Extracting the archetype

I am currently on the train having delivered a really interesting and hugely fulfilling archetype extraction workshop. Client privacy means that unfortunately I cannot share the amazing cartoons that the attendees described for my new best friend Terry of Cartoonology to draw.

The process I took them through was standard Cognitive Edge methods:

  1. Anecdote circle – to ground the topic in personal experiences and give context to the rest of the workshop
  2. Archetypal themes – which emerged from patterns identified in the material produced
  3. Future backwards – Split into two groups, again grounding but putting into words their hopes and fears as heaven and hell.
  4. Revealing perpectives – simply by allowing them to tell the story of their future backwards back to the other group.
  5. Archetypal characters – which emerged from identifying characters, their characteristics then the patterns therein.
  6. Finally Terry drew the archetypes live from the descriptions and prompts given.

Even I was amazed at the richness and quantity of material produced. The use of ambiguity in the instructions, self organisation of the groups and totally facilitator independent emergence of outputs still fascinates me and is both difficult and easy (at the same time) to deliver.

Making sense by interpreting meaning within the material is as wide as it is long.

Are we looking at the minds of the attendees or the topic being studied? Just looking at how the thinking process occurred could be a complete PhD.

Did the first anecdote, pattern the rest?

Did my inadvertent mention of Homer Simpson as an archetype (challenged immediately as an example of a stereotypical American) change the outcome? [incidentally if you wikipedia stereotypes and archetypes you find that Harry Potter is an archetypal hero portrayed in a stereotypical way in the movie]

Will a subsequent similar exercise in three months time with different attendees show a change in a) the topic, b) the attendees, or c) my more confident facilitation?

I don’t have any answers for these questions but I do know that this feels a much better way to make sense of a topic than using output based measures, questionnaires and opinionated expert review.



  1. I’m using the future backwards, heaven and hell method on Tuesday with a newly merging group and I’m nervous but hopeful as I’ve seen it work well before. thanks for introducing the method to me Ron and brilliant idea to get a cartoonist involved in the archetype work!

  2. Stephane, normally we do and the group truly make sense of their understanding themselves. For ‘larger’ events it has become more expected to use a professional cartoonist so that the results are more polished, presentable and visually appealing. The downside however is that it is inevitable that the cartoonist inputs somerthing of their own understanding/bias resulting in something not truly emergent from the group.

    You need to be careful that the lack of drawing ability does not put off the participants as their own drawing can be very simple and they might feel ‘not worthy’ of a serious business workshoip.

    In hindsight I think I am with you as the cartoon drawing section can become a little drawn out (excuse the pun) as each group waits for the availability of the cartoonist.

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