Beyond Development to Unique Individuals Growing at Flow

Researchers now know that our current capacities are an individually unique combination of our biology (genes), our social/cultural support system (past and present), lifestyle choices, and our current psychological development.  Fifty years of intense Post-Modern research can’t support the “Blank Slate” concept that nurture is all.  The most accurate view is that nature accounts for at least half, but nurture may appear a heavier influence because nature seeks out compatible nurture.  In short, your teens don’t hang out with the paragons of virtue to whom you expose them; they seem to flock to those with exactly the same innate flaws.  At the mature level, we’ve all experienced lots of training and development programs that just didn’t last after-the-fact.   Most of the individuals participating can’t keep up the new behavior, even when they gave the program good evaluations at the close of the course.  Why?  Because, the individual’s current capacity is NOT a fit for either the program methodology or the actual new behavior.  One development program can’t fit all.

We notice that Type is popular in the Modern business world because, on a practical level, it works.  Type explains a large amount of the innate conflict among people and is a critical part of the way an individual fits a job.  One of the Post-Modernist complaints is that a mere 16 Types locks people into boxes that are too small to describe a unique individual.  Everyone notices that healthy people tend to develop their capability to move beyond innate Type preferences over time as Type-related failures continue to pile up.  The community calls this growth Type Development.  The development model below proposes that individual growth depends on where you start out, and where you get stuck depends as much on the social structure around you as on innate Type preferences.

In this article we will take a look at Spiral Dynamics and other adult development models in the context of individual Type differences.  We’ll use Kegan’s Subject-Object model, as expanded by Garvey-Berger, to help identify the bleeding edges of our own development, since a more developed individual obviously has more coping capability.  As a person identifies developmental edges, he can make conscious decisions about the actions to take regarding the holes in current capacity.  Many might use conventional development programs to expand their capacities.  Other people, however, find it more productive to leave the biggest gaps undeveloped and get scaffolded by a selected network of supporters whose natural capacities complement theirs.  A well-rounded assemblage of people with common interests can have adequate coping capacities, even if no single individual can handle the complexity alone.  As a side effect, coping well at flow frees up a lot of energy that can go to both enjoying life and moving up in our capacities.

A Summary of Constructed Developmental Models

The work of Clare Graves (ECLET), Don Beck and Chris Cowan in Spiral Dynamics (SDi) and Robert Kegan and Jennifer Garvey Berger’s research on adolescent and adult development all show the same clear path.  Development comes in stages, Kegan’s Orders of Consciousness or Garvey-Berger’s Forms of Mind, each of which correlates with mastery of additional neural networks.  Just as Piaget’s pre-operational children had to develop their neural nets to work with the principle of “conservation” before they were ready for arithmetic, so adolescents need specific neural growth to be ready for the next stage of cognitive development.

Both Myer-Briggs Type Development and theories discussed below start with the observation that individuals and societies “construct” mental models or world views that filter all their interactions with the underlying reality of the universe around them.  Garvey-Berger says we can consider ourselves held “Subject” to the limitations of the worldviews we hold.  Development is then about making more and more of our unexamined limitations “Object” by taking a wider and wider perspective.  When an individual succeeds in expanding his perspective to the point that significant neural development occurs, she can move on to the next stage of development.  Of course, we then encounter a new set of issues that hold us “Subject” and again, growth requires taking an ever-continuing wider perspective.  Graves call this process “Emergent Cyclical Levels of Existence”.

Graves’ Spiral theory of step-wise adult cognitive development proposes that as our brains mature and grow more neural paths; we are able to engage in more complex processing. Growth allows us to step beyond innate preferences (Type) and current capacity in a broad sense to conscious use of other capacities. These neurologically-based cognitive changes coalesce into discrete developmental levels called by Garvey-Berger Forms of Mind.  As we move up to more complex levels of cognitive development, we have more and more options available for processing information and dealing with our environment.  Unfortunately, those we leave behind at the previous level can’t yet follow our newly-formed, more complex thought processes and mutually-antagonistic antibodies develop between those at the old level and a group who have moved on to another Form of Mind (e.g. American politics).

The current economic and ecological crisis was predicable: stages of development become toxic before adherents grow into the next level.  People run into complex, insurmountable problems and bump up against conflicting ideas and broader perspectives that are incomprehensible to their current Form of Mind.  Obviously failing actions are recklessly repeated with increasingly ruinous results.  As Maya Angelo says, “we did the best we could with what we knew, and when we knew better, we did better.”  So, at its most basic, development is about doing better by knowing better. The more accurately your constructed mental models correspond to the real world, the better you will cope with your life conditions.

Robert Kegan points to the demands made by societies at different points in human history (his Curriculum of a  society) as being helpful for understanding why so many of us are now “In over our Heads”.  Clare Graves* looks at development not just as internal “Type Dynamics” but also as a Psycho-Social Dynamic between the current Capacity of an individual and the Life Conditions into which he is embedded.  Both report that the majority of adults tend to end up at their societal norm.  These models explore the developmental fit between the Curriculum demanded by 21st century Life Conditions and the Capacity of adults within our current culture to cope with the increasing complexity and rapid change.  The gap such analysis shows is not pretty.  We see it played out daily in the “culture wars” that gridlock world progress.   Elliott Jaques’s research shows that organizations prosper to the extent that those with greater cognitive capacity rise to the top, instead of allowing the incapable to “Peter” out.

Stages of Development – Orders of Mind / Bio-Psycho-Social Values Systems*

Starting in adolescence most healthy teens develop an integrated Ego centered on their Dominant, and if introverts add a healthy expression of an Extraverted Auxiliary.  Adolescence is a very individualistic, self-centered existence.  Growth into a Traditional adult Form of Mind involves the ability to take the perspective of the civilization and internalize the rules and limits.  Young adults become embedded into their society and join the community.  As cognitive growth continues, adults discover that the norms don’t fit and the limits may not make sense. A swing back to individualism occurs as the Modern mind unfolds.  Thus, development appears to shift back and forth between individualistic and group-centric Forms of Mind, producing a spiraling ladder summarized below.  Healthy, vibrant civilizations appear to have a good grasp on both a healthy agentive and a constructive community level, keeping a balance between conformity and diversity.

Diversity Generators (Individual)                          Conformity Enforcers  (Group)

Self-Sovereign Mind (Adolescent)
Self-Worth and Self Defense, Individuation

Socialized or Traditional Mind (Civilized Adult)
Revealed Truth, Stability, Limits, Planning, Rules

Self-Authored or Modern Mind (Renaissance Man)
Merit, Mastery of Nature via Objective Analysis, Principles, Solutions

Self-Transforming or Postmodern Mind (Communitarian Network)
Situational, Compassionate, Egalitarian, Shared Purpose

Second Tier-Thought Era or Post-Post Modern View (Systemic Flex/Flow)
Integrative, Interdependent, Functional Response to Chaos, Competencies

Not everybody develops at the same rate.  Many simply slow down at a level that is comfortable for their Type and micro-culture and find lots of companionship at the same level.  Graves identified historical cultures and current sub-cultures as drawing people clustered at a particular Form of Mind.  For example, Victorian England had a Socialized norm, while the Capitalist US has a distinctly Self-Authored flavor.   We might think of the memes drawn to a Form of Mind as explaining the content of Jung’s collective unconscious.  Others look at Forms of Mind as strange attractors, each collecting a related set of unique social memes that make sense to people who process reality at that level.

Unless people stop having babies, humans will have to move through every development level on their way to complex enlightenment, implying our responsibility is to meet people where they are, on their own terms.  A major job of change efforts is developing effective techniques to keep the entire personal growth path healthy and fit for current life conditions.  The appropriate response to our current environmental and economic predicament is then to help the each Form of Mind flourish as itself, not to force it, or the individuals embedded therein, to evolve into something else.

We see the conflicts between the first four levels above played out locally and globally in our current culture wars.  Making substantive changes via conformity regulation has two inherent problems: 1) Consensus takes a long time 2) It produces overly complex, “rules-based” solutions.  In a “stuck” society, agreement is more important than solutions. Unfortunately, with four (4) active Forms of Mind competing for control, there is no longer a social norm to pull development.  People are becoming stuck at early levels that lack the ability to cope with a complex technological world.  The mental models most are capable of constructing don’t adequately map the growing complexity of our post-industrial world.

Diversity-generation produces quick solutions to real problems without the need for agreement on the problem or the solution.  Graves referred to the last, diversity generating level above as a “second tier” because he saw its strength as increasing ability to cope with a complex system of multiple stakeholders at all the developmental levels below.

Constructive engagement with a Form of Mind

Clare Graves predicted stages of development become toxic before the adherents grow into the next level.  It is too easy to criticize such toxicity, instead of offering more compelling alternatives.  A practical criticism of Post-modern “enlightenment” traditions is their idea that we need to get everybody to a higher level before we can make progress.  Graves and Garvey-Berger suggest you can’t push this kind of evolution until individual people are ready.  In addition, as things fall apart, people become frightened and have less capacity to change counter-productive behaviors.  To diffuse conflict, use language and symbols that are attractive and meaningful to the stage of development you are addressing.

Type Development

Although Jungian Type theory implies people are born with stable Type preferences, we hear two continuing questions
1) Does my Type change over time?
2) How do I grow beyond the obvious limitations of my preferences?

One of the most obvious implications of Jung’s Psychological Type model is that our two Type preferences determine our strengths, but conversely the non-preferred function-attitudes create “blind spots” of varying significance for our ability to function in the world.  Graves puts it well when he refers to continuous interaction between our psyche and the “Life Conditions” in which we find ourselves.  Our underlying Type preferences predispose us to build mental models consistent with our Type.  If the models provide a good fit for coping with our current life conditions, we thrive and development may stagnate.  For example, SJ adolescents find their natural styles a much better fit with the life conditions predominating in our current education system.  Those preferring SP or N are continually stretched when coping with bureaucratic school structures.  N’s often blossom when moving to a University structure that fits well with their abstract thinking.  Artisans (SP), on the other hand, may find compatible life conditions in trade schools and community colleges where active, hands-on learning is emphasized.

Since adult development involves expanding our capability to work with our non-preferences when appropriate, it’s tempting to think that children should be encouraged to practice non-preferred functions early on.  However, evidence suggests that’s not optimal development.  First you need to become who you were born to be.  Then, after establishing a firm base in adolescence, development can begin.

Research shows that lack of clearly self-identified Type in adolescence is correlated with poor school performance and delinquency.  What appears to be most important is developing a consistent, repeatable approach to the universe.  A critically important idea of Modernity has been the concept that our material conditions improve in direct relation to how closely our mental models actually correspond to the underlying reality of the universe.  If an adolescent has an inconsistent approach to decision-making, it’s like trying to control your weight using a broken scale that gives random errors.  I can loose with a scale that’s always too high or too low, but to get results, the method has to be consistent.

We tend to focus on iNtuition and Sensing as our pathways to observing our universe.  However, even for dominant perceivers, what we observe is always shaded by our decision-making preferences.  Those with preference for Introverted Thinking look at the physical aspects of life conditions.  At the opposite extreme, Extraverted Feeling preferences concentrate on the interpersonal and social landscape.

The development path is not different for different innate preferences.  However, your preferences determine how easy or difficult the next step will be.  The more we need to develop non-preferred functions to get beyond our current world view, the more difficult the transition.  The more the next stage fits with our preferences, the more eager we are to master those neural processes.


Garvey Berger, Jennifer, Changing on the Job: Developing Leaders for a Complex World

Kegan, R. (1994). In over our heads: The mental demands of modern life. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press

Kegan, R. (1982). The Evolving Self: Problem and process in human development. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

* Graves, Clare, The Never Ending Quest Dr. Clare W. Graves Explores Human Nature; Christopher C. Cowan & Natasha Todorovic, Eds.

Beck, Don, and Christopher Cowan, Spiral Dynamics: Mastering Values, Leadership, and Change, Blackwell, Oxford, 1996.

Structure above Self-Authored

Elliott Jaques, Requisite Organization:

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