Integral Futures and Strategy by Maree Conway

I have been trying to post this most excellent article since it appeared in the APF Compass and it also appeared on Maree’s blog.

I bet you will love it as much as I do! Enjoy!

Surfacing the intangible: Using integral futures in strategy

by Maree Conway

There are many forms of integral thinking and at their deepest level, these cognitive frames allow us to explore the development of human consciousness. I was introduced to Ken Wilber’s Integral Theory when I was studying strategic foresight, and its use has changed how I approach my work and how I think. Like any framework or model, it won’t suit everyone (they usually call it flawed) and it’s only useful if it’s useful in the context in which it’s applied.

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Until now, I have used integral mostly in stealth mode in my work. Honestly, a lot of people aren’t ready for integral. They want the single right answer and they want it now so they can solve the problem and get on with their work. Conventional strategic planning gives us this process where we focus on the plan rather than how we think about the future the plan is intended to move us towards. The glossy plan becomes the holy grail, and our thinking is trapped in today. If you are reading this post then I am hoping you agree that this sort of approach to problem solving and preparing for the future is both ineffective and waste of our collective energy and resources.

A Gap Between Doing And Thinking Strategy

Wanting the right answer immediately is all about the doing of strategy – ticking a box, following a process, getting an outcome that can be measured, moving on to dealing with the next problem, living in the short term. These sorts of responses to change generate thinking about the future as a project. We observe the future as disconnected from today, we package it up by following the strategic planning process, writing words that sound like change is happening (usually in the form of a restructure), then measure it to see if the strategy has been executed effectively. Or the executive group comes up with a strategy and presents it to the organisation and says go forth and implement my plan.

This is what I increasingly call strategy in a box, contained, seemingly controlled, with seemingly measurable outcomes that are supposed to inform everyone’s work. This is about doing strategy. It’s about doing something, using a process that keeps our thinking trapped in today.

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Doing strategy ignores the human factor in strategy. It ignores the reality that unless each person understands the rationale for change from their perspective and wants to be involved in the thinking around how to respond to change shaping their organisation’s future, to co-create our future, it matters very little how perfect your strategic planning process is or how good your strategy looks on paper.

Jeanne Leidtka (Strategy as Experienced, Rotman Magazine, Winter 2011, pages 29-38) talks about this as both knowing and feeling strategy, to experience strategy both cognitively and emotionally.

Putting the human back into strategy development is strategy that has closed the gap, escaped the box, that has people and collaborative processes at its core. This is about thinking strategy, moving beyond the conventional. It is this thinking about strategy that strengthens decision making and problem solving because it starts from the future not only the past and the present.

Using Integral To Connect Doing And Thinking Strategy

An integral mindset connects the doing and thinking in strategy development. Integral Theory is complex, multi­faceted, well researched and contentious. Like any model or framework, it’s use is context bound and helpful if it helps to understand something better. A primary organising concept in Integral Theory is the four quadrant framework with which to view human consciousness and action. These four quadrants each represent a particular dimension of reality and a particular perspective on the world that are structured around interior/exterior and individual/collective domains.

This graphic shows my interpretation of the Wilber’s integral four quadrants to highlight what we need to pay attention to when we are crafting strategy.

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The right hand exterior quadrants are where we do strategy, where we identify change that matters, where we create change management and strategic planning processes, write strategic plans, where we have annual workshops, produce KPI reports and create new goods and services. We need this work but doing strategy in this space alone will not result in the changes organisations are seeking to help them respond proactively to change. In Leidtka’s terms, we know strategy here in the rational, cognitive sense here.

The left hand quadrants are the realm of human consciousness and organisational culture. Intangible, non-empirical and tacit in nature, this is where we think strategy. We feel it, understand it emotionally. This language alone is enough to send strategic planning aficionados running in the opposite direction. You can’t develop a KPI for someone’s ideas about or images of the future.

The left hand quadrants are where we hold beliefs and images of the future of our organisations, and where our responses to change when we are asked to do new things are generated. It’s where we as individuals either accept or resist change or buy into a strategy put in front of us. These decisions are usually informed by our unquestioned assumptions and cognitive biases. Here we also draw on our understandings of our organisation’s culture and the unwritten rules about ‘how we do things around here’. The impact of our thinking in this space is generally sub-conscious. In Leidtka’s terms here, we feel strategy, we have an emotional reaction to it.

“It’s not hard to see why conventional strategic planning approaches are contained in the strategy box in the right hand quadrants. The left hand quadrants are messy, can’t be measured, developing KPIs is hard, and they tap into feelings not data.”

This left hand quadrant space requires that we have processes to engage people in authentic ways, to involve them from the beginning to the end of the strategy development process. To make the decision to engage with people and culture in the strategy process is of course akin to opening Pandora’s box — it will bring all the elephants into the room. If we are to be futures ready however, we must re-connect people and process.

Integral In My Work

I have kept integral on the back burner in my work since I learned about it in 2002-2003. I occasionally used it with audiences that I knew were open enough and ready enough to understand and not dismiss the framework. People who understood that dealing with complex change, wicked problems, a VUCA world – whatever we call the environment we operate in today – required more than a good change management process to ensure strategy is implemented in meaningful ways. They understood the value of thinking about what goes on in our minds and the influence of culture on the actions we take every day. They understood that their people underpinned and would shape the success of their organisation’s future.

As a result, I focused my business mainly in the right hand quadrants on the doing of strategy, on helping people scan and identify change that mattered for their organisations. Using scenario thinking helped me inject the future into the strategy process to help them shift their thinking and to identify future facing options. We worked together to write strategy documents that avoided the formulaic approach of conventional planning approaches.

In this work, I often felt and listened to their exhaustion and frustration at dealing with the conventional planning approach that they just couldn’t accept in their hearts and minds. I was grateful when they said scanning and scenario thinking had opened their minds to the future. I was working in this conventional strategy box while trying to push its boundaries as far as I could.

It is, however, now time to get strategy out of the box to move my work from, as Richard Slaughter says, the pragmatic to the progressive futures space. To make visible in my work how I re-frame strategy development using the integral four quadrants. To challenge the formulaic strategic planning approach we now might tweak and change, but still use. To value people and culture as much as process. To surface diversity of views about the future to create possible futures and value what’s possible as much as we value data and forecasts to create the one certain future.

To integrate thinking and doing strategy to perhaps create a space first where we gather to think strategy, to feel it, to acknowledge our emotional responses to what our bosses what us to do, to work collectively them what needs to happen next. Where our thinking is expansive and divergent.

The outcomes of that thinking need to be written down as strategy and that does need a box of sorts. We need convergent thinking in this box to focus on doing, to getting things done, to enacting the strategy. This is a new strategy box however, because it’s not the fixed box of conventional strategic planning; instead its sides are permeable, letting new thinking in as it emerges, adjusting processes as needed, focusing as much on KPIs as on making sure the strategic questions are right — rather aiming for the right answer.

“The integral frame scaffolds the thinking activity in the left hand quadrants and the doing box in the right hand quadrants, integrating people and process in strategy development.”

This integrated space connecting thinking and doing is where I need to position my work in an overt way from now on, doing away with integral in stealth mode. That might mean less conventional jobs like one day introductory workshops on foresight that others can do better than I can anyway. I hope it means working with people on projects, establishing a relationship, working out how to bring my now isolated clients into a new collaborative space where we can have a continuing collaborative conversation about using foresight in practice.

 

Is Warfare Endemic to the Human Condition?-by Craig Perry

As a military veteran with over two decades of experience in the Intelligence Community, the single question that most concerns me about the future is whether warfare is endemic to the human condition. Throughout my course of study in the UH Foresight program, I’ve often wondered how we will fight future wars, or what might precipitate such conflicts – but I never for a moment doubted that states would continue to utilize the military instrument of their national power for the foreseeable future. Warfare has been a recurring theme of human interaction since the dawn of history, and it has only grown more violent and destructive in the modern era. The persistence of armed conflict is consistent with the “realist” theory of international relations, which holds that states will maximize power in an anarchic international system without regard to their domestic political or social dynamics.

Yet when we were asked to conduct a “mental time travel” visualization exercise a few weeks ago, I found myself imagining a distant future without warfare, where “international” disputes are routinely handled without resort to violence. At the time, I struggled to explain how such a future could come about absent some global cataclysm or extraterrestrial threat, but I didn’t have to wait long. In A Theory of Everything, Ken Wilber presents an integral vision of existence, applying an “all-quadrant, all-level” approach to individuals and collectives in both their internal and external dimensions. Building upon the Spiral Dynamics model of social change, Wilber has created a highly complex and comprehensive theory that he uses to describe and understand virtually anything, including the behavior of nation-states. As I read his book, I began to realize this might be the explanation I was looking for.

According to Wilber, each individual passes through discrete developmental stages, from egocentric to ethnocentric to “worldcentric” and potentially beyond, as he or she matures. These same stages or levels – identified by color-coded “memes” – can be extrapolated to the collective to explain how societies operate, and they presumably describe human development anywhere in the world at any point in history. Each society manifests its own particular distribution of developmental levels – its “memetic mix” – among its population, and whenever enough people begin to exhibit an emerging level of consciousness, society’s developmental “center of gravity” moves further up the spiral. For example, during the Enlightenment, leading-edge philosophers embraced the “orange” meme, which over time spawned scientific breakthroughs, capitalism, the Industrial Revolution, and various political revolutions, producing a gradual shift in the collective memetic center of gravity from traditional “blue” to more modern “orange.” Something similar happened after World War II, as much of the “boomer” generation adopted the more egalitarian “green” meme, according to Wilber.

As a society’s center of gravity drifts, its members begin to see the world in different ways, and its leaders are more likely to pursue policies consistent with the predominant meme. This would presumably apply to international relations as well: states where the ethnocentric “blue” meme prevails are likely to view others as threats, while “orange” states may treat them as competitors. In the “World 1” societies of Europe, North America, and the Asia-Pacific region, where the “green” meme is becoming more pronounced, liberal democracies often take less confrontational approaches to international relations. For example, members of the European Union have abolished borders, adopted a common currency, and surrendered other aspects of their sovereignty to supranational institutions, while committing themselves to collective security – an outcome realist theory simply can’t adequately explain. Clearly, power is not the only consideration motivating these states.

If states at a particular level of development tend to behave similarly, and those at different levels behave differently, then this would suggest that the behavior of a state can change over time as its developmental center of gravity moves up or down the spiral. This does not necessarily imply an end to warfare anytime soon, however. So long as revisionist powers like Russia and China remain at the “blue” or “orange” levels of development, threatening their neighbors and flouting international norms, the United States and its allies will have no choice but to remain ready to defend themselves and their interests, with military force if necessary. Over time, perhaps, Russian and Chinese societies may develop further, prompting these great-power rivals to change their ways – but other “blue” regional powers and “red” rogue states will likely continue to seek influence through force. Therefore, while the likelihood and severity of conflict may gradually decline in the future, warfare will not soon vanish from the international scene.

Moreover, continued development further up the spiral is not a sure thing. First of all, while more people appear to be operating nowadays at the “green” level of consciousness or higher than ever before, approximately 70 percent of the population in America and Europe remains at the “blue” level or below. This suggests that, as the leading edge of society embraces ever-higher levels, the rest of the population largely lags behind, becoming increasingly heterogeneous and complex. Second, while leaders are more likely to operate at a higher level of consciousness than the rest of society, they cannot generally implement their visions without the buy-in of those they lead – meaning they will have to package their proposals in terms the population understands, and perhaps forego some of their more visionary ideas. Third, as such leading-edge perspectives become mainstream, then pass into the realm of tradition over time, people operating at lower levels of consciousness may begin to defend past progress against future innovation, making further development even more difficult.

Such social development is also not irreversible. On the contrary, now that modernity and postmodern egalitarianism have opened up a “Pandora’s box” of global interdependence and transnational threats, some societies seem to be regressing to previous levels of development, devolving into nationalism and protectionism and rejecting values once embraced as universal. Such lower-level memes appear to be reemerging in the US, Europe, and elsewhere, as the “establishment” – social elites, government institutions, mainstream news outlets, even civil norms of behavior – comes increasingly under attack. Such seemingly disparate phenomena as President Donald Trump, the British vote to leave the EU, even the success of Islamist political movements in the wake of the Arab Spring, all display signs of unhealthy spiral development “holons,” where the various levels remain unreconciled to each other or the world around them.

Applying Wilber’s integral vision to international relations doesn’t mean that we’re concerned only with politics, however. On the contrary, the “all-quadrant, all-level” model suggests that we should examine individual beliefs and behavior, as well as cultural and systemic phenomena. Such an approach reveals complex interactions within societies, where changes in each quadrant can influence the development of the others. For example, technological innovations such as social media have obvious implications for our culture, behavior, even the way we think about ourselves. Similarly, “progressive” political ideals, such as those enshrined in the US Constitution or the EU’s “ever closer union,” may encourage citizens to embrace the better angels of our nature, driving societies to ever-higher levels of consciousness. Conversely, countervailing influences, such as the legacy of American slavery or Russian malign influence in its “near abroad,” may retard social development.

I believe Wilber’s integral model can offer fresh insights to the field of international relations, and my preliminary analysis suggests that humanity may one day “grow out” of its tendency towards violent international conflict. If I am to more fully develop an integral theory of international relations, however, there are several questions I need to tackle:

  • Is Spiral Dynamics a universal mechanism of social change, or did other (World 2/3) societies develop differently? Have societies always developed this way?
  • What factors contribute to the movement of a society’s center of gravity up or down the development spiral? What can cause this movement to accelerate or reverse?
  • How are emerging memes propagated through society? What role do leaders play?
  • How would a second-tier (“yellow” or higher) development level manifest itself in international relations? What distinguishes this level from the “green” meme at the societal level?

If you would like to contribute to this site please contact integralfutures@aol.com

 

The Integral Perspective in International Relations according to Craig Perry

perry_UHCraig Perry is a Masters in Foresight student at the University of Houston who is also interested in Integral. In our conversations, he has brought up some interesting thoughts which are posted here:

“For example, the U.S. doctrinal “spectrum of conflict” as linear escalation from peace to war seems to me a “flatland” approach, addressing only the external behaviors and artifacts of warfare. Our adversaries often operate in a more nuanced, even sophisticated manner that factors in the internal dimensions of psychology and culture. An Integral approach would be particularly useful in what we used to call “military operations other than war” such as counterinsurgency (COIN) and counterterrorism (CT) operations. COIN is all about “winning hearts and minds” and building partner capacity to provide its own security – which has everything to do with the upper-left and lower-left quadrants. CT is typically more kinetic, but it also requires a sensitivity to local culture to ensure we don’t inadvertently inspire more recruitment and facilitation.

Spiral Dynamics plays a role as well, as security means different things to people at different levels of development – and a lack of security can drive which level of development predominates, as Maslow surely knew. I believe, for example, that “realist” theories of international relations best explain how states at the “blue/orange” levels tend to interact, but once states begin to exhibit “green” tendencies, more cooperative options like liberal intergovernmentalism become viable. If this is true, then an eventual end to war becomes a plausible alternative future.”

It is my intention to post on this site as many perspectives on Integral and Integral Futures as I can find. So if you would like to contribute or know someone who would, please contact me at integralfutures@aol.com.

Masters of Strategic Foresight (MSF) Wake Melbourne 25th November 2016 By Richard Slaughter

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In late November some 150 people turned up at the Kelvin Club in Melbourne for a private function to celebrate the success and mark the imminent closure of the MSF program at Swinburne University. The original program was set up in 1999 at the invitation of the then VC, Iain Wallace, as the Australian Foresight Institute (AFI). With Barry Jones as its patron and an experienced and capable board, it soon acquired a distinctive national and international profile. As is well known I was appointed as Foundation Professor of Foresight and ran the AFI until 2004. At that time a new VC was appointed who pursued a very different agenda which, for reasons best known to himself, included closing all the university’s institutes. The foresight program was then absorbed into the Business School. Peter Hayward took over the directorship and ran the re-named MSF for the next decade. The program will close in 2017 after 17 years.

During that time perhaps 200 ‘mid-career professionals’ have taken the program or, in some cases, taken units of particular interest from it. Listening to those who undertook the course one hears many variations on a consistent theme. That is, how it changed lives, allowed people to see the world and themselves differently and, in the end, to discern new personal, organisational and social options. So while the program had its ups and downs it will be remembered as an outstanding success, and one of which all those involved can be proud. And more have been involved than can be named here. They know who they are and thanks are due to each and every one of them.

It was fitting that Joseph Voros, who’d taught in the program longer than anyone, was the MC for the evening. His enduring penchant for formal wear received expression during the evening with many choosing to emulate his spotless dinner suit. A space was also made to remember some of the colleagues who were no longer with us: John Batros, Frank Fisher, Richard Neville, Jan Lee Martin and, of course, Adolph Hanich. Adolph was, in many ways, the genial ‘godfather’ of the AFI / MSF. He’d not only provided the original suggestion that led to its establishment but also enduring support and encouragement throughout.

Yet this was by no means a heavy or solemn occasion as evidenced by the many vibrant conversations taking place between people who’d shared both the frustrations and joyfulness of the course. Peter Hayward, also in formal attire, was in high demand to be thanked and pose for photographs with appreciative students and others.  The Sass and Vibe Quartet performed in a cappella (unaccompanied) mode, to the delight of all. Finally a brilliant dash of humour was added to the mix with the Foresight Foursome. This was the brainchild of Bec Mijat who worked with artist John Corba to produce delightfully witty caricatures of Joe Voros, Peter Hayward, Rowena Morrow and myself. These ‘luminaries’ were re-named as The Voroscope, Captain Foresight, Madam Tomorrow and, for myself, Richard A. Sorcerer! Hopefully this initial group will be expanded over time.

Sass and Vibe provided a farewell musical wind-down and the after-party moved downstairs to the bar where conversations continued well into the night. Overall, it was a highly successful event that all who were there are unlikely to forget.

Further information

AFI history and program: http://foresightinternational.com.au/archive/afi-history-and-program/

AFI foresight monographs: http://foresightinternational.com.au/archive/afi-foresight-monographs/

Remembering: http://richardslaughter.com.au/?page_id=1230