Eric Trist

Eric Lansdown Trist (September 11, 1909 – June 4, 1993) was a British Psychologist and leading figure in the field of organizational development (OD). He was one of the founders of the Tavistock Institute for Social Research in London. Trist was born in 1909 in Dover, England the son of a Cornish father and a Scottish mother. He went to Cambridge University – Pembroke College in 1928. A self-confessed atheist he was a member of the university Labour Club. Moving on to read psychology Trist was greatly influenced by Kurt Lewin. At that time (1932/3) Lewin had left Germany travelled to Palestine, was invited to the United States, stopping off in England, where Trist briefly met him showing him around Cambridge. Trist graduated in Psychology in 1933, with a distinction, and went to Yale University again meet and spend some time with Lewin, who was at Cornell and then Iowa. At Yale Trist would study with and greatly admire Edward Sapir, Jewish pseudo-anthropologist-linguist. During the Great Depression in America Trist read Marx stating “Marx made every sense to me as an analyst of society”. Having become politically active by 1935 he had returned to Britain and was heavily connected to Communism involved with the Popular Front in Spain. At the outbreak of WWII Trist became a clinical psychologist at the Maudsley Hospital, London. In 1942 he was asked to join the group at Tavistock working with Wilfred Bion for the experimental work on War Office Selection Boards (WOSBs). It is interesting to note that Trist’s colleagues at Maudsley expressed fury at his volunteering as in his own words “they didn’t at all approve of the Tavvy”. During the last two years of the war, Trist was the Chief Psychologist to the Civil Resettlement Units (CRUs), for repatriated prisoners of war.

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