Summary: Ken Wilber Conversation with John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods
Part 1: The Future of Business is Integral
Part 2: The Future of Politics is Integral Too
This is, perhaps, one of the most stimulating and insightful conversations on the subject of business and an integral approach that I know of—and this coming from someone who has done numerous interviews in this arena. Why do I offer such high praise? Well, part of it is how well Ken expressed the integral perspective and part of it is how clearly and articulately John Mackey expressed his understanding of integral (and Spiral Dynamics) as he sees it in the worlds of his own development, business and politics. Here is my understanding of this conversation; please go to the Integral Naked site for the original language.
First, the optimism of an integral approach has never been more clearly evident than in this conversation. Here is painted a world of accelerating 2nd Tier consciousness and practice in all realms of human life and systems, although acknowledging that the fields of government and education may lag behind this process. The message is not an unfamiliar one in integral and consciousness circles:
- Development can and does take place for individuals and systems;
- Development is accelerating to the point that in a historically brief period of time (ten years?) it is possible that a tipping point, the formation of a critical mass, may occur that will fundamentally shift our institutions and our lives with a much greater emphasis on integral approaches to change and sustainability.
- Integral business provides a context in which all developmental levels may thrive. However, Mackey notes that in the case of Whole Foods, those at Red tend not to stay long.
- Integral business is more profitable. It works better. No labor- management conflict.
- The integral perspective is not vulnerable to attack (as other theoretical orientations are) because AQAL covers all the bases; all other approaches leave something out.
- Integral politics is about the individual and the community. Extreme forms of other political orientations tend to de-emphasize one or the other. Mackey is a libertarian and finds rich compatibility with integral thought. He is expressing this to other libertarians in presentations to conferences, etc., and may be making progress in overcoming the initial reaction of most libertarians that Mackey is just weird. I find intriguing (and Mackey makes a very reasoned case for this) the notion of an integral libertarianism. Of course, that label may be problematic.
Ken was excellent in keeping this conversation well grounded by pointing out that development (a la Robert Kegan) is a slow process, that one’s orientation to development is dependent on one’s level of development and that some people can “get” 2nd tier intellectually while still centered in 1st Tier. He clarified points such as how integral helps all levels flourish. Thus, each level can get what they want to out of work and they will perform at their best in an integral organization than they will in an organization at their level. For example, desire for growth and progress is possible in an integral organization and deterred in an Orange organization. Integral organizations achieve healthy Green goals better than those embedded in Green.
Mackey describes how he has applied his integral understanding to the growth and development of Whole Foods. Wilber holds up Whole Foods as a model or example of a highly successful integral business. Whole Foods works because it is organized into tribes with rituals; it also has clear core values that cannot be changed; by fulfilling the mission, people at Blue have structure and security. They are a competitive Orange organization of continuous learning and improving where people can move up in their careers; Green is attracted because of the ecological and sustainability commitment of the company; the company is designed Yellow spontaneity and flexibility; 2nd tier built into the ethics and teaching about creating value to all stakeholders. Thus, we allow all levels to flourish and a 2nd tier systems perspective.
Mackey said he talked to Wall Street recently and stated that integral business makes more money. Profits are byproducts of doing a lot of things right; take care of the health of the system, shareholders will flourish better in an integral system than a Blue, Orange or Green system. Those in Green are starting to get that business can be good. Integral business can resonate with others and work. He is optimistic that as writers and thinkers notice what is happening with integral business organizations this will propel the development of integral businesses, education, medicine, etc. Mackey agrees with Wilber that we are moving into an integral spirituality and on the verge of an integral age.
Transdisciplinary Transformation and Leadership
Sue L. T. McGregor (2006), Transformative Practice: New Pathways to Leadership. East Lansing, Michigan, US A: Kappa Omicron Nu Honor Society.
In virtually every journal devoted to leadership theory there is at least one article that decries the state of the enterprise. The newest arrival on the scene is Sage’s Leadership, which is accessible online. International Leadership Association members receive complementary subscriptions, as they do to a pre-eminent academic journal in the field, Leadership Studies. (Savings on these two subscriptions more than covers the annual membership dues.) Here is an example:
Leadership ‘research’ has frequently been at best fragmented and at worst trivial, too often informed by the rather superficial ideas of management and academic consultants keen to peddle the latest, pre-packaged list of essential qualities deemed necessary for individual leaders and as the prescribed solution to all leadership dilemmas.
David Collinson and Keith Grint
Strong words! And there is a growing recognition of a need to achieve some kind of cross disciplinary status for the study of leadership. Each discipline—sociology, psychology, business administration, history, public administration and others—brings its own lens, its own methodologies while generally sustaining and perpetuating the fragmentation. Yet there is room for optimism:
Many scholars based in traditional disciplines have found the study of leadership enormously expansive of their intellectual interests because of its creative intermingling of other disciplines. Scholars have returned to familiar subjects – causation, values, conflict, transformation, for example – with an expanded array of intellectual tools, or at least of intellectual self-discovery. I might cite my own experience: like many others, I have long been concerned by the extent of deep global poverty and the failure of so many well-intentioned persons and agencies to develop a strategy to deal with it. Huge aid programs seem only to nibble at the edge of the two-billion-plus locked in abject poverty. I found a partial solution in leadership-followership theory that calls not only for giving aid to the poor but for motivating and mobilizing them to raise themselves to higher levels of self-efficacy and fulfillment.
As the multidisciplinary study of leadership takes its place among pioneering fields of study it will have a unique feature – an ethical and moral orientation. We don’t expect the classic disciplines like history and political science to have a moral essence of their own – history is history. But leadership, in common parlance, is a ‘good’. When people call for leadership, or deplore the lack of leadership, they see it not only as a needed spur to human progress but as in itself a moral and ethical entity and a necessary gauge of action. Leadership, in short, becomes an activist as well as an academic enterprise.
Having an ethical and moral center may help leadership study avoid the curse of the traditional disciplines – undue specialization without context. We are all indebted to historians and other scholars who minutely examine specific events and problems in the hope that the devil is indeed in the details. But these scholars often fail to place the details in a broader chain of causality or even a frame of reference. While contextualization may end up only as integrative rather than contributing to theory, it might help the study of leadership to avoid the excessive fragmentation besetting other disciplines.
James MacGregor Burns
A case in point is a book published in 2006: Transformative Practice: New Pathways to Leadership by Sue L. T. McGregor. And who is Sue McGregor? From the rear flyleaf of the book:
Sue L. T. McGregor is a Canadian home economist who bring 30 years of family and consumer studies to the exploration of peace, justice, human responsibilities, global citizenship, consumer morality, and holistic sustainability. Her current work focuses on pushing the boundaries of consumer research and home economics thinking toward transformative leadership, the critical science approach, t4ransdisciplinary practice, and the new science approach.
Sue McGregor has produced a truly transdisciplinary look at the subject of leadership and the practice of her profession. This 400-page exposition covers a host of topics, if not all perspectives on the subject of leadership. For example, there is no integration of developmental psychology and its promise of clarity regarding cognitive development, values, emotional intelligence, etc., in her discussion. But her reach is broad enough to inspire us to take a fresh look at leadership, but see into the challenges of her profession. She draws on concepts such as
…Copyleft, intellectual outer space, crossing through veils to different realities, isomophies and patterns, metaphors, transversing disciplines, multiple realities, quantum complexities, honoring imaginations, zones of resistance, virtual creative commons, nuances of chaos theory, and living adaptive systems. 
Influenced by Barabu Nicolescu [The Transdisciplinary Manifesto] and other theorists, she encourages an intentional dialogue that draws on the contributions of disciplines, multi- and inter-disciplinary research and analysis. The goals is to achieve the sharing of assumptions in building a more effective approach to complex social issues. She cites Nicolescu in stating, “The objective of the transdisciplinary approach is to understand the present world in all of its complexities, instead of focusing on one part of it.” This requires accepting that reality as composed of multiple layers, yet is a coherent whole (There is no evidence that the author has read integral theory). She follows Nicolescu further in his definition of the sacred, “a zone of nonresistance to perceptions, a place where one’s concept of reality can stretch beyond known experiences. Within this zone, individuals allow themselves to cross through the veil of rationality to arrive at a deeper reality.”
McGregor summarizes the Transdisciplinary Manifesto and even provides a self-assessment tool for clarifying one’s own orientation to the transdisciplinary. The rest of the book discusses change agentry, the use of critical discourse analysis, intellectual curiosity and skeptical thinking. She presents “Reflective Human Action Leadership Theory,” a combination of the chaos theory presentation of Meg Wheatley and Robert Terry’s authentic leadership. This approach revolves around six principles that lead to a seventh:
The final chapters of the book are addressed primarily to her profession, but the points she makes can inform any profession, including consumer ethics, peace and social justice.
Walter Link, Thais Corral, and Mark Gerzon. Leadership is Global: Co-Creating a More Humane and Sustainable World. Shin-yo Foundation, 2006.
Peter Goldmark (US), past Chairman and Ceo of the International Herald Tribune and past president of the Rockerfeller Foundation, now Director of the Climate and Air Program at the Environmental Defense Fund, leads off 21 articles in an edited collection on the importance of leadership from a global perspective. He lays out the challenges of global warming and pollution as a call for more effective leadership. His essay is followed by five small collections of chapters setting the context, global leadership development, the connection between values and worldviews and action as leaders, bridging among stakeholders (all of us) and a final section dealing with the implications of global economies for leadership.
In this summary we will look at one article per section, a kind of random amble through a wealth of material. There is no intention to diminish any of these valuable contributions.
There are three essays in the context-setting section. One of them is by Riane Eisler (US) and Thais Corral (Brazil), “Leaders forging change: Partnership power for the 21st century.” The article represents their most recent thinking on the partnership model developed from Eisler’s work, The Chalice and the Blade. (See the Interview with Riane Eisler in the Integral Leadership Review, September 2005.) They advocate a model of partnership leadership that engages the energies of many to foster creativity in building a sustainable, equitable and peaceful world culture.
In the leadership development section there are six essays, including one by Mark Gerzon (US), “Developing an Integral Vision: How leaders can learn to hold the whole.” He states, “Integral vision as a value stands for our commitment to recognize this human tendency (to magnify one’s own pain, loss or hurt and to minimize that of others) and to transcend it, as best we can, in order (following Gandhi) to ‘learn to identify with all that lives.’” He provides several examples of the role of integral vision in transforming conflict into more generative processes.
Building on what neurologists call an “open loop” aspect of the limbic system and the role of the emotional state of leaders for success, Susan Andrews (Brazil). She turns to biopsychology to argue that leaders need to develop emotional flexibility, strength and receptivity. Andrews has developed (in Brazil) and leadership program to develop these capabilities. She argues that practical people (leaders) become “integrators” through the harmony in their own lives and the empowerment of people around them.
The section “Bridging Sectors and Communities” is of considerable interest. Five articles written by authors from Canada and South Africa, Argentina, China, Philippines and France offer methods like the Change Lab, new skills for civic engagement, fostering trust and co-creation across political and religious divides, dealing with community conflict and partnering in multi-stakeholder contexts. Jacinto Gavino and Ernesto Gariao (Philippines) bring light to a challenge that is demanding attention, increasingly, by all the peoples of the world: religious and political conflict. Their article is a wonderful example of drawing on some academic notions of leadership (transformational) and the collective dynamics of collaboration to create an approach to bridging. The article, itself, is an example of what they are proposing. They tell the story of the mayor of a town on the island of Mindanao where there has been so much conflict between Christians and Muslims.
Bridging leadership defined as “an influence relationship among people within and across groups, organizations and communities who agree to work together and intend real changes that reflect their mutual purposes.” The authors go on to state, “Bridging leadership maximizes every stakeholder’s comparative advantage and makes sustainable social change possible. Founded on shared values, common understanding, and mutual purposes, BL is particularly helpful in fostering inter-sectoral collaboration between business, civil society, and government.” Their program is as inspired an integral approach as will be found anywhere.
In the final section of two essays, Bernard Litaer (Belgium), an economist who assisted in the development of the Euro, argues that a global currency is a necessary support for the implementation of values and approaches to sustainability on a global level. The current nation-based currency system is a major source of economic instability and he argues for the “Terra,” a global currency. Adoption of this global currency would bring stability, by defending against monetary instability of the present system and “counteracting the pro-cyclical money creation process of that current system, while promoting long term thinking by stockholders. To bring this about there will be required a new paradigm of leadership.
These essays and those by the other authors, inclusing Integral Leadership Council member Alain Gautier, are a value contribution to our thinking about Integral Leadership. The value of the integral perspectives threads continuously through them and is a perspective that shows the value of thinking about leadership as not only the intentions, values, and worldviews of individuals and their behaviors, but the importance of culture and systems, including process, as well.