by Endre Voros

Growth. Change. Transformation. Business Acceleration.

In our quest for the above, we are all chasing the three essential secrets listed below:

(1) How to really engage the end user, consumer/customer;

(2) How to build teams and companies that can deliver experiences that drive profit and revenue; and

(3) How to create cultures that maintain the health of the company to the point that the culture can attract and retain top talent.

Traditional models revolve around metrics, data, developing roadmaps and development plans.

And this is not a bad place to start. It is, however, a somewhat reactive and limited place to start. I am not arguing against this approach. I am instead suggesting that it is necessary, yet incomplete.

How is this approach reactive? We assume data, metrics, and roadmaps are discrete, objective, and faultless. However, the same data set can be interpreted many ways, and often our underlying, unconscious emotions, affect the stories we choose to tell. We cling to these tools with a white-knuckled desperation, rigidly interpreting results in a manner consistent with what brings us comfort. Thus, the way we use data, metrics, tends to be reactive in its very nature. 

Accordingly, this way of thinking, while needed, is insufficient. This type of thinking stems from a less evolved part of the brain, the fight/flight part of the brain – or more specifically, the amygdala. This level of thinking is what the Harvard psychologist, Robert Kegan, calls Level II Thinking. Just because we are trying to take a broad, systems-level approach to understanding our problems (using data), doesn’t mean we’re doing so.

This part of the brain is necessary and sometimes acts as the fire in our cognitive houses, that get us running out the door – especially when we are in the tactical execution phase. Yet there is a more holistic and inclusive way available.

Let’s explore some ideas that can help.

A rigid focus on tactical execution, from both a psychological level of maturity and an anatomical perspective, lies below something that is higher. The “something higher”, in each paradigm respectively, is Level IV Thinking and the prefrontal cortex. In Level IV, our analytical prowess is turned inward, and as we examine our deep emotions, our brain enters a more integrated, coherent state.

In this brain state, it is possible to lead from insight, and when this occurs everything else falls into place.

Unfortunately, because we often begin attempting change in an unwitting state of fight or flight, change occurs only through force, coercion and violence (a strong word, I know, but there is a scale of aggression, from unspoken disagreement to warfare, upon which all other lesser forms of violence, including disagreement, argument, manipulation, stubbornness, physical and emotional abuse all lie.) That is, Leadership in Level II Thinking is coercive, manipulative and forced. Moreover, successes cannot be sustained, except through further use of coercion or force. While this can work, it cannot work for long without impacting the things we really care about: Consumer Sentiment, Team/Cultural Health, and Profit/Growth.

Let’s bring in another idea: the idea of systems within systems. Take the human body. At the most microscopic levels, the body is made up of cells. Cells, in turn, make up organs. We have several major organs: the heart, the lungs, the stomach, the brain. We also have other systems within the body that either touch or connect the systems of organs. We have the nervous system, we have the system of blood flow, we have the musculoskeletal system, we have breath. The system of all these systems, when left alone, functions on its own. That is, whatever it is that governs all these systems when left alone, makes sure the system as a whole is maintained. So, we have another system, at least hypothetically or theoretically, that is above and not contained solely within all the others – it is an emergent system. The system that governs. We have, in various epochs given this system different names, and one of these names is Consciousness.

Consciousness can also be said to exist on a scale, this is the scale of Being. Lower levels of consciousness produce lower levels of action and insight. Higher levels of consciousness produce the right insight into the situation.

Let’s bring in our last idea: Archetypes. Much can be said about Archetypes, but for now, let’s stick with the basics. Carl Jung, one of the pioneers in the field of Psychology, hypothesized, after studying numerous cultures, that there was something he called the human psyche. This was corroborated in his research across human systems and cultures. The human psyche is the shared mapping of human experience encoded in the fabric of our DNA. Jung called this encoding The Collective Unconscious and hypothesized that in it resides all the knowledge of what is needed for our species. This mapping can be seen in myths, legends, and fairytales. Archetypes can be thought of as operating system upgrades, that come into our lives during times of growth. They are forces that open up new and necessary rooms in our own psyche. It can be argued that people like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg were operating under the influence of strong archetypal forces. Examples of archetypal forces are numerous, but to share a few: wizard/magician, king/queen, lover, warrior, seeker, hermit, fairy godmother, rebel, adventurer, trickster/fool, teacher and student.

All great advertising, branding and marketing efforts use archetypes to communicate their message. Hollywood has long used psychology in its wheelhouse of casting and writing. All great movies are based on archetypal themes as well.

In most cases, it is the combination of our own intrinsic motivation, coupled with an archetype, that creates change and transformation in the system. The proportions of this type of change effort are astronomical in comparison to traditional change efforts.

Now, to synthesize the ideas we have been using. Metaphorically, we can call the Levels of Thinking, Levels of Being or Levels of Consciousness.

At the lower levels, change efforts focus on a reactive clinging to roadmaps, metrics, etc. At Higher Levels, we can attune to what is really needed. At Microsoft, the new CEO, Satya Nadella has done this. Again, metaphorically, he called it rediscovering Microsoft’s soul. This evokes something more living, more organic and less technological.

He called for a systems change, a transformation that lies beyond a focus on products and technology. It can be argued that Satya listened to the system, the system chose what it needed and that the change was informed by the archetypal force.

I think to all Microsoftees, it is very clear that the archetypes under Bill, Steve and now Satya were radically different.

While I am unsure of what the current archetype is for Microsoft, I can say it is more collaborative, more inclusive, more optimistic, more creative and flexible. Maybe in a general sense, we could say the culture is becoming more influenced by the Archetypal Feminine.

So, let’s bring it home. How do we, as leaders, move towards transformation while including systems thinking and higher levels of thinking, Being and Consciousness?

I’ll go more into this in Part II of this article, but we can start by asking ourselves:

  1. What am I pulled to do in my lower, reactive levels of thinking?
  2. What am I intrinsically interested in about the future, what are some natural and organic directions that feel like they want to emerge and how can my efforts assist this?
  3. What is different for me in how I approach question 1 and question 2?
  4. What archetype was our company under 5 years ago and what archetype is it under now?
  5. What archetype was I under 5 years ago and what archetype am I under now? How does this align with the archetype of my company?

Remember those three secrets we started with? The secrets all leaders are chasing?

(1) How to really engage the end user, consumer/customer;

(2) How to build teams and companies that can deliver experiences that drive profit and revenue; and

(3) How to create cultures that maintain the health of the company to the point that the culture can attract and retain top talent.

Can you now see how higher levels of thinking and Being can inform the transformation called for in a radically new and exciting way when we include the idea of archetypes?

In closing, an archetype can be explored very simply just by asking, what would I do if I could do anything I wanted right now. Remember, this is just where the inquiry begins. It’s a long inquiry and study.
I strongly encourage you to ask yourselves these questions and write down your answers and save them. They will be very helpful when we revisit this topic in part II.


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