Why Jung Still Matters

Management Today, June 1, 2011 | Go to article overview
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Why Jung Still Matters


Swiss psychologist Carl Jung's ideas have become such an integral part of business that many don't even realise they were his in the first place. From branding to psychometric testing, from the meaning of work to the untapped potential of older people, Jung was there first. Mark Vernon examines his legacy.

This month marks the 50th anniversary of the death of Carl Jung, the father of modern analytical psychology. Second only to Freud in terms of his importance as a psychologist of the 20th century, Jung invented concepts such as the extroverted and introverted personality types. He is the greatest theoriser of that frequent workplace experience, the midlife crisis, and also developed more controversial notions such as that of archetypes.

Born on 26 July 1875 in the village of Kesswil in northern Switzerland, Jung studied medicine at the University of Basel and served as an army doctor during WWI. Fascinated by the nature and function of the unconscious mind, he was at first heavily influenced by Freud, but the two fell out over Jung's conception of a shared and heritable 'collective unconscious'. A prolific writer, after his death on 6 June 1961 his collected works amounted to some 19 volumes.

Jung's ideas, like Freud's, have been sifted for competitive advantage in the business world. 'His system has helped many corporations understand who they are, what their core identities are and how they should portray themselves to the wider public,' says Marc Gobe, author of Emotional Branding. 'It has helped designers create ideas based on a better understanding of people's dreams and emotions.'

But advocates of Jungian analytical psychology believe that his legacy is still underexploited. He has much more to say, not least to a world that is increasingly concerned with questions of value, balance and meaning. So, 50 years on, here's our analysis of his legacy to the worlds of work and business, and a look at where his ideas might go from here.

MBTI

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is the best-known part of Jung's work in business today. Between two and three million copies of the official questionnaire that underpins MBTI are sold each year and, says Professor Rowan Bayne, author of Psychological Types at Work, it's the most popular non-clinical measure of personality type in the world.

It was developed by the psychologist Isabel Myers from Jung's 1921 publication, Psychological Types. She said she was seeking to apply Jung's least 'abstruse' ideas. It is in this work that Jung formulates extrovert and introvert personality preferences, among others. Roughly speaking, extroverts gain energy when they engage with the outside world and become flat when left too long on their own; whereas introverts find it draining to engage with the outside world and need time to recharge on their own.

Jung also described the ways different individuals prefer to receive information about the world around them - whether primarily through their senses or by deploying their intuition. He also explored how they tend to process the information they've received - in a more thinking, rational mode or in a more feeling and evaluative mode. The MBTI questionnaire identifies which set of preferences are possessed by the person concerned, and these insights can then be applied in a variety of contexts, from shaping career choice to building rounded teams.

Professor Bayne puts the success of MBTI down to a number of factors 'People do recognise themselves in the types,' he says. 'They understand something about themselves and others, particularly those whom they find difficult, and feel at peace as a result.' This is to say that MBTI works, at least when it comes to the diversity of preferences people have. 'The evidence for the validity of MBTI theory is substantial, in spite of what you can read on the internet,' continues Bayne. 'The questionnaire has been widely researched too and shows good links between, say, type and shaping a career.

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