“Keep It Loose, Joe, Keep It Loose:” Jung on Organization

Sue Mehrtens is the author of this and all the other blog essays on this site. The opinions expressed in these essays are her own and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of other Jungian Center faculty or Board members.



“Keep It Loose, Joe, Keep It Loose:”

Jung on Organization


The larger a community is… the more will the individual be morally and spiritually crushed, and, as a result, the one source of moral and spiritual progress for society is choked up. …every man is, in a certain sense, unconsciously a worse man when he is in society than when acting alone;… Any large company composed of wholly admirable persons has the morality and intelligence of an unwieldy, stupid, and violent animal. The bigger the organization, the moral unavoidable is its immorality and blind stupidity….

                                                                                                Jung (1938)[1]

When a part of a large organization, the result for individuals is “… the unavoidable destruction of his individuality in the interests of the monstrosity that every great organization in fact is.”                                   

                                                                                                Jung (1938)[2]


In a small social body, the individuality of its members is better safeguarded, and the greater is their relative freedom and the possibility of conscious responsibility.

                                                                                                Jung (1938)[3]


There is only one remedy for the leveling effect of all collective measures, and that is to emphasize and increase the value of the individual. A fundamental change of attitude (metanoia) is required, a real recognition of the whole man. This can only be the business of the individual and it must begin with the individual in order to be real. … the destruction of large organizations will eventually prove to be a necessity because, like a cancerous growth, they eat away man’s nature …   

                                                                                                Jung (1958)[4]


… as Joseph Wheelwright often told analysts, Jung also feared the usual evolving rigidities of any organization. When Wheelwright told Jung that he was forming an institute in San Francisco, Jung responded, “Keep it loose, Joe, keep it loose.”

                                                                                                John Giannini (2004)[5]


Nothing fails like success.

                                                                                                Lincoln Steffens[6]


            This essay comes at a crux point for the Jungian Center for the Spiritual Sciences. Set up as a 501c3 organization (i.e. a non-profit, tax-exempt public charity according to section 501(c)3 of the Internal Revenue Service Code), the Center in its initial creation had to develop a set of policies, procedures and principles that conform to federal law: The Center must have a Board of Directors, file tax statements annually, maintain a “public accommodation” policy free of all forms of discrimination etc. etc. After 7 years of operation, the Center is now facing a choice point: Whither the future? This essay reflects on this question from several angles: Our society’s conventional view of “success,” Jung’s attitude toward organizations and group activities, and what it might mean for an organization to conform to Jung’s admonition to Jo Wheelwright to “keep it loose.”[7]


The Conventional View of “Success”


            “Good fortune,” “ a favorable result or outcome,” “the gaining of wealth, position, or other advantage”[8]—this is how our society tends to define “success.” Given our materialism,[9] success often is thought of in terms of money, amassing a fortune, or climbing to the top of the ladder in one’s profession so as to achieve power, fame or riches. With 75% of Americans typing as Extraverts,[10] it is not surprising that our definitions externalize success: it is something “out there,” rather than being something that lies within us, and the process of deciding if one has achieved success involves a host of external criteria, e.g. promotions, raises, the better office, the higher title in the corporate hierarchy or other “perks” on the job, the bigger house, the fancy car.

            Our conventional attitude toward “success” fosters external activities, like comparing oneself to others, competing for the abovementioned “perks,” dressing for success, and acquiring status symbols, like the fancy car, designer clothes and other outer signs of having “made it.” Being external, success as mainstream society sees it is a superficial thing that encourages what Jung called a focus on “persona”—the “masks” we wear to present an image or make an impression.[11] Such masks often hide the real individual or serve to present a front for the “hollow man”[12] within.

            Jung would agree with Lincoln Steffens’ realization noted above: “Nothing fails like success.”[13] Like all great spiritual truths, this statement is a paradox.[14] How so? When your concern is to foster authenticity, external forms of success are sure to derail your efforts. If you want to achieve individuation, the very last thing you want to do is compare yourself to and compete with others—making your life “other directed,”[15] rather than inner/Self-directed. Undertaking the spiritual journey to wholeness means choosing a focus on higher, intangible criteria, not on stuff and status symbols. In this, as in so many other ways, Jung had a very different perspective from that of modern society.


Jung’s Attitude toward Organizations and Groups


            We can say the same for Jung’s attitude toward groups. As the quotes at the beginning of this essay imply, Jung was not a “joiner.” He had little regard for clubs, teams, collaborations—any form of group endeavor.[16] He grudgingly went along with Toni Wolff and some of his other students when they wanted to create the Psychology Club,[17] and he made sure it had a substantive, educational core—something more than simple socializing. He hung back for years from forming a training institute in Zurich; those in San Francisco and New York pre-date the Zurich organization.[18]

            More than just disliking group activities (which could be explained simply by Jung’s Introverted nature),[19] Jung regarded groups as pernicious—potentially dangerous or destructive to both the individual and the world. In groups people fell under the influence of others, and generally (Jung claimed) the level of consciousness of the group fell to dangerous lows.[20] Little better than an “unwieldy, stupid, violent animal” was how Jung thought of the group.[21]

            Where American society thinks “bigger is better,” Jung had exactly the opposite opinion. The bigger a group or organization got, the worse and more pernicious its influence or impact on both its members and the society in which it functioned. The “too-big-to-fail” phenomenon that we hear so much about these days would thoroughly exasperate Jung. But note his prediction above: “the destruction of large organizations will eventually prove to be a necessity because, like a cancerous growth, they eat away man’s nature …”[22] Perhaps Jung would observe what is going on now—how the fat cats control so much of American political, social and economic life—in a more sanguine way, as the prelude to a general reaction that will bring about the intentional destruction of the huge banks, massive corporations and dehumanizing organizations.

            Jung understood that the “bigger is better” mind-set is dehumanizing, that a life lived chasing money is soul-deadening, and that the typical hierarchic, rule-ridden organization crushes the spirit. He dealt with people one-on-one as much as possible, gathering groups only for Psychology Club meetings or occasional seminars. His focus was almost entirely on the individual and his/her task of individuating. By growing into the fullness of his/her being, Jung felt, the individual was the change agent, the only true source of transformation in the world.[23]

            I have always wondered about the emotional and psychological environment in Zurich in 1939, as World War II loomed evermore surely, and the Americans living around Jung recognized their days in Jung’s presence were numbered. Surely they regretted having to leave, and probably wanted to keep alive the flame that burned in Jung’s life and infused the environment around him. Was this why Joe Henderson and Jo Wheelwright decided to create a training program in San Francisco? Certainly they valued Jung’s wisdom, philosophy and methodology.[24] Perhaps they felt some sense of loyalty to Jung that might be expressed in their passing on his ideas to a younger generation? We’ll never know all their motives, but we do know Jung’s reaction: consternation.

            As the opening quote from John Giannini indicates,[25] Jung feared just what has happened: As organizations evolve they become rigid; they adopt policies and procedures; they get bigger and need more rules and regulations; they start to conform to the conventions of society—all at the expense of the flexibility and human-focus of Jung’s approach. By urging Joe and Jo to “keep it loose” Jung was trying to caution his students to keep any group endeavor as formless and disorganized as possible.[26]

            Which brings us back to the immediate situation of the Jungian Center. We are incorporated. We have an identity–legal, educational, civic, social. And we are growing, but into what? What is the proper future path for us? Another way to pose this question is: What does it mean to “keep it loose”?


A Portrait of the “Loose” Organization


            After some reflection I came to define a “loose” organization in both negative and positive ways—by what it does not have, and what it does have. Let’s begin with what would be absent.

            An organization is more likely to be able to be “loose” if it does not have lots of rules, multiple regulations, many policies and lots of administrators running around enforcing these policies. While we produced all the “boilerplate” required by law in our initial years, the Jungian Center has, until recently, been quite minimal in stating or operating via policies. I say “until recently” because, in the last year, we have encountered terribly embarrassing situations, e.g. some visiting faculty have traveled thousands of miles to teach at our Center, only to have 2 out of 10 registered students show up for class. When this happened repeatedly, I had to create a policy around pre-paid, pre-registration for courses taught by faculty traveling here from afar.[27] I don’t like making policy, and even more, having to enforce it. But, in the face of contemporary casualness (or to describe it more baldly, such rudeness), we have had to take this action.

            Another thing that allows an organization to be “loose” is the absence of financial pressure. It is not the norm in our culture for an organization to be “loose.” To be so different is a lot easier when the organization is independent financially, just as it is much easier for an individual to individuate (to go his/her own way, on his/her own terms) when he or she is independently wealthy. Having to pinch pennies or husband a meager treasury can so easily lead to falling into conformity with mainstream society, especially if the organization reaches out for support from that society. Few members of our society share Jung’s outlook, and so the risk is very great that the organization could tighten up its practices, and begin to adopt the administrative and other features of the “normal” corporation. Even more is this likely should the organization fall into debt, take out loans and then have the onerous pressure of debt service.

            External intrusions into the life of the organization are sure to follow if debt is incurred: loan applications, working with banks, accountants, possibly even lawyers, surely business persons. Other external intrusions can show up in the form of aggressive publicists, public relations specialists and consultants[28] eager to provide a host of services—all with the goal of making the organization a great “success”—always defined, of course, in the conventional terms noted earlier: bigger in size, bigger in staff, bigger in “global reach,” bigger in the “bottom line.” All of this comes at the expense of looseness.

            “Bigger” feeds big egos. The loose organization has no place for big egos. Jung understood that we are all “in the soup” together. While many in his circle venerated Jung he had no use at all for rank and dismissed the idea that the analyst was the “authority” in the analytic process.[29] When an organization is led by a big ego, you can be sure that tightness will show up because the big ego needs titles, ranks, hierarchies and employees to boss around.

            The loose organization has none of these—no titles, ranks, hierarchies and few (if any) employees. Given the complexities of American business and government, having any employee (even part-time) means all sorts of policies, procedures, the filing of reports monthly, quarterly, annually, with multiple forms, rules, regulations—a host of requirements that forecloses any possibility of being “loose.” So much for what a loose organization does not have. What should it have?

            First and foremost, in Jung’s thinking, a loose organization is small. Jung worked one-on-one. My students know well that my ideal class size is one. I share Jung’s preference for small. Why? Because small means the organization is more likely to be personal, to engage individuals, to savor the unique individuality of the person. Go bigger and so much of this personal ethos gets lost.

            “Personal” also means relationship, connecting heart-to-heart, rather than the “head trip” that is so common in most American organizations. The sharing of feelings and the resonance that should follow are more likely in a small organization that puts a premium on person-to-person encounter, of the I-Thou type (reverent, cherishing, caring).[30]

            Closely connected with the personal nature of the loose organization is its conscious fostering of an environment of safety. By “safety” I don’t mean only physical safety (no slippery floors, torn carpets, rickety stairs etc.) but psychological safety. There are very few places in our society that are psychologically safe: where people know they will not be judged, criticized, compared to others, held to external standards or in other ways hurt or upset. A loose organization, as I think Jung meant the term, means a place that cherishes people, loves them into their greatness, and offers a gentle, yet firm containment for their explorations into the inner life.

            A loose organization is also informal, with a “flat” organizational structure—no bosses, no power trips, no grand schemes or ego-boosting endeavors. No room for “The Donald”[31] here! No “edifice complexes,”[32] thank you! Just modest people seeking deeper contact with the Self (the inner divine energy that lives within each of us) in a group endeavor that suits this purpose.

            Jung knew this spiritual endeavor required a very different form from our cultural norm. By urging Joe and Jo to “keep it loose” he was trying to impress upon them the need to keep in the forefront of their work an understanding that their goal would be impossible if the structure within which it was conducted became rigid, tight or like the typical organization found in mainstream society. Unfortunately every one of the Jung Institutes has succumbed to convention!

            Will the Jungian Center be able to avoid the same fate? How do we define “success”? Can we, as a formal non-profit organization in 21st century America, remain loose? These are questions that go to the core of our identity and I would hope that Jung’s wisdom will inform the choices we make at this crux point.




Baker, Kevin (2011), “Muckraker’s Progress,” The New York Times Book Review (May 15, 2011), 29.

Buber, Martin (1970), I and Thou. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.

Eliot, T.S. (1925), “The Hollow Men.” For the free text see the URL: http://allpoetry.com/poem/8453753-The_Hollow_Men-by-T_S_Eliot

Giannini, John (2004), Compass of the Soul. Gainesville FL: Center for Applications of Psychological Type.

Jung, C.G. (1971), “Psychological Types,” Collected Works, 6. Princeton: Princeton University Press

________ (1966), “Two Essays on Analytical Psychology,” CW 7. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1970), “Civilization in Transition,” CW 10. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1963), “Mysterium Coniunctionis,” CW 14. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1954), “The Practice of Psychotherapy,” CW 16, 2nd ed. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Keirsey, David & Marilyn Bates (1984), Please Understand Me. Del Mar CA: Prometheus Nemesis Pub.

Kirsch, Thomas (2000), The Jungians. London: Routledge.

Riesman, David, Nathan Glazer & Reuel Denney (1955), The Lonely Crowd. Garden City NY: Doubleday.


[1] Collected Works 7, ¶240. Hereafter Collected Works will be abbreviated CW.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] CW 10, ¶719.

[5] Giannini (2004), 480.

[6] Steffens, quoted in Baker (2011), 29.

[7] I also heard the story of Jung’s reaction to the idea of a San Francisco training program from Lynda W. Schmidt, Joseph Wheelwright’s daughter; personal communication, March 15, 2013.

[8] World Book Encyclopedia Dictionary, II, 1949.

[9] For more on the materialism of our culture, and Jung’s attitude toward it, see the essay “The Psyche is Real,” archived on this Web site.

[10] Keirsey & Bates (1984), 25.

[11] For Jung’s definition of persona, see CW 6, ¶s 800-802.

[12] Eliot (1925), I. This is the title of Eliot’s poem.

[13] Baker (2011), 29.

[14] Jung wrote at length about paradox; see CW 14, ¶s 36-103.

[15] The concept of directedness—tradition-directed, inner-directed, and other-directed—is David Riesman’s; Riesman, Glazer & Denny (1955).

[16] Giannini (2004), 479-480.

[17] CW 10, ¶887.

[18] Kirsch (2000), xxiii, 66. The institute in Zurich was founded in 1947. The institutes in San Francisco and New York were established in 1946, building on the more informal programs the Americans had developed in the early 1940’s.

[19] Giannini (2004), 479.

[20] CW 7, ¶240.

[21] Ibid.

[22] CW 10, ¶719.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Wheelwright valued Jung’s work so highly that he went to medical school when Jung made that a requirement for his taking Wheelwright on as a student; personal communication with Lynda Schmidt.

[25] Giannini (2004), 480.

[26] In her father’s recollections, Jung told him to keep it loose and “as disorganized as possible;” personal communication with Lynda Schmidt, March 15, 2013.

[27] For a written statement of this policy see the 2013 edition of the Jungian Center catalog.

[28] I have had many of these types contact me over the years, all of them eager to transform the Jungian Center into a “major global player” on the personal growth scene. I would listen to their pitches politely and then assure them that they had not the slightest idea what the Jungian Center was about.

[29] CW 16, ¶2.

[30] For a full description of the I-Thou relationship, as distinct from the I-It, see Buber (1970).

[31] I.e. Donald Trump, real estate mogul and television celebrity.

[32] Trump built Trump Tower in Manhattan, in a sterling example of the “edifice complex,” a pun I could not resist coining, inspired by Freud’s more famous Oedipus complex. Meeting as we do in borrowed facilities, the Jungian Center has no edifice complex.

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