I blame Nike.

Next year will be the 20th anniversary of the ‘just do it’ line, and two decades of swooshes have changed us all.

All fixes are quick, now.  Throw your energy and will at a problem and you will prevail. But listening to those responsible for making real change happen, from the Board to the Bored in any organization, soon reveals that the gap between this cheerleading and everyday reality can be a very painful place.

Is it because we try to change too fast?

Do we all expect too much? Of ourselves, of others?  Or do we expect too little? Perhaps self-absorbed?

If current thinkers are all too busy winning to help us out, then maybe thinkers of the past may encourage fresh reflection.

Love him or loathe him, Sigmund Freud never disappoints.   He was 74 when he wrote “Civilisation and Its Discontents”.  And his work is relevant because any organization is a sort of ‘society’, a sort of microcosm of a civilization.

Freud explores the human experience of creating, and belonging to, a civilization or society.  Just as with an individual’s psyche, the experience is one of constant struggle. The struggle is between conflicting drives and impulses: the drive to connect and love and belong -v- the drive to pull away, and to aggression.

In creating a society, or organisation, that brings certain benefits to all, individual members suppress certain natural instincts. This brings both unhappiness and guilt (the mechanism for suppressing those natural instincts)

Oddly, this can help us. We can now think of our organisations as always dynamic- a constant forcefield pattern of forward/back or up/down or in/out.  And we can acknowledge a reality – that ‘discontent’ is a natural and intrinsic aspect of any organization, a mini- society.

For Leaders, it suggests moving from not having tried hard enough (not having ‘just done it’) to watching with care and compassion for opportunities to shift that normal, human balance of happiness and discontent wherever it humanly can be.

Organisations aren’t machines.

Swap the running shoes for some Freudian slippers.



It was time for a big discussion amongst the whole group, so a couple of us watched and listened as the conversation cricket got underway.

When the fast bowlers had got a bit tired, the skillful slow bowlers began to dominate. There were clever little placings of un-returnable comments: spirit–sapping observations about what was going on in the organization.  A classic stream of ‘we’re just not good enough’.

It’s usually better to let this all play out.  But I didn’t want to miss any shifts in mood. (Ever since Kim Jong Un re-habilitated the word ‘dotard’, it does feel important to keep some sense of youthful alert energy going, don’t you think?)

So I kept a tally, literally, of the ‘damning’ versus the ‘possibly encouraging’ deliveries, and a tally of how they were returned. It’s the first time I’ve tried to chart visually what happens in a group as the tone and nature of the ‘ball in play’ changes.

We know from Freud that what’s really going on at a group level is a honed and habitual self- criticism. It’s a sort of super-ego ‘bait and switch’ script of mis-directed yet comfortably recognisable judgements.  Oddly, when you record the points made by the critical group-voice, you begin to realise what a bully this voice can be. It becomes clear how limited is this script: and so repetitive.


Only as the scales began to turn again, with non –judgement, and the discussion of small nuggets of work that had gone ‘not too badly’, did anything of value or real interest to the group surface. We’ve talked before here about finding more subtle and helpful interpretations of ‘positive’ v ‘negative’.

The ‘keeping score’ experiment revealed a simple reason for seeking to help such discussions re-balance. The critical voice may be a necessary ritual, but it brings only the known. It can bring nothing that is new. The more supportive balanced voice begins to bring some self-understanding, to suggest real possibilities.

The other Freud tip here is that contradictory feelings exist, and must exist, at the same time. Hate and love, trust and suspicion and so on. So the trick in these real conversations about difficult areas of change is not to let the critical voice drown out the supportive voice: to watch out for that super – ego dominance with which we are all so familiar.

Your organization may be a much more balanced creation than you feared –
wildly OK, even.






It makes us laugh. A harmless mistaken word and we giggle. Mrs Malaprop (The Rivals, Sheridan) gave her name to those little errors where the word sounds the same but means something totally different (‘a pine apple of politeness’ she said, meaning ‘pinnacle’)

And Freudian slips make us laugh. Gordon Brown suggested he’d saved the world in 2008, not just the banks.

But there is really useful data in these slips, and they can help us see the situation in a totally different way.

My two favourites from this week:

A Board Member was talking about recent changes in the financial relationship with the parent company. It was not all good, he felt it had been forced to some extent, and that it had revealed the ‘true colours’ of one or two individuals.

‘I don’t want to get into the business of conversation…’

He had meant ‘condemnation’. What a wonderful unconscious instinct. It was others who had failed to talk.

Conversation was exactly the business to be in.

And on the Today programme recently, a German diplomat (completely bi-lingual) was talking about recent violent events in his country. The line of questioning was to understand whether there was a pattern. Were these individuals at work or was there a structured network operating?

The Diplomat weighed up the pros and cons of the network theory, and noted

‘There are always lonely wolves…’

And in that one substitution of ‘lonely’ for ‘lone’ the whole issue is reframed.

While a lone wolf is a symbol of fear and danger, a ‘lonely’ wolf becomes something so different, even – possibly – reachable.

Listen for the slips. Its where the answers are.


Penny Hunt's blog coffee conversationsChristmas time doesn’t half mangle the brain.

Have you noticed lots of slips and trips of the tongue in meetings and everyday conversations recently? Perhaps Christmas is a particularly ripe time for Freudian slips.

Sigmund Freud in Penny Hunt's blog

Freud’s thinking is that in the constant conflict between the conscious and the unconscious, small calling cards of repressed or denied unconscious feelings will make their way to the conscious via a ’slip of the tongue’ or a mistake.

But I think what I am seeing around me looks more like a sort of… jet lag.

The two chums in front of me in the queue at the café yesterday were exchanging stories of success and achievement.
Factoring in a teeny bit of over claim, they had both managed to complete just about all their Christmas shopping online during Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

What might, a decade ago, have taken them a few days physically had been telescoped into a few hours.
Clicking a button sounds so easy.

But a process of weighing up, choosing, self debate, deciding to break that unbreakable spending limit, doubling back, calling to revise.. is still an amazing amount of concentration energy, even if it is expended sitting down.

The mangling begins.

It came to the turn of one of the chums. She pointed at the shelf of flavoured syrups behind the barrista, homed in on the amaretto, and asked for ‘a shot of avocado ‘ in her coffee.

Much laughing.

We think we are gaining time, but it is only a time surplus in the way that a ’plane journey apparently gains time. Jet lag means that you still have to wait for the rest of you to arrive.

Coffee served with a ’70s bathroom suite is just one of many Christmas time slips to have entertained and bemused over the last couple of days.

Penny Hunt's Freudian trip list in her blogA lovely client (a champion of correct grammar) has just reported entering a dental appointment into his organizer under ‘tooth abstraction’.  A colleague reports having a really good ‘inferior designer’ recommended to her yesterday.

I think our individual Random Access Memories are all completely full at the moment.

We’re all doing far too much far too fast.

And the results are a sort of cross between Freudian slips and jet lag.

Freudian trips I guess.