In our second look at the unconscious mind for insight workers we think about a human being – full of vulnerabilities and potentials – and ask: what role would make sense for an unconscious mind in such a creature?
Above all, you would want to preserve its life, its existence. This must be a primary process for without this life there is no person. This simple fact shapes an unconscious mind that, whatever else it might come up with, must be conservative, attracted to reliable solutions, routes and routines. Thus the unconscious favours things it has ‘seen’ before, it favours the usual route to work, the brand of biscuits you’ve already tried, the people you know and the tried and tested idea. This explains how you can do familiar things like driving home without thinking – or as we say, unconsciously.
It was under the influence of Jung that our notion of the unconscious took a turn towards a more formal structure or map. Jung’s basic distinction of a personal unconscious standing on a collective unconscious is shown in the image above. This is an interesting idea and feels attractive: but reading Jung in the original reminds us of what a tortuous process trying to provide evidence for the content of the ‘collective’ unconscious was.
My own view is that the unconscious is not in a ‘deep’ place: it dances in and out of view all through the day and night. It is triggered both by the habits and routines that it customarily ‘supervises’ and by vigilance both for threats and opportunities. The responsiveness to threats – or even mild intonations of threat – derive from its role as protector of life and identity, while the scanning for opportunity is driven both by instinctual hungers and desires and the need for status and recognition. Often, if prompted the unconscious can lead us to produce reactions or behaviour which surprises those around us.
However, when it comes to creativity, a fundamental expression of the unconscious, it is accompanied by much resistance. The results of the experiments described in the link below are unsurprising if you remember how big a role the unconscious plays in preserving routines and keeping things as they are.
The next time your great idea at work elicits silence or eye rolls, it might pay to think about this reaction. This research indicates that people don’t know what a creative idea looks like and that creativity, hailed as a positive change agent, actually makes people squirm. We found this out very early on in our co-creation work and from this generated an approach that would help participants overcome their unconscious rejection of novelty. You must model and adapt such a process if you don’t want the ideas you are evaluating or generating to be automatically rejected!