Episode 31: The Evolving Self 
with Dr. Robert Kegan

In this episode, Dr. Robert Kegan shares wisdom and personal stories drawn from his more than forty years of research and writing on adult development.  From caterpillars to poker to faith, Robert addresses the gift of our potential to grow, and ultimately our endeavor not to die.

Join Dr. Kegan & Keith as they deep dive into what it means to cultivate a developmental culture for yourself, and for those around you.

About our guest

Connect with Dr. Kegan via email, Minds at Work, or at The Developmental Edge.

Robert Kegan is the William and Miriam Meehan Research Professor of Adult Learning and Professional Development at the Harvard University Graduate School of Education. The recipient of numerous honorary degrees and awards, his forty years of research and writing on adult development have influenced the practice of leadership development, executive coaching, and culture change throughout the world.

Across Harvard he teaches regularly in executive development programs in the Schools of Business, Government, Education and Medicine. His seminal books include The Evolving Self, In Over Our Heads, The Way We Talk, and Immunity to Change, which is now available to 2.2 billion readers in their native language. One of twenty--among Harvard’s 2300 faculty--honored by the president of the university for his outstanding teaching, Bob has been on the faculty of the World Economic Forum’s Davos Conference, and had his work featured in such diverse periodicals as The Harvard Business Review, The New York Times Sunday Business Section and Oprah Magazine. His most recent co-authored book, An Everyone Culture: Becoming a Deliberately Developmental Organization, has already won several awards and is a business-best seller in Japan. A Chinese edition was just published this spring.

For the past several years, Bob has served as a trusted advisor to CEOs and their teams in the private and public sectors in the US, South America, Europe, and Asia. His clients are among the most recognized and respected leaders in the world.

On May 3, 2019, in New York City, Bob Kegan was inducted into a select group that includes Nobel Prize winners, Pope Francis, and Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones. The Disruptor Foundation recognizes “change agents whose trailblazing efforts have most beneficially disrupted the status quo.” Bob received the Disruptor Award for Lifetime Achievement to honor his “life-long contributions and innovations in the field of developmental psychology, which have led to ground breaking insights into the emergence of orders of human consciousness and the ongoing internal Copernican shifts that lead to self-transformation.”

A husband, father, and grandfather, he is also an avid poker player, an airplane pilot, and the unheralded inventor of the “Base Average,” a superior statistic for gauging offensive contribution in baseball. 

Episode transcript

Keith: Dr. Robert Kegan, it is, like, our gigantic pleasure to have you joining us today for the Growing as Grown-Ups podcast. Our audience has heard so much about you over the years, either in their sessions with us. We refer to you a lot. You've been foundational and your work has been foundational in our thinking, so I appreciate so much your time today.  

Bob: Thank you, Keith. It's humbling to hear all that and may I just say maybe for the benefit of your listeners who may not know it, that your doctoral dissertation written some years ago was, I think, a really important piece of work and a contribution, you know, to the developmental literature. So I thank you for that and we frequently make reference to it.  

Keith: Oh, thank you. That means a lot. I have to tell you, I feel like I lucked into that as sort of a naïve 30-year-old graduate student who just thought if I just write a bunch of really big company CEOs, surely they'll say yes and then a whole bunch of them did.  

Bob: Yeah. Yeah.  

Keith: So it was fun. Well, our audience knows some of this, but you've written, I think, five of the most important books in the Growing as Grown-Ups -- how we keep evolving and getting better space and the first one of those books written back in 1981 was The Evolving Self, and I just want to pause. Some members of the audience may have heard this, but there have singularly been two things in my life that I can point to as an event or a thing that changed the course of my life and The Evolving Self was actually one of them. It took me weeks to read it. I had to read a lot of paragraphs five times, but it made sense of everybody who I admired in a different way and so it changed the course of my graduate studies. It changed the kind of legacy that I want to -- hope to live out in my life and so thank you for that book.    

Bob: There's just, I have an enormous gratitude kind of for the fact that there are people who are still reading books and that you can reach and touch so many people who you will never have a chance to actually meet directly or talk with. It's just been an enormous gift to me in my life.  

Keith: I love that. You know, there's a commonality. There's a thread that runs through all of these books and the thread overtly almost is this constructive developmental theory what our audience often hears us refer to as "vertical development", as opposed to just learning more things which we generally refer to as "lateral development", and they also are pretty well-educated on the stages of development and understanding that roadmap for themselves in the ways that it accelerates development, but even as I have read through all of your books and see the thread come through, there has been a bit of an evolution in your thinking, the way you present things, things like that, but either as you sit here today or as you reflect back on your time through those books, is there -- I mean, what's more true to you today about developmental theory, whether it's the importance of it -- any direction you want to take that question -- but I'd love to just know what's become more true to you over the years?  

Bob: Well, at first, it's just certainly true that from my own perspective, I've just been writing about the same thing over and over and over and you can either say this is a reflection of a kind of failure of imagination, or you could say that it's a reflection of the fact that the phenomenon that I kind of got a hold of, fell in love with, you know, in my 20s is so rich and so fascinating and has so many different dimensions to it that it has continued the way that a good marriage can over decades and decades to just itself evolve into deeper and deeper forms of passion, basically. So yes, I mean, it's always  been about one thing, and that is how we honor the miracle of being alive, of being an evolving creature whose destiny is to keep growing and developing to transform and, not to be a nitpicky, but I have a kind of cherished feeling for the word "development" which, to my mind, only involves these kinds of qualitative shifts and transformations. There are lots of other important kinds of changes increasing your fund of knowledge, increasing your confidence, there are many other important aspects of being, you know, a human being but, to me, I understand the term "vertical development" and I can live with it but, to me, it always sounds in my ears like "shrimp scampi". I mean, it's -- to me, it's a redundancy. I mean that to me, all development, if it's really development is vertical in the sense that it is about the further unfolding and becoming kind of a bigger and better version of yourself.    

But I think that what's truer for me and the ways in which the work continues to keep giving me as much as I give to it, is the ways in which the most wholesome kind of expression of this work and of the theory and I mean that even literally the word "wholesome" in the sense of how you get your arms more fully around the whole of the project of being a human being involves kind of an equal recognition and respect for what I would call the second big endeavor of being a human being. I mean, the first big endeavor, as I say, is to honor the gift of our potential to grow and you know that a caterpillar is not meant to just become a bigger and stronger caterpillar. It has the potential to evolve wings and transcend its earthbound captivity and that is our first endeavor. But the second endeavor of a human being, which I think is kind of less appreciated, less welcomed, less welcomed, actually and less-respected, but is also incredibly important, this second endeavor is our effort -- to put it most starkly -- to not die, okay. I mean, we want to live, we want to keep growing and developing, but there's also another side of us that wants to make sure that we don't die and you can call it the self-protective side. I think it's very undervalued to refer to it as the defensive side of personality. I think that, you know, we are the most successful species on Earth that can adapt to any environment and survive as long and well, you know, as we have not just because we have the capacity to grow, but we also spend a lot of our energies, you know, looking out for danger and risk and loss and the  psychological translation of the endeavor to, you know, to not die is basically to not suffer what feel to us like unacceptable losses and that whole dimension of personality is absolutely, itself, valuable.    

You know, our public institutions, our workplaces are very welcoming and appreciative of our expression of the first endeavor. The whole language of growth and improvement and so on is very consonant with, you know, for example, the language of business but our second endeavor, our need to protect ourselves, our need to defend ourselves from what feel like unacceptable losses is a tremendously important part of the human experience and it is not as appreciated or welcomed in within the context of work. It is often consigned, if anywhere, you know, to the private quarters of, you know, an executive coach or something who's sworn to confidentiality and any explorations of your anxieties or your worries, which are just a huge aspect of work life and life in general, you know, is consigned to some kind of marginal and private space and I think that you can't -- it's one thing to kind of, from a distance and with a certain kind of -- researchers hat to kind of try to chart a descriptive trajectory of development, which is kind of where I began in my work, but once you shift from a kind of researcher stance to a practitioner stance where you actually want to know whether you can refine your own instrument to be helpful to others in this endeavor of growing and developing, you must -- you know what feels truest to me -- you must also have a powerful way of engaging the fearful side of development the loss or imagined losses that are inherent in the whole project of leaving behind a whole way of knowing oneself and knowing one's relationship to the world, all of which has to undergo a kind of -- maybe it's too dramatic to say a kind of "death before a rebirth" to kind of evoke, you know, Christian metaphors -- but some kind of dramatic shift which is initially experienced as a loss and I think the -- what feels truest to me is the need to be holding on not just to the miracle of development, but to a bit of the agony of it and our need to be as responsive to that as we are cheerleaders for people coming into a bigger or more evolved  sense of themselves.  

Keith: This ties so much into the immunity to change, our stuck-ness, right, and the fear of losing that status quo is, in its own way, a death. I think you're worried about the death of a relationship or your influence or your trajectory and your career or --  

Bob: Yes or the nature of your loyalties and whether you'll still be known and accepted within a community that has understood you and that each stage of development is, yes, I mean, it is a way of composing knowledge, it is a way of making meaning, but it is also a social contract. It goes on in a social world and you know, Erikson's original insight that we need to take a psychosocial perspective. I mean, I think he almost invented that term. I think it is so true that you need to hold on to both the psycho, the psychology, the individual developmental journey, but it can never truly be well understood without simultaneously and dialectic holding on to the social dimension of it, that this developing always goes on in some social context so changing yourself, growing in the ways that you make meaning always involves having to renegotiate a kind of social contract and that can be perilous. It can feel like a death, it can feel enormously difficult, it depends a lot on how plural the environment and culture one is living in. I mean, it's one thing to discover that you are living in a world, in a social world that's expansive enough to actually re-contract with you and welcome you into the more complex self that you have become. And if in fact the contract became a kind of prison where I will -- you will only be included and you will only be respected, you will only be loved or you will only be protected if you basically will remain the person that you were, then the social environment is more captivating. It's more constricting and that kind of situation makes then the prospect of honoring the first endeavor, honoring your own growth, a much, much more risky and costly feeling kind of endeavor because it can feel like in order to honor the forward motion of my own growth, I have to actually give up, abandon, or be cast out from what has been a precious social context.  

Keith: Mm. There is, you know, I'm curious what you think about sort of the paradox of allowing sort of our competing commitments, the column three column, four kinds of things. It's almost ironic that if we hang on to those too tightly, it seems to me that we're almost guaranteed realizing that death, that we're afraid of happening, but when we have the courage to honor the growth side, as you're talking about it, we realize the truer version of the thing we were actually trying to protect.  

Bob: Absolutely, but this is just looking at it kind of from the individual side. I mean, I think there's -- we also need to look after the social side. That is what are the ways in which we all not only look after our own growth, but support the growth and development of people around us by being, you know, more sensitive to the perils of growth and development? I mean, I certainly -- I think one of the things in terms of this sort of question, like, not so much how my thinking has changed, but more what are the further dimensions of it that I see kind of developing over time, it's just a much greater respect, you know, for the agony side of development, it's very easy to be a cheerleader for development to appreciate, you know, its liberating qualities, especially when one is going through a particular transition. Let's say the transition from three to four, you know, the most common gradual transformation in adult life, that it's very easy when one has gone far enough through it that you are more toward the four-ish side -- if I can use that language in the three or four transition -- and the sense of a new voice and the sense of one's increased personal power has started to grow the sense of that kind of almost a kind of liberation. It's -- I mean, it is breathtaking to behold. It is a joyous occasion to celebrate and it is easy, you know, to valorize it, but I think that we do our whole human community, and you can even look at this in the bigger socio-kind of political context, a disservice if we are not also sensitive to and resonating to the first half of that transition, when one is experiencing much more than the kind of liberation and the new power of the fourth order, but where one is basically essentially feeling the loss of the third order.    

And in particular, I mean, another way of saying this is that one of the things we can celebrate about our current period, I mean, the last, I don't know, 50 years or something like that is that there's been a much, much greater degree of social support to non-dominant subgroups, who are disadvantaged in the dominant narrative that is basically constructed by white heterosexual men and that if you are in an unfavored category, if you are a person of color, if you are a woman, if you are gay, if you are fat, if you are any -- if you are physically challenged, any category which really has suffered in the dominant narrative, there has over the last, you know, I think since the 60s, let's say, we have done a much, much better job creating a community of support and ultimately supporting a kind of personal liberation, a kind of self-realization where one has a greater capacity to free oneself from the stage three imbibing of a narrative that puts you at a disadvantage. That there's more support for reconstructing your own narrative and that has been, you know, I think at the social and socio-political level, kind of the great triumph of the last 50 years that more and more people who've been disadvantaged by the dominant narrative and frankly, their dominant allies, you know, their white allies as well, you know, have found a greater support for their development.    

But, the work that is not done and the way in which we're currently suffering and the way in which the culture is so divided and the whole manifestation of this ideological fracture, you know, in the country that was, you know, galvanized by Donald Trump and so on, I think needs to be respected and not just responded to with dismay, but to sort of recognize that for many, many people, this greater support for what we're calling a kind of liberation and growth can feel like a pressure and can feel, if you are firmly within the third order, it feels like a kind of push that you're not ready for and it can feel to you like the ground underneath you is giving way, and you are going to be then, you know, terrified and the second job to not die becomes the preeminent job and, you know, we're living kind of with those with those forces.   I don't know if you want to get a question in here, but what what's coming to mind right now are a few concrete stories that bring this to life, and if you want, you can cut this little piece out of the tape, but I'm kind of thinking it would be a good idea to just continue on this vein if it's OK with you.  

Keith: Yeah, bring up the concrete stories and I'm curious as the audience is listening to this conversation, practically, how do you bring -- the second job, how do you shed more light on it? How do you -- this dealing with the self? I'm -- what I hear you saying is, "Give more light to the to the second thing and not just the thing that seems like the--", of course we all want to grow.  

Bob: Right.  

Keith: All the advantages of that, weave that all together for us and I doubt we'll cut it out.  

Bob: Ok. Well, here are some of the, you know, instances that kind of come to mind that I think bring to life kind of the insufficiently attended to side, the earlier side of any of these transformations, but let's particularly, you know, base it within this very common but still extraordinary transformation from stage three to stage four. So here are a few quick stories. We can come back to sort of what constructive developmental theory, what kind of light it sheds on our current political situation.  

This story starts in 2016, the day after the presidential election and, you know, to my great surprise, and I think to his, Donald Trump, you know, who was elected president and I found myself as I went to my office realizing ten minutes into sitting down at my desk, I was not going to be able to get any work done that day. I was just so destabilized and surprised, kind of by what had happened in the country. So I just got in my car and I just started driving with no destination in mind and -- just to kind of feel some sort of like movement, it was sort of a space for meditating, basically -- and I did that for over an hour, you know, just driving down a highway and I looked up, you know, like, "Well, where the hell am I?" you know, and I -- this will let your listeners into some other aspects of my life.    

But I looked up and I realized, I'm in Connecticut. You know, I live in Boston, I'm in Connecticut, and I'm actually not far from Foxwoods Casino. It turns out that from the age of 13 or 14, I've been an avid poker player and when the casinos only relatively recently started to open poker rooms, this became for me like a whole other space of recreation and pleasure and I have all kinds of friends from all walks of life who, you know, don't know me other than just, you know, I'm Bob and I'm a guy that they see at the poker table. And the poker table actually is a really wonderful American setting in the U.S. in the sense that if you -- if I were to ask you, "Can you name a kind of arena where people of very different social classes and ethnicities, gender will actually play together as adults?" I think it's pretty hard for you to come up with one. I mean, adults will play, you know, go off and play golf or whatever they will do, but they will tend to do it within their particular rather homogeneous social circle. One thing about a poker table is that you just have people from all walks of life, you know, sitting there together, playing poker and by the way, if you think -- if you thought for a moment that because you're a Harvard professor and you're so smart that you somehow have an advantage over, you know, a truck driver who never took any school after high school and when they when that guy's taking all your money at the table, it's a very humbling and important lesson with respect to what is intelligence and the very many different kinds of intelligence there is. So the poker table for me is has always been, you know, a really special kind of sanctuary.  

So I saw that I was, you know, near Foxwoods and so I, you know, for whatever reason, I thought, "Well, maybe this will just take my mind off everything. It'll be just a wonderful activity to just kind of stop thinking about what does it mean to that country just did what it did" or that our electoral system works in such a way that a majority by several million voters can pick one person and another person ends up being the president, and so I went to the poker table as a refuge. So I sit down there and I'm, you know, I'm in my familiar element and I'm beginning to think not about politics, but about the possibilities of making a flush or a straight and I kind of look up and I see there are two people wearing red MAGA hats at the table and eventually -- not right away -- but eventually, because there's a lot of talk that goes on at a poker table that has nothing to do with the poker, eventually, somebody points to one of the guys with the MAGA hat and says, "Well, that was quite an election last night, wasn't it?" and this leads to a conversation clearly among only those people at the table who had voted for Trump, of which there were several, and there were clearly a number of us who did not, and we said nothing. We basically just listened and what I was most struck by in the conversation among the people who were happy with the outcome was that there was no spiking the football, there was no kind of beating one's chest in pride, but there was basically an expression in 2016, the day after the presidential election, an expression of relief.    What they were basically saying was, "I thought my country had fallen asleep and now it has awakened," or "I felt like I had lost my country," and I assume, you know, what they were talking about was if a black man running the country, you have a much -- you have an agenda that feels like it's serving people other than me and the feeling was, you know, exactly that. One of one of enormous relief and the expression of the kind of disenfranchisement that so many of them felt and I think that...There's no way to get your arms around what has been happening in the country since Election Day in 2016, right through to what happened on January 5th, I think it is, with the insurrection. There's no way to really get your arms around that without also understanding, I think, the level of loss and of fright and pain that a very large number of people felt in this country, you know, in the years leading up to the 2016 election. Ok, that's just one story. Let me give you another one that's a little briefer and then I'll stop with these three stories and you can just kind of respond to them.    

This is a story of a -- I had the privilege to work with a number of clergy from different faith communities who were getting interested in the possible value of constructive developmental theory, for thinking about being the leader of a faith community and many of them -- one very common theme, whether they were priests or rabbis or ministers, was that they were changing the nature of their prayer service to have it feel like it would be more resonant to the younger adults and kind of newer parents and newer leaders of families who they felt were -- felt that the that the liturgy and the service was kind of more fitting kind of to their parents who are now aging out and they were feeling like, "We need a new vessel," you know, for bringing the -- whether it's the gospel, you know, or the Torah or whatever it might be and, in a sense, what they were kind of recognizing was that they had many congregants -- adult, young adult, older adult congregants -- who themselves were moving more from stage three to stage four, and who are less inspired by a of faith community or a worship service. It was essentially about just kind of taking your place within a faith that was being delivered to you by the authority of the church or of the rabbi and that if the faith community was going to feel resonant to them, they were going to need -- it was going to -- these, you know, clergy, were going to need to honor the self-authoring fourth order capacities of more and more people in their congregation so that they would be not just faithful believers, but themselves a little bit more like theologians or themselves kind of constructing their own versions of what it meant to be Jewish or Catholic or whatever it might be.    

Fascinating, right? So we work together on ways that they might do this, and many of them reconstructed the nature of their liturgies, they -- just as an example, they did sermons that were much more interactive instead of it being kind of the truth from on high. It was a much more dialogue, dialogical kind of experience and just like we were talking about, you know, before Keith about how you can celebrate, there's a -- celebrate the way this is working for the many people who were, you know, in the fourth stage or moving into the fourth stage and how it led to an influx of energy, you know, within the congregation. You can't lose the fact that for some people, these changes were enormously disruptive and upsetting, and it all came to a head for me with a rabbi who I'd had a scheduled meeting with to check in on how things were going in his congregation and, you know, he initially, he said, "I thought this was going to be basically a call of celebration and appreciation because tremendously gratifying things are happening in our synagogue and the kinds of energy and connection and deeper engagement. We had parents who wanted their kids to be Jewish but had no real interest in the synagogue themselves. They would drop their kids off at the curb, you know, for Sunday School or Saturday school and think, 'This is a great thing for kids. It was a great thing for me when I was a kid,' but basically, religion isn't really for adults with independent minds," and that's -- that has all shifted and so many of them now have a strong -- o it was lots, lots to appreciate.  

Keith: Wow.  

Bob: And he said, "But this can't be the only kind of chord in this communication because I had a very disturbing experience and I just want to share it with you, Bob," and he proceeds to tell me about a woman, you know, in her, I think, you know, late-thirties comes to see him very distraught and what she basically tells -- what you basically tells him, and just basically, "I have a question for you, Rabbi," and he can see that just in the delivery of all this, she's distraught and what she says is, "I have been a faithful attendee to the Sabbath, the Shabbat service every Friday night and Saturday morning, you know, since I was a child and I went with my parents and we always sat in a certain spot, you know, in the synagogue and I sat next to them and I said the prayers with them and as they got older, I helped them walk down the aisle to find our seats and when they passed on, we mourned them together and I continued to go to those services, and I've never sat in that seat without essentially feeling my parents still sitting next to me and those services have been such a meaningful experience of continuity for me, of my love, and my connection to my parents even after they've passed on. And you have completely changed the service. It is nothing like the service I experienced with my parents or the service that I experienced long after they passed on and I just have this question for you, Rabbi," and I can feel myself just even as I'm telling you the story, the emotion that was underneath what she was saying because the question to me is so poignant. What she said was, "I trust you and I know you want to be a good leader of our synagogue, but the question that I have for you is: is the way that we were worshipping -- are the prayers we said to God all these years that I heard my parents say and that I came to say and that my children heard me say. Were they wrong, Rabbi? Were we praying wrong all this time?" That was her question.  

Keith: Wow.  Bob: And I think, if you -- it's that kind of feeling that I think can allow you to have a kind of compassion for the feeling of still being very anchored, you know, in the third order and experiencing that the world around you is basically pressuring you to what feels like the dishonoring and the replacement, I mean, this is what we hear today about replacement theory and, you know, in Charlottesville. That, you know, you can have nothing but contempt for neo-Nazis walking in hoods in Charlottesville, chanting that the Jews will not replace us and as a Jew myself, you know, I'm incredibly disturbed and angered by a chant like that one but what I also think about, you know, when I hear even that word "replace it" is the angst of that woman for whom the support to discover your own voice and move into stage four doesn't feel like this enormously welcoming, new, open arms to reconstruct the social contract but feels instead like a dishonoring, a replacing, and a loss of something that has been so precious to her all these years. That's the second story. You want to hear the third one?  

Keith: Yeah, bring it on. Bring it on.  

Bob: Okay.  

Keith: I mean, what I keep integrating into this is our second job is not to die and this is not physical death, but it's experiencing their death to their way of knowing.  

Bob: Exactly, exactly.  

Keith: And that can really happen at level three or at the self-authored level four. You got to give that -- You've got to allow it to die in order to -- I mean, this is -- keep going, keep going.  

Bob: But you're exactly right. That is exactly the point that we can't just -- if you think of development, a developmental transition as a kind of bridge, you know, and you have one stage at one side of the bridge and you have the next stage at the other side of the bridge. We cannot just stand on the further side of the bridge and just tell all the people that are over on the other side of the bridge, "It's great over here. Come on over here. It's great. You know, it's going to be wonderful," when for those people, they're not even sure there's a bridge to you. They're not sure that they're just walking off a cliff, because what you're basically asking them to do is leave the solid ground, the solid ground of, let's say, whatever that stage is, stage three and you know, you're not --- they have no proof that there's something over on this other side and they don't even know if they're going to get there.  

Keith: Yeah.  

Bob: Let me tell you the third story. This, you know, all of these just come out of my own, you know, very, very privileged life of being able to, you know, kind of interact with so many different kinds of people. I have had a wonderful doctoral student, Muslim woman, adherent to the Islamic faith, but appropriating Islam as one will any religion and potentially can be appropriated at different stages. That's why I always say that like, you know, like a stage three Jew, just to take an example, may in some ways -- or let's say a stage four Jew may feel in some ways they have more in common with a stage four Catholic or a stage four, you know, Islam believer, than they do a fellow Jew at stage three. Even though they're worshipping out of the same text, the notion of how they can be appropriating it personally and not feeling necessarily that they must be bound to some kind of Orthodox rendering of that faith, they feel a kind of, you know, resonance with people of a completely different faith who also can appropriate that faith, you know, in a more fourth order way, which is certainly at least the level of complexity with which my doctoral student was appropriating it.    

So I remember talking with her in the years after September 11th, 2001 and that conversation stuck with me because I didn't know what to do with it at the time and over the years, I've kind of come back to it as itself, kind of another specimen of the -- what I heard at the poker table or what I heard from the rabbi in his office with the distraught, you know, congregant and in this conversation with this Islamic doctoral student, I basically asked her at some point, "What is your understanding of why fundamentalist, you know, Islamic people would hate the West?" and she gave me this look, which I've seen many times before, and in a flash of a second, I interpreted it as, "I know my answer, but I'm not sure I want to tell you. I'm not sure you're ready to hear it or I'm not sure how you will respond to it," where I can see the person kind of, they know what they want to say, but they're trying to decide whether to say it.  

Keith: Yeah.  

Bob: And that can all happen in two or three seconds, you know? But I could see that she went through that and she finally decided that she was going to tell me this. And as soon as she told me, I could well understand for many reasons why she would have had some hesitation. But what she finally said to me is, "I'm going to tell you something I've never said to anybody," and she said, "I think it all fundamentally comes down to sex." I was like, totally surprised and, you know, I was like, "Say more," and she said, "You have to understand that fundamental radical Islamic -- you call them 'terrorists' -- this activity, it's basically fueled, first of all, by Islamic men. There may be women, they get brought into the fold and who will be a party to these violent activities, but it's all being led by men and you have to understand the psyche of the Islamic men. And you have to understand how fundamental to the world order and personal identity of an Islamic man is the absolutely unquestioned norm and conviction that a woman's sexuality and her choices about how she's going to be, you know, a sexual person are completely in the control of men and of the Islamic culture, and that is always been how it has been, and that is how an Islamic man understands his own manhood, and the absolutely single most destabilizing dimension of the Western message, which we are no longer able to protect ourselves from, which is spreading throughout the world, a message you would probably call or I even," she said, "Would call a message of freedom and a message of greater personal liberty, the way that message is being interpreted by many Islamic men is a complete and utter destabilization of their own identities, their own notion of what it means to be the head of a family, and the notion that a woman should have her own freedom to determine and make decisions about her sexuality, about who she is sexually intimate with -- you have no idea in the West how enormously triggering that kind of promulgating of that kind of freedom might be," and she said, "I've never said this to anybody. I don't know that any Islamic person would agree with me," and just for the benefit of your listeners, I want to say I'm telling you this story not to necessarily even confirm the truth of what she's saying. I mean, she could be like, totally wrong, but I think what she's saying is incredibly interesting and to whatever extent, it might be true, even for some people, it does give you a window into the second job of making sure you don't die, that that's what you are looking at. That's what you're looking at.  

Keith: That's life or death.  

Bob: Exactly.  

Keith: That's life or death.  

Bob: Exactly. Exactly. Now, just take these three stories, just sit with these three stories for a second. You know, the Trump poker players, the faithful parishioner whose whole service has been changed, the Islamic man whose whole identity and sense of personal power and manhood and so on is now being at risk. You begin to -- if you want to think about the amygdala, you know, if you want to think about the part of the brain that is scanning for threat and danger and think now about the phenomenon of something like "mass triggering". Think about, you know, a whole community, whether it's, you know, millions of people in this country who will not look at science because it has been politicized and been made into a kind of anti-Christ or whatever it might be, or fundamentalist Islamic men and you're looking now not at just a given individual, you know, being triggered, but a whole community of being triggered where the threat level has gone, you know, to the brightest red. The sirens are at their absolute loudest and you have to have kind of an appreciation for that, and of course, your next question you've already suggested it is going to be, "OK, what can we do about that?" and I have to just admit to you, I feel much less eloquent and clear about that but I'm quite clear that finding some way to better appreciate the loss that people are experiencing from the push for them to develop faster than they're ready to, is absolutely kind of like our present need, you know, in this country and kind of on the planet.  

Keith: Wow. Wow. And one of the things that I'm hearing you say and this is -- I, you know, I feel like I stay in this space 24/7/365 for a couple of decades now, but I haven't thought until these three stories, until this conversation, about what it means to actually embrace/give voice to the fear associated with that affiliation becoming destabilized in some way.  

Bob: What we need is a much more, you know, a humane and positive and compassionate way of responding to that fear, rather than basically leveraging it and using it to galvanize a community, which is then also providing you the second thing that you're so in need of, the feeling that I am part of a group of fellow believers and I have found my people. That is also, you know, a desperate hunger, and we need to find ways to provide community for people at any developmental stage that isn't so shot-through with this kind of, you know, triggered threat and reaction to, you know, an imagined loss.  

Keith: Yeah, and so for those of us that are trying to facilitate growth in people, “don't be silly”, it is not a very helpful response to those fears.  

Bob: Exactly, exactly.  

Keith: Yeah, and it's -- I love that in the poker table story -- "Tell me more," right? "Tell me more. I want to hear more," and I do feel like it's one of the things that we've challenged people to do is find people that see things -- have different affiliations than you do, see things differently than you do and kind of move into the "tell-me-more" space which I think, maybe also -- I mean, I'd love to hear what you think about -- I think that helps me address my own fear in some way as well, even as I may be trying to make space for their fear to have voice.  

Bob: Yeah.  

Keith: And to have compassion and understanding and not try and stuff it under a rug and tell them, "That's dumb,"  

Bob: Exactly.  

Keith: Wow. So powerful. So, Bob, tell me in your world right now, what are you most excited about? Where's your energy?  

Bob: Yeah, I'm happy to do that, and it's not it is not unrelated to these kind of high-concept analyses of the difficulties that we find ourselves in. Not unrelated to that at all, but it is highly practical. The thing that most has my attention in terms of how I spend my working hours is really an effort -- and most of the of the organizations, and most of them are companies and businesses of different sizes -- They wouldn't necessarily think of the work in these terms, but the way I would describe it is the effort to create new kinds of communities within work spaces that enable people to be more human with each other and to support each other's growth and development where these communities will inevitably include people who are at very different stages in their development and who cross the whole political spectrum.   One of the organizations we've been working in for a number of years, for example, is a healthcare company where you have actual numbers of people working in those companies who, for example, don't want to take the vaccine and they have to find some way of holding on to their community, and still honoring kind of the differing beliefs of their colleagues. Now the ways that this work essentially gets taken up by enlightened leaders is not in a totally altruistic spirit that they want to just help their people develop.  

They recognize that their organizations and their companies are only going to go as far as their people will take them and they recognize that the aspirations that they have, the missions that they want to deliver on in their companies, actually are going to require greater degrees of fourth order meaning making in the organization.   And that work has led us into, for example, a whole new frontier on the assessment front. We've developed a very robust population-wide measure of the distributions of mental complexity within a population. It doesn't take more than 15 or 20 minutes for each person to respond to a set of questions which then get fed into an analytic process. It doesn't lead to giving any individual a score and telling somebody, "You're at this stage." It's not an individual measure at all. So it's completely, in that respect, anonymous, but what it does for the leadership, what it does for the community as a whole, you show them a picture of what are the distributions of the different stages within this population, and it can be sliced and diced to compare the people in North America, from the people in Europe, or the more senior people or whatever,  And what these -- what the measure almost always demonstrates and shows is just what you would expect. That the modal stage is not the fourth stage that you have a very, very large number of people who are at the third stage or somewhere, maybe even early in the transition from the third to the fourth. So the measure at one level, first of all, kind of shows you that you need more, to put it simply, you need more fourth order capacity in this organization, which just increases the desire to change the culture in such a way that we can be supporting more people's development and we can, a year later, give everybody the same measure and see whether or not the population as a whole is actually growing.   We've also, coming out of the work we've done on the DDO -- the Deliberately Developmental Organization -- created another robust measure which measures "How developmental is your culture?" How strong is it in these three dimensions we talk about in the book Home, Edge, and Groove? How much is it psychologically supportive? How much is it usefully challenging? And how robust a set of regular practices and ways that you spend time together are on behalf of development? And each of those three categories has a number of subcategories, and those measures will always show that there's some ways in which, without even realizing it or recognizing it, you've done a great job making the culture more developmental, and it also shows you the optimal areas that need to be strengthened and every question on that measure asks things like, the question might be like, "What's the climate for making mistakes in this culture?" and you answer every one of these questions twice. You say, "What is your honest assessment of how things are on a one-to-five scale now?" and the second question is, "What would you like it to be in your work setting?"  

Keith: Yeah.  

Bob: Those results always show a gap between how developmental the culture is and how developmental people want it to be, and that has a wonderful shifting effect that it's not some outsider, some brainy professor or something coming in and saying, you know, you need to have your culture be more developmental or people say -- the leaders say -- "How do I get my people on board without having a more developmental culture?" and I say, "That's the wrong question. Your people are already on board. Look at the results of this measure. It isn't me saying you need to be more developmental, your own people are saying they want the culture essentially to be more developmental. Now you have the opportunity in your leadership to help close that gap."   So these two measures have been very useful, and then what we've been doing in these in these small groups, at scale, using these kinds of technologies so people have it on their computer screens and their iPhones and so on, is to scaffold the meeting of small groups where people learn to bring their humanity, not just their pedigree, to the group and where people are working on their day-to-day work challenges, but they're working on them in the context of their own improvement project. "So I know I need to be a better listener or a better delegator, or be better with conflict or whatever the thing might be, and I have an immunity to change map that I can put on the screen, and we can all see my limiting assumptions in the fourth column and so on." So when we work on the work problems and challenges, we're not just trying to fix them or give advice to each other. We're also trying to use the work challenges to help me with my own, my own assumptions, my own developmental project as to how I be better as a delegator or with conflict.  

The reason I'm explaining all this and the reason I think it does connect with the earlier conversation we had, is that I do think people hunger for community, even more so in the COVID era, where we have less and less time actually together, and to be able to create spaces where people with different beliefs and from different positions can come together, connect first of all around their vulnerabilities, around their worries, is a much more salutary way of creating a holding environment or a community than one that plays on people's fears and basically leverages their fears into a reactionary political movement.  

Keith: So good. I know people can get the book Everyone Culture, but what's the best way for people to find out more about what you guys are doing for organizations and how can they contact you -- website, whatever -- what makes the most sense on that, and we'll also include whatever you give me in the show notes as well.  

Bob: Thanks. Ok, I'll give you three things. First of all, we have kind of these two sister organizations that -- one more of a home base for immunity to change work, the other more of a home base for the Deliberately Developmental Organization, two very collaborating organizations -- and they each have their own websites. One is mindsatwork -- like your mind -- which is one, and the other is so those two websites will bring you into a world of resources and opportunities, but I would also say to folks listening that if you just want to be in touch personally, I'm happy to just give you my email address and have you contact me directly and talk about how we could be of help to you, and that email address is a simple one. It's just  

Keith: We'll make sure that that's right --  

Bob: --, for me to think of them. Though they were -- Harvard is the first corporation in America, but OK, it's "edu".  

Keith: Bob, you've been so generous with your time for our audience, for me. Thank you so much. What an engaging, enlightening, thought-provoking, scary-at-times conversation, and I can't tell you enough how much this means to us.  

Bob: A pleasure, Keith. Very happy to reconnect with you and all the best to you and to all your listeners.  

Keith: Thank you, Bob. We'll talk soon.