Column: Journeys into the Integral North

Column / January 2012

Putting Wisdom to Work in the World

Adventures of Ideas

Mark McCaslin

[We are delighted to announce the beginning of a new column that will be appearing in each issue of Integral Leadership Review. Mark McCaslin is an innovator and is in passionate pursuit of learning through sense- and meaning-making. But he doesn’t stop there. For Mark learning is most meaningful when it is applied in an ongoing dance of discovery and making a difference. Welcome, Mark!

– Russ]

Mark McCaslin

Upon considering the vision and mission held by the Integral Leadership Review it becomes apparent that there is something here for the leadership scholar and practitioner alike. I suspect that the real genius behind this leadership venue is how it manages to value historical leadership foundations without ossifying, to embrace cutting edge leadership scholarship without defending, and to potentiate good leadership practice without apology. Held at this intersection of foundational scholarship and good practice; “to make a substantive difference in creating self-sustaining and generative people, systems and earth through an integrative, developmental and transdisciplinary approach to leadership”, is a refreshing bold examination of the current rising vector and increasing velocity of leadership studies. Here at the Integral Leadership Review we gain access to emerging theories and creative conversations around how to place integrally focused leadership theory into practice. In short, together we are revealing and discussing how to put wisdom to work in the world.

To engage the world of emerging leadership ideas and to meet them pragmatically with strength, hope, and possibilities is the core purpose of this column. Ideas about the evolving nature of leadership, and in particular creative integrally centered empowering ideas, inspire dialogue and adventure. Alfred North Whitehead (a British mathematician, logician and philosopher who developed a comprehensive metaphysical system which has come to be known as process philosophy) spoke to what he called “Adventures of Ideas”. This resonates deeply with our purpose. The vision and mission held by the Integral Leadership Review gains favor and momentum when we embrace the notion of “Adventures of Ideas”. It is an inspiring, motivating and potentiating declaration. What Whitehead was directly addressing through his process philosophy was the historical proclivity we (teachers, scholars and leaders) tend to fall into where we lock on to some idea or truth and then, through scholarly defense and habits of practice, offensively lock out or drown competing or newer ideas trying desperately to push through the leadership substrate. Human phenomenon, with leadership being no exception, tends to take on a historic flavor. We tend to become more and more about the “history of ideas” than we do about the “Adventures of Ideas”. Looking back, as we often do, we attempt to make sense out of the emerging great age of leadership from the perspective of the ages gone by. Yet looking back now, at these great ages of leadership and the civilizations upon which they worked for the good of society, do we now simply stand in awe and attempt to mimic? Do we now, in face of this emerging age of possibility and potential, mutate our collective and creative purpose through imitation?  In taking this “history of ideas” perspective, bowing diligently to their original greatness of ages gone by; do we now dishonor their farther reaching intentions?

Also I suggest that the Greeks themselves were not backward looking, or static. Compared to their neighbors, they were singularly unhistorical. They were speculative, adventurous, eager for novelty. The most un-Greek thing we can do, is to copy the Greeks. For emphatically they were not copyist. (Whitehead, p. 273 -274)

Consider for a moment the following historical thoughts holding this adventurous perspective:

Great spirits have always found violent opposition from mediocrities. The latter cannot understand it when a man does not thoughtlessly submit to hereditary prejudices but honestly and courageously uses his intelligence.

– Albert Einstein

If awareness of anomaly plays a role in the emergence of new sorts of phenomena, it should surprise no one that a similar but more profound awareness is prerequisite to all acceptable changes of theory. On this point historical evidence is, I think, entirely unequivocal. The state of Ptolemaic astronomy was a scandal before Copernicus’ announcement.

 – Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (3rd Ed.), p. 67.

Each of these scientists/philosophers was holding something up for us to see and understand—this is true. But to stop here at truth alone would be to miss their central lesson as they were also holding something together for us all to discover, and this is beautiful, and they were holding something together they hoped we would find in ourselves, and this is good. This ‘something together’ I have struggled with as I searched for understanding, balance, evidence, and development of my own experiences and the experiences of others seeking outlets and avenues to express their innate potentials and original greatness. It is in the purposing of that original greatness that we discover the pragmatic heart of adventure—the innate ability we hold to transform ourselves and our world. To celebrate fully the “Adventures of Ideas” is the purpose at hand.

My approach to this column and to the “Adventures of Ideas” will be to take emerging and practical leadership issues and examine them along the upward way of the Integral North. This means of course that ideas must be approached with openness and careful understanding so as to learn from them. I will, and I invite you to as well, critically reflect on these ideas from the lens of creative self-reflection asking: “how do we put this to work in the world”?

In this column I will address emerging leadership issues and challenges at the intersection of disciplines, theories, and practices. From this perspective I hope we might illuminate real solutions for today and tomorrow. There is magic at the intersection as it is here that new ideas, new knowledge and integral wisdom are born into this world. They are informed by our histories yet standing at the intersection as we do the ideas emerging are more artful, peaceful, and adventurous. These are the ideas that grant us a glimpse of future possibilities and call us forward to meet them.

The emerging age of leadership goes by many names—spiritual, primal, resonate, authentic, potentiating… integral; no matter the name it holds a constant purpose. Held within this frame are two mutually supporting and adventurous ideas. The leadership of our future will simultaneously build the potential of the organization, school, community… civilization through the actualization of the potential of the people who work, live and love within these domains and it is aimed at building the potential of those who would lead. The potential leader, the integral leader, holds this adventurous idea sacred. It is an idea whose future has arrived.

There are of course many issues we can take on and discuss in such a leadership venue. We could discuss the notion of how we accelerate innovation,  build confidence, assemble transdisciplinary (cross-functional) teams, creatively ramp up productivity, build new leadership models, multiply success, build potential, inspire breakthrough experiments and creativity just to name a few.  Here within this frame we can creatively risk an adventure into how to we would approach the full range of the human phenomena we call leadership. Ideas for new adventures are always welcome.

Leadership studies, movements… ideas too have sprung from the “history of ideas”. Classically leadership studies are a reflection of the history of civilization. The great leadership movements—the great man, behavioral, transformative—were reactions to an open frontier, the industrial revolution, and the advent of the age of technology and information.  They were reactively formed and perfected around the history of ideas. What we need today is adventure. We will find that adventure in the emerging leadership age as it seems ready, able and willing to pull us greatly into the future. In this emergent leadership age we see and feel how theory and practice, philosophy and purpose, creativity and spirituality present a future where the “Adventures of Ideas” is well met by peace and art—power and loveliness—openness and potential. Are you ready for adventure?

About the Author

Mark L. McCaslin, Ph.D.  is a professor at the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology. As a career educator, he has a rich history of teaching, educational programming, and administration. His personal and professional interests flow around the development of philosophies, principles, and practices dedicated to the full actualization of human potential. The focus of his research has centered upon organizational leadership and educational approaches that foster a more holistic approach towards the fulfillment of that potential. At the apex of his current teaching, writing, and research is the emergence of Potentiating Leadership and The Potentiating Arts™.