Steve McIntosh is CEO of Now & Zen, Inc., and author of Integral Consciousness and the Future of Evolution: How the Integral Worldview is Transforming Politics, Culture and Spirituality (Paragon House, 2007).
Russ: Steve, it is a wonderful opportunity to have the chance to talk with you. I’ve read your book and have been impressed by its clarity and its ability to integrate a variety of streams of thinking from philosophy and integral theory to developmental theory and the worlds of politics, culture and spirituality. I welcome you to Integral Leadership Review.
Steve: Thanks, Russ. It’s a pleasure to be here. I appreciate your doing the interview with me and your work in the integral movement with all the different ways in which you’ve contributed. I’m glad we can have this time together.
Russ: Thank you. Do you have an elevator speech about the content of your book?
Steve: Of course. Every author has to have one of those. The book is about a newly emerging perspective on the world known as “integral consciousness.” I define integral consciousness as essentially the perspective that arises in people who have adopted the integral worldview. The integral worldview has a variety of features to it, but it claims to be the next historically significant stage of cultural evolution that is emerging along the timeline of human history.
It’s hard to define the integral worldview in a sound bite, but it transcends and includes the worldviews that have come before. We describe those as the main worldviews that make up the cultural landscape of America, the traditional, the modernist and the post-modern worldviews. They make up the political and social landscape of the U.S. and much of the developed world. But the life conditions that are calling forth the emergence of the integral from these preexisting worldviews include the conflict between the three major worldviews. The integral worldview understands, appreciates and can work with all of these worldviews from a new perspective that really does clarify how culture evolves, how values can be in conflict and also how they can be harmonized. I can go on and on, but the integral worldview is essentially a new understanding of the internal universe of consciousness and culture.
Russ: What fascinates me about your approach is how clearly you have integrated not only Integral Theory (the work of Ken Wilber and many others) but also a developmental perspective that seems to be drawn very heavily from the work of Clare Graves, including Beck and Cowan’sSpiral Dynamics. Would you say that is a second major influence on your work?
Steve: Definitely. The things that are the most interesting about integral philosophy are the things that are the most useful—those that can be applied most directly. I’m interested in integral from an aesthetic sense—for its beauty—but I’m also mainly interested in it for its truth. In other words, I am interested in what it can do to make the world a better place and improve the human condition by helping catalyze and promote cultural evolution.
Among the aspects of integral theory which are the most useful—those that people are most grateful to have learned about—is this understanding of the stages of the spiral of development that have been a part of developmental psychology for the last 100 years. These have been skillfully integrated into evolutionary philosophy by a number of important thinkers—most notably Ken Wilber. Claire Graves does play a significant role in all of this.
Let me give you a little bit of history. I’ve always been very interested in spirituality. When I was 12 years old, I began looking for spiritual answers in alternative places. In the 1970’s when I was young and precocious, I was looking for forms of alternative spirituality. I was most interested in the aspects of spirituality that were a kind of a unification of science and spirit. One of my favorite books growing up was Marilyn Ferguson’s The Aquarian Conspiracy. I was also a big fan of Fritzoj Kapra and others who were beginning to note that within science, there seemed to be a convergence of a lot of Eastern spiritual insights and truths with newly discovered aspects of science which were to transcend the Newtonian-Cartesian mechanical paradigm. In the 80’s I discovered the work of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and was very impressed by The Phenomenon of Man and his work in general. I also began reading Ken Wilber in the 1990’s. I liked Ken Wilber a lot and enjoyed his books and read most of them. I was not entirely a huge Wilber fan, because of his spiritual teachings, which I appreciated—I didn’t have anything against them—but they didn’t speak to me. I had my own spiritual path that was different from Buddhism and Hinduism.
What really interested me to dedicate my life to integral philosophy and the building of the integral worldview was that in 1999 I discovered the book Spiral Dynamics. I began to read it, and even though it had its shortcomings as a book, I was still very interested in it. It seemed to me to be deeply important philosophy that had a veneer of organizational development. It was deeper than a mere organizational development book. I called a friend of mine in California who was also very intellectually interested in all these things. I told him how excited I was to have found this book and how it took, for example, the work of Paul Ray who showed these stages of consciousness within a sociological perspective and showed how those stages weren’t just steps, but were part of a larger dialectical movement. It showed what was emerging beyond the “cultural creatives” or the post-modern worldview.
As I was excitedly telling my friend about this book, he said, “Oh, you’re talking about Spiral Dynamics!” I said, “How do you know? Do you have the book?” He said, “No, but I have the galleys of Ken Wilber’s book that’s about to be published. He has fully incorporated Spiral Dynamics into his own work and really given it pride of place in the first chapter of this new book,” which later became The Theory of Everything.
That’s what got me extremely excited; that I could see that Wilber was evolving his theory and it was a living, developing worldview that wasn’t just Ken Wilber’s philosophy—it was something that was bigger than all of us.
Russ: One of the things that struck me about your work was how closely the dance, if you will, between individual growth and development interplays so much with what Don Beck might call “life conditions.” By that, he means the context that we find ourselves in, or the context of our life experience, and not just what’s happening inside the individual. It’s about their capacities or their capabilities and it’s also this interplay, this dialectic. You use the concept of dialectic very clearly in talking about this. Can you say a little more about this influence on your thinking?
Steve: The way that the internal and the external co-create each other and interact is one of the most striking breakthroughs of integral philosophy’s 21st Century synthesis, as I call it. When the understanding of post-modernism was fully incorporated into integral philosophy and some of the key insights of Spiral Dynamics were combined with the canon of evolutionary philosophy by Ken Wilber around 2000, the power of the integral philosophy jumped a level. It became a lot more useful and powerful in understanding how culture and consciousness evolves. One of the big pieces was this recognition of life conditions and how those life conditions go with—are almost paired with—a particular worldview.
One of the key insights of the way the inside and the outside interact is that we begin to see how each worldview in this spiral of value development—this spiral of worldviews that are values-based, that are constructed out of value agreements—emerges according to a given set of life conditions. For example, many of the value-solutions of the traditional worldview are directly linked to the chaotic and warlike world of pre-traditional consciousness. Traditional values are thus aimed at trying to tame those conditions. Because history is spread out over the last 4,000 years, all of the life conditions that we encountered in the past are very much alive today in different parts of the world.
Some life conditions are post-modern, some are modern, and some are traditional. The values of a given world view are largely constructed out of the need to improve the human condition, which is defined by the specific life conditions of the given time in history. That’s why values seem relative or what I like to call “location specific.” As a worldview and a set of values becomes successful at changing life conditions, improving the human condition and ameliorating some of the worst circumstances of that time in history, then after that success has been achieved, that which is most useful for producing further evolution changes. That’s why each one of these worldviews has a set of values that seem to be in conflict with each other.
However, when we understand the spiral and we understand how values evolve in this dialectical progression of worldviews, we can more easily reconcile these worldviews and harmonize them. We can begin to recognize that part of these worldviews contain what we might call “evolutionary scaffolding.” That is, there are values that were extremely useful at a particular time in history, but now that those life conditions no longer exist, those values—that evolutionary scaffolding—becomes a hindrance. For example, as I mentioned with traditional consciousness, a huge part of this worldview’s values are focused on the specific life conditions under which traditional consciousness emerges. This is a world without law and order; it’s a dog-eat-dog struggle wherein there’s very little morality and consciousness is more or less egocentric.
So the move from egocentric consciousness to the next step, which is a more ethnocentric consciousness, is about reverence for the “in-group”, the given source of the traditional consciousness, particularly a religion as that emerges with traditional consciousness. With traditional consciousness comes a black and white sense of right and wrong and a strong condemnation of the value poverty of the egocentric warrior stage that came before it. However, as the problems of warrior consciousness are ameliorated, as traditional consciousness becomes successful at creating a higher level of civilization by bringing law and order and reducing random violence, then in order to continue to survive, that worldview has to actually project those life conditions, or imagine that those life conditions still exist in places where they no longer do. The traditional worldview needs its animating life conditions to exist, so it has to continually find these conditions that justify its values. So, for example, condemning homosexuals is something that traditional consciousness does now. This is an acting out of a form of evolutionary scaffolding that may have been useful at one time in history, but has now become a pathology. So we can see how the solutions of one stage become the pathologies of the next.
Russ: By implication this evolutionary thrust is a drive to improve upon or to perfect life conditions in one’s place in that process.
Steve: Yes. A question that I often get is, “What drives the spiral?” or “How do people move up the spiral or raise their consciousness?” There are many ways that people can raise their consciousness—spiritual practices are certainly one—but if we look at history, we can see that what caused people to move from traditional consciousness to modernist consciousness, or from modernist to post-modernist consciousness in history, especially during a time when these worldviews were newly emerging, was the new truth, the new beauty and the new ideals of morality that were embodied in the new worldview that really attracted people. The people that were ready to move from traditionalism to modernism were the people that could recognize both the strengths and the weaknesses of traditionalism—that is, they had become civilized as traditionalists, but they also recognized the shortcomings and the cognitive dissonance created by the errors of traditionalism. So, the new values of science, reason and logic that were embodied in modernism became very attractive to them. They were ready to embrace them and become modernists.
The way that people move from one worldview to another is through these vehicles of value. For example, a philosophy book can serve as a vehicle of truth. When people read Descartes’ Cartesian Meditations, it gave them a new understanding of the external universe in a scientific perspective that they hadn’t had before. This was a new kind of truth that actually raised their consciousness into modernism. Similarly with post-modernism in the 1960’s, the vehicles of value that helped transport people from modernism to post-modernism were found, for example, in music. When Bob Dylan sang, “The times, they are a-changin’,” there was a new truth and a new beauty that was conveyed by that music that caused people to agree with each other at a very deep level. There was a cultural solidarity that was formed by the sort of transformational power of these masterpieces, which were evidence of the emergence of a new worldview.
In history, we can see that whenever a new worldview is in its emergent phase, the masterpieces of beauty, truth and goodness really are at their most evident. These masterpieces really attract people and actually raise their consciousness into these new stages of value agreement.
Russ: Our developmental paths include an intellectual level, an emotional level and a level of morality, ethics or spirit.
Steve: Yes. That is, each stage has art that is specific to it. It has doctrines or teachings that are specific to it. Each stage has a form of politics that can be associated with it. As we look at the spiral, what distinguishes and what defines a historically significant worldview is that each one of these worldviews is like an octave of values. It’s an octave of beauty, truth and goodness with its own kind of beauty, its own kind of truth and its own kind of goodness. Of course, these values manifest in the form of philosophy, science, art and politics.
Russ: In your own development you’ve had a very interesting career. You have a background in law and an interest in business. I noted that on the “Now & Zen” website it says that you’ve designed all the products that are for sale through the company. Is that correct?
Steve: That’s correct, I’m the inventor of the products. As a teenager I was very interested in alternative spirituality. And I was a hippy in the 70’s. But eventually I realized that I didn’t just want to be a counter-culturalist. I didn’t want to be on the fringes of society. I wanted to make an impact. I wanted to make the world a better place. I felt I had an obligation to do that. And I realized that in order to do that I had to get some establishment credentials. I didn’t want to be working for a corporation, but I wanted to become entrepreneurially-able to build an organization, create things and be creative in the establishment. So I decided to go to business school, but I chose a university where I could major in Entrepreneurship. There weren’t many of those in the early 80’s, but the University of Southern California in Los Angeles had a distinguished Entrepreneur Program, so I attended it.
Russ: By any chance, did you do any work with Ian Mitroff while you were there? He’s one of the earliest and most profoundly influenced by Ken Wilber…
Steve: No. I knew him, but didn’t work directly with him.
What I learned in the Entrepreneur Program was that the main thing one needs to be a successful entrepreneur is credibility. And by the time I graduated from USC I realized that in order to get more credibility, I needed a graduate degree of some kind. But I still was in this “practical-make-an-impact-on-the-world” mode, so I didn’t want to study for an MBA; that was too corporate. I’d already gotten a BS in business, so studying law seemed to fill a lot of the potentials. It was interesting unto itself—academically rigorous and intellectually stimulating, but also very practical. So I applied to law schools and I was lucky enough to get into the University of Virginia Law School—Jefferson had always been a big hero of mine.
I very much enjoyed my time in law school and did well, but realized that even though I didn’t want to be a lawyer as a long-term career, I was being recruited by some of the biggest law firms in the country. So I decided to practice for a couple of years to become complete as a lawyer and have it as background. I went to work for California’s biggest law firm, which at the time was called Pillsbury, Madison and Sutro. I did corporate law, venture capital financing and business transactions for the firm for about three years. But I then realized that my head was being stamped, “LAWYER.” I didn’t want that to be my career, so I decided to get into business. This led to my being recruited by Mo Siegel (who had originally founded Celestial Seasonings tea company), to become vice president of a Boulder Colorado-based start-up company called Earth Wise that produced a line of environmentally friendly household cleaning products.
This green cleaning products company was eventually acquired by Celestial Seasonings and so I then became one of the executive officers of the tea company as a result of the acquisition. While I was there, I really saw how brands influenced the culture. Celestial Seasonings was one of the first counter-culture brands, even though it’s not that today. In the 70’s and 80’s, it was like Ben & Jerry’s—it stood for a friendly, cool, weird type of consumer brand. I realized that I wanted to create a brand myself. But what I was really interested in—and what I’ve always been interested in—is cultural development, and specifically spiritual-cultural development. “Spiritual renaissance” is a term that represents what I’ve always looked for and tried to pursue.
In Boulder in the mid 90’s, there was a kind of spiritual renaissance happening. We might look back on it now and say, “Boulder was a hotbed of New Age culture.” Although the term “New Age” is something we all cringe at now, not all of it was silliness. There was quite a bit of alternative spirituality that was emerging in the 90’s. It was a second wave of the emergence of post-modernism, with the first wave coming in the 60’s. In the 90’s we saw Deepak Chopra, James Redfield and a lot of the popular culture that helped promote alternative spirituality and helped make meditation and yoga household words in major segments of American society. I was right in the middle of that and could really feel it.
As I was searching for a way to participate in cultural evolution, the thing that attracted me was trying to understand what caused culture to move forward. At the time, my best guess was that art was one of the major levers of cultural evolution. I could see that every period of American history had an art movement that went with it. For example, at the turn of the century we had art nouveaux—which wasn’t just American. It was an international movement and affected everything from font styles to hairstyles. It reflected the mood of the culture just prior to WWI. It expressed the mood at the end of the Victorian period, and was very feminine and flowery. But then the horror of WWI changed the cultural mood, which led to the art deco style, which was very hard line and modernistic—it was a dialectical movement away from art nouveaux. So noticing this history, I felt like there was a similar kind of movement in culture going on in the 90’s, and history predicted that there would be an art movement that would go with it.
Russ: That’s interesting, because the art movement prior to that was really a modernist art movement that probably reflects in its culture as much about the orange developmental business ethic as anything else. Since it was focused on the building of art dealerships and who was being dealt by which dealer…
Steve: Right, I could feel that art needed to transcend orange culture. As I thought about what kind of art pieces could embody the “spiritual renaissance,” I felt that I wanted to make art that was useful. For instance, I always admired the Tiffany lamp, because it was an appliance as well as an icon that represented an era of American art history. The Tiffany lamp is an icon of art nouveaux. I wanted to create something that would be like a Tiffany lamp; that would be an appliance that would also be an icon of an era.
So I invented a product that fulfilled those requirements called the Zen Alarm Clock, which is a hardwood, high-design art clock with an acoustic chime that is designed to wake you gradually. When the alarm is triggered, it strikes an acoustic chime just once, and then automatically each minute for the next ten minutes. It allows you to lie in bed perfectly still as you are gradually awakened. The natural acoustic sound, as opposed to a speaker-driven, artificial recorded sound, is something that proved to be very important to post-modernists. They are interested in natural foods and fibers, so natural acoustic sounds from a natural hardwood clock was something that embodied those aesthetic preferences.
And what finally gave me the courage to quit my corporate job at Celestial Seasonings and try to start the Now & Zen brand was that it wasn’t just going to be a one-trick pony or a novelty. It was going to be an entire line of products that reflected this emerging aesthetic. The opportunity to try and discern this aesthetic and express it myself was something that appealed to me as a career move, as opposed to just creating another electronic consumer product to make money. Nevertheless, it also allowed me to get out of the corporate world, start my own business and be able to pursue my own interests.
Russ: How many people are in your company?
Steve: We used to do the manufacturing ourselves. At that point we had about 40 employees. But now the manufacturing, shipping and warehousing are done by third parties, so there are several hundred people working on the brand in various parts of the world, but in terms of actual employees on our payroll, there are about 15.
Russ: As CEO, how would you describe your role?
Steve: Now my role is as the overall manager of the business and the keeper of the corporate aesthetic. I create most of the marketing communications, the advertising, the catalog, the Website, as well as the product designs. Being artistic and trying to express this aesthetic I’ve created is a very fun and important part of making Now & Zen profitable, but I also manage the various officers in different departments, so I’m constantly monitoring the business. Now that the business is 14 years old and profitable and growing gradually, I’m at a point where I can devote about half my time to integral philosophy and work on books and other efforts that don’t directly relate to Now & Zen and don’t necessarily need to make money.
Russ: So in these 14 years of being the entrepreneur, starting this business, designing products and having so many different roles, did you get a sense of how you would characterize your own approach to leadership?
Steve: One thing that starting a business will always tell you is your weaknesses.
Steve: When I started Now & Zen, I had a lot of confidence in myself as a businessperson. I had been a lawyer, an investment banker, an entrepreneur in a start-up company, an executive in a large established company. I had created a lot of different types of businesses and felt good and cocky. I thought I was a business hot shot. But as soon as I started this company, was in charge of it on my own and tried to grow and develop it while doing the marketing and manufacturing and hiring, I made a lot of horrendous mistakes. And, of course, I learned from them. I came to realize that when it comes to being an entrepreneur, whether it’s a business or social entrepreneur, if you really knew everything that you were going to encounter—if you were really savvy enough to understand the full picture—you’d probably never undertake it in the first place. I suppose a certain amount of naiveté could be a good thing, because it makes you bold enough to do things that as you grow older and smarter you might not have the courage to do again.
Steve: Starting Now & Zen and running it as a successful and profitable company has taught me a lot about my weaknesses. At the beginning, I was also willing to do a lot more. Now that I’ve evolved in my own interests and my own focus, it’s a lot harder for me to do some of the down and dirty details of the business that I used to be willing to do. I used to be the entrepreneur who could do everyone’s job. Now my role in the company is much more limited, because my main interests and passion are now with integral philosophy.
Russ: When you think about those 14 years, how would you describe your leadership approach?
Steve: I’m definitely not a micro-manager. I want to hire the best people that I possibly can and direct them by the mission of the company and by a general direction. I want them to make the decisions that are going to influence their jobs. I want to hire good people and turn them loose. The aesthetic side of the company is something I’ve retained and held closely, but good people who work well run just about every other aspect of it.
In terms of leadership style, I want to be inspirational to my employees. I want to make them feel excited about the business and its mission. I want to make sure that everyone is working in accordance with the basic value agreements of the company. One of the ways that I’ve implemented an integral approach to leadership in Now & Zen is that whenever a new employee joins the team, I spend some time training them at the top level of the organization. This involves explaining to them the structure of our corporate culture, which we create through a series of agreements, but not so much formal legal agreements. Typically I’ll have a high-level person sign a confidentiality agreement with respect to trade secrets, but everyone in the company doesn’t need to sign it. However, everyone does agree to the following basic agreements which form our corporate culture:
- The Honor Code. No lying, cheating or stealing. It’s an implementation of traditional consciousness. In the blue worldview this is a very basic covenant. We never want you to lie to a customer or a supplier or to us. We want you to know that we’d rather not make money, if it involves lying. So being honest and honorable is something that is a core value of our company. It’s black and white in the sense that if you violate it, you’re out. One strike and you’re out. That’s a foundation level and it’s important that everyone knows and follows that. You can’t have a functional culture without it.
- The Commitment to Excellence. It’s similar to the kind of annual review that you would get at a well-run corporation. For instance, there are areas for improvement, key elements of the job, continuous improvement—you can always be better. This agreement is implementing the modernist worldview. It encourages everyone to do their best to get better at their job. As they do, they get paid more. But unlike the black and white honor code agreement, with this commitment to excellence agreement there are shades of grey. So as along as someone is doing their job well, we’re going to work with them, encourage them to be a superstar and develop them within the job.
- The Pledge of Mutual Respect and Interpersonal Fairness. Here we try to institute the sensibilities and values of the post-modern worldview within the culture of the company. So even though we have management hierarchy, everyone within the company deserves to be treated with respect and recognized as a valuable human, regardless of their role in the corporate hierarchy. Every member of the team has a right to be informed and a right to have their personal lives respected. This agreement thus implements a corporate culture of fairness and a genuine sense of family without being too patriarchal.
These agreements have made a difference. Not only do we get people to see what we’re about at the beginning, but we also manage by them. If someone is not working well with others, we can evoke the agreement of mutual fairness and respect. If someone isn’t performing well, we can invoke the agreement of continuous improvement and allow the spiral to be the structure of the corporate culture by agreement.
Russ: As CEO, do you see yourself as “the leader” or do you see leadership as something that needs to emerge throughout your organization?
Steve: I definitely want every manager to be the leader of her own department. Rather than telling them what to do, I’m constantly asking them to bring me their recommendations. I try to get people to lead by asking them what they would do and resisting the temptation to make all the decisions for them. I want to play the role of both boss and mentor for anybody who works for me. It would be ideal if everyone who came to work for Now & Zen were eventually able to go out and create his own business, large or small. I am interested in distributing leadership downward and creating a holonic form of organization where each subset of the organization has its own leader and is self-organizing as much as possible.
Russ: What are the areas of decision-making that you hold onto?
Steve: The aesthetic direction of the company, the structures of pricing, the marketing budget. I am in charge of the corporate legal aspects. I decide where we will or won’t be competitive. I have not fully delegated all the purchasing and operations out. I do have a competent operations manager whom I have a lot of confidence in, and some of the key decisions that involve buying large amounts of inventory we make together. He brings me his recommendation, but I’m still overseeing how we’re spending the budget on our inventory.
Russ: When you think about those aspects of how you lead and manage, and I’d like to make a distinction between those two, how would you characterize the influence of your approach to integral philosophy in relationship to that?
Steve: Integral philosophy has been extremely useful for me in designing and marketing the products. I have a clear sense that the brand is really targeted toward the post-modernists. We find that when we market acoustic clocks and meditation timers directly to post-modernists, then that marketing is profitable. But when we try to market to the mainstream, the marketing is not profitable. We certainly sell our products to modernists and some traditionalists, but at the same time we find the vast majority of our demographic market is the post-modernists themselves. For example, placing an ad in Yoga Journal, which is a very popular magazine for the post-modern demographic, is a very profitable proposition for us. But advertising in the Atlantic Monthly or The New Yorker wouldn’t be profitable, because the audience is not very post-modern. So we’ve learned to be worldview-targeted in our business communications. Now we only market to the areas where we’re reaching the center of the post-modern demographic. For example, I’ve designed a whole line of products. Some have been a success and some have failed. And now through this understanding of the spiral of development I can see why some of my products didn’t sell well and I can more clearly understand why our successful products have become successful. They fulfill the needs that are dictated by the values of this post-modern worldview.
Russ: Didn’t you at one time sell a pendant that you hung around your neck to protect you from the energy waves that are coming off of computers?
Steve: No, we don’t do that. I’m not a big fan of that kind of thing. One thing that was very important to me was that in this milieu of post-modernism where there is an “anything goes” mentality, we’ve resisted the temptation to make fluffy claims or to become too New Age. We try to ensure that all our product claims are scientifically accurate and modest in terms of what they promise. A certain sense of modesty, humility and wanting to avoid New Age claims has been a hallmark of the brand from the beginning.
Russ: How has this integral perspective helped you decide your approach to work, personally? That can occur in ways around marketing in your environment or it can occur in the value structure that you build in your company as you’ve described. It can also occur in terms of how you communicate, how you solve problems, make decisions, etc. Do you see any relationship between your interest in developmental and integral approaches and how you perform those functions?
Steve: Definitely. One thing I didn’t mention is hiring people. The biggest mistakes that I’ve made as a businessperson in terms of wasting time and money has been hiring the wrong person. As I look back on the last 14 years, I would say that the one thing I would do over is to not make the same hiring mistakes that I’ve made.
So when it comes to hiring, this enlarged developmental perspective has helped me clearly recognize these stages—these types of consciousness within people—and so we’ve gotten better at hiring people. We don’t automatically want to hire all post-modernists. Although they are developmentally advanced in many ways, they don’t always make the best employees. Although post-modernists may best resonate with our mission and products, we’ve learned how to make sure that the people who are doing the financials have a healthy degree of traditional consciousness and those doing sales have a healthy degree of modernist consciousness. We’re trying to fulfill the organization chart with people who have types of consciousness that are most appropriate for the job. It has helped to create the corporate culture we have now where we really have the best people in the best places. Using an integral perspective in hiring them has been very useful.
Russ: Are you suggesting that as one develops into a post-modernist that one is no longer effectively interested in or able to perform certain kinds of tasks and functions in organizations?
Steve: I wouldn’t say it that strongly. I would say that there are a variety of lines of development. So the level of your values may be highly developed culturally; you may have a very world-centric value system; you may be an established post-modernist in terms of the internal location of your main center of gravity, but you may not be cognitively or emotionally well developed. Each person is unique and it’s not as if we just hire by cultural type. We hire by a person’s overall talent and so where they fall in terms of their cultural center of gravity is relevant but not determinative.
However, we have found that some of the post-modernists we’ve hired over the years have shown certain degrees of narcissism that have impacted their job performance. But I should quickly add that I’m not claiming that every person with a post-modern center of gravity is narcissistic or unable to be an excellent businessperson. I’ve met many people who have excelled in those areas while being post-modern in their general cultural sensibilities. However, in general, especially with younger people, when they are “bright green” they don’t always necessarily tend to make the best employees, because of the reasons I just mentioned.
Russ: Have you profiled the different types of positions in your company in terms of developmental levels?
Steve: Yes. The way I do that is to ask potential hires about their “relationship matrix.” That is, I ask them about their heroes, favorite musicians, favorite writers or teachers; I ask them about the people who move them. And those are all questions that are legitimate interview questions—they don’t violate any laws—and yet they’ll offer up a profile of the person’s overall stage of development along the values line pretty well. It’s not foolproof, but learning about someone’s heroes and teachers does tend to reveal their internal location.
In other words, your key relationships encompass more than just your friends and family. A big part of your consciousness is also determined by your favorite artists, writers, heroes, etc. And these significant indirect or impersonal relationships needn’t be in real time. For example, if your biggest hero is Jesus of Nazareth, you’ve certainly never met Jesus in person, but you can still have a very strong relationship to him that makes a significant influence on your life. Similarly, if one of your heroes is someone like Noam Chomsky, this is going to influence your location in the culture. If you know about a person’s important relationships it helps you see where this person is in terms of their internal location.
Russ: Do you have an approach to development for employees? Do you take them through any kind of training or leadership development that is related to your integral philosophy?
Steve: I’ve certainly given them all a copy of my book.
Steve: I do talk about the stages of consciousness with my employees. At the same time, I don’t want to be heavy-handed. For example, my customer service people answer the phones and take care of returns. I have talked to them about the stages of development and they have a basic idea of what I’m into. They’re glad to hear that I’ll be speaking here or there or being interviewed, and they follow the sales of my book, which we sell through the company as well as on www.Stevemcintosh.com. They’re excited about and interested in my work, although not all of them have the predilection to read a philosophy book.
So I don’t require everyone who works for Now & Zen to be a fan of integral philosophy or necessarily know the basic tenets of the integral worldview. When it comes to hiring I try to find a person who’s going to be the most talented and the best suited for a particular job. If I tried to fulfill every job at the company with people who were interested in philosophy or who were highly-developed post-modernists or integralists, I would worry that they might not have the patience to do some of the basic level jobs that are required.
Russ: Once you’ve hired them, do you have a leadership training development program that you send them to?
Steve: We have a budget for training and development. Some employees have taken advantage of it and others haven’t. Some of that training is skills training for the particular job. For example there are a lot of different firms that offer professional training in inventory management or accounting. And there are also types of leadership development that can help people grow as professionals in their particular area, so we encourage our folks to take advantage of that kind of training.
However, because we are only 15 employees, we don’t have a formal leadership development program or some type of mini college that we send our managers to. It’s more informal. I do my best to educate and develop them as leaders by giving them new responsibilities and by allowing them to pursue the kinds of training that they are most interested in. But I don’t want to prescribe specific integral training for my operations manager, for example, because I want him to focus on the details of managing the inventory and reducing the return rate. While he and I do get a chance to talk about my philosophy work, I find that if it’s more informal. So even though I am enthusiastic about the integral worldview, I don’t want my employees to feel that this is something they have to get into in order to succeed in the company.
Russ: It seems you have created for yourself what one might call an “integrative life.” Somehow you have managed to create a world in which you’re able to pursue your interests in integral philosophy, in business, and have a family…it sounds really nice!
Steve: Thanks. I certainly have my challenges, but I’m definitely happy and fulfilled. I hate to make any claims for myself, like being “self-actualized,” because I don’t think that my development is finished. I’m still working on myself and I still have many areas where I’m relatively immature or ignorant. I’m hungry to learn and develop more in order to become more successful—not necessarily monetarily. I’m as materially well off as I need to be. Obviously I want to be more successful in making a dent in the marketplace of ideas. This is something I’ve been working on for this entire decade, but the book only came out in September. I’m just beginning to make a small dent in that marketplace, and I am very keen to further these efforts by continuing to participate in the integral worldview and all the ways that it’s developing, and also by continuing to write books, which I hope to get to work on later this year.
Russ: Would you say that is an integral life practice?
Steve: Definitely. However, I don’t follow a checklist for an integral practice like, say, the one developed by Michael Murphy and George Leonard; although I did experiment with that for a while. Their book, The Life We Are Given, outlines a specific form of integral life practice—I think it was called Integral Transformative Practice—and I thought it was innovative and useful. I know quite a few people who have availed themselves of that particular practice and have benefited by it. And I do have a version of that in the sense that I want to develop body, mind and spirit within nature, self and culture, as Ken Wilber has said. In that sense, I have a practice of fitness; I love to ride my road bike and hike and keep myself as fit as I possibly can. Also, I have an active mind because I’m constantly reading and pursuing my interest in integral philosophy, but also reading as widely as I can in politics, spirituality and cultural studies in general. And I have a very rewarding family life. I have a two-year-old son, a 15-year-old son, and a wonderful relationship with my wife, Tehya. We have been together for eight years, and we have a very happy marriage.
I also have a variety of personal spiritual practices that I do, but I won’t enumerate every possible practice I can think of and how it’s all integrated into a larger picture. Suffice it to say that I try to take a million-year view on my life. In other words I try to say, “A million years from now, what’s going to matter most?” From my perspective, that which will matter most are my relationships, the people whom I love and who love me—that’s of paramount importance—but a close second is my work in the world. What have I done? What am I doing now, and what can I do for the rest of my life that will improve the human condition? What can I do to help evolve human culture and consciousness on this planet?
Because of this million-year view and this sense of obligation to God to try and make a difference while I’m here, I have a sense that I have been born with a lot of advantages and certain talents. I have a duty and an obligation to try and use those talents for the most good. I may never again be in a situation in my universe career where things are as bad as they are now on this planet; where life conditions are crying out for improvement, and where there is so much trouble and suffering everywhere. So I feel like I want to do my own small part to try and alleviate that.
It is by pursuing this sense of obligation to try to make the world a better place that I’ve come to see that every problem in the world is a problem of consciousness. Therefore, the solution to every problem involves raising consciousness. At this time in history the rise of the integral worldview is the most potent way that consciousness can be raised, not only by helping those who are ready to enter the integral worldview—which is perhaps the most dramatic and direct way that consciousness can be raised—but also by using the insights of the integral worldview and the growing culture of integralism to help raise consciousness across the spiral—to help traditional, modern and post-modern consciousness move up across the board. That is, the project of raising consciousness and creating cultural evolution involves helping consciousness move up all along the spiral, and so it’s the work of raising consciousness that I’ve really dedicated myself to now. Hopefully, with some luck, I’ll be able to spend the rest of my life working on this project.
Russ: What is your next book?
Steve: I’m torn in two directions. I want to write about integral spirituality and I want to write about integral politics. I may end up writing two books at the same time. On the politics side, I’m definitely interested in global politics and what you might call “the physics of the internal universe”, which is currently the working title of this forthcoming politics book: Global Politics and the Physics of the Internal Universe. When we look at the situation in the Middle East, or the globalization of the world, or nuclear proliferation, or global warming, or any of the pressing global problems that are increasingly becoming more local, the solution to each one involves some kind of cultural evolution. But this evolution in consciousness and culture is not just about moving to the next stage, it also includes movement along the spiral as a whole, starting with archaic consciousness and continuing through integral and beyond. The politics book will thus attempt to apply and demonstrate how the integral worldview’s understanding of the internal universe can help us make dramatic progress with respect to these global problems.
I like to compare the rise of the integral worldview with the rise of the modernist worldview during the Enlightenment. We can see how the philosophy of the Enlightenment really helped enact the scientific perspective—the worldview, the method. The science of the Enlightenment and the science of modernism were born out of the new perspectives of Enlightenment philosophy. This really opened up the external universe to a new era of exploration and discovery. For example, scientific medicine was able to understand the body and make contact with the things that were ailing the body in some new and dramatic and important ways, and this has certainly improved the human condition. Now in our time, something similar is going on with the rise of the integral worldview. Just as modernism opened up the external universe, the integral perspective is opening up the internal universe. Just as scientific medicine was able to achieve new powers over that which ailed the body, the integral approach is giving us new powers over that which ails our culture. I want to write a book that focuses on political problems while showing this new science of the internal universe and how it can solve these political problems.
However, politics can be fraught with strife and negativity. Part of me wants to retreat from the rough-and-tumble field of politics and work on the integral spirituality side. There my interest focuses on what I call “natural theology.” That is, when we attain this integral perspective, when we are able to stand in this new place along the timeline of human cultural development called “integral,” there are a lot of things that become visible which were invisible before. For example, this new developmental perspective shows how spirituality evolves along the trajectory of the spiral. And when we begin to see spirituality and religion as a line of development, this allows us to better distinguish between those aspects of a spiritual teaching that are “stage-specific”, and those aspects that are enduring, those aspects that transcend any given stage.
Integral natural theology thus tries to discern those aspects of spirit that transcend any kind of belief system. This is how we are discovering what integral spirituality can do that is new—what it can do that goes beyond post-modern spirituality. We are attempting to create a kind of agreement about that which becomes almost empirically evident from an integral spiritual perspective. That’s going to be the subject of the book I want to write about integral spirituality. I don’t have a working title, but I’d love to use “natural theology” in there somewhere.
Russ: Do you see those two interests and passions as leading you in a direction away from your business or is it compatible with continuing to do your business?
Steve: That’s a good question. It’s a complex relationship that I have with my business. I do still love it, but I love integral philosophy more. I’m feeling pulled in two directions.
What’s next for the business is for it to be developed more in Europe. We sell all over the world now, with a good portion of our sales in Europe. But the majority of the business is primarily in the U.S. and Canada. I realize that the next stage of Now & Zen’s natural trajectory of development is to create a European subsidiary and have a warehouse, and a European-specific marketing campaign and to otherwise get greater market penetration within the E.U. But of course, doing this will be a full-time entrepreneurial activity fraught with risks, and so I’m somewhat reluctant. Thus at this preliminary stage, I’m still gathering information, creating a business plan and looking into it, but I’m beginning to realize that if I go and do that, then it’s going to be difficult to write a book in the next couple of years. There is definitely a certain degree of conflict between my business and my writing.
Overall, I do feel a little guilty because the business could use more of my time, but simultaneously I’m also taking that million-year view. Now & Zen does have some new products coming out, and it is growing within existing markets, but I do feel like I should really focus on writing the next integral philosophy book, even if that means my business suffers. Yet I’m not at a point where I want to sell the business, because it does provide a comfortable middle-class lifestyle for me, and I really like the fact that my work in the integral world doesn’t need to make a profit at the moment. The book is selling well and I certainly want it to be sustainable, just like you would like Integral Leadership Review to be sustainable economically. I’m not oblivious to developing the economic side of it, but that’s not a big motive, and this allows me to approach my integral work as a service. I think this perspective helps keep it more “spiritually fragrant” than it would be if I were under more pressure to make money.
Russ: Is there anything you wish I had asked you before we end this interview?
Steve: One question I’d like to answer is, “What does an integral organization look like?” There are a variety of laudable attempts being made by a variety of people to try to come up with an innovative structure for a business that would use the concepts of integral philosophy to help create a transcendent form of business organization. SI think those efforts are worthy and I’d like to see them continue.
Yet I haven’t seen anything in the marketplace of ideas that has really convinced me that it is a form of business organization that really transcends the ind of business organizations that have emerged out of late modernism. Instead of trying to force-fit people into a pre-existing structure, no matter how integrally informed that structure might be, I’d like to see an approach to integral business that would employ a form of organization that would be flexible enough to really take account of the talents and developmental potentials of the people in the business. In other words, the structure of the organization should be formed around the talents of the people who are involved rather than the people being made to fit into a preconceived structure.
A truly integral organization could certainly continue to have people who function in specific business roles, but I would like to see organizations get better at assessing who people are—what their talents and types are and where they fit in the spiral of development—and then allow the structure enough flexibility so that the natural talents of the employees cause it to have a unique and original structure that’s almost a natural profile of the people who are working as part of the organization. But ultimately, the ability to create such an organization depends on the talent and moral development of the leader(s) of the organization. This is why creating an integral organization always starts by developing integral consciousness among the leaders of the organization.
One of the principles of human organization that I think we will come to appreciate more as the integral worldview develops is that the seed and the secret of all functional human groups can be found in the morality of interpersonal relationships within the organization. If people really care about each other and they are willing to go beyond a merely negative form of the Golden Rule (don’t do to others what you don’t want them to do to you) and embrace a more positive form of the Golden Rule (wherein everyone is actively seeking to help each other), then I think this can take us a long way toward the goal of achieving higher levels of organizational excellence.
Russ: As you were talking, I was noticing a lot of emphasis on structure. May I assume that includes process as well?
Steve: Yes. Process and structure are two sides of the same coin. We wouldn’t want to separate them too much. In some ways, all structures should be viewed as processes from an integral perspective. When an organization is acting best, it’s acting more like an organism. It’s evolving and developing. The structural elements are themselves changing, flexible and flowing.
Russ: Steve, thanks very much.
Steve. Thank you Russ, I enjoyed it thoroughly.