Dialogue: Integral Theory into Integral Action: Part 3

Mark Edwards and Russ Volckmann

INTRODUCTION: This is the third 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 is 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.

Mark EdwardsRuss VolckmannRuss: Mark, I closed the last segment of our conversation with the following (paraphrased):

I hope we can begin by focusing on the elements of integral models and maps. The place to start might be the four-quadrant holon. This model has had various treatments in the pages of the Integral Leadership Review, in your writing and mine, as well as the publications of others.

I look forward to exploring questions about what the quadrants represent and whether this mapping tool is appropriate for organizing and developing our learning about a social phenomenon like leadership. I want to raise the question of whether a six-cell matrix might not bring significant added value. We can discuss the importance of the holon as an emerging whole, as well as the relationships among the quadrants or six cells. Equally relevant, a subject you have already discussed with Ken Wilber on Integral Naked, is the nature of individual versus collective holons.

How can this integral mapping methodology support us in evolving leadership theory, designing approaches to leadership development and guiding us to be more effective leaders? I know of no other approach with more promise and I look forward to the exchanges to follow.

I will also note that it seems that almost every article and book that is published on the subject of integral theory and its applications, including Integral Leadership, seems to begin with the author’s summary of the mapping methodologies suggested by Wilber. Thus, it seems to be a premise of introducing people to ideas about integral theory and Integral Leadership that it is essential that we spell out the central concepts. It is as though we are exploring and teaching a new language, a set of concepts that are fundamental in being able to further discuss what Integral Leadership is all about. I find this disconcerting.

On the one hand, this stuff is a bit new to most people. Furthermore, the concepts have not rigidified; they are still in development. Nevertheless, it is essential—if we are going to bridge to those who have neither the time not interest in learning the theory—that we language this work in a way that resonates in the cultural and systemic contexts of leadership. My assumption is that in order to do this well, we need to be very clear—within the explorations of theories and models—about exactly what we mean. For example, in one of my articles (2005), I suggest a way to language and approach executive team development from an integral framework. But the integral framework underlying this approach does not address various issues of integral theory and integral mapping. For example, the question of the structure of the holon, individual and collective.

Fundamentally, the holon is a part/whole (forgive me for not siting chapter and verse and all sources of this; it has been done again and again…). Wilber has extended this idea considerably and I am sure that we will explore some of that. So, first, let’s focus on the holon and the notion of individual and collective. Many are confused about this, partly because we use the terms in different ways and add in additional terms like agency and communion. Rather than my spelling this out, would you please begin this part of the conversation by summarizing how you see the issues in our concept of the holon? It is unclear to me how much we are going to need to reiterate what has already been said about these subjects, but let’s see if we can take it step by step. Perhaps between steps we can ask the question, how is this relevant to leadership in human systems and is there language we can use to communicate this to the offices of government, politics, business and other organizations.

Mark: As you’ve described it Russ, the holon concept is fundamentally quite simple – it’s basically a bounded entity/event that can be regarded both as a whole and as a part. But once you begin exploring that definition and consider how holons relate to each other and so on it quickly becomes very complex. I’ve literally written hundreds of pages on this very issue, so forgive me if I carry on a bit in responding to your question. I’ll try to map out some of the technical issues first and maybe we can look at how this applies to leadership and organisational studies later.

One of the first issues to consider in developing the holon construct in its application to the social world of human activity is that of the relationship between individual holons and social holons. The distinction between individual and collective ways of understanding social events is an ancient one and has been one of the most important means for analysing and discussing of the various forms of psychologies and sociologies. On the collective side we have Rousseau, Hegel, Marx, Vygotsky, holism and various sociological traditions. On the individual side we have Locke, Weber, Popper, Hayek and the many psychologies that explain social events from the micro side of “the action frame of reference”. When Wilber looked at all the many different developmental models and was wondering how to make sense of so many conceptualisations of development, he spotted this distinction between individual and collective perspectives. And many philosophers have pointed out this way of seeing social life before. The individual-collective dimension always has been and always will be a key explanatory lens for any thinker interested in making sense of our social worlds. Before looking at this individual-collective dimension in more detail let me backtrack a bit.

I’ve introduced this metaphor of an explanatory lens here because it’s a convenient way of introducing people to integral ideas. The integral theory jargon of AQAL or IOS, or IMP, etc., can, as you’ve said, be a very daunting obstacle to getting familiar with the basics of integral theory. The notion of interpretive lens is very simple and has immediate intuitive appeal that seems to sit comfortably with the postmodern penchant for diversity in theoretical perspectives. We might say that each theory of social phenomena is generated by, or comes from, one or more sociocultural worldviews. These worldviews employ various lenses to uncover the data of interest. There are developmental worldviews that employ developmental lenses, first person worldviews that employ subjectivist lenses, second person worldviews that employ relational lenses, third person worldviews that employ objective lenses, and so on. The holon construct is a way of bringing these lenses together. It is really that simple. Wilber’s AQAL is a particular version of how those lenses fit together. Other people are happy operating from within one facet of a lens or from different combinations of lenses (almost always fewer in number than Wilber).

I see the progression of Wilber’s theoretical “phases” (Wilber I, Wilber II, etc) as being defined by the systematic addition of important lenses to his model. Wilber I employed the lens of deep structure development (a romantic spectrum of levels), Wilber II added the lens of the pre-trans fallacy (a developmental spectrum of levels/waves), Wilber III added the lens of multidimensionality (multimodel development of lines/streams and types), Wilber IV formally added the lenses of interior-exterior and individual-collective (the domains of development or quadrants), Wilber V adds the lenses of perspective (first, second third person etc). By the way, the reason why states are such a feature of Wilber V is because a “state of consciousness” is the unitive status that characterises a subject’s first person frame of phenomenal or experiential reference (see Edwards, 2003a). A “state” is the first person experience while the “stage(structure)” is the third person experience (in other words a “stage” is the scientific study of a normative developmental “state”). I would have thought that time was the critical variable between these two concepts; state is momentary while stage is more stable and established over time. In introducing perspectives in his phase V, Wilber has needed to emphasise the different tack than those perspectives have on the state-stage and structure-stage distinction. AQAL (all quadrants, all levels, all lines, all states, all types, etc) is actually an acronym that recapitulates the addition of various lenses to Wilber’s integrative project. AQAL not only makes propositions about what lenses we need to include in any integral analysis of a social phenomenon it also makes statements about the relationships between those lenses, e.g. quadrants are defined via the interaction of the interior and the exterior of the individual and the collective and this interaction between these two lenses generates the four quadrants (people often forget that it is the lens that generate the quadrants not the other way round).

This is a very useful way of building up a comprehensive and integrative philosophy because these two lenses are very common dimensions that ground many types of ontological, epistemological, methodological, axiological and teleological assumptions. By this I mean that all psychosocial theories take some position on how social events are explained relative to these dimensions. All social theories can be analysed in terms of how they treat these lenses. This is because they all make assumptions (explicitly or implicitly) regarding whether social events are based on individual or collective phenomena or some interactive or combination of them. This is one example of why Wilber can claim to be constructing an “integrative methodological pluralism”—because he systematically includes these dimensions and can situate and locate theories’ assumptions and stated positions accordingly (this is called “multiparadigm theory building” for those wanting more information on such methodologies).

So let’s now move to some of the problems I see with Wilber’s AQAL framework and with his use of the individual–collective lens. I am critical of Wilber’s work in three specific ways. First, I don’t think he includes some very important lenses, e.g. the mediation lens. Second, I have problems with the way Wilber describes the relationship between some of the lenses he does include. Third, I find Wilber to be a little inflexible in how he sets out these relationships, e.g. the quadrants are always generated from the combination of the interior-exterior lens and the individual-collective lens. These are fundamental dimensions but there’s really no reason why other lenses can’t be crossed to generate other integrative forms of AQAL. Having said that, however, Wilber V does cross the stages and states lenses to create the Wilber-Combs lattice so that is a sign that Wilber is using his lenses more freely, but I feel that there’s much more that could be done to emphasise the flexibility of integral frameworks.

So we have all these lenses—what do we do with them? First, we need to define them properly and clearly describe the relationships among them. In my conceptualisation of integral approaches this description of the relationships between lenses is critical and this is where holons come in (there’s simply no avoiding it, I’m sorry to say). The central construct that integral approaches use to describe these relationships between the major theoretical lenses is the holon. The reason for this is that holons are the pre-eminent construct for showing how things unfold in relationship, for showing how development occurs, for showing how things relate to what has been the past, how they are now and how they will be in the future, and for showing how the small relates to the medium and to the big. Because they can show both part and whole, holons are the best ways we have for describing relationships in non-reductive terms. I might refer people here to my essay “A Brief History of Holons” (Edwards, 2003b) for more on this.

Problems arise when we do not describe the relationships between lenses in an internally consistent manner. For example, it is inconsistent to say that every holon contains four quadrants while at the same time maintaining that every quadrant can contain holons. Wilber maintains that it is OK to hold to both of these statements. I don’t think it is and I believe the logically consistency and conceptual clarity of the model suffers as a result. As an example of this inconsistency let’s turn to the individual-collective lens. This lens is about the way individuals, groups and larger collectives dynamically create psycho-socio-cultural realities. The micro world of the individual is related to the macro world of the group. This lens is NOT about any one single holon. It is about the relationship between multiple holons, whether they be individual, group or collective. So whenever this lens is used the relationships being outlined are not those of one single holon. And yet over and over again we see the four quadrants being referred to as capacities possessed by a single holon. I think that what Wilber is actually describing in his four quadrants model is not the quadrants of a holon, but the temporal relationships between an individual and a social holon. In other words the four quadrants described “an occasion”, “a drop of experience”, a moment in time that comes out of the encounter between sentient holons. This is why Wilber so frequently uses Whitehead’s term “an occasion” in describing what the four quadrants actually refer to. Let me try to explain this using some quotes from Wilber’s writings and diagrammatic representations.

Figure 1 depicts the relationships between an occasion, quadrants, individual holons and social holons. This diagram sums up Wilber’s understanding of those aspects of his integral philosophy. Whenever I read any reference to quadrants, holons, occasions, individual or social holons in Wilber’s writing I use this diagram as a starting point for understanding where he is coming from. For example, when Wilber refers to quadrants, I take him to be referring to the four aspects of “an occasion of experience”. This occasion is an emergent moment that contains both individual and social holons. The benefit of this quadratic view of an occasion is that individual and social holons are seen in a dynamic temporal relationship of emergence and temporal inclusion and not as static objects in space. This is a great way to view the ongoing, emergent opening of existence from moment to moment. Wilber’s use of the holon construct captures this dynamic emergence from a temporal perspective. However, the limitation (apart from the semantic problems caused by Wilber’s variable use of the terms “quadrants” and “holons”) is that this model is not well suited to describing the relationships between holons in either temporal or spatial terms. Here we have some quotes from Wilber’s recent writings that show that he actually defines quadrants as the fundamental perspectives of an occasion as experienced by an “individual holon”.

The four quadrants— which are the four fundamental perspectives on any occasion (or the four basic ways of looking at anything)—turn out to be fairly simple: they are the inside and the outside of the individual and the collective. (Wilber, 2005)

The four quadrants are not four different occasions but four different perspectives on (and hence dimensions of) every occasion. (Wilber, 2003a, para, 10)

All actual occasions have intentional, behavioral, social, and cultural dimensions as intrinsic features of their being-in-the-world (Wilber, 2003b, para. 20)

There’s an occasion, one dimension of which is individual, and one dimension of which is social. (Wilber & Zimmerman, 2005)

The upper two quadrants, of course, are individual and the lower two are collective. (Wilber, 2006a)

Actually, individual and social holons are not different entities, but different aspects of all holons, since all holons have an interior and an exterior in singular and plural forms (the four quadrants), but they are indeed different aspects that cannot be merely equated. (Wilber, 2000, para. 165)

The individual holon, at least as I conceive it, is simply an occasion or a drop of experience. And as each drop of experience arises, as each holon arises, it has at least four dimensions or aspects to its being and this is the four quadrants. (Wilber, 2006b)

So from these (and many other quotes) I can logically represent the relationship between the individual-collective lens, the interior–exterior lens, and the arising quadrants in the following way (see Figure 1).

edwards figure 1

From this we see that the individual-collective dimension is referring to an occasion in time in which individual sentient holons encounter collective sentient holons. Consequently, when we combine the individual-collective dimension with the interior-exterior dimension the resulting quadrants refer to an individual holon encountering a social holon. Crossing these lenses (or any others with the individual–collective lens) will always result in a framework that is referring to a number of holons in relationship and never to any one specific holon. So, from this understanding, Wilber’s four quadrants refer to multiple holons as they encounter each other in an occasion. So are the four quadrants referring to one holon or the relationship between an individual and a social holon. This is all still very unclear and the implication of these types of ambiguities still reverberate through the whole AQAL framework.

One problem which results from the inadequate description of the relationship between the individual-collective lens and other lenses is the lack of attention paid to relational topics such as power, mediation, and relational spirituality. For me this omission is evidenced in the almost total absence of discussion and representational diagrams in Wilber’s work that refer to or show holons in relationship. I mentioned this to him during our conversations on Integral naked recently. While issues of relationality may have some presence in his writings they are completely absent from his discussion of holons in interaction and from the graphical depiction of his ideas and I think this tells us something. While the relationship between the individual-collective dimensions remains problematic, the four quadrants as they currently portrayed will never have the capacity to show relationships between holons in a detailed way. I believe I have a much more flexible and consistent way of treating the individual-collective lens in my own work and this is why diagrams of holons in relationship are such a common feature of my musings on these topics.

The real importance of Wilber’s use of the individual-collective lens is that he recognises that individuality and collectivity co-create each other. (This idea also lies at the heart of Anthony Giddens’ work and I encourage readers to have a look at his writings.) I see the individual-collective lens as a spectrum of relationships ranging from the microworld of the individual to the dyadic world of two people in relationship, to the meso world of the group, to the macro world of the larger collective—hence the spectrum of relationships which range from the most intimate to the most intimidating. It is interesting to consider the study of leadership from this spectrum of the relationships perspective. The scientific study of leaders began with a focus on the person, on the charismatic individual. This has changed dramatically in recent years to the point where leadership is sometimes seen as a distributed capacity of the collective. All these viewpoints have some validity and need to be included in a perspective on leadership that sees it as a relational dimension of organising activity—including relationships between the bottom and the top, between one side and another, between various stakeholders, among all members and within each member of the organisation.

My goal is to show these relationships in terms of holons. This cannot be done using the current configuration of the AQAL lenses and, as a result, some crucial relationships slip under the radar. The reason for this is because the individual-collective lens is currently seen as a qualitative dimension of each holon (actually of each “occasion”) when it more appropriately seen as a relational dimension for any number of holons (from 1 to α). Wilber applies the individual-collective dimension to uncover the individual sentient holons’s experience in development, i.e. as a temporal “occasion”, “moment” or “drop of experience”. And this is an entirely valid and useful way of applying that micro-macro lens and this is what Figure 1 tries to show—Wilber’s four quadrants of an “occasion” (which results from the encounter between an individual and a collective holon).

There is, however, another way of using the individual-collective dimension so that it can be applied to specific holons (whether they be individual, e.g. a person, or collective, e.g. a group). In contrast to showing the unfolding temporal relationships of an “occasion”, this application shows the unfolding ecological relationships of the “situation” in that it unlocks the spatial and ecological relationships between any holons. Holon theory needs to be able to represent relational situations as well as experiential occasions. Figure 2 attempts to show this ecological relationship between micro and (meso and) macro for the situation as opposed to the experiential relationship between the micro and micro for the “occasion”. The diagram shows that individual holons and collective holon is can be shown in spatial relationship to each other. In sociological theory this relationship is referred to as the micro-macro link. Notice that because the individual-collective dimension has been taken to apply to situations we actually only have two aspects of each holon—interiors and exteriors. In my approach I then apply another dimension (lens) to derive four quadrants and I often use the agency-communion lens, which can be applied to any holon. Hence, for me the UL consciousness quadrant is the domain of agentic interiors, the UR behavioural quadrants is the domain of agentic exteriors, the LL cultural is the domains of communal interiors and the LR social is the domain of communal exteriors. This is how I can show holons in relationship and still retain four quadrants.

The main point here is to show that the individual–collective dimension can be used to describe the spatial situations in which holon’s of all types can be described and analysed in relationship and in interaction. It is this use of the individual-collective lens that will open up a much more flexible and applied use of integral theory and, in particular what I call, integral holonics.

Edwards Figure 2

Applying this use of the individual-collective dimension to leadership theory allows us to take a much more multilevel perspective in understanding leadership and followership issues. For example, we can apply the whole AQAL framework of quadrants, levels, lines, states, etc. to individual leaders, leadership in groups, bottom-up leadership and collective forms of distributed leadership and tease out the aspects of leader-follower relationships at different levels of the organisation. This type of analysis increases the sensitivity of integral theory to deal with “the space between”, that is, with the relational space that creates community or the lack of. It is within this relational concept of depth emerging from the “space” between people and groups that dramatically increases the social sophistication of integral approaches (see Figure 3).

Edwards Figure 3

Russ: Thanks for so clearly putting this part of our conversation into perspective. Relating this to Wilber’s work and contrasting your own with that is useful in helping us see some of the questions that need to be addressed in making integral theory and mapping valuable for leadership. Your linking the questions to the use of lenses and perspectives seems to me to be so very important. This is central to the question of how do we move with our theory and mapping into application.

I believe you are suggesting a “both/and” approach here. We can use a mapping approach to looking at an occasion and we can use a mapping approach to examining relationships over time. Both are valuable explorations. As we do this, the variables may change. It will be interesting to explore how this shows up in comprehending leadership. For example, we can use Wilber’s construct to look at a “leadership occasion.” However, there is more to this that may be worth considering.

Getting to the integration of perspectives and the constructive use of methodological pluralism is the point. Leadership emerges and individuals are effective as leaders to the degree that they can achieve such integration in the face of diversity in the context. This diversity is of worldviews, capabilities and choices about meaning and utility, as well as contextualizing that in culture and systems.

The difference I would like to focus on between what your diagram represents and my own thinking to date (and I am prepared to be persuaded here) is that while you have included the individual and the collective holons in the same four-quadrant model, I have treated them as separate holons. I have done this because I am concerned not only with the occurrence, the event of a leader performing a role or particular functions, but because I am concerned with the phenomenon of leadership showing up over time in an organization or a system.

I want these model-making and meaning-making tools of integral to provide a way for diverse perspectives to find a common home, a meta position, if you will, on the practice, development and theory of leadership in human systems. When I look at the individual and the collective in one four-quadrant framework of an occasion it seems to confound the treatment of them as two separate holons or holarchies over time. This provides a utilitarian approach to the application of integral mapping. Therefore, I have used an approach that goes something like this:

  1. The individual holon is composed of four quadrants:
    1. consciousness (intention, worldview, capacity)
    2. behavior and biology
    3. the individual (c) the individual’
    4. the individual (d) the individual’
  2. The collective holon is composed of four quadrants:
    1. the collective culture, including what is shared and what is not,
    2. the collective system, including structures, processes, technology, etc.
    3. the collective understanding of the cultural context,
    4. the collective engagement with the large systemic context.

Figure 4Figure 5

Figures 4 and 5: Individual and Collective Four-Quadrant Models

This approach allows us to recognize the existence of two separate holons that can coexist in the moment (0ccasion), as well as over time. It has the advantage of raising the question of the dynamics between the two, something you have addressed in your work (Edwards, 2002-3), albeit in a somewhat different way.

Furthermore, this approach maintains both the co-existence and co-evolution of the individual and collective. It does not require that developmentally the individual and the context be at the same stage or in the same state of development. Nevertheless, they are joined at the hip in the sense that there is a mutuality of influence, no matter how great or small. The one holon does not exist without the other and change in one impacts the other and vice versa. I suppose that by implication there would have to be a larger construct that would embrace both. Perhaps that would be life, itself.

Also, it seems the approach I am suggesting is in harmony with Wilber’s construct in the sense that I am teasing out of a holon of an occurrence holons that come close to representing each of the four quadrants. I am not at peace with this idea and I am not sure it would be useful to pursue it. However, there does seem to be some bridging potential here.

The mapping approach of Figure 4-5 has the benefit of providing us with units of analysis of leadership, as well as opening the door to questions about the dynamics of relationships among the units of analysis. Aside from your work, I know of no one who has addressed this specifically in the context of integral theory and we can explore that when we get there. An example would be how do the individual and the collective holons interact? What are the process dynamics? What are the developmental dynamics? These seem to me to be important questions if we are going to use the maps to achieve the integrative ends, the meta level analyses that will make a meaningful contribution to strengthening leadership as an individual and collective element as individuals and collectives seek life enhancing development in the face of growing complexity and risk.

For now, the implication that I see in the approach I am suggesting is that it enables us to understand the occasion in which an individual occupies the role of leader, as well as the larger context in which leadership arises as a collective event. It seems to me the model you are offering above may provide the same opportunity. The individual’s view of culture and systems would be an upper-left quadrant variable. The individual’s engagement with structure, process and technology would be upper right. Lower left would be the culture of context that would include the culture of the immediate system as well as the larger context in which that culture exists. The Lower right would be the immediate system, as well as the contextual system. Or have I gone astray here?

Mark: No your description is quite accurate. It’s just that I am wanting to add a little bit more flexibility on to be categories that you have described here. As I pointed out above, and missing feature from the way integral philosophy is currently presented is that holons are never shown in relationship to each other. This has to change. For almost ten years now I have been working towards a way of representing holons that can enable us to show them in interaction, that can actually represent intersubjectivity and interobjectivity visually. I want to develop the means for depicting holons in communication, in conversation, in relationship. The following diagram (Figure 6) is one from an essay I wrote in 2002 and it is typical of the way I visually think about quadrants and holons and their dynamics. It’s a little complex as diagrams go but it does communicate the potential for what I call “integral holonics” (Edwards, 2002). If you include the lens of mediation within this type of relational depiction you might get a sense for how I see the representation of integral ideas progressing (if you don’t blow a fuse in the process). Notice that the depiction allows for much greater complexity in the way we imagine the interaction between holons, quadrants, mediating mechanisms, holonic boundaries, developmental levels, social dynamics or any other elements that we might like to include from the integral tool kit.


I’m a visual thinker and so I need to see how holons relate to each other visually. I do this sort of thing in my research. For example, applying this type of integral holonics to the topic of leadership we could place the CEO/leader in the position of the I/Me holon (the first person singular holon) or we could make the CEO the “You” holon or even the He/She/It holon (second and third). Each of these positions will yield a different relational identity and so we could do an “integral 360” from each of these perspectives and look at each of the quadrants while doing that. We could also bring in plural relationships and perspectives and build up a visual representation of each of these (and many others depending on what lenses we might like to introduce such as the multidimensional micro-macro lens). This is a form of integral mapping of perspectives and holonic relationships that has not been explored to this point and cannot really be explored until the current conceptualisation of AQAL is opened out to allow for greater flexibility in the way lenses are combined and visually conceptualised.

As you point out Russ, I’ve been working on this issue of representing holons as separate social entities with their own quadrants for several years. I think your diagrams utilise precisely the same conceptualisation as my own approach described in the series of essays you refer to. And your diagram representing individual and collective holons reminds me of a similar diagram from an essay I sent to Frank Visser in 2002. It shows, what I called the “common holon”, which represents any individual entity or event, next to, what I called, the “Kosmic holon”, which represents Wilber’s Theory of Everything version of the Four Quadrants model. The difference between these two representations is largely that Wilber’s Quadrants holon represent all holons whereas my approach can represent any holon (and their interactions). I see the move to a more flexible and adaptive representation of holons in interaction and the analysis of those interactions through a greater variety of conceptual lenses as inevitable in the coming years.

Russ: One of the key points that we have been making to this point is making a distinction between the four quadrant map and a holon. If I understand you clearly, they are not the same thing. And as I have considered your comments I have discovered that I have really been using them synonymously. My takeaway from this is that being very clear about this distinction is going to help us and others who want to develop and apply an integral approach to leadership. So, Mark, keep me honest here in how I use these terms.

I am not surprised that the diagram reflects your work. You have had considerable influence on my thinking about integral mapping. I hope I have given you appropriate recognition for this in my writing. Just to keep this moving closer to a focus on leadership I want to go back to the six cell matrix as a way of talking about mapping holons and their relationships. I include this model in an article I have submitted for publication. I realize that I selected a perspective, that of the individual, in this model. All cells in the graphic represent the focus of and on the individual. Even the collective aspects are viewed through the eyes of the individual or through the eyes of a third party as they observe the behavior of the individual (Figure 7).

Figure 7, Cell Matrix

Figure 7: Six Cell Matrix

The interior side of this map in all three cells—upper, middle and lower—can be considered as the individual’s understanding of self, collaborator and culture. In comprehending the individual leader, this includes the individual’s intentions, beliefs, values, etc. (UL). The collaborator is a term that I borrowed from Joseph Rost. Aside from recognizing that there is more of a level playing field among players in creating change, it honors the notion of leadership as a relationship, a perspective offered by various writers, most recently Kouzes and Posner (see introductory essay in this issue of Integral Leadership Review). So the left-middle cell (ML) is the view the individual has of the intentions, beliefs, values, etc. held by the collaborator. The lower left (LL) cell is the culture (existing values, beliefs and assumptions of a social system) as understood by the individual.

The external side is about what can be observed by a third party. In upper right (UR) we find the behaviors and biology of the individual who is leading—in relationship to herself. This might include such things as how she solves problems or makes decisions. It would include searching behaviours and individual knowledge management. In the middle (MR) are the behaviors of the individual in relation to the collaborator(s). Communications and information sharing, managing differences, building a shared vision, joint problem solving activities, processes for exchanging leader-collaborator roles are all examples of this. The lower right (LR) cell would involve the same thing with the larger system. For example, if collaborators are team members, the larger context might be the larger organization they are a part of, stakeholders outside the organization, a national market or a global system. This would include how the leader networks beyond his team, manages upward, communicates for the team to stakeholders, gathers information from the environment, etc.

I suppose a similar map could be laid out for a collective, but I have not developed that to this point. So far, I have continued to use a four quadrant model of the collective by shifting from individual to collective and from collective to metacollective (Figure 8).

EV Figure 8

Figure 8: Four Quadrant Model of a System and a Meta-System

“Individual” has become an individual culture and system. “Collective” has become context, the larger culture and system of which it is a part. The same principles could apply as for the individual six cell map. The meta-culture would be as viewed by the members of the culture. The meta system (LR) would be where we could observe how the system interacts with the meta-system. We have the benefit of not mixing individual and collective holons, but including both in an analysis. And, to play on one of Wilber’s favorite concepts, it is culture and systems all the way up and culture and systems all the way down—in the collective holon.

Now this approach treats an event, an occasion, as comprising all of these; I have just used different maps to represent aspects of the occasion. Your approach above offers a way to bring them together. Also, this approach is aligned with the idea of methodological pluralism, although it isn’t necessarily as clear a way of showing that.

The point of all of the visualizing and mapping is to show how, as Wilber does in his way, we can integrate a set of perspectives using a set of methodologies to better comprehend an occasion. The act of a leader with collaborators, systems and meta-systems constitute one such occasion. Tracking the acts of leaders overtime will permit us to understand leadership as a process of interacting roles in the service of real change. Ultimately, all of the existing models and theories of leadership find their place in such an approach.

Mark, at this point I am going to ask you if you see the compatibility of these different approaches. It certainly does seem to me that we are both trying to get at the same thing, however more elegant your graphic is. We are both trying to find a way to show the relationships among variables. I see the addition of arrows in your graphic as adding power to this mapping. The arrows represent the relationships and represents change over time. Am I getting it?

Mark: I think you are Russ. I see great compatibility in our ideas. For example, the above diagram of holonic relations is really just a fancy version of the standard map I use as a starting point for an integral analysis. This map (Figure 9) crosses the following explanatory lenses/dimensions: interior-exteriors, individual-collective and perspectives (i.e. first, second and third persons), and agency-communion (Wilber sees this as a drive but you can also use this dimension as an epistemological lens).


This map has many similarities with your diagrams. The difference is that your six cell diagram is really just showing the relationships between three holons – between the first person singular and his/herself (self-reflexive relations), between the first person singular and the second person singular (dyadic relations) and between the first person and the third person plural (on form of micro-macro relations). If you look at my summary model this equates to the following relationships respectively: Cell 1 and itself, cell 1 and cell 2, and cell 1 and cell 5/6. So, while it includes many central relationships, your model does not cover some others. In particular it does not discriminate between what types of collective cultures your “individual” (which is actually a first person perspective) is dealing with— whether it be “my” culture (cell 4), “your” culture (cell 5) or “their” culture (cell six). Your other diagram, where you add additional layers of collective holons, is in some ways trying to describe these other relationships but I find that presenting them systematically in the form above makes it that much clearer (at least for me!).

And there is something else that your meta-culture figure reveals. That is, that the individual-collective dimension is actually a sliding scale of ecological context. Bringing your two diagrams together we have the levels of individual, collective and context (meta-collective). This scale could be broken down even further into individual, dyad, triad, small group, large group, collective, large collective, metacollective and so on. This results in what I call the multilevel scale of focus (lens) and it is precisely the same lens that people like Katherine Klein, Fred Dansereau and Francis Yammarino use in the multilevel analyses of leadership and other aspects of organisational life (Dansereau & Yammarino, 1998a; Dansereau & Yammarino, 1998b; Dansereau, Yammarino & Kohles, 1999; Klein & Kozlowski, 2000; Klein, Tosi & Cannella, 1999; Yammarino, Dionne, Chun & Dansereau, 2005).

If you really want to get where I am at with integral theory these days then try crossing the perspectives lens with this multilevel lens. The result of this is a comprehensive map of perspectival relationships and the metaphor I use to describe this map is the “Indra’s Net” image from the Avatamsake sutra. Indra’s net has been used in New Age science and biology as a metaphor for the connectedness of all things. But I would like to draw out some other aspects of this image that point to much more than this basic notion of universal connection. The Indra’s net image is not only a set or map of ecological relations—“a web of connections”—it’s actually a web of relational perspectives. The things in our universe are not only connected they are mutually creative of one another’s identity (i.e., consciousness and behaviour). The net not only connects all things but also holds together jewels whose identity is generated and defined by each and every other jewel. So there is not only relational connection but perspectival reflexivity. Indra’s net is the intimate meeting of relationship and perspective (or connectedness and identity). Wilber’s Four Quadrants map and my Six Basic perspectives framework are very rough summaries of this map of perspectival relations. I showed this map to Wilber and he got a bit of a fright I think. The map can be found towards the end of a PowerPoint presentation I showed Wilber and can be found at:

Russ, you also raised a whole bunch of issues related to the actual definition of holons and quadrants. In looking at these, I keep wanting to go back a few steps to reconsider some of the basic issues that have puzzled me about Wilber AQAL framework for several years now. However, I am bit loath to do so. The holons thing is crucial but also, as you well know, a devilishly technical topic. If we are struggling with how to think about and represent the relationship between holons, quadrants and, for that matter, perspectives, then I think that’s a “momentous leap forward”. Anyone who thinks that these core issues have been dealt with already in a consistent and coherent manner is, I suggest, kidding themselves. What I can say is that I think I’ve found a way of translating one aspect of Wilber’s AQAL and holon framework into a way of representing holons, quadrants and perspectives that is logically consistent and useful. And I think you are really contributing some great insights into how to apply this more flexible approach to the topic of leadership.

As well as these technical issues about how to represent, for example, the relationship between individual and collective holons, you are also asking about developing a shared consistency in our definitions, representations, interpretations and descriptions of the basic elements of integral theory. You’ve already mentioned Tom Murray and his work on integral theory and epistemological indeterminacy (ILR, Integral World and Sara Ross’s ARINA website have all published very insightful essays by Murray on this issue). Murray is right in suggesting that there are still many fundamental concepts in this area that are poorly defined and even more poorly understood. We desperately need a collaborative approach to these theory-building issues. At one level it is fine to go ahead and move straight into applying some basic elements of Wilber’s AQAL framework. For me, however, there are many fundamental theory building tasks, let alone theory testing tasks, which need urgent attention. And some of the integral analyses and applications I have seen suffer as a result.

I hope we don’t all head off along our own theory-building track in trying to resolve these issues. In particular, I don’t want to develop a way of thinking about and representing holons, quadrants, perspectives etc, which has no relationship with what other people are doing. I have always hoped that a collegial approach to building Integral theory might emerge in some form and that might still be the case in the future. This is obviously a key motivation in the work that you do, Russ, and I think that you and the Integral Leadership Review are leading the way in supporting a more collaborative inquiry into these very important issues.

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