Chapter TwoThe Origins of Organization Development

John J. Scherer, Billie Alban, and Marvin Weisbord

The organization development (OD) profession was born from pioneer research studies, theories, models, and practices developed by a handful of applied social scientists shortly before, during, and after World War II. These included Kurt Lewin (1890–1947), a German refugee; Wilfred Bion (1897–1979), a British psychiatrist; Bion's wartime collaborator, Eric Trist (1909–1993); Fred Emery (1925–1997), an Australian psychologist who came to Britain to work with Trist; and Douglas McGregor (1906–1964), an MIT psychology professor who developed many of their ideas into a seminal management book, The Human Side of Enterprise (McGregor 1960).

We begin with three giants on whose shoulders we OD practitioners are standing: Kurt Lewin, Wilfred Bion, and Douglas McGregor, each of whom contributed significantly to the fundamentals of OD still used today. Who named “Organization Development” and what the correct name for the field actually is comes next, followed by Billie Alban's Timeline of OD, showing in graphic form the major events and people shaping our evolution. We close with a closer look into several of OD's more significant fundamental principles and elements that flowed from our origins.

Kurt Lewin—The Grandfather of Organization Development (1939)

No one was more crucial to OD's evolution than Kurt Lewin, “the grandfather of applied behavioral science.” Lewin, a Berlin-educated ...

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