Beyond visibility

This is the film title of the biography of Hilma af Klint, the first female abstract artist, even before Kandinsky. The question of how to ‘see’ things beyond the visible is one that has been with me for a long time and probably will it be for the rest of my life. And I’ve already made some discoveries.


I really recommend the film ‘Jenseits des Sichtbaren’ as well worth seeing, (It is subtitled in English). But anyway, this blog post will not be a report on Hilma af Klint or a review of the film. I am inspired by the title and would like to reflect briefly on whether or where there is something ‘beyond visibility’ in our daily work . I have been dealing with two aspects in this context for many years. On the one hand it is the topic of cultural development and on the other hand the unconscious in the company and how these two aspects are related.

Cultural development in the company and the unconscious layers

Edgar Schein made a significant contribution to the research into organizational culture in companies. He has developed a model that has become known as the ‘iceberg model of organizational culture’. * As beautiful as an iceberg is: We know 6 parts of 7 of the iceberg are beneath the surface and thus … exactly: Beyond visibility. And we also know: this is dangerous.

Applied to organizations, this means: According to Edgar Schein, there are so called artifacts, visible above the surface  – e.g.  the building of a company, logos, behavior of employees. All the other aspects are beneath the water’s surface.

One level below, just below the surface, one can find the propagated values ​​and norms of the company. These are the values, the company actively expresses to be engaged with and claims to stand. One can find those values on the company’s website or in the image brochure. In the best case scenario, these are the values ​​that you will experience in day-to-day dealings with the company as customer or business partner. But, unfortunately, this is not the standard. In many cases, the claimed values differ from the experienced values or in other words: The organization doesn’t walk the talk. What happens in such cases? If we refer to the iceberg again, there are values (the so called basic assumptions to Schein) active at the very bottom of the iceberg that differ to those claimed. And this is exactly where the unconscious plays an important role in organizations.

If the – often unconscious – basic assumptions and values ​​in an organization contradict those that are officially announced, there is a so-called ‘integrity gap’, according to the economists Thomas Maak and Peter Ulrich*. I am sure, we all know examples where organizations or people say one thing, but do something completely different. So, you see, to work on these levels and to close the integrity gap is really a thing, that matters.

But how is it possible to circumnavigate the shallows and the danger of the iceberg? The most sustainable approach is to move precisely into these shallows, to fathom, discover and illuminate what lies in the unconscious, hidden, i.e. beyond the visible. From psychology, the shadow concept of C.G. Young is dealing exactly with this phenomenon. From organizational psychology view point it might be very interesting of finding ways to transfer procedures from the individual perspective to the system perspective, because it is very similar: Also in organizations, there may be hidden aspects and parts of the organization that the organization or its representatives do not want to admit. And those aspects are beneath the surface, because it isn’t pleasant to face them. But anyway: This is the only way to protect one’s own organization from nasty, self-inflicted surprises. Because the unconscious has a tendency to become visible at really inappropriate moments. Just think of one or the other Freudian slip of the tongue that you have probably made yourself.

If you like to step deeper into this topic, I can also recommend my on Master Thesis “Integrität als Ergebnis einer gelungenen Organisationsentwicklung” (German), that dealt with a process of organization development to raise the integrity of the organization. You can either buy the book at Morebooks or Amazon or you can also send an inquiry for a free copy of the ebook to me.

– * Book recommendation! Edgar Schein “Organizational Culture and Leadership”

– * Book recommendation! Thomas Maak, Peter Ulrich “Integre Unternehmensführung” (German)

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