Utilizing the Power of Symbols

4 min read

“The work of art mirrors itself upon the surface of our consciousness” – Wassily Kandinsky.

 

Since starting this journey with Perennial, I continue to grow myself and my craft to support organizations in their journies to cultivate thriving cultures, stand in their power, and allow themselves and their people to reach their full potential.

To do this, we build and take an integral approach to our cultures. “Integral” because it integrates and brings together disparate theories, perspectives, practices, and systems into a single coherent understanding of our organizations. Bringing what we call "Culture System Design" to life.

Taking this integral approach, we can utilize many levers of change to cultivate the culture we need to achieve our purpose.

To build my craft further, I recently completed the Scribing Essentials course led by Kelvy Bird and Jayce Pei Yu Lee to further learn how to use social art to provide a mirror that can help a social system see and sense itself, gain awareness, and engage in conscious decision-making. I also began working with a dear artist and friend of mine as we found a key lever of change within social systems being underutilized when cultivating culture - Symbols.

We are surrounded by symbols. They are present in every facet of our life experiences.

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Symbols are so powerful because they encompass meaning. They evoke profound emotions and memories; they fuel our imagination and enable us to access aspects of our existence that cannot be accessed in any other way.

They represent a way to record information and increase the longevity of ideas, concepts, and thoughts. Think of symbols as a way to build longevity into your brand and values. It is the visual language that ultimately communicates with an audience.

For example, national flags evoke passionate feelings and heroic actions. Religious symbols evoke powerful responses ranging from heightened emotions to laying down one's life. Some symbols have power for particular groups of people, and some are more universal in their nature.

Having a brief understanding of the power of symbols, I wonder how many organizations out there are utilizing the power of symbols within their companies and culture?

When I ask companies about this, I hear the typical response – It’s used within our logo and how we communicate with our customers.

Look at Nike as an example. They spend exceeding amounts on its advertising budget by building powerful meaning and emotions with its symbol, the swoosh.

Why do they do this?

Because charging a company symbol with the same meanings that move their customers is the most effective way to move customers to buy their products.

But this example is geared toward using symbols for external purposes. What about wielding this power to drive behavior and emotional responses with our people internally?

How might we co-create symbols with our people and integrate them into our daily lives and organizational rituals to bring this meaning to life? As a result, empowering our company to connect with what is most important to visual items and symbols that can be placed within the contexts of our company.

I was trying to think about the companies that have succeeded at harnessing symbols. I was talking with a group of my friends and asked them, can you think of any companies where employees would tattoo their body with its logo? The Milwaukee household name was mentioned - Harley-Davidson.

Think about that! Think about the company you are currently working for. Would you get a tattoo of their logo on your body? Are there any company symbols that you would do that?

Now, if you are leading a company and no one has tattoos of your logo, don’t worry, that’s an extreme goal to have. The Perennial Culture logo has quite the meaning attached to it for me, but I don’t think I would even do that.

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I was reading about how Endeavor America Loan Services worked on symbols to define each of their company's core values. They also place these symbols on their website, social pages, employee care packages, employee communications, and anywhere else they can manage to throw them on. They report that it helps them stay true to their core values and attract the right talent because it makes it easier for people to understand the culture.

I'm wondering how I can do a better job with the symbols I utilize for Perennial.

I have a sense that symbols should speak to your core vision. It should propel your company forward by being a visual reminder of who you are, where you are going, and what you want to stay true to as you grow.

Being able to utilize symbols to their full potential, these objects can start to truly embody your company’s life and cultural spirit. It can contain and carry forward energy. Each image we create in these culture design sessions can hold and transfer an energetic place from the source itself as long as we attach that energy to an image or artifact. It can inform an understanding of company culture and create images that will inform current and future understanding of the company, the vision, its purpose, values, and ultimately, the culture.

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(Scribing completed by Bryce Coppersmith)

To stay action-oriented and walk away from this article with some ideas on how to utilize symbols going forward, here are some questions to reflect on.

  • What are the symbols and artifacts within your team and/or company today?
  • What meaning is attached to these items?
  • What do they mean to our teams and people internally?
  • Have you asked them directly?
  • How might we invite our people into the space to co-create a more meaningful and energizing culture?
  • How might we attach this energy to symbols that can be shared and utilized in the contexts of our company?

If anything, invite your people into the room and co-create these items. Hold the space to do this with your people and ensure THEY co-create the meaning and symbols.

At Perennial, we are going to incorporate more and more live-scribing practices (see above) into our sessions to capture the meaning into images – in end, providing visual reminders your people can hold near them to carry the energy forward and bring to life a deeper, more meaningful, purposeful culture!

Your cultural scribers - 

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