An Interview of Barrett Brown by Ken Wilber
Topic: Barrett’s Ph.D. research on how leaders with post-conventional consciousness design and engage in complex change initiatives, specifically in the field of sustainability.
Interview Date: August, 2011; Available to public: March-April, 2012; Transcribed: May, 2012
An audio version of the interview can be found on the Integral Life website, which requires subscription access. http://integrallife.com/node/126950
Ken: Hello, Barrett.
Barrett: Hello Ken.
Ken: How are you, buddy?
Barrett: I’m great. Excellent to hear your voice.
Ken: Good to hear yours. We are here to discuss your thesis which is just absolutely fascinating and I think breaks some real ground and is an important and very interesting work. So I am going to read some of the sections from it and then we can discuss it. How does that sound?
Barrett: That sounds perfect, Ken.
Ken: Great. It’s called Conscious Leadership for Sustainability: How Leaders with a Late Stage Action Logic Design and Engage in Sustainability Initiatives. And in a slideshow on one of the slides called the context you say, “It’s a messy, complex world out there with some big stakes at play, psychologically, socially and economically. A more compassionate and effective leadership is clearly needed but what does it really look like?” And you quote Lester Brown. “We are facing issues of near overwhelming complexity and unprecedented urgency. Our challenge is to think globally and develop policies to counteract environmental decline and economic collapse. The question is, can we change direction before we go over the edge?” And you also state that consciousness and its development can be studied and leadership effectiveness has been correlated with being more conscious.
So development is an important part of leadership and yet there has really been little empirical research on the higher stages of human development and its relationship to leadership, hasn’t there?
Barrett: That’s true, Ken, and this is one of the first research initiatives that has been able to actually go out and find folks who are successful change agents and leaders in the very complex arena of sustainability and the change initiatives that they are trying to drive forward.
Barrett: And who are also late stage action logics.
Barrett: And that they have a very mature way to making meaning.
Ken: Right. And so what you’ve done is first of all find these people and then subject them to a whole range of interviews and an analysis of interviews looking for common themes and common areas of action, ideation, and practices and so on. And so it really amounts to preliminary for sure, but a kind of a higher development and its relationship to leadership and sustainability. You selected the action logic development model of William Tolbert and Suzanne Cook-Greuter and the three highest stages. There are Strategists, which is the Teal altitude for those familiar with integral theory, and the Alchemist which is Turquoise altitude and then the Ironist which is the highest in the action logic sequence and is approximately Violet.
And to the question, what is an action logic, you say, “It describes the developmental stage of meaning-making that informs and drives an individual’s reasoning and behavior and includes what we see as the purpose of life, what needs we act upon, what ends we are moving towards, our emotions and experience of being in the world and how we think about ourselves and the world.” And one of the reasons that you selected the action logic model is the Sentence Completion Test, which is one of the most widely used and respected tests for measuring human development.
Barrett: It is, indeed, and there literally have been tens of thousands of people who have gone through the assessment process. It has been used in hundreds of research initiatives around human development. And so for me it was important to work with an assessment that I could have confidence in.
Barrett: And essentially help to make a real clear point within the leadership literature and within the sustainability leadership literature that constructive developmentalism and a developmental approach is really something to take deeply into consideration in the design of leadership development programs.
Barrett: That’s because of the powerful difference that there is in the way that people see as they mature through each of the different world views or each of the different action logics.
Ken: Right. And it continues to amaze me how much developmental studies have to bring to so many issues and so many problems and so many questions and yet how absolutely rarely it’s used. It’s just a disjunction that is startling.
Barrett: Yes, it is and I think that you know some of the real work that needs to be done going forward is figuring out how to create what Bill Tolbert calls these liberating structures.
Barrett: In our existing leadership development programs and in our existing organizations that people engage in, they are literally challenged to create new ways of making meaning, to see the world in more sophisticated, more complex and wiser ways, just because of the real power that it gives to them and the capacities that come on board as they are able to self author and develop in those ways.
Ken: Right. One of the main conclusions of developmental studies is that human beings, in most of their multiple intelligences, go through a series of increasingly inclusive and increasingly complex levels or stages or waves of development and that the higher stages transcend and include the lower ones. And so each stage is appropriate, but each higher stage becomes more appropriate or each stage is adequate and each higher stage becomes more adequate.
And if you are at a particular level, then there are certain limitations in how much of the world you can see and the number of perspectives you can take, the moral drives that you will have. No amount of standard leadership training will lead you into these higher stages. What they will attempt to do is help you perfect the stage you are at. But unless they are specifically aware of these higher stages and what they look like and what can be done to engage them, they are really not getting at one of the major core issues, which is that it’s not just what a leader thinks, it’s how they think. It’s the actual tools they have that they can use to engage the world. And if we don’t start taking that into account, we are missing basically the biggest part of the puzzle.
Barrett: Yes exactly. And you know, one of the things that I want to point out that’s a subtlety I know you have talked about in your writings and in your other dialogues, Ken, is that we want to be sure not to privilege this growth to goodness concept here as well.
Barrett: In the research that I did I went out and found close to three dozen sustainability change agents and leaders and assessed them all. Ultimately just over a dozen, 13 of them, ended up being assessed at these later stages of the Strategist, Alchemist, and Ironist. And what that said to me was that really, really good sustainability work and change agent work doesn’t necessarily require that someone hold a late-stage action logic or hold a more developed altitude of consciousness. And because there is so much important work that needs to be done around leadership or around sustainability, it doesn’t always require that someone see the world in a more complex way.
However, as we face increasingly complex and sophisticated issues where multiple stakeholders need to be taken into account and there are tremendous uncertainties and there is incredible dynamism and volatility within systems, people have to make faster decisions that influence more and more people with higher and higher stakes as the complexity itself ratchets up. That’s when these later-stage action logics can become an incredible advantage for leaders if they are able to self-author into them.
And so that’s really some of the most exciting stuff that came out of this research – what is it that these folks are actually doing, Ken? That’s what I was really curious about. I was thinking what’s happening at the intersection of complex consciousness and complex change initiatives.
Barrett: So as we are confronted with these really gnarly wicked problems, how do people who hold a very sophisticated way of making meaning and who are able to see a broad perspective, how do they actually engage with those issues? How do they design sustainability initiatives and then how do they engage? And I think that the research points to some pretty fascinating insights around them.
Ken: Absolutely, which is what I want to get to. And I think, firstly, anybody interested in integral theory or integral studies would find this interesting even though it does focus on sustainability and leadership and developmental studies. Nonetheless, it’s a chance to see these higher levels of development and higher altitudes and to see how they operate, how they interact, some of the things that differentiate them from each other and some of the practices that you found, just in anecdotal ways after studying all of these for quite some time, ways that you found that can help individuals to develop at these stages.
And so I think all of that makes this something that’s really useful for just about anybody interested in integral theory or developmental studies or leadership or sustainability.
Barrett: It does because, you know, the folks who tend to be drawn to integral theory are those that are really inquiring into their own development and curious about where they can go and what is this terrain of consciousness that they have developed through and where could they end up. And that’s really been the amazing, really psychoactive work that you’ve done, that you’ve brought together with your maps, where being able to look at the maps of the development of consciousness is psychoactive in nature. Just seeing that, Ken, was profoundly useful for me.
Barrett: And what I wanted to do with this was a similar sort of thing, but on a more granular level – where essentially I was trying to shine a beam of light into this mystery of late stage consciousness and see what that terrain looked like. And I focus specifically on how do people actually design and engage in a change initiative.
And I could have focused on anything, but this really provided a very solid grounding to do the academic research. And what I came back with after doing this inquiry and essentially shining deep into this mystery of consciousness, was that there are about 15 different competencies that these late stage leaders seem to be engaging in and in a variety of different practices that they use and even three different core approaches that they take to engaging with complexity.
I think that those practices and those competencies are relevant for anybody who wants to essentially engage in the world, whether it’s with their relationships or professionally or in their own spiritual work as well. This is demonstrated by position that these late stage leaders are taking with respect to these complex issues. So it really is relevant for a wide audience.
Ken: Yes, definitely. And I think you did hit upon a series of really fortuitous choices. One was selecting leadership and what does somebody go through, what’s the actual process in thinking or bodily awareness of meditative awareness or whatever it is the person is using? What’s the actual process they go through in designing leadership initiatives? And it turns out, of course, that that goes to the real core of what constitutes a level or an altitude or a wave or a stage of development. Leadership initiatives draw on some of the really, really core issues that define stages and define levels.
And so that is extremely useful itself. Then, it was specifically around sustainability and that happened to be very fortuitous, because the sustainability literature is a virtually, you know, almost all other areas as we were saying earlier, is actually devoid of developmental studies. And this is just shocking because the higher world views that so many sustainability theorists are describing are really descriptions as of these higher action logics.
Barrett: That’s exactly it Ken.
Ken: You know it’s crazy.
Barrett: Yes. What was fascinating for me as I dove into the sustainability leadership literature was that lots of people are essentially writing about the type of leadership that is required to help us handle our large scale complex crises that seem to be appearing, you know, across population issues, water scarcity, food security, climate change and all the others, right? So everybody is saying we need this type of leadership, we need these sorts of competencies, we need these sorts of abilities and people need to be able to do these things.
Barrett: And then I looked at the adult development literature and the theory that had emerged and developed around how folks with a late-stage action logic or a late-stage world view actually act and engage. And there were so many overlaps and parallels but these two disciplines weren’t talking to each other.
Ken: Yes. And just one of the many, many, many areas that developmental studies need to be brought to bear, there’s so many business leadership workshops and so many ways that business leaders sign up to learn how to be better leaders. And unless you actually hit on one that’s being given by a Robert Kegan or a Bill Tolbert, you are not going to get this vertical stage development. You are going to be given a set of tools that is basically taken from one or another level of development and usually only works at that level. Sort of one size fits all. And if you are lucky enough to be at the same level that these practices are coming from, then you are going to get something out of this business seminar. If not, you are not. And as a matter of fact it could hurt you; it could actually give you things that from your perspective are actually regressive in your overall development.
So these kinds of studies that actually look in a granular way at some real details, not just generalities, real details – What do these people think? What kind of theories do they use? How do they do it? What’s the process they go through psychologically, socially, even morally? – this is extremely important stuff.
Barrett: Yes it is. And so you know, shifting just a little bit here Ken, one of the things that was striking for me that came out of this research was how important a common language is for supporting the development of consciousness. The way that emerged for me from the data was when I looked at it and realized that essentially all of these folks use systems theory and complexity theory and integral theory as ways of understanding and responding to the complexity that they are facing with. They had somehow been drawn to these three frameworks as ways that would help them to explain what they were seeing and to give some sort of guidance into how to design interventions.
It seems to me that common languages that can really as accurately as possible explain the territory provide for consciousness a way to communicate and to essentially express itself. And in a shared dialogue way, in a way that there is shared meaning with other people who were also able to talk about systems theory or able to use complexity leadership approaches or able to use integral theories.
It’s almost that these are doors in consciousness itself by exposing people to these different frameworks because then consciousness can express itself more fully and in more subtle and more sophisticated ways. And so that was fascinating to see really that these change agents were pretty well fluent in those three, systems theory, complexity theory and integral theory.
Ken: Yes, I found that very interesting as well. And I think you know the fact that 12 out of 13 used integral theory for example, I think is precisely for that reason. They are looking for more comprehensive maps and languages that will cover all of the bases. And of course that’s one of the claims that integral theory makes. Individuals can also to some degree or another use systems theory and use complexity theory. But what they all have in common is working with theoretical models that cover complexity and that covers a great deal of territory and engage in as little reduction as soon as possible because that’s what the real world is like.
And so I thought that was definitely a really interesting finding and we will be getting to that. In the action logic model, there is anywhere between eight and 10 levels and as I have said, you selected the three highest. I want to read the characteristics and the main focus and the strengths as organizational members from one of your charts just so people get a sense of what these three levels are and what some of the differences are among them.
So if you will just bear with me a bit, I am going to read this one particular table. Starting with strategist, which is the lowest of the three – although of course to be the Strategist is to be in the, you know, top 5% of development. So to be the lowest is hardly a bad thing to be called here.
Main focus, the Strategist at Teal, which means the beginning of Second Tier, the beginning of integral thinking, the beginning of vision logic. And it’s the beginning of Second Tier. Some models, like Clare Graves in Spiral Dynamics, made a very sharp distinction between First Tier drives or levels and Second Tier. The biggest difference between first and Second Tier correlates between what Maslow called efficiency needs, where you are motivated by a lack and a need to get something, versus being needs where you are motivated by a super abundance and an overflowing and a motivation to share something.
So there is some significantly different type of psychological dynamic going on. There is also an increase in the number of perspectives that one can take. And Clare Graves found that there was a dramatic drop in fear when moving from First Tier to Second Tier. So Second Tier has, for many people, taken on a connotation of being an important milestone. But of course the fact is there are several levels within Second Tier and some of us even loosely talk about a Third Tier which is directly, immediately transpersonal and would actually be the highest integral levels.
But you have worked with the top three. And understanding that this is a small sample so it’s preliminary, nonetheless certain patterns showed up – you know, time and time and time again, enough to make us think that even larger studies will duplicate a lot of these findings. So Strategist, Teal, beginning of Second Tier; the main focus is linking theory and principals with practice. Dynamic systems interactions – so it’s a system to use in the world. Characteristics: Generates organizational and personal transformations. Exercises the power of mutual inquiry, vigilance and vulnerability for both the short and long term. Strengths as an organizational member: Effective as a transformational leader. It’s central goal is to become the most one can be. And depending on what test you use, Strategists are roughly around 4.9% of the population.
Alchemists or Turquoise: the main focus is the interplay of action, awareness, thought and effects, transforming self and others. Characteristics: Generates social transformation, integrates material, spiritual and societal transformation. And strengths as an organizational member: They are good at leading society-wide transformation. It’s central goal is to be aware. And approximately 1.5% of the population is at Alchemist or Turquoise.
And then Violet or Ironists. The main focus is being. Experience moment to moment arising of consciousness. Characteristics: Institutionalize developmental processes through liberating disciplines. They hold a cosmic or universal perspective and are visionary. Strength as organizational member: Catalyze the deep development of individuals and collectives. And the central goal here is just to be. The percent of the population at that wave is about 0.5%.
One of the important things about developmental logic is that with each increasing stage is the capacity to take a perspective. What we are really getting, and I think this is really important to point out right at the beginning, is that these developmental models are hierarchical models. But there are two types of hierarchies, there are dominator hierarchies where higher levels abuse their capacities and oppress or alienate or repress individuals that are viewed as being lower on some scale. And of course those are things like the caste system and slavery and patriarchal female oppressions. If that happens, nobody is talking about those kinds of hierarchies. You are not in favor of those, I am not in favor of those. As a matter of fact, it’s the higher stages of the actualization hierarchies, the other main type of hierarchy, that actually overcome dominator hierarchies.
So in actualization hierarchies, which are by far the most prevalent types of hierarchies in nature, things going from atoms to molecules to cells to organisms, for example. There, each stage transcends and includes its predecessor; each stage is more inclusive, not less inclusive. It has an increase in consciousness, an increase in love, an increase in compassion, an increase in care. The more people you have at these higher levels of development, the less people you have engaging in dominator hierarchies, because those tend to be generated by people at egocentric and power levels of development. So we are squarely coming down in favor of these growth hierarchies or nested hierarchies or holarchies that are not domineering but in fact just the opposite. They are actualizing. And there are ways that people add more and more tools and more and more capacities and especially more and more perspectives to their makeup.
Barrett: Exactly. One of the interesting things around this research was that I picked up some additional insights around perspectives, as well, and how these folks at later stage action logics use perspectives in service of helping their own development and helping others to develop. You know our good friend and colleague Clint Fuhs is doing some really interesting research on perspective taking as a developmental practice in itself. And I found that the core practices that folks engaged in for their own development and for the development of others really were about perspective taking.
But as consciousness develops, as the action logic develops, they used a different approach to perspective taking. So specifically I found that the Strategists that I was working with really were all about wanting people to be able to see more perspectives and not being limited by their own perspectives. They focused on their ability to take multiple perspectives and to look at the contrasts among them.
As the action logic develops the Alchemist then shifts to focusing not just on the perspectives, but on the psychological mechanisms that actually generate perspectives. For example they look at their assumptions or their beliefs or their own self-identity, their own ego. They really want to help people understand how to work with them, the actual psychological dynamics that create perspectives. And not be limited by those perspectives themselves.
The most fascinating shift was dropping into the Ironists, who were the latest of these action logics. They essentially chose to focus on the subjective, creative ground that exists before all perspective and constructs are generated. Their meaning making went right to the essence and essentially invited people to be more present by dropping all constructs. For them it was about getting as clean as possible in getting themselves out of they way. They use that sort of cliché, where they could just be incredibly present to—as one of the participants said – to tune in to the integrative nature of consciousness itself. And allow it to do its thing. That was really how these Ironists approach the work that they are doing. They would get really clear and work to drop as many perspectives as possible. They would rest in that present moment of awareness as the very system that they were working with.
Ken: Right. And that’s the important point. It’s to drop as many perspectives as possible. In other words, to still not get stuck in a limited number of perspectives. The idea is still that perspectives can be liberating or they can be confining. Ultimately, of course, you want to transcend all of them, but you don’t want to get stuck with just a few of them, either. That’s one of the ways to track the unfolding of perspectives right up to the point they are themselves, let go of and transcended. But that makes the assumption that somebody is already at an Ironist stage and that they have gone through all of the perspectives available at previous stages.
Barrett: Right. But what I liked about this was that it did provide a little bit of a paint by numbers approach to developing your own consciousness. Let’s be realistic here that consciousness development is a mystery. Consciousness itself is a mystery and we are not going to pretend to fully understand it. However, what I do see was that people can essentially develop to see multiple perspectives, learn to understand how perspectives themselves are generated through assumptions and beliefs and their ego, and then learn to look at their own personality and its structure.
After you’ve done that, the next step is to learn to drop all constructs whatsoever, to drop all perspectives entirely. This provides a conveyor belt of perspective taking practice. It’s important to point out that these aren’t necessarily practices that are relegated to only these individual stages, because I think people can have these stage experiences of dropping all perspectives.
As consciousness comes more into the foreground, then they can drop those perspectives. As it drops more into the background, then all of a sudden they are looking at multiple perspectives. So it’s like these are state experiences, but as people develop further it seems that they become more and more capable of looking at the psychological dynamics of their own ego and dropping the perspectives.
Ken: Right. You point out that later action logics and more complex meaning making has been correlated with increased leadership effectiveness. How a leader knows is at least if not more important than what a leader knows. Still, there is very little research on the latest action logics. So your research question was, how do leaders with a late stage action logic design sustainability initiatives?
You are actually working with the intersection of three areas: leadership, sustainability and adult development. That hasn’t been done before. And after you then went through a series of in depth interviews with these individuals, you then analyzed them for semantic, common patterns or issues or ideas or concerns,. Most of the thesis then discusses these findings and these themes. The themes broke into three main areas, having to do with being, reflecting and engaging. [See diagram below for summary of the findings. – ed].
And in being, the conclusion was that they design from a deep inner foundation. And we will be going through what this means in just a second.
In reflecting, they have access to powerful internal resources and theories to design, and then engaging adaptive design management. So we will start with being to design from a deeper inner foundation. We need three subsets to do that. One was sustainability work as spiritual practice. The second was design grounded in transpersonal meaning. The third was uncertainty embraced in self, others and the process. So sustainability work is spiritual practice. One, the work is not separate from their chosen spiritual practice. Two, the work is a way of following their life’s calling, following their heart. In either case, work is not just work.
Barrett: Not at all. In fact for many of the people that I have spoken with, their work literally was an extension of their spiritual practice. And for them, the challenges that they faced they would correlate closely with the spiritual challenges that they are engaging with.
The way that this showed up, Ken, was that I found that people really treated the external world in similar to ways to how they treated their internal world, which makes a lot of sense – meaning that the way that they actually engaged with themselves showed up in their behavior in the external world. I will talk about this a little bit later on, but essentially it seems that as people were more aware of what was happening inside of themselves and as they actually had more compassion for that, they would work in the same way when they were bringing together a stakeholder group or to design an intervention for a leadership development program, or something like that. They would essentially approach it in the same sort of way. It was like, “as I work with myself that’s how I work with the external world.” The work itself was grounded in this, which is this second piece, was grounded in a deep meaning.
We saw a development in what meaning is for each of these action logics. This means that the Strategists essentially grounded their service in personal meaning. That is, it was meaningful for them to be doing it for the people in Africa or meaningful for them to help this particular ecosystem.
However, as people developed into an Alchemist space, the grounding actually became transpersonal. It had a transpersonal flavor to it. They saw themselves as literally consciousness flowing through them or God was working through them. Or the infinite was essentially doing work through them. They were essentially doing it in service of this much greater Other which is different than I am doing it for impoverished people in Africa.
The developmental path continued through to the Ironists where they grounded their service in unitive meaning. Instead of doing it in service for the greater other, [it was a shift to] “I am that.” I am this wave on the ocean of conciseness and the service that I am doing is literally in service of myself. That’s the space that they were coming from.
Ken: Right. It’s unitive consciousness acting through me, as me, to do this particular project. One of the ideas that you included in designing grounded and transpersonal meaning was be of service to others, the development of consciousness and alleviate suffering. This tends to be grounded in a source beyond the personal or individual. But again that changes, as you say, moving up those three stages. Spirit is acting through them or even as them on behalf of all. But in any event, it’s not merely an egoic drive or a deficiency need.
Barrett: No, not at all. And one of the third elements there in this whole being theme was this notion that they embraced uncertainty and they had deep trust in themselves other than the process. Because when we really start looking at these large-scale initiatives, Ken, they have to do with supporting the development of ecosystems or entire societies or even doing leadership development or trying to build a strong cadre of civil society leaders in a West African country.
There is just so much uncertainty. No one can pretend to know the way that the system works, what the leverage points are or anything like that. What I found that these folks did was that they were able to rest very calmly in the face of that uncertainty. That doesn’t mean that they didn’t necessarily have fear or you know, confusion, but it’s that they were literally able to embrace it. They had this deep trust, not only in themselves but also in the network and the ecosystems of people that they were working with and also the process that they were going through. So they knew that combination of their own presence, their own insights, plus the people that they were doing this work with, plus the actual engagement process, was going to essentially be sufficient to navigate through this incredible complexity and navigate through these big challenges.
That capacity was just very powerful for me personally see people talk about and work with. Ultimately, Ken, if we really look at the moment, if we think we know what’s going to happen next, we are just fooling ourselves. If we think we really understand what’s happening around us we are just kind of fooling ourselves. We are always residing in that uncertainty.
I think that often times we create explanations for what’s going to happen and what’s happening around us just to keep away some sort of fear or anxiety. But to actually just step up to it, face the brutal facts that we don’t know what’s happening here, we don’t know what’s going to happen next. However, we are empowered with our own present awareness, the experiences we bring from the past and its collective capacity, and then we are just going to walk through this process – that’s such an empowered way of engaging into these big challenges.
Ken: Right. And I think that’s a much more accurate way of looking at it. Sometimes you only hear it stated as openness to not knowing, a capacity to live with ambiguity, capacity to live with uncertainty, you don’t need to trust in rationality, et cetera. But actually the other side of that is there is a trust, but it’s a trust in a much bigger process. It’s a trust in the universe at large, it’s a trust in evolution, it’s a trust in your own present awareness, its a trust in the people working as a network. And that does act to give some sort of support in the midst of ambiguity. So it’s not that you are just simply without any kind of peacefulness or place to trust or place to rest. It’s just shifting.
Barrett: Yes, it is. And in fact one of the Ironists said, “I simply trust in allowing the integrative nature of consciousness to do its thing.” She talked about tuning into the evolutionary arc of the moment. And being just aware of what really is the next micro-developmental move for this individual, for this team, for this organization, for this system that I am working with. Being attuned and clear around that through both rational analysis and intuitive insight and then working with that. She was really trusting that integrative nature of consciousness, basically that it’s going to emerge organically no matter what.
Instead of pretending that I am going to force it this way or force it that way or that I can catalyze it into some sort of change, instead I am going to get really clear, really listen deeply and respond to those whispers of emergence that are happening at the edge of these individuals and systems.
Ken: Right. And most likely, just hypothesizing, but most likely you know this as a company is a shift in the sense of self going from self as egoic, rational, personal and individual to more a true self, a unique self or real self, that it’s also the self of the universe. You are trusting a different self. You are trusting a bigger self, a larger self, a wider self to essentially deliver the goods. You are capable of sitting with the ambiguity and unknowingness that merely egoism or rational process isn’t going to deliver. But that’s an important shift and an important transformation.
Barrett: Yes it is. It was interesting to see that folks who held different action logics tended to privilege a different approach to working with that ambiguity. The way that I was able to articulate it was that there was a softening in how they responded and tried to work with these complex change situations. What I mean by that is that the Strategists, if you remember, hold a systems perspective. They were grounding their service in a real personal meaning. And the way that they actually took action was that they would operate on the system – meaning that they would look at it, they would rise above it and then they would try to actively influence those with authority, power and influence in the system. They would work to try and catalyze the perceived changes that they felt were needed in the system. So it was a very active, engaging kind of pushing and prodding way of trying to make things happen. I have worked closely with some leaders who really do take this approach and sometimes they are literally willing to violate the system and even violate others in service of pushing and jerking the system and trying to shock it a little bit so it moves forward and unlocks.
Sometimes that approach may be needed and may work in the short or even long-term. You may need that discriminating intelligence that just comes down in the moment and just shocks a system. People talk about a shamanic shout, right? That just kind of wakes people up, right? However, as I look at the development of these change agents and shifted to Alchemists and then Ironists, there was less and less of that more assertive approach showing up.
The Alchemists tended to work to create supportive conditions and create the initial conditions that would enable the system to emerge and develop. Their approach was much more one of where they would work to dialogue with the system, instead of operating on the system as the Strategists were doing. They would do lots of experimentation, lots of probing, lots of listening and then try and lay out the initial conditions that would help the systems and individuals to develop. That was a softer approach.
The softest approach that I encountered was that of the Ironists. Their preferred approach really was fascinating. It was tough to come up with words to describe, but essentially they hold and wonder into the system as the system. So what they did was they would in their consciousness really anchor in unity consciousness and then literally design as the system. It’s like what I said earlier about that one particular Ironist and that they would wonder into what does this system or individual need and want to become next. They would listen very closely and then, because they knew that they didn’t have control over that organic emergent process of the individual or the system, they would hold the energetic tension for that next stage of maturity to emerge. It was like they were essentially visualizing and creating the space for that individual or system to take it’s next step, inviting it into that place and kind of clearing the space so that it could develop in that way.
It reminded me of the way that Yogananda or Aurobindo write about manifesting out of a non-dual space, out of the causal as he would call it.
They were holding this larger space but at the same time anchored as that very system or as that very individual. This was very different than the push and prod approach of catalyzing like the Strategists tended to privilege.
One final note on that was that I think that these different approaches are not specifically linked to particular developmental stages in that Ironists sometimes may kind of push and prod and they also may create supportive conditions in addition to doing the holding and the wondering. But it seemed that as people developed in their action logic, they would do less of the sort of the pushing and the prodding and more of the relaxing back into creating the conditions for the system or the individual to develop on their own. That was fascinating for me to see that sort of softening. Again, I think that is about the way that they relate to their own interior selves and that sort of deep compassion and acceptance that emerges.
Ken: Right, which makes perfect sense, too, in terms of the shifts that presumably are undergoing in the consciousness itself as it becomes more and more transcendental, more and more inclusive. There are less and less points that it can actually put its finger on and say this is the cause of this. Everything is self arising and the most you can do is just that you hold the space for that, wonder what’s happening next and try to provide the conditions for that to happen. It makes a great deal of sense to see that kind of softening happening, because that’s what’s happened to the boundaries of the self sense as well.
And theme two was access to powerful internal resources and theories to develop the design. There are two parts to that: One, intuition and ways of knowing other than rational analysis. and two, navigation via systems theory, complexity theory, and/or integral theory. So, intuitive ways of knowing other than rational analysis has three aspects to that: accessing alone, connecting with spirit, higher self, intuition, collective intelligence, accessing with others, joining with peers to collectively engage a deep creative space. Third, sometimes we can use techniques to access design capacity beyond the use of rational analysis. So many had specific practices they used to access non-rational knowing, such as getting rid of ego stuff in order to download the design or sit and meditate in a posture and intentionally open themselves. But all of them had some sort of access to processes of knowing that were non-conventional and non-rational.
Barrett: Yes. That was what was really amazing to actually witness and hear about that. It’s not that people threw away rational analysis. This isn’t about getting rid of mind. It’s that they essentially would use intuition to cultivate the initial elements of the design and for making decisions along the way. They called it lots of different things, ranging from accessing collective consciousness to intuition. It wasn’t my place to define what that was, but I knew that they were not doing rational analysis.
One of the great stories was that one of the folks whom I had studied came to an integral institute sustainability seminar in 2006. He participated in six days of being in this intense space with a cohort of fifty folks who were all holding this very deep and powerful dialogue and space around sustainability. He sat down the next day and literally had this incredible flow of insight come through him. It literally drove him to write for the next twelve hours straight. Over the course of that twelve hours, Ken, he essentially brought out what has become his current life’s work. He spent the next four years unpacking what flowed through him on that day.
Barrett: That was the most extreme and really beautiful practice or experience that I came across. But I had a number of people who said, “I was sitting there in my writing retreat writing my book, looking out my window and then pow! The metaphor emerged that enabled me to connect all of these different pieces that would essentially help me to finish up this book and finish up this design.”
That’s really just a remarkable capacity that comes on board as folks develop their action logic – being able to trust in and cultivate this access to non-rational ways of knowing.
You mentioned a number of people had identified specific practices for how to do that. Some of them, interestingly all the women in my study, mentioned that they regularly do that together. They would be able to bring out deep intuitive insights collectively in groups of both men and women. There was this process of essentially getting a collective intelligence to start spinning in a group that was beyond anyone else’s rational analysis, just as ideas were popping in. That was such a powerful capacity to have in the face of all this complexity, because if it really is tapping into something that’s bigger than all of us, and that is authentically what I believe it’s doing, then it provides that just-in-time information from the big picture. There really is information that is incredibly relevant for us in the moment as we are trying to make these decisions that are more than we can pick up on our own just by trying to analyze the system and think about it.
Ken: Right. Another interesting finding of the study I found is part two of reflecting: navigation via systems theory, complexity theory, integral theory. And then the three parts of that are the core design lens – systems theory saying hey it’s whole systems thinking. And two, the core design lens is complexity theory. This is emergent complex systems. And then three is integral theory such as Tolbert or Wilber. There were several ways that was used. But it was very interesting to see that people still needed some sort of language. The non-reductionistic languages were the ones that worked. People actually availed themselves of one of those three particularly well known versions of holistic thinking.
Barrett: I think it’s just because again they provide a vehicle for understanding or at least beginning to approximate the truth of what’s happening out there.
Barrett: People would use them in a variety of different ways. The systems thinking approach allows people to pay attention to feedback loops, to build in learning cycles and to look at how things change on the other side of the system when you tweak and adjust this. That’s why you can never fully map out everything that’s really happening and all of the flows and all of the dynamics. It provides the sort of loose way of talking about it and understanding it.
The complexity theory approach to leadership really was about this whole concept of using or working with complex adaptive systems. This essentially means that we’ve got very complex systems that have elements and individuals in them that are constantly learning and constantly changing. The system is adapting and, again, it’s happening moment by moment. So you have really no control or no idea of all the dynamics and forces that are there. The key element there has to do with creating the initial conditions that can support a system or an individual to move from point A to point B.
You can’t control it, but you can do things like bring together the key people that have authority, power and influence in the system on a regular basis. You can seize new insights into those folks that are making decisions. You can ensure that there is an alignment of actions towards the same direction amongst those players.
For example, I have been working with a very interesting organization recently called the Dutch Sustainable Trade Initiative. What we do is build these large scale programs that mainstream sustainability into global supply chains. We will work with the biggest companies in any given sector, like soy or cotton or cocoa or tea, and usually agricultural sectors. We bring in all of the big companies and all of the big NGOs that really know about the sustainability issues and help them to get aligned toward a common vision, but for their own reasons. It has really been amazing to see integral in action in this process, Ken.
For years NGOs have been pounding companies to do things the sustainable way. You know, you should change your business practices because it’s important for the people in Africa. The companies respond, “Get out of town. I am not interested in doing that. I have shareholder profits that I am responsible for.”
What we have been able to do at our organization is create programs that allow businesses to invest millions and millions of dollars into sustainability initiatives that actually do help the people in Africa. But the businesses are doing it for their own reasons. They are doing it because of supply chain security; they are doing it because of risk mitigation and brand reputation. That’s an example of creating an initial condition that then allows the system to develop and emerge on its own. This allows people to be there for their own reasons and take common action, but not need to change who they are.
Ken: Right. And one of the things that these sort of holistic theories have in general is just that kind of thing – is watching various sorts of very, very large, very complex systems unfold and evolve over time. These aren’t linear processes. They are not an example of one billiard ball smashing into another and being tightly defined by the physics of the situation. They are multi-linear, multidimensional, multi-level processes. What you can do is help set up initial conditions that are more likely, but not assured, to head in one direction. Or you can use it to help map the overall situation and track various variables as they are unfolding.
I think one of the advantages of an integral map is that it points to dimensions in human beings that many people just didn’t realize they had. Once they see it, they say, “Oh yeah, of course, naturally.” And then they start paying attention to it. That can help them track more of what’s going on out there. They still won’t let you control it, but it gives you a chance to map it a little bit more accurately and, of course, you don’t want to confuse the map of the territory. But you don’t want a screwed up map either.
Barrett: Right, exactly. The other approach that people used in addition to systems theory and complexity theory was integral theory. I need to point out that I tried very hard to find folks who were not familiar with integral theory that also scored at a late action logic. I reached out into my broad network of sustainability practitioners and change agents that I thought likely held a late stage action logic and assessed a bunch of them. I also reached out into the general business community and assessed a number of leaders from multinational companies that are common household names.
They are also leading large scale sustainability initiatives. What was interesting to me, Ken, was that of the thirteen folks that I had in my final sample that were assessed at a late stage action logic, twelve of them were folks that I would have considered already using an integral approach to addressing sustainability issues.
There are a couple of important nuances here. One, there was also a number of people, at least another dozen, that were also very familiar with integral theory and using it in their work but were not assessed at a late stage action logic. So just because you know integral theory and work with it doesn’t necessarily mean that you hold a late stage action logic.
And then I thought, well, where are these folks? I am pretty in tune with the global sustainability movement and I just began to wonder if people are drawn to working with integral theory because, partially, because of the community that it creates? As they develop in these late stage action logics, do they start looking for people who understand them and people who can meet them? Do they look for maps and models that accurately represent what they are seeing the world? And so they are drawn toward integral theory. I am sure that there are people out there that hold a late stage action logic, that aren’t using integral theory and doing very powerful sustainability work, but I just had a really hard time finding them.
I am just going to leave that as an open question, but I think it’s important for folks to realize that. Of the folks that were working with integral theory, it was interesting to me that there were four key ways that they were using it. They were using it to assess and analyze and map the context of a situation. They would do a needs assessment and they would use integral theory to identify the situation and do an assessment of it or an analysis of it.
They would work through the quadrants and then a developmental level approach. They didn’t tend to take it any deeper, using any of the other elements of integral theory. Secondly, they would use it to support the personal and professional development of themselves and the others involved in the initiative. So again they were looking at the map, sharing it with others and sharing the framework with people.
The third way that they tended to use integral theory was to design an intervention after completing a needs assessment. After identifying the key dynamics and saying, “Okay, we’ve got big issues in the cultural arena that we need to attend to. We need to tailor it into more of an orange level way of making meaning,” that they would design an intervention appropriately.
That actually gets into the fourth way that they would use it, which is really to tailor communications more effectively to reach a specific audience.
Those emerged not only from the research and seeing what other people are doing, but it resonates with the way that I have used an integral approach to leadership and sustainability over the past decade. Those four ways are the best bang for your buck with respect to applying integral on the ground.
Ken: Right. It was all very interesting to see this, to see how it was used and to see the extent that it was used. Let me read just a paragraph or two of your reflections on just these issues after giving those four ways that integral theory is most commonly used.
“Definitely for all of my participants, 12 out of 13, integral theory is an important element of their developmental process. Of the 68 design tools identified by interviewees, the integral framework was the most commonly cited. Second in popularity was intuition, followed by perspective taking. The latter of these is typically associated with integral theory. Thus for this group integral theory and the framework associated with it are frequently utilized.
“Similarly, one of the participants, talks about how integral theory is core not only to the design, but also to the methodology and personal development practices of her organization’s design team.” And a quote from her on that, “Vivianna considers integral theory to be possibly ‘the main bridge’ between the essence of who she is and her design of sustainability initiatives.” Which, of course, is one of the things that I personally hope integral theory does, is that it reflects, it helps you understand your interiors as well as your exteriors, and to find a common knowledge where you can link those two realities together.
Mathew notes that “integral theory is not just a theoretical construct but a living practice that informs my life.” For Luz, one of only two Ironists in the sample, integral theory is a “rigorous” “philosophical container” that she can feel confident in. Yet also, it “sure as hell…has emancipatory potential or a liberation quality.” She feels, “it’s like Spirit experimenting with yourself.” “Edward, a long-time international development practitioner within the United Nations, recounted how he and colleagues built large-scale, multi-country development programs based upon the integral framework. In this excerpt, he cites how they used the quadrants element of the framework to identify the forces that would obstruct or support a country from achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). In summary, all but one of my participants use integral theory to design sustainability initiatives. They claim to use the integral framework extensively for a wide variety of applications, ranging from assessment of the context to developmentally tailored communication.”
“For some, integral theory is more than a theoretical construct; it is actively used to support their own personal and professional development. All of my participants use at least one of these three theoretical lenses – systems theory, complexity theory, and integral theory – to design sustainability initiatives. These lenses seem to shape how these change agents experience and respond to the complexity of social, environmental, and economic challenges. This finding, combined with the finding that these leaders access ways of knowing other than rational analysis, constitute Theme 2. Theme 2 can be summarized as: When these leaders reflect upon the design of a sustainability initiative – in order to develop it initially and evolve it – they are supported in their thinking by (1) non-rational ways of knowing such as intuition, and (2) systems theory, complexity theory and/or integral theory.”
And you know I have to say I was a little bit surprised by the extent that these three basic theories were used by essentially everybody. And then you know thinking about it, it makes perfect sense. I mean sustainability is an extraordinarily complex issue and leadership is a complex topic. And these, you know, three theories are known if they are known for anything, but by their inclusiveness, their attempt at being inclusive.
So it makes a certain amount of sense when you think about it, but it’s also a useful finding. People who are training to do sustainability leadership should familiarize themselves with at least one of these theories.
Barrett: Yes and it should be all three, Ken, because each of them provides a different cut on reality, right?
Barrett: After a decade of using integral theory in the field, I have come to see it as an incredibly powerful lens to pick up and look at reality through, and then to put it down and just tune in and be very present to the moment. It’s such a crucial tool to have in my toolbox because of what it reveals when I pick it up and use it as a lens. And, as you have pointed out over the years, it’s also critical not to let it get in the way of being present to what’s actually arising. Because it is not the territory, it’s just a map.
Ken: Right. Theme three is adaptive design management and there are also some very, very interesting findings here. There were three sub-components to engaging: one, dialogue with the system to consistently adapt the system; two, roles adopted as space holders, creator of supportive conditions and catalyst; three, development, cultivated in self, other and the collective.
So the first has two subsets: One way is to dialogue with the system and that turns out to be looking at the system, looking through the system and looking as the system. And two: Go where the energy is to take advantage of opportunities and build momentum. So, all of them feel themselves to be in relationship to a very complex system, at the very least. If not, you know, ultimate spirit itself or unity consciousness. They all have an ongoing way to listen to that system, to take feedback from it, to see what it wants to do next, to hold a space, for finding out what it wants to do, but definitely in an open communication with this larger reality.
Barrett: Yes, indeed. This whole piece around how to actually dialogue with the system was just fascinating to me. The concept of dialoging with the system comes out of the complexity leadership literature. But what I found is that according to your action logic (this is an initial proposition here because again this is a small sample): you take a different way of dialoging with the system. What I found is that one way is to look at the system, which is what Strategists tended to do, or those that held a Teal stage of consciousness.
Ken: And they would push forwards.
Barrett: Yes, exactly. Pushing and pulling and objectifying the system.
So one way is to look at the system and the second way is to look through the system, which is what the Alchemist tended to do. The final approach was to look as the system. These are not specific only to one developmental stage. I am sure everybody can access these, although the later stages tended to be able to do things like look as the system more effectively I think.
The practice of looking at the system, I mean very practically and concretely, that’s doing things like engaging in objective research, reviewing a quarterly market analysis or survey results. It is looking at a system for needed data, seeing what the flows are, maybe doing some sort of system dynamics modeling or something like that.
But to look through the system involves a more sophisticated way of engaging with the system. Folks would literally work to look through the worldviews of the key stakeholders across the system. They would do this by directly talking with them and then they would also, at times when they had to make decisions, they would consciously adopt the perspectives of the different people or organizations or other elements in the system. They would ask, what would this particular leader that I am working with and who has major influence, do? How would they perceive this particular design twist that I am trying to put in here? Or how is this going to be received by this group, you know this business association that is a major power player.
By holding that perspective and then making a decision from that place or informing their decision from it, they were dealing with the system in a much different way. And then the final way was probing for information and dialoging with the system as the system. The Ironists were the only ones who talked about doing this. But they would do it literally through accessing intuitive insight about the system or taking a unity or source perspective.
Just to clarify, lots of the participants – not just the Ironists – were actually able to do this, because this was getting intuitive insight and in some cases literally holding the perspective that they are the entire system and then just literally sensing for information as that system.
It was just fascinating to see the different ways, the different action logics or different levels of consciousness, engage in this process of dialoging with the system in order to better understand it and then better engage with it.
Ken: Right. And it does tend to look at, look through and look as with these three developmental levels.
Barrett: Yes. That came up time and time again: let’s look at, look through, look as. I think it’s one of the core findings coming out of this. To a certain extent this also correlates with the Big Three, Ken – in taking this first person, second person, and third person perspective. It’s just fascinating for me to see how that rolled out.
Ken: Yeah, it’s more intimate going all the way up to a first person identity with the system and in unity consciousness.
Barrett: Yes, exactly.
Ken: Almost everybody had something to say about going where the energy is. That just seemed to be a felt bodily sense that people used and is always an important check and something to keep an eye on. Where the momentum is, where the advantages are, where the juice is. It is straight forward, but also important.
Barrett: Yes, exactly. And there is a subtlety to it. When I talked about people going where the energy is, in some cases that was just literally as clear as where are these stakeholders willing to invest money and so let’s design in that way. With trying to get these sustainability issues moving forward, I think that is what these leaders were willing to do. This is really emblematic of these late stage action logic capacities. They trusted that there are many ways up the mountain. There was not one right way as someone who holds an Amber consciousness might see. And there is not even one best way as someone who holds an Orange consciousness might see.
Barrett: But it actually turns out that there are many great ways and many good ways to move up that mountain to get to the other side. That means if you are trying to move the bar on the Millennium Development Goals and help to reduce the poverty of a West African population, there are lots of different ways that you can get there.
Ken: Right. And there are lots of bad ways to do it.
Barrett: So it’s having that discriminating intelligence. It’s not Green saying, “Well any way will get you there, because they are all equally valid.” Because that’s not true either.
Barrett: And so these folks would essentially go where there is flow and where there seems to be alignment and trust. Even if it wasn’t in what they thought would be the ideal direction to go, by going with the energy then it could build some momentum and it could essentially change the dynamic of the system and the way that the stakeholders were engaging or the way that the ecosystem was being managed.
The flipside of the coin of going with the energy is that these folks also paid attention to where the energy was blocked. There would be blockages such as limiting beliefs amongst the key decision makers or lack of alignment across different groups or even tension within themselves. And then they would actually work to remove those blockages where it was appropriate.
Ken: Including in themselves?
Barrett: Including in themselves, exactly! Whether it’s limiting beliefs that they are facing, whether it’s lack of creativity that they are dealing with or whether it’s essentially a fear or a performance pressure, right?
Barrett: It could be essentially as simple as a centering practice that allowed them to get out of their regrets about the past and worries about the future and just be present to respond in the moment in a way that was needed. But then they would work with their team members to do shadow work, literally. This would help people get over the projections that they were having, because you know the sustainability world is just full of that stuff – people being angry at corporations and people being angry at governments. It just gets in the way of being creative and coming up with good solutions.
Then they would also go to work on helping to ensure alignment. This whole notion of going with the energy had both a flow component to it and a bringing conscious attention to the blockages and the shadow stuff component to it as well. I found that to be a really powerful one-two punch.
Ken: This is really important, too, because – so many approaches to things like sustainability or just working with exteriors and systems problems and exteriors – if there is a blockage, it’s a blockage in getting this particular supply line over to this particular resource and so on. But in many of the cases the blockages are interior, they are internal – fear, jealousy, envy, rage, anger. Until you get those taken care of, the exterior ones aren’t going to go away, because the people bringing the interior problems will just take it to the next issue and it will repeat and repeat and repeat and repeat.
So, being willing to look and to have a map that has exteriors as well as interiors is really important. And if people seem to intuitively understand that and all of them are using models that generally have some shadow element included in them. But that’s a really good point that the energy is both positive where it flowing and negative where is it blocked.
Barrett: I think that it’s important to add on that second piece because most people talk about this cliché of “Oh, you know, just go with the flow.” People don’t seem to remember that part of going with the flow is paying attention to where there is a rock in the river, where there is a big boulder in the river and having to flow around that. Sure, you can just ignore it, but can you bring some conscious attention to it and release it and open up greater flow.
Ken: Yes. The second sub-component of engaging is roles adopted as space holders, creators of supportive conditions and catalysts. It turns out that those three, themselves, have kind of a developmental correlate in unfolding.
Barrett: They do! I spoke into this earlier with respect to what the Strategists would do, how they would pick this catalyzer approach where they would operate on systems by really trying to influence those that had authority, power and influence. They would push and prod. It was interesting to see the language that they would use around that. It was like they would see themselves as holding the torch to draw people toward a further vision. Or exposing people to outside views or pushing people’s edges, to push and shift boundaries. The language that they used showed what I would call more of a masculine assertive approach to working with this, to working with people and with these communities and systems.
Then again, the language changed. That was the key for me as it shifted to the Alchemists. When the Alchemists talked about being a catalyst, it was a softer sort of catalyst, meaning that they were seeding positive relationships, meaningful connections and innovative spaces. They were working on moving stuck patterns and helping to create flow and unstuckness. So it was kind of a softer catalyst approach.
The key role that the Alchemists took on was of being a creator of supportive conditions. Instead of trying to catalyze and drive, they would want to create the formative conditions that would allow the system or the individual to self-author and to self-define. They would create processes for people to learn and change. They would create the conditions that allowed the people in this community to co-design their own space where they could hear each other.
Ken: With self actualization needs they are probably very happy with bosses like those.
Barrett: Yes, indeed. I personally have been in situations where I worked with a catalyst whose philosophy was to try to push and prod. He seemed to often treat himself like that and frequently treated his employees like that. He treated the work like that, and even key stakeholders like that. He was someone who held a Strategist action logic or Teal consciousness, I believe. It was very difficult for me, frankly, Ken. We don’t need to ruin these relationships along the way just in service of shaking up the system.
Barrett: There is actually a softer way of doing this where we could still work and get movements happening. I am not going to pretend to say that shaking things up and being assertive and aggressive is not useful, because at certain times I think it’s totally appropriate. But I did appreciate that I found a fair number of leaders who didn’t feel like they needed to resort to that as the predominant way of working with individuals and systems –they trusted the developmental process that was happening within those individuals and happening within those communities in the overall system.
Ken: Right. It’s one tool, as long as it’s not the only tool.
Barrett: Yes. And then the third role was the one that emerged through the Ironists. So this was this role of being a space holder and a creator. What they would do is work on holding the energetic tension for the potential of that individual or that project. When they were working, for example, in a meeting, they are concrete and practical while being clear about what sort of ideal outcome there is and continuing to invite people into getting aligned in a way that moves toward that. There was subtle energy work that they were doing where they were essentially holding the energetic space. This is a potential, right? If we are co-creating in the moment, they were essentially inviting the moment to co create in this direction.
One of the Alchemists said that “that’s the real work of sustainability.” Leadership is being able to hold the space well enough that a community can self reflect, see itself, make it’s own changes and move as individuals and as a collective. Ultimately sustainability is individuals; it’s people choosing to do things differently. To the extent that they can collectively come together and see what they are doing collectively and chose to do it differently is where the leverage is. You can’t get the ecosystem to act any differently; you can just get the people to act differently.
Ken: Inability is so much of this – it’s people work.
Ken: These folks were using subtle energy practices to invite and hold this space so that the potential of what that community could create or what that organization could create was realized. So many people just dive into their own ways of seeing things and their priorities and all of their shadow stuff comes up, right? Someone’s got to hold that bigger space that essentially invites people into a deeper and broader way of seeing things.
Barrett: Right. That’s certainly going to require a fair amount of ego-transcendence because you just can’t hold the space, you have to jump into the space. To actually hold it open for others to unfold truly takes a non-egoic awareness. Given that each level of development is a decrease in egocentrism, then you know it fits again that although you don’t necessarily have to be at one of the very highest levels to be able to that, the likelihood that you can do it is going to increase. That we would see this happening with Ironists makes perfect sense.
Ken: I think that it comes out of these powerful capacities that seem to arise as later action logics get turned on or as people develop into them. Part of it is that people are just more able to get into witness consciousness. They are more able to see their own personality playing its games and their own ego trying to do its thing. They are able to allow that to be or work with it in a way that it’s not interfering in the moment. It’s not that these folks are super human, that they have no stuff that comes up. Of course they do. It’s that when the stuff comes up, it’s just a cloud passing in the sky allowed to be the cloud but not allowed to dominate the way that I see the sky.
Ken: That consciousness capacity that comes online as later action logics develop, really showed up here in its ability to hold space. Another key capacity that emerges that articulates the higher action logics is this ability to simultaneously hold and manage conflicting perspectives, conflicting frames. And that’s why Torbert called it an Ironist. It’s literally seeing the ironies of life and recognizing that I am both angry and happy in the very moment. There doesn’t have to be a difference. I am acting in integrity. Sometimes I act out of integrity and it doesn’t mean that I am one or the other of those. It’s just that I am complex.
Barrett: The different aspects are arising. These folks were able to see these ironies or these paradoxes that were arising and not get triggered by them, not need to resolve them or fix them or simplify them in a way that dishonors them.
It was just fascinating and this process of studying these leaders was an incredibly powerful developmental process for me, personally.
Ken: I can imagine. If people are just shown developmental maps, that increases their speed of development. Just being exposed to these developmental realities is very psychoactive. One of the things that we found, as well, is people who just study integral maps tend to start developing more quickly, because it lets you know that there are more things available than you thought of and it triggers that transformative process in your own psyche. I can imagine going into all of these details, as you did for such a long time with so many people, would really trip those triggers for you.
Barrett: Yes, it did. This is something that you’ve talked about for years that is so critical to self-authoring your own development. That’s creating this community of people that will continually invite you into a deeper way of being and expressing and knowing. And that’s essentially what I was able to create with this group of leaders around the world that I was working with. I was able to go deeply into their experience for multiple hours and be there alongside them as they walked through their own understanding of the work that they did.
I was concurrently helping to design a 14 million Euro initiative to help advance sustainability in West Africa in the cocoa sector. It was classic. I was taking knowledge out of the academic insights that I was getting and applying them and then bringing questions out of that work back into the interviews that I was doing. It was an action learning initiative for me as well.
What I wanted to do with this work, Ken, was write it for people that are hungry for their development and are at the cusp of moving into Second Tier or are already in early stages of Second Tier – folks who hold a green or a Teal or a Turquoise level of consciousness. I was able to articulate these 15 competencies that these leaders are drawing upon, many of which we have talked about already. If folks work to develop those, then they are not only learning to become more effective leaders, but these particular practices and competencies will help to catalyze their own development.
Ken: I totally agree. These 15 competencies are our very next topic. We will finish up here with the third sub-component to engaging and that is development cultivated in self, others and the collective. So self development, challenge and support others to develop and challenge and support the collective to develop including by deepening trust and mutual understanding. Once again with these three components we see a developmental correlation.
Barrett: Yes, absolutely. These folks would have specific practices that they would do to develop themselves. They had practices that they would do to develop others, and then practices that they would do to increase their overall understanding of the world. They had interpersonal practices for understanding others and then cognitive practices as well for seeing what was going on there. Each of the developmental stages had its own flavor to it.
The Strategists at Teal, their real work on their self was working through their own psychological issues around perfectionism or fear of failure and just becoming aware of their own limitations. As folks were able to develop into Alchemists, they gained this greater capacity to actually work through the ego stuff so that it didn’t end up sabotaging the process that they were working on. It wasn’t just a higher level or more superficial psychological issues like I am afraid of failing in this moment. The Alchemists were able to get deeper and say, “Oh, there are actually shadow issues that are coming up here or there are projections that I am engaging in here that are actually hindering my creativity or hindering my ability to work closely with this particular stakeholder.”For example, suppose someone had a lot of judgment about a Christian fundamentalist approach to understanding reality. This approach is popular in West Africa; in some areas there is a strong Christian fundamentalist movement emerging. Any judgment that someone has around Christian fundamentalism literally blocks their ability to be present, creative and well received by someone who is a Christian fundamentalist.
So these folks would work to release those blockages and those issues in service of the other and in service of the project. It was just beautiful to see. Then the Ironists had an even deeper approach, which was for their own development and for helping others to develop. It was about not only taking on as many new perspectives as one can, but also then letting go of those perspectives completely in service of being more present.
Let go of your model for the way you think it should be. Let go of the framework that you wrote about when you took studied for your master’s degree. Rather, just be present and sense where there are openings, where there are resistances and begin to work with those. Pay close attention to what is arising in the movement – all these practices where they would be the system. Without anything in between them and the system! No constructs, no way it should be! It was, “I am this individual, I am the system.” It was fascinating to see the way that these folks worked with this element in service of trying to improve their design capacity and in service of trying to improve their leadership effectiveness.
Ken: What was so important to me is that all of them, one way or another, saw the importance of development. What makes it doubly irritating and confusing is that development is so rarely brought into the conversations. Whether it’s in leadership or sustainability or culture wars or whatever, they have so much to tell us. It’s such an important part of reality – how people grow and develop and evolve. Leaving that out is really just terribly, terribly inadequate. It is something that all of these people recognize one way or another.
Barrett: I think that it’s just a matter of time, Ken, before it becomes clear that the more you know about a big change initiative, what leaders are doing within organizations or in large scale sustainability initiatives are failing because of the interior stuff that is happening within the cultures, within the individuals themselves who are trying to drive these developments forward.
One of the participants talked about how he saw this sustainability leader in Australia rise to power where they would be in charge of large budgets with large numbers of staff and enforcing or building water programs for an entire section of Australia. If they had an internal issue going on, if they were out of balance internally, if they had some shadow stuff going on, he talked about how they would literary amplify the system with their own issues, propagating the unhealthy expressions within themselves into the system. They would break lots of stuff. They would mess up good work that had been done, because they hadn’t handled their own internal stuff right. Even though they filled their role in this position of power, it was ultimately their internal dynamics, their internal challenges that would bring down the very system that they were trying to support. They sabotaged their own work.
I have worked closely with leaders who are really struggling with this. I think that the executive coaching movement, for example, is providing an opportunity for folks to begin to work with the deeper issues. Coaching, such as Integral Coaching Canada, teaches people how to work with shadow issues and how to essentially identify those, because you know these leaders don’t necessarily have access or are willing to engage with psychotherapy. That’s where coaching work is well done in the best of situations. But there are often times when a leader will work with an executive coach – he has got a good executive coach who is able to see these issues, because they can feel them themselves – then that essentially provides an opportunity for leaders to get their own stuff out of the way so they don’t sabotage themselves and the programs that they are engaged in.
Ken: That is so crucial. We can only hope that that does indeed start to become a more widespread concern and understanding. You did come up with 15 competencies and several practices that you feel are really essential and helpful for sustainability leadership. I will read the 15 we can and briefly discuss them, because it’s out of these 15 that you select eight that you also think are most important. We will notice which ones those are, as well.
In category one, it is deeply connect. There are three competencies: Ground sustainability practice in deep meaning; intuitive decision making and harvesting; embrace uncertainty with profound trust. The next category is know oneself: Scan and engage the internal environment and draw on multiple perspectives. Category three, adaptively manage: dialogue with a system; go with the energy. Category four, cultivate transformation: Self transformation, create developmental conditions, hold space, and shadow mentoring.
Navigate with sophisticated theories and frameworks: Systems theory and systems thinking; complexity theory and complexity thinking; integral theory and integral reflection; and polarity management.
So, “ground sustainability practice in deep meaning” and this basically means some sort of transpersonal spiritual practice or meaning.
Barrett: Yes. I think that we touched on this already with respect to one of the core findings. What I did is I took a lot of these core findings and really recognized them as core competencies that people are working with. So with respect to adding some additional insight to what we’ve already talked about, one of the key competencies that came up was this capacity to scan and engage the internal environment. That was this ability to help people to see the psychological dynamics in themselves so that they don’t inappropriately influence their sustainability work. They can be quickly in tune to that so that they could be energetically clean. These folks are not only scanning the external environment, but they are also doing scanning of the internal environment at the same time. The ability to do that rapidly in the moment is incredibly important, especially if a crisis and challenging moment come up in the process of moving these initiatives.
I would like to point out what I feel are the eight most important competencies that people can work on. These are the three foundational practices that all these practitioners need to do. So those eight competencies are the first three – the tools of systems theory, complexity theory and integral theory. I think that if you are going to be a leader in the 21st century, if you are not aware of these tools and what they offer with respect to how they reveal the territory that you have to navigate through, then you are hurting yourself, you are hurting your innovations that you are working with, and you are hurting your initiatives. Fundamentally I would start there, because it provides a language to understand and a toolkit to support the development of the individuals, groups and systems.
Then, the fourth one is grounding our sustainability work in deep meaning, because it’s so easy to burn out as a leader, a sustainability practitioner or a change agent. But if you are able to anchor the work that you do in the deepest possible context then that becomes your touchstone for the energy, creativity and insight that you need and all the inner resources to actually move through the troubled times that are undoubtly going to arise.
The other key competency is this idea of being able to do intuitive decision making and harvesting – developing a practice of practicing our intuition effectively and being able to get and harvest intuitive insight from collectives, from groups. This includes being able to bring together a group of our leaders and get them to spin insights into the center that are coming from beyond their minds. It is accessing collective intelligence.
The sixth competency of is one of being able to dialogue with the system. This involves regular practices centering into the system, identifying what it seems to need, doing lots of experimentation and testing, seeing how it responds and then repeating the process. The question is, can you consistently experiment and probe and be in dialogue and just see how things react? You’ve got this role and design that could be based upon your latest insights about how this system is still working and whether it’s changing.
The eighth competency is that of creating developmental conditions. This is the process of being a leader and designing sustainability issues that create these initial conditions that help people to develop. It also helps the collective that you are working with to develop. That gets into all sorts of innovative work around creating liberating structures. Can you challenge someone to hold a different perspective that then loosens the hold that they have on the way that they are seeing a particular issue? Can you provide them with another way of understanding nuclear power that gets them out of their rigid way of seeing it?
One of the sustainability leaders that I worked with and who was leading as a Strategist works for 50 plus billion dollar company. He was in the process of building a large scale sustainability strategy for the whole company. He was able to bring in experts from outside who provided the right sort of data that would challenge the perspectives of the leadership. They were the right type of people that have the right credentials and spoke in a way that resonated with the leadership, but then fundamentally challenged a way that those leaders were seeing the future or the way that they were seeing the impact of their organization. That’s an example of creating a developmental condition.
Ken: We’ve discussed the sophisticated theories that help navigate – systems theory, complexity theory and integral theory. Add those eight practices that you feel are particularly important. They strike me as very, very useful.
You’ve been very good with your time. I’m going to read just a paragraph or two on the need for development and then we will mention those three practices and bring us to a close. Action logic development unlocks extended capacities. That is a message that isn’t getting out there enough.
“Upon developing one’s action logic or meaning making system new leadership capacities and approaches appear to emerge. These capabilities seem to be better suited to handle complex leadership terrain as later action logics have been correlated with increased leadership effectiveness. Leaders and change agents can potentiate a shift in their leadership capacity by developing their action logic. To address the extremely complex sustainability issues of this century and beyond many sustainability leaders and change agents will require more preparation.”
“The most powerful way that those practitioners can prepare is by developing their action logic. There are a number of resources that discuss how to support that development and the individual’s meaning making system. The most comprehensive approach is addressed in the development of the body, mind, shadow and the spirit.”
Here you mentioned Leonard and Murphy’s integral transformative practice and Wilber’s Integral Life Practice.
“Current development in these areas is theories to accelerate the development of meaning making capacity, an important part of self development and a potential catalyst for us to understand the path of development itself. That is, to make such a journey it helps to have a map of the terrain. Several books effectively detail the individual and collective stages of development with respect to meaning making values and leadership.”
That’s such an important point. Hopefully, we will start to see more leadership training seminars that start to work with some sort of developmental component.
Barrett: In fact, I think that what’s good is that I have done this work at a very formal academic level. I’ve essentially established an academic reference in the business sustainability literature. If anybody is going to build a leadership development program that’s based upon the academic research that is out there, they are going to need to pay attention to the developmental element. That’s one of the small linkages, but crucial intervention points that I try to do with this work – to firmly establish it within the literature.
Ken: I agree. That’s one of the reasons I think this is such terrific work.
Finally, we will mention three important practices this research also suggests – that sustainability leaders take up (1) meditation and (2) reflective journaling to support their own development. All of the participants engage in some form of meditation and almost half mention that they use journaling. Meditation is a practice with considerable personal and professional benefits. Reflective journaling or writing as a form of self inquiry is a tool that also has long been cited to foster development. In my opinion both of these practices should be central to any developmental program for sustainability leaders with both conventional and advanced action logics, i.e., Individualists and above, Green and above.
The third important part of developing leadership capability is to work with a coach or mentor. Most of the participants have coaches or mentors with whom they regularly consult. Many serve others in this role. Initial research suggests that regular contact with an individual and/or community that challenges and invites one to use a more complex way of making meaning supports action logic development. If leaders want to accelerate their developmental process, consistent engagement with people who hold later action logics seems to be instrumental. So those are three really important take aways as well from your research; those are all three excellent recommendations.
Barrett: Fundamentally, if you weren’t doing the self reflective work – such as journaling and the meditative work, which is allowing yourself to rest in the mystery of your very own being and allowing everything else to pass through and strengthening that muscle of witnessing and just being – and if you didn’t have someone who is able to call you on your stuff and invite you to a deeper way of being, if you are not doing those three things, then its very difficult to self author, to consciously engage in your own development. Those are the foundational practices for taking the reins of one’s own development. Those are the practices that I saw most commonly used by the leaders who were already late stage in their consciousness.
Ken: I would say it’s probably some of the stuff that is across the board most needed. One of the things that concerns me about people who come to integral thinking, for example, is that they take the fact that they can simply understand the model and understand the framework to sort of be all that they need. Now they’ve got this framework. Everything is sort of taken care of. But it really isn’t taken care of. You really do need to practice. Both Robert Kegan and I in some of our early books – me in Atman Project in 1978 and Kegan in The Evolving Self in 1980 – pointed out one of the essential components of development, which is that the subject of one level becomes the object of a subject of the next level.
All three of those practices engage that fundamental process to some degree or another. Meditate when you are, in retrospect, you become aware of a subject. You automatically made that an object. You’ve transcended it. Awareness grows and grows in the same way with journaling and with mentoring. With those 15 competencies, these three practices are certainly something that we would want to include in our own life and in our businesses. Hopefully, people working in something as important as leadership and sustainability will take these things seriously.
Barrett: We will have to, Ken. I don’t think that we are going to have a choice. We are going to need to find very, very creative solutions to address our resource constraints and incredibly complex global situations. That’s going to require accessing far beyond what the rational mind can bring to the moment, far more awareness in order to source the creativity that’s required, and then far more collaboration without people’s stuff getting in the way and blocking each other. I see it happening with leaders out there. There is a cadre of folks that really demonstrate that they are doing this good work.
I know that there are many, many others out there who are aware, whether they are formally integrally informed or intuitively integrally informed. They haven’t necessarily studied the material, but their consciousness has come through in a way that they are saying, “Hey! This is important. I am going to start showing up differently in the service of hoping to be more effective. I’m going to work on myself and help others to work on themselves. Then I’m going to start accessing information from beyond looking at it with my mind and then trying to spit it out. I’m not going to get my mind wrapped around it, because quickly the mind collapses in the state of overwhelm with the complexity.” I have real hope and belief that there will continue to be ways for change agents and leaders who are tapping into this space. Frankly, the Ironists that were in my sample were 33 and 35 years old, respectively. I teach a course in conscious leadership for sustainability and in it right now I have a 27 year old change agent who was just assessed as an Alchemist.
So younger and younger folks are showing up with this capacity. As you’ve talked about for years, it is possible to self author your development and step into later stage action logics. You see programs like Pacific Integral. They have cohorts going through this 9 to 18 month developmental program where folks are literary coming out of there with one, two even three action logic stage differences. While it’s still initial research, Terri O’Fallon helped to create this container and some of the most powerful ways that they support development. I’m looking forward to all of this work continuing to the mainstream.
Ken: Well, I think your thesis is a great addition to this and can only help the process enormously. I want to thank you very much for the work you did and the time you’ve given to us, today. This is a terrific conversation and absolutely fascinating. So, congratulations on completing this work and getting your degree. But most of all, congratulations for just doing this work and getting it out there. It will have an impact I’m sure.
Barrett: Thank you, Ken. A decade ago you and I started talking about what an integral approach to sustainability would be. Fifteen years ago I started reading your stuff. I have done this work so much with your support along the way and your commitment to me and belief in me. I am profoundly grateful for that. This was my contribution to helping to advance integral in developmental approach to helping make the world a better place. I have done it in service of integral theory as a whole. So thank you so much.
About the Participants
Barret C. Brown, PhD, has worked in nine countries since 1995 as a consultant and entrepreneur in the areas of leadership, organization development, communications, and sustainability. He has helped launch a dozen organizations, led executive teams through strategic alignment, developed multi-year leadership development programs, delivered leadership initiatives for Fortune 500 executives, and briefed high-level officials at the United Nations Development Program headquarters and the US State Department. He specializes in the intersection between organization development, leadership development, and global sustainability.
Ken Wilber is a leading “integral” philosopher. The author of such titles as A Brief History of Everything (1996), A Theory of Everything (2000), Integral Spirituality (2006) and many other books, his philosophy integrates body, mind, soul, and Spirit with self, culture, systems and nature. Integral philosophy is rapidly becoming a powerful presence in fields as diverse as politics and spirituality, psychology and business, medicine, and art.
In 2000, Wilber founded the Integral Institute to support and promote integral thinking. The Institute acts as a clearinghouse for research and applications using the integral approach. His latest project is the development of Integral University, an online learning community that will offer accredited courses in a variety of fields such as Integral Ecology and Integral Law. He currently lives in Denver, Colorado.