Agile working: Celebrating the Puer but ensuring we don’t become puerile?


One of the most fascinating insights from Carl Jung is the idea of opposites as a necessary set. This can hold true in terms of time; spatial proximity, concepts, physical realities and many, many others. One set of opposites that I have been experimenting with over the last few months is in terms of planning/control and emergence/freedom. I have a professional interest in this set of opposites in terms of Agile working. This is my learning to date.

The Collective Unconscious 

The collective unconscious is one of the ways Jung’s originality is best expressed for me. I won’t go into the details here as that is material for another blog at a future time. For those of you unfamiliar with this idea stated simply, Jung noted that human beings universally share unconscious material. This material and characters, what Jung referred to as archetypal are found in all cultures, and historical periods as far back as we can trace human history and thought. They are often expressed by way of cultural myths, fairy tales, stories, poems and legends, for example.

The Male Youth and the Old Man.

Jung noted two archetypes that I’d like to examine in a bit more detail and relevance and this is the old man and the male youth/adolescent. Jung used the Latin terms and referred to them as the Senex Type and the Puer Type.  It is important not to see these are personality types in our external worlds, but rather as characters. These are characters in ‘The Theatre’ of our unconscious.

The Senex embodies the notion we have for wisdom, experience and is underscored by a sense of veneration and respect as opposed to the ways in which in the West we have tended to become more disrespectful of the elderly sometimes even going too far as a see them as some kind of ‘burden’. Thus, when compared to the adolescent the Senex has strengths or virtues in that they are more likely to be grounded, realistic, cautious, forward-looking and careful. However, the shadow side of this type is that they can be resistant to change, express a more pessimistic attitude, and even a depressive tone that finds it more difficult to find the expression of comedy and humor. When taken too far with a lack of self integration the Senex can start to quite literally ‘squeeze’ joy from life, work teams and other social interactions.

The Puer Type is the Latin term for ‘child’. Thus puerile expresses the notion that a given action or behaviour is something that would be considered foolish, silly or immature for an adult. However, there are strengths to the Puer type and this is best expressed as playfulness. The sense that creativity is linked to, and of course key ideas around innovation, originality, and fresh approaches can be traced to this type. In contrast to the Senex the Puer is open to new ideas with a sense of spontaneous openness and fun-loving joy. Play for Jung is a quintessential activity that can foster learning, growth and personal development and of course personality integration of our ‘parts’. For most adults, it is fair to say that it is a genuine challenging process to recapture this fresh, beginner’s mind.

Of course, as the Senex can be unbalanced so can the Puer too. The adult that is constantly in ‘play mode’ can lack responsibility; be weak-willed morally; reluctant to fully commit their effort, time and ideas to projects. They can also lack the necessary tenacity and determination to ‘see things through’. One can see quickly the hedonistic drum of me, me, me associated with the accompanying drum of now, now, now!

A question of balance.  

If you imagine a spectrum or a continuum between the Senex and the Puer then one of the key insights from Jung is that for individual living at the extreme Senex end of the senex-puer spectrum is living a life out of balance. It is worth noting that both Archetypes should be active in our unconscious lives- and found expression in our lived realities. We all need ‘access’ as well as acceptance and integration of our inner Puer as much as our inner Senex.

The Agile Project: Celebrating Senex and Puer.

In my experience most large organisations tend to be more Senex in their cultural assumptions and guiding values- but not all. That is they tend to have a business operating model that values control, planning and forward-looking and are cautious around notions of Puer playfulness. Seeing this as a creative tension between these necessary set of opposites has added value as a Scrum Master seeking to develop more Agile way of working.

In a future Blog I’ll unpack some of the practical ways this has been successful framed by Appreciative Inquiry. For the time being, it is fair to say that Jung’s insights has been added value as a working framework in practical ways.

Take care Jason


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