinating family history, including his son; and three long-time friends of Ed from Europe. The essays from each contributor detail areas of admiration and influence that differ slightly from one another but do come together to offer a rather full portrait of Ed’s special and skilled artistry, a blend of the humanities and social sciences.

To briefly introduce the sections of this collection of appreciative writings, the first section has essays by Lotte Bailyn and John Van Maanen, colleagues in the Organization Studies Group, that focus more or less on the scholarly side of Ed’s work and their lengthy shared history at MIT. This section also includes essays by Peter Senge and Otto Scharmer, associates of Ed’s at MIT but members of different groups in the Sloan School. The latter two essays focus on more on Ed’s applied, helping side and deal closely with his role as an exemplary teacher or, as a label Ed might prefer, a respected coach.

Ed Schein, the humble educator, has developed, articulated, honed, and passed on these deeper principles to a global community of action researchers and reflective practitioners. (…) With a deep bow to a teacher who – more than any other teacher I have ever met – embodies every single principle that he espouses in his own actions and way of being.

C. Otto Scharmer, Senior Lecturer, Leadership and Sustainability, MIT Sloan School of Management, Cambridge MA; Presencing Institute, Cambridge, MA.

The second section features six contributions by former students of Ed’s in the Organization Studies Group who have gone on to have rather notable research and teaching careers of their own: Steve Barley, Gibb Dyer, Gideon Kunda, Deborah Dougherty, Nitin Nohria and Jane Salk. All were doctoral students in the 1980s and, while matriculating in different years, were part of what might be thought of now – although at the time unrecognized – as a small but “hot group” which included the faculty as well. It was quite democratic. Everybody, including grad students were in on the act. There were status differences to be sure but all could speak up and partake in debate. Multiple authorship was common. To some degree, those engaged saw the little group as something of an embattled enclave – both within the Sloan School and MIT at large vis-à-vis the prestigious, quantitatively oriented groups – like economics – that dominated the local pecking order and, externally, in contrast to the traditional “organizational behavior” groups at other larger (and regarded as misguided or dumber) institutions.

The third section consists of two selections. The first offers a quick history of the peripatetic but close knit family life Ed experienced when he was young. As told by Daniel C. Schmid, our man from Zurich grew up in several academic environments far from Cambridge, Massachusetts, during the run up to World War II which was, to say the least, an intense and dangerous moment in time. The second selection is a warm and unique depiction of Ed as both a father and an unintentional futurist written by his son and sometimes co-author Peter A. Schein. Both broaden our view of Ed Schein by portraying his life and times beyond the often-cloistered confines of the academy.

The fourth and last section of the volume presents essays written by European friends of Ed Schein: Gerhard Fatzer, Sabina Schoefer, and Wolfgang G. Weber. Gerhard’s essay takes up his original encounters with Ed Schein in the early 1980s at MIT and traces their evolving relationship over the years. Sabine Schoefer, along with Sylvia Boecker and Gerhard Fatzer, was instrumental in introducing Ed Schein to the German speaking public through his translated books and through six Trias Conferences held in Ed’s birthplace of Zurich. Sabine’s essay present what she calls a “vital toolkit for the development of organizations” that draws on many of Ed’s writings. Wolfgang’s contribution is to compare Ed’s work on dialogue and discourse with some prominent European theorists such as Juergen Habermas.

The volume concludes with a selected list of Ed’s publications. A complete listing would have amounted to well over 200 cites so we have made some editorial deletions – cutting out those one-off publications such as compressed interviews, abridged special interest publications, some brief forwards to other works, short reviews, and summaries of previously published works. We have however highlighted – denoted in the manuscript in bold letters – those books Ed himself considers his most vital and meaningful. And, as is apparent from the testimony given here, it is a body of work that has maintained its relevance and usefulness to a multitude of readers over the demanding test of time.

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