Feature Article: Talk About Altitude! From the Mile High City to the Emerald City Robb Smith in Seattle

Jacob Werre

On Thursday, April 26, 2007, SeattleIntegral, the largest Integral Salon in Seattle, hosted a special Ken Wilber Meetup with guest Robb Smith, recently named Chief Executive Officer of Integral Institute. As a special treat, we also had the pleasure of participating in a conference call with Ken Wilber (lasting almost an hour-and-a-half!). As many of us can attest, there is just nothing quite like a real-time, in-the-moment experiences of the man himself! (More on that in a moment.)

Foremost, Robb’s visit was a crucial and welcome step forward in establishing a strong lower left/lower right quadrant connection between the Integral Salons that have been developing at a grass roots level and the influence and resources of Integral Institute— sort of the bottom up approach meeting the top down approach—and a wonderful opportunity to look at how we can serve each other.

SeattleIntegral is one of the most established and longest-functioning Salons in the U.S., with close to 200 members signed up on our discussion list, as well as participants in many subgroups existing to support specific areas of practice. We also have a volunteer Core Group leadership circle that is taking on the visioning and administrative aspects of running the Salon.

Robb’s visit to Seattle grew out of several conversations that one of SeattleIntegral’s co-founders and leaders, Gary Stamper (, has had recently with Ken and Robb concerning how our two groups can work in concert.

Through trial-and-error, strategic planning, Spirit providence—or perhaps a karmic combination of the three!—SeattleIntegral finds itself in the remarkable position of being able to help model, for both I-I and other Salons, just how to get one of these things up and running and keep it going. We also hold that whatever these models might look like, and to whatever degree we end up working together, they will be co-creations of the heart and vision of everyone’s efforts.

Plus, the chance to work with one of the premier Integral think tanks and communities in the world is positively delicious!

First, a brief history of Ken Wilber Meetups: They are discussion groups that take place throughout the world once a month as facilitated by the website Naturally, the content varies from meeting to meeting and region to region. SeattleIntegral itself was born in 2002 from a small, committed group of folks gathering at local coffee houses (never a shortage of those in Seattle!) with nothing more than a passion for Integral Philosophy and human transformation and a desire to talk about it with others.

As SeattleIntegral took shape, we folded hosting the Ken Wilber Meetups nto our larger collection of Salon activities. It is still the most common way for new members to find us and are always a great way to get a taste of the Integral zeitgeist in the Pacific Northwest. (Our Meetup with Robb and Ken was our 51st consecutive monthly gathering!)

Robb Smith

And now a bit about Robb: He has an impressive and varied background as a professional venture capitalist, a builder of management teams in industries as diverse as healthcare and software, an establisher of academic research programs and he has also served as co-founder and president of the Reno-Tahoe chapter of Entrepreneur’s Organization ( Robb will be instrumental in reshaping and reorganizing the functioning of I-I in both its for-profit and non-profit facets. In other words…this guy knows business!

(By the way, he was also pursuing his master’s degree in philosophy when I-I hired him.)

One of Robb’s tasks as the new CEO is to establish a linking and support system between I-I and local Integral groups, and his visit with us was a great chance for him to observe one “in the wild”.

Granted, the Meetup format this time around was a bit atypical given the time we wanted to spend with Robb and Ken, but we proceeded as normally as we could. After a brief welcome and introduction of SeattleIntegral, we had an open discussion for about 30 minutes. (The hot topic was quantum physics and mysticism, but that’s a whole other kettle of what the bleep!)

Next, Robb delivered a brief PowerPoint presentation on the new organizational direction of I-I. The gist was that I-I will not be able to truly exist as a 2nd tier group until it has some basic, 1st tier right hand quadrants structures in place to support the larger vision of Integral. And in this case, he is definitely a proponent of the don’t-reinvent-the-wheel school of business management. Healthy Orange at its best!

Robb noted that, ironically, even I-I has suffered from the Pre/Post Fallacy in how it has approached some endeavors, such as its massive web portal for its various websites. Once again, just because something is un conventional doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s post conventional! Ouch. Good to know we aren’t the only ones.

He is in the process of developing a high-level leadership team, and I-I is moving into what Wilber calls Version 3.0. A part of this restructuring is the assembly of a new board of directors, including such luminaries as Michael Crichton, Tony Robbins, Larry Wachowski, and John Mackey. (For more details check out:

He also spoke of I-I’s desire to create a single branded experience for people walking into affiliated Integral Salons, no matter where they are in the world (what he refers to as a Member Delight Program, which delivers a consistent and helpful experience for people and basically keeps them coming back for more.)

Robb’s strength and gifts to the Integral community are evident in his command of the right hand quadrant structures so necessary for any successful business, but I think he also sees clearly the co-arising left hand interiors that must be nurtured alongside the exteriors. In fact, he shared with us the story of a powerful personal awakening he had following his attendance of an I-I Integral Life Practice seminar, which in no insignificant way led him to his current position. He truly values the Integral community and vision. He is well-versed in the theory but also wants to make sure it can be expressed succinctly and invitingly to anyone, anywhere. In that we are most definitely aligned with Robb. A guiding principle of SeattleIntegral has always been to turn Integral Theory into Integral Action.

Engaging Ken Wilber

After Robb’s PowerPoint, we jumped right into our call with Ken, who was his usual jovial, wry, charismatic and energetic self. It’s wonderful to have him back in action after his recent well-publicized health troubles. And seriously, participating is like being a guest on Integral Naked ( I highly recommend it.

Our conversation with Ken covered some familiar territory, if you are indeed a regular listener of Integral Naked. I won’t go into detail here, since he has covered some of the topics that popped up in our Q&A in other venues. I will say, however, that he elaborated on the relationship between quantum physics and mystical states, dark matter and prana energy, horizontal state enlightenment and vertical stage enlightenment, Integral Life Practice/Integral Transformative Practice, and how the practice of Presencing, as articulated by Peter Senge, Otto Scharmer, et al, fits in with the AQAL model.

However, one topic in particular stood out to me as relevant to our larger discussion of the nature of emerging Integral Salons. Ken was asked what he felt was the role of language in human transformation. He said there is a misconception that mystical experiences, for example, are ineffable and without a language for them.They therefore must not be real or are, at the very least, all too different to say much about. But the catch is that ANY experience is ineffable. Eating a piece of chocolate cake, watching a sunset, making love—everyone has a unique upper left quadrant interior experience of these, yet we all agree that they are real and we can certainly communicate quite effectively about them. So in one sense, any experience, be it orgasm or satori, is beyond words and unless one has had the experience, one might not have exactly the same referent as another. And yet…we have to say something!

Ken maintains that’s why it is so important to continue talking about the mystical experience—or Integral or any other affinity for that matter—because over time a common language will emerge within a community that has had such experiences, allowing them to be meaningfully communicated to others. (He recommended lightheartedly that much like the Inuit peoples have around a dozen words for different kinds of snow [linguistic urban legends have had it as high as 400!], that we should develop 28 different names for our higher potentials.) In fact, he recommended working to develop languages and signifiers from a stage or two higher than where we think we are. It can be said that by talking about “it”, we name it and call it forth.

It strikes me that this is similar to what we are experiencing in the emergence of Integral Salon communities. We are attempting to develop a lower left language, along with corresponding lower right structures, around the shared experience of whatever it means to be in a Salon. And this is really only now beginning to take shape within the Salon communities with some consistent depth and structure.

SeattleIntegral Core Group

The following day we convened a Core Group meeting with Robb as an observer and a participant, again with the idea that he could see an example of how an established salon works.

(As far as we know, no other Salons have official leadership groups similar to our Core Group. We operate from an intention of transparency, so all our meeting notes are posted in the files section of our Yahoo discussion forum, which any member of the list can access. Also, anyone can attend our meetings to observe or make proposals for a discussion topic. We can be found at:

Perhaps one of the most significant ways that Salons may be able to benefit from working with I-I is in their potential to offer a framework and support for building organization structure, such as tools to help make application for 501(c) 3 status much easier and quicker. One of the issues SeattleIntegral has been considering is how to move forward with a legal structure that makes it more feasible for us to stage events and meetings with limited liability to their producers and collect funds necessary to keep the group growing. In addition, Robb said he could offer some proven structure-building ideas based on his experiences in setting up chapters of Young Entrepreneurs Organization—ideas and methods that can continually draw people in through fun activities, learning and practice.

Another crucial topic for SeattleIntegral is the classic quality vs. quantity question. Robb’s perspective favors a small group of actively engaged members over a larger one where many people are anonymous or participate infrequently. The benefits of a small, tightly-focused and active group are undeniable, however, SeattleIntegral seems to exist at least in part as a broad forum for those of all levels of familiarity with Integral Theory/Philosophy/Practice to actively participate, occasionally jump in or just observe from a distance. (Is our Green meme showing?) Robb’s input feeds nicely into the Core Group’s continuing discussion of the nature and benefits of being a member of a salon.

Overall, the Core Group was quite interested in what Robb had to offer. and we are excited to continue the conversation with I-I. In many ways. SeattleIntegral and Integral Institute are hoping to create the space where we can rely on proven structural models for simply taking care of business, as well as allowing for the blossoming of new ways of articulating the Integral Vision. It really is early in the relationship, however, and neither of us knows what any kind of official affiliation might look like. But as Ken is fond of saying, if it doesn’t surprise you, it really wasn’t a creative emergence!

Much work has been done, but there is much more to come…

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Jacob (Jake) Werre is a co-founder of SeattleIntegral, one of the most active Integral Salons in the U.S. When not busy with SeattleIntegral, he is a professional in the music industry working as an Audio Architect and DJ. He is also an entrepreneur in the process of building a consumer information website. As part of his Integral Life Practice, he enjoys teaching Tai Chi and is a student of Iaido and Aiki-ken, two of the modern arts of Japanese swordsmanship. He lives in Seattle with his two cats, Shadow and Bella.