Engendering Innovation in Business, Organizations, and Individual LIfe: A Depth Psychological Approach


Everyone who’s interested in depth psychology knows that personal growth—what C.G. Jung called “individuation”—is a keystone of our existence in life. Learning to identify our shortcomings and places where we get “stuck” in patterns and processes that are not generative is a critical aspect.

 I switched career tracks when I “discovered” depth psychology several years ago, but I spent nearly 15 years of my life in the corporate world, observing how organizations can also “individuate” under the right leadership, especially when there is reflection on the archetypal (universal) patterns at play and understanding how to work with them. 

I continue to use all those lessons I learned to organize and promote depth psychology-oriented education and services, so when I recently had the opportunity to hear a teleseminar entitled “Patterns for Successful Corporate Transformation” with Jungian analyst Michael Conforti, I couldn’t resist. My own experience so profoundly points to the ever-present need for soul in business, so I always gravitate to what others in the field of depth psychology manifest when they apply their interest and experience to the business world.

In the teleseminar, Dr. Conforti used aspects of systems theory and archetypal thinking to paint a picture of how innovation emerges. Every system has enhancers and inhibitors and what to watch for is a “bifurcation point”—a choice point where the forward path diverges into two (or more) options (like on a tree trunk that splits into two branches). This bifurcation always entails a change in the organization or system because something new is being introduced; a new path can be taken.

Conforti also explained how attractors contribute to change. An “attractor” is the scientific term meaning non temporal, non spatial phenomena that drives the trajectory of a system—or the energy centers that structure and fuel the system and also act as boundaries. When a new attractor develops, a new epicenter for the structure or system at hand emerges and attracts a new series of initiatives stemming from there.

Regularities in any system will occur, and these can be predicted, Conforti suggested. If you own a small coffee shop, for example, with a handful of employees, you and your employees will be far more likely to create and maintain a friendly family feel, one in which customers and employees know and recognize each other and you as the owner can afford to spend time chatting with customers and connecting on a regular and personal basis when they come in. However, if your business hits a growth spurt and you suddenly have 20 people working for you, it will be virtually impossible to maintain a “Ma & Pop” business where you and your employees know everyone who comes in, let alone being able to greet them personally.

Each bifurcation (or choice point) carries it’s own initiatives and patterns that are integral to it. Like a blueprint, or like the oak tree embedded in the acorn before it ever grows, knowing the patterns at play in various (archetypal) situations allows you to predict outcomes and make choices based on what you want to occur. You can see it in the example playing cards, Conforti says. You can choose to “hold” in Blackjack because you have a good idea of how certain situations will play out based on the moment at hand. Likewise, in business, you can choose to grow, but if you observe the archetypal pattern of growth, you can predict it will change the feel of the company (like in the example of the coffee shop–from a Ma & Pop feel to more of an impersonal but more efficient feel).

The first thing a pattern analyst can do is to identify the bifurcation point: to see where the choice point occurs. The next step is to predict the outcome of that bifurcation point by indentifying what patterns are in play and what virtually “always” happens next as that particular pattern unfolds.

Reading archetypal patterns is based on patterns in nature, Conforti suggests. We can literally see how patterns play out. Jung’s colleague, Marie Louise von Franz, talks about patterns in the life cycle of every living organism; times when an individual can’t get out of their own way; times when it seems one is on a roll and can do no wrong, like having a magic touch

So, how do we look at the innate patterns in businesses? How do we know which individuals are living out the archetypal patterns of leaders? How can we identify innovation at work? How can we as leaders or members of any organization identify which conditions to cultivate and which ones to get rid of? The archetypal processes that go on in systems are predictable and can be encouraged, tended, and nourished or rooted out early in the game if one has the presence and play of archetypal patterns on their radar.

Conforti related the story of a film called “Kinky Boots” about a British shoe company that came up with an amazing innovative solution when it appeared the company would go under. The pattern at play involved the archetypal story of the King who dies and his son, the Prince, must take over the kingdom. In this case, the son happened synchronistically onto a potential solution and chose to present it employeesundefinedsome of who resisted and some of whom got on board. By recognizing the bifurcation point and choosing to take action in a certain direction, the story had a happy ending.

The question is, though, when you make a choice that leads into the unknown, when something is so alien that you (and others) simply can’t relate, how do you help prepare a system for adaptation or acceptance?

What happens when your product or service no longer serves the culture? In the history of industry, many corporations have hit that bifurcation point where they needed something new to survive. The nature of the perturbation (change) that comes the established organization or system into it has everything to do with it.

Understanding patterns at work in our personal lives can also empower us to pursue the path that will best serve us in our own process of growth and individuation. Many authors in the depth psychology space have advocated the idea of “personal mythology” including Stanley Krippner and David Feinstein who wrote a book of the same name, and Craig Chalquist whose book, Storied Lives illustrates how personal mythic patterns can play out in people’s lives from cradle to grave. If you can identify and relate to a known archetypal story–a myth or fairy tale that has collective themes and a universal storyline–you can begin to identify what patterns are at play in your own life and how the story might unfold if you continue in the direction you’re going. When you reach a bifurcation point in your own life, then, you can choose to go a different direction if you can see how it will play out one way or another.

Some of the pioneers of depth psychology like archetypal psychologist James Hillman, mythologist Joseph Campbell and of course, C.G. Jung himself also pointed to how archetypal patterns are work in both the personal and the collective. (Click here for an informative post on these individuals’ contributions and ways to identify and work with personal myth from AngelFire.com —or read an article from Daniel Goleman that appeared in the New York Times (1988) called “Personal Myths Bring Cohesion to the Chaos of Each Life”)

Regardless of whether you area looking at the patterns at work in the corporate, collective, or individual space, by looking at the underlying processes at work, transformation can occur in the best way possible, allowing innovative, abundant, and healing solutions to take shape. 

Note: If you’re interested in listening to the archived recording of the teleseminar, “Patterns for Successful Corporate Transformation” with Dr. Michael Conforti, the replay is available here. The 4-week teleseminar series runs through March 11, 2013.