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The walls within: working with defenses against otherness

Online Conference 5-11 July 2021

AM23-QC-PP21: A Life of PHI: fractal geometries of human behaviour in organisations

Parallel Papers Session 5
Saturday 1 July 15.15pm-16.30 SAST - VENUE 1
This presentation is STREAMED: a live broadcast from the venue with no online interaction. Moderators may announce zoom 'chat' questions can be submitted. Please 'mute' your microphone in consideration of other online participants and the audio recording.

A Life of PHI: fractal geometries of human behaviour in organisations

Presenter: Prof Sanchen Henning


“If you look at the surface, you see complexity…but do not look at what you see but at what it took to produce what you see.”
- Benoit Mandelbrot, 2005

The paper aims to identify a set of human behavioural characteristics in organisations which are repeatable, predictable and which could possibly unify individuals regardless of race, socio-economic background, or physical location. Organisations seem to regard the human factor in business as “soft” and often disregard the subject because it is perceived as difficult to manage. The researcher applies the metaphor of fractal geometry as patterns of meanings or themes to moderate the complexity of understanding organisational behaviour and to provide insights to management consultants. In nature and science, fractals are a basic set of rules that repeat multiple times to form a complex structure so that self-similarity is evident on all levels. These are evident in the microscopic formation of cellular structures of living organisms as well as the macroscopic formation of galaxies.

Furthermore, fractals are irregular and oppose the traditional Euclidean geometrical shapes such as circles or squares. Similarly, individuals, groups and organisations as living human fractals develop and evolve over time, depicting irregular but self-similar behaviours.

The theoretical paradigm is system psychodynamics and provides the lens to explore scholarly literature from which a theoretical framework for psychological wellness, namely “A Life of PHI” is constructed.

The emerging themes are Purpose, Hope and Identity (PHI) and are applicable on individual, group and organisational level as all three entities evolve through distinct and predictable phases over the course of its own life cycle, in an irregular pattern.

The integration of Purpose, Hope and Identity into the PHI framework for psychological wellness can be applied on individual, group or organisation levels as these systems evolve from fragmentation towards integration. As complex adaptive systems, human identity and group identity is purposefully goal-oriented a perpetually being constructed and therefore there is continuous potential for transformation, which reflects a more hopeful theory than the traditional deterministic approach of unresolved past influences on identity.

Fractals exist within a person as well as between groups of individuals just as they occur in groups of trees in a forest. The paper postulates that the integration of PHI as fractals in human behaviour may enhance psychological wellness as well as a deeper understanding of its complexities.

Learning Objectives

Participants will be able to

  1. Recognise the concept “fractal” and its application in a human behavioural context.
  2. Recognise the fusion of system psychodynamic theory and selected concepts from the field of positive psychology, with specific reference to Purpose, Hope and Identity.
  3. Apply the 3 states of any living system, namely, Explosive instability, Stable equilibrium and Bounded instability on individual, team and organisational level.

Biographical Summary

Sanchen Henning is a Professor in Leadership and Organisational behaviour at the Graduate School of Business Leadership. She completed her BA degree in 1989, majoring in Psychology and German at the University of Pretoria. In 1990 she joined SAA as an air hostess while completing her Honours degree at UNISA. In 2000 she joined the Masters in Research psychology course at University of Pretoria. She did her internship at the Military Psychological Institute (MPI). In 2002 she joined Telkom’s Marketing intelligence unit, doing brand research, customer satisfaction and advertising research. In 2006 she enrolled for the doctorate in Consulting psychology course at UNISA and completed it in 2009. In 2012 she joined academia as a senior lecturer at UNISA SBL and has been there since.