Will Schutz, PhD

Author and Creator of
The Human Element® and FIRO Theory

Will Schutz received his Ph.D. from UCLA in 1950. During the Korean War in 1952 he was recalled into the U.S. Navy and did research on understanding and predicting how any given group of men would work together. This resulted in his first book, FIRO: A Three-Dimensional Theory of Interpersonal Behavior (1958), which presented the Fundamental Interpersonal Relations Orientation (FIRO) theory and several measuring instruments including FIRO-B®, an instrument designed to predict interaction between two people. After the Navy, he taught and did research at several institutions including Harvard, the University of Chicago, and the University of California at Berkeley. While he was successful, he also found that he was straining at the edges of traditional techniques.

In the late 1950s, he came into contact with a psychotherapeutic group for young psychiatrists, designed to help them learn more about themselves before they started helping others. As a member of the group he was admonished to tell the truth, hear feedback from others about how they really felt about him, and open himself to the world of feelings. This was, in his words, “a frightening delight.” By the mid-1960s he started to see an intriguing contrast. At the Albert Einstein Medical School in the Bronx, New York, he watched psychiatrists run psychotherapy groups. At the same time, he began to work with the National Training Laboratories (NTL) at Bethel, Maine, conducting T-groups (“T” for training). He found that the work and the results of the T-group leaders, who were viewed as “unqualified” by the traditional-professional viewpoint, more creative, deeper, faster, and more effective than what was being done in the heart of the psychiatric establishment.

“The purpose of this work is to contribute to the development of more self-aware, open organizations and individuals with greater self-esteem. It is our desire that advancements in understanding the human element will at least match our advancements in technology. As we realize the tremendous power of truth, recognize our awesome capacity to determine our own lives, and overcome our fear of looking openly and honestly at ourselves, we can attain limitless heights of productivity and personal fulfillment in our organizations, our relationships, and ourselves.”

Will Schutz, Ph.D.

Inspired, Schutz studied new techniques in human behavior as much as he could, including psychosynthesis, psychodrama, bioenergetics, Rolfing, and gestalt therapy. Common to all were the use of nonverbal methods, especially movement and imagery. He began to incorporate parts of these nontraditional methods into his own group techniques. In early 1967 he wrote the best-seller, Joy: Expanding Human Awareness, which summarized the techniques he had been learning, as well as others he had devised, and explained how to use them.

He was still successful in academia and was consulting with various organizations, but he had little energy for his job. So, in late 1967 he moved to Esalen Institute, a growth center in Big Sur, California, where he was stimulated, excited and motivated to use his creativity. There he offered encounter groups—workshops incorporating the ideas of T-groups with the experiential methods he had learned. In addition, he studied and experienced a variety of approaches—physical, psychological, and spiritual—for developing the full potential of each person and each interaction between people. While at Esalen, he wrote a number of books including Here Comes Everybody (1971), a follow-up to Joy, and Elements of Encounter (1973), in which he chronicled the principles of encounter groups.

In 1975, he left Esalen and began to integrate his scientific work with the experiential material he had learned. Profound Simplicity (1979), communicated his realization that all the approaches he had studied—encounter groups, imagery, gestalt therapy, psychodrama, acupuncture, bioenergetics, Rolfing, the Feldenkrais method, aikido, and t’ai chi—were all in service of the same thing, realization of full human potential.

In 1980, using his human-potential experience and his work with FIRO theory and the FIRO scales, he created The Human Element, first tested with organizations such as Kodak, Esso, Ampex, Mattel, United Biscuit, the U.S. Army. From these early experiences, the key principles of truth, choice, and awareness crystallized and the form of The Human Element took shape. In the course of creating this body of work, he revised and expanded FIRO theory and the FIRO instruments, creating a creating an integrated set of tools called The Elements of Awareness. These instruments, designed specifically for training, were incorporated into The Human Element. His last two books cover the content of The Human Element: The Truth Option (1984) and The Human Element (1994).

From 1980 until 2001 Schutz, with his wife Ailish, created and led an international network of participants and practitioners—individuals, leaders, trainers, consultants, coaches, and organizational development specialists—devoted to the principles of The Human Element. In 2001 The Human Element was purchased by Business Consultants, Inc. of Japan. The Schutz Company, lead by Will’s son, Ethan, is the representative of The Human Element in the United states and Canada.