What Archetypal Identity is Your Organisation Living?

Last weeks blog Building your archetypal corporate identity  described organizations stamped with the narrative structure of an archetype. In working with companies, I have been enthralled with how fundamentally different one is from another. The bottom line often appears to be money, but it rarely actually is. Certainly, people want to make a good living, and some want to make a killing. However, most of us also want our lives to matter in some deeper way.

Stephen Scott Johnson in his seminal book Emergent states that “having a known and clear purpose at the nucleus of everything we do enables us to forge stronger and more authentic connections with people, and ultimately, to sustain vibrant community and culture.”

Accordingly, having an archetypal understanding of corporate identity can help you align to the type of organization that is the best match to what most effectively motivates you.

  1. Organizational cultures valuing individual fulfillment, growth and learning

The three archetypal corporate identities in this part of the matrix provide different strategies for employees to pursue fulfillment. The Innocent provides the belief for employees to live in paradise. Management make choices for a simpler, more values driven life. The Explorer is always seeking something better and helps with the task to find one self. Always providing a wonderful adventure. While the Innocent seeks fulfillment in the here and now, and the Explorer hits the road in search of it, the Sage encourages employees to embed learning & wisdom via education.

a) Innocent (happiness, optimism, job security, loyalty, parental) – “Free to be you and me”

Role: provides simple answers, associated with goodness, promotes nostalgia

Innocent organizations are short on disruption and long on loyalty, they emphasize predictability more than change. This has been the quandary for McDonalds. Designed for children and families, McDonalds promises a fun place and the golden arches are wonderfully consistent symbols for the entrance into a “Promised Land”. The Ronald McDonald character, Happy Meals and primary colors all appeal to children, as does the play equipment. McDonald’s philanthropic efforts are also consistent with the desire to make the world a better place. With global trends (wellbeing, technology etc.) against McDonalds strengths of consistency and predictability, it will be interesting to see if they can maintain relevancy as these trends bite.

When I have worked with organizations, the Innocent archetype has been one that is initially resisted. “I don’t want our company to be like Forrest Gump”. However it has worked for Cape Grim (sourced from pure Tasmania) and Mondelez (creating delicious moments of joy). The former wanted to be a ‘hero’ archetype and the latter a ‘creator’.

e.g. Disney, Coca Cola (global), Belvedere, Amway,

b) Explorer (ambition, truth, autonomy, freedom, pioneering) – “Don’t Fence Me In.”

Role: Explores the world, searching for fulfillment, express individuality,

Treasury Wine Estates has many dominant brands in its portfolio: Wolf Blass (ruler), Penfolds (lover), Lindemans (caregiver), Yellowglen (magician). With this variety of Archetypes it was important for the company to define its overall corporate identity. With “one foot in the vineyard, one foot in the boardroom and wine merchants to the world,” Treasury is ready to assume the role of ‘vintrepreneurs’ first and explorers second.

I also worked with a non-alcohol company that took on the ‘Explorer’ mojo. “We will seek knowledge in health and wellness and seek new experiences that will establish meaning. We will not only be the fastest growing major beverage player, we have aspirations for global relevance. We will help shape the future of health and wellness in beverage development.”

e.g. Levi, Jeep, Zamberos, Starbucks, Amazon, The Body Shop, NASA, Lonely Planet

c) Sage (wisdom, integrity, analytical, learning, and collegial) – “The truth will set you free”

Role: the discovery of truth, use of intelligence, understanding the world, provides expertise

The hardest thing for an emerging Corporate in assuming a differentiated identity is when the dominant player already ‘owns’ an archetype. This is what happened when we met up with the team at Coffex. Looking at the Coffex storyboard it was hard not to think that the ghost of Lavazza loomed greatly. Lavazza owns and oozes the Lover archetype. Everything Coffex was doing was a poor imitation. It was only when we delved into an exercise into what made Coffex great did the real archetype emerge. Stories of coffee expertise and a barista culture led to one conclusion. Coffex had to stop trying to being the ‘Lover’ and redirect all its’ spend and human resource in becoming the authentic Sage in in an industry crying out for this attention and expertise.

e.g. Harvard, McKinsey, Proctor & Gamble, Adobe, Wall Street Journal,

2. Organizational cultures emphasizing risk, mastery and achievement

The three archetypal corporate identities in this part of the matrix want to leave a thumbprint on the world. All three are about change: socially positive (heroes), disruptive (outlaws) and transformational (magicians). The Hero, the Outlaw, and the Magician all take a stand against some limiting, restrictive, or harmful reality. The Hero organization, takes a great personal risk in order to defeat evil forces to protect society or sacred values. The Outlaw organization, acts as a disruptive force, violating cultural norms and rules for the good of others. The Magician organization, acts as a catalyst for social or institutional transformation or healing. In all three cases, the underlying desire is to take action and exert power. The underlying fear is of allowing life to just happen to you – of being a victim or a wimp.

We live in an achievement-orientated society in which people are expected to take great risks and develop competence in order to contribute to the society (Hero), while technological advancements bring magic into everyday working life (Magician). At the same time, large number of employees seem increasingly alienated to the point that they identify with outsiders if not actual Outlaws. These three power archetypes focus employee actions on achieving company kpi’s but also changing the world.

a) Hero (bravery, team, ambition, achievement, coach) – “Where there is a will there is a way”

Role: Prove one’s worth, act courageously, committed to a cause, motivating employees to make an impact

We were lucky with the Schweppes project in that the leadership team allowed a storytelling workshop, the experimentation of ‘fairytales’ and the addition to the team of a gun copywriter in Carlos Furnari. The ‘fairytale’ firmly established Schweppes as a hero in a classic battle against a formidable Ruler (Luke vs Darth). “The Red Kingdom was wealthy and strong. Its’ people were safe and secure – as safe as a young maiden locked in Elton John’s chamber. They had a deep, wide moat and a high wall to keep the enemies out.” Carlos added his magic: “But with belief, with a bit of extra courage, we will lead the future of beverages. Because courage is powerful. Courage is contagious. And it’s what we at Schweppes are made of — and have been since 1783.” And with that a Hero archetype was born.

e.g. Nike, FedEx, The Army, X-box, Schweppes

b) Outlaw (divergent, radical, outrageousness, non-traditional, revolutionary) – “Rules are meant to be broken”

Role: To disrupt what is not working, ferment a revolution, break convention, promotes pioneering thinking

The story of Adam & Eve in the Garden of Eden tells us that humankind fell from grace because the pair ate an apple from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The Apple logo – an apple with a bite out of it – calls forth these associations. It’s motto, then, admonishes customers to “Think Different” and ads run pictures of iconoclastic creative geniuses in a variety of fields such as Albert Einstein, Rosa Parks, Muhammad Ali, Richard Branson & John Lennon. Founder Steve Jobs puts it this way: “Think Different” celebrates the soul of the Organization – that creative people with passion can change the world for the better. It is also associated with the radical potential of technology to return power to the people rather be at the behest of behemoths such as Microsoft and IBM. Apple’s early company decision to focus on the creative, educational and home user more than business ones also established a progressive image that backed independent thinkers.

e.g. Apple, Virgin, Harley Davidson, Nintendo, Calvin Klein

c) Magician (vision, knowledge, consciousness, charismatic) – “It can happen”

Role: finding win-win outcomes, make dreams come true, providing transformative products, extends spirituality

MasterCard as a company is connected to priceless moments that money can’t buy. MasterCard promotes that with a little bit of plastic, and with it, you can get anything you want. It also recognizes employee ambivalence towards a materialistic culture and identifies truer, magical experiences. Therefore, you can experience a deeper connection with a company that is associated with truer values and deeper experiences that materialism can offer. They are saying, we know you are real, grounded, authentic, and you know what matters in life. And so do we.

e.g. Weight Watchers, Sony, Lynx, New Balance, MasterCard, Dom Perignon,

3. Organizational cultures emphasizing belonging, enjoyment, and community

The three archetypal corporate identities in this part of the matrix focus on employee’s desire to connect, interact and belong. The Regular Guy / Girl helps triggers the behaviors and outlook that allows employees to fit in and to place a value on all people, not just those that excel. The Lover organization helps us to develop the skills of passion, emotional capability and vulnerability. The Jester teaches us to lighten up, live in the moment, and enjoy interacting with others without worrying about what others may think. Symbols that are embodiments of these archetypes are powerful because they express and affirm a critical sense of likability, popularity and connectedness.

a) Regular Guy / Girl (connection, empathy, surviving, equality, authoritarian) – “All men and women are created equal.”

Role: creates a sense of belonging, builds environments for the ‘ordinary’ person, builds the ‘common’ touch

Most companies that I work with want to stay away from the Regular Guy / Girl archetype. The common assertion is that this archetype precludes the ability to innovate. My response startles: Who is the most innovative company in the world? A common answer is Google. A company that ‘democratizes information for everybody’. A beautiful trait of a Regular Guy / Girl archetype.

I worked with a Creative Design agency where the founder wanted ‘Creator’ or ‘Explorer’. However, the storyboard was undeniable. The strengths were networker, empathy, ‘fits in’, no pretense, problem solver. Exactly the opposite of the ‘elitism’ that sparked many other creative agencies. It gave the agency a reason for its location (coastal), strong sense of camaraderie, a shared sense of purpose, pride in the work and a commitment to task.

e.g. Google, CUB, AFL, Visa, Subway, Adroit, Holden, Avis,

b) Lover (passion, community, gratitude, closeness, facilitative) – “I only have eyes for you.”

Role: build deep relationships, talent magnets, gender equality, appreciating beauty / quality, give love

Initially, Hallmark thought of greeting cards as expressing thoughts that were awkward or difficult to articulate. On further discovery, the company realized that it was more about ‘deep expression’, relationships and gratitude. It is why Hallmark’s ethos is “Give a little of yourself. Give a Hallmark.” It became a company whose culture emanates love stories. And not necessarily the ‘gooey, romantic kind.’ This Lover meaning is also reinforced by the layout of its’ retail stores.

Every archetype has its’ shadow. If the Lover is all about gratitude, passion and gender equality it is little wonder that Barilla got itself in so much PR problems of recent times. Barilla has traditionally been the company that evokes gourmet indulgence and real intimate connection. It is no accident that this Lover archetype company is based in Italy (which next to France) is probably the Lover capital of the world. The company has embodied a culture with a zest for life and a capacity to live beautifully. So when the CEO renounced the rights of marriage equality it is little wonder that there was backlash.

e.g. Lavazza, Barilla, Godiva, Chanel, Absolut, Hewlett Packard, Ferrari, Jaguar,

c) Jester (playfulness, fun, humor, joy, troubleshooting) – “If I can’t dance, I don’t want to part of your revolution.”

Role: Enjoy life and interactions, lighten up the world, rule breakers, help people have a good time.

At Patagonia, in California, when the surf is up, the plant closes down and people hit the beach. The unwritten expectation in these companies is that employees are motivated by a desire for play. A pompous or dull person, with no sense of humor, is unlikely to thrive there. And, of course, the products the firm produces help people enjoy themselves. The Jester helps foster innovation in organizations, whatever their core archetype, by breaking up traditional categories of thinking. To the Jester, no outcome, should mean sacrificing joy in the here and now.

e.g. Pepsi, Pringles, John Deere, Ben & Jerry’s, Patagonia

4. Organizational cultures emphasizing stability, control and permanence

The three archetypal corporate identities in this part of the matrix provide structure to the world. The Caregiver has a heightened awareness of human vulnerability, but is less focused on concerns for him or herself and more preoccupied with alleviating other people’s problems. The Creator exerts control through the invention of something new. The Ruler takes control of situations, especially when they seem to be getting out of hand. It is the Ruler’s job to take responsibility for making life as predictable and stable as possible. All three archetypes find satisfaction in environments that seem stable.

a) Caregiver (compassion, generosity, service, caring, crusading) – “Love your neighbor as yourself”

Role: protects people from harm, helps others, do things for others, reputation for customer service, anticipating people’s needs, concern for others, support to families

When I worked with the Britax team (makers of car restraints for children) I was taken back at how clear the purpose of the company was. We did a warm up exercise “If Britax was a car….”. About 99% quickly put forward Volvo as the option. Not only that but when I did the pre workshop interviews I was overwhelmed with the tears that poured when most employees recalled story after story of incidents where Britax equipment saved children’s lives. A perfect Caregiver.

e.g. Johnson & Johnson, Campbell’s Soups, Volvo, GE, Ritz Carlton, Not for Profits / Missions

b) Creator (creativity, imagination, innovation, integrity, visionary) – “If it can be imagined, it can be created”.

Role: encourages self-expression, focus on quality / beauty, ‘out-of-the box thinking’, seeks differentiation

3M is a company that has multiple stories of creation. Post-its were developed by mistake when the secretaries figured out what to do with glue that would not really stick. Creator organizations are found in the arts, in design, in marketing, and in other fields requiring a high degree of imaginative and “out of the box” thinking. In a Creator organization, the bottom line is not money as much as it is beauty. Overall, the experience of working for a company and the quality of the product need to satisfy the aesthetic sensibilities of key players. The all is well.

e.g. Crayola, Smiggle, Dyson, Uber,

c) Ruler (responsibility, control, structure, power, political) – “Power isn’t everything. It’s the only thing”.

Role: takes control, gaining power, desire to help the world,

Microsoft is a company that creates industry standards. So much so that even though IBM gave Microsoft its’ big break; it was the latter that eventually eclipsed the former in importance. All other computer companies became dependent on Microsoft. This power was exacerbated when Microsoft developed Windows and convinced rivals to preload this software. Microsoft demonstrates both the positive and the negative potential of Ruler organizations. On the plus side, it understood how to partner with other parts of the market and to leverage the partnerships to its own advantage. In short, Microsoft knew how to play industry politics. Moreover, while its competitors were focusing on selling software, Microsoft placed its emphasis on setting (and then meeting) industry standards. If you can think of the imperialistic quality of many kings and queens, it will come as no surprise to you that the Ruler organization likes to take over companies and other product lines. Ruler companies therefore often grow by acquisition. The downside, of course, is becoming an industry bully by suppressing competitive technologies. Over time, such actions can cause an expensive antitrust case and publicity nightmare.

e.g.. Rolex, Microsoft, IBM, American Express, Ralph Lauren

The ancient Greeks and Romans often went to the temple of a certain god or goddess to gain certain virtues, They might seek out the temple of Artemis if they hoped for an easy labor, the Temple of Zeus if they want political power, or that of Aphrodite if they desired love. We no longer visit the archetypes in temples, but in a real way, we need to recognize what “shrine” we are metaphorically inhabiting. Doing so helps us to take conscious responsibility for the impact of our messages on our consumers, our customers, our culture and ourselves.

Please note: Models provided by the fabulous book by Margaret Mark & Carol Pearson – “The Hero & the Outlaw”

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