President's Column

Last night I ate dinner with a distinguished psychologist who told me he had "given up" on APA. "Why?" I asked. He hesitated for a moment, taken aback, perhaps, that anyone would actually ask him to justify his stance. He claimed that APA did little or nothing for the group with which he identified. I rattled off several things APA had, in fact, done recently for the group. Indeed, no organization does more for all groups in psychology than APA. He admitted he had to reconsider his stance. Like many others who have "given up" on APA, he really had not thought his position through. APA had a lot more to offer than he and others often realize.

This is not to say that I (or others) have always been thrilled with all aspects of APA. Quite the contrary. But one should not give up on an organization, anymore than one would give up on a significant other, because one has been dissatisfied at times. Have we really become such a profession or organization of "quitters"?

When I was in college, I was quite dissatisfied with my own country, and, in particular, with its involvement in what seemed to me to be a senseless war in Vietnam. I did not "quit" the United States. Like many others, I fought for change, and eventually America left its senseless involvement in Vietnam behind. Perhaps the United States even learned a few lessons in the process. Since that time, I have had other dissatisfactions with my country, and again have worked to change what I did not like. I feel the same about APA. I am a member of many psychological organizations. But APA is the home organization for all psychologists of all persuasions. Just as citizens of a country can work to change what they do not like in the country, APA Members can work to change anything they may not like about APA.

Organizational modifiability

I am not saying that one should never give up on an organization. But whether one should give up in the face of dissatisfaction depends on the kind of organization with which one is dealing. I have proposed a theory of organizational modifiability (Sternberg, 2002) that can be useful in providing guidance regarding which organizations to stay with and which ones to quit. If an organization is largely unmodifiable, then it may not be worth staying with it because it has little or no hope for a better future. According to the theory, three factors underlie organizational modifiability: the organization's willingness to change, the organization's willingness to appear to change and the organization's views regarding its quality (its "self-efficacy"). I refer to the theory as a "mineralogical" theory because each of eight possible (yes or no) values on each of these three factors is metaphorically viewed in terms of a different mineral. For example, a "rusted iron" organization is one that is unwilling to change, unwilling to appear to change and that views itself as inefficacious. Like rusted iron, such an organization is literally falling apart upon itself. It is truly hopeless. As another example, a "granite" organization is one that is unwilling to change, unwilling to appear to change, but that views itself as wholly efficacious. Such an organization views itself as attractive, but it is hardened and unyielding as granite. The most promising type of organization is a "diamond in the rough" organization--one that is willing to change, willing to appear to change and self-efficacious.

Change at APA

APA is a diamond in the rough. It is willing to change. For example, the APA CEO Search Committee, of which I was co-chair, recommended and the APA Council of Representatives approved with no dissenting votes the appointment of the first African-American CEO in the history of the organization. APA is willing to appear to change. For example, Past-president Phil Zimbardo, President-elect Diane F. Halpern and I have formed a task force on governance that is right now evaluating the entire governance structure of APA. Is APA self-efficacious? Well, that's up to you. If enough people "give up" on APA, it won't be. APA is trying to do more for all groups as resources allow. Giving up becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy that can doom any organization. But if you work for APA and, when necessary, work to change APA, it will be a highly self-efficacious organization--a diamond in the rough of which we all can be proud. Whether it is or not is up to you.

APA is my first professional home. I invite you to make it yours.

Further Reading

Reference: * Sternberg, R.J. (2002). Effecting organizational change: A "mineralogical theory" of organizational modifiability. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, 54, 147-156.