Notes from the Field: Theory and Practice, Dallas and Pleasant Hill

October 2011 / Notes from the Field

 About Spiral Dynamics, Critical Realism and Integral Theory

Lisa Jaya Waters

Lisa Jaya Waters

September was a month of interesting events: The final week of the Integral Leadership Collaborative Conference in which I played a minor role, but learned a great deal. The Spiral Dynamics Integral (SDi) Level 1 Certification with Don Beck in Dallas, TX was held September 6th – September 8th. Finally, A fascinating and inaugural, first of its kind, event within the Integral Theory field occurred at John F. Kennedy University in Pleasant Hill, CA. It was held from September 15th – September 18th, 2011.

SDi Level 1 Certification

The SDi Level 1 Certification was interesting to me as an Integral Theory Master’s Graduate. Exploring the sources Ken Wilber used in creating his metatheory designated as AQAL helps me gain a more nuanced understanding of the legs upon which AQAL stands. One of my first impressions of digging more into SDi was how much it resembles a psychological developmental model. Certainly Beck has envisioned Clare Graves work as such, spending years developing, studying, and applying SDi as a developmental model. Ken Wilber in his AQAL metatheory places SDi as the values line within AQAL’s metatheoretical schema that includes, quadrants, levels, lines, types, and states. Other examples of lines of development include: cognitive, emotional, interpersonal, spiritual, etc. After learning about SDi during the Level 1 Certification training, my first inclination was to imagine SDi being similar to (as mentioned above) a developmental model, and thus might more adequately fit within the levels aspect of AQAL. Wondering why Wilber put Spiral Dynamics as the values line in Integral Theory, I looked back at Clare Graves’ research and noticed the foundation of Graves’ theory stood on one single question used in his study. Also, Graves referred to it as a value – in my opinion, this might have influenced SDi being seen as the values line of development. Ultimately, the issue of the research standing upon only one single question of inquiry could explain why Wilber kept Spiral Dynamics as the values line and did not include it in the levels discussion.

Since this original work by Graves, it seems that a body of research has been conducted verifying those original results. It also seems that ongoing research in Germany into SDi promises to further support its developmental model orientation. SDi’s iteration resembles a developmental model so much so that I noticed SDi being evoked to describe characteristics of an altitude or level within a political line of development proposed in an article by Kevin Bowman on Integral Politics. I imagine this is not the only occasion this cross explanation has occurred in the Integral Opus – if truth be told, I myself have committed this same cross-explanatory application in several papers I have written for my master’s degree.

This leads me to a few possible conclusions: 1) We in the Integral Community need to clarify our use of Spiral Dynamics within our papers and research. Since it currently exists as the values line in AQAL metatheory, we need to be careful not to extend Spiral Dynamics out as a means of describing a worldview or altitude when referencing SDi, and 2) perhaps a closer look at research that has been conducted or even ongoing research since Claire Graves’ original study using one single question might be warranted at this juncture in the development of AQAL model passing through its own developmental phases. If a large body of research is found that corroborates using SDi as developmental model, perhaps it might call for a rethinking of Spiral Dynamics as only the values line of development.

While attending SDi level 1 certification, I was struck by the number of people using SDi in the field all over the globe and across multifarious platforms like: a) the Middle Eastern conflict, b) Business Organizational Development which includes Beck’s own work with sport’s organizations, Southwest Airlines, American Airlines, and other applications like the Wright Leadership Institute c) Adizes Institute, d) Afghanistan’s nation building, and e) Iceland. I think its applied, practice oriented accessibility across the dashboard of human configurations has something to offer to the discipline of metatheory. Metatheory struggles to express embodiment. Metatheory is thrice removed: built upon middle level theories, in turn built upon data and experiences. Imagine this scenario to help understand metatheory: you have a series of experiences; your friends have experiences; and their friends; and their friends ad infinitum. These experiences comprise “data”. From this data, middle level theories are constructed and tested and experimented. A metatheorist comes along one more level removed from the “experiences and data” and looks at all of these middle level theories and tries to determine patterns and themes running between all of these theories which were based on the pile of data and experiences on the bottom or base level.

Now arriving to my point, this complexity and levels of removal from reality can cause metatheory to theorize and vision far removed from daily experience. My argument is that for a metatheory to remain in the pulse of life and messiness of life it needs to somehow remain in direct contact with the “messiness”, with a hand’s on touch, in other words, be embodied. Thus in the paper I co-authored with Mark Edwards, Edith Friesen, and Lauren Tenney for the Integral Theory Conference 2010, my push and thrust within that effort was the embodiment, the practical experimentation, hands on dive into metatheory. SDi seems to have a powerful, applied accessibility that can serve grand metatheories like Integral Theory. Span is one source of power, depth another. Why not access both? SDi can provide a hand’s on tool for accessing that depth.

Another point that aroused my curiosity centers on how within SDi there appears to be a contextual pliability where a person or a group can move up and down the spiral based on a situation. This concept intrigues me and in my opinion, merits further research. Certainly 9/11 and the aftermath reactions and responses across the US point towards something like this contextual pliability.

In the end there were many fascinating points of discovery during this three-day intense certification training. I left the training with both personal and professional takeaways, which like AQAL model offers support both individually and collectively. Professionally, I have an additional change management and organizational developmental analysis tool to use in my change management projects. The combined wisdom of AQAL model, SDi model, and Integral Coaching Canada Coaching application gives me a loaded plate of options for problem identification and problem solving. When looking at an organization and a particular problem like high employee turnover, SDi gives me a rapid assessment tool. For example, if the majority of employees operate at a certain point on the spiral and management implements policies and programs designed for another point on the spiral, dissonance seems imminent.

Personally, I left with a powerful model that highlights a powerful understanding of conflict and problem solving that Beck has been developing and hopes to bring to the public in the future. He proposed how at the early warning signs, measures can be taken to diffuse the dissonance and shift the organization into its new modus operandi, avoiding full on disintegration before dissolving or rebuilding from the new perspective. This model of change has personal and organizational applications. Personally, our bodies, or environment, our interpersonal interactions all provide feedback and cues for us as to the health of “our system”. With a sharp awareness of the stress signals, I can identify the dissonance and choose a response that shifts me into a new mode of behavior without requiring a full system meltdown to make me change.

Concerning the concept mentioned above, that I termed contextual pliability, I also see examples in my own life where this occurs. Understanding the nature of this contextual pliability within SDi relieves the guilt and stress that can occur when I go back around my family and suddenly find myself spiraling down to a behavioral mode well below the one I left home with! For all of these points of contact, I can only offer my deepest appreciation for all who made it possible for me to attend SDi training and meet Don Beck and company…

When I think about SDi and what it means to leadership, I immediately envision CEO’s and political leaders that need to make hard decisions with serious consequences on many stakeholders. After a company’s or country’s mission statement and vision for its purpose becomes tangible and iterated, how will the company or country guarantee to meet the needs of its major stakeholders, i.e. citizens, employees, customers, investors/stockholders, suppliers, etc? Here SDi can prove invaluable. At a quick glance using an accessible evaluation tool devised by Beck, the company’s or country’s leadership can have access to the driving level of its multiple stakeholders and determine if its own vision and mission can both match and support these varying levels.

This hypothetical example reminds me of a recent change management project I was involved with. The company leadership lay in the hands of the founder, clearly trapped in what is known as “founder’s trap”, forcing every company decision to flow through her hands. Imaginably this led to massive inefficiency and underutilization of her employee talent and skills, not to mention caused a serious block to scaling her company. After intense dialogue with all her employees and heated company meetings, we were able to show the founder that she herself was the major source of the problem. Had I known more about SDi, I could have used the assessment tool along with my AQAL analysis to analyze the dynamics within the office and the company. From this information, I could have more rapidly and better supported the process that brought the founder to deep clarity of her company’s current situation and of the desperate need of her company to grow and scale.

Thinking deeper, I am reminded of the fundamental level of leadership in the world today: parents, caregivers, school teachers. Training leaders enmeshed in these leadership positions in SDi basics could prove life changing and invaluable for this fundamental and irreplaceable level of leadership and its stakeholders. As a reader, doesn’t it seem intuitive that knowing the level at which your stakeholder’s mostly “hang out” could prove invaluable to your success and to their success? If you are implementing green and disintegrating green policies and regulations, wouldn’t it be helpful to know that most of your employees resonate at blue, and most of your suppliers resonate at orange, and most of your board and your stockholders prefer a green steering of the company? How would forcing green values and green policy decision making on a majority of your stakeholders resonating at blue potentially cause friction and eventually alienate major sections of your stakeholders? How might you use SDi in your personal life and in your professional life to align values and ethics? Doesn’t the application potential of SDi seem worth learning more…

Critical Realism/Integral Theory Symposium

A fascinating and inaugural, first of its kind, event within the Integral Theory field occurred at John F. Kennedy University in Pleasant Hill, CA. It was held from September 15th – September 18th, 2011.

During four days of some of the richest, dialectical dialogue handled in a tension of loving critique that I have encountered within the field of Integral Theory, I sat appreciating Sean Esbjorn-Hargens’ broad vision and deep commitment to placing the field of Integral Theory into the arena of academic solidity and interdisciplinary solidarity. Esbjorn-Hargens’ passion and desire drove this first-ever academic symposium between Critical Realists and Integral Theorists. He rightly believed that these two theories and philosophies had much to learn from each other and could strengthen each other’s theoretical and philosophical positions.

Sean described his introduction to Roy Bhaskar’s work and told the story of how during the Integral Theory Conference of 2008, Mark Edwards made the statement during a panel session, that you were not a true Integral Theorist unless you had studied Roy Bhaskar’s Critical Realism. Sean held Mark Edwards in such high esteem that he actually listened, ordered  every book written by Bhaskar, and dove into Critical Realism. So touched by this body of knowledge and work, Sean set about to bring these two fields together.

In the next few paragraphs, I will try to offer some of the topics of discussion during the four days that inspired me. I confess they will be oversimplified and not reflective of their rich discussion and treatment during the symposium. For this, I humbly ask your forgiveness. Additionally, I confess feeling a level of tension while writing this article, because of two issues: 1) the difficulty of the subject matter and 2) the complexity of CR and Meta Reality Meta Philosophies. The reader needs a basic understanding of both CR and IT. I am assuming most readers of Integral Leadership Review have a basic understanding of Integral Theory iterated as AQAL metatheory. I am inadequate to provide an introduction of CR and Meta Reality. Please see and for a general introduction. My hope is to inspire you, the reader, to begin an exploration of Roy Bhaskar’s prodigious opus.

One of the major themes running throughout the symposium that impressed me the most centered on how both Critical Realism (CR) and Integral Theory (IT) contain at their core a sincere desire for effective social action and change. Both CR and IT deeply work for the betterment – the emancipation – of the individual and society (the collective). CR and IT both contribute to a plethora of fields where they are being applied. This suggests a certain power in embodiment.

I sat in the room and listened to Roy speak about his work and his supreme dedication to stringent academic excellence and argumentation mainly due to his conviction that ontology needed re-vindication within Western Philosophy. In order to accomplish this, Roy knew he needed strong philosophical and academic argumentative proof.

Listening to Roy and admiring his stringent academic work, I thought that this kind of commitment to philosophical argumentation and academic argumentation was needed for the field of Integral Theory to help lift it into the arena of solid academic acceptance. My next thought was, “Who would do this for Integral Theory?” I simultaneously felt a need for and sensed a lack of people involved with Integral Theory who had such a solid philosophical background combined with such academic prowess to write and publish articles strong enough to philosophically vindicate Integral Theory within the academic arena. If you are reading this and have that kind of background, please consider supporting this burgeoning and young field within the academic umbrella. I am smart enough to recognize the necessity and not experienced enough to write such papers.

As an Integral Theorist, coming into direct contact with Roy Bhaskar’s Critical Realism and Meta Reality, I feel a pause as my finger stands poised over the word ontology. Though implicitly inherent in Integral Theory, attending this symposium, I understood the need to see ontology explicitly iterated within Integral Theory with structured, formal philosophical argumentation. What do we mean by ontology? Imagine a situation or a theory or an idea and consider within that schema: the who (epistemology), the how (methodology), and finally the what (ontology). Integral Theory beautifully manages explicitly the who and the how, and implicitly and less clearly manages the what.

Roy Bhaskar’s Critical Realism, however, boldly revindicates ontology within the Western Philosophical tradition with airtight argumentation. Bhaskar constructed a new ontology that claims the world is structured, differentiated and changing. In other words, the world is an open system – thus changing and NOT a closed system like a controlled laboratory experiment. Intuitively, we all know this; the world is messy and certainly not controlled and standardized. Perhaps Integral Theory’s lack of explicit ontology or rather the description of the what, has led to potential theoretical inconsistencies such as: if the Being, the what, of an object is it’s method of enactment (the who and the how), Integral Theory’s epistemological and methodological strengths could tumble into a loosely constructed plurality which mimics the postmodern fallacy. Additionally, could filtering everything through the four quadrants be forcing the world into a closed system of sorts? I’m not sure, and the question certainly incites my curiosity and desire to explore deeper.

In return, Integral Theory has developed a strong praxis foundation that could help solidify and textualize Meta Reality with a deeper sense of Presence. Meta Reality proposes three realms: non-duality – which is always present – duality, and demi-reality – the contradiction, illusion, the categorical error. Looking through the lens of CR and Meta Reality, I personally saw within my own awareness stories that I tell myself that need to be “absented” and that feed the demi-reality within my social environment. For example, if I tell myself the “story” that my long time in India caused me a setback in launching a career, then I create a polluted or demi-reality in my intentionality being radiated out from me and into my immediate social environment. This causes illusion and leads me away from emancipation not to mention a major block and limitation in my career. Thus, by absenting this story I can begin to affect change within my social environment and shift the demi-reality of that situation that could be actually holding me back from launching my career successfully.

I also found the discussion of Integral Theory’s intricate use of developmental theory, the explanatory strengths developmental theory could offer CR, the dignity and disaster in developmental models AND perhaps the overuse of developmental logics within Integral Theory to be especially interesting. It was clearly a point of discussion that every person attending the symposium showed interest in discussing and one that even led to generative heated dialogue.

The topic of emergence, which CR embeds as one of its philosophical “tenets,” to borrow Wilber’s use of the term, was offered up as one potential alternative to developmental theory, especially for the LL quadrant (culture or collective-subjective). For CR, emergence is unilaterally dependent, where the higher order domain is irreducible to the lower order domain. The higher order domain is causally efficacious in the lower order domain. And finally, the higher domain order is implicit as an enfolded potential in lower order domain. Emergence then addresses the world as an open system as opposed to a closed system somehow reducible to a laboratory that modern scientific research tries to perpetuate.

In all, this symposium and the study of Critical Realism caused me to develop an even deeper appreciation of the strengths of Integral Theory. Pull the discussion out of metatheory and out of theoretical analysis, I still find a certain power in the practical, hands on application of Integral Theory to over sixty fields of application. Wilber has made a complex metatheory accessible to multiple levels of development and multiple possibilities of engagement. Anyone, at any level of worldview or development, thanks to Wilber’s ability to popularize and speak the language of all levels, can pick up Integral Theory and begin to apply and use it. This gratitude for Integral Theory also spills over to Sean Esbjorn-Hargens for his vision and commitment to holding this symposium that ended with deep appreciation between CR and IT with a powerful sense of camaraderie between the two. Look to future collaborations between these two, both academically in their main journals, i.e. Journal of Integral Theory and Practice, JITP, and in potential research project collaborations. Stay tuned more surely to follow!

Within the particular domain of leadership and working with leaders, attending this symposium and learning about CR and Meta Reality inspired a new level of concern for the emancipation and release of suffering in all the people’s lives that I personally touch. As a coach and a yoga life coach, I inevitably exert a certain level of influence in my client’s personal and professional lives. The high ethical bar that both of these metatheories/metaphilosophies, CR and IT, demand in their application adds in a powerful presence of humility to any leader roles and projects I find myself engaged in. To look at a situation through the multiple lenses of IT in order to search out the demi-reality or categorical error inherent in that situation AND be willing to and be committed to absenting the delusion using necessary means so that everyone involved experiences greater emancipation and freedom feels like a most worthy, ethical, and humane use of our humanity so as to elevate the person involved in such a pursuit to a level of full human potential, in other words, human liberation.

 About the Author

Lisa Jaya Waters brings to her consulting and coaching a strong academic agility, combined with extensive practical experience, and comprehensive practice to facilitate lasting transformation for her clients. Trained and currently undergoing certification in the Integral Coaching Canada coaching methodology, Lisa Jaya uses a coalesced mind/body approach to enable holistic approaches to change. She operates a privately held LLC, working with individuals, couples, and groups, using traditional coaching, behavior modification, counseling, and somatic integration training to help clients discover and remove any obstacles that may be preventing them from successfully achieving their goals.

Her undergraduate work at the University of Arizona inspired her interest in conscious capitalism from her study of management and business law. A Phi Beta Kappa, Suma Cum Laude graduate, she went on to accomplish years of social service in India. She completed her MA in Integral Theory at John F. Kennedy University with an interest in applying embodied applications of Integral Theory to transition at individual, organizational, and global levels. She has coauthored several articles on aspects of Integral Theory published in various volumes.

As a Senior Certified Iyengar Yoga Teacher, with nearly 30 years experience in the yoga field, she has conducted yoga workshops throughout the world and continues to deepen her practice and engagement with yoga through regular study under the Iyengar family at the Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Iyengar Yoga Institute in Pune. Jaya recently won the Guinness Book of World Records for the longest continuous yoga attempt. Lisa Jaya works with the interface between yoga and Integral Theory, and with the practical and embodied use of metatheory for engaging life, making decisions and discovering solutions.