Eric John Miller
1924 - 2002
Eric Miller attended the Royal Grammar School in High Wycombe and in 1941 went on to become an exhibition scholar at Jesus College, Cambridge. His university education was interrupted by military service in Britain, India and Burma during the Second World War. This experience led him to change the subject of his degree at Cambridge from Classics to anthropology when he returned there in 1946. Eric received a first, and went on to do a doctorate in anthropology which included two years' research into the caste system in Kerala, India. Following his doctorate, he did 18 months post-doctoral work in Northern Thailand.
But instead of an academic career in social anthropology, Eric became increasingly interested in the problems of people and organisations, and took up a post as an internal consultant on work organisation and cultural change for a family-owned jute company called Ludlow which had several jute mills in the United States and India. Interestingly, his choice of anthropology and attraction to the problems of people in work organisations was very similar to Ken Rice's experience a few years earlier. It seems fitting that they were later to meet and work together.
Following a year in the United States getting experience of American industry and studying human relations at Harvard University, Eric returned to India as a consultant to a Ludlow jute mill, before joining the Calico mills in Ahmedabad. It was here that Eric Miller met Ken Rice (A.K. Rice) from the Tavistock Institute, who was already introducing innovative forms of work organisation in weaving at Calico. This led Eric to join the Tavistock Institute himself in 1958.
Eric Miller and Ken Rice worked together in developing the Institute's group relations training programme, including the Leicester Conference. At first Eric was sceptical about the usefulness of the programme, but he soon became convinced of its value in enabling individuals to find authority within themselves; to question assumptions; and to extract themselves from irrational situations imposed by a group.
When A.K. Rice died in 1969, Eric became director of the Institute's group relations programme. Eric directed and developed the programme successfully for many years. In 1996, Mannie Sher took on this role. Eric continued to work for the Institute. Over the years, his work as a consultant had taken him into a wide variety of organisations – steel mills, an airline, a Church of England diocese, the water sector in Mexico, hospitals, residential homes, and schools. He wrote about some of these assignments in the book, From Dependency to Autonomy, which includes the following quote:
"Long term solutions to managing change cannot depend on manipulative techniques. On the contrary, they must depend on helping the individual to develop greater maturity in managing the boundary between his own inner world and the realities of his external environment."
(From Dependency to Autonomy, p4).
Eric was a prolific writer. Many of his papers were about the individual's relationship to the organisation – some of which are detailed below. In 1999, Eric edited more than fifty years of Tavistock work into The Tavistock Institute Contribution to Work and Organisational Design.
Eric Miller also helped to establish other institutions, including group relations organisations, in America, Finland, Denmark, Israel, India, South Africa and elsewhere. Eric was a co-founder of OPUS (an Organisation for Promoting Understanding in Society), a small educational charity which helps individuals recognise their relatedness to society.
He continued to be a member of staff of the Tavistock Institute until his death, aged 78, on 5 April 2002. Eric's wife, Olya Khaleelee, with whom he often collaborated, directs the Tavistock group relations conference Leaders in Changing Organisations. Eric also had one daughter, Sue, from a previous marriage.
Selected publications by Eric Miller
Rice, A.K. & Miller, E.J. (1967) Systems of Organisation: Control of Task and Sentient Boundaries. London: Tavistock Publications. (Reprinted in 2001 by Routledge/Taylor & Francis).
Miller, E.J. (1976) Task and Organisation. London: Wiley.
Miller, E.J. & Gwynn, G. (1972) A Life Apart: A Pilot Study of Residential Institutions for the Physically Handicapped and Young Chronic Sick. London: Tavistock Publications.
Miller, E.J. & Dartington, T. (1981) A Life Together: The Distribution of Attitudes Around the Disabled. London: Tavistock Publications.
Miller, E.J. (1983) Work and Creativity (Occasional Paper No. 6). London: Tavistock Institute.
Miller, E.J. (1989) The Leicester Model: Experiential Study of Group and Organisational Processes (Occasional Paper No.10). London: Tavistock Institute.
Miller, E.J. (1993) From Dependency to Autonomy. London: Free Association Books.
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