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Symbolism of Popular Culture

Personalities of Corporations

While the focus of a symbolism of popular culture needs to be in the area of personal consumption rather than work production, a few clarifications are in order.

First of all, this does not mean that businesses are not themselves consumers. Witness the huge business market. Rather it means that the key purpose of business and work is to produce more than it consumes.

Secondly, business is losing its distinction from popular culture and it becomes harder to separate the two. Today, business is increasingly everyone's business. In this scenario, business leaders such as Bill Gates become more symbolic, management theory becomes packaged and sold into the bestseller lists, business gurus continue to brand and market their services and products to the general market and business books come to dominate The New York Times Bestseller lists.

With the above in mind, there are a few ways to see the symbolism of business. The first is to investigate the products consumed by the business market like consumer products are investigated. But the problem with this, as we have suggested, is that the business market is far from a democratic one like the consumer market. Rather it is controlled by elites rather than the mass of workers.

A far more revealing way of seeing the symbolism of business is to focus on the symbolism of its leaders. The symbolism found in dominant people we call celebrities might also be found in business leaders. The dominance of business leaders may in fact define their overall organization better than anything else. In effect, there might be a symbolism of business based around the symbolism of its leaders.

For example, one of the most practical (and popular) creations of the Jung legacy is a widely used test called the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). The test is based on Jung's concept of personality types first developed in his Psychological Types (1921). In effect, this key theory of Jungian thought can be seen as an application of the dualistic theory of symbolism to human personality.

The two major divisions Jung found in his research can be said to be attitudes or orientations towards the world. One was an introverted attitude and the other was an extroverted attitude. An introverted attitude was inner directed more and an extraverted attitude more outer directed. Within these two dualities, there exists four major ways people gain information about the world. Jung identified these as feeling, thinking, sensing and intuition.

The MBTI is widely used as a screening test for potential employees to see what ultimate type of "fit" there exists between their beliefs and values and those of the corporation. The wide-spread popularity of the MBTI recognizes that Jungian categories of introversion and extraversion have a relevance to performance in particular corporations as well as those functions such as feeling, thinking, sensing and intuition within them.

While it is recognized that potential employees might be classified using the Jungian system, it can be deduced that corporations also can be so classified. While most have heard of the MBTI for personal evaluation, there is much importance to a symbolism of popular culture to seeing corporations as psychological types also.

Just as symbolism is at work in individuals, it is also at work within corporations. The realization of this concept and its application, can go a long way in extending current disciplines such as social psychology and also bringing symbolism out of the "night" world and into the "day" world.

One of the most interesting looks into the symbolism of corporations is The Character of Organizations by William Bridges. This slim little volume published by Consulting Psychologists Press of Palo Alto is one of the most unique insights ever written into corporations. It shows how Jungian types are applied in organization development. There are introverted corporations as well as extroverted corporations. Often, the key battles between competitors may in fact come down to these two key differences.

The book offers many fascinating examples applying Jungian personality type to the modern business world. One is example is UPS and Federal Express. Both are in the same basic business, the shipping of packages, and both are leaders and fierce rivals at times. But they represent very different psychological types.

UPS symbolizes the thinking function since it calculates everything rationally without much concern for individual values or interpersonal relationships. Along with the thinking function it is introverted and concentrating on itself more than its customers. In contrast to UPS, Federal Express looks outward toward the world of customers. Frederick Smith, founder of Federal Express, asked what the market wanted and was less concerned with internal organization. Federal Express has an extraverted, intuitive approach.

Just as there are dominant types particular products within popular culture, there may also be dominant types of corporations based on personality type. Do the characteristics of introversion and extraversion find more or less dominance within particular industries? Or, does culture swing in a broad symbolic cycle between introverted corporations and extraverted corporations? And, what is the extent that corporate personality type is related to the corporation's founder? Will relationships be found between key symbolic aspects of corporations and leading products of popular culture? For instance, during a period when an introverted film genre is in dominance (the horror genre) will introverted corporations be in dominance?

The area of corporate symbolism has broad application to both the business and the consumer world. It needs to be pointed out, though, that corporations need to be separated from products and seen as products themselves, "umbrella" brands for all the products under their umbrella. Understanding corporations more symbolically may lead to new ways for creating business strategy in a world of segmented markets.

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