In the late 1970s and into the 1990s it seemed that more and more people were being drawn to some study of physics, quantum mechanics, chaos and complexity theories. We were reading The Tao of Physics. This led us to David Bohm (with and without Krishnamurti), Niels Bohr, Heisenberg, Feynman, Glick, Sheldrake and on and on. It seemed that every nuance of these new sciences held promise that we would find new ways of understanding, being and doing in our own development and that of society, culture, and organizations. Ralph Stacey and Jeff Goldstein were early contributors to this work. And they have continued with a focus on complexity theory with folks like Jim Hazy, Mary Uhl-Bien and others. The work of Danah (pronounced “Donna”) Zohar was significant through her books like The Quantum Self, The Quantum Society, and the ones she co-authored with her husband Ian Marshall on Spiritual Intelligence and Spiritual Capital. Currently her work includes trainings in quantum leadership.
Russ: Danah, I am delighted to have the chance to talk with you. I read your Quantum Self in the early 1990s and have been intrigued by some of the work you’ve done. I’ve not read your most recent work on leadership, but I look forward to learning about that..
Danah: The Spiritual Capital book would probably be your favorite. That’s really my best book — well there are two on leadership: Rewiring the Corporate Brain and Spiritual Capital. But they’re both good actually. The last one catches you up with my thinking today on that subject.
Russ: The Quantum Self was certainly an important book. One of the things that you close with in that book is the idea of a quantum world view. Could you say what you mean by that?
Danah: Yes, I mean a quantum paradigm. In other words, the whole of our cultural sense, the scientific revolution going back to the late 16th century focused on Newton’s work in the 17th century, had a deep impact on thinking in every other field for the next 300 years right up to this day. So when we talk about Newtonian physics, that’s just physics. But there’s something that everybody is talking about now – the mechanistic paradigm, the Newtonian paradigm. That’s the way of thinking about psychology, society, economics and management in terms of the same categories, concepts and idea structures that form Newtonian physics. Thus, Freud always wanted to be the Newton of psychology; John Stewart Mill who helped to write liberal political philosophy and capitalism said that he owed everything that he ever knew to the incomparable Mr. Newton.
Fredrick Taylor, the management thinker, was consciously very influenced by Newton. Modern cognitive science is still very influenced by the Newtonian paradigm. Everything is just material; we are just mind machines.
Consciousness is an illusion because it doesn’t fit into the paradigm. It’s through fundamental shifts in science that heralds fundamental shifts in culture, though it may take 100, 200 years to catch up. The fundamental shift in physics was at the beginning of the 20th century with the discovery of the atom, the splitting of the atom and eventually quantum physics, which was mathematically formulated in 1927. This actually describes the fundamental categories of causality, perception, and relationship, David Bohm’s work on implicate order and explicate order, the wave function and our world and so on.
Fundamental shifts in the sciences influenced me in a very strong way as a teenager and are now beginning to seep into the general culture. There is a whole new way to think about psychology, society, economics, leadership, and spirituality from a quantum perspective. A quantum paradigm is emerging. It’s not quantum physics itself that addresses these things. It doesn’t! It talks about elementary particles. But Newton wasn’t talking about all these things, either. He was just talking about particles and forces.
What is important is the way these scientific thoughts seep into the general consciousness and form a whole cultural paradigm. That’s what I think is now happening with this shift from the Newtonian or mechanistic paradigm to what could easily be called a quantum paradigm.
Russ: What was the path that brought you to quantum physics? Are you a physicist by training?
Danah: Yes, I read physics and philosophy at MIT. As a child, I had two passions: God and astronomy. I had an astronomy club in one of my grandmother’s spare chicken coops in the Ohio countryside. I went to the local country Methodist church with my grandparents every Sunday and was seriously into Jesus. By the age of 11, I had really begun to lose my faith in Christianity. I was quite lost for two years. My grades fell; I just seemed to be drifting. Then I discovered the atom at 8th grade science class and never looked back.
The atom led to nuclear physics, which then led to quantum physics. By the age of 15, I was reading quantum physics textbooks. Being a teenager with all the teenager’s normal angst and questions, I found myself without realizing it framing life’s big question in terms of quantum ideas. I got to MIT when I won a scholarship in physics, because I was one of those American childhood gadget scientific whiz kids. We have the National Science Fair, which used to be called the Westinghouse Talent Search. It’s something else now. But I won all those prizes and got to meet President Kennedy.
I had an atomic accelerator, a cloud chamber and a bubble chamber in my bedroom and was smashing atoms night and day and all that. I was a real monster case. Then I went to MIT with a scholarship in physics. Within the first year at MIT realized that what really interested me wasn’t being a practicing physicist, but more working out the philosophical implications of what was going on in physics. While it was unheard of at that time, MIT allowed me to do a double degree in philosophy and physics. Then I went on to grad school at Harvard and did three years PhD work in philosophy, religion and psychology.
Russ: When was that? What years?
Danah: I was at MIT 62 to 66 and Harvard 66 to 69.
Russ: While you were doing that, I was at Berkeley.
Danah: That was the place to be in the 60s. I envy you. Our student revolutions were very mild compared to yours. What did you read at Berkeley, Russ?
Russ: Political science. I was a South Asia area specialist.
Danah: Fascinating! That was foresightful of you because it’s all the thing now.
Russ: You did a dissertation at Harvard, yes?
Danah: I didn’t finish my PhD, so I didn’t do a dissertation. My books are kind of my dissertations.
Russ: Who were some of the major influences on you at Harvard?
Danah: Eric Ericson was a very strong influence. I still remain strongly under the influence of two of my MIT professors: Bert Dreyfus who went to Berkeley and Sam Todes, who went to Northwestern. Todes didn’t have a big reputation because he never wrote his great book – but he was a brilliant philosopher. Both were in phenomenology and existentialism. I greatly preferred that to analytical philosophy.
At Harvard I worked with Stanley Cavell who was the Wittgenstein and Heidegger man there. I got a failing grade in Christian Theology from Rheinhold Niehbur’s son Richard for declaring that the only true way to become a Christian is to become a Jew. He felt that I should apply my wide ranging imagination in something other than Christian theology and failed me in the course.
At that point I converted to Judaism, being true to my own beliefs, and went off to live in Israel. I was a research fellow graduate student at Hebrew University for a couple of years, but I didn’t pay much attention to my studies. I got preoccupied with left wing pro-Palestine politics and started writing and journalism while in Israel. It was a very good transition time for me. I never thought about quantum physics for years until I met my husband when I was 31. He was a psychiatrist with a very strong background in physics and mathematics from Oxford. He was babbling on for seven years about quantum physics and consciousness. I thought why doesn’t he write about psychotherapy? What is he on about? Who cares?
Russ: Your husband’s name?
Danah: Ian Marshall, I wrote all my books with him.
Russ: Was he teaching at Oxford at the time?
Danah: No, he was a practicing psychiatrist. He earned his living with psychiatry and psychotherapy. But he gave lectures at Oxford on quantum physics to various seminars and was fully respected as a member of the physics community in Oxford. He was a very brilliant man. He is dead now.
Russ: I’m sorry.
Danah: Anyway, I had to go into hospital for major surgery after my second child was born. I was under anesthetic for five hours. When I began to come out of the anesthetic, the thought occurred to me straight away that if Ian is right, that changes absolutely everything. I wrote nonstop the outline of the Quantum Self, a subject I had not consciously been thinking about up to that time. The only books around on quantum philosophy provided a few strands. There was, of course, Fritzjo Capra”s The Tao of Physics, which broke the mold because Capra was the very first to say something about how quantum physics relates to something outside the laboratory, in his case Eastern philosophies. David Bohm, the famous quantum physicist from the 20th century who worked with Einstein and Robert Oppenheimer and then lived here in Britain, was writing in his quantum physics text book back in the early 50s that there were striking similarities between the way quantum systems behave and the way that human consciousness behaves. He said that there seems to be more than mere coincidence and that the basis for a connection should be pursued.
That was in my subconscious since I read his book at 15, but that experience on waking from the anesthetic brought it to the fore again. I suddenly understood what my husband had been babbling on about. The only precursors to Bohm were the founding fathers of quantum physics, themselves, particularly Wolfgang Pauli who had a very close working relationship with Jung. He felt that you really couldn’t complete physics without psychology and you couldn’t really have a good psychology without physics, and he meant quantum physics. Schrödinger, in his famous book, What is Life talks about life in terms of quantum physics. These are the only precursors to the Quantum Self that I know about.
I wished at first to relate it to psychology, a model of the self and the various things I wrote about in that book. It was a first for that kind of thing. There were then, after it was published, a whole industry of follow-on books. So now there is a whole literature – much of it is not very good – but there’s a whole literature now on quantum this, that and the other – everything from quantum soup to quantum sex. These days quantum has come to mean cool.
Russ: Then there were the people working around that time who were focusing on the application to organizations and development and change like Jeff Goldstein, Glenda Eoyang, and Ralph Stacy. Goldstein moved his work more towards complexity theory, later.
Danah: I’ve come to think it’s a blend of complexity theory and quantum thinking that is relevant to leadership ideas. But there is a very fascinating scientific bridge between complexity and quantum physics that I think is particularly applicable with organizations: This is what systems complexity biologists call complex adaptive systems. These are living systems; all living systems are complex adaptive systems. They can be thought of as living quantum systems.
Russ: Which is why people started to read authors like Rupert Sheldrake and others at that time, as well.
Danah: Sheldrake taught the fringe of this, but he didn’t know about the complexity theory yet. He concentrated more on the morphogenic field idea. But Sheldrake is playing the same ball game intuitively and indeed he got his idea from a paper my husband published on resonance phenomena and consciousness back in 1960. Only Sheldrake thought Ian was dead. He was very surprised to find that he was alive when we published the Quantum Self!
He only acknowledged Ian on the last footnote on the last page, which caused some bitterness. But even my husband back in 1960 was thinking about things like the Sheldrake book of resonance phenomena and fields. A lot of that now makes sense in terms of modern quantum field theory and complex adaptive systems, but neither my husband nor Sheldrake knew complexity theory – it’s newer than that. Ian certainly knew about quantum science and was inspired by that. But I think it’s only been since the Quantum Self was published that general kind of movement began to understand consciousness as somehow possibly linked to quantum activity in the brain.
We now know there is quantum biology. Very serious people think there is some kind of link between quantum physics and consciousness, but it’s not clear what it is yet. But these complex adaptive systems are a bridge between the two and leadership, because after all organizations are living systems. They are not machine systems as Taylor thought; they are living organic systems. Complex adaptive systems bring the properties of quantum phenomena into living systems. So, as I said, they can be thought of as living quantum systems. They are called complex systems, so there is a link between the two. My later work has focused on this and I present these ideas in Spiritual Capital.
Russ: There are two things then that are particularly of interest here. One is how you evolved your work into the whole idea of spiritual intelligence – you started publishing about that in 2000 – and then how you brought that work into complex adaptive systems, particularly in relation to leadership. So spiritual intelligence is, these days, a more current term than was the case when you and Ian were writing about it.
Danah: Oh, yes. My book was the first on spiritual intelligence, but now it’s quite a big field of interest. There have been dozens of follow-on books by others SQ, as I call it, is now used quite a bit in management and leadership thinking.
Russ: In your work on spiritual intelligence, you and Ian had a dozen principles that you had developed. Cindy Wigglesworth has 21 practices around spiritual intelligence in her more recent work. But the thing that interests me is your discussion of the relationship between cognitive intelligence or IQ, emotional intelligence or EQ and spiritual intelligence or SQ. Could you talk about that a little bit?
Danah: I can talk both personally and intellectually about it and both are my interests. I told you when we started that I had two major passions as a child, God and science, I never dropped the God stuff; I felt I could find it in some religion. So while I continued with my philosophy of physics, I also serially trawled the world’s religions looking for my spiritual home. I became first a Quaker, then a Unitarian, then a Jew, then a Buddhist. At some point along this line I had children who were exposed to all these journeys. They turned to me one day and asked, “Mommy, which is true? The Christians say Jesus is God and the Jews say Jesus is not God and the Buddhist say there isn’t a God at all. We’re confused, Mommy. What’s true?” I always try to answer my children honestly and I found I couldn’t give a clear answer to this. I didn’t want to say, “Well the one we belong to now.”
This led me to starting to think about my own spiritual odyssey. Why was I trawling through all these great roads of religion? What was I looking for? Then Daniel Goleman’s book came out on EQ. I know the real work was done by Demacio, but Goldman’s book is what broke the mold and brought Demacio’s research to public attention.
Russ: It is an excellent report.
Danah: It’s well written. It’s written at a level people can read. Demacio is probably a far more brilliant scientist, but he isn’t a very good writer. So the Goleman book really broke the mold and, of course, affected me deeply. I thought about it a lot. I thought, “Well, you know, he attributes some things to emotional intelligence that aren’t really just emotion. Other things that he doesn’t talk about in emotional intelligence do exist in our intelligence framework.” I was also very influenced by Victor Frankl in Man’s Search for Meaning, I felt that I didn’t find what you would call in its broadest terms a spiritual dimension. Then I realized there is a further intelligence, spiritual intelligence.
SQ is involved with our pursuit of meaning, our need for a sense of higher purpose, a need for an overall context to our lives – kind of an overarching myth, if you like, something that makes sense of it all and will hold it all together. Ian and I were talking a lot about three kinds of thinking at the time – rational thinking, emotional thinking and quantum thinking – what would these be like if we were to think with quantum concepts and quantum categories. I just suddenly had this flash of an idea that this quantum intelligence is a spiritual intelligence in that when you’re doing quantum work, you do have to think of why you’re doing the experiment and the affect of this conscious intention on the outcome of the experiment.
Consciousness and our sense of purpose are closely bound in the fundamentals of the science. Quantum cosmology has given us this whole story of the universe, from the quantum vacuum to us. I hadn’t gone as far as I have right now; I will just jump ahead for one second and go back. I’m now writing a book called Finding God within Physics: A new quantum spiritual vision for our times in which I’m really developing more ideas on this. But to go back, even at that time, I thought spiritual intelligence is somehow quantum intelligence. So then I looked for what might be the dynamic transformation principles of spiritual intelligence. I found it natural to look for them in the properties of complex adaptive systems.
There are ten striking characteristics of complex adaptive systems, including dialogue with the environment, self-organizing, creative use of genetic mistakes (so called), being holistic, things like these. I worked out the conscious equivalent to those. I turned self-organizing into self-awareness and the use of genetic mistakes into positive use of diversity and so on. I derived ten of my twelve principles of SQ from those properties. That’s the link with quantum. It’s seeing complex adaptive systems as living quantum systems. Then I added humility and sense of compassion, because they seemed to me absolutely necessary to an authentic spiritual life. That’s where I got my twelve principles. They are, in fact, principals of quantum intelligence in other times.
Russ: Then there is the relationship between the spiritual, the intellectual and the emotional. You see the spiritual as foundational. Is that because it is at the heart of the meaning making system?
Danah: It is the heart of the meaning making system in the spiritual terms of SQ. Of course, then it’s the meaning of life, the meaning of what I’m doing. You know, existential meaning. But there are equivalents in neuroscience.
Danah: There are phenomena in neuroscience that tie into all of this. They’ve discovered the things that bind the brain together are oscillations across the brain going at 40 Hertz or 40 cycles per second. All conscious systems – interestingly enough even a piece of tissue, a living tissue put in a Petri dish – are oscillating at 40 Hertz. A lot of people speculate that these might be the oscillations of the quantum field across the brain. Like everything else about the brain at the moment, that’s speculative. But it is one of the major strands of thought. Those 40 Hertz are at the basis of just simple concept formation. We take the millions of sensory data coming into our brain every second and bind them into some of the objects, concepts, purposes and so on. Even our IQ, which of course deals with concepts and abstract ones at that, is drawing on this 40 Hertz, possibly quantum intelligence or spiritual intelligence.
I’d rather call it quantum where it applies to IQ and EQ and call it spiritual when it applies to the existential domain. But I think scientifically and neurologically it’s probably all the same phenomenon and that it is some fundamental basis to our consciousness, whether our consciousness is expressed as IQ, EQ or SQ.
Russ: At one point you suggested that spiritual intelligence is foundational.
Danah: Yes. Well, I think I may be confusing you because I’m still working this out. I think I want to say that quantum intelligence is foundational and its spiritual component is spiritual intelligence. Its intellectual component is IQ; its emotional component is EQ, because you see this binding together in the brain – and it all has to do with what has been called “the binding problem” in the brain. Fifteen years ago there were all kinds of wild theories, because neuroscience had no solid idea how it is that we could take these millions of data per second bombarding us and form it into an organized world and an organized system of thought. The brain is all interconnected, but nothing neurological connects the brain across the whole brain. Then, it was Wolfe Singer who did the major research on this and he discovered that there is this oscillating field sweeping across the brain and that it unites all neuro activity in the brain.
This is proper science; this isn’t speculation. This has been tested and written about in hundreds of research papers. Now we do know that this 40 Hertz oscillatory field somehow unites our conscious field for us. That is what I have been proposing as a quantum field, and other people do, too. In which case you can say that quantum field is a kind of binding intelligence or pattern making intelligence, meaning making intelligence, that then expresses itself in all the brain’s capacities.
Russ: One of the things that really impressed me about your work is the fact that you included attention not just to the individual but also to the collective. You are not excluding them. You are seeing them both as critical variables. Could you say a little about that?
Danah: Yes, that is quite critical to this whole quantum view of things. In quantum physics you have probably heard that everything is both wave-like and particle-like.
Danah: But the mainstream quantum physics has had massive trouble bridging the gap between the wave and the particle aspect that shows itself on our level of reality. Why does the Schrödinger wave function, which is a wave of potentialities, infinite potentiality, suddenly become one thing, a particle? It’s called the measurement problem or the collapse of the wave function problem. Nobody has got an answer to it.
There are five main theories of how it happens, One of the two most interesting is the so called Many Worlds theory – that the wave function doesn’t collapse every time there is a bifurcation or choice made with the Schrödinger wave function. Instead, it all happens, each possibility in its own universe. So there are infinity universes out there and every time you make a decision there is a different Russ Volckmann now in a different universe, because there is another Russ Volckmann who didn’t make that decision and so it keeps bifurcating.
I think this is a bit mad. It’s certainly metaphysically mad; it just doesn’t come to anything interesting. The other interesting theory that is coming back into vogue because of new experimental evidence, is David Bohm’s theory about the implicate and the explicate orders. Have you heard off that?
Russ: Yes, absolutely.
Danah: Okay. The implicate order is essentially the level of reality of the Schrödinger wave function. The explicate order is the order of our material world, particles as it were.
Now for Bohm, there isn’t some radical border. For him the wave function doesn’t collapse. Rather. An aspect of the wave function peaks in a peak of energy. So here at the top of the peak you have a particle or what passes for a particle, it has a lot of characteristics of the particles. But for Bohm, the implicate aspect of the wave function still exists as possibilities that are pregnant within the particle. The implicate order continues to exist within the explicate order, the wave in the particle.
Danah: So I am Danah Zohar sitting here right now talking to Russ Volckmann on an Apple Macintosh computer. That potential to be other people with other characteristics and other thoughts is there in the incarnate me. For Bohm. this explained the problem of the so called action at a distance, because you know in non- locality particles seem to be linked across space and time even though no signal could possibly have passed between them. Bohm saw this as easy: they are not separate photons.
The photon is the peak here and there is another photon that is the peak there. But there is a wave spanning out and the waves overlap and that’s why the particles are correlated.
That’s where I got my notion of the wave aspect of the self and the particle aspect of the self. I am developing that much further in the book that I am writing now, because I understand it better. It has implications for relationships, which I did see in the quantum self, but also implications for identity, immortality or plausible immortality, because the Schrödinger equation, the wave aspect of myself is immortal. It’s eternal, it’s outside time and yet the particle aspect of me is clearly in time and I will die.
When I die, I don’t just disappear. It’s just that that the wave spreads out again and then it will go along. Now this happens in physics laboratories. I am also suggesting it happens to us. It goes along for a while, implicate. and then it peaks again. So Danah Zohar who peaked over here and then died emerges again not as Danah Zohar, maybe as a man this time, maybe as another type of being or something – God knows what – but as another of my potentialities. But I, Danah Zohar from here, I am still in the wave of whatever becomes in the next life.
This does happen in a laboratory. Particles go back into the implicate order, come up again in the explicate order. But while in the explicate order, they are influencing you and you are influencing them, too. This is called backward causation. There is never any split between past, present and future really in terms of the being of particles. Since everything in the universe has a wave function, including the universe itself, you and I have wave functions. Why isn’t it possible that we peak, so called die, but really just become implicate again, peak again and so on.
Russ: With theories of reincarnation of one variation or another they seem to attach what I would have called a sense of ego to…
Danah: No, Russ. The ego self is just the particle aspect of the self. The wave aspect is the so called capital S self and it has no ego. It’s pure potentiality.
Danah: I only have an ego when I am here [at the peak-Ed.], incarnate in space and time and have projects, personal relationships, hang-ups and all the rest that constitutes me. The wave function doesn’t have an ego. That’s why people are going to be disappointed by my model. Roger Penrose and Stewart Hammeroff have come up with the same model recently and published it, (so I am not the only nutcase out there thinking about it). Some quite big physicists are thinking about it. But people who want to live in the next life will be very disappointed by this theory. And as my seven year old grandson said while I tried to explain it to him, “But Nana, I want to come back as me. I want to be Kai again.” Now that’s the ego saying look, let me hang on here. I will go to a next life if you like, but let it be me. Well, you won’t be.
Russ: Do you have any sense of when your new book will be published?
Danah: It has to be finished in January 2015, which means it will be probably published in the autumn of 2015.
Russ: We will be looking forward to that. I want to ask about a couple of specific things before talking with you about leadership. When I was looking through your work, I was looking for evidence of interest in adult development psychology. I have been fascinated by the work of Loevinger, Cook-Greuter, Tolbert, Perry, Clare Graves, Don Beck, Michael Commons and other models of adult development.
Danah: I haven’t heard of anyone of those people. I can’t read them all, but tell me the most important one or two to read.
Russ: Okay. I will give you one author and one book. Robert Kegan, he is at Harvard. One of his books is In Over Our Heads. And then the other book is by Beck and Cowan and it’s called Spiral Dynamics.
Danah: I know that book very well.
Russ: That’s the work of Graves. People like Don Beck and others associated with his approach are accomplishing remarkable thins in organizations, communities and socieities, internationally. If you know the book very well, how do you see it fitting in with the approach you are taking?
Danah: I haven’t been able to make much sense of Spiral Dynamics, frankly. Some people who read my work think there is a crossover. Some Spiral Dynamics people even got in touch with me. I forget his name now, but there is somebody – it’s not Beck himself but one of Beck’s proteges who works in leadership. He wanted me to do joint programs with him for the Young Presidents Association, YPA, on combining quantum thinking and Spiral Dynamics.
I looked at it for a long time because it was a big contract and I just couldn’t see it myself, Russ. I just can’t get into Spiral Dynamics.
Russ: Do you see value in looking at adult developmental processes?
Danah: I see developmental process.
Russ: Right, but you don’t see patterns in them…
Danah: I can’t link it to all these colors of consciousness they’ve got.
Russ: The other area I noticed was that in your early work you make reference to some of the work of Ken Wilber, particularly his holographic model. I know you have read Sex, Ecology and Spirituality. I am wondering if you have kept up at all…
Danah: I haven’t read that one.
Russ: It’s referenced in one of your books.
Danah: I probably picked something out of it that my husband referenced and I quoted it, but I haven’t read the book.
Russ: Okay. I was just curious if you had followed up on the work of Ken Wilber at all, because it’s another effort at putting together a Meta model.
Danah: Wilber’s work for the most part derives from Aurobindo.
Russ: Yes, among others.
Danah: I prefer to get that through Aurobindo himself and do my own stuff with it, to what Wilber does with it. I think Wilber is a very interesting author, but his foundation is Aurobindo and I read Aurobindo directly. I like the Synthesis of Yoga very much, which is this big book on synchronizing models and levels of consciousness. But yes, I am very into that.
Russ: Okay. Then let’s talk about this whole concept of leadership, because I know that your work currently involves quite a bit of activity with business and government working with people around ideas of leadership.
Danah: Yes, most of my work is speaking engagements and consulting work is concerned with that.
Russ: I want to offer a working hypothesis, before we get into that. That working hypothesis is that one of the big problems with the whole field of leadership – leadership studies, leadership development – is language. The terms are conflated – leadership, leader, leading – in such a way that people can talk about anything and claim it’s any of the other things and we have no distinctions among them.
Danah: I am afraid that’s a cultural problem across the board. Language is becoming meaningless.
Russ: In my work I try and use them, make distinctions among the three saying that we cannot get into definition. We have to stay with distinctions unless we are dealing with a particular context. So, leadership for me is the context of the individual and the collective, the implicate and the explicate if you will. Leader is a role, which is a set of expectations held by people who step into that role, as well as what other stakeholders have for people who step into that role. The constellation of expectations will depend on the context, including the sets of stakeholders.. Leading is what people do when they step into that role. It can vary considerably – be effective in one sense, in one context and not another and so on. So I just want you to know that that’s a framework in my mind when I talk about these things.
Danah: I agree, but I think it’s fair. I mean I haven’t used this term before, but what you say makes me think of the clear implication on my work about SQ and quantum leadership, The notion that you are calling the context could equally be described as a field of meaning. This is to say that the people working together in an organization and indeed the organization as a whole at some levels, share a field of meaning. Then that would be coming at the importance of spiritual intelligence or meaning intelligence.
The field of meaning can be dark and disturbing and chaotic, it can also be positive and inspiring and motivational. My work points very similarly to what you are saying, in the sense that the leader is, if you like, that Bohmian peak, the field of the meaning that the whole organization is caught up in. So his own or her own authenticity and sense of meaning and so on affects the whole organization.
That’s why when you get a very charismatic leader like Walsh or Jobs their personality just completely suffuses the organization. I think this happens less dramatically with less dramatically charismatic leaders in all organizations. You get a bad CEO and an organization can just fall apart, and that isn’t just because finances are going bad or things are piling up or something. It’s not just practical inefficiency. I think the practical problems in these organizations emerge from the fact that the whole field of meaning of the organization is somehow askew.
That’s a new thought, thanks to you. That’s why dialogue is so creative because friends feed creatively off each other.
Russ: When we are talking about managing of organization we are talking about dealing in those elements you were just referring to, but when we are talking about the leadership of an organization I would guess we are often seeing leadership show up in multiple peaks of the wave, if you will. There are multiple waves. So in any complex system you are going to have over time individual multiple occurrences of leading happen.
When we focus on developing leadership, we are talking about both the individual and the collective. When we are talking about developing individuals to step into leader roles, we are talking about developing individuals whether or not they step into leader roles. We cannot “train” a leader; we can only develop individuals.
Danah: I am completely with you and I completely agree. I say the same thing in different terms, Russ. You are making me see better ways to articulate my work, because I run this big annual SQ and Quantum Leadership course with 20 people very year and it’s more about self development. It’s not really a training course at all. It’s about self development, because my basic feeling is that leadership is a deeply personal issue. If you haven’t done the work on yourself, you can’t possibly do it for your organization or your nation or whatever. For me leadership development is really getting these people to be more in touch with their own motivations, feelings, positive and negative qualities. I take them into some pretty deep raw stuff.
Russ: May I ask about that for a moment, because much of what passes as leadership development it seems to me is trying to train people into particular skill sets that they are suggesting are universally valid and useful. And yet it sounds like what you are doing and what the implication of the individual development piece is, is that you are introducing people to practices that they have to integrate into their lives as they evolve and develop. Is that accurate?
Danah: Absolutely. For instance I teach them all to meditate. Every morning of the course begins with mindfulness meditation. Most of the people, because they come from the business world, have never meditated before and they all will say what a powerful thing that has given them. Now meditation isn’t just some silly practice; it’s a process of self reflection and it helps to nurture a kind of reflective thinking in people. So when people come to my course, because I have mistakenly called it a training course, they expect what the first thing you said – I am going to give them some skills. They can learn to practice them; they can go away and teach them.
Now and then somebody is very disappointed with the course, because it doesn’t do that. It more puts them through an experience that I hope gives them inner skills, not just to transform themselves during five quick days, because you can’t change your life in five days, but skills of reflection, honesty, self awareness and so on that they have to hold and develop each day as they go on.
People have written back to me and said how powerfully this has worked in their lives and leadership, their family lives and their leadership roles, and where these skills have changed everything. The course has destroyed one marriage and saved another marriage, because the men who came on the course were so changed by it that in the one case the wife was delighted by the change, and in the other case the wife couldn’t live with the change.
People undergo some pretty deep changes. I tell them in the course that it was fun. But this is the beginning of a whole new style of living and cultivating it into your life, which makes you much better in relationships, empathy, teamwork, all these things that leaders need.
But you can’t teach that as skills. It’s deep inner development and it has to come with a sense of deep inner commitment.
Russ: You mentioned mindful meditation, could you share any other examples of practices that you teach or that you present?
Danah: I teach one that is my own. It may have been developed by others, but it’s original to me for me, so I will say I developed it. I call it reflective meditation or reflective practice. As I sit quietly at the end of the day. I have the fantastic option to sit for two or three hours at the end of the day, because of my lifestyle. I live alone and I am right at home and I don’t have to get to work at 7:00 in the morning.
I just sit quietly for at least half an hour. First of all just sit and feel in your body where you are a bit tense or ill at ease or something. Focus on that and think, well, what happened in my day that’s made me feel a bit seized in the stomach or has made my chest a bit tight or given me a headache? Or positively, what in my day has absolutely thrilled me or surprised me?
Then you begin a process of why: why did that upset me? Then you get an answer to that and go one layer deeper. Well, okay, that upset me because it reminded of the way my mother used to tell me off when she thought I was being a naughty child. Okay, well why did that upset me? What was I feeling? Go deeper and deeper and deeper with these just why, why, why, each time you get an answer. Say “Okay I get that, but why?”
If you are able to sit there long enough you do find that at some point you get to the bottom of the situation and you just go, “Sigh.” I personally can’t function without doing this every night at least for an hour.
When I have houseguests I make them go to bed or up to the guestroom an hour before me. My husband always went into bed at midnight, so midnight was my magic hour. That was my time to go into this questioning state. It digests your day; it clears up your day and clears up the issues that everyone of us during the day is bothered about or surprised about or affected by something.
Russ: Danah, thank you so much for your gifts. I am wondering if there is anything I haven’t asked about that you wish I had?
Danah: You have been pretty comprehensive. A good interview, I have enjoyed doing it, Russ. It’s given me some fresh ways to think of my own ideas.
Russ: Wonderful. I am glad.
Danah: It’s wonderful to be interviewed by somebody who actually is coming from somewhere, is familiar with my work and has his own point of view, because then it’s a creative dialogue and that’s always interesting.
Russ: Thank you.