Which Archetype is the Lead Character in Your Corporate Story?

In our last post What Archetypal Identity is Your Organisation Living? we outlined how an archetypal identity is vital in understanding organizational cultures that emphasize:

  1. Individual fulfillment, growth and learning (innocent, explorer, sage)
  2. Risk, mastery and achievement (hero, outlaw, magician)
  3. Belonging, enjoyment, and community (regular guy / girl, lover, jester)
  4. Stability, control and permanence (caregiver, creator, ruler)

Today we look at how Organizations have embraced their identity to ignite possibility. Disruption occurs when we know our story and channel all activity to support the amplification of this story. A Purpose driven Organization is congruent with its’ values, identity and philosophy.

By using archetypes as a point of reference, your company has an alternative tool for describing its values and identity. The archetype literally adds flesh and bones to the company’s role in the story universe. At the same time, it also sheds light on the conflict and the passion that drives the Company forward.

For companies, the challenge is to place itself within just one of these archetypal profiles, though some of these frameworks overlap. For example, your archetype could be both an Outlaw and Hero. Richard Branson and his company Virgin are a great mix of both these archetypes. The important thing, is to narrow down your selection, and stick with the archetype you identify within your company. It also helps us to consider the archetype from the customer’s perspective. Will your customer be able to identify with the personality of the archetype? Are your archetype and customer searching for the same thing – be it outlaw or hero?

Whenever I have to facilitate a group to determine their Corporate Archetype it is my aim that by the end of the day the storyboard (root strengths, iconography, personality & values) to tell a pertinent tale. If the input is robust, rarely are the proposed options bipolar. If there are a couple of options in play we often place the different personas in a creative expression (i.e. fairytale model) to determine which archetype has the greatest resonance.

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

Innocent Organizations include wholesome businesses, small businesses and any organizations that are unself-consciously dedicated to practicing simple values. 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, unpretentious, down to earth, honest) and Mondelez (creating delicious moments of joy). The former wanted to be a ‘hero’ archetype and the latter a ‘creator’.

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

Explorer Organizations value individuality, de-emphasize rules and hierarchical decision making, and tend to equalize opportunity as much as workable. 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. It could go with one that encapsulates its base (ruler) or soul (lover) or one that covers all. 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 explorer second. The logo sparks a global stamp of excellence: ‘new world, old earth’ and the ship ignites exploration and a artisans of New World innovators.

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

Sage Organizations are companies whose structure and values promote continuous learning. 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 the only 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. A Sales team that I am currently working with, want to differentiate themselves from ‘big pocket’ & boutique competitors by being the experts in their field. A galvanizing way to build culture from within.

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

Hero Organizations often are either committed to a worthwhile cause or devoted to helping their customers and employees to “Be all that you can be”. 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.

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

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.

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

The Magician Organization utilizes cutting edge technologies and is vision driven, seeking consensus about core values and desired outcomes & then maximizing their flexibility in achieving these goals. 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.

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

Most companies that I work with want to stay away from the Regular Guy / Girl archetype. The common assertion is that this archetype is ‘ordinary’ or 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 & traits were flexible, networker, easy going, approachable, relaxed, relationships, enthusiastic, empathy, ‘fits in’, friendly, 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. The storyboard doesn’t lie.

When I worked at Carlton United Breweries (CUB), I always felt the barometer of corporate culture was how packed the company bar was on a Thursday & Friday night. Sure there was free beers, but when the culture was thriving it was full. When the engagement score was at frighteningly low levels the bar was like a ghost town. CUB is always a great place to work when there is a sense of belonging. “We’re united by the bond only a beer can create and a belief that if a whole lot more people raised a beer in friendship, the world would be a better place”.

Other Regular Guy / Girl companies that I have worked with had purposes of: “rolling up the sleeves” and “getting the job done”. One a field sales-execution company. The other an Insurance company. Companies of all shapes & sizes.

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

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.

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

The Jester Organization makes enjoyment the bottom line. Ben & Jerry, for example, prides itself on being a playful place to work. 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.

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

The habits of mind that characterize the Caregiver not only help with customer service, but also help companies anticipate customer preferences. Caregivers like to do nice things for others. 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.

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

The prototype of the Creator organizational culture is an artist’s collective. People want great latitude to express their creativity with a minimum of controls. 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. Then all is well. I often work with Companies that want to embody the Creator. My first question that stumps most: Are you willing to launch a new product at least once per qtr. and fail 50% of them?

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

Ruler Organizations are involved in setting standards that govern how things are done. 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.

StoryLab: The Storyboard Process

Pre-work – series of questions to get participants ready for the workshop (i.e. branding, stories, feedback etc)

Archetype Workshop (Facilitated with stimulus to delve into each quadrant to allow the archetype to be revealed)

Purpose Ladder (once we have the archetype we move to unlock the Purpose). Further creative stimulus may be used (i.e. t-shirt) to ignite a purpose that resonates

Fairytale Model – A great way to end a long day is to get the group into teams to tell a fairytale using different archetypes and purpose. This reliably gives the group confidence prior to ‘real’ storytelling

Storytelling is an in-depth process and will be the subject of the next four blogs

Back to Blog

Get Mark's thought-provoking exploration straight into your inbox