Feature Article: Leading the 21st Century : The Conception-Aware, Object-Oriented Organization

Bonnitta Roy

­­­­(A New View of Organizations & Human Action)

Bonnitta Roy and Jean Trudel

Part I:

Conception Aware The Relevant Situation: The 21st Century’s Double Bind

A decade ago, Stuart Kaufmann (2000) made a bold claim for the 21st century mindset, “The universe and the biosphere keep advancing into a persistent adjacent possible” (p 84).  For most of our human existence, the rate of advance was so slow that the concept of stability, rather than change, informed our investigations into such interests as a specifiable human nature, an attainable absolute truth, belief in unlimited natural resources, enduring economic progress, and lasting ecological resilience. In the first part of the 21st century, we’ve seen innumerable advances into ever new actualities at a rate that even Kauffman might have thought alarming. We not only participate in change that is so rapid that we can actually name it in real time (think Gen X, Gen Y), but we also precipitate unprecedented change at unprecedented scales. The most significant technologies of the last two centuries are obsolete, as are the most significant constructs of the 20th century mindset. We are here to watch as the airplane, television and paperback book are all surrendering their territory to the digital revolution; and the old forms of imperialism, religious fundamentalism, and Keynesian economics give way to secular neo-liberal democracies networked in a global economy.  We are in the midst of one of the largest extinction events—and we are here to record it. We invest in technologies that are designed to offset unimaginable planetary disasters—should they occur—while at the same time invest in technologies that risk them. The Rockefeller Foundation and Bill Gates are funding a massive seed bank vault being built under the permafrost in Norway, and Zak Stein (2010), an integral theorist and developmental researcher at Harvard, recommends building a “Nous – Ark”[1]—a collection of the humankind’s key cognitive, intuitive and spiritual knowledge—for the benefit of the few human survivors of a Armageddon-like world destruction.

Combined, the scientific, technological, and humanistic developments in the 20th century are both the forces of this change, as well as its consequence:  a feedback, feed-forward loop that is responsible for today’s exponential growth rate in human knowledge. Today, knowledge advances at such a rate that each generation’s knowledge base will be superseded in less than a decade. This is profound in two ways:

Human technology is transforming the planet so rapidly we act with unknowable consequences.

Since there is no “body of knowledge” to be passed on for the future, we must learn how to build capacities to face unknowable futures.

This, then, is the 21st century’s double bind: we can see that today is already past as we feel ourselves slipping into the near adjacent future; yet, we have no vantage point to see what lies ahead. We can name the change we see, but we are too slow to make course corrections.

In the first century, the Greek astronomer Ptolemy devised an ingenious solution to the movement of the planets that explained the observation of retrograde movement when the planets moved “backwards” in relation to each other. Because Ptolemy was a systems thinker way ahead of any other, he was able to put together a complex map of the variant and invariant epicycles of the planets and stars as they revolved around the earth. Of course, we all know the rest of this story. Ptolemy’s systemic genius notwithstanding, he was constrained because he was only able to imagine the view from the earth. A thousand years later, Copernicus re-imagined the heavens from a heliocentric view—which explained all the celestial movements observable at that time, in a simpler and much more elegant manner.

What if this is true today—that the limitation of our view is responsible for the complexity of our situation? If this were true, then wouldn’t it be more helpful to work directly with understanding what is our view—what are the hidden assumptions, boundaries and constraints that are on the one hand, creating all this hyper-complexity around us and, on the other hand, impeding our ability to “see” from a higher, more inclusive, more systematic yet more elegant vantage point?

And yet, at this level of complexity, leaders can no longer expect to be able to hold onto a static knowledge base from which to sustain an organization, act toward a resolution, or design a strategy for real-world decision-making. Rather, leaders need to be able to view an enormous amount of complexity, in ways that are both conceptually aware to comprehend all the categories, structures, processes, and systems that our current view of the world entails, as well as intentionally constructed in ways that are meaningful, relevant and useful. This process requires the vantage point of being able to see the concept-based value stream embedded in all the salient features and objects of the system, as well as sufficient meta-design skills for building coherent and synergistic systems out of constructed hybrid objects. We may not be able to precisely state what this vantage-point is beforehand, but we are able to state some of the key elements in this new view in a way that would be relevant, meaningful, useful and generative.

Relevant: Create a comprehensive and elegant model that will be equally relevant to the general case as well as the particular.

Meaningful: Integrate human and non-human processes into a unified explanation of the apparent teleology in a way that neither privileges the subjective or objective aspect of the story.

Useful: Identify the processes underlying the patterns through which the future unfolds, rather than pre-stating future conditions.

Generative: Understand our situation from the generative processes that ever-advance the universes and biosphere into the near adjacent possible.

The Meaningful Response: A New View of Organizations and Human Action

Last fall we (the two authors of this article) met at a 3-day workshop with Suzanne Cook-Greuter. At the time Jean Trudel was working on expanding a developmental-systems based performance management “balanced scorecard” for one of Canada’s largest wireless communications channel companies. Over five years, Jean had expanded his organizational developmental understanding to include the notion of “holarchical zones” that interpenetrated different thematic issues such as strategies, ego-development, skill set, team performance, management, communications, and cultural orientation. With this model Jean was able to exercise what he called “middle-up/down” management, which requires the middle manager to manage both down as well as manage up the organization. This manager became a kind of “keystone” to the entire organization. However, some of the most advanced and significant material that Jean had in his portfolio seemed to be an awkward fit with his developmental “zone” model. During the winter, the two of us met to try to glean the meaning of those parts that didn’t fit. They seemed like key indicators that Jean was onto an even more comprehensive way of looking at organizations and human action. This was a fortuitous meeting. Bonnitta had been working on the foundations of an integral process ontology. She was able to see that the important “outlying” themes in Jean’s portfolio could not be contained in a system that ran only on a developmental framework. She could see that some of these outlying themes were relevant to processes that were not developmental, but rather were derivative of one or more of the four other generative processes that she had identified as being foundational to an integral process ontology, namely, along with development, construction, evolution, emergence, and autopoietic enactment.

Together, we began to envision a view of organizations and human action that has the capacity to work with, through, and across multiple process narratives. We found that any narrative that appeared in Jean’s portfolio could be framed in terms of one or more of five generative processes—the set of which we fondly refer to as “the G5.”

This new view of organization and human action is based on two fundamental working hypotheses:

  1. The 21st Century Organization is a complex hybrid (human and non-human) organism that enacts multiple hybrid objects through five generative processes, striving toward synergy as the organism advances into the near adjacent future through the multiple teleological streams of their tensegral relationships.
  2. The ability to align a particular process with the fundamental processes of the biosphere, and to synchronize with their unique teleological imperatives, is key to creating a self-sustaining, ever-advancing, boundlessly innovative enterprise.

The first statement describes a transformational view of organizations, and the second prescribes the role of the transformational leader. The idea is that the situation we are facing is always already here, just as for Ptolemy, the planets always already revolved around the sun—he just couldn’t see it. So, too, for the 21st century leader, the change is always already happening, and the optimum configuration is always already available—we just can’t see it. But by re-framing each of the organization’s problematic situations in terms of each of the G5, we can begin to build a platform in which the multiple teleological streams that are compelling the situation will reveal their relevant features and key aspects. If, through a set of rigorous rules, we can define these features and aspects as multiple objects, we can make them accessible to inquiry. If in turn we can make these objects specifiable, then we can make them assessable and we can begin to work with them in more conventional ways. To summarize, the G5 offers a re-framing methodology that reveals relevant features of a situation that can be specified by rules and thereby become objects that can be assessed, creating a continuous feedback-feedforward cycle that is generative of human understanding and can also inform action.

The Generative Systems Model : The “G5” – Five Generative Processes

A generative process is a process that prescribes structures. To think in terms of generative process means to see structural parts as arising from processural wholes, the way a seed develops into a plant, the way a forest ecology evolves over time, the way a plasmid emerges from electron activity, or the way a cell autopoietically enacts its own interiority. These are all discrete and non-reducible generative processes that entail unique internal dynamics, give rise to unique types of structural organization, and operate in fundamentally different ways. We have also listed “construction” as a generative process, even though it is usually used as a primitive linear narrative rather than as a generative process. The construction narrative differs from the other generative processes because it is not self-contained or comprehensively self-prescribed, since it  relies on an external force or external dynamics. So for example, if we think of a geodesic dome being constructed, we might find it difficult to see how this could qualify as a generative process. Indeed, constructive processes produce heaps or aggregates, rather than what we commonly refer to as “whole systems”. However, when we include the externalized factors– in this case gravity and the load-bearing properties of the beams—the constructive narrative can be seen to be relevant as a generative process. In fact, as we shall see, the constructive narrative is one of the most valuable frameworks for implementing the G5 in organizational leadership.

The reader will find that we are switching back and forth between calling the G5 generative processes and, alternately, human narratives. This is intentional, because we do not want to privilege either the subjective aspect of the G5 as only a human narrative nor do we want to privilege the objective aspect of the G5 as only an objective phenomenon. Rather, we want the reader to understand the G5 as generative processes in which the subjective and objective interpenetrate. In this sense we might say that generative processes autopoietically enact both their subjective and objective aspects or, alternately, we can say that we choose to see the G5 through an autopoietic narrative in which subjects and objects mutually enact each other. It is important that the reader be able to stretch both ways in order to understand fully what we mean by the G5 and generative process. This is another key feature of the new view we are proposing. This both/and orientation integrates the objective bias of conventional enterprise architecture with the subjective bias of developmental models popular within the integral community. We want to extend this integration to both the “constructive” narrative/process—which is primarily relied upon by objectivist “enterprise architects”, as well as to the “developmental” narrative/process—which is primarily relied upon by subjectivist organizational consultants. In addition, we most certainly do not want to introduce either an objectivist nor subjectivist bias onto the notions of evolutionary, emergent, or autopoietic processes. This notion of the interpenetration of process and narrative is crucial to understanding the innovative view we are attempting to communicate in this paper.

Table 1: Details of the G

Table 1 summarizes the key features of each of the five generative processes. It shows that each process generates a unique type of order or form in which members are of a characteristic type and share characteristic relational dynamics with each other and throughout the form. We have also found it meaningful and useful to describe each generative process in terms of its distinct and fundamental type of agency which, in turn, allows us to describe each generative process as having a kind of telos, or inherent drive or direction. We are intentionally aware of this table as a set of creative imaginaries that are meaningful and useful in service to the view we are attempting to engage with the reader.

Construction is a process which produces aggregates or heaps. A building is a construction, as is a termite mound and a bicycle. While these examples are physical constructions, there can be abstract or virtual constructions also. The form an argument takes can be constructed from simple to more complex principles, and a common calculator computes constructively. The biblical  story of Genesis, in which an external Creator-God creates the world, is a constructive narrative. When networks are viewed as roads and hubs over which communications, relationships, or digital bandwidth travels, a simple construction process is being utilized to describe the network. (As we will see, there are alternative ways to describe networks.) In each of these instances, there is “work” being added to the system from the outside. This is why it is not terribly convenient to see constructive processes as generative. To do so, we must include the role of the external agent.

It is easy to see that constructive processes create hybrid objects. This is because we construe the external agent as “the subject’ and the product as “the object.” Again we caution the reader not to adopt this conventional dualistic view when regarding construction as a generative process. We want the reader to see the constructive process as generative of hybrid (human and non-human) objects. The term “constructive process” signifies all the aspects of the generative process—the members as well as the (external) agent(s).

The relations among members (aggregates) in a constructive process are “translational” which means that work must be done to navigate between members. For example, the “work” being done in a building is the kinetic work it takes to hold up against the force of gravity. The “translational” work in a linear network is the real or virtual “distance” between members or nodes. A digital calculator or modem ‘translates” great quantities of binomial work at rapid speed.

Finally, the telos of a constructive process can be construed as being the function of the external agent. So a building can be construed as “wanting” or having a telos or drive to function the way the architect and builders intends. The reader should be aware of our non-anthropomorphic use of the words associated with “telos” “drive” “wanting” as we are using them in a cybernetic context.

Development (as every integralist knows) is a process which generates holarchies whose  members are holons that are central agentic individuals. We describe the relations between the member-holons as compositional, by which we mean that the parts relate not individually to each other (as in translating components) but relate together through the context of the whole, as elements in a musical composition or the composition of a work of art relates the parts through consideration of the whole. For us, the key term identifying the telos of development is actualization, which means the realization of potentials. Development then can be said to be a process that generates actuals from potentials through whole-part transformation of the individual. The story of the big bang and the search for the constants of nature, is a narrative of the development of the universe from potentials situated at the “time of the singularity” that are being actualized in universal “time” (which is the same as distance measured as expansion from the singularity). We are mostly familiar with developmental processes that are associated with living organisms, but “things” usually construed as non-living objects, such as crystals, can be seen to be generated through developmental processes. Similarly we use a developmental narrative to describe organizations, how theories develop, cultures, communities, and the like.

It is important to emphasize that development pertains only where an individual central agentic monad can be construed. So when talking about an organization developing, we are talking about the organization as a single entity, by subsuming all of its parts under the notion of a single entity. However, if we look at an organization as a kind of ecology of multiple departments, then we must adopt another process narrative—ideally, in this case, evolutionary processes.

Evolution  is a process that entails a plurality of agents. Evolutionary processes generate ecologies. But this gets rather tricky. The individual agents in the ecology are not the members of an evolutionary process. An ecology, evolves on a different scale and level, and is like a standing pattern dynamic through which individual agents come and go, are born, develop, and die. Individuals develop, but species or communities adapt through complex, non-linear engagements that are both internal and external to the communities, internal and external to the environments, but that are all “internal” to the evolving ecology.  Therefore it is important not to think of the members of an evolutionary process as particulars, but rather as processural derivatives, or pattern dynamics. These pattern dynamics have been identified in the literature of Resilience Theory as phases in a panarchy cycle. These phases are illustrated and described below:

Figure 1 – Phases of the Panarchy Cycle – Adapted from Gunderson & Holling (2001


* Г—phase of growth where species and cultures grow and diversify to exploit new opportunities and develop entirely new ecological ways of being.

* Κ—phase of conservation, where climax species are tightly connected and organized, and ecologies and cultures stabilize into mature, often hierarchically nested systems, where there is little or no room for innovation or growth.

* Ω—phase of release (the “backside” of the mobius strip) where mature systems destabilize and collapse, and become increasingly discontinuous and chaotic which opens the field for

* α—phase of reorganization in completely new ways, which creates a new field of conditions and possibilities for the next growth phase.

Because the panarchy phases cycle, the relations between them can be described as transitional or successional. While it is true that there are extinction events, the telos of an evolutionary process is to produce diversity and novelty or, in other words, evolution is generative of diverse and novel forms. The agency of an evolutionary process is distributed collectively as adaptation. So as an ecology cycles through panarchy phases, the phases (members) transition or succeed each other, and the agency is provided by and distributed throughout the ecology collectively as adaptation. Again, we should neither privilege the subjective nor objective aspect of this adaptative agency, since the biosphere-as- agent is adapting with the environment, but the physiophere (environment) is also an agency that is adapting to the biosphere.

Emergence as a generative process has been known in one form or another since Aristotle, but its precise meaning is something that scientists and philosophers still debate. Wikipedia defines emergence as the way complex systems and patterns arise out of a multiplicity of relatively simple interactions. Systems theory sees emergence as the appearance of novel characteristics that are only exhibited by the whole system, but are not shared at the level of the parts. In addition, there is considerable debate about the nature of causation in an emergent system—whether it is a “top-down” event, or a “bottom-up” phenomenon, whether the emergent system “supervenes” or controls the parts, as opposed to the parts being the primary agents in the system’s emergence. We describe emergent systems as forming heterarchies, which in systems theory means that the dominant aspect or element is dependent upon the total situation, but the situation can change into two or more configurations, where the dominant aspect shifts.  This makes sense for emergent systems—since the parts retain their elementary status as the system switches back and forth through emergent levels—leading some theorists to think of emergence as involving both downward and upward causation. There are several salient feature of emergence that distinguishes it from both development and evolution.

There is no central agent in emergent processes—the agency is either distributed through the whole system much like a “field” effect, or collapses into random behavior of parts. Nor is there any kind of engagement between agents and so there is no sense of elements adapting to each other to form conventional hierarchies. Rather, this constraint, of parts behaving rather like equals among equals, transmutes into a completely new state. The energy of the parts is in some real sense transmuted through the entire system all at once, and a patterned-order emerges. It is typical of emergent systems that this occurs with a net overall decrease in energy requirements for the system and, therefore, the energetic properties of the system can be thought of as the systems’ “basin attractor” toward the new ordered system. This remarkable process, called a negentropic process, in which order is created at a net gain in energy, is a kind of inherent synergy.  We describe the telos of emergent systems as striving toward this net-gain energy state, through phase changes that are tensegral to the whole.

Autopoeisis,  or more precisely, autopoeitic enactment, is a new processural term. Autopoiesis   means self-generating. Enactment means, in the words of philosopher Evan Thompson(2007), “laying down a path while walking.” Autopoeisis entails enactment since for something to be self-generating there can be no external causal force, and no field or agent to act upon, attract, or shape the system. Therefore, its form is its genesis. The noun is the verb. The path is the walking of it. A popular way of illustrating autopoeisis is the famous Escher drawing of the two hands sketching each other into existence, except that in an autopoeitic enactment, there can only be the one hand, drawing itself into existence! We believe that autopoietic enactment will play a huge role in cybernetic systems theory in the near future.  We define the autopoietic enactment system as having a synergistic form, which is achieved through transformation of an autonomous, synergistic whole through enactment that balances between subject-object aspects or resolves subject-object roles.

Tension & Tensegrity

Table 1 includes two important elements of the G5 that we are introducing as tension and tensegrity. We borrow the terms from the cybernetic theory based on Buckminster Fuller’s (1975) notions of thought as geometry and the implications of systems as synergies. The astute reader will note that these are derived by overlaying a constructive narrative onto the G5 itself. We feel there is considerable value in assigning these terms to the G5.

By overlaying a cybernetic framework onto the G5, we can construe a generative process as being constrained by or self-contained within a tensional “field” and the field or system as achieving an optimum state of tensegrity within this field. This becomes useful when using the G5 in organizational situations to describe various optimum and sub-optimum configurations of “the system” once the relevant generative process is identified. So, for example, as Buckminster Fuller himself envisioned tensegrity in constructive processes, a building achieves tensegrity when the forces are evenly distributed across all the members. He thought of buildings, and by extension, the universe, as achieving omni-directional tensegrity through opposing centrifugal (load bearing, hence gravity resisting) and centripetal (the pull of gravity toward the center of the earth) forces. We can adopt the usefulness of Fuller’s cybernetics across the entire range of generative processes, by applying the notion of tensional forces and tensegrity in distinct ways that are characteristic of each of the G5 processes.

Therefore we assign to development the tensional pair whole/part, and construe the dynamic field in development to be an interplay or dance of whole-part forces. The relevance of this can be seen in notions such as when we say ego-development is driven by the alternating interaction of agency (individual/part) and communion (whole); or in the narrative of a work of art in which the individual elements are in dynamic relation with the whole composition. The resolution of this whole/part tension—how it achieves tensegrity—would then be seen as integration— the appropriateness of which should immediately appeal to readers of the integral community.

The tensional pair in evolution is between states of robustness and states of resilience. In the panarchy cycle illustration, the “frontside” phases become more highly interconnected and interdependent, and therefore the system becomes more robust, while the “backside” phases become less ordered, but the system becomes more resilient. We therefore see the evolving system – which is a pattern dynamic—as optimum when the panarchy cycle cycles, as opposed to stagnates, at any particular phase. This can be construed as having a macro system of multiple ecologies at different scales and at different phases in the multiple micro panarchy cycles.

For emergence we identify the tensional pair as between top-down and bottom-up states. For example, emergent systems can become supervenient systems (governed exclusively by higher-order dynamics) and stabilize there, or can “collapse” into lower level, distributed systems. An emergent system optimizes through phase changes that represent lower energy states, for example, as described in complexity theory.

The tensional pair in an autopoietic enactment system, where both sides are mutually subject and object in mutually enactment, is between the aspect of “being subject” and “being object” and achieves tensegrity when realized as a totality or a whole.

The Generative View: Hybrid Organisms & Hybrid Objects

Throughout our description of the G5 we have been emphasizing the need to view generative processes without either a subjective or objective bias, as well as without the conventional subject-object dualism. The best way we have found to language this is to construe the agency in generative processes as being hybrid organisms, or agents that are enfoldment of humans and non-humans, or living and non-living elements. A person, for example, is herself an enfoldment of subjectivity (interiority) and objectivity (exteriority), and therefore a hybrid organism. The need for us to language a noun and its predicate means that we identify the agent in the generative process as a hybrid organism and the objects or forms that are produced as hybrid objects – but we must emphasize that we do so not so much out of dualistic convention, but as an orientation, marker, or arrow situated in an onto-genetic process that entails agency that generates forms. This is how we come to conceive of the organization as a hybrid organism that produces multiple hybrid objects through the five generative processes and the role of the CEO as being able to align with the multiple teleological flows. The CEO must therefore be able to view the teleological processes and their forms, and to understand how best to facilitate how they strive toward tensegrity. This includes conventional enterprise architecture which offers the most efficient maps for all types of in-put and out-put; developmental models that map the interior motivation of people; evolutionary models that describe the cycle of forces, strategies, and adaptations that the organization faces through time; models that show how and when creativity and innovation, team cooperation and group flow can emerge; as well as a view in which the CEO can see how all these processes are mutually interpenetrating as the organization (organism) enacts its multiple hybrid objects.

This new vision of organizations and human actions is comprised of several key features:

  1. The G5 as multiple teleological streams.
  2. The Organization as a hybrid organism enacting hybrid objects.
  3. Hybrid objects are striving toward tensegrity in unique and specifiable ways.

Our goal with this map is to produce a method and an application through which the CEO can continuously view the state of the system by assessing the state of the multiple objects at an appropriate scale and timeframe. Department heads managing at different levels, scales and timeframes would be assessing different sets of multiple objects. Managers responsible for the learning organization might be assessing only the set of hybrid objects associated with a single G5 process, yet across all scales, levels, and multiple timeframes. Since scale, level and timeframes are themselves multiple objects enacted by the organization and therefore are specifiable—this is a set that might be governed by a group of organizational developers who are designing and continuously scripting the application to fit the changing scene. In this way we envision a feedback-feedforward loop that is both provocative to emergent futures, as well as sensitive to this moment’s realities.

Making it Useful

Meta-Design Process

In order to see through the complexifications of a large organization operating in a global theatre at numerous scales and across multiple fields of expertise and domains of experience, the 21st century leader must employ some sophisticated epistemic tools to act from a vantage point that can resolve the complexity into larger wholes without compromising the dynamic processes that generate them. Our first-order orientation, therefore, is to design around the principles of generative processes, while our second-order orientation is the meta-design of a generative design process.

generative process is one that creates order, pattern, structures or objects through its own internal dynamic operations, without recourse to external factors, although generative processes can be linked through various kinds of process dynamics and scalar relations. The order, pattern, structure, or objects that a generative process creates can “stand in for” the underlying process. Therefore, we can refer to a hurricane as “Hugo,” instead of having to formulate the infinite variety of forces that account for its appearance. Similarly, a generative design process involves the intentional creation of order, pattern, structure, or objects that can “stand in for” all the dynamical operations of an organization. The highest level pattern, structure, or object we can name is the organization itself—so when considered in this way, we can easily “see” that the organization stands in for all its underlying generative processes.

Our design process entails determining which of the five generative processes under lays each level of order, pattern, structure, or object that we can identify at different scales and domains. Furthermore, we can identify object-domains according to the form, membership, relational aspect, agency, and a teleological dimension related to the way that object-domain “strives toward” tensegrity. These object-domains provide us with a systematic way of developing “rules” for constructing “objects” that can “stand in for” all the relevant dynamics of the underlying generative processes. Our meta-design project is to design a process that is generative of second-order “objects” that enfold all the relevant information of the underlying first-order dynamics which are themselves enfolded in the organizational object.

Our meta-design process is a kind of reverse-engineering of how the human mind reifies processes into “ontically real” structures, or things. We do this intentionally in the way that object-oriented software designers intentionally work with constructed “objects” that stand in for packets of programming code. Alfred North Whitehead famously warned of the fallacy of misplaced concreteness—the tendency for the human mind to mistake the abstractions of thought for actual entities in the world. Therefore, our meta-design process must remain completely intentional and aware of the design choices we make in constructing our object-domains and their members. It is therefore critical in our process to assure that actual entities inform constructed objects rather than the other way around. Now, for sure, when constructed objects obtain the attention and imagination of people, they also inform actual entities, like people. The feedback loop will most certainly change first-order dynamics, which in turn may change the object-domains. In any event, the feedback loop must be such that the lower, actual order informs the constructed one at the meta-design level, not the other way around.

To capture the orienting principles of a generative meta-design process, we add four process principles to the ten attributes of meta-design posted by the Meta-Designers Open Network[2]

  1. Auspicious—focuses on the affirmative, optimistic and serendipitous.
  2. Indescribable—seeks to make the unthinkable possible.
  3. Self-steering—adapts by re-languaging its own working language.
  4. Fractal—making complex systems navigable through pattern-familiarity.
  5. Holistic—delivers complex, comprehensive and self-aware outcomes.
  6. Synergistic—cultivates and harnesses team complementarities.
  7. Synergy-seeking—aspires to a beneficial ‘synergies-of-synergies.’
  8. Opportunity-Making—uncovers unexpected potential for other systems.
  9. Integrated innovations—creates whole systems by interdependent parts.
  10. Table Paradigm-shifting—seeks to make human culture more ecological.
  11. Generative—creates order, pattern, structure, objects out of the underlying processural  dynamics of the system.
  12. Responsible—remains responsible to the design intentions that allow second-order objects to “stand in for” process dynamics.
  13. Responsive—allows first-order dynamics to inform second-order constructs.
  14. Recursive—enables first-order changes to revise design intentions embedded in second-order objects.

Part II : An Object-Oriented Approach

Now we can turn to the actual design of the objects using the 14 principles as a guide. First, we create a general rule for constructing objects across all the object domains as illustrated:

Figure 2: Object Rule Script

This is an illustration of how an object is enacted by the organization for a particular subject. The object is associated with a particular driver (one of the generative processes) and therefore has a certain form, which sorts to member elements that engage a particular subject in a feedback loop and which enacts other objects.

  1. Secondly, we identify six key object domains in any organization:
  2. Aggregate Objects : represent structures in the it-domain(2p)
  3. Value-Objects : represent structures in the I-domain (1p)
  4. Hybrid Values : represent multiple domains (1px2p; 1px3p; 2px3p)
  5. Group Objects : represent structures in the we-domain (2p)
  6. System Objects : represent structures in the its-domain (4p)
  7. Organizational Objects : represents the total organism

Third, we derive rules of object construction for each of the object domains as follows:

Object Driver Form Member Subject
Aggregate Construction Aggregate Component Unit
Value Development Holarchy Holon Individual
Hybrid Values Development Holarchy Holon Individual
Group Emergence Heterarchy Levels Group
System Evolution Panarchy Phases Ecology
Organization Autopoeisis Whole Co-actors Organism

Table 2: Hypbrid Objects

We can use these rules to generate a virtual object-field that tracks the multiple hybrid objects that are enacted by the organization as a whole, to define the kinds of capacities that can be built into the feedback-feedforward loop, and design action-plans toward achieving synergy among multiple streams of teleological forces.

A conception-aware understanding of the enactment of hybrid objects allows us to combine this information with an object-oriented approach to systems design. We can write rich scripts for all the objects which arise in the diverse theatre over which the CEO presides. These scripts cover all the domains of inquiry (I, we, it, its), all the developmental levels and their composites, and all the generative processes and their members. Each object is scripted from rules that cascade from the general rule for all objects, to more specific rules for different object types—a range which offers selective “granularities” for different levels of meta-analysis. To this end, fractal8 is developing a multi-dimensional interactive CEO Viewer™ which can track, assess, and sort scripted objects as a decision-making platform.

Optimizing Configurations—Some Cybernetic Examples

Through G5- reframing, an organization might identify several key features as the relevant situation begins to come into view. Each of these key features in turn can be specified as to the process, form, membership, relations, and agency. Overlaying cybernetic tools such as tensegrity, offers the capacity to design optimum configurations for each of these features. In addition, the object-rule scripts help identify the appropriate “target” of the feedback-feedforward loop—that part of the organization that is relevant to the particular learning-loop, or is in need of design/development. In terms of human resources, this may mean developmental assessment of key managers, or the identification of the developmental level required for new candidate managers. In terms of the organization as a systems object, this may mean re-framing the life-cycle of the organization and its role/membership in the larger ecology. In terms of the systems architect, overseeing the vision and facilitating the leadership, this may mean dancing with the emergent vision, and “setting the field” for the vision to become resonant throughout the organization. For the meta-theorist doing research on organizational change, this might mean tracing the patterns that arise through the mutual-interactive engagement of the generative processes as they autopoietically enact the multiple objects that have become the new key features of organizational action.

We have begun to look at the kinds of configurations that optimize in different process streams and the following is a brief sampling of the kind of cybernetics that we are working with. A full-fledged exploration of the cybernetic territory that results from G5 re-framing, is well beyond the scope of this article.

For example, Buckminster Fuller gave us the notion of the tetrahedron as the geometric representation of the optimum configuration of a constructive process.

Figure 3: tetrahedron


The tetrahedron illustrates how/that the forces in the system are evenly distributed so the system can undergo perturbations without failing due to implosion or explosion– in other words, the optimum configuration between centrifugal and centripetal forces in a constructive process. If, in reframing, a key element of the situation is identified as having the form of a constructive process, then the strategy is re-framed in terms of optimizing between these two kinds of forces. Once identified, then object-rules can be created to assess the relevant members, and to act on the appropriate target. A more complicated version of this tetrahedron is the “networked” tetrahedron as illustrated  below:

Figure 4 : Networked Tetrahedra

This is a more complicated scenario, which illustrates multiple point of optimizing configurations, but the intersections between the tetrahedral are still simple linear translations, and therefore fit a constructive narrative.

On the other hand, figure 4 illustrates a compositional configuration of optimized tetrahedra that would be associated with a developmental scenario, illustrates as “tetrahedroning”, where the parts continually compose a unified whole. The diagram illustrages “holarchical” development from a single-optimized tetrahedral composition, through successive stages of development.

Figure 5 : Compositional Tetrahderon


This turns out to be  the cybernetic architecture of Jean’s developmental zones, which show optimum configurations of 1st, 2nd, and 3rd –person perspectives across different levels and scales, according to the developmental stage data that he has collated.

A network that is viewed as an “emergent” system (illustrated in figure 5) would optimize in a different way. An emergent network, would achieve tensegrity by being able to distribute agency alternately between wholes and parts, like torrent code, or static IP routers – where the parts maintain their individuality “in-between” durations of being employed as/by the emergent whole. This can be illustrated as tetrahedral which come together to create a super –tetrahedra, not in an additive or compositional way, but as a larger fractal:

Figure 6: Emergent Tetrahedron

One of the interesting features of the G5 is that each of the processes can “see” each other, and be employed as an overlay or lens through which to see all the other processes. We have been employing Fuller-type cybernetic models over the G5, which is to say, overlaying a constructive process narrative over the G5 model.

We can look at some the G5 from a developmental process and consider them to be developmentally related as in the following illustration:

Figure 7: Development Framework over the G5


We can view the G5 as emergent from within a larger, unspecified generative process field:


Emergeant Framwork Over the G5


Similarly, when looking at hybrid objects, we can view them in multiple ways. Consider for example, the set of hybrid objects associated with organizational objects which in a sample case sorts to members in the set [aim, mission, vision, purpose, guiding principles ]. From the view of the whole, the system set operates autopoietically, and these objects interpenetrate and inter-enact. The company can be started with a set of guiding principles, which in turn revealed an inner purpose, which allowed the mission statement to be developed, which in turn created the company’s formal vision, the aim of which became clearer after time.

Figure 9


Alternately, consider that the organization may have started with a mission statement and clear aim, and over time the process self-revealed a deeper purpose and higher guiding principles that were developed at a late stage in the organization’s history.  The developmental narrative might “extract” one of these organizational objects and “see” that each member of the set of organizational objects as a values-object that cascades, holarchically, into a developmental set of hybrid values:

Figure 10


In an entirely different scenario, all the multiple hybrid objects that are construed as being enacted through a developmental process can be re-framed as members of a single hybrid object that is enacted through a type of “emergent” state, or resonant field.

Figure 11

As a final example, the original set of organizational objects can be identified as a phase in a larger, evolutionary ecology at a different time frames or adaptive cycles.

Figurte 13


These are just a few examples of the types of tools we are trying to deliver that are useful for creating applications that can serve the new vision of organizations and human action that we are offering. Our final goal would be to develop an application that could trace patterns of these processes by tracking hybrid objects, as scripted specifically for the particular organization and its needs, across multiple time frames, scales and events. We are toying with an introductory version that utilizes the popular “personal brain” hypergraphing program, to illustrate our vision of the kind of navigation system we imagine for organizations as they ever-advance into the persistent adjacent possible.

Figure 14


Beyond a certain level of complexity, all the conventional epistemic tools we have developed will fall short of capturing the processural nature of our rapidly changing world. Leaders find themselves in increasingly challenging positions to exercise their decision-making powers when everywhere there are blindspots. Integral theory has added a much-needed developmental framework to conventional enterprise architecture which relies on conventionally applied, constructive narratives, but this is just the first step toward a truly comprehensive view of human action. Only by incorporating all of the narrative/ processes into our view, can we realize a  vantage-point from which we can make decisions that are applicable to real-time processural flows.  We offer the G5 framework as a methodology for the CEO to be able to fully conceptualize by stepping into the multiple flows that propel the organization into the future; and we offer an object-orientated cybernetics as an application that enables the CEO to lead from that vantage point. We hope the reader shares some of the excitement about these prospects, which are still very new and emerging, and hope this article has helped the reader to stretch toward this new vision of organization and human action that we are offering.


Fuller, Buckminster (1975) Synergetics:Exporations in the Geometry of Thinking. Macmillan Publishing Co. New York.

Fuller, Buckminster (1979) Synergetics 2: Further Explorations in the Geometry of Thinking. Macmillan Publishing Co. New York.

Gunderson, Lance & Holling, C.S. (2002) Panarchy: Understanding Transformations in Human and Natural Systems. Island Press, Washington.

Harmon, Graham (2009) Prince of Networks: Bruno Latour and Metaphysics., Melbourne

Kaufmann, Stuart (2000) Investigations. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Latour, Bruno (2005) Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Oyama, Susan (2000) The Ontogeny of Information: Developmental Systems and Evolution. Duke University Press

Stein, Z. (2010) On the use of the term Integral: vision-logic, meta-theory, and the growth-to-goodness assumptions. Paper presented at Biannual Integral Theory Conference, John F. Kennedy University. Pleasant Hill, CA.

Thompson, Evan (2007) Mind in Life. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Ma.

Wood, John (2007) Design for Micro-Utopias. Gower Publishing House, Hampshire, England.                                                                             

[1] Zak Stein mentioned the Nous-Ark in his presentation at ITC 2010: On the use of the term Integral: vision-logic, meta-theory, and the growth-to-goodness assumptions. Paper presented at Biannual Integral Theory Conference, John F. Kennedy University. Pleasant Hill, CA.

[2] Retrieved from

About the Authors

Bonnitta Roy

Bonnitta Roy is an independent scholar interested in bringing more process thinking into integral theory. She has received two awards for alternative theory at the biannual Integral Theory Conferences. She is an associate editor of Integral Review, a guest faculty member for the Masters Program in Conscious Evolution at The Graduate Institute, a contributing writer for Beams and Struts, and maintains her own blog at Integral Review of Books.

Jean Trudel

Jean Trudel is founder of fractal8, a community of inquiry working toward worldviews that are liberating for people within an organizational context. He is president and owner of Helicoid International which provides consulting and performance management services from an integral-developmental perspective and meta-design approach. His background includes executive experience leading marketing, strategic planning, and channel management initiatives.


  1. Wake up on August 24, 2011 at 5:55 am


    Please, go back to a real day job and stop with this nonsense.

    I consider myself fairly intelligent, moderately educated, and usually up to speed with what’s going on.

    I have rarely read so much, albeit well intentioned, fiction

    Please use your great talents towards creating value.

  2. Jessie Henshaw on June 17, 2012 at 1:42 pm

    I’ve been evolving a similar model since the 70’s too, maybe equally inclusive. Mine has as a backbone the stages of self-organization that are recognizable in virtually any kind of individual event. Even a “spark” or a “wink” or a “smile” all develop in the same general way a “global economy” does, with a burst of local self-organization and the explosive growth of its “killer app” for exploiting a local environment, sprouting and growing as a systematic but also ever more unstable process needing a way to change form.

    My dilemma has been that I finally found ways to justify those observations with classical physics, that the laws of physics are descriptive not prescriptive is an important part. How the world of uncontrolled and locally individual processes connect to the universal ones can also be shown through studying the implications of energy conservation. To satisfy the principle of conservation, any energy use that begins and ends can be shown by a fairly simple proof, to need to do so by a succession of complex self-organizing stages of non-linear development.

    One can usually observe those local instrumental processes as described in individual evens of all sorts, as the bursts of organization and energy use or collapse at the start and end of anything. A baseball doesn’t only follow a parabolic arc, for example, but also needs tossing and catching, to start and finish the event of its flight. That doesn’t get me in the door with physicists yet, though. The particular barrier is deeper, seeming to be, that they rely on defining the world as a theory, with words defined as relations between concepts. To discuss the natural successions of change, by uncontrolled local processes, I use theory too, but also need to rely on defining terms for the subject being studied by making reference to the observed behaviors of nature being discussed… If you look closely at physics, their language doesn’t do that, but formally studies only conceptual data and models, not “things”.

    You might, in a stretch, say the problem is that women talk about experiencing things and men about theory and concepts, and so use the same words with unconnected meanings, and so unaware of why they seem not to communicate…. 😉 (which we generally don’t) What I did to progress in my own thinking was discover how reasoning and experiencing could work together, and let you go back and forth between discussing things and theories as related but different subjects. It gives me a third paradigm of “both”, though, that also doesn’t communicate very well…

    So anyway, we might have things to discuss, bit by bit at least. One of the good places to start might be with how an economy like ours, with its great “killer app” of ever multiplying self-investment, seems unprepared for the usefulness of that to come to an end, as the usefulness of *every* emergent system’s prize app necessarily does.