Integral theory is a complex model steeped in the work of many great philosophers and developementalists, including Clare Graves, Don Beck (who taught me Spiral Dynamics), Jean Gebser, Abraham Maslow, Robert Kegan, Carol Gilligan. The theory itself was compiled and integrated by Ken Wilber in his intention to describe a theory of everything.
For purposes of this article I will be providing a high level summary to give context to most of the work I do. I would recommend that you explore the theory in greater depth through other books, publications, podcasts and websites.
The basics of Integral Theory live in a model called AQAL. All Quadrants, All Levels, All Lines, All States, All Types. For the purpose of this discussion we will be considering the quadrants, the levels, the lines and the states.
We will start with the quadrants, which is a model I use on a daily basis. Note again, the model has incredible depth behind it, and is far more complex than I present here. This is the very meta view.
Quadrants of Integral Theory – a Map that provides an essential check list to all actions and designs.
The Upper Left Quadrant
Interior in a human is our thoughts, beliefs, values, and also our mind process, world view, organ system, endocrine system, muscular skeletal system. Everything that lives inside our skin.
The interior in an enterprise or bounded system, from a city to a nation state, is the values, beliefs, and world view of that bounded system.
The Lower Left Quadrant
The Interior culture of an individual is how that individual lives within their various communities and relationships. Given most humans have multiple communities from family, to friends to their city or to the country they live, each person will have a different way of engaging within their various cultures and communities and relationships.
The Interior of a community, enterprise or nation is the culture that is evident and created by that unique set of individuals. Their collective values and beliefs, their world view. It changes over time, depending on who is present, and the larger context in which the organisation or bounded community lives.
The Upper Right Quadrant
The Exterior of the individual is everything that the individual does in the world. Their actions, habits, behaviours, communication, way of dressing, manners etc.
The Exterior of the Enterprise as a bounded system is the way the enterprise engages and acts in the external world. The promises they make and keep, the way they treat customers and stakeholders.
The Lower Right Quadrant
The Exterior of the We or collective is the co-ordinating systems and structure that evidence that particular collective. Currency systems, governance, ethics and regulations.
For the individual it is both the systems and structure that they interact with, such as the law of their land, the monetary and political system, as well as the systems and structures the individual deploys in their own life, which might include schedules, software, budgets, support, communication.
The Right hand side is empirical. It can be measured. The left hand side is intangible and ephemeral.
I can only determine (perhaps) what you are thinking by what you do in the Upper Right Quadrant. If you hold a set of espoused vales and beliefs, I can potentially determine their truthfulness for you by how you behave in the world. If you say you are reliable, yet you are always late and forget things, I might not believe the stand you hold around your reliability.
An integrated human has alignment between their interior and exterior in the upper quadrants. They live their values and beliefs. This is a determining feature of trustworthiness. What you say is what you do, with consistency. What you value is where you act. What you believe is how you live.
An integrated human will also build their values and beliefs into their relationships and culture. They will design systems and structure that support their values and beliefs and the community to which they serve. And they will match their behaviours and habits to the designed systems and structures.
We all favour one quadrant over the others as our default. Some of us are people people (LL), some of us are systems people (LR), some of us are into making things and taking action, (UR) and others of us what to feel into the effects on self and others. (UL) Knowing your default quadrant allows you to take this into account when solving problems. You will naturally pick your more favoured method. Asking the question of what is the solution when standing in each quadrant is a powerful tool.
A story about the quadrants.
In my early coaching career I was involved with a large Australian company as its CEO decided to implement a significant and very expensive McKinsey Culture change program. The program was entirely centred on the left hand side of the quadrants, the interior development of people and the culture itself. It was a magnificent program. Yet it was to the extreme of the left hand side of the quadrant.
When the new CEO commenced, he decided that his remit was to swing hard to the extremes of the right hand side of the quadrant. “Show me the money.” I want results. And incidentally, do we have people working for us because if so, they need to show me the money and results?
A few years after the new CEO had been present I walked into an office of this company and asked a manager if they had heard of the cultural change program, which had a name, and she looked back at me blankly. No, she had not.
Some $20 plus Million had been spent on this program and within a few years it had almost disappeared. While I am certain that those who participated would have gained value from the program, at the larger organisational level, the costs to implement was lost.
It was a valuable lesson for me. If you are committed to this type of investment, then it is important to have the Board and the Chair 100% behind the program and aligned to it, because someone needs to carry the heritage across the boundaries of different CEO’s. Otherwise do not make the investment.
Neither CEO was right or wrong. Their response was partial.
From an Integral strategic perspective a more considered response might have been to understand where the organisation was in its own development as a whole, and from which quadrant default the CEO is standing. Then to structure a program to enhance that development, all the while being mindful that ALL quadrants need to be considered. Sometimes, based on the environmental and economic conditions, we do need to favour one quadrant over another, or the left hand side over the right, however to do this without then adjusting back to the next set of conditions would be to put the organisation at risk, or to make investments that do not have endurance.
Using the quadrants as a tool enables us to attend to the whole, as a practise.
An enterprise or family unit would be wise to consider the quadrants. Here is how.
What are the values and beliefs that you hold as non negotiable?
How do you enact these values and beliefs in every action, every piece of communication, every engagement with any stakeholder?
What are the ways you build the relationships and culture to match the values and beliefs?
How do you invest in the quality and nature of the relationships?
What are the systems and structure that are designed explicitly to support all quadrants?
How does the structures and systems support both the individuals within the enterprise or community, and the collective itself?
Is any one quadrant currently being weighted over another? If so, why?
Does a quadrant need attention?
Is any one quadrant more invested in by the leader? If so, is this appropriate and strategic or based on bias?
The above graphic is taken from The Daily Evolver site which I recommend as a fabulous resource on all things Integral.
Hopefully we humans are maturing to high orders than our primates, although when we look at some of the world leaders it seems doubtful.
To assume that we do not continue to ‘grow’ up as adults, able to handle high orders of complexity, is a big mistake. We expect it in children and yet at some point we no longer expect it.
The theory behind the levels of adult human development are an ongoing advanced of child development. Humans mature through psycho-bio-neuro-social stages of development, and these levels define our world view.
Development is triggered by the environmental conditions. The levels are deep levels versus the superficial stages measured in psychometric testing.
You can be arrested at a particular level, you can regress to a lower level in certain conditions, but you cannot skip or jump to a higher level.
Nation states also develop through levels, as do organisations, groups and all bounded communities.
Each level has a transition period between one level and the next, then a time spent centred in the level, followed by the next transition to the higher level.
Research indicates that someone focused on their own level of development might take five years to advance to the next level.
When we progress to the next level, we take aspects of the lower level with us. This is termed to transcend and include.
Each level has a positive and negative expression. In a healthy progression we transcend and include with the positive aspects, in an unhealthy expression we transcend and include carrying the negative aspects.
A healthy person or organisation will have aspects of all previous levels evident. An unhealthy person or organisation will be absent of different levels.
There are many variations of the levels of development available. Just as we might use centimetres and inches to measure height. For this reference I will be using the levels articulated by Ken Wilber in Integral Theory.
Imagine we have a 20 story building. If you are on the ground level, your perspective is different to the perspective taken from the 10th floor, as it is taken from the 20th floor. Someone in an helicopter would have a different perspective, as would someone observing the building from the International Space Station. This simplified metaphor of the levels of development sets a frame.
Everyone starts at the same place. A babe in arms, dependant on others entirely for survival. A mother in drought stricken regions of Africa, where poverty and war are rampant, has only one thought on her mind. Survival. How to keep her children and herself alive for the next twenty four hours. The environmental conditions under which this women and her family live squeeze out all optionality for high level development over time.
From survival we progress to the next level, which we will call Magenta, which is the magic mythic level. A young child will believe there is a monster under the bed, or faeries in the garden. Tribal communities might enact rituals to evoke the Gods. In business we might have rituals such as the Friday afternoon drinks. Books and movies such as Lord of Rings, and the Marvel series of hero’s all evoke the Magenta stage of development. Many of our religious are steeped in the Magenta rituals as an expression of their doctrine. In the positive Magenta is expressed as healthy rituals with a tribal sense of belonging. In the unhealthy expression Magenta places all its beliefs in the realm of the magic and mythic. The monster in the closet is real. The Gods do hear us, and punish us.
Red is the next level. Red is the egocentric “I, me, mine” level. I want my thing. I want it now. I do not want you to have it. Red is also the wild untrammelled creativity of the artist and entrepreneur. It is graffiti. It is rioting and looting. Narcissism lives in Red. As did the 45th American President. In the positive Red is creative and rule breaking. In the negative it is egocentric and demanding.
Amber is the conformist level. Black and white with no shades of grey. It is the Military – God, Code, Honour, Country. Amber is the home of any form of fundamentalism. Amber is also structure and rules. In the positive Amber is order, conformity, regulations, rules and structure. In the negative Amber is righteous fundamentalism which squeezes out any other options. It has a deep enthnocentric aspect to it. Our tribe is the only tribe. Believe in our God and you will go to heaven.
Orange is the level of status, success, stuff and accumulation, achievement, individualism. It is scientific rationalism, measuring everything, and modernity. The organisation at Orange is hierarchical, with bonus opportunities, where success and achievement are celebrated in their own right, irregardless of the long term consequences. There is a high focus on profit, shareholder gains, and a celebration of Unicorns. In the positive Orange is a celebration of our success and ability to overcome obstacles to rise. In the negative Orange is so focused on success without care of the consequences. The crazy busy entrepreneur. The 24/7 Type A. The consumer society eating up everything in its greed. It is “Greed is Good.”
The Green level of development includes the consideration of the environment. Plus the rise of feminism and LGBTQ. It is the pluralistic, post modern stage. It is a return from the individual to community. Leadership by consensus lives at Green. The organisation at Green tries to remove all forms of hierarchy. Green enables the rise of heightened sensitivity and political correctness. It is the post truth world where there are no single truths. In the positive Green cares for the environment, is concerned for equality and human rights and wants to invigorate community engagement. In the negative Green is far too invested in not hurting anyones feelings, and privileging any one truth as superior to another. Green can get caught in the quagmire of political correctness.
These first six levels of development are the foundational levels. From Green to the next level there is a significant leap. This involves a neurobiological adaptation to a higher order, which is called Teal.
Each level indicates an increased capacity to handle multiple perspectives simultaneously. In other words, to be able to consider ever more complex scenarios with ever more perspective.
A leader able to see the world from the 20th floor of our building needs to not forget to also be able to hold the perspective of all the floors from ground to 20. To forget the perspectives held by people at lower levels is to bring the arrogance of developmental perspective to leadership. We see this occurring in many of our liberal democracies in the world. If the leaders have the developmental capacity and they fail to remember the path to their level then they will ignore the people who need their attention as much as those who occupy their own level. Similarly, we have world leaders who have not progressed beyond the lower levels.
Just as we would not expect a child of seven to have the psyco-socio-neuro-biologocal ability to run a global company, we cannot expect anyone who has only developed to Red to have the ability to handle complexity and multiple perspectives or to run a country.
Statistically 70% of the population of the world are at Amber or below. Countries such as the USA, Europe, the UK and Austalia live in the intersection of Amber Orange. About 20% of the population are shifting to heavy Green.
Teal is the first level of the second tier. Statistically we are looking at about 3-5% of the population. The key characteristics of Teal is the deep understanding that all levels on the pathway to Teal are present and right. There is an ability to see the world through multiple perspectives. There is an ability to integrate complexity. Teal understands the need for natural hierarchy, in distinction to a dominator hierarchy. Teal also has little use for self aggrandisement or ego displays. It is at the level of Teal that the Steward leader becomes evident. They understand what it means to hold space, to design systems that rarely need to be imposed upon by one ideology. Teal is relatively comfortable with emergence, they are more able to work with chaos and natural systems. They do not demand order and control yet they understand that there is a place for order and control.
Given humans are generally evolving, with occasional times of regression, there are levels beyond Teal. However for the purposes of this book, we will end or introduction to Integral Theory at the level of Teal.
Lines of Development
The above graphic is from Ken Wilber. All of his work can be found at Integral Life, which is the epicentre for Integral Theory.
Every human has inherent strengths. We are also able to develop strengths. For example, someone might be naturally musical, or athletic. Another might have high cognitive intelligence.
There are multiple intelligences, far beyond the cognitive. For example;
Each line of intelligence can be mapped back to the levels of development. For example I might have a moral intelligence that is developed to the level of Green, and a Musical intelligence that is at Survival.
Our current education system is based on the measurement and recognition of one or two lines of development. Cognitive has lead the way for many years. In some schools they celebrate creative and physical intelligence.. If you happen to be a student who is extraordinarily gifted in the interpersonal, the moral, or the emotional and your cognitive intelligence isn’t as high you might be considered a nice child with little academic potential. We fail our children by not considering them as whole and different and for asking them to fit in neat boxes.
We also fail our future by not designing education that enables moral, civic and emotional intelligence development.
States of Consciousness
There are three natural states of consciousness. Waking, dreaming and deep sleep. There are also altered states, and deep meditative states.
The states of consciousness are important in this conversation because there is a natural correlation between higher states of consciousness – the ability to self control our conscious mind – often accessed through various meditation practises, and the ability to move through the levels of development.
Generally someone who has their center of gravity at Teal will also have the ability to managed their conscious mind.
Indeed one of the best ways to evolve is through the inclusion of a meditative practise. However, someone who has spent years mediating might still have an Amber world view. Meditation alone does not suffice to evolve the neurobiological human. We need to be put in the conditions that promote growth of the interior human.