Bernie Neville and Tim Dalmau uncover the archetypal patterns in organizational culture

Olympus Inc. 


BERNIE NEVILLE: Sometimes you can say that a book changed your life. It happened to me in 1976 when I read James Hillman’s Revisioning Psychology. My understanding of the world and the flavor of my teaching had been strongly influenced by Jungian thought for many years, but this was new and exciting. Hillman challenged many of my assumptions, got me to think in ways I hadn’t thought before.

Not only did Hillman take me back to the enthusiasm for Greek mythology which had largely shaped my undergraduate and Masters studies, but he also moved me beyond the individualistic humanistic worldview which had provided the framework for my work in counseling and education. I started to take polytheism seriously — certainly psychologically and to some extent theologically. At least I acknowledged that it makes at least as much sense to have a plural image of divinity as a singular one. In my writing I started using the Greek god-images as personifications of archetypal patterns. This came to some fruition in my book, Educating Psyche: Education. Imagination and the Unconscious in Learning, which was first published in 1989. Shortly after this event I had a conversation with a colleague who pointed out that Psyche contained hardly a mention of a god who was becoming increasingly dominant in schooling — Hermes. This got me thinking about the archetypal basis of the ‘marketing society’, exploring the notion of the ‘postmodern condition’ and realizing that archetypal psychology was both an illustration of the postmodern move and a way of analysing it.

Hermes, or Mercury

Hermes or Mercury, the god of communication and commerce

I started writing about Hermes. The postmodern world, with its relativism, commodification, abandonment of the grand narratives and misplaced trust in ‘the magic hand of the marketplace’ increasingly appeared to me to be the work of the Trickster god. He seemed particularly to have taken over the Western world’s financial system. The Global Financial Crisis seems to have confirmed what the Greeks always knew: Hermes may be friendly to humans and may provide them with plenty of excitement, but he can’t always be trusted.

In July 1991 Tim Dalmau and I found ourselves in Copenhagen presenting papers at the annual meeting of the Standing Conference on Organizational Symbolism. Tim and I had taught in adjacent classroom in a Melbourne high school two decades earlier. In the meantime we had gone separate ways. Tim had established himself as a sought-after management consultant. I had done my PhD and found an academic career. In Copenhagen we found ourselves on the same panel. Our papers both dealt with organizational culture and how cultural change can be initiated. We were both interested in exploring the nature of what we were calling ‘the postmodern organization’. We had both brought a Jungian orientation to our work, and we both talked about Hermes. When we looked closely at the market-driven, opportunistic, ethically bereft, image-obsessed, structurally slippery corporations and bureaucracies that flourished in the eighties, we imagined we saw an ancient, deeply embedded pattern – Jungians would call it archetypal – in which the classical Greeks would have recognized the god Hermes at work.

Talk about Hermes-inflated organizations led to talk about Zeus organizations, Eros organizations, Athena organizations and the like – all of which were familiar to us. Further late-night, wine-enhanced conversation led to the light-hearted experiment of designing a diagnostic instrument, called with appropriate hubris the Dalmau-Neville Archetypology Indicator, to provide consultants with a tool for distinguishing one god-inflated culture from another.

2.The DNAI began its life as a joke. However, it seems significant that it has had a life. It has been used as a consulting tool and as a research instrument by ourselves and others. It has been subjected to statistical analysis and made the basis of strategic interventions. Ongoing experience and feedback (statistical as well as professional) have led to various modifications and its eventual electronic incarnation. When we first got the idea of writing Olympus Inc.: Intervening for Cultural Change in Organizations, it was as a companion to the DNAI. We imagined that it would be enough to explain what patterns we associated with each of the god-images. However, it became obvious that writing about organizations and organizational change within the framework of Jungian ideas was something of a novel enterprise. There is no box in the academic management literature into which it can comfortably fit. Management literature generally makes no mention of Jung except in the context of the MBTI. Jungians, with a handful of notable exceptions, don’t show much interest in organizations or management. However, Jungian thought has a great deal to offer here. In our work as consultants to various organizations we find that when we use the Jungian language of shadow, persona and anima/animus in talking about organizational culture it makes immediate sense. When we started talking of archetypal patterns in organizational culture, using the images of Zeus, Eros, Dionysos and the rest, we find our audiences experiencing ‘Aha’ moments as they recognize the archetypal energies which drive their organizations.

Hillman suggests that we should think of theories as tools. In Olympus Inc. we use the tool of archetypal theory to explore organizational culture and the nature of organizational change. We also make use of the theoretical tools provided by Jean Gebser, Carl Rogers and Alfred North Whitehead, all of whom, like Jung, found that life, not ‘stuff’, is at the heart of reality. All, like Jung, see reality as emergent. Organizations as we understand them are not machines but complex organic systems, capable, like the complex organic systems we call human beings, of moving towards wholeness as they learn to negotiate the tension between their unconscious and their conscious processes.

We wrote this book for people interested in organizational change, whether as insiders or as agents brought in to ‘fix’ a dysfunctional culture. We start with the acknowledgement that intentional cultural change is unpredictable. We end with a ‘toolbox’ for change agents, describing a number of interventions which our combined seven decades of experience have demonstrated to facilitate positive cultural change in organizations, as they seek to become all that they can be.

Bernie Neville, co-author of Olympus Inc.


'Olympus INc.' by Bernie Neville and Tim Dalmau

‘Olympus INc.’ by Bernie Neville and Tim Dalmau

TIM DALMAU: In affirming what Bernie has written about the origins of this work and the journey of getting from 1991 to the present, I am led to take a slightly alternative path to end up at the same point. My symbolic starting point occurred on one day I walked into Bernie’s office at La Trobe University some time in the mid-1980s and his opening words were “I have just written a paper about you”. This was enough to hook me and my interest and so I learned in detail about Hermes. I identified with the positive and value-adding aspects of the Hermes pattern and, sadly, I could also see some of the down side. But I was a consultant after all, Hermes was an extremely good fit and I had to accept the good with the bad, so to speak.

But then the idea started to grow that there was more to my work and that of my colleagues than could be explained by the Hermes pattern and in the conversations we began to have about Zeus, Eros and Athena organizations I began to recognize aspects of my own work that went beyond Hermes. This marked the time for me that I began to embrace a level of complexity in the patterns of human behavior that started to feel more valid, more comprehensive and more useful. The work of Jean Shinoda Bolen gave me heart to continue this inquiry.

Everywhere I turned I could identify these deeper archetypal patterns in the behaviour of leaders of corporations large and small, local and international, Asian, African and western. They appeared in the collective behaviour and thinking of groups of people in these same settings, and they manifest in my own work and that of my colleagues.

As the on-going conversation expanded from one to four to twelve and finally 16 archetypes I felt I had in my metaphoric hand a set of distinctions that would help me usefully characterize the deeper phenomena that I faced in my practice as a consultant, more so than any set of frameworks to date. The model resonated with my limited exposure to Jungian psychology, especially the patterns in collective phenomena, and was in accord with the work of a great mentor of mine, the late John Sherwood from Cincinnati, Ohio. The emerging framework also allowed me to understand the downside effects of archetypal inflation in the cultural patterns of client organizations as diverse as the customs service of a national government, group behaviour of nuns in cloisters, and a global financial services organization. The shadow side of archetypes provided me with a language with which to understand dysfunction at a level not possible before and then as our understanding developed we, too, began to understand the interactive patterns between the dominant discourse (espoused culture) and the hidden real culture both.

A parallel journey took me into the world of complex adaptive systems theory that culminated in embracing organizations as organic emergent entities constructed and maintained by the complex and responsive processes between ordinary human beings. I found I had a language with which to both describe and understand the patterns emerging in these spaces of bounded but unstable social discourse and it was the language of archetypal patterns expressed in the Greek god-images. I still pinch myself conceptually just a little when I see how well I can understand and explain to others the nexus between the mathematically-sourced world of complex adaptive systems theory and the deep psychological and unconscious world of Jung, Hillman, Gebser and others.

The Shadow side of Trickster Knowledge

The Shadow side of Trickster Knowledge

The DNAI did start out a little light, as Bernie, indicates. But it has taken on a respectability, statistical validity and inherent usefulness that neither of us probably anticipated at the start. Built on the underlying framework of the sixteen god-images, it has been used successfully and usefully to describe and understand groups as diverse as Antarctic over-winter communities, the factors underlying safety performance in a global resources company, and the sales performance of a North American steel manufacturing company.

As a practitioner living in the world of compromise, choice, and operating within unmovable constraints I tend to have a more pragmatic view of the world than some of my colleagues who can enjoy the beauty of constructing models for their own sake. I have been blessed to find the work with Bernie in developing this framework has allowed one world to inform the other in a holistic and pragmatic way.

The framework described in the book is written for those who seek to understand and embrace organizational change: yes, but at a level of complexity and at depth that seeks to embrace the unconscious patterns as well as the more visible patterns. It is especially for those who do this in the certain knowledge that, as Myron Kellner-Rogers says, “the only known consequence of intentional change is that there will be unintended consequences”, and this is particularly so when it comes to attempting to influence cultural change. The tools and processes described in the book owe a lot to the work of another friend and colleague, Bob Dick, who has embraced conversation about such matters with me since 1978 and whose influence is quite strong throughout.

The book has, like organizations and human beings, been an emergent and somewhat self-organizing process in its genesis and birth and I hope that those who read it find it a useful guide to the chaotic and turbulent experience that is cultural and organizational change.

Tim Dalmau, co-author

Bernie Neville, Tim Dalmau, Olympus Inc.: Intervening for Cultural Change in Organizations, Karnac Books (2010)


Bernie Neville is Associate Professor of Education at La Trobe University. He has taught, researched, written and consulted widely on educational practice, communication and organizational change for over 30 years. Neville’s Educating Psyche, a companion volume to Olympus Inc., has received extensive praise from educators and critics.

Tim Dalmau is regarded as one of Australia’s foremost management consultants. He has consulted for private and public institutions all over the world for more than 25 years. He is the author or co-author of an extensive range of publications on action research, management and organizational change.

'The Fall of the Gods from Mount Olympus' by Giulio Romano

‘The Fall of the Gods from Mount Olympus’ by Giulio Romano


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

Gravatar Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s