The debate over whether a corporation is an individual received attention in the recent political race with Mitt Romney famously proclaiming “corporations are people”. While he likely meant it in a very different way from the way we will talk about it here, I’d argue that when it comes to understanding organizational behavior, corporations are exactly like people.
Wikipedia defines the unconscious as:
The unconscious mind (or the unconscious) consists of the processes in the mind that occur automatically and are not available to introspection, and include thought processes, memory, affect, and motivation
In other words, the unconscious is the part of the mind that drives the external behaviors of the individual. It stands to reason that the more aware we are as individuals of the motivators that drive us, the better off we are because we are better able to make adjustments to undesirable motivators while enhancing those that are desirable.
Corporations as Individuals
When we look at a major corporation as an ‘individual’, if we are looking closely enough, we can discern an unconscious that drives the organization. For example, with enough study, it becomes apparent that Microsoft’s unconscious is (has been) that of a bully, steamrolling over smaller competitors while Apple, has been the brilliant design student, focused on creating excellent products (why the ‘Mac’ vs. ‘PC’ ads worked so well).
Yahoo’s unconscious has been fairly undefinable, and explains why they have burned through numerous CEO’s in the last few years as they searched for identity. The point is, taken together, the collection of behaviors that an organization displays add up to their unconscious identity.
So why does any of this matter? Because, importantly, a primary characteristic of the unconscious is that it is not conscious and therefore lies outside the purview of the conscious awareness. This means there is a real danger, for both the individual and the organization in not understanding the unconscious motivators that drive them.
So how does an organization develop awareness of their unconscious?
- The most important first step is even knowing enough to ask. Most organizations don’t know enough to delve into the question and therefore remain unaware that there are even unconscious motivators driving their company.
- Once they know enough to look at the matter, in most cases, it seems that this question, at least initially, can be best answered externally. That is, those outside the organization can best see the forest for the trees and are far enough removed to make dispassionate observations about what the collection of behavior observable external to the organization says about their unconscious. As a result it will surely be worth the organizations while to find out what external parties say about the company.
- Finally, and perhaps most crucially, the organization must be humble enough to accept an external viewpoint, no matter how painful it might be to admit that things may have got away from them.
Without these two factors—ability to look externally for an unbiased view of what your behaviors look like AND the ability to unemotionally integrate the feedback—progress on understanding the unconscious of your organization will not be possible.
One example of a company blind to its internal motivators is Google. Famously, their stated missive is Don’t Be Evil, however to external observers, a collection of their behaviors over the last few years could easily add up to an unconscious that runs directly counter to that, perhaps best restated as “Profits at all Costs”.
So if you head an organization, whether a department or an actual organization, look into what the unconscious of your organization might be. You might be surprised by the insights you uncover.
- About the Author
Nathan Safran is a former Analyst at Forrester Research where he covered the Digital Home. While at Forrester, Nathan authored research studies on trends, attitudes and behaviors of consumers toward technology adoption and use.
Nathan has been quoted as a subject matter expert in publications such as the Wall Street Journal, USA Today and Fortune magazine. Currently, Nathan heads the Research Department at Conductor, Inc an SEO Technology Platform firm.
Nathan writes at exceljockey.com about the intersection of Business, Technology and Psychology. See the About page for more info. Follow Nathan on Twitter: @Nathan_Safran