Dialogue: Integral Theory into Integral Action: Part 4

Mark Edwards and Russ Volckmann

Edwards image

volckmann imageINTRODUCTION: This is the fourth in a series of email exchanges framed as a dialogue between Mark Edwards, an Australian PhD candidate who has written extensively about integral theory and a member of the Integral Leadership Council, and Russ Volckmann, editor and publisher of the Integral Leadership Review . Our goal is to clarify how integral theory and mapping might be helpful in comprehending the subject of leadership and guiding the construction of transdisciplinary, developmental approaches to improving practice, development and theories of leadership. Thus far, much of our discussion has been about ways to use integral mapping. In this issue we are pretty close to agreeing on a map that will guide its application to leadership.

Russ: Let me see if I can summarize where I think we have arrived at this point in our conversation and then sharpen the focus a bit. It seems to me that the themes we addressed in Part 3 of this dialogue focused on how mapping and the use of diagrams can help us begin to gain perspective on how holons might be viewed. We both seem to want to break out of the four-cell construct and make “you” as explicit as “I/we” and “he/she/it/they.” It seems that we can consider matrices as representing an occurrence with individual and collective holons as Wilber does. Another strategy is to consider matrices representing holons. An example of this is the six-cell matrix that I suggested in Part 3 of this dialogue and that I believe parallels work you have been doing for some time. Furthermore, and this is more highly developed in your work, the important impetus for this is to begin to comprehend the relational aspects between/among holons. It seems that this approach suggests moving away from matrices as representation of occurrences by introducing the variable of Time. Relationships develop and change over time. Is this a fair summary to this point?

Mark: Actually Russ I don’t want to move away from using matrices and I want to add the dimension of space to Wilber’s current emphasis on time. Let’s take the space issue first. Integral theory needs to treat both spatial and temporal aspects of relationality. At the moment there is a focus on the development of individual holons over time. Wilber has already provided a basis for dealing with the variable of time in his four quadrants model of an “occasion” or a “moment of experience” as he says “these occasions are the reality moment to moment, and each of those occasions has this AQAL – or four quadrant – structure” (emphasis added). This is what I tried to show in our last conversation in “Figure 1: Four Quadrants of ‘one occasion’”. Wilber’s quadrants are first and foremost a way of representing moments of experience as they unfold through time for a sentient holon. We need to complement this with a focus on the experience of holons at different points in space as they unfold in relationship. The focus on the temporal dimension and the neglect of the spatial is evidenced in the complete absence of diagrams in Wilber’s work which show multiple holons in spatial relationships. We need to add to this “drop of experience” model the spatial dimension of the relationships between holons in specific situations. Without the capacity for a spatial representation of holons in situated relationships integral theory runs the risk of becoming a type of “developmentalism”, which is the view that all potential comes out of the temporal development of sentient individuals (whether in groups or not). This partialness needs to be avoided. Adding the spatial dimension opens integral theory up to the potential ofinterobjective depth, of the social mediation of transformation and the power of the exteriors to stimulate creative emergence, all of which complement Wilber’s focus on the developmental relationship of individual sentient holons from one moment to the next. So I am suggesting that we introduce the variable of spatial relations and see what emerges from the creative “space between” holons and add that to Wilber’s focus on the creative space within holons.

As for setting holons in various matrices, I don’t want to move away from that, I want to encourage it, as can be seen from the many matrices in my essays. This issue of matrices can be usefully considered using some ideas from a wonderful paper by the Australian academic John Mathews (1996) which outlines three ways (what Mathews calls ‘orders’) of discussing holons and holarchies. The first order investigates intraholonic relations which refers to the characteristics of single holons (whether individual or collective). The second investigates the interholonic order which looks at the characteristics of holons in interaction (whether individual or collective). The third investigates the order of the holonic system which considers the relationship between single holons and the holarchic systems in which they are imbedded. These orders of investigation are shown in Figure 4.1.

Figure 4.1: Three orders for analyzing holons

Figure 4.1: Three orders for analyzing holons

You can see from this analysis that integral theory, to this point, has mostly investigated the first order of investigating holons, i.e. on the intra-holonic order and it is starting to delve into the systemic order of analysis. I am arguing that we need to move to orders 2 and 3, the inter-holonic and systemic orders respectively, in a much more coherent and systematic way. I have shown the holonic system focus here in terms of a matrix where example relationships between holons within this matrix system are shown. One might also use holarchies here as examples of holarchic systems (as Mathews does). Matrices generally come under the systemic type of analysis which is what happens anytime you cross lenses such as personal perspectives with the individual-collective (which is also called micro-macro and singular-plural) as shown in Figure 1. Do you get a taste for how these orders of discussion complement each other?. It’s not a case of one or the other. We need temporal and spatial dimensions and we need intra, inter and systemic levels of analysis when we apply our integral lenses. We need to analyse holons individually, in relationship and in holarchic systems. I believe this is why you are working towards including relational and systemic levels of analysis as well as Wilber’s more intra-holonic focus – because organisational and leadership issues will always demand all these diverse forms of imagining.

Russ: Thanks for elaborating this, Mark. I did not mean to say “moving away” from matrices, but from the constriction of a four-cell matrix as an occurrence. I was suggesting that there is a place that we both acknowledge for the four-cell matrix of an occurrence, a moment in time. In addition I am trying to suggest that we need a perspective that can be used to include process over time from moment to new moment, from instant to hour, to day, to month or to year! So, I am really intending these alternative approaches as additive, not displacements of the matrix of occurrence.

Matthews’ three models fill the bill because they include the element of relationship, whether it is intra, inter or systemic. For example, when we introduce the arrows between quadrants in the intra-holonic focus, we are automatically going beyond the moment.

It is in the service of including time as a variable that would encourage an approach that extends modeling into a “holonic” framework. This would support the examination of phenomena over time through an integral lens.

You and Matthews have suggested that we can look at the relationships between holons of a variety of types. For example, you have suggested a hierarchy of size and function(?), for example, moving from role (employee) to team to department, organization and industry, in turn. This could be extended to local economy, national economy, global economy, I suppose. At the intersections of these levels is a “between space”, that is relationship processes between different levels. These can include conversation, mediation and power/authority relationships, as examples. The important point here, it seems to me, is that if we are going to look at the relationships between holons over time we can introduce process theories and models that a more static approach may preclude.

Mark: That’s right Russ, time and space, process and structure. Wilber has written a lot about these issues, and naturally wants to include all these approaches. But as I said in a previous discussion, the AQAL framework is too rigidly constituted to fully accommodate some very important elements from those theories that emphasise relational aspects of reality. And I feel these are essential for the further development of integral theory. There still are fundamental conceptual inconsistencies and rigidities in the model that prevent it from recognising other crucial lenses, such as social mediation (or inter-mediation as Wendelin Kuepers likes to call it), and the issues we are discussing can add significantly to the explanatory power and construct validity of integrally-based analyses.

And on my misunderstanding of what you meant by “matrix”. I thought by matrix you were referring to the six-cell matrices that we were discussing previously and which relate to holonic systems. I was not thinking of the AQAL matrix, which usually refers to the quadrants of a single holon. And this confusion once again points out the inconsistencies that pop up in any theoretical discussion that involves quadrants, holons, perspectives etc. If the four quadrants are ways of viewing any single event (i.e. holon) then the AQAL framework is an intra-holonic order of analysis – “Every holon has four quadrants”. If you regard the quadrants as the interaction of individual and collective holons then it’s a holonic system or matrix– e.g. the upper quadrants relate to individual holons and the lower quadrants refer to collective holons. (Wilber uses both definitions but has always maintained that he consistently only uses one.) The point here is that there are at least two completely differentdefinitions of holons and quadrants that are being thrown around everywhere. Once again, I say we need to clarify these basic definitions before we can apply integral principles in a consistent way.

This, in turn, goes back to our discussion of the individual-collective dimension – Does it refer to one holon or to all holons? Is it a dimension that looks at individual and collective aspects of one holon or is it a dimension that has individual holons at one pole and collective holons at the other? Does it apply to the intra-holonic order or does it apply to the inter-holonic and systemic orders? At the moment I’d say that Wilber is the only person who is really sure that he can offer coherent answers to such questions. The reality is that sometimes we think of holons in one way and sometimes in another, and the problem is that we are usually unaware of those differences or why we pick one way over another. This is really bad theory building. Internal consistency and clarity of definitional is one of the core evaluative criteria for any theory and at the moment I’d say integral approaches are failing that test. As Tom Murray points out, this definitional indeterminancy is one reason why so very little empirical work has been done to test its propositions.

Russ: So how do we address this?What is required? It seems to me that Wilber is addressing the fundamental epistemological challenge: to describe what occurs at the moment of knowledge, at the instant of knowing. The AQAL model of the occurrence is a map for supporting our doing that. And from that point of view is very, very useful. However, we need maps that allow us to identify what occurs at the moment of knowledge over time, so alternatives such as we have been talking about are also useful.

If we can honor both approaches what are the implications for integral theory? Wilber’s 20 tenets, for example, become the hypotheses of occurrences. Would there need to be another set of tenets for the holonics approach? What further is required to address the issues Murray raises? Perhaps if we can clarify these things a bit more we can go where wise men fear to tread, e.g., seeing the implications for our understanding of leadership based on the maps and approaches we have been discussing. Certainly, as you warned us, it would be inappropriate, however might we do an iterative process that might contribute to generating more clarity in both realms? I would like to offer the following in service of such an approach.

A difference between our representations of the collective is that you have labeled the quadrants as the organization’s collective (UL) consciousness, (UR) behavior, (LL) culture and (LR) social system. I am suggesting something a bit different as an approach. It would be collective (UL) culture, (UR) system, (LL) comprehension of contextual culture, and (LR) engagement with contextual system. For me, this parallels what I am suggesting about the individual representation as an integral matrix. Rather than treating the matrix as two holons (individual and collective) I want to treat it as one holon as shown in Figure 4:2.

individual holon graphic

Figure 4:2 Individual Holon as Four Cell Matrix

I think about these kinds of constructs for their sense-making power and translatability into the worldviews of others. There has been a lot of confusion about the relationship between the four-cell matrix and the holon—particularly my own confusion. Thanks to Wilber’s more recent writing (e.g., Integral Spirituality, Chapter 1) and reading your work it seems as through the fog is starting to clear a bit. I offer the following as a step further out of my fog into some clarity that can be shared with others.

Figure 4:2 treats the individual as both a holon and a four cell matrix. It is all about the individual. Agency-Individual has to do with those aspects of a person related to self. Communion-Collective contains those aspects of a person related to others. But they are still all aspects of the person, of the individual. The “real” collective is not represented here at all. It is only the collective as understood by the individual. This representation can, of course, be expanded to include 2nd person. And in applying this approach to the subject of leadership that seems like a particularly appropriate thing to do. At the risk of stepping forward into application too soon, let me show you what I mean. Figure 4:2 illustrates the holon-matrix of the individual in a leading role at one point in time. This would be an occurrence of leadership without regard to time.


Figure 4.3 Individual Six-Cell Holon

So, Mark, help me out here. I think what Figure 4.3 shows is a way to represent the individual in relation to others and to culture/system as a holon. In the case of a leadership occurrence, “I” would be the person leading, “”You” could be, for example, an individual collaborator/follower, and “They” would be the context of that relationship. This model is all about the individual:

UL is those aspects of the individual that cannot be observed.

UR is those aspects of the individual that can be observed.

CL (Center-Left) is those aspects of the other, another individual that are internal and assumed to be present in an occurrence by “I”.

CR (Center-Right) is those aspects of the other that “I” can observe and with which “I” can engage.

LL is those aspects of the contextual culture of the relationship between “I” and “You” that are believed (consciously or unconsciously) to be present in an occurrence.

LR is those aspects of the contextual systems present in the relationship between “I” and “You” which are observed and participated (or not) in by “I” and by “You”.

Now why is it useful to lay out this detail? Well, I think it helps to comprehend phenomena such as leadership by providing lenses on a particular occurrence and facilitate a more complete comprehension of it. I will give an example of what the implications of this approach are and then turn this over to you. I will save the collective parallels for a bit and would appreciate if we can keep the focus on the individual for the moment.

If we were to use Figure 4.2 to represent an individual in a leading role during a leadership occurrence it would allow us to understand that role and its meaning from the point of view of the leader. Every cell is about the leader. Every cell can be viewed and analyzed by the leader or by an observer/researcher using the kinds of methodologies that Wilber talks about in integral methodological pluralism. Thus, it can be used by the person leading or by a third party observer. To illustrate the use of such an individually focused approach, perhaps we can appreciate and deepen the value of this model by showing how it can be used to focus on the collaborator/follower. Figure 4.2 does just that. If “I” is leader, “You” is collaborator/follower. If “I” is collaborator/follower, “You” is the leader—it could be another collaborator/follower or it could be someone in opposition. The model is so flexible that it allows application to virtually any relationship in an occurrence.

In a systems development project, a systems analyst sees an opportunity to expand the functionality of an application in a way that would save the company $150,000 dollars annually for a period of at least five years. The cost of implementing this is difficult to quantify in that it will delay the project by about one month and probably result in delays in the implementation of other functionality intended to save costs of about $1.2 million per year. Nevertheless, it seems clear that the delay would be more than adequately justified based on cost saving. The analyst is successful in persuading some team members and the project manager to advocate for the change and takes the lead in getting the management of end-users on board with the suggestion. One team member opposes the change because it would introduce delays by requiring that he do extensive rework. The Project manager arranges a meeting between the functional vice president, end-user managers, the systems analyst and herself to present a proposal for the change. The vice president buys in and the project proceeds accordingly.

The approach that I am suggesting allow us to look at this situation through a variety of lenses that will provide a more complete, integral understanding of the leadership occurrence. To do so would provide us with approaches to promoting initiative and leadership emerging at multiple levels in our company that would be likely to keep us in an industry-leading role with higher levels of innovation and profit. Using the six-cell matrix we can look at the occurrence from the point of view of leader (systems analyst), follower/collaborator (team member, project manager, end-user manager, vice president) and comprehend the context as viewed by the leader. The leader’s relationship to other individuals and to the context could be said to be the leadership occurrence. We could shift perspective and look at the occurrence from the perspective of any of the players, including the project team member who would have to do the rework. Each matrix-holonic representation would provide a framework for understanding what was present in the leadership occurrence. By using integral methodological pluralism we could construct a rich and highly useful approach to training and development that would foster further leadership initiatives and innovation. This “scenario” suggests an approach to integral analysis of an occurrence. That would encourage inclusion of stages, states, lines and types, as well as the “quadrants.” Yet to be considered are the processes involved in the relationship space(s) over time.

I recognize that this approach does not yet represent the relationships, the “space between” issues that you so elegantly point to in your work. It is important that we go there. And I hope it is useful to explore both the “snapshot” of the occurrence and the “movie” of leadership.

Mark: I feel you’re really getting a taste for exploring the relational possibilities that a more flexible use of integral lenses can open up. Your scenario explores precisely the type of interpersonal space that I see as crucial for a more relations application of integral ideas. Your diagram is very similar to aspects of my Figure 9 from our last discussion. The difference being that you are relating all your interactions back to those of the first person individual. I’ll see if I can respond a bit more systematically to the many points you raise here.

1. You say “we need maps that allow us to identify what occurs at the moment of knowledge over time”. Actually Wilber’s quadrants “of an occasion” does a wonderful job of explaining that temporal unfolding for a sentient holon. What they don’t do is allow us to analyse holons that are unfolding via relational space, i.e., Wilber’s model is fine for dispositional analysis but lousy for situational analysis because in the AQAL model holons are never represented in relationship to one another. This is one reason for the minimal analysis of things like power relations or conflict between “holons” in Wilber voluminous writings.

2. Wilber’s twenty holonic tenets are useful but they are by no means exhaustive. For example they don’t even mention that holons have both interiors and exteriors!! Koestler has a whole bunch of other “patterns” or “rules” (he calls his rules a “canon”) that relate to different kinds of holarchies. In fact, Wilber’s holonic tenets don’t even mention that there are different criteria for deciding what a holon/holarchy is. They are not a comprehensive list of holonic qualities.

3. As for understanding what the quadrants might refer to. You can see that there are some crucial problems and confusions with Wilber’s approach(es). Practitioners don’t worry about this stuff whereas theoreticians do (and those who come within both categories do as well). I have my way of seeing how it all makes sense. Tom Murray has his. Karen Kho has hers. You are coming up with yet another interpretation. And we all go on our merry way. I don’t like this situation at all. But I guess in some ways it’s unavoidable. Wilber works away by himself, trying to clarify some of these problems but I think a more collaborative method would be better. As you have pointed out these theoretical problems have significant implications for applied uses of integral ideas. They have to be nutted out if an integral theory building project is to proceed with any sort of coherence. In the last years Wilber has introduced several new elements to try to “clear things up”—these include the four holonic categories of individual holons, social holons, artefacts and heaps, the distinction between member and part, the identification of the “mixing problem”, the notion that some holons are sentient and others are not, the notion that social holons don’t have upper quadrants, the notion that only individual sentient holons possess four quadrants, distinctions between quadrants, quadrivia, quadrivium, the heightened importance of the “dominant monad” concept, the notion that social holons don’t have “agency” but rather that they have “agency-in-communion”. All of these additions have serious shortcomings and have some very unintended implications for the rest of the model. These additions are trying to deal with anomalies in the theory that reappear over and over again and, in my opinion, Wilber’s clarifications just don’t cut it. Together they form a patchwork of convoluted additions that bears some similarities with the history of explanation of the perihelion shift in Mercury’s orbit—one layer of convoluted complexity after another.

I think we can only clear these issues up by going back to the basic definitions and coming to some general agreements about what we mean. What are the fundamental elements of an integral approach? What are the relationships between them? How can they be brought together to form a coherent system of explanation? At the moment we are not even sure what constitutes our fundamental unit of explanation (the holon).

As for your approach it looks wonderful and it provides a very similar view of the basic relationships that exist between organisational members that I have outlined several times before. There’s lots of common ground in the way we look at things but there are also several issues that I might be critical of – for example:

a) I don’t think you can equate the agency-communion dimension with the individual-collective,

b) in using the UL, UR, LL, LR terminology you run the risk of confusing your cells with those of Wilber’s AQAL model when they are, in fact, different models, for example you say your model is “all about the individual” whereas Wilber’s AQAL is about the meeting of the “individual and the collective”.

c) you are crossing some explanatory dimensions (what I call lenses) in idiosyncratic ways and rather haphazard ways, e.g., you are crossing interior-exterior with (aspects of) the micro-meso, macro levels for the first person but not really laying those out systematically (you say this matrix is “all about the individual” yet you use the pronouns “You” and “They” – these cells might better be “I-You” or “I-Them”).

d) because you don’t systematically include the personal perspectives lens or the micro-meso-macro lens you are leaving out some key perspectives in leadership, e.g. collective leadership or participative leadership (perhaps this might be called “We” leadership) which is definitely not “all about the individual”.

But I like this type of approach that you are pursuing and I applaud your creativity in using several lenses in a very flexible way to take on your particular issue of leadership. This is exactly what a more adaptable use of integral theory is capable of. Wilber’s quadrants model is fine as a general orientation to a topic but there are so many other possibilities and we need to be able to see holons in relationship to explore them.

Now Russ, please feel free to comment on any of this but can I also, in the Socratic spirit of our dialogue (as well as my obsessive desire to get “back to the basics”), ask you some questions:

1. How do you define each of these integral elements: i) a holon, ii) a quadrant, and iii) a perspective.

2. What is the relationship between these three elements?

Russ: This is great, Mark. I agree. I tend to use these concepts rather loosely and probably in multiple ways. Let me see if I can take your comments sequentially, because I think the challenges I am facing are probably shared by most people interested in the mapping/theoretical aspects of integral, particularly as applied to any social phenomena, which, of course, leadership most certainly is.

In the first series of numbered items, #1 above, I see this clearly. That, indeed, was what I was trying to express, albeit not as clearly as I might—unless I am missing your point.

Number 2 addresses an issue that I have long been uncomfortable with or felt needed more thorough treatment, that is, the tenets, hypotheses, “laws,” etc. governing how we understand and construct holons and holarchies. I haven’t invested much energy here, but it would seem to me that this sorely needs to be done.

Number 3 addresses the how #2 and other theory and concept development processes might occur. I hope that our conversation is an example of how we all might proceed. There has been such a history of acrimony, bitterness, accusatory and personalized exchanges in the last few years that there does not seem to exist a forum for this kind of developmental process. My vision for Integral Leadership Review is that it provide such a forum with a focus on leadership. But that is not nearly enough. Your insights into the life experiences and orientations of participants are valuable, yet I don’t see the path for working through these questions. It feels a bit like trying to pacify the Middle East.

David Bohm found the same thing in Physics and promoted dialogue as a way of promoting learning. Some of that has happened, but the market place of ideas seems to continue to operate much like the OK Corral, the gun toting frontier—or maybe it is more like the gang warfare of the inner cities. I wonder if anyone can bring the parties to the table for a more collaborative (though still competitive) approach. Actually, this is a very important question, not just for the study of integral theory, but for the study of leadership, as well. However, I think most of the folks in leadership studies are a bit more civilized than what we sometimes find in integral studies.

I wonder what it would be like to found an institute or process that would allow the various developmental levels to shine, to engage, to learn in life enhancing ways in exploring the intersection of the many fields that can contribute to the development of integral theory, generally, and Integral Leadership theory specifically. I sense that there may be a readiness for something like this, but it is also likely, a la Thomas Kuhn, that any such effort will generate its own challenges.

Now let me open up the second series of items. (i) I don’t understand your concern about relating agency (plus relational) and communion to individual and collective.

Request #1: Can we address this question in a way that would model the theory building process that we seem to be advocating? For example, How about you clarify your point for me. Then, let’s find a way to send it to both Frank Visser’s website and to Ken Wilber and ask for comments. We can then assemble all of that and send it back out for follow up comments. We could start it off with the six cell matrix above and your comments on agency/communion and individual/collective and send that out. Would anything like that be helpful or am I being green and naïve? At the very least we can clarify the point here.

Your point (ii) I believe I fully understand your point, but I do not see what is at risk by incorporating the designators that would make this so important. It would be easy enough to switch to numbering the cells.

Your point (iii), yes it is all about the individual and I do use the pronouns. However, they are not used independently. They are in quotes to indicate that each is from the point of view of the individual, not the point of view of the other(s). However, I welcome your suggestions about how to language this more effectively that would contribute to distinctions and generativity. These models are intended to foster the kind of conversation we are having. And I readily acknowledge your work as inspired my efforts here. I wonder if Figure 4.3 map might address your concerns. How might you further change it?


Figure 4.4 Modified Individual Six-Cell Holon

Request #2 : Can you add anything to suggest how, at this stage of development of the theories and models, I might be less idiosyncratic in the approach I am suggesting?

Your point (iv) is a wonderful observation. I agree. I have not considered these maps in terms of collective or networked leadership. In order to do that I think we need to include multiple matrices. And how do we do that with any kind of parsimony? The only way I know would be to suggest that collective or networked leadership requires a collective holon.

Request # 3: Can you suggest an approach to address this issue?

As for the definitions, here goes off the cuff with the hope that you will straighten me out.

Holon: A concept used to describe anything that is, in the same occurrence, both a part and a whole. I am not sure how that might need to be modified to talk about holons over time.

Quadrant: Generally, a cell in a four cell matrix. In the case of integral mapping it is a place on the map to represent clusters of variables that are distinct from those represented in other quadrants.

Perspective: Generally speaking a “view from a place.” In the case of integral theory, it can be a space defined by a theoretical approach using one or more methodologies. It is a way to examining something to generate meaning.

If there are more elegant or technical definitions that we should be using, I am open to that.

Maybe these definitions are a good place to move to next. I am aware we are lighting a lot of candles that may be difficult for many others to keep track. In any case, it does seem we need a strategy for proceeding. Got one?

Mark: Thanks for mentioning Bohm here, Russ. I remember reading his “thought as a system” many years ago. Now there’s a systems approach that includes interiors. Dialogue is so crucial in all this. So let’s look at your requests:

#1. Agency-Communion and Individual-Collective.

My point is that agency and communion are not equivalent to individual and collective. I take agency to mean the capacity of an individual or collective entity to direct and regulate its own interiors and exteriors. Agency is a system’s self-focused intent or activity, whether that system be an individual or a collective. I take communion to mean the capacity for an individual or collective entity to identify with and share with others. Communion is other-focused feeling or activity. You don’t need a dominant monad to do either of these things. You only need an autopoeitic (self-regulating) interior/exterior. Both individual and social holons are autopoeitic and both can identify and share with others. A group can be agentic, decisive and take concerted action just as an individual can be communal and focus on networking, relating, and reciprocating. The agency-communion dimension is a quality of both individuals and collectives and therefore it is not aligned with any particular pole of the individual-collective dimension.

For me defining consciousness as the interior of the individual is reductive because there are obviously collective forms of consciousness as Jung and many others have shown. Similarly with behaviour. Behaviour is not simply an the exterior of the individual but it is also a collective phenomenon as the field of organisational behaviours shows. Similarly with culture. Culture is not only the interior of the collective because individuals also have cultural aspects to their identity as cultural psychology has shown. Similarly with the social quadrants, the social is not just the exterior of the collective, it is also the exterior of the individual as the field of social psychology has shown. Defining consciousness, behaviour, culture and the social in terms of individuals and collectives is for me a direct route to either individualist reductionism or holist collectivism. I actually don’t thing consciousness or behaviour or culture or the social has much to do with whether something is an individual or a collective holon. I think it relates much more to whether a holon has agency or communal identity. For me the consciousness (UL) of a holon is its interior agency and the behaviour (UR) of a holon is its exterior agency and the culture (LL) of a holon is its interior communion and the social system (LR) of a holon is its exterior communion. I think Wilber has used the wrong lenses to define his consciousness, behaviour, culture and systems quadrants. But all this is getting a bit beyond the main point you want to clarify.

For me the agency-communion and individual-collective lenses are very distinct ways of exploring social phenomena. As a way of showing how different they are you can, as with any of the integral lenses, combine these lenses to form matrices and conceptual frameworks for indexing types of knowledge, and practices and even ontologies. When you cross agency-communion with individual-collective you get the active and the passive modes of the one and the many. Wilber regards agency and communion to be holonic drives and he sees them as separate to the fundamental holonic dimensions of interior-exterior and individual-collective. I don’t hold to that distinction at all. For me they are all conceptual and explanatory lenses that help us make sense of complexity. (One man’s holonic drive is another woman’s explanatory lens, I always say). A drive is usually thought of as a motivating energy or causal force. And you might also say that interiority or exteriority are drives, in that some people are driven to express themselves outwardl—extroverts—and some are driven to express themselves inwardly— introverts.

Often what we nominate as “drives” in our theories really portrays what we assume to be the cause of some event. Physicists see the four fundamental forces as the drives that cause things to happen. Freud thought the sexual drive of libido was the basic source of behaviour. Clark Hull thought all behaviour was the result of trying to relive the drive or tension caused by physiological need. All these motivational theories are, in the end, partial truths that are disclosed through the application of one or more lenses (or aspects thereof). So for me agency-communion is like any other explanatory construct (lens) and that is why I am flexible in combining it with other lenses. Once again I feel the AQAL model is too restrictive here in always combining the same old suspects. Figure 4.4 shows the “four quadrants” of a holon’s agency/autonomy and communion/relationality. Agency theories tend to assume that autonomy is the key to development whereas communal theories emphasise relationality. Agency theories see relationships as the source of problems because the principle never knows if the agent is living up to their contract. Communal theories see agency as problematic because it is innately directive and coercive in some way. And of course there are associations of the masculine with agency and the feminine with communal.


Figure 4.5 The Agentic (Active) and Communal (Passive) Forms of the One and the Many

Request #2 – Your diagram 4.3

Diagram 4.3 is great and it shows some key perspectives but, if I have what you are trying to represent here right (which is an “if” that needs your confirmation), there are some clarifications could be made. Here are some issues that I see:

i) I think that you are actually referring to an interior-exterior lens rather than the internal-external lens. Interior-exterior is more about the consciousness-behaviour polarity whereas internal-external is more about relative positions according to some arbitrary holon-environment boundary. Wilber talks about a person being internal to a natural environment but not interior to it. This means, for example, that she can be physically inside the boundary of a desert ecosystem, i.e., internal to its ecosystem boundary, but her identity is not interior to that desert ecosystem. And I think that what you are really interested in here is the consciousness-behaviour polarity rather than the internal-external or inside-outside distinction (for a discussion on this see Wilber and Zimmerman, 2005).

ii) I would also not refer to the cells with the same notation as Wilber uses for his quadrants because you are showing something quite different. Wilber Four Quadrants diagram is the crossing of interior-exterior with individual-collective. Your diagram 4.3 is the crossing of the interior-exterior dimension with the first, second and third person perspectives.

iii) Although you have the top of the matrix labelled as agency and the bottom as communion the cells are actually referring to personal perspectives – first, second and third. I think this dimension needs to be relabelled in terms of personal perspectives as indicated by the contents of the cells. Of course you can cross agency-communion with any of these other lens (etc perspectives or interior-exterior) but you’d end up with a different matrix entirely. The relational label for the middle cells also tells me that you are wanting to introduce some element of the micro-meso-macro lens. George Ritzer labels his middle level exactly as you have, as “relational”, in that it lies part way between the individual and the collective. But I guess this could also be a reasonable label for the “second person” as well. So the diagram shows the relationships between the basic holonic perspective of the first, second and third persons and their interiors and exteriors. In my terms 4.3 is crossing the interior-exterior lens with the personal perspectives lens. The agency-communion reference in the diagram has not actually been worked through in that the up-down axis in 4.3 is the perspectives lens and NOT the agency-communion lens/dimension. One of the most important aspects of integral theory building in this way is being very clear about the dimensions you are using to create your matrix or model. And I think there is further clarification needed along these lines for figure 4.3.

iv) It’s not clear if you are considering personal perspectives in their plural or collective forms. You have the relational cells with the ambiguous “you” and the bottom cells with the plural form “they”. So are you wanting to introduce singular (individual) and plural (collective) forms? If so your matrix would expand to be a six-cell model.

v) Finally, the core element you are exploring is that figure 4.3 refers to the first person’s view of (Wilber’s integral maths notation is in brackets):

  • themselves (a reflexive view of the first person) (1p x 1-p x 1p)
  • of the other (a relational view of the second person) (1p x 1-p x 2p)
  • and of others (an interpersonal view of the third person) (1p x 1-p x 3p)

So in terms of leadership, 4.3 is mapping a leader’s view of their own worldviews and behaviours, the worldviews and behaviours of those they are in direct relationship with, and the worldviews and behaviours of those that they are in indirect relationship with. I don’t think the cell descriptives of “assumed” and “engaged” and “believed” and “participated” capture these differences. For example, assumed could fit just as well for the third person “I-They” relationships as for the second person, ditto the other descriptives.

As to how we might develop integral mapping “in terms of collective or networked leadership” here’s how we could start. The following crosses the perspectives lens with the interior-exterior with the individual-collective lens (in its more detailed form of micro-, meso, macro form) with the interior-exterior and agency-communion lenses. What we have then is a very detailed mapping of a leader’s view of his/her relationship with:

a) him/herself, another person, other people – the top cells in the matrix

b) his/her team, another team, other teams – the middle cells in the matrix

c) his/her organisation, another organisation, other organisations – the bottom cells in the matrix.


Figure 4.6: The quadratic relationships of an individual leader with other individuals, groups and organisations

The matrix also shows the quadratic elements of consciousness, behaviour, culture and social roles that make up and are involved in each of these forms of relationship. Because we are talking here about the first, second and third person relationships of an individual leader, figure 4.6 is really a self-help map that a leader can subjectively use to map out their relationships in their work. This sort of mapping can be used in other situations. We can also do it as a second-person coaching map for “You” as a leader and as a third person scientific map of He/She as a leader.

So we can do this type of perspectival mapping to develop:

  • A first-person self-help guide for a leader to use for themselves in their own development (which is what figures 4.3 and 4.6 are)
  • A second-person coaching or therapy guide for coaches and those who work with leaders in leadership development roles
  • A third-person scientific map of all leadership relationships in organisational settings.

There is a way of bringing all these together. It’s done by just developing a generic matrix and then setting it within the appropriate perspectival context as required, i.e., for a scientific text, for a coaching situation or for a self-help book. And there are plenty of other lenses that could be brought to bear on these relational topics. For example, we could cross all the lenses (or substitute other) used to build up figure 4.5 with health-pathology lens to develop adaptive and pathological forms of each of these relationships. We could combine them with a process lens to see how each of the elements in each cell changes over time, how they flow, how they emerge through experimentation, crisis, transformation and integration phases. We could combine them with the postmodern standpoint lens to see how each of these relationships changes when the “other” is in a position of powerlessness or marginalisation. We could include the developmental lens to see how these relationships map onto pre-conventional, conventional and post-conventional stages of identity. We could include the mediation lens to see how transformation occurs through the communication of identity, through the scaffolding of the first and second person in relationship. We could include the developmental lines lens to look at each of these relationships in terms of intellectual engagement, moral engagement, interpersonal qualities, technology, values, goal-setting, etc.

All this sort of creative building activity shows the potential for integral approaches to various topics. We don’t’ have to be stuck with crossing the same old, same old (interior-exterior and individual-collective).

Request # 3: Definitions

I agree with your definitions of holon, quadrants and perspective. I guess the tricky bit comes with describing the relationship between them. This is a crucial task in theory building and as you can see from the above, I don’t think integral theory(ies) have cracked it yet as far as definitions, internal consistency, flexibility and fecundity go.

Russ: I find your clarifications very helpful. Not only have you identified the ambiguities in my suggestions, but you have laid out an approach to how to apply an integral approach to analysis—self or other(s). Between now and our next instalment I am going to read Wilber and Zimmerman. In the meanwhile, I would like to agree to explore figure 4.6 for its power in guiding Integral Leadership, its practice and development.

Each cell is a representation of individual-collective, interior-exterior. The only stumble I have is over the separation of ideas & feelings from values at the micro level. At the meso/macro levels, I can see values as “shared values” or the constellation of values in a relationship, the “culture” of the relationship(s). But at the individual level, how does values involve internal collective? This is the issue I was trying to address by doing what you have done in the meso/macro cells. I got what you said—to the effect that culture shows up in the interior individual, perhaps a reflection of one’s experience and understanding of larger culture. When we clarify that, I hope we can then take Figure 4.6 as a place to begin an integral exploration of leadership.

In the meanwhile, something that keeps me humble in this endeavor. I recently read an article by Richard Panek (2007), author of The Invisible Century: Einstein, Freud and the Search for Hidden Universes, in the New York Times that explores some of the most recent work in science related to dark matter and other phenomena that is concluding that what we observe in science, all that we can observe with the methods of science we have, constitute but 4 percent of the Universe. More precisely, he states,

[George] Smoot and John C. Mather of NASA (who shared the Nobel in Physics with Smoot) designed the Cosmic Background Explorer satellite telescope to do just that. COBE looked for extremely subtle differences in temperature throughout all of space that carry the imprint of the universe when it was less than a second old. And in 1992, COBE found them: in effect, the quantum fluctuations that 13.7 billion years later would coalesce into a universe that is 22 percent dark matter, 74 percent dark energy and 4 percent the stuff of us.

Elsewhere in the article he talks about how we just don’t have the capacity to experience resistance with the other 96 per cent, and therefore, to comprehend it. So, coming up with coherent ways to guide all of us in coming to grip with that little 4 percent represented by our maps and find ways to integrate some of that other 96 per cent of existence is something that I think integral theory is attempting to do. However, the methods and ways we have of comprehending that in our lives, all of the spiritual practices, for example, are still within the 4 percent.

It seems to me that what we are about, all that we can be about, is helping all of us be alive to that 4 per cent as fully as possible, while leveraging that to try to make a positive difference in our lives. Our goal is not to offer better engineering through integral. Our goals is to open the potential to discover as each of us travels our paths. On those paths we take on many roles, live out many values, have lots of ideas and take action in many ways. I am hopeful that what we are up to will provide a light to help us see where we are now in order to make more generative choices about where we are when the next now shows up.

Mark: I’m glad you find these clarifications useful Russ. Your insights about the “snapshot” and the “movie” of leadership are very useful. There’s a dance there between the formality of being a “leader” and the informality of engaging in ongoing “leadership”. More organisations are recognising the potential of the latter for transforming any work role.

On the question of separating ideas/feelings from values, remember that for me crossing interior-exterior with the individual-collective dimension creates multiple holons (e.g. the inside and the outside of the many AND the one). When I want to look at one single holon I combine interior-exterior dimension with agency and communion (NOT individual-collective which is a simplified version of the micro, meso, macro multilevel scale – it’s actually an ecological holarchy but don’t tell anyone 🙂 . For me the UL of a single holon is that holon’s consciousness identity and the LL is that same holon’s cultural identity. Look at it this way – an individual person has consciousness and that same individual person has values. I regard the UL quadrant of consciousness (and all its associated experiential and subjective elements such as sensations, perceptions, ideas and feelings and intentions) as the agentic interiors of that person. And I regard the LL quadrant of culture (and all its associated experiential and subjective elements such as meanings, values, interpretations, assumptions, and worldviews) as the communal interiors of that same person. Agentic interiors are those subjective capacities that give us autonomy, free will, intentional control and wisdom. Agentic interiors are task focused, Communal interiors are all those subjective capacities that give us relationality, empathy, communal identity and compassion. Communal interiors are relationship focused.

The individual-collective dimension is made up of multiple holons – “the one [the not so many] and the many” so Wilber’s quadrants never refer to just one single holon because his AQAL model uses the individual-collective dimension. I want to be able to represent a single holon (whether that be a single individual holon like a person or a single collective holon like a team) so that I can then show these single holons in relationship – one holon with four quadrants in relationship with another holon with four quadrants. That is precisely what figure 4.5 is all about. And here is the main point: It would not be possible to show multiple holons in relationship if we used Wilber’s AQAL model. Wilber thinks that I am confusing individual-collective with the drive agency-communion but that is not so. And as I have pointed out the agency-communion dimension is not only a drive, it is a fundamental dimension of every holon and can therefore be used in flexible combination with other integral lenses (such as interior-exterior) to propose new models. In any event, I also think that the definition of consciousness as one’s agentic interiors and culture as one’s communal interiors are better than the current view. It makes much more sense to me to define my cultural identity as something that “I” possess rather than something that belongs to a collective.

I like your comments about staying humble in all this. That’s one of the reasons why I don’t like this term “theory of everything” – it’s just a little bit grandiose and smacks a little the dreaded boomeritis. Your reference to the 4% idea is much appreciated. We can get a little bit lost in our own metatheorising visions and forget that it’s all really a mystery. I’ve always appreciated Wilber’s frequent comments to that effect – The “dust on our sandals” sort of thing. But then again while we might only see 4% of what is there we go on imagining what the other 96% might be. I find it ironic and funny that the physicists who find that we can only interact with 4% of what is actually there in the universe have a model for the other 96% and you can bet your bottom dollar that there will be other physicists who are looking right now for that invisible 96%. Integral theory building is like that. It’s a 4% story, a vision, a way of moving through ideas that helps us make sense, find meaning and look for new understandings that might be just a little bit more generous to the real Mystery than those we currently hang on to. Here’s to working towards a 5% version of That.

Russ: Your clarification of the individual/collective and agency/communion distinction really nails this for me. Our focus then is on single holons in relationship to others is really where I want to be. I find it far less confusing and analytically more promising than the alternative. I hope our continued discussion demonstrates that.

As for the 4 %, keep in mind that what you call models of the other 96% are really placeholders for what physicists really have no evidence for except that there is something out there. Dark energy, dark matter—these are just placeholder concepts for what they have found no way to scientifically experience. Why wouldn’t such a position open the door to all kinds of placeholders, like spiritual interpretations or scepticism?

Since we seem to have reached some firmer than tentative agreement on the modelling approach to holons, perhaps we can attend to the question of the relationship among the cells and between holons. Since one of the criticisms of Wilber’s approach is that it does not lend itself very clearly to addressing process and relationship (even the integral math piece seems to me to be simple addition when we have every reason tob elieve that these relationships are non-linear) one of the things that attracted me to your work was the inclusion of ways to talk about relationships. In an earlier paper I tried to look at the relationships among Wilber’s four quadrants using the spiral.

holonics graph

Figure 4.7: An Early Leadership Matrix with Spiral Relationships (Volckmann 2001)

The idea represented here is that there are interactions based on developmental levels—and please do not focus on the content of the boxes; as I said, this is an “early matrix,” which, nevertheless, has its value still in working with leaders. You have added interesting material in your work to the idea of relationships within holons and between holons and I think it would be valuable for us to take a little time to focus here. Figure 4.7 is an attempt to honor Don Beck’s position that the spiral is within the holon, within each of us. It is not something that is “out there.” I like this reminder to focus within and I think that the approach to mapping holons that you have developed directs us to do that, as well as consider the relationships between holons.

We are saying, I think, that development does not just occur within, but also happens in relationships between individuals, between individuals and subsystems, between individuals and systems. This is the micro, meso, meta level of analysis that you introduced here. Development also occurs between subsystems (e.g., teams, even teams in competition) and between systems. Thus, when we are talking about mapping relationships or introducing interaction in the holonic models we are talking about at least two things: the dynamics of relationship and the developmental stages of relationships. Both can be described using a snapshot and a movie approach.

The first, dynamics of relationship, is represented in my mind by Charles Hampden-Turner’s model of psycho-social dynamics (1971). His is a non-linear model that outlines particular steps in a sub-process of an interpersonal relationship that includes the intra-personal. If you think it would be useful for me to outline this, let me know and I will do so in our next instalment. Be clear that I am not suggesting that his is the only way of modelling the dynamics of relationship, but I think it is a great place to start.

The second, developmental stages, deals with another aspect of integral theory that we haven’t talked much about, so far, but that I think is important to our understanding of integral theory, as well as how we might go about analyses of events and episodes, as well as longer term processes involving leadership. We have, of course, multiple and sometimes overlapping stage models and probably (although I am not as familiar with this literature) objections to the use of stages. We can explore the significance of that.

One thing that I think would be very valuable to contribute through this dialogue is to clarify the relationships among various stage theories and their implications. However, we have some things to talk about before we get there. Perhaps we cannot really discuss stages without also bringing in the subject of lines of development; this would help us see the relationships among the most useful stage models. I am very excited about the potential for where our conversation is going. Perhaps it would be helpful if, for the next instalment, you were to write a bit about how you address relationships among cells and between holons.

Hampden-Turner, C. (1971). Radical Man: The Process of Psycho-Social Development. New York: Anchor Books.
Mathews, J. (1996). ‘Holonic organisational architectures’, Human Systems Management, 15, 1, 27.
Panek, R. (2007). Out There, New York Times Magazine, March 11.[Accessed 03/14/07].
Volckmann, R. (2001). Holonics, A Different Perspective on the Relationship Between Spiral Dynamics and the Integral, Draft 1. [Accessed March 16, 2007]
Wilber, K. & Zimmerman, M. (2005). ‘Clearing the Fog: Bringing Semantic Clarity to Part/Member, Internal/Inside/Interior and Size/Span/Embrace. A Conversation between Ken Wilber and Michael Zimmerman.’ [Online], Tulane University, Available from:[Accessed: July 29, 2005].