Coda: The State of Integral

Coda / August 2011

The State of Integral

Russ Volckmann

As some of you may remember I did an interview in the October 2010 issue of Integral Leadership Review with Ken Wilber on the state of integral work in the world. We (or should I say, I) only scratched the surface of this topic. The Integral Leadership Collaborative Conference should be clear evidence of this with over 50 presenters, well more than 300 participants, this online conference offers to fill the intellectual coffers of anyone interested in the subject of integral leadership as it is being applied and implemented around the world. And I do mean around the world. Presenters represent Australia, Nigeria, India, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, Mexico, Iceland the United States and other countries where people are applying integral ideas and models in leader and leadership development, as well as in leading generative change and sustainability efforts around the world.

Recently I came upon Roger Walsh’s assessment of the state of integral psychotherapy, (The Psychotherapist, Issue 48, Summer 2011, “The Advantages and Limitations of the Integral Map”). “Integral theory offers a conceptual framework that is actually a meta-theory, which integrates multiple theories from multiple disciplines. As such, it is not so much a synthesis of therapeutic theories as it is a meta-theory that draws from, and is beginning to be adopted by, diverse disciplines. In integral psychology, many schools are being encompassed.” Here Walsh clearly articulates in relation to psychology one of the key values of a more integral, integrative, transdisciplinary approach in and across disciplines. Integral theory can by used to help us develop out thinking within a disciplines, as well as point out the multiple disciplines that have methods, models and findings that are relevant for other disciplines.

As our (Sue McGregor and others) series of articles on transdisciplinarity and our book Transversity have pointed out there are numerous issues associated with such meta approaches to understanding and implementation.  The field of leadership studies, as well as leader and leadership development, are particularly suited for such meta approaches, since they, too, must draw on multiple disciplines for their viability and learning.

But what of the limitations? Walsh points out three:
It’s only a theory,
Integral is under-researched.
Integral psychology says little about the importance of feedback.

The first of these must be immediately dismissed. To say it is only a theory fails to take into account that theories guide our thinking, our meaning making and our actions. Often, this is unarticulated theory with rampant assumptions and much of its elements out of consciousness or awareness. Metatheoretical approaches such as integral theory help to bring a more systemic order tour thinking, clarity about our meaning making processes and experiences, and a wider range of choices in taking action. This is no mere role for theory.

Integral is under-researched! But with every passing day that is less and less true. At the Integral Leadership Collaborative Conference and in other conferences such as the International Leadership Association, Academy of Management, Sustainability conferences, AIDEN, to name but a few, integral is showing up, if not leading the conversations. Integral perspectives are increasingly being considered in research, witness the growing number of graduate students writing papers and dissertations in which integral plays a central role.

Sure, we have a lot more to do. And there are a lot more of us doing it. At this time in our development, if nothing else the ILC conference shows us that there is a wealth of new activity in this field.

Integral says little about feedback. Theoretically, feedback is an aspect of social and of systems theories. Thus, it should up in the lower right quadrant of the AQAL map. As the work of Bonnitta Roy and others are increasingly showing, it is also a process that interacts with all four quadrants and within all four quadrants. For me, this is an area of integral as theory that needs to be further elaborated—the role of process in our theory and in our maps. Integral has been criticized for having static maps.

I would maintain that all maps are static—at least until such time as we use technology to help us see in four dimensions, three dimensions plus time! We need to understand our world as movies with Roshomonic qualities—multiple perspectives playing out at the same time. That would help our maps be closer to life.

And we need to let go of the requirement that we replicate life with our maps. For then we would need to have maps that are life!

Here is where the developmental and evolutionary perspectives become so important. Meaning and sense making is an ongoing moving target. Understanding this is one of the great contributions of integral approaches. So, keep on doing it! In all four quadrants.

Russ Volckmann