Discussion 4 Thinking about the Theory Framework for HRD and psychological, economic, and systems theories, select 2 of the three and discuss what aspects
Discussion 4 Thinking about the Theory Framework for HRD and psychological, economic, and systems theories, select 2 of the three and discuss what aspects of the theory interest you the most? Are these aspects present in your current organization? If so, how? If not, how could they be incorporated? After reading the Octopus Editorial, which mascot do you think makes the most sense in illustrating HRD?
Richard Swanson (Links to an external site.)
Requirements: A minimum of two full paragraphs and a 250-word count. Use sources in your response to support your content. Include APA citations where appropriate. McLean, G. N. (1998). HRD: Three-legged stool, an octopus, or a centipede? Human Resource
Development International, 1, 375-377.
HRD: A three-legged stool, an octopus, or a centipede?
Gary N. McLean
As I write this editorial, I am sitting in a hotel room in Dublin, Ireland, at the conclusion of the twenty-
seventh conference of the International Federation of Training and Development Organizations. This
afternoon, my wife and I took a tour of the famous St. Patrick’s Cathedral. There, the tour guide told us
about the origin of the Irish saying, ‘Chancing your arm’. As the story goes, two families, both members of
St. Patrick’s Cathedral in 1492 (an amazing coincidence for those of us who are US Americans), were
feuding, which had led to blows and threatened assault by sword. One family ran to the church and locked
themselves inside for sanctuary. The head of the family came to his senses and realized how foolish the
feud was. He tried to persuade the other family to enter the church in peace, but they would have none of
it. So he ordered his family to take their swords and cut a large rectangle out of the centre of the cathedral
gate door. He then stuck his arm through, recognizing that it would either be cut off with a sword or
accepted in a handshake of reconciliation, as intended. The reconciliation was accepted. By ‘chancing his
arm’, the feud was ended.
In this editorial, I am going to ‘chance my arm’. My colleague and friend, Dick Swanson, is well
known, at least in some circles, for his visual model of Human Resource Development as a three-legged
stool. According to Dick, the three legs that provide the foundations for HRD—Economics, Psychology
and Systems Theory—rest on a rug of integrity ( Swanson, 1995).
On many occasions, I have suggested to Dick that this is a simplistic and inadequate model for
portraying the foundations of HRD. This past April, our department at the University of Minnesota did a
one-day series of presentations by faculty, alumni and current students. Dick and I were teamed for a
presentation on ‘The Future of HRD”. In that presentation, Dick again put forward his three-legged model.
I suggested, in response, that a centipede might make a better model as it suggests almost limitless sources
of input into the complexity that I understand HRD to be. Dick quickly ‘squashed’ my centipede, arguing
that so many foundations would be unmanageable in developing and describing a unifying theory for
HRD—though why a unifying theory is needed is not all that clear to me. Our Asian students, particularly,
were quite taken aback to see these two major professors disagreeing so openly and publicly. Nevertheless,
they quickly realized that we were having fun and, at the same time, helping them to see (and us to
remember) that we are still struggling with definitional issues related to HRD.
So I’ve been searching for a new model and would like to offer for consideration the octopus. I’m
not sure that eight tentacles are enough to represent the foundations of HRD—but it’s certainly more
manageable than the 100-legged centipede and more representative of the complexity of HRD than a three-
legged stool. There are other advantages to such a model. An animate depiction implies initiative,
assertiveness and action, whereas an inanimate object is passive, lifeless and inactive. An octopus can
protect itself by dispensing a shield of ‘ink’. It is also strong, crushing its food for nutrients. When a
tentacle is damaged or destroyed, it can regenerate itself, just as HRD must be constantly re-forming itself
and, indeed, perhaps adding new foundations. Not many years ago, for example, systems theory would
have been seen as a foundation of HRD, yet it’s difficult to think of HRD today without systems theory. So
we must also hold out the possibility of other foundations emerging; chaos theory, for example, may well
be developing as a basic foundation of HRD.
Dick’s response to criticisms of his three-legged stool is to challenge the critic to suggest
foundations that are missing. That is challenging. I agree with Dick as to the importance of integrity to the
field but rather than a rug I would put it at the core of the model—the body of the octopus itself. Further, I
don’t quarrel with any of the three foundations Dick offers. But I do argue that they are not enough.
What would I add? Dick’s definition of HRD (see Swanson, 1995) includes organization
development (OD). Almost every definition of OD (see Rothwell et al, 1995, among others) includes the
phrase ‘based on the behavioural sciences’. Very few people would agree that there are only two or three
behavioural sciences. Certainly, with OD’s emphasis on organizational cultural change, one would have to
include ANTHROPOLOGY as a foundation of HRD. All of the team building and small group decision-
making activities draw on group dynamics, reflective of the field of SOCIOLOGY, and SPEECH
COMMUNICATIONS is important in describing communication systems, an essential component in doing OD.
While perhaps a bigger stretch at the IFTDO conference we heard arguments for the contributions of
philosophy and literature to HRD ( Cooley, 1998), music ( O’Suilleabhain, 1998), technology (Masie, 1998),
sports (Findlater & O’Leary, 1998), evaluation (Tolbert et al, 1998), and many others.
I can already hear the question, ‘So what are the eight tentacles that are foundational to HRD?’
And my first response is, ‘I don’t know!’ Not knowing is why we have continuous scholarship and
learning. Not knowing is why have professional journals and conferences. Not knowing is why we
continue to be curious and to ask professional questions.
Dalton (1998) reported on the characteristics of six managers who had been identified from a
group of sixty high potential managers—the only ones to succeed in accomplishing mutually identified
achievement goals set a year earlier. These managers were identified as Active Learners. Among their
characteristics were curiosity (always asking questions), constantly looking for answers (recognizing that
there was no ‘one best way’), preferring complexity to simplicity, and being comfortable with ambiguity.
These also seem to be characteristics needed by successful HRD professionals.
Is the octopus the right model for HRD? Probably not, but my argument here has been that it
moves us in the right direction. I hope my arm is grasped and not cut off so we can continue to dialogue
and create many options for conceptualizing HRD.
Human Resource Development
University of Minnesota
Cooley, M. (1998). Managing global diversity and integration: Skill and competence for the 21st
century. Presented at the 27th annual conference of the International Federation of Training and
Development Organizations, Dublin, Ireland, 22 July.
Dalton, M. A. (1998). Global human resource development. Presented at the 27th annual
conference of the International Federation of Training and Development Organizations, Dublin, Ireland, 23
Findlater, J., & O’Leary , D. (1998). Tutoring coaching skills. Presented at the 27th annual
conference of the International Federation of Training and Development Organizations, Dublin, Ireland, 21
Masie , E. (1998). Developing the new workforce: Learning and working in a digital age. Presented
at the 27th annual conference of the International Federation of Training and Development Organizations,
Dublin, Ireland, 21 July.
O’Suilleabhain , M. (1998). Leadership and teamwork in Irish traditional music performance.
Presented at the 27th annual conference of the International Federation of Training and Development
Organizations, Dublin, Ireland, 22 July.
Rothwell, W. J., Sullivan, R., & McLean, G. N. (Eds.) (1995). Practicing organization
development: A guide for consultants. San Diego, CA: Pfeiffer.
Swanson, R. A. (1995). Human resource development: Performance is the key. Human Resource
development Quarterly, 6, 207-213.
Tolbert, A. S., McLean, G. N., & Myers, R. C. (1998). Creating the multicultural learning
organization. Presented at the 27th annual conference of the International Federation of Training and
Development Organizations, Dublin, Ireland, 21 July.