This post is part of a series outlining the 11 principles detailed in David’s book, Heed Your Call, which helps modern-day heroes (entrepreneurs) integrate their business and spiritual lives.
A recurring theme across mythology is the idea of archetypes. Defined as a typical character, an action or a situation that seems to represent universal patterns of human nature, an archetype is essentially a way to connect personality traits and ideas. Through my study of various mythological texts over the years, I have come to understand the value these archetypes can add to both our personal and professional lives.
We need to understand the value archetypes can add to both our personal and professional lives. Tweet This Quote
Consider the idea of being strong, accomplishing feats we might think we’re incapable of doing. This idea manifests in the archetype of Hercules. We can read about Hercules and what he accomplished and then invoke some of those qualities when various tasks arise that require us to summon similar strength.
The same is true for dozens of archetypes. In my book Heed Your Call, I use the anecdote of my 16-year-old son who is very buttoned up and focused on SAT prep, college applications, etc. I often find myself telling him he needs to have more Dionysus in his life—the Greek god of wine and fertility, and a patron of the arts. Sometimes, I’ll tell him to go frolick in the woods, be goofy and bohemian, or bum around Thailand for a year after high school just to let his guard down for awhile and reflect.
Conversely, my daughter, who has my wife’s archetypal energy, is a free-flowing hippy and a creative. Because she doesn’t like boundaries or deadlines, I’ll often ask her to be more like Athena, who is the goddess of wisdom and civilization. Athena is concerned with career, motivated by the desire for achievement and acquiring knowledge, and she possesses a keen intellect, concern for education, culture, social issues and politics.
Instead of directly telling people what you want them to do, relating behaviors to archetypes is easier and more effective. Tweet This Quote
From my experience, instead of directly telling people what you want them to do, relating behaviors to archetypes is easier and more effective. In addition to channeling archetypes in your personal life, you can use this communication tool in the office to build and lead teams.
It’s a tool you can rely on if you are struggling with operational challenges, as a way to encourage certain archetypes to emerge in your employees that may increase productivity.
When I worked at Adidas, we introduced this language to the company, and it became a central part of the brand and a practice that helped all of us better understand each other. For example, a woman came up to me one day at lunch and said, “I feel like Atlas. I feel like the last few weeks I’ve been quite literally holding the organization on my shoulders, and it’s exhausting, I really want to hand it off.” Had she not used that metaphor, I probably wouldn’t have stopped to really think about it. We’re all busy and exhausted, but the archetype made it real.
Encourage certain archetypes to emerge in your employees to increase productivity. Tweet This Quote
Using archetypes in a more consistent way can also help build strong brands. Adidas is more of a Greek archetype, centered around sport for the betterment of humanity. The headquarters flow into the local neighborhood, buildings are named after teams, and the company sponsors a variety of organizations over individuals. It’s inclusive. If you’re someone who jogs casually twice a week, Adidas would love you.
Nike, on the other hand, might not love that amateur jogger. As a brand, they embody more of a Roman archetype. You don’t win silver—you lose gold. It’s about lofty goals and being elite. They push individual sponsorships like LeBron James or Tiger Woods. This feeling manifests in Niketown stores that tend to beg the question, am I good enough to go in here? Even Nike’s worldwide headquarters in Oregon are remote and seemingly guarded. You can’t easily see the offices, and you have to go through intense security to get inside. This is how they want the world to see them.
Archetypes are a powerful tool to differentiate your brand and motivate your team. Tweet This Quote
Neither approach is right or wrong, it’s just how they roll—it’s their archetype or brand identity. This idea isn’t something unique to Nike and Adidas. Take Lululemon, who came in and asked, what about the archetype of a female warrior? What about speaking to the philosophical Eastern aikido master who barely has to move to defeat her opponent? Lululemon spoke to a whole consumer group that wasn’t currently receiving that archetypal energy and capitalized on it.
In business, branding an organization or a culture with an archetypal energy isn’t generally thought about. Yet it’s a powerful tool to both differentiate your brand and motivate your team. At Meriwether Group, I always encourage companies to examine how they are trying to communicate their brand. I force them to define a clear picture of their archetype, getting down to the roots of their DNA. I tell them to own that shit and beat that drum with a passion.
When building a brand, it’s critical you get in touch with what archetype grounds your company. Tweet This Quote
For leaders and individuals in both business and in life, it’s important that you are able to put on different coats depending on the temperature. Depending on the situation, you have to have the empathy to be aware of what archetypes are present and which you must call upon.
When building a brand, it’s critical you get in touch with what archetype grounds your company. In this regard, we must be steadfast.