Anima and Animus in the Business World

By Anna Milashevich


In this essay, I explore manifestations of the anima and animus in the business world, as well as contributions these archetypal energies make to our understanding of business creativity. These archetypes emerge in groups, collectives and domains such as business, and many individuals participate in them in one way or another – now from anima energy with projections, fantasies and ideas, now from animus patterns with know-how and more rational approaches. Thus, it is useful to understand the mutual relationship between anima and animus in terms of syzygy. In Jungian psychology, the term syzygy denotes a pair of psychological opposites whether in conjunction or opposition (Jung, CW9ii, paras. 20-42).

Syzygy contains many possible relational combinations. My argument is that a relatively stable functional syzygy between anima and animus is required to generate creativity in business and bring about an adequate execution of the project. This is the ultimate source of analytical imagination so crucial in the business world. This syzygy comprises a state of creative tension (neither outright conflict nor merger) where the differences are in dialogue with each other and working dynamically together, while preserving the necessary distinctions of their specific natures. The ideal functional syzygy is one that uses analytical imagination to offer novel answers to concrete problems in demand.

I will start with a brief overview of the Jungian understanding of the anima and animus and then move to the main part of this essay, which is the business application of these concepts. I will use start-up culture to illustrate my points and will end by shifting into a ‘case-study’ of Pinterest, a successful start-up company, to underpin the practical importance of syzygy for the business domain.

Anima and animus in Jungian psychology

Jung used the term ‘anima’ to denote the unconscious ‘feminine’ component of the man’s psyche and ‘animus’ for the ‘masculine’ aspects of the woman’s psyche. This classification, however, raised some concern even in his times; in today’s world, where gender is conceived of in somewhat different and more flexible ways, we would say that everyone has both an anima and animus. In this light, as some commentators (Samuels, 1985/2006, p. 212; Lopez-Pedraza, 1989/2010, p. 151; Young-Eisendrath, 1997/1999, p. 225) point out, these concepts can be viewed as metaphors for unconscious energies, arguably without losing their essence.

Importantly, Jung himself used the terms anima and animus to designate certain patterns of related psychic phenomena. According to him, the anima and animus contain attributes that are lacking from our conscious attitude, and thus indicate a more unconscious level than we realise consciously. Jung sees these archetypal factors as a doorway to the deeper levels of the inner world and as offering access to the collective layers of the unconscious (CW9ii, paras. 20-42). This applies both to individuals and to communities and collectives, such as the business domain.

Jung describes the anima as the projection-making factor in the psyche, which, like the ancient Indian Goddess Maya, creates illusions (CW9ii, para. 20). The ego consequently gets caught up in a web of projections that stem from this unconscious source, which represents the power of Eros[1]. Jung writes that the anima is ‘the glamorous, possessive, moody, and sentimental seductress in a man’ (CW9ii, para. 422) and that ‘[s]he intensifies, exaggerates, falsifies, and mythologises all emotional relations’ (CW9i, para. 144). The anima brings in feelings of excitement, fascination and the desire for union, if not total merger. She creates a version of reality in which we want to believe and participate and in this respect is every successful con-man’s greatest accomplice (Konnikova, 2016). It is due to the impact of the anima that we feel an immediate and deep connection to certain people, ideas or projects. Thus, we may become intoxicated by the speech of the charismatic orator, fall in love with a film star or envision a certain version of ourselves or the future – none of which may be grounded in our reality. The impact of the anima bypasses our ability for independent thinking and critical judgement due to a strong and immediate emotional affect. The animus, on the other hand, is associated with Logos[2], i.e. structure, discipline and independent thinking (Jung, CW9ii, paras. 20-42). We could say that the animus pulls the psyche in the direction of abstraction, reality-testing and the creation of order. However, the animus also has a tendency to become dull, judgemental and one-sided. Its constructions can be as illusory as the fantasies of the anima. Both are driven by unconscious energies that dissimulate as reality. However, as I will argue, both are necessary for creativity and execution in the business domain.

It could be argued that the anima and animus as principles broadly capture and contain the multiplicity of archetypal characteristics inherent and active within the collective unconscious.[3] Specifically, the anima (with its lunar energy) empowers Eros and the forces of relationship, while the animus (with its solar energy) drives structural factors and empowers Logos. Thus, for example, the shadow, puer aeternus and mother, with their relatively undifferentiated and marked lunar qualities featuring raw emotion and imagination, draw energy from the anima principle, while the solar orientation of the more differentiated archetypes such as the persona, senex and father draw their resources from the animus principle with its orientation toward structure. These archetypes then use the energy in their own characteristic ways. The syzygy, which combines the anima and animus in a larger composite totality, provides space for a variety of positions in the relations among the anima and animus oriented energies and opportunities for switching between different paradigmatic positions. Behind the syzygy lies the overarching ‘archetype of archetypes’, the self, which guides and controls all distributions of energy among the various archetypal patterns.

Manifestations of the anima and animus in the business world

The concepts of anima and animus can be instructive in addressing the current ‘execution gap’, which, according to many commentators, is endemic in our culture (Mankins and Steele, 2005). The term ‘execution gap’ refers to the gap between the setting of a strategy or goal based on a certain idea/vision and actually achieving it. This is often expressed in terms of ‘from X to Y by when’ (McChesney, Covey and Huling, 2012, p. 299).

I will use the notion of the anima archetype to refer to the workings of imagination and the spontaneous emergence of ideas and images related to a product, while its counterpart, the animus archetype, leads toward execution by introducing know-how, experimentation, ordering, estimation of markets and the possible structure of implementation. Thus, the anima picks up and introduces the unconscious knowledge of a business idea, while the animus, as the ordering agency, has unconscious knowledge of the market as well as how to make this idea work. It is my hypothesis that it is the ‘functional syzygy’ (i.e. a state of creative tension between these energy polarities where the differences are in dialogue with each other and working dynamically together, while preserving the necessary distinctions of their specific natures) that brings strategy and execution together and potentially integrates them into a whole. Through its dynamic presence in each, the syzygy effectively bridges the dichotomy that is responsible for creating both the theoretical and practical chasms between these two business concepts.

Strategy is about forward-looking vision and ideas (i.e. the anima), while execution, being about structural implementation, is shared by the animus and ego.[4] In the absence of the functional syzygy, when the animus and anima are not adequately relating to each other, there is a divide between strategy and execution: strategy is unrealistic and inflexible, while execution lacks motivation and is sterile and over practical. This strategy orientation is often cited as one of the major reasons for the execution gap (e.g. Leinwand and Carmichael, 2016), while lack of motivation on the execution side is another (e.g. McChesney, Covey and Huling, 2012, pp. 6-8).

 In this theoretical account, the ego shares the function of execution with the animus by following up on animus’ constructions. It is important to point out that the ego does not organise or structure execution; it rather implements the organising factors that the animus comes up with. Organising and structuring are creative acts. Jungian psychology holds that creativity fundamentally derives from the collective unconscious (Jung, CW15, para. 130) and that the ego is crucial for the realisation of creativity within time and space. Jung also stated that ‘the ego stands to the self as the moved to the mover, or as object to subject’ (CW11, para. 391), while emphasising that the self needs the ego in order to have presence in the time and space realm.[5] The latter view has been further elaborated by many Jungians. For example, Edward Edinger (1972) introduced the term/concept ‘ego-self axis’. In this context, it is worth emphasising the difference between true reality-testing and what could be called ‘pseudo reality-testing’. It is often assumed that the ego, as the centre of consciousness, does the reality-testing. However, the principal function of the ego is to determine what enters the centre of consciousness, and thus, as pointed out above, the ego only implements what the archetype, with which it currently identifies more, comes up with. For example, when the ego is under the influence of the anima or puer, it may ‘think’ that it is engaged in reality-testing, while in fact it is only protecting a certain idea/fantasy from reality (i.e. pseudo reality-testing). For the ego’s reality-testing to be genuine and effective, a connection with animus’ energies is necessary. Thus, it is the ego and animus together that constitute the reality principle, which is essential for execution of a project.  

When the anima and animus are working together as functional syzygy, this syzygy becomes available to both strategy and execution. It brings imaginal strategy and concern for the real world together and integrates them into a whole, thus making strategy more realistic and flexible and thus more in touch with execution. The functional syzygy contains both the anima voice, which whispers, ‘Yes, let’s do it! I am excited’, as well as the animus voice with its reassuring message, ‘I know where we are going’. This syzygy activates and motivates the ego, which then implements what the syzygy comes up with. The anima side of the syzygy creates a pervasive strategic attitude capable of supplying the necessary motivation to sustain the project through the everyday whirl of business routines while the animus side directs the project to move ahead, to change and possibly become something entirely different as that execution proceeds. Without this functional syzygy, all motivational tactics would be merely short-lived. Thus, through this syzygy, strategy contains within it the execution aspect (through the animus and its connection with the reality-principle), and execution contains the motivating strategic aspect (through the anima and its deep connection with unconscious creativity), meaning that the presence of the syzygy narrows the execution gap.

Start-ups as an example of the syzygy in action

The impact of these archetypes can be illustrated using the example of start-up companies, which I use because the dynamics of start-up culture demonstrate the patterns in the execution gap particularly vividly. That is to say, they exhibit the divergence between inspiration and vision (largely in the form of a new idea) and execution in a characteristically acute way. As the driving force behind the current trends of western economic development, start-ups are promising yet demanding and risky enterprises: research shows that at least 75 per cent of start-ups fail, with investors losing all their money in 30-40 per cent of cases (Cage, 2012).

There are no hard and fast rules to defining a start-up, and hence the definitions are many and often conflicting. The Oxford English Dictionary defines ‘start-up’ as: ‘the action or process of setting something in motion’ or ‘a newly established business’. Neil Blumenthal, co-founder and co-CEO of Warby Parker, defines a start-up as ‘a company working to solve a problem where the solution is not obvious and success is not guaranteed’ (as cited in Robehmed, 2013).

Contrary to these definitions, co-founder of an influential start-up accelerator Y Combinator, Paul Graham, states that start-ups are defined in terms of exponential growth (Graham, 2012) and it is this that distinguishes a newly founded business from a start-up. For example, what distinguishes Google from a barbershop is not that its founders were extraordinarily hard-working or lucky or both; the difference is that the barbershop cannot scale up, while Google has the ability to attract a large market and thus experience high growth rates. Thus, Graham identifies two conditions necessary for a start-up: 1) a product with a large potential market; 2) the ability to reach and accommodate this market.

An equally useful definition is offered by Eric Ries (the acclaimed pioneer of the lean start-up movement, a modern business strategy helping start-ups to allocate their limited resources efficiently): a start-up is ‘a human institution designed to create new products and services under conditions of extreme uncertainty’ (2001, p. 8). Apart from emphasising the human element in start-up culture, the definition also specifies that the key factor required for their development and operation is extreme uncertainty, which includes not only market conditions but also lack of awareness of who their customer is, what their product will be or which obstacles they will have to overcome. It is these features that distinguish start-ups from what could be called more traditional business models and which are responsible for significantly redefining business operations. By presenting a formidable challenge to well-established companies (e.g. smartphones vs. Nokia), the start-up mentality with its emphasis on continuous innovation has integrated itself into the very matrix of the business domain. The amount of time for which a company can hold on to its earlier innovation has shrunk considerably, making even the most well-established businesses heavily dependent on innovation to ensure their future survival. For example, John Hagel of Deloitte’s Centre for the Edge (2002) states: ‘It’s not only getting harder and harder to generate profits, but it’s getting harder and harder to maintain market position – even when you are the very largest companies in the U.S.’.

My argument is that the concepts of anima and animus are useful tools for understanding the unconscious psychological structures behind start-up activity that contribute significantly to success or failure. Thus, it is important to see how they pull the psyche in certain directions (i.e. how we identify with these archetypes). As mentioned earlier, Jungian psychology states that creativity comes from sources deep in our collective unconscious. The anima acts as a gateway to this deeper level and is present each time we have an inspired idea, a so-called Eureka moment, such as ‘it would be great to do this’ or ‘I can see how I can make what exists better’. It inspires us, opens up a range of possibilities and energises and excites us so that everything seems possible and within reach. We could say that the anima makes us fall in love with an idea and thus pulls our psyche in the direction of heightened, even wild, imagination and creative energies. This process of idea-formation is important, since, although it may appear (albeit not necessarily to us) that we lose touch with reality in such moments of inspiration, this is when our ideas become conscious, begin to take shape and come alive. What, however, might equally happen at this initial stage of idea creation is that we get caught up in an idea and even become sick with it.[6] We can see this happening particularly often with start-ups. The idea can seduce and enslave us, as in the case of identification with our idea.

This unconscious identification can manifest as all types of defensiveness in relation to the idea, including the refusal to put it to vigorous reality testing. This may lead to inadequate research, lack of customer development interviews or badly designed questionnaires whose purpose is to support one’s own point of view rather than to get to the bottom of the situation. There is no interest in whether the product meets market needs, and instead a rather common temptation is to begin thinking that ‘first we will make something and then we will see how it can bring profit’. There may be a certain determination and rigidity of attitude: the idea is great and it must work. Here, the inspiring person may use the example of Twitter, which was also unprofitable for a long time (Smorodnikova, 2014).

At later stages, when it becomes apparent that the market is not responding, this rigidity contributes to the temptation to start adding further features to the product in order to perfect it. In contrast, an alternative to this behaviour is to pivot, which is a common practice in start-ups. Pivoting usually occurs when the current business model is not working and the founders thus resort to plan B. It is often the result of desperation, arising out of the urgency to change things before the resources run out. However, it is also about attuning to the voice of customers, and, by aiming to deliver the product that they want, forgoing initial preferences about expanding or changing the target markets (Ries, 2011, p. 149). Being in the grip of the anima means that new possibilities are overlooked and no pivots are undertaken; thus, the project loses momentum. As a result of this unconscious identification with the anima, we move further and further away from reality and begin to like our idea and vision more than the market, its users and their problems.

What is important at the stage of idea-formation is that one does not become seduced by the anima and cling to the inspired idea at all costs. Separation (i.e. individuation) is called for at this point. A degree of strong anima identification would be inevitable and even desirable in some cases, but it is the dynamic of identification that becomes a problem. Compared to normal jobs, start-ups take up days and nights of their founders’ lives and involve foregoing a stable income amongst other sacrifices that significantly affect the quality of life. A degree of strong identification ensures the required 100 per cent commitment, perseverance and even stubbornness. The other side of this identification, however, is that it can, especially under certain unfavourable circumstances, quickly spin out of control and drag a person with it. The idea in the head may become bigger and stronger, drawing more and more resources towards itself. It takes on all the time, effort, emotions, mental ability and finance and thereby becomes the centre of one’s life. In its demand for complete dedication, as in the case of a possessive lover who stops at nothing short of complete ownership of the object of desire, it might eventually suck all the blood and exhaust the life-force, throwing a person into an abyss of despair and self-deprecation. The short history of start-ups has already witnessed many painful examples of this happening, including cases of suicide (Carson, 2015).

What are the roots of this identification? The anima presents us with a brilliant idea, which has vast potential. Most importantly, however, it represents us in potential, where we stand for something that we are not at the moment. In that respect, it gives us a new identity. When we are presented with an idea by the anima-muse, we are suddenly removed from our mundane lives and transformed into the owner of some precious jewel or a hero galloping off on some glorious mission (slaying dragons, saving princesses and acquiring kingdoms). The anima ensures that all this will feel real, as it is not only the source of creativity in giving us ideas, but is also the master of grandiose illusions and deceptions.

One of the most damaging aspects of the anima is her tendency to whisper sweetly in our ear that we are special and that our ideas matter. Once the ego takes up this anima suggestion and locks it, as a sacred treasure, in a safe, that precious idea begins to dictate directions. Much of what the anima says or does in the background is barely detectable by the ego, which then suffers intolerably: on the one hand, there is a belief that guides all its actions, while on the other there is reality which often does not match this belief and instead requires a very different set of skills and resources.

The negative aspect of the anima with its powerfully charged conviction that the idea is everything features prominently in the start-up environment. If we look at the chart below, we can see how this anima-inspired Silicon Valley version of the Cinderella story can go bust: by far the top reason for start-up failure is a lack of market need for the product.

Top reasons for the failure of start-ups

(Source: CBinsights, 2014, The Top Twenty Reasons Startups Fail)

This single factor accounts for at least 42% of failures, followed by running out of cash (29%), issues within the team (23%) and being outcompeted (19%). However, looking at the chart, it is possible to say that fascination with the idea not only features prominently in the first item on the graph, but is also implicit in most of the other factors responsible for failure, such as running out of resources or burning out.

The observation that clinging to pet ideas could, in fact, kill start-ups and often effectively destroys the lives of their founders, points to the insight that the idea itself is not the most significant aspect of a successful start-up; what matters is how it is executed and how the eventual product is received by the market (Cooper and Vlaskovits, 2013, p. 4). The reason many start-ups die is because business creativity does not comprise an aspect of the self-exploration or self-realisation process (as it does in art, for example), but is primarily concerned with satisfying the rather specific needs of the market.

Thus, whereas the first encounter with the anima can be overwhelming, it is important to have a second and more conscious encounter. The anima does not operate in a linear fashion, but in terms of emotionally charged images. It is volatile and in need of containment. The animus, on the other hand, brings a drive toward order, rationality, reality-testing and know-how. It is responsible for the drive toward the structured development of an idea and therefore pushes for market research and will generally act to check the idea against market reality: is the market big enough? Is there a need for this product? How may the incumbents respond to our intervention? In the modern world, where almost everything imagined can be built, the animus interrupts the anima’s self-inspiring chatter: ‘Until we figure out whether we can build a sustainable business around the idea, it is not worth spending any resources on it’.

Thus, the animus interferes with the state of unconscious identification with the idea and with all the fantasies built around it. While the anima comes from the realm of the Mothers and can draw us back into the world of images and potentials (Jung, CW15, para. 159), the animus is connected to the Father principle and in that sense it, like the father, breaks the connection between the realm of the Mothers and the new-born idea. The animus introduces the necessary ‘third’ into the dyad. Ideally, its energy removes the idea from the realm of the Mothers while not entirely destroying the ego identification with the anima/idea. In this way, it adds energy in the form of structure and order and brings logical direction to the idea, thus helping it to form, develop, mature and scatter the seeds further.

Quite often what is needed is both big vision and small-scale steps. Here, the animus may break the anima’s vision into its component parts and conduct a vigorous testing that separates facts from assumptions. The animus’ emphasis on the scientific approach and experimentation works together with the anima’s vision, hopes, fears, intuition and judgements. Thus, the functional syzygy can channel the anima’s creativity into its most productive form. The animus’ productivity is not about efficiency, but about aligning the business idea with the needs of the market. The functional syzygy is an example of what could be called ‘analytical imagination’.

When the anima and animus are working together as the functional syzygy, work has meaning and thus the ego can sustain the necessary motivation throughout the project. It is this syzygy that activates and motivates the ego. The ego, being responsible for the actual execution of the task, mobilises the necessary resources to contain and persevere through the difficulties, and essentially allows for work to be conducted efficiently. It is not a perfect equilibrium, even once established, since the ego will still inevitably identify slightly more with the anima on some occasions and with the animus on others, thus causing the syzygy to change its character configuration or even collapse.

What is most important is that the ego does not claim creativity for itself. Instead, it invites further creativity and development. When a certain vision of a product is conceived, there is no insistence on how to use it. The developers look carefully to observe its actual usage patterns in the business environment, and they are flexible enough to pivot when a major pattern becomes evident.

An example

To conclude my argument, I would like to use the story of Pinterest to illustrate the workings of the anima and animus and their syzygy. The story of the company, like every story, is multidimensional and thus cannot be captured fully by any single narrative. What follows only claims to show the relevance of the anima and animus archetypes as important determinants in the formation of the company.

In the spring of 2012, Pinterest became an overnight success. Now, with nearly 73 million users worldwide, over 500 employees and an office in San Francisco, Pinterest, after displaying extremely high growth rates over the previous three years, was valued at $11 billion in June 2015 (Wikipedia, n.d.). The company was founded by Ben Silbermann, Evan Sharp and Paul Sciarra in 2009 and the initial idea for their start-up came from Ben Silbermann’s interest in collecting things. His own childhood hobby, which he still holds dear to his heart, was collecting butterflies. Thus, he wanted to create a website that allowed people to explore and share their hobbies. At the core of his idea was the creation of virtual photo boards organised around one’s interests (Shontell, 2012). Following the basic logic of a butterfly collector, every time one sees a stimulating image online, all one has to do is to press the Pin-button for the image to appear on one’s board.

Silbermann’s idea for the company was derived from something he felt passionate about and this passionately held image was the source of his inspiration. At an early stage of business creativity, the animus served as the structuring agency in conducting the research and organising the founders’ ideas. As Silbermann said, ‘collecting tells a lot about who you are’, but there was nowhere on the web to share that side of one’s personality (as cited in Panzarino, 2013). The founders spotted a gap in the market that other social networks, including big incumbents such as Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn and others, had overlooked.

The story of Pinterest can be looked at as the process of how Silbermann’s ‘problem’ (i.e. a lack in the current social media market which addressed his personal interests) became the problem of many other people (including those who may not previously have been aware that they had this ‘problem’). As Silbermann states: ‘There is a lot of value in helping people to discover things that they did not know they wanted’ (as cited in Simonite, 2013). To his comment it could also be added that the other side of the Pinterest story is that its founders did not know or could not foresee what kind of social network they would eventually create and are still creating. Anima dynamics lie in the emergence and persistence of a large and somewhat vague image or idea, which in typical fashion appears in the fog and requires a great deal of time and effort to take form in the real world. ‘It would be great to have a website for people to collect things’ is the idea indicating the anima’s motivating presence on the scene. This arises out of an earlier passion – collecting and pinning butterflies – and now becomes generalised and enters the business environment. However, there is more to the anima’s story. The anima brings with it the unconscious knowledge of all the other ideas that will eventually, given time and space, sprout from the first. The anima is generative and it is therefore crucial for creativity to respond positively and say ‘Yes’ to the anima, allowing it to bring its potential children into the world. Saying ‘No’ not only prematurely kills the idea itself but also aborts its potential children. However, it is also important to treat this image/idea not as a call to immediate action but as a call from the depths that opens the door to new possibilities. The anima brings with it a great deal of uncertainty, which it is important to tolerate without either succumbing completely to the pull of the collective unconscious that it elicits, or defending against it.

With its unconscious knowledge of the market as well as its possession of unconscious know-how, the animus is the appropriate mental structure to pick up and deal with the question marks posed by the anima. These question marks are just what are needed for market research, experimentation, the ordering of ideas and other activities involved in separating the proverbial wheat from the chaff. It is this syzygy that allowed for the remaining unconscious ideas (the children that the anima could deliver into the real world if it were adequately supported by the animus structure) to find their rightful place in the Pinterest story. At the core of this functional syzygy is the principle of co-creation: the founders’ creativity was matched by and combined with the users’ creativity. This combination allowed for often unexpected discoveries of other business venues, such as search engines, commerce and market and social research. Thus, for example, Pinterest demonstrated a strong correlation between pinning and buying relative to other social media websites, including commercially-oriented ones (Samuel, 2012). It is unlikely that the founders expected to see such a correlation, but by building features around it (e.g. tracking and other website links that brands can use for sale analytics), they clearly found a way to take advantage of it.

One of the most important aspects of Pinterest’s commercial success was that it offered a non-aggressive trading model. The team at Pinterest tapped into the emerging patterns of what some commentators refer to as the ‘gift economy’ (Bonchek, 2012), a phenomenon that came together with social media where the emphasis is not on product promotion as such but rather on building a relationship with clients, as well as facilitating people’s need to create relationships with each other. When the anima is well contained within the syzygy, through its connection to Eros, it becomes about relating and relationship. It gives rise to what could be called ‘imaginative empathy’, which gives emotional depth to a relationship and can also find an appropriate metaphor for it. The animus then, through its connection to Logos, gives direction to this metaphor and ‘translates’ it into a mode of relating, which is appropriate for a business project. Sohrad Vossoughi of HBR (2013) attributes this ability of Pinterest to drive engagement and commerce – and, importantly, to link the two together – not just to their functional features, which are next to flawless and are made to meet high aesthetic tastes, but to finding and utilising the right metaphor. One of the key aspects of Pinterest’s success in this area is that it rather brilliantly and effectively reintroduced the concept of the bazaar to the modern world. Pinterest converted this metaphor into a wide array of tools that link browsers and retailers and by so doing offer customers a sense of control, the possibility to explore the things they like at their own pace, multiple paths for discovery and the ability to co-curate with friends and other like-minded strangers (ibid).

The presence of the functional syzygy is also seen in its provision of motivation and perseverance during the long and difficult periods when the project was not picking up. It took approximately two exhausting years after presenting the product to the market for it to gain momentum. There were significant problems with funding all along the way, with 200 users when it was launched and only 10,000 users nine months later (Shontell, 2012). From most angles, it did not follow what could be called a typical start-up success path. What follows below shows this dynamic of syzygy in operation.

Silbermann’s initial idea for the company was to create a social platform where people could share their personal interests in an emotionally engaging and visually pleasing way. Thus, he had a certain vision of what kind of product he wanted to create. Right from the start, his team was passionate about the project and paid a great deal of attention to every single detail of the design. In Silbermann’s own words: ‘We were obsessive about the product. We were obsessive about all the writing and how it was described. We were obsessive about the community’ (as cited in Anderson, 2012). This obsession with detail was evident in many of the founders’ decisions. Thus, contrary to logic, and with virtually no users, he had his web-designer create 50 functional versions of the website’s basic layout, which differed in image size by fractions of an inch (Simonite, 2013). They spent months working on the design. Here, we see a strong identification with the anima at a point where to do so could potentially have been destructive. However, because the anima was paired with the animus at almost every step of development, that did not happen. Once the product had been launched and had a small number of users, Silbermann personally wrote to the first 5000-7000 users asking for their opinions and advice (Anderson, 2012). This syzygy between the idea and a proactive reality-check approach is something that the eventual Pinterest investors picked up on and responded to. Thus, one of the early investors, Brian Cohen, commented that he could not but marvel at how open and engaging the team was to advice and input from investors, clients, partners and designers: ‘I used to see him [Silbermann] in New York just taking out small rooms to meet with customers. I’d never seen anything like it’ (as cited in Ulanoff, 2012). Cohen pointed out that such ‘non-myopic behavior’ was at the core of the company’s success.

Months passed and the product failed to scale; however, they remained faithful to their idea. The anima did not allow them to abandon the project. It is here that we see how a certain strong degree of anima-identification (strong attachment to the idea, but without a blind fanaticism) can be helpful and constructive. As Silbermann himself admitted, he could not bear to tell others that ‘he and his project’ had failed (as cited in Lagorio-Chafkin, 2012), and this made him persevere when he would otherwise have given up in light of how much energy and other resources the start-up was using.

However, passion for their project did not stop them from trying to sell it at one very low point, the problem being that no one wanted to buy. It might have seemed only rational from the ego’s point of view to shelve the idea and treat it as an ugly duckling at some moments of disappointment that, despite all the effort, it had not turned out well. Here, the animus-mentality with its straightforward thinking that does not leave things in limbo actually came to the rescue. The animus does the research, weighs the odds and delivers the verdict: yes or no. After rethinking their situation in light of some new information, the founders decided that the project still had some potential. The breakthrough arrived in March 2011 with the launch of an iPhone app, and by the end of that year the company had topped over 10 million users and become one of the 10 most popular social networks (Pinalytics, 2014).


In this essay, I have shown how the Jungian concepts of anima, animus and their syzygy can be applied to the business domain and justified my hypothesis that the functional syzygy is required to bring about business creativity by demonstrating the relevance of this syzygy for the execution gap, characteristic of the start-up culture and a key issue on the current business agenda. I used a practical example of Pinterest, a successful innovative start-up, to underpin my hypothesis. On the example of the anima and animus, I also showed that the archetypal model, when used appropriately, can be helpful in containing the unconscious projected contents in the business world while these contents are consciously explored.


[1] Eros is the principle of love and life, which underpins connectedness and relationship between people (Young-Eisendrath and Dawson, 1999, p. 316).


[2] Logos is the principle of rational discrimination. Jung defined Logos as ‘the dynamic power of thoughts and words’ (CW9ii, para. 293).


[3] This hypothesis finds support in the works of Jungian theorist Erich Neumann. Neumann (1960/1989, pp. 320-382) wrote about the Vital Principle, which is the original manifestation of all diverse forms of creativity. The Vital Principle is pregnant with unlimited potential. It is always accompanied to varying degrees by the Ordering Agency, as both are at the centre of creation and existence. The Ordering Agency shapes, structures and maintains the boundaries of all the things that the Vital Principle is capable of producing. Its principle function is thus chaos prevention and excess elimination. Neumann also adds the third factor to his model of creation, the Directing Agency, whose function is teleological orientation. These three dynamically different factors form the Trinity, which is at the core of all activities taking place at all levels of existence. Neumann’s theory of creativity is complex, but what is relevant for my hypothesis is that, as Murray Stein suggests, the two aspects of the self, the Vital Principle and Ordering Agency, could be identified as the anima and animus respectively (2017, p. 125).


[4] This classification finds support in Stein’s interpretation of Neumann’s work (footnote 1). Stein writes: ‘Anima is the Vital Principle, the source of energy and imagination and fantasy; animus is the Ordering Principle, executing its will through the ego function’ (2017, p. 125).


[5] This perspective contrasts sharply with Freud’s famous statement: ‘Where id was, there ego shall be’ (1933/1973, p. 112) and emphasises that Jungian/post-Jungian psychology has a far more positive view of the unconscious than psychoanalysis and its modern variations.

[6] Jung stated: ‘The creative process has a feminine quality, and the creative work arises from unconscious depths – we might truly say from the realm of the Mothers. Whenever the creative force predominates, life is ruled and shaped by the unconscious rather than by the conscious will, and the ego is swept along on an underground current, becoming nothing more than a helpless observer of events’ (CW15, para. 159).

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