Integral For the Masses: Avoiding the Elitist Trap

Keith Bellamy

Keith BellamyI am making the assumption that you are reading this on the screen of your computer.  If you happen to be one of those individuals who prints copies of this newsletter and reads at a time and place that feels more convenient than on your desktop, laptop or any other preferred device, the following is just as pertinent to you.  I have a couple of questions that I’d like you to ponder:

* Just how much do you understand about the technology that you are using to gain access to these words that I am writing?

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* Does it really make that much difference that you do not have numerous PhDs in Computer Science and Electronic Engineering in your being able to allow the technology to serve your everyday needs?

Oops! I was slightly economical with the truth. I have a whole load of supplementary questions to ask such as, are you kept awake at night pondering the latest development in silicon substrate technology? Or do you wonder about the light frequency utilised by your CD-Rom drive laser and how it might be tweaked to achieve higher storage capacities? Perhaps it is the algorithm implemented in your operating system to achieve effective semaphore control of critical resources that you meditate on in your spare moments?  Then again, understanding the intricacies of IP protocol version 6 routing might just be the topic that fills your day with joy?

Now I know for sure that a very small minority of you will have answered yes to each and every one of these questions (and in some cases expressed exasperation that I have not asked much more telling questions about such subjects as electron diffusion at sub-nanometre separations).  On closer examination this small community breaks down into two groups: those who are concerned about these topics as part of their working life; and those anoraks and geeks who for some reason, totally lost on me I hasten to add, who are drawn to such subjects to alleviate some inner void that they might be feeling in their lives at this moment.

I am guessing that the vast majority of you are thinking, “What the hell is he talking about? What’s this to do with Integral Leadership? And has poor Russ Volckmann finally lost his marbles asking a crazy Brit to contribute to his excellent newsletter?”  All that I can ask is that you stick with me a little longer and all (I most sincerely hope) will become clear.

In the course of our day-to-day lives we have become accustomed to using technology as a tool to assist us in accomplishing an extremely diverse range of tasks.  Yet rarely do we take a moment to ponder the machinations of the boxes that we choose to deploy.  When we switch on a light we do not need to know about the local substation that is supplied by the national grid (well in the UK it is) that connects to coal, gas and oil fired power stations not to say nuclear plants both at home and in France.  Similarly when we take a glass of water or drive our car or switch on the TV or do any mundane activity, we never take the time to understand what is going on hidden inside of the system that allows us almost mindlessly to perform our desired task.

There seems to be one area where this is not the case-this is the nub of my argument-and that is in the application of Integral Theory especially to our leadership activities.  If the Gurus and Mavens of the Integral world are to be believed to be “Integral” requires us to completely understand the theory that underpins our actions and to discern whether each step that we take is truly integral or not.  Balderdash (if I might be allowed to use such inflammatory language)! The greatest barrier, in my opinion, to the adoption of integral approaches to the many problems that we face in our personal lives, families, workplaces, communities, countries and the planet as a whole is the creation of the perception that “Integral” is for the elite few who ascend to the lofty heights of second tier and continuous non-dual awareness.

don’t get me wrong; I am not knocking the adoption of personal growth through the use of Integral Transformative Practices.  I am not suggesting that any of us should abdicate our evolutionary right to attain higher levels of consciousness on our journey through this life.  With most studies suggesting that less than 2% of the world’s population operate at the Spiral Dynamics 2nd Tier that Ken Wilber believes is the entry point for integral thinking, it is wrong to start establishing a new elitist class of individuals who are blessed with the ability to act in an integral manner.

The world needs Integral Leadership.  More importantly, it needs Integral Leadership now! If the challenges that we are facing at every level of our individual and collective lives are to be tackled, we cannot afford to wait for the mass acquisition of higher stages of consciousness.  We need to find ways to deliver integral techniques and approaches to those individuals who function at the Spiral Dynamics first tier yet influence decisions that affect the lives of millions.  In situ leaders in the worlds of commerce, politics, community building, etc. do not have the time to meditate every day in order to achieve the two or three stages of development necessary for them to be called Integral.  We need to devise ways that allow leaders of every shape, size and colour to operate in an integral fashion even though they are not considered to be truly Integral.

Our colleague at the Integral Leadership Development Peer Seminar [A recently concluded 5-month online/telephone seminar with participants from England, Canada and the United States], Jonathan Reams, has coined the term “Integrally Informed Leaders” to describe the challenge that we face in creating cohorts of individuals whose every decision is influenced by all facets of Integral Theory.  We need to consider Integral Theory as being akin to the deep technologies that allow us to switch on our computers and communicate instantaneously to colleagues anywhere in the world.  We need to develop First Tier User Friendly interfaces into the depths and potential that Integral Theory can deliver without waiting for those who wish to access it having to wait until they can understand fully what is being presented.

When I take the time to stop and peruse the landscape of the Integral Movement as a whole, I am reminded of a many-thousand piece jigsaw puzzle where the picture on the box has been lost.  The pioneering work that Ken Wilber has undertaken with his army of supporters out in Colorado has managed to complete the edge of our puzzle and provided us lesser mortals with a framework within which to work.  Sure there are some who might argue that even the edges are not complete yet, but that’s a topic for another column I think.

There is, I believe, feverish activity taking place in many centres to try to fit all the pieces of the Integral picture in place.  Some of the major features of the picture include education, consultancy and coaching. These are like the sky, the ocean and the mountains that form the backdrop to the puzzle that we are attempting to solve. What is missing at the moment is the fine detail that will give our picture its vibrancy and life.  These are the tools and techniques that will allow Integral Theory to permeate our lives almost as fast as I-pod ear buds seem to be spouting in our children’s ears.

Now like a good soap-opera scriptwriter (how’s that for an oxymoron?) I am going to leave you hanging until the next edition of this fine newsletter.  Over the next few months, I hope to explore a number of techniques and approaches that will assist leaders to be integrally informed in their decision making processes whilst not necessarily being at and Integral level of personal development.  I hope that you will join me on this journey, and more importantly will contribute your thoughts and ideas about techniques and approaches that need to be considered.

One final thought.  I have a hunch that by introducing these techniques and approaches into the world, that they have the potential to act as a catalyst which will help expedite the transformation process of individuals to an Integral Stage.

Keith Bellamy is an independent consultant to businesses in Great Britain. He formerly was an IT executive and a futurist for Barclay’s Bank. He is active with Integral and Spiral Dynamics groups in London.