Dialogue: Integral Theory into Integral Action , Part 1

Mark Edwards and Russ Volckmann

Mark Edwards

Russ VolckmannThe following material is the beginning of a dialogue between Mark Edwards and Russ Volckmann about integral theory, maps, models and their applications. The focus will be on concepts and relationships among concepts and the like. However, this discussion takes place with the hope of making two contributions. The first is to the development and evolution of integral theory, particularly as it applies to the subject of leadership. The second is in comprehending how to use integral theory as an integrating device for theory, concepts and ideas coming from, well, just about any source that has something to contribute.

Mark Edwards is working on his dissertation at Western Australia University and has already made major contributions to integral theory. Much of his work can be found at (for reviewed publications see: Cacioppe & Edwards, 2005a; 2005b; Edwards, 1997; Edwards, 1998; 2002; 2005a; 2005b; 2005c; 2006). I highly recommend these if you are interested in pursuing his ideas further. Mark also participated in a three-part conversation with Ken Wilber on Integral Naked, Recently, I sent an invitation to Mark to engage in a dialogue about integral theory and how it can be applied to understanding, developing and implementing leadership.

Part 1 – Invitation and Opening Dialogue

Russ: What if we did a series of short sessions with a short readable interview/ discussion/column format that would focus on mapping, modeling and the value of alternative approaches for theory and application. There would be a series of topics:

  • The value of mapping and models;
  • The quadrants;
  • The relationships among quadrants;
  • Individual and collective holons;
  • The relationships between individual holons, between individual and collective holons, between collective holons,
  • Stages and the implications of a Vygotskian perspective,
  • Alternative approaches to integral theory, including some of the ideas put forward by Smith (2001) and others, etc.

Over time we can build this list. But in addition to laying out the approaches to theory and mapping/modeling everything would lead to a discussion of the application to leadership, its development and practice.

I am getting interested in the implications of Ervin Laszlo’s (2004) Integral Theory of Everything (TOE) and how it informs an integral/developmental approach. His introduction of the Akashic field as an aspects of physics, cosmology and consciousness suggestions solutions to understanding nonlocality and other puzzles of physics. How do such suggestions relate to integral theory and inform ways we have of understanding leadership? We can bring in the work of just about anyone who has something to say that informs the development a theory, mapping and modeling as a way of making meaning that informs practice.

Now that sounds exciting!

Mark: It does!!

Russ: Okay. Let me try starting us off at the fifty million light years level. Ervin Laszlo posits a TOE that brings together the fields of cosmology, quantum physics, biology and the study of consciousness. He states,

At its cutting edge, the new cosmology discovers a world where the universe does not end in ruin, and the new physics, the new biology, and the new consciousness research recognize that in this world life and mind are integral elements and not accidental by-products. All these elements come together in the informed universe—a comprehensive and intensely meaningful universe, cornerstone of the unified conceptual scheme that can tie together all the diverse phenomena of the world: the integral theory of everything.

—Erwin Laszlo, Science and the Akashic Field, p. 15.

He presents the idea of the quantum vacuum, which transports light, energy, pressure and sound. This transportation occurs through torsion waves that link the universe at a group speed of the order of one billion times the speed of light. Then he adds the additional factor of the comparable transportation of information at these rates. Furthermore, information is held holographically whereby all such types in the universe hold all information held by one of a “type” at the same time. Such a model accounts for anomalies like non-locality. Without turning this into a treatise on Laszlo’s work we can see that his theory sets up a way of understanding “everything” that is very different from Wilber’s work.

Laszlo does not treat Wilber’s work very charitably:

Ken Wilber, who wrote a book with the title A Theory of Everything, agrees: he speaks of the “integral vision” conveyed by a genuine TOE. However, he does not offer such a theory; he mainly discusses what it would be like, describing it in reference to the evolution of culture and consciousness—and to his own theories.

—Erwin Laszlo, Science and the Akashic Field, p.2

I don’t know if Laszlo has read any of the rest of Wilber’s many publications, but I hope we can avoid such a dismissal of a very useful set of concepts and models as can be found in Wilber’s work. Do you agree?

Mark: I’ve not read this book by Laszlo. I’ve read his book on general evolution and some articles on general systems. He is a great figure in systems theory and the new sciences but I am not so interested in the field in which he seems to be writing – the new physics/consciousness area. It’s wonderful material and Laszlo has produced a great body of important work but that area of consciousness and physics is not really my topic.

In any event, the goal of proposing a Theory of Everything seems to me to be a rather strange line of business to get into. Might I ask, seeing that his new book has the subtitle “An Integral Theory of Everything”, does it include things like, how to raise children, how to love, who should get my vote, what is the most ethical way to make a billion dollars, or how to win the war on …? I’m being a little sarcastic here but from my experience of reading these sorts of works they are interesting and include much that is of value, but they rarely deal with what is really important in life—by this I mean how we educate, govern, inform, entertain, feed, heal or transform ourselves.

I am interested in contributing to the development of an integral theory that can shed some light on such things. And, actually, I don’t think this has much to do with trying to build a Theory of Everything anyway. I have difficulty knowing what the phrase means. I get the “theory” bit, but I don’t like the “of” bit, and the “everything” bit seems slightly over the top from where I stand as a social scientist.

I corresponded with Andy Smith about this TOE issue just the other day saying that I liked Clifford Geertz’s distinction between a “theory for” – which explicitly refers to the search for an imprecise but also useful form of knowledge and a “theory of” – which harkens back to the grandiosity of the positivist search for complete explanations and exact predictions. As far as the “everything” bit goes, I see integral theory as a set of lenses that can help me get a handle on any event rather than every event. By this I mean that I want to bring integral theory to the ordinary events of life rather than trying to fit everything into the theory. Hence, I have referred to my work in the development of an integral holonics as a “Theory for Anything” as opposed to a “Theory of Everything”. Although, I still find even the TOA version rather extravagant. How about a “Theory for Something” or is that stating the obvious? In any event, being aware of such distinctions is an example of how integral theory can gain from post-modern critical analysis of TOe’s. The post-modern critiques of overarching theories are very relevant to this whole discussion and theorists working in this area need to be aware of such valid criticism.

As to the differences in the TOE’s of Laszlo and Wilber, for me Wilber very clearly makes the point that the TOE’s of the physical sciences leave out about 99% of what people would usually include in the definition of “everything”. And I agree with him. Laszlo still seems to focus on this physics and consciousness connection. That has it’s place but I’m not really engaged by those kinds of ideas. I would like to see how an integral approach might contribute to better the transformation of organisations, or better regulation of commercial activity, or community development, or to environmental or educational policy than to understanding how Gauge Field Theory might create Quantum Consciousness. Not that such issues are unimportant it’s just that I wouldn’t exactly call such things a Theory of Everything.

Russ: I suppose I should take more seriously the labels put on things. They are important for communication and meaning making. Perhaps my difficulty in doing so is related to my being in awe of the challenge of embracing sufficient variables to make a meaningful and positive difference in human systems. Or maybe it is because about ten years ago when I was working with someone else on labeling aspects of an integral model the decisions about labels often became long and tedious processes. Whatever we call it, I think you have nailed the essence of why we would want to undertake an exploration like this. It is about application to human beings and human systems and, as such, must engage questions of meaning and arenas of activity.

The value of the Theory for Anything distinction for me is that it points to one of the fundamental uses of theory, namely, as a lens in which to generate meaning. Another is as a predictor of the results of certain actions. We both have articles in the Journal of Organizational Change Management (Volckmann, 2005) about a year ago (actually, you have two (Edwards, 2005c)—one with Ron Cacioppe (Cacioppe & Edwards, 2005a). The purpose of my article was to describe an approach for using integrally informed models to support clients in their meaning making and identification of what they believed needed to be changed or developed. Therefore, the model is not predictive and saying if you change this that will happen as much as it is saying here is a lens with which you can see your world with greater clarity and manage greater complexity in order for you to make choices.

What this enterprise is about is making distinctions. A colleague of mine has commented that one thing that is problematic about Wilber’s work is that his categories are arbitrary. Those of greatest concern include distinctions among quadrants and lines. This colleague would prefer to see a more holistic approach, not the traditional breaking things down into categories so typical of Western linear thinking. One of the concerns (and I am certain we will get into this) is the lack of attention to process. I think one of the most interesting things about your work is how you have brought attention to process into integral theory and mapping. I have attempted this, as well, albeit in a quite different way and I look forward to learning about the advantages and disadvantages of alternative approaches to making the maps come alive.

I like the term “holonics.” It seems truly about using integral models for making meaning and informing choice and decision making about, well, anything!

Two things come up for me initially. The first is the question of the role of theory, models and maps in relation to action. Second, I wonder if you have some guiding principles that you apply to the development of theory and models.

Mark: First, on this issue of what to include in an integral approach, if your colleague is referring to Wilber’s dimensions of interior-exterior, individual-collective, developmental processes, transformation and translation, levels and lines, the perspectives, and so on, well, I don’t think they are arbitrary. They show up over and over in philosophies and in various theories. There might be many other dimensions than just these (as Wilber acknowledges), but these have to be ranked right up there as primary lenses through which we make sense of our world. And they are there in the Western philosophic tradition for very good reasons. I’m not taken by the critique of Western traditions as dualistic while those of the other directions are holistic. From my limited knowledge of philosophy analytical/dualist and systems/holistic orientations to the great questions are present in philosophies East and West, North and South. Wilber proposes that dimensions such as individual-collective (this is called the micro-macro link in sociology) and translation-transformation (called first- and second-order change in organisation theory) are essential for any truly integrative approach to theory building. And I agree, but there are other basic lenses that might also be included and the standard Wilberian AQAL model of crossing the same dimensions to create his Four Quadrants is, in my opinion, only one of several possibilities for combining lenses. I think we can be more flexible and creative in the lens combinations we use to explain phenomena (e.g., I think the very important lens of developmental stages is used in a too isolated and simplistic fashion at the moment), and this includes the boundaries that we draw around the things we want to view through these lenses. Perhaps this has also got to do with what your colleague refers to as lack of attention to process.

Although I have applied integral concepts in my professional work on an ad hoc basis for many years, I am particularly interested in theory development. The guiding principles I use in this area are all the standard evaluation criteria for “good theory” – a theory should have unique qualities, it should be parsimonious, it should be generalisable, it should be fecund, i.e., be a rich source of ideas, its should be internally consistent, it should be empirically risky and it should have a high degree of abstraction (Wacker, 1998; 2004). Some of these criteria work in different directions, for example, parsimony and generalisability, and so there is always a difficult judgement involved in how to balance these evaluative guidelines. These are all rational, modernist criteria for theory development. There are also the postmodern criteria of trustworthiness, social credibility, and transferability. At the moment I am particularly interested in the basic rational criteria but the others also have relevance.

Obviously, theory and application/testing are complimentary aspects of doing science. Both processes support each other.Recently, I contributed a small piece to a book on appreciative inquiry and I had this diagram in it that tried to show this mutuality.

The Cycle of Conceptual and Empirical Research

In terms of this diagram, I am particularly interested in the left hand side of this process – that of theory building. This is why I am picky about things like definitions and the conceptual relationships between the various elements that make up integral theory. I am also aware, however, that very little empirical research done to test integral theory propositions (I mean by “empirical research” the “broad science” activity of grounding any truth statement in data, including sensory/behavioural, cultural, social and experiential data). I have an Endnote file with around 400 references on integral theory and only one involves an empirical test of an aspect of integral theory (see Thomas, Brewer, Kraus & Rosen, 1993).

While the construction of integral theory is based, in part, on empirical research it has itself not been subject to much formal empirical scrutiny to my knowledge. The theory building that has been done by Wilber and others has not been matched by a theory testing process of empirical research. This is hardly surprising because it’s still early days for these approaches. And I feel that many aspects of the integral framework are still not at the level of internal consistency or operational interpretability where they can be empirically tested. As Tom Murray argues, there is still a significant degree of epistemological indeterminancy and uncertainty around many core integral concepts (Murray, 2006). The practical application of the ideas seems to be steaming ahead but that’s another issue.

Science is not only about describing a model and then taking it into the market place to explain stuff. Empirical testing also has to be part of the deal. Jack Meredith has pointed out that theory development that misses out the testing side of things becomes a question of anecdotes and “war stories” (Meredith, 1993). While I would say that the practical application of integral ideas in social settings has moved well beyond simple anecdotal evidence (see, for example, Brown, 2006), the empirical stuff urgently needs some attention. Theory testing attempts not only to provide empirical verification/falsification for a model, but it also focuses our minds on operationalising definitions, being definite about properties and clarifying the relationships between variables. And, simply because there are so many explanatory variables/lenses and so many relationships possible between them, integral ideas will always need these operationalising activities. I don’t see any studies being published at the moment that do any of this. But time will tell.

So, this issue of the relationship between theory and its application is one of ongoing relevance. We have the need for the application of integrating concepts to real world problems. But this is only part of what is needed for integral ideas to flourish in a healthy way. We need also to contribute to the theory building side of this research cycle so that testing and practical application can have a scientific basis and not be just another fad. I’m sure you’ve seen more theories of leadership and management come and go, Russ, than you can remember. Without a solid scientific basis integral theory could go the same way. So we also have a need for empirical testing and operationalisation of these concepts. This is rather unglamorous stuff. Improving definitions, clarifying relationships between constructs, and looking at internally consistency, testing hypotheses, etc. – this is not the sort of work to do if you want to save the world. To many, this is like suggesting we learn how to play the violin while Rome is burning, but I think it’s more like how we can learn to become fire fighters while Rome is burning. The world needs integral approaches that are based on good science and I want to contribute to that in some modest way. I suppose this gets back to your issue of what actually constitutes integral theory.

You have interviewed quite a few people who might be considered as taking an integral approach to their line of work and you have written extensively on integral topics. What’s the thing that unites their way of working? What do you think an integral approach is? What’s the difference between an integral theory and an integral approach? Are there as many integral theories as there are integral theorists as Wilber suggests?

Mark, are very important, because they are useful. They clarify the context of explorations, they give order to the enterprise and embrace the opportunities. I think we are very aligned around our respect and appreciation for the integration and potential that Wilber has helped to open for us all, whether we focus on the development of theories and models, their applications, or even both! I hope we can get more explicit about what we see as the essentials of an integral approach. You opened this with a partial listing of key elements:

  • interior-exterior,
  • individual-collective,
  • developmental processes,
  • transformation and translation,
  • the perspectives, etc.

I find myself wondering how we might treat these most usefully here before proceeding with the very interesting questions you have raised. And even before that I would like to comment on Figure One. (And, by the way, can you share the names of the editors and the title of the book onAppreciative Inquiry?)

Your depiction of the cycle of theory and research reminds me of Charles Hampden-Turner’s psycho-social developmental model from Radical Man (Hampden-Turner, 1971) that he later published in abbreviated form in Maps of the Mind (Hampden-Turner, 1981). One implication of the cycle is that it spirals upward. The positive feedback from the empirical leads to a strengthening and enhancement of theory. Of course, as in Hampden-Turner’s anomic model, there is a downward spiral, as well. This would suggest that the failure to develop empirical knowledge inevitably will lead to a negative feedback loop which will diminish the quality of theory. The systems theory idea of feedback loops is also important for integral theory. We need ways to not just organize concepts and phenomena into quadrants, but to comprehend the relationships among them.

The Integral Leadership Review is about both theory and application—about the mental models, the frameworks we use to create meaning and take action. In your work, I suspect this statement is equally true, as it would be for the designer of leadership development interventions and those who take on leader roles. It is just that you may conceive your role to be different from those. As you point out, you are particularly interested in building theory through conceptual research. At some point, as your model points out, there is an inevitable testing of the ideas against some form of empirical evidence.

Those who would focus on the implementation or empirical side must go through the same sequence. A “project manager” might see it this way:

The Project Map of Conceptual and Empirical Research
Figure 2: The Project Map of Conceptual and Empirical Research

For an ongoing, never ending developmental process such as theory building is, given its ever-widening scope, I prefer the mapping approach you have demonstrated. However, for more limited applications it is often valuable to use a different mapping approach, one that lends itself to PERT/GANTT approaches to scheduling and resource mapping. All of this would be very pedantic if it weren’t for the point that I am making about how the separation of theory and practice is another one of those ways we have of dividing one from the other and keeping ourselves potentially ignorant of parts of the process. The cyclical approach, developmental and anomic, represents an ongoing process without apparent end. The linear approach in Figure 2 is used to represent a project with a beginning and an end, although I added a reiteration task that would cause most project managers to blanche.

Coming back to ILR, that is part of my vision for this evolving publication. It is integral in the sense that it marries theory and practice. Some might wonder if this is, indeed, a marriage made in heaven or simply a candidate for the elevated divorce statistics. What I am suggesting is that whatever the future unfolds for ILR, for all of us, this is still the task: to find the integration of theory and practice, to build integrally.

Of course, we each bring our particular talents to this process. To recognize, honor and use our strengths in our work is a path that is developmental. I am not sure theory building or implementation or empiricism are areas that I would count as strengths. I see myself as an explorer, depending heavily on the ideas and thinking of others, as well as the learning they have gained from experience. And all of this brings me back to your questions.

I think of the integral “approach” as a journey. Sure, there is much in philosophy and other areas of study that has been accomplished. It is the realization of Figure 1, to date. We are at the early stages of the development of integral theory. After all, the juxtaposition of perspectives from people like Wilber and Laszlo provides such wonderful questions to raise that lead to refinement of the theory, the approach, and the determination that we have new frontiers to explore. It is a process! Most of the people I talk with are making contributions to this process whether they label it integral or not. For example, Hampden-Turner and Tropenaars (2001) place a great deal of emphasis on culture in addition to the perspectives of individual leaders when exploring leadership. In the interview I did with him Hampden-Turner did not know much about “integral” but what he brings is what I would call an integral approach to his work. He is concerned with variables in all of the quadrants, as well as the development of leadership. He is more process, rather than stage, oriented. An integral approach would include some of the factors we are exploring, but not necessarily be informed by integral theory.

I don’t, however, think there are a great many integral theories out there in relation to leadership, at least not based on the interviews I have done. There is a growing number of people in the areas of theory development, leader development and the practice of leadership that are becoming integrally informed. To become integrally informed, it seems to me, is to grow one’s awareness of self, other and context, as well as to see the relationship between one’s own behaviors, those of others, and the many manifestations of the physical world at all levels, whether created by us or by forces we do not yet understand.

But Mark, this stuff isn’t all that new. Sure we are focused on integration, as well as differentiation, whereby in my past, at least, the latter was emphasized far more than the former. It is as though we have finally come to understand, to grok, what Jung meant about the importance of both of these processes. Much of what is being called integral life practice or integral transformative practice is about the application of techniques that are ancient or more recent innovations, whether we are talking about attention to physical development through variations on the martial arts, shadow work, sustainable environments, etc. Now we have a way of understanding how all of these relate to each other. This is what I find in the interviews. People are beginning to understand not only the elements, but also the relationships in ways that hold hope for integral theory and application, and for the world. In the face of the challenges we have politically, culturally, personally and environmentally anything that offers such hope is something I want to pay close attention to. This is one of the reasons why I am excited about your work. It is not just about a framework of taxonomies, but also about the dynamic relationships among the parts.

The interviews are with people who range across a spectrum. Some are deeply involved in the study and application of integral theory and others know almost nothing about it. One of the reasons I like to interview some people at the non-integral theory end of the spectrum is that there are already elements of their work that contribute to the development of an integral approach to leadership. An example in point is the interview in this issue with Harry Lasker. Harry is a ground-breaking thinker and doer, an entrepreneur with early explorations of the relationship between motivation and development theory (Loevinger). He is someone who can bridge the distance between those in the world of academia (interest in theory) and those who are in the world of business (with an interest in what works). Yet implicit in the work of Lasker is an integral perspective, an appreciation for complexity, development, process and discovery that I value so much in working with the integral approach.

One day, it may be time to explore all of the interviews and see what themes emerge. Until then, I think that what these interviews do is open up the scope of what we are looking at and find the integral connections. No, I have not found a multiplicity of integral theories. I have found some integral thinkers and others who are approaching the same places from different theoretical and practical foundations. In the area of leadership I find, generally, a paucity in the development of theory.

An example of this is a doctoral dissertation I recently read. It was a very ideographic treatment of something that was being called Integral Leadership. However, there were so many questions and issues about what constituted integral and leadership and the relationships between the two that I found little or no comprehension of integral theory or contribution to its development. Part of the difficulty may lie in the state of integral theory that you have characterized so well. Equally challenging is the state of leadership theory. This multidisciplinary field that lends itself so well to a transdisciplinary approach is theoretically fragmented and often presented in a vacuum of definition. Weird phrase, perhaps, but until recently efforts at defining leader and leadership have been superficial, at best.

Mark: Russ, I very much like your adaptation of the theory/testing cycle to project work. It shows nicely how this sort of map can have a practical utility.

The reference for my little comment in the appreciative inquiry book is under Reed (2006) in the References. My contribution is very modest (2–page comment to the editor). I recommend appreciative inquiry as a positive methodology for developing emergent solutions to challenging issues from the ground up. These types of pluralist methods are very healthy contributions to addressing the need for positive social change.

I agree with you completely that everyone interested in integral ideas or who is involved in the discovery of how these things play out in personal life can bring their contributions and explorations and take it from there. It is a journey as you say. I would also add that for me, while big ideas are wonderful vehicles for discovery, they are, at the same time, dangerous things for precisely the same reason. They can pick people up and carry them to all sorts of places for all sorts of reasons. I recall that a few months back, my wife Barbara and I were talking about the issue of science and beliefs and I made the comment that I thought there were two great powers in the universe. One was the power of love—I meant this in the sense of everything being drawn from and drawn into a relationship with everything else. The other was the power of the mind to delude itself. There is an urgent need to ensure that a critical and rigorous science accompany us on the integral journey in a very direct way.

As for the essentials of an integral approach, as anyone foolish enough to read some of my integral musings may find, it’s pretty clear that I like complexity and that I also like bringing together very different perspectives on a topic. Consequently, the essentials for me include a hell of a lot of stuff. But then, life is complex and if we are to explain life in a nonreductive fashion then those explanations must also be complex in some way as well. I also like to bring those complex explanatory factors together in very flexible and fluid ways. For example, integral theory for me includes not only domains or quadrants, developmental levels, developmental modules or lines, types and so on but also developmental dynamics, natural perspectives, mediating processes, subject-object perspectives, micro-macro links, transitional cycles, learning processes, motivating drives, growth and integration dynamics, situational processes, relational exchanges and so on. I like to include these as explanatory lenses in their own right – and they are just as fundamental as the interior-exterior dimension, the developmental levels and so on. There are probably many lenses from different schools and thinkers that have not yet been included into the mix. I always go on about Vygotsky and the Cultural-Historical Activity Theory tradition being left out of the picture but there are others.

Wilber and many other multiparadigm and Big Picture theorists use such factors or lenses in their explanations of complex social events. I find that many of these factors cannot be explained in terms of the workings of the others and so they all need to be included in the set of lenses that an integral approach must carry. But I also feel that it is crucial to see how these factors can be brought together in very flexible and creative ways. In that sense a lot of this is about method and the means by which we select and contextualise the lenses we use to study or analyse something. For example, I feel that currently too much emphasis is given to the use of developmental levels as an analytical lens to the exclusion of many other useful explanatory factors that might be well used in combination with development. This leads to a type of developmentalism which does not recognise the importance of social mediation in the creation of consciousness. This developmental reductionism ends in analyses of the type that claim 20 percent of the adult population is at this level, 30 percent at another level, and 2 percent at this level, and so on. This approach of splitting populations into levels might be called “levels absolutism” and is anything but integral. For example, such views do not take account of the power of mediating factors on the values of the members of a social collective. Unfortunately, because of the way governments, large organisations, vested interests and powerful individuals operate today these mediating factors tend to work at the level of the lowest common denominator and employ strategies such as wedge tactics, the politics of fear, issue marketing and framing to manipulate consciousness towards the bottom end of the spiral.

There is a huge distance between individuals and the decision making centres in many societies today and that void is too often filled up by commercialised electronic media, government misinformation, political propaganda and spin, marketers manipulations of information, the power of corporate lobbyists and special interest groups, etc. This is why I am hopeful that the dramatic rise in the communicative capacities of the Internet will be an aid in the development of a new kind of peer-based global media that is not so vulnerable to the manipulations of vested interests. Michel Bauwens ( work on the development of peer-to-peer theory is an extremely promising area in this regard. This is a much more bottom-up and emergent line of social inquiry and has much to offer. Having said all that, I don’t want to minimise the importance of the developmental lens. This lens is crucial in providing direction to the emergence of new forms of social being and doing. Without altitude all the other lenses simply become means for assessing balance and normative health. They lack the emancipatory focus that the transformational lens possesses. So we need multiple lenses: transcendent ones, inclusive ones, transformational ones, translational ones, ones that see interior depth and ones that see exterior depth. This, after all, is what integral is all about. I agree with Karl Weick that it’s a process of disciplined imagination – opening up our imaginations to create a richer view of what’s possible and doing that in a disciplined way.

The Wilberian school of integral theory is characterised by its crossing of the interior-exterior lens with the individual-collective lens and with its application of the developmental stages lens. This AQAL approach is a very useful foundation for bringing together multiple theories and will continue to generate innovative approaches to multidisciplinary studies. However, other multiparadigm theorists have crossed other combinations of theoretical lenses. Bradbury and Lichtenstein (2000) for example have crossed perspectives with the interior-exterior lens in their approach to relationality. Burrell and Morgan (1979), in their classic multiparadigm approach to organisational theory, crossed interior-exterior with transformation-translation. Zinchenko has crossed developmental stages with mediation processes (1996). Really, integral approaches can use any of these lenses in isolation or in combination with any of the others as long as the limited domains of those selections are acknowledged. I like to bring together mediational and developmental lenses when considering topics such as integral futures (Edwards, 2006).

Too often, we simply use single lenses, most typically quadrants or developmental levels or a particular developmental line, as the sole means for analysing complex social situations without acknowledging the limitations of relying on that single analytical lens. This is simply not good enough. Wilber, for example, calls the reliance on particular developmental lines to explain phenomena “line absolutism” and gives the example of spiral dynamics as an approach that reads everything in terms of a limited number of explanatory lenses. I think this is very true. But I might also point out that those who rely on only levels of development to analyse social events are guilty of what might be called developmental absolutism (this is another form of the developmentalism I referred to above). The same criticism also applies to those who rely only on quadrants to explain everything they see, for those that rely only on learning processes, and for those that rely on only physical interactions, or genetics or environmental conditions, and so on.

If we look at some of the developmental models of personal leadership, for example, we find a heavy emphasis is placed on the developmental level of the leader. But I argue that other lenses need to be brought into the picture to describe healthy, normative development in a leader’s workplace capacities, worldviews and behaviours. If a leader has an extremely individualist approach to problem solving, for example, it doesn’t matter what developmental level they operate from – high or low – they will always lack the capacity to see collective solutions to the challenges they face. And without that capacity they are bad news as leaders in today’s world. Such leaders don’t see systemic problems. Instead they see incompetent or uncontrollable individuals or undeveloped workers. Such leaders don’t see opportunities for team or community building. They only see opportunities for providing individual inducements for competitive achievement. They don’t see where collective processes are failing the members of that collective. Such leaders don’t address the social or cultural cause of inequity they only see lazy individuals. They cannot see systemic corruption, they only see lone criminals or rogue exceptions.

To be frank, I’d rather have a leader operating out of the rational level of personal autonomy who is balanced in terms of these other dimensions than to have a transrational, “second-tier” leader who wouldn’t know a social collective if he fell on one. I see this very often among corporate and political leaders—highly developed in many ways, yet lacking balance in crucial perspectival capacities that have nothing to do with developmental stages. I believe that integral theories of leadership have yet to sort out theses types of distinctions. I see in your own work on leadership an awareness of these issues, for example, in your approach of communicating the multiple roles of leadership development. Perhaps we can look at this a little more closely at some point. For now, here’s a table that lists some of the lenses that I feel a truly integral approach will need to incorporate.

Table 1: Integral theory conceptual lenses

Integral Theory Lens (conceptual frame of reference)
Lens description and domain of application
1. The lens of personal perspectives
Recognises the validity of first, second and third person accounts in both their singular and plural settings. Hence, the perspective lens can be used to disclose the subjective world of the first-person, the relational world of the second person world, and the objective world of the third-person.
2. The interior-exterior lens
Recognises the validity of subjective (tangible) and objective (intangible) realities. Hence, this lens can be used to disclose and draw relations between the world of consciousness and the world of behaviour
3. The individual-collective lens (Multilevel or micro-macro lens)
Recognises the validity of the micro-world of personal events, the meso-world of group events, and the macro-world of socio-cultural events. This lens situates human activity within the spectrum of ecological environments – micro, meso, macro – and discloses connections between the local and global.
4. The lens of developmental levels (waves, stages)
Recognises the spectrum of qualitatively different shifts (paradigm changes) in personal and collective. Hence, discloses the developmental world of vertical development.
5. The lens of developmental lines (streams or domains)
Recognises the validity of various domains of development. Hence, disclose the complex world of multidimensional development.
6. The agency-communion lens
Recognises the validity of unifocal, self-directed realities and the multifocal, other-centred, communal realities. Hence, this lens discloses and connects agentic identities and relational identities.
7. The lens of transformational and translational change
Recognises the distinction between transformational change (stage-based spectrum of development) and translational change (legitimating change). Hence, discloses the need for both hierarchical heterarchical understandings of change.
8. The process/dynamics lens
Recognises the validity of evolutionary (ascending) and integrative (descending) dynamics. Hence, discloses the world of growth and the world of integrative sustainability.

9. The learning lens

Recognises the validity of single, double and triple-loop learning. Hence, discloses the world of learning through various stages of injunction, apprehension, interpretation and validation.

10. The lens of social mediation
Recognises the validity of personal and interpersonal processes of development. Hence, discloses the world of social mediation and the sociogenetic sources of consciousness and behaviour.

By the way I think that each of these lenses exists because they actually arise as a type of worldview perspective in individuals and in collectives. A healthy “worldview” is one where these lenses are balanced and appropriate to the demands of such things as age, social circumstance and cultural environment. We can therefore use a set of such lenses as a “balanced scorecard”. This integral balanced scorecard can give direction to how we can maintain, create and support healthier natural, social and educational environments so that individual and group development can freely and spontaneously emerge. Some of these lenses are specifically identified with Wilber’s approach others are incidentally referred to and others (such as the mediation theory are not referred to).

Russ: The vision that I get from what you have shared here is a marriage of lenses and levels. Cannot a case be made that each of these lenses can be understood developmentally? As I am sure you would be quick to point out, the power of an integral approach is the capacity to hold all of these, to include them in comprehending an occasion, a process or an episode. (And, by the way, while I use the balanced scorecard perspective in my work with clients, I am intrigued by the idea of an integral balanced scorecard and hope we can talk about that as we proceed.)

As for the absolutisms to which you refer, it seems to me that integral theory is about not having such limited explanations. Perhaps this stems from developmental addiction. As with other key terms, we need to create a shared meaning of terms for them to be useful. This term, development, seems to be such a core concept. I hope this discussion will elicit some clarifications about what we mean by development, for if we are going to use an integral approach not only to leadership theory, but also to leadership development we need to be clear about what we mean. Perhaps a place to begin is with the distinctions between horizontal and vertical development. We need to get a little clearer about these distinctions than simply labelling them translative and transformational allows.

In the broadest sense isn’t development about learning and unlearning? Prasad Kaipa (2006) treats learning as a discontinuous process involving both learning and unlearning. It seems to me that this is at the heart of the development process in all streams and in the streams collectively. And in the realm of leadership, leadership development involves learning and unlearning. As an executive coach I find that my clients who want to develop new behaviors also must let go of old behaviors, which are usually old habits. Making the change is as much about letting go of the old as it is taking on the new. I would be interested in having a deeper understanding of development from an integral point of view.

Also, you have introduced first, second, and third person perspectives, something you discussed a bit with Ken Wilber on Integral Naked and something you have written about in material for the Frank Visser site. This is an approach I very much favor, particularly in relation to the subject of leadership (although I do not intend that to be limiting). I have used this in an article I have submitted for review and possible publication. Having all three perspectives as they pertain to leadership might show up as follows:

First person is about the leader, per se. This is the interior-exterior of the individual and can be viewed from the perspective of the individual or by another person (researcher, follower/collaborator, competitor, etc.) Second person is about the collaborator(s). I like Joseph Rost’s (1991) distinction between follower and collaborator. This has implications for how we proceed and I will get to that in a moment. The interior-exterior can be “viewed” from the perspective of the leader, from the perspective of the collaborator or by another person. Third Person is about the collective, if you will—the culture, systems, processes, etc. Again, this can be described as viewed by the leader, the collaborator or by another person. Thus, the lens of personal perspective embraces quite a bit.

If we grant that there are developmental levels (stages) at all, these perceptions will be framed according to developmental level and/or state at the time they are made. In any developmental approach the relationship between stages and lines or streams can get very, very complex. Here is an area where it may be said that distinctions might be considered arbitrary since there is not empirically grounded single set to lines. We are free to use just about any combination of categories as will serve our purposes, ranging from a simple intellectual(cognitive)-emotional-physical-spiritual set to far more complex sets drawn from Howard Gardner (1999) or subsets drawn from Goleman et al (2002).

Perhaps this is a tangent, but in an interview I did with Ian Mitroff recently we talked a bit about his book, A Spiritual Audit of Corporate America (1999), which I might argue is another example of an application of integral theory or, at least, an integral perspective. He was very clear in pointing out that the research that went into that book was not about bringing some preconceived notion of spirituality into the study, but to elicit from members of businesses how they viewed spirituality. I consider this a very useful pursuit in that it is an outside view of internal-external variables related to a set of ideas under the rubric of spirituality. What may not be useful is even the assumption that spirituality exists outside the internal constructs of individuals, the behaviours they lead to and their collective manifestations in cultures and systems. A belief in a higher “being” leads to individual actions related to fulfilling or failing to fulfil the behavioural expectations of such a “being.” In turn this leads to relationships with collaborators in this belief and the formation of cultures and systems (structures, etc.) to express and support the continuation of this belief.

At the risk of offending all of my spiritually inclined friends to me this is all very, very strange stuff. Oh, I can observe it and try to be objective about it. However, most of what I see represented as some form of spirituality seems to me to be a holdover from earlier stages of development with no connection to anything higher. Well, maybe there is an exception. That would be the growing capacity to comprehend the “oneness” of it all. But I think we can arrive at that understanding without couching it in mystical terms. Certainly, much has been learned from spiritual traditions, including aspects of morality and ethics (yeah, I know they are two “different” things), the uses of meditation in health, the uses of movement in health, and so on. And much of it seems like excess baggage. That is a personal perspective that probably reflects my uneven or low level of development along one line or another (is there a spiritual line or is it just a manifestation of other lines?).

It seems to me that we are saying that integral provides a way of bringing together multiple perspectives and approaches, including methodologies for the study of anything. In the case of leadership we have already begun talking about it, but have fallen into the trap that most works on leadership have faltered on, namely, they do not define what they mean by leader and they do not define by leadership.

I find really exciting the prospect of building an understanding of how we can use the maps and methods of integral in this undertaking. I am very interested in looking at how we can do this while including the multiple lenses you have laid out for us. How do we create a “balance” (I prefer an alternative concept, like mix or integration—somehow dynamic equilibrium doesn’t apply here) in theory building, modelling and mapping? How do we achieve that integration in using the theory to make meaning, to comprehend leader and leadership, to look at the snapshots and the movies?

I am currently reading the United Nations Community Capacity Enhancement Handbook, which was referenced by Barrett Brown in an Integral Sustainability Center article on Frank Visser’s site. Barrett holds up this project as an example of the application of an integral approach to dealing with a human issue—HIV/AIDS—and shows the integral influences. This project has been reported on before in Integral Leadership Review in an article by Michael McElhenie (2005). An interesting exercise is to go through the workbook design and see if the integral influence is apparent. A core element of this program is about developing leadership. It is this kind of effort that holds the potential for us to learn a great deal from the empirical side of the equation. I am ardently looking for as many examples of application as I can find.

I agree heartily with you that world conditions have never before seemed to require nor have the potential to benefit from a phenomenon of leadership that has the capacity to address so many of the questions and issues you have raised. I look forward to our conversations shedding some light on how that might happen.

Mark: You make a good point in suggesting that each of these lenses might be understood developmentally. When used in conjunction with the developmental lens then we can, of course, look at levels of learning, mediation, communication, relational exchange, micro-meso-macro, interiors and exteriors, etc. The combinations of stages of transformation with any other lens, e.g. the individual-collective, or the task-relationship, or the transformation-translation lenses, can bring a lot of explanatory insight to any particular issue we want to investigate. But there are other situations where development is not the key issue at all. Often, it is crucial to restore real balance to a system in terms of its learning/educational styles, (i.e. reflective, hands on, conceptual, social), or its perspectival identity, or its communication processes before any issues of developmental levels is raised. For example, without a fundamental balance across an organisation’s interior-exterior dimension of identity – their cultural, sense-making processes and structures and their behavioural and operational systems, I would say that it is not advisable to use change interventions that rely on second-order, transformational development. In these instances we can bring a different set of lenses to consider the phenomenon. This is precisely what Bradbury and Lichtenstein (2000) did in the paper on relationality in organisations. There’s no mention of development and yet their paper is one of the most important contributions to an integral view of organisational life that I have ever read.

Ian Mitroff’s book that you mention is an excellent example of a type of grounded theory approach to spirituality in organisations. He and his colleague Elizabeth Denton found this deep spiritual emptiness in the people they spoke with. People just don’t feel that their working lives give them any meaning or spiritual nourishment or allow them to express their spirit in any real way in the workplace. Even though the workplace demands so much of people in terms of commitment, enthusiasm and engagement it gives very little back of a similar nature in return. Mitroff and Denton also identify four orientations towards spirituality – the personal prayer perspective, the “doing good” perspective, the cultural religious and the social justice perspective. Sound familiar? It’s interesting to note that Mitroff and Denton say of Wilber’s quadrant model (Mitroff & Denton, 1999 p. 27),

It is Wilber’s particular genius to have first recognised each of these four orientations with regard to spirituality, and then analysed how a robust approach to spirituality demands the integration of all four approaches. In other words, not only is each of the four orientations incomplete without the others, but also, and more importantly, each depends on the others for its basic existence and sustenance.”

I feel that organisations need to be grounded in an awareness and expression of each of these aspects of spirituality before any issue of transformational development is raised. Leadership is crucial to this and our views of leadership should reflect the dynamic and emergent environments that organisations both embody and operate in. As you are know, concepts such as bottom-up leadership, followership, sociocracy, industrial democracy, community and participative leadership are as much part of this changing view of leadership as the more standard charismatic models of transformative leadership. So, as you have shown in your own work, an integral approach needs to have a sophisticated understanding of leadership and management, an understanding that does not reduce the analysis of leadership to a discussion of altitude or developmental stages/levels. The lenses of mediation, dynamics, perspectives, and learning among others need to be added to the current AQAL lenses of quadrants, levels, lines, types etc. This makes the whole scheme more complex but, as I said earlier, I’m not scared of a little complexity. As the history of the psychological sciences shows us, it’s always better to start of with too many explanatory models than too few.

Leadership is a very complex part of the human social world and we need to reduce that complexity down to something that we can talk about, model, practice and make sense of. On the other hand, we also need to recognise that a very extensive tool kit of instruments is needed if we are to understand what Integral Leadership is really all about and how we might do a better job of researching it and applying what we find in a useful way.

—End Part 1—

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