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  • Writer's pictureSam Brown

Psychoanalyzing industries to reveal their trajectories and disclose their secrets

Imagining industries as living entities for richer strategic insights

Understanding the forces at work in an industry can help disclose the relative value of your own venture, provide metrics for strategic decision making, and drive investment strategies. Typically the theoretical frameworks we use to provide industry analysis, (e.g. SWOT, PESTLE, 5 Forces etc) are all based on the same underlying assumptions about reality (ontological foundations), namely that abstract concepts like industries are only a mental construct projected by people. Consequently they have a narrow variety of insights compared to using analysis frameworks based on alternative ontological foundations, e.g. analytical frameworks that consider abstract constructs, like an industry, to be a living entity (animist ontology).

Psychoanalyzing industries requires one to suspend their faith in the prevailing materialist paradigm of the 21st century, and embrace the idea that ideas could, or do, have an essence or spirit that can be analyzed similar to a process of Jungian psychoanalysis.

In a previous article I wrote how one could become an idea therapist via applying the Jungian individuation process to an idea, which requires the analyst to engage with an idea as if ideas were a living entity and had agency (a capacity to cause events). By using this assumption we are able to reveal insights into an idea analogous to how we would be able to gain insight from psychoanalyzing a human patient.

This time I will explore the implications of applying this analysis technique to an industry, which can help you reveal its pathologies, “personality”, stage of maturity, culture, and establish an intimate understanding of an unfolding narrative as the industry progresses through spatial and temporal dimensions.


What do I mean by psychoanalyzing an industry?

There are two dominant perspectives to interpret what is actually happening when I use the term “psychoanalyze an industry”; the traditional social science perspective is more accessible to those who have an intuition that shies away from investing into the radical animist assumption that abstract entities such as an industry could be defined as a living thing. The social science case considers industries as a collective of similar businesses, and businesses are a collective of individuals - so the life that we project onto an industry by using a model of psychoanalyzing an industry can be reduced to a model of understanding collective individuals (which are not necessarily “alive”).

It must be stressed that promoting the use of psychology to a collective organism is not a novel concept. Attributing pathologies to institutions is a branch of Social Science and Philosophy popularized by great minds such as Michel Foucault and Pierre Bourdieu in the 20th century. Social pathology was a theory that correlated metaphors between the breakdown of the body to the breakdown of society; diseases of the individual could also be experienced either literally or metaphorically by a society and vice versa.

On the other hand if we take the animist model of reality literally (that abstract things are in some sense “living”); the second dominant interpretation of psychoanalyzing an industry, we pivot into a more mystical interpretation. With this approach an industry may have a character that is wholly independent of the collective projections of people, and since the subject of analysis is then a character complete with its connection to the collective unconscious, it’s own independent unconscious dimension and a conscious representation, we can apply psychoanalysis to it just as we would apply it to an individual or collective organism. This method can provide insights that transcend typical human interaction with the industry; engaging the full extent of our imaginative creative capacity for analysis, and tapping into transcendental creativity and analytic capabilities.

WIth either interpretation on what is actually happening when we psychoanalyze an industry we have access to a holistic and qualitative overview of an industry that can set you apart from other businesses or investment strategies which only utilize one paradigm of analysis techniques. While I lean towards the animist mystic interpretation when I train people with this analysis method, the outcomes described below aren’t mutually exclusive with the interpretation the readers may lean towards; so hopefully even the most cynical empiricists should derive some value from this radical approach to industry analysis by understanding it as a method for engaging the depths of creativity and imagination.


Outcomes of psychoanalyzing an industry

Psychoanalysis covers a lot of ground, with multiple sub disciplines, frameworks and diagnostic tools available; much more than could be covered in one article. Here I will briefly describe what types of outcomes you can expect to reveal by applying this analytical framework to an industry. I will deep dive into each outcome listed here in more focus in future articles, so if you are interested in going in depth on any of the described outcomes below then please follow in the future!

Industry Diagnostics

Since we are covering overlapping ground with the social sciences in exploring social pathologies, the first most obvious outcome of psychoanalyzing an industry is in being able to diagnose it’s pathologies. We can infer that an industry is “unstable” if it exhibits similar characteristics of an unstable person, i.e. if an industry can be generalized as being intransparent, volatile and hostile, then we can infer similar causes as that which conditions an individual to express similar characteristics.

Perhaps the industry went through trauma in its infancy, i.e. it struggled to be heard or seen, relative to its merit, by early adopters so it now has a penchant for drama. This also makes sense in a non mystic interpretation; if businesses are more sensitive to the demands of an industry due to previous events that almost bankrupted them; they will have a susceptibility to paranoia and place much more weight on avoiding failure than businesses in industries that have only faced prosperity since their inception.

Being able to draw analogies between the behavior of an industry and the behavior of pathological individuals benefits from the vast amount of literature on various psychological profiles.

Industry “Personality” Metrics

If you’re a fan of any of the various popularized personality metrics like Myers-Briggs, personality enneagram, or the big 5 behavioral traits, then this outcome should be pretty enticing.

Some of the first personality metrics proposed by Carl Jung in the early 1900s were only limited to the application of people, as he was a psychologist, but he also dabbled in alchemy and the mystic traditions, drawing on his wisdom of universal observations as well as observing people. Jungian personality traits were discovered via an analysis of the prevalent archetypes that exist in the universe, prior to human experience, throughout human myths but also in the observation of cosmic phenomena and mathematics.

For instance we can apply the metric of extroversion to non-human entities. On a universal scale, the trait can be applied to a system which absorbs relatively more energy from its surroundings than it emits - whereas an introverted system would emit more energy into its surroundings than it absorbs. It’s more complex than this as extroverted systems are also more vibrant and louder giving the perception of emitting more energy than an introverted system, but this is a function of the tendency for entities to reflect qualities that they do not absorb, i.e. a green leaf is not absorbing green light but reflecting it; giving it a green appearance. Since an extroverted system draws in so much energy for its sustenance, it also reflects just as much as it absorbs, giving it the appearance of emitting a lot of energy.

Analogies can be drawn to all of the personality metrics that are based on universal observations, e.g. thinking v feeling, perceptive v judgemental, intuitive v sensing et, but this is content for another article.

If we can classify an industry as being more extroverted we can also adapt our strategies to best approach them, i.e. the social media industry is much more extroverted than something like the woodwork industry; and we can deduct that it will benefit from drawing in more energy (in the form of attention) from its surroundings rather than internally - like an extroverted personality. Whereas the woodwork industry would benefit from tapping into the energy of its members and the intellect of it’s internal constituents; like an introverted person in an artistic field.

Industries with similar character traits will have similar strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT attributes) to each other, making an on-the-go analysis very accessible after applying the psychoanalysis technique to a handful of industries; you will start noticing patterns of traits that some industries share with others.

Having a sense of the personality of an industry can also assist with marketing and design decisions, i.e. if your business is in an industry which is rational, pragmatic, introverted and sensible then you probably don’t want to market your business with happy fun vibrant themes as there would be a misalignment. Psychoanalysis can provide a deep insight into the culture and character of an industry via accessing the phenomenal world of the industry (i.e. the attributes of an industry that only exist via the experience of being conscious of an industry).

Industry Stage of Maturity & Individuation

Typically we assess the life cycle stage of an industry or trend with an “s” curve, that starts with humble beginnings, evolves into rampant growth and then stable maturity at the top of the “s” curve. Where an industry fits on the s curve is typically measured with metrics that represent capital investment, consumption, R&D investment, profit v loss etc. But metrics don’t tell the entire story; just like with people, you could have a very mature 12 year old and a very immature 40 year old, and the age metrics need to be bolstered with some qualitative data of the individual to determine if the maturity of their character fits the metrics.

The process of determining the individuation stage of an industry is explored in more detail in my article “become an idea therapist”. Basically we can measure how far along an industry is in its maturation, without any quantified metrics, by looking at its character development over time. Is the industry petulant, self absorbed and dependent on other industries? If so, it could be signs that it is in its infancy and we should look for hints that indicate it is about to blossom into adolescence; typically associated with the growth stage of the “s” curve. If the industry is well defined, has a sense of it’s relative value compared to others then it could be argued that it has established a consistent and reliable sense of self and is a solid investment; likened to hiring an employee who knows why they want to work with you.

Accessing an industries rich narrative; beyond observable data

Qualitative and quantitative data is an indicator for what is happening with an industry, but they don’t quite grasp the whole story. Just like words can’t literally represent the phenomena of walking through a rainforest, indicators can’t literally represent the character and essence of an industry.

Narratives that engage the imagination have the power to persuade, motivate and bring the imagination to life. Stories that are based on archetypes and myths, are accessible analogs to the unfolding progression of an industry that even a layperson can understand, making them very useful for sales, marketing and investor stories. They can act as a mnemonic device for easy recall of vital insights and for faster engagement with difficult subject matter; it’s a lot easier to remember characteristics of Thomas the Tank Engine, than recall qualities of the commuter train you may have caught to work this morning.

Almost every industry has its story of the underdog, and every industry has a relationship to its predecessors; analogous to archetypal familial relations. If we can isolate the “parental” figures of an industry, we can deduct potential trends that the industry might go through. Does the industry have a healthy relationship with its predecessors? If not, then we can start looking for hints as to how this will manifest, i.e. an industry that underwent an “abandonment” process with its predecessors could, just as a human, attempt to aggressively emancipate itself and act hostile towards it’s perceived negligent predecessors. This narrative is somewhat similar to the story of the energy sector, of which the incumbent players (which could be analogous to parental figures) are actively trying to control and re-assert dominance on the new entrants (the children) embodied by renewable energy, which is attempting to emancipate itself from the “dirty” associations of it’s parents and the past. Renewable energy and traditional energy have a tenuous relationship which can be traced back to renewable energie’s infancy.

Industry Alignment

Depending on your approach to reality, there exists multiple valid modes of understanding how the self can be represented. Maybe you understand the self as a combination of mental, emotional, spiritual and physical activity, or if you lean towards the spiritual spectrum you could see a distinction between the spirit, soul and body. Jungian psychoanalysis uses an assumption that the self has a presence in dimensions of the psyche including the collective unconscious, individual unconscious, and conscious dimensions. Even hardcore materialists have a model of understanding the self as multiple forms and would agree there is a “phemonenological experience” which seems distinct from the physical world of causality; or a mind-body split. With few exceptions, (e.g. some monism philosophies) most of us believe that there is some distinction between different layers or realms of our existence.

Psychoanalysis attempts to understand the self in these different dimensions of activity and draw conclusions based on whether the activities in each classification of self are aligned with each other. For instance if a person was described as being passive aggressive, they could be said to have a misalignment between their internal and external states, or if a person was emotionally sad but expressing happiness they would have a misalignment between their emotional and physical presence.

Just as an individual can be assessed, by applying an animist approach to industry analysis, we can also assess whether an industry is visibly “behaving” in accordance with its authentic will or emotional and mental states. Of course analogies need to be applied here, as with all of the outcomes of psychoanalyzing an industry, but with this insight into an industry we can predict if an industry is going to start drifting towards specific “behaviors” based on assessing whether there is a misbalance between its multiple aspects of existence. Whatever an industry is repressing, or ignoring will manifest in other areas of it’s existence like an individual I.e. We can determine that a person who is exhibiting a mental state of anger, but not expressing it physically, will end up stressed and experiencing an internal directed anger and unproductivity, and may project their anger that is caused at work onto another aspect of their life.

An industry, from an animist perspective is no different; they could start cannibalizing themselves if frustrations are left unchecked - or they could start becoming toxic towards end users. E.g. When the printer industry felt threatened and couldn’t compete against the new digital forms of communication, it started exhibiting irrational behaviors and features like planned obsolescence in printer cartridges and hardware components. These types of events could be predicted if we could see that a disharmony had developed in the industry, and there was no rational outlet for it to constructively process the threat of new entrants. Irrationality is a function of disharmony and misalignment.


Comparing typical industry analytic frameworks (PESTLE, SWOT, 5 Forces) with the psychoanalytic framework

Analytic frameworks in the current dominant paradigm of business analysis treat industries as non-sentient abstractions, and analysis itself as a process of uni-directional observation, i.e. the observed doesn’t generally have a “sense” that it is being observed. Causality is generally considered as a one way process and ideas are reduced to their function or utility rather than living things.

Analysis in an animist paradigm is a bidirectional process, where the observed is also the observer and vice versa. The psychoanalysis of industries I propose allows for an industry to “engage” and communicate with the analyst in a dynamic and responsive environment. I’m not promoting that psychoanalysis of industries replace existing methods of analysis, but be used in conjunction with them. Traditional analytic models have their strengths in providing precision based predictions, and empirical metrics which benefits from the empirical emphasis of our era.

Below is the comparison of the animist perspective and current dominant reductionist paradigm of industry analysis. They both have their place in a well rounded analytical approach.

Benefits of applying an animist ontology to industry analysis

Multiple Ontologies

Using another ontological perspective (animist) to analyze an industry has obvious benefits; the more data, and diversity in perspective, the greater the outcomes. An analyst may find insights that others have not picked up by restricting themselves to one ontology. It can also be difficult for competitors to predict what you are doing, if they are only using one ontology to analyze your decisions

Cases where there is limited empirical data available

Since psychoanalysis is mostly a qualitative process, if an industry is only just emerging and has only been around for a short time, or if the industry is small and data doesn’t exist, employing a framework which is only dependent on rational attributes of the analyst rather than data is an advantage.

If industry empirical data is limited or expensive to come by, then the psychoanalytic model can be used for generating a hypothesis, much like narrowing down on where a problem in an industry may lie, to then explore where investment should be made in finding data to prove/disprove the hypothesis. Then traditional frameworks can be used in later stages to integrate the precision function of analysis.

More accessible outcomes

As mentioned above, accessing an industry's rich narrative can become the foundation of story building to sell to the public and laypeople, rather than relying on terms which require a basic understanding of business analysis.

More adaptable scope

Traditional analytical frameworks define the scope of analysis from the outset; e.g. PESTLE encourages the analysis of political, economic, social, technological, legal and environmental factors. While it can be useful if a model defines the scope, so that analysts using the model don’t have to ask the question of what they should be looking for from the outset; this has the disadvantage of being limited if you wanted to understand the holistic effect of an industry on factors outside of the scope, i.e. the spiritual effects, influences on consciousness and phenomenological effects of an industry; aspects which can’t be defined by a materialist paradigm.


Less empirically oriented

In our certainty focussed era, precision and accuracy are more celebrated than intuitive insight. As a result it can be more difficult to sell the outcomes which rely on alternative ontologies, or the outcomes could be seen as too vague or ambiguous for risky decisions. The accuracy of predictions made on psychoanalysis are only as accurate as the ability of the analyst, which if given a good analyst could prove to be more accurate than traditional models which rely on limited data. However this means that the values of the insights derived from an animist model is dependent on the credibility and skill of the analysis.

Requires a high degree of alternative skillsets

The added freedom for interpretation offered by a psychoanalytic framework creates more pressure on the analyst to define the scope themselves, which requires experience with business outcomes as well as a mastery over understanding analogies and psychoanalysis. An analyst must also be capable of drawing analogies between psychoanalysis outcomes and industry terms, which requires a high degree of creativity and business literacy (at least until progress is made on building specialized models which use an animist ontology for analyzing industry, without having to rely on psychoanalysis analogies).


Hopefully I’ve generated some additional demand for applying animist ontologies to industry analysis. I won’t go into details on the steps involved in psychoanalyzing an industry as if it were a living entity; this is provided on the websites I’ve created which are linked in my bio, where you can find the framework of 10 stages and a step-by-step guide for how to approach an idea or industry as if it were a living entity, for analytical purposes, managing innovation and inspiring creativity.

In summary:

  • Use an animist ontology, treat the industry as an intelligent organism

  • Become it’s therapist; apply the individuation process to the industry

  • Benefit from another perspective

If you have any question for how to psychoanalyze an industry I’m also more than open to any dialog on the topic, so please send through an email if you have any questions or comment below.


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