A memorial tribute to Paul Goodman ’59
by Karl E. Scheibe ’59 and Douglas L. Frost ’59
Goodman was an innovator. He studied groups and organizations for his entire professional life, but he studied them in new ways, with particular attention to the effects of technological developments on the work of organizations.
Paul Goodman graduated from Trinity in 1959—Phi Beta Kappa, cum laude, with a major in economics. He came to Trinity rather than one of the many large institutions in Boston near his hometown of Brookline. Although he admired Harvard, Goodman saw the advantages of a smaller scale, where students would receive personal attention. At Trinity, he gave top priority to the academic program—and he was not disappointed.
He went on to receive an M.B.A. from the Amos Tuck School at Dartmouth in 1961, and in 1966 earned a Ph.D. in organizational psychology from Cornell University. At the time of his death, on January 24, 2012, he held the Richard M. Cyert chair in Organizational Psychology at Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business, one of the premier business schools in the country. He authored or co-authored nine books, published scores of scholarly articles and book chapters, and was responsible for more than 20 films and videos, imaginatively displaying to a worldwide audience a set of remarkable insights into the nature of work in our world. Even as he made major contributions to the field of organizational psychology, he also developed educational programs at the university level and for disadvantaged students throughout the world.
Goodman is a star in the academic firmament, because his legacy is both brilliant and permanent. Both of us knew Goodman well during our undergraduate years and maintained contact with him throughout his life, right up to our 50th Reunion in 2009, where Goodman displayed one of his major films—on the Dabbawallas of Mumbai in India—to a rapturous audience at the Austin Arts Center. Our objective here is to provide some historical perspective on his life and career—and to celebrate the singular success that this son of Trinity College enjoyed.
Life at Trinity: 1955-1959
We entered Trinity together in September 1955. Goodman was the only one we knew who, as a freshman, had plans to pursue graduate studies. Most of us had little idea of what a graduate school might be. He became a member of both the Economics and Political Science clubs, as well as the Corinthian Yacht Club. Goodman established a regular study schedule in the library rather than deal with distractions of the dorm. He did participate in bull sessions when he returned to the dorm, but they were often about intellectually challenging topics.
He balanced his studies with life outside the campus that included sailing and attending lectures—broadening his horizons. In his sophomore year, Goodman became a member of Alpha Chi Rho. This traditionally Christian fraternity had just opened its doors to Jewish pledges—and Goodman was among the first of its Jewish brothers.
The New Organization Man
William Whyte’s classical book, The Organization Man, was published in 1956, just at the beginning of our undergraduate years. It was a passionate critique of togetherness, mindless conformity, and the tyranny of the modern corporate organization that had come to dominate the Western world. Whyte’s book and Orwell’s 1984, published just eight years before, warned us of overarching powers that might make victims of us all, plebes caught in the forces of all-powerful organizational structures we could neither see nor comprehend. Goodman recognized the power and scope of these transitions and saw their operation in the workplace. He made the study of organizational structure, influence, and change his lifelong passion. At the beginning of his career, there was barely a defined field of organizational behavior. At the end of his life, this had become a vital and active field of inquiry. Goodman’s research and writings place him right at the center of this thriving discipline.
Goodman’s academic vita runs to 18 single-spaced pages. While this is not the place to unpack and display all of his contributions, several features of Goodman’s work are worthy of special note.
Carnegie Mellon University provided the setting for the major part of Goodman’s academic career. He was hired there in 1972 and served on its faculty until his death 40 years later. There he initiated and directed the Center for the Management of Technology, which conducts research on the management of technology in industrial settings. At the same time, he became director of the Institute for Strategic Development, which has the objective of facilitating the globalization of his university’s research and educational activities. Goodman became a source of countless research initiatives in the field of organizational behavior, a widely published authority, and a globe-trotter.
Goodman was an innovator. He studied groups and organizations for his entire professional life, but he studied them in new ways, with particular attention to the effects of technological developments on the work of organizations. He also did much to extend the use of technology in the enhancement of educational programs at all levels and on a global scale. Among his innovations was his discovery of the potential power of film as a way of communicating knowledge about work and organizational structures in the modern world. He and his wife, Denise Rousseau, produced films on several occupations, with his filmmaking culminating in two works that have been widely recognized and shown on PBS and other venues.
The Dabbawallas is a documentary made in Mumbai about a form of organized work that has existed for more than 100 years. Each day, more than 100,000 lunches are delivered by 4,000 people, called dabbawallas, to workers throughout the city. The task of picking up, sorting, and delivering lunches, and then picking up lunch boxes is done virtually without error every day and is accomplished entirely without the aid of computers, cell phones, or use of current business practices.
His second major film, Escola de Samba, is set in São Paulo, Brazil, where his film crew spent 10 months documenting the extraordinarily complicated work of 4,000 poor people who produced floats, costumes, music, and dances for their Carnival performance. Again, all of this is accomplished without the aid of modern technology or sophisticated business practices.
Goodman concludes a description of this work with a counterpoint question: “Instead of asking how knowledge can help less-developed countries, these films focus on how developed countries can learn from less-developed countries.” It seems fitting that this commentary on Goodman’s life and career concludes on a note of humility. His very choice of Trinity College can be seen as recognition of the wisdom of sometimes choosing the smaller over the grand and thereby achieving larger goals.
We thank U.S. Air Force Brigadier General Jon Reynolds ’59 for encouraging us to share the story of Paul Goodman’s career. We also appreciate the invaluable help and support of Denise Rousseau, University Professor at Carnegie Mellon University and Goodman’s wife and companion for the last 22 years of his life.