A postscript to ‘How I Choose my Models’

With a view to referencing it in the Agendashift 2nd edition I’ve been checking out the new Cynefin book Cynefin – Weaving Sense-Making into the Fabric of Our World (Dave Snowden & friends). It’s a book with many contributors and I wasn’t 100% sure what to expect but I’m enjoying it! If you have any interest in Cynefin I would definitely recommend it.

Despite appearances, this post isn’t about Cynefin. One contribution by Anne Caspari and Johann Entz von Zerssen really resonated with me, especially these two paragraphs from Anne (quoted with her permission):

I (Anne) come from 15 years of critical engagement with integral theory, adult development, and all kinds of change theories. When I started working with these theories and frameworks, they helped me immensely. They opened up my thinking and gave me a means to counteract both gross and subtle reductionism in practical work. This was especially helpful to me in my project management work in environmental planning and sustainability contexts. Adult development theory also helped me understand some of the phenomena I encountered in coaching and leadership work.

Over time, however, I experienced a growing scepticism around a new kind of reductionism that crept into most applications of these theories that often went unobserved by the respective communities. Examples include developmental bias (“we need to develop people”) in large parts of the integral theory scene and some very formulaic and linear applications of change theories (“step 5: find deeper meaning and purpose”).  Since this kind of uneasiness is hard to pinpoint and address, I just noticed that I kept away. I settled at the fringes of these communities and did my own thing. 

Yes! This! Exactly!

Anne’s struggle is the same as the one that triggered (via an outburst over Zoom of which I am not proud) the How I choose my models post. And the really funny thing: Andrea Chiou, the target of my outburst agrees with me. Violent agreement is a strange beast! From our Slack channel #what-i-am-reading (I pasted the above quote there as soon as I read it):

It is the ‘we need to’ of the ‘we need to develop people’ that annoys me. It separates ‘us’ from them -> increasing the gap between the ‘experts’ and the underdeveloped others.

And yes, you are doing your own thing.

It has been in fact a very interesting few weeks, one of those times when you’re really glad to be part of a diverse and supportive community with knowledge in areas I’ll never be expert in. My gut instinct hasn’t changed, I stand by every every word I wrote in How I choose my models, and yet I’ll be referencing some of that developmental stuff (caveated of course) in the 2nd edition.

The title of a new 6th and final chapter, Up and down the Deliberately Adaptive Organisation, is inspired by Robert Kegan & Lisa Lahey Laskow’s Deliberately Developmental Organisation (DDO), a model described in their interesting but slightly scary book An Everyone Culture. The surprise (not least to me) is that the DDO model comes from the same stable as Adult Development Theory, my “trigger”! I’m grateful to Jonathan Sibley for pointing me in that interesting direction, also to Teddy Zetterlund for some earlier seed-sowing.

I’ve learned that living by these three bullets of mine is harder than I thought:

  • Models that have withstood scrutiny over a length of time
  • Models that treat the individual’s agency, creativity, and problem-solving ability with the utmost respect
  • Models that help to scale up the preceding

If I’m not going to ignore a ton of potentially valuable and relevant work, there’ll be times when I will need to remind myself that the model, my reaction to it, and the reactions I observe in others or fear from them, are different things. What helps to win me – albeit cautiously – over to DDO is that this is part of the model itself. Not in an especially self-aware way methinks, but it’s a start.

A last word to Jonathan, which I apply first to myself:

A great challenge is to build a model and then hold it lightly. And sometimes, followers hold the model more tightly than the founder does!


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