Quantum Social Science Bootcamp

This week, I participated in the “Quantum Social Science Bootcamp”, a webinar that introduced and discussed how different topics and fields can be redefined as we move from assumptions associated with Newtonian mechanics to those associated with Quantum mechanics. The presentations ranged from QM to metaphysics, Buddhism, international relations, cognition, game theory, law and decision-making theory and more.

The presentations also ranged from “quantum realist” to “quantum like” approaches. This is a key distinction where a quantum realist approach means that you claim that psychological and social phenomena are, in essence, macroscopic quantum phenomena. One such example is Alexander Wendt’s book Quantum Mind and Social Science, where he argues that we are walking wave functions and that social life is a manifestation of quantum coherence. Other proponents of linking quantum effects with consciousness are Roger Penrose and Stuart Hameroff. A common and obvious argument against this is that quantum phenomena can only be observed on a small quantum level scale and that the brain is too wet, warm and noisy to sustain quantum coherence.

The “quantum like” approaches imply taking insights, models and tools from quantum mechanics and applying them in e.g. decision theory or behavioural economy to give better explanations of quantitative results than established classical theories that can be traced to Newtonian assumptions.

I understand this distinction as being between an ontological and an epistemological application of QM and I am not yet convinced that the ontological application is valid. Despite Wendt’s and others’ arguments, for me, there is still a big step to explain consciousness from mechanisms valid at the quantum level.

However, I see the epistemological connection as natural and a good example of how a breakthrough and paradigm shift in one field have ripple effects in other fields. Or when similar shifts occur in several fields due to some other underlying cause. One such example is the insight that you in the quantum world cannot measure a particle without at the same time changing its state, thus questioning the classical assumption of the neutral (3rd person) observer and properties being inherent in the object. One interpretation of this is that the measurement equipment becomes part of the system that is measured (Niels Bohr’s interpretation). This is reflected in psychology, where a measurement, such as an interview or survey, will affect and change the state of the responder. This is exemplified by the Clinton–Gore poll questions, where some respondents were asked whether they think Clinton is trustworthy and then the same for Gore. In contrast, some other respondents were asked to assess Gore first and then Clinton. The results between the two orders were very different; asking about Clinton first and then Gore giving 50 % and 60 %, respectively, whereas asking about Gore first and then Clinton giving 68 % and 57 %, respectively.

The notion of superposition, i.e. a particle can be at several positions at the same time until we make the measurement, can also be applied in human information processing and decision-making. It should also be noted that the relationship between QM and other research fields is not unilateral. Some tools and concepts were also imported from psychology to QM.

One reflection I make is that I see a similar shift in other fields. This winter, I attended a conference on complexity leadership. Here, many argued that they represented a new paradigm in leadership theory that was finally gaining traction, as it challenges individual and leader-follower-based approaches. This reflects a corresponding shift from a reductionistic and Newtonian mindset to a complex and relational one. And yes, there is a field of leadership study that’s denoted Quantum leadership (not discussed at this webinar).

If we take the relation between quantum and social phenomena as epistemological, then I think a fruitful path forward is looking at our mindsets and meaning-making, which we study in adult development psychology. In my work, I argue that these shifts are reflected in a corresponding shift in our meaning-making, from formal logical thinking (according to Piaget) and a third-person perspective to more complex modes of thinking, e.g. dialectical thinking, and higher-order perspective taking (forthcoming). And this argument is relevant also for the ontological connection between QM and social science.

This adult development perspective does not assume that there is a rational or correct way to view and engage in the world, as opposed to delusional and irrational ways. Rather, we make meaning in different ways with varying degrees of complexity, which have consequences for our models of reality and our ways of acting. A question I am pursuing now is how reality, e.g. in terms of time and space, is perceived from the different perspectives and ways of making meaning.

A final illustration is the Ouroboros that one of the more influential quantum physicists John Wheeler made to illustrate how we are always participating in the universe that we try to study. For instance, how we change a particle’s state as we measure it. Wheeler’s somewhat alchemical image comes from Atmanspacher and Rickles’ Dual-aspect monism and the deep structure of meaning (2022) but was also shown at the webinar by Amanda Gefter, who gave a fascinating story of the relation between Wheeler and his protégé Peter Putnam.

OuroborosBelow is a figure I made four years ago illustrating a 4th person perspective, so I suspect some archetypal qualities to be present in the motif.

Perspective fourth order

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Collective intelligence course at Santa Fe institute – June 2023

Last week I participated in a short course on collective intelligence at Santa Fe Institute (SFI). I’m engaged in collective intelligence, leadership and development from an adult development perspective, so I thought it could be interesting to get insights from the field of complexity studies that SFI engages in. One could argue that collective intelligence is an emergent phenomenon from individuals coordinating and acting together. And this doesn’t necessarily imply humans but could also involve insects, birds, cells and any living organism – as well as artificial intelligence.

The course took place over three days at Santa Fe Institute and online (where I participated) mainly through presentations and some panel debates. Collective intelligence, most of the presenters argued, is more relevant than ever due to the complex challenges of our time and examples of the opposite which could be referred to as groupthink or collective stupidity. But what do we mean by collective intelligence (what is intelligence?), which assumptions or first-order principles do we rest upon when exploring this topic?

Collective intelligence can be understood as individuals coordinating their behaviour with other individuals to form coherent collective decision-making and behaviour. You are an individual, but you are also made up of various parts in organs, tissue and cells that work together, so the question can be approached from several levels.

Coordinating action and collective decision-making require communication to take place between the members or parts. This can be in the form of visible cues such as bodily movements like a stock of fish avoiding a predator or aiming for a target or fireflies coordinating temporally when they light up. It can also be in the form of chemical signals, pheromones, that ants use to coordinate their movements when foraging for food. A shorter path to the food source means more ant traffic intensity, which implies a denser pheromone trail inviting more ants to choose the shorter way.

Another way of passing on information could be in the form of stigmergy, introduced by Guy Theraulaz and coined by Pierre-Paul Grassé, which is when an insect’s action is a stimulus to another insect’s following action. For instance, if a social wasp encounters a half-built comb with an apparent “hole” in it, i.e. a position with many adjacent walls, this will be a stimulus for this to build a new cell.

These are also relevant for us humans as we may assume that communication is verbal in nature. Is passing an unwashed coffee cup in the sink or seeing some litter on the street enough stimulus for us to act? It could also be a half-developed theory that invites for completion. For us, these actions from non-verbal stimuli in others’ actions can be more or less conscious and we may get drawn into a collective behaviour we never intended. Design can be understood in terms of stigmergy as a way to encourage certain behaviours.

From an information theoretical perspective, a common question is how to communicate and store information with minimal loss or distortion of information in the process. This has been exemplified in the work with LLMs, or Large Language Models, such as Chat GPT. This is trained on a vast amount of data, but the internal representation of this, the neural network, much be a very condensed representation of this. How well and accurately it can perform is then very much a function of how it can represent this training text corpus of linguistic data.

One question here that relates to the second half of the term collective intelligence is how we assess how intelligent an AI model is. Which measures are relevant to use? Typically, we only assess the output of the model and this was also the prevailing perspective in the other studies and presentations. There were several discussions and examples of mathematical modelling and simulations of collective behaviour based on the appearance and behaviour of the collectives. But there were very few arguments and insights around what’s going on inside the individuals.

One such exception was the study of the perspectives of fish presented by Iain Couzin which aimed to take the (visual) perspective of the fish. He also argues that computation can be understood as an emergent property of the entire network of fish and that this network can sense environmental changes before any individual can. Computation is made by the network in a similar way as individual fish are practising “voting with your feet”. If a sufficient amount of fish (or influential fish individuals) aims for a target, the entire school will at some point choose that destination. This has similarities with decision-making in mammals’ brains.

Seeing the entire school of fish as a collective with emergent computational, and thus cognitive, properties is a very useful perspective to be applied to us humans as well. How can we consider an organisation, a movement, a country or our species as a collective with emergent cognitive properties and shared identity? There is, however, a difference between studying human and non-human collectives in that we have access to the interior of the former. We can experience human collectives from the inside whereas the non-human collectives were typically addressed from an outside third-person perspective as black boxes to be modelled as simply as possible. But can we as individuals really grasp and reflect on our collective cognition and behaviour?

The only presentation that explicitly addressed social and collective intelligence in human social settings and addressed the interior was by Mirta Galesic who introduced a framework, or possibly a metatheory, for addressing collective adaptation. This had the three main components of social integration strategies: social integration strategies (how we in a psychological sense conceptualise our environment), social environments (addressing the relational and collective aspects of adapting) and problem structures (comprising the challenges we face), three aspects that I find quite generic (psychological, social and physical/structural). It was argued here that a social system needs to be understood in relation to its history to grasp its current behaviour and response to different situations, which reflects a processual awareness of social systems.

Concluding, the quality of the presentations was high with leading researchers in the respective fields of complexity studies. The theoretical level was also challengingly high, it felt more like a conference in the respective research fields than a course. I think it was very affordable with only $100 for online participation and $300 for on-site participation.

Participants in the collective intelligence course at Santa Fe Institute.

Participants in the collective intelligence course at Santa Fe Institute.

I see, however, some potential for further development of the course design. The level of interactivity was restricted to short Q&As following the presentations and to the public Zoom chat for the online participants (except for a poster session and off-schedule interactions for the on-site participants). From my experience with well-facilitated online events where the participants are invited to engage and interact more (in the Inner Development Goals initiative and the CADRA project), I felt the opportunities to exercise collective intelligence among the participants could be developed for the coming events. Some glimpses from the audience interaction revealed that there was plenty of competence from the participants that weren’t properly harnessed.

I also recognised that my field of adult development psychology could significantly contribute to collective intelligence, not only for human systems but also for assessing the cognitive performance of other species and insights around first-order principles that were discussed here but far from established. I hope to get back with further insights on how to integrate these fields in a useful way.

Many thanks to Santa Fe Institute, the arrangers and all presenters!

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emerge vs Integral and beyond

On a sunny Saturday this autumn, I was sitting on my chair packed into a circle with seven other human beings in the cellar of the bUm in Kreutzberg and discussing the view on the individual in the metamodern era. It was a bit emotionally overwhelming after 18 months of physical distancing but at the same time a very familiar setting.

The session was part of the emerge gathering in Berlin, where we engaged in discussions around the broader question on promises or expectations and shadows around the metamodern project. The workshop was hosted by Johan Ranefors, focusing on the role of the organisation in the metamodern project, Ellie Hain, outlining different imaginaries emerging throughout history, and Alexander Bard, promoting the “dividual” that he borrowed from Deleuze as a way forward from the limiting view on humans as mare individuals. Or does this undermine the individual as one of the central pillars of the modern society resulting from the enlightenment and breaking free from authoritarian dogma? Do the dividual transcend and include the individual?

Berlin emergePhoto: Tomas Björkman presenting at the emerge gathering.

This discussion around shadows triggered some reflections on the difference between the integral community where I have some experiences and everything around the emerge gathering and realm. Although these two worlds differ in many aspects that I will address, there is a significant overlap in terms of theories and outlook, such as

  • aiming for building a space beyond postmodern deconstructive critique,
  • embracing a transformational attitude,
  • involving developmental perspectives informed by adult development theories,
  • integrating a multitude of strands of culture and life, and
  • aiming for bridging science and spirituality.

There is also a significant overlap in the participants where I recognised and connected with several individuals from the integral scene.

Let’s return to the shadows, but first some differences between the two worlds.

Integral, its worldview, culture and movement, was characterised by and centred around a single person, a single idea, and a single framework. The person was, of course, Ken Wilber, the main idea was development or evolution by transcending and including previous levels, and the framework for describing (and prescribing) this was AQAL. Although there was a trajectory of criticism and bringing forth different alternatives and theorists, the integral approach can thus be described as quite monolithic, which had its advantages and drawbacks. One advantage was that it was easier to have a common language and frame of reference to unite around – or to critique. A clear view, definition, and perspective around what development means facilitates your own development in many ways, but even more so the development of the community. You can build the Tower of Babel higher when everyone speaks the same language.

In contrast, the emerge context is more characterised as a network or an eco-system of many actors, ideas, frameworks, and initiatives. The very notion of emerge implies that no single theory, framework, or perspective can predict what may arise from combining these different perspectives and approaches. It is more appealing and inviting for many to come to a world that is not pre-defined or a set table, but where you can co-create everything, including the very frames and definitions of what emerge or metamodern is. When Integral was more of an answer that looked for questions and applications in different areas, emerge is more of an open and living question without a fixed answer and closer to the actual challenges around sustainability.

This more open attitude may appear more complex or mature. Still, in terms of the stagewise perspectives such as those building on hierarchical complexity, it is acknowledged that you reach higher when you have support rather than having to invent everything by yourself. This represents, however, a slightly more restricted view on what development is and how it should unfold. This stagewise view does not contain emergence more than in a pedagogical sense, that of developing uniquely but reaching yet another pre-defined and general level or stage. And even though the emerge movement wants to see itself as the leading edge of cultural expression in the western world, it is probably considered a step back when assimilated into an integral perspective. But it all depends on what you mean by complexity and by “reaching” a certain level in terms of understanding it – or carrying it as your own insight.

A more open view on development and emergence is represented by e.g. the branch of complex thinking that adheres to dialectics where emergence is both a thought form and a core aspect. This also concurs with my experience from transdisciplinary research. Although a single person may reach higher in complexity than a group having to find a common language, negotiate and compromise the different perspectives into a coherent framework, a collective approach may be easier disseminated and have a broader impact. The more you involve those affected by the perspective, framework or approach, the likelier it is that they will engage in it.

In my understanding, another difference between emerge and Integral was that spirituality was more at the centre of attention in the Integral world. The Integral view on spirituality was more radical in its approach and many key players were connected to spiritual practices and communities. Evolution was fundamentally seen as a spiritual endeavour. To be fully enlightened, you need to develop vertically (stages) as well as horizontally (states), which is the mission of existence.

Integral went further in terms of how one should relate to the world. Integral was not only a set of ideas or a community. It was also a worldview, an operating system, a way of making meaning, acting and identifying. It was more than only using the terminology and the integral concepts, but also being Integral? Not only watching the river but immersing oneself completely.

Integral was more exclusive in terms of the higher pre-requisites of the participants. Although everyone was welcomed, Integral was doubtlessly more elitist as it implicitly placed higher demands on the participants rather than being inviting and inclusive (that’s sooo postmodern). Much attention was given to analysing other frameworks, groups and individuals in terms of to which extent they qualified as being integral or not. This was also the case for the internal discussions, to ensure that they held an integral standard in complexity and embodiment. Ideally, an integral life practice was not something you only did in your spare time, or even integrated with parts of your life, but of something your entire life should be an expression.

There was, not surprisingly, a flipside to it. Or rather, the dark side – the shadows. So, what does shadow mean here? In the integral context, the shadows are described as disowned parts of ourselves that we tend to project on our neighbours. In Freud’s terms, which Wilber quotes, the goal is to integrate the shadow to make it part of the self – “Wo Es war, soll Ich werden.” In a broader sense, the shadow can be that blind spot you don’t know you are missing that comes back to haunt you when you least expect it. Shadows can also be applied to collectives, such as entire cultures as studied by Thomas Hübl, and movements as if they had a personality.

Although Integral’s core, ambition, and very meaning were to integrate all available perspectives, and although shadow-work was valued as a core practice, we are always only human. Being more clearly defined and first on the integral scene, the Integral world struggled with some apparent shadows. Here I don’t mainly refer to its exclusiveness in terms of “being Integral or not” and claims of being all-encompassing, both of which were intentional ambitions. But rather, in the abuse of integrally acclaimed and endorsed gurus, I won’t describe in detail here. With this very clear idea of what development is and a strong sense of purpose and urgency, some believed that no sacrifice was too big in the name of evolution. Some just got lost in the space beyond conventions.

A core shadow in my eyes was a consequence of the notion of the “transcend and include” view of development. This means that a new stage of development includes all previous stages with all their aspects and qualities. You don’t develop into something else, but into something more. Although this principle may be accurate in some areas such as mathematics (if you know how to perform integral calculus, then by definition you can add), it doesn’t hold up that well for most other areas such as understanding what a human being or a culture is, what it means to have a healthy relationship with the earth or recognise different berries. This led to some overestimating one’s own abilities among integral practitioners.

Back to the promises, expectations and shadows of emerge. Should we expect any shadows? Always, yes. We can and will likely mess things up. Hopefully, we’ll learn from it and take the consequences. But in comparison with Integral, I see three reasons that the shadows will likely be milder:

  • emerge is more diffuse and ambiguous in its multitude of theories, actors and issues. Unambiguity and light cast darker shadows. But here, there is no apparent telos or higher purpose and no single framework to get attached to.
  • emerge have emerged a couple of decades after Integral and can hopefully learn from previous mistakes. Raising the question as Johan, Ellie and Alexander did is a good preventive initiative.
  • In the emerge context, there is more emphasis on complex challenges around sustainability. The situation is direr now than 20 years ago. We are now more aware that complex means that challenges can’t be solved, only addressed. In the Integral context, there was a common implicit assumption that we can solve everything if we only evolve high and fast enough.

There will, however, be shadows here as well; rest assured. One is that the notion of emergence might be taken too seriously. That solutions to all problems will magically emerge if we only bring our different perspectives and good intentions. A good assumption is that we are always in a bubble, however inclusive we try to be.

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Wicked organizations

This blog post addresses the relation between stratified hierarchical organizations and self-organizing ones – and tentatively proposes a synthesis.

Stratified hierarchical organizations
Recently, I was involved in an analysis of Elliott Jaques’ Stratisfied Systems Theory, SST,
from different perspectives resulting in two articles, one that characterizes SST in terms of it’s virtues, limitations and underlying assumptions, and a second that compare the different levels or strata with two stage theories from the adult development field, namely MHC and ego development theory.

In summary, SST was developed in the 1950s and onwards based on observations on large
hierarchical organizations. The stratified nature of an organization is expressed in the
complexity of the roles at the different layers where the level of complexity increases the
higher up in the of hierarchy you get. The complexity of the role is articulated in discretion or degree of uncertainty you need to navigate when filling the tasks associated to the role, as well as the typical time span of the task.

A key feature of SST and prescription is to match the cognitive capability of the individual
with the complexity of the role, which can be referred to as matching task and capability. In the second article we compare descriptions of stages/orders with strata analytically and
conclude that notion of different levels of leadership and cognitive complexity are comparable with those of MHC and EDT, although there seems to be no exact 1 to 1 relationship between the different levels. The ego development perspective can offer a broader view on what it takes to fill a leader role beyond cognitive complexity.

Besides matching stage of cognitive capability with stratum, SST prescribes that two adjacent organizational levels should differ one level of complexity. Thus, SST stipulates a final answer and ideal to what organizational design should look like and what organizational development should strive for. Although the different levels have a certain degree of freedom to carry out their assigned tasks according to their own judgment or discretion, the decision making is in essence characterized as top-down. SST hasn’t attracted much attention in modern organizational research, due to lack of validated peer-reviewed studies in literature and since a contingency theory perspective states that no organizational design should fit all organizations and all contexts. Nevertheless, SST is in this text considered as an example of a modern hierarchical organization (modern or orange in spiral dynamics terms).

However, these assumptions regarding the hierarchical nature of organizations have been
challenged for several reasons. One is that these organizations may be too slow to respond to quick changes in the environment or disruptions in technology or markets; Jaques did his research in large organizations operating in capital-intensive industries and stable
environments. The top-down decision-making process puts very high cognitive demand on
the top-level managers, while at the same time post-conventional leaders tend to escape rigid hierarchical organizations. Hence, there is an outer pull from the environment and an inner push from existing and potential employees to organize the resources and efforts in alternative ways.

Self-organization in organizations
Contrasting views of the described way of organizing is different forms of self-organizing,
which finds inspiration from dynamical systems and complex systems theory. Rather than a cog in a machine, the individual is here intended to act as a node in a network that can detect and respond to changes in the outer environment quicker than if one has to rely on the managers at the top layer. Thus, the decision-making process can be said to start at the
individual and spread through the network in a bottom-up manner.

Two descriptions of self-organizing that can be mentioned are Teal organizations according to Laloux and Bonnitta Roy’s Open participatory organizations, OPO. Teal has been introduced and evaluated here and OPO is introduced in a series of articles and this lecture at a Swedish Agile conference. Teal is based on the three principles evolutionary purpose, self-organization and wholeness, and the latter which implies that you should bring your entire being to the workplace is also emphasized by Roy. Trust is central, both in order for the individuals to show their entire being, and also to ensure that what is being thought, said and carried out will be relevant for the organization. The organization is offering conditions and a space for ideas, interaction and co-creation to take place. The incentive for work is in the first case salary or profit, and the second is often considered to be creativity or purpose driven.

Images often applied to illustrate the difference between the two types are that of the machine vs. the organism, which seems appropriate. Another distinction is that between complicated and complex, where the former denotes systems that consists of many parts but can principally be fully understood, determined and controlled. The latter denotes typically organic, fluent and living systems that can be influenced but never totally described or controlled. Complicated systems are often associated with cybernetics and engineering, exemplified by the Finite element method where you simulate system responses by inserting properties of the individual members. Complex systems are typically studied in the natural sciences by simulating how very complex behaviour of animals at the group level can emerge from simple rules of the individual behaviour. The relation between complicated and complex systems have been discussed here (in Swedish) and in the Cynefin framework.

In many introductions such as this one, the complex and organic view is often idealized, and it tend to be implied that organic is better and more complex than the dead engineering machines. But is it correct to assume that self-organization is always better, just as it is assumed in above that a hierarchical organizational design is optimal for all cases? Do self-organization always trump hierarchical top-down decision-making? Could there be a danger that we idealize self-organization too much and make an ideology of it? Could there be advantages with hierarchical organizations that the self-organizing lack? Possibly, the top-down may be more suitable when it comes to assigning clear responsibility in both directions, first that the subordinate carry out the task and second that the superordinate provide sufficient resources.

Further, isn’t it a simplification to say that an organization is either fully hierarchical or fully self-organizing? For instance, in SST there is a certain amount of self-organization, or discretion, within the boundaries of the task at hand, although the overarching organizational design is a stable and complicated structure. And in Teal, the organization’s evolutionary purpose could be seen as an overarching principle guiding the work flow, and although this should be decided collectively the decision-making process isn’t entirely bottom up. Like yin and yang, there is a grain of white in the black area and vice versa. Perhaps the distinction complicated vs complex should be seen as a spectrum on which different organizations can be placed!?

Wicked systems and wicked organizations
Another alternative where the two systems paradigms are not seen as mutually exclusive is
proposed by Andersson, Törnberg and Törnberg (2014), full paper here. Andersson et al makes the same distinction as above but when applying them to societal systems consider them to be perpendicular axis or dimensions so that they define a two-dimensional plane instead of a one-dimensional spectrum (see fig 1). Thus, a system can according to this model or heuristic be seen as both complex and complicated at the same time, which they refer to as wicked:

“Complexity and complicatedness can be seen as mutually reinforcing in societies and ecosystems – our two principal examples of wicked systems. Self-organization here generates, changes and maintains macro structure, and macro structure, in turn, scaffolds and creates a multitude of arenas for self-organization.” (Andersson et al, 2014, p12)

Andersson et al apply this to societal systems in general, but wouldn’t that also include
organizations!? This could open a space for a discussion on hierarchical vs self-organizing. If we should place hierarchical organizations such that SST prescribes closer to the lower right corner and Teal and OPO in the upper left region, what would a wicked organization look like?

A follow up question, which relates to an ongoing research project, is what leadership
development is, or should be, according to these two views on organizational development,
and according to the view of “wicked organizations”. That question will be further explored.

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The refugee crisis and the crisis of postmodern values

[This is a translation of an article that was recently published in German Integrales forum, no 36, Feb 2017]

Last year’s Integral European Conference in Siofok, in Hungary had three main foci: Teal modes of business, applications on Spiral dynamics and the refugee crisis. In his keynote speech Ken Wilber called for explicitly stated integral approaches to address the recent European development with the European debt crisis, the rise of nationalism and acts of terrorism by ISIS. I presented a Spiral Dynamics analysis of the Swedish response to the refugee crisis and participated in a panel debate on the topic. In this article I will outline some key integral concepts and lessons that can be useful for understanding the Swedish development in relation to the refugee crisis. Some of this is likely to have bearing in German settings as well. I will start by describing the background and the development in Swedish immigration policy the last couple of years.

The shift of the opinion corridor
In Sweden there is a before and an after the shift of the “opinion corridor”, which refers to the space of acceptable opinions that you need to keep within if you don’t want to have your mental health questioned. The term was coined by political scientist Henrik Oscarsson, professor and director of the SOM-institute at Gothenburg University, which studies public political opinion. In relation to the issues of immigration and the refugee crisis, the “opinion corridor” can be seen as the space within which you express tolerance, acceptance and a generally positive attitude towards migrants, a generous immigration policy and towards multiculturalism. This is in integral terms the postmodern or green value system and this was dominating in the Swedish political landscape and in the established mainstream media.

Before the shift and opening up of the opinion corridor, Prime Minister Stefan Löfven urged that “my Europe does not close its borders” and deputy Prime minister Åsa Romson compared the flux and demise of refugees over the Mediterranean to Auschwitz. The debate was extremely polarized and anyone not adhering to the postmodern values was declared evil, intolerant or associated with the populist Sweden Democratic party. Similar to Angela Merkel’s “Wir schaffen das!”, Löfven had previously assured that everything was under control and that there was no limit on how many refugees we could harbour. However, it was only a matter of time before the refugee flow exceeded the capacity of the asylum system. There was a limit. In a famous press conference in October 2015 Löfven and Romson, the latter in tears, announced that ID controls would be adopted at the borders and that Sweden would significantly reduce its refugee intake to a more normal level in Swedish terms. What was previously viewed by many as racist and intolerant in an instant became governmental immigration policy. This shift can be seen as a huge defeat of the hegemonic postmodern values.

Understanding the cultural context and development
Before the shift, Swedish values were typically declared either excluding towards others, resulting exclusively from foreign influence or simply non-existent. Critiquing the existing norms and conventions was the new postmodern norm and convention. But the development and the shift induced a wide interest in values and opinions from all parties. In order to understand the polarization, models such as GAL-TAN (Green-Alternative-Libertarian vs Traditional-Authoritarian-Nationalistic) from political science and Jonathan Haidt’s work on social psychology was widely discussed. And to understand some of the cultural clashes between immigrants from other cultures, ones where the clan is the base of the collective identity, and the Swedish culture, with its high trust in the state, the World Value Survey (WVS) did shed some light. According to WVS the Swedish culture takes an extreme position and maps as being most secular-rational and most inclined towards self-expression in contrast to traditional and survival values. A positive aspect of the dynamics and of being exposed to other cultures is that you more or less voluntarily starts to reflect on your own values, on why you have them and if they really are the best. Understanding and reflecting on one’s own cultural values can be seen as a way of stepping out of embeddedness in Robert Kegan’s terms. Knowing and understanding one’s history is a necessary step towards owning it. After the shift more debaters argued that we need some set of shared values as a basis of social cohesion in order to prevent unrest and for immigrants to know what they should adapt to and how to conduct themselves in this new country. And here developmental perspectives according to e.g. the Spiral Dynamics model can offer some valuable insights for all that are engaged in the debate.

Key integral concepts
Here I will outline some key integral concepts that I have found to be particularly useful in addressing the crisis. They come primarily from the Spiral Dynamics model, but also from the research field of adult development.

The current values need to be seen in a historical context
In order to understand our cultural response, the conflict between the value systems and between Swedish and other cultures’, we need to take a step back and ask why we have them. Postmodern values are not the ultimately correct and intrinsically good values and end of history. They are rather the result of a historical process of cultural development. Each value system has emerged partly as a consequences of the previous one’s limitations. Traditional values emerged when stability and order was needed, the individualistic and progress-oriented modern values surpassed the more static traditional ones, and the postmodern addressed environmental concerns, gender equality and anti-racism on structural levels. Thus, the current value system landscape can be seen as a reflection of our history the same way that a city carries traces of its history in its architecture. With an understanding and ownership of one’s cultural history often follows a humility that values are not easily transformed and that we are carrying a heritage within ourselves, wherever we come from. We have made progress, although it took us roughly 1000 years to get here from the Viking age. The analysis I made showed that the Spiral Dynamics model, developed in the US, also is valid for describing the historical development of the Swedish culture.

Values are primarily a consequence life conditions
Values are partly a consequence of previous values and socio-technological progress, but in Clare Graves’ terms they are primarily a consequence of the perceived life conditions. The key explanation to the crisis of the postmodern values is that life conditions changed. The dominating green values emphasises a generous migration policy, tolerance, anti-racism, having an open heart and disregarding of ‘practicalities’ such as social order, housing shortage and a preserved welfare state. This has become evident when a less successful integration has created problems with social order and areas where the police fails to uphold the law, a task that the traditional and blue values are better suited for. It has also caused a significant strain on the state finance and the welfare system where it takes several years before a typical immigrant can get a job and support himself (it is most often male immigrants that manage to travel the long way across Europe). It seems that the postmodern values depend on a foundation of a healthy economy and social stability where all basic social needs are met. This is in contrast to the common Swedish view that we all should have the most evolved postmodern values, which brings us to the next item.

Cultures have different characteristics
The Spiral Dynamics model and other developmental theories are generally claimed to describe the development of any culture or individual, but as individuals each culture is unique and has different characteristics and cannot be fully described by any developmental model. One such characteristic is that Sweden is often described by a “consensus culture” where we have a great trust in cooperation and in that we all should agree on common solutions after we have discussed the issue together. Swedish leadership is often characterised as being anti-authoritarian and focusing on anchoring decisions in collective and inclusive processes. This cultural trait has been traced by historians hundreds of years back in our history and have been a source of our success, from being among Europe’s poorest to one of the richest and most developed in less than a century. When we became a modern culture, all were expected to follow. And when we became postmodern, all were expected to be pro gender equality, anti-racism and environmentally aware. The drawback with the consensus culture is that we tend to avoid conflicts and that the conflicts we do have get very infected.

The many facets of Postmodernism
According to the Spiral Dynamics model, postmodern or green values are commonly described in terms of psychological traits such as tolerance, sensitivity and emphasizing human relations. Wilber also associates it with aperspectivism, deconstrution and cultural relativism, all of which are relevant in understanding the many facets of the postmodern values. In order to understand the dominating ideologies of feminism and anti-racism another relevant feature is the conflict and power perspective. Women and immigrants of colour are from this perspective both considered to be victims of oppressive power structures. If an immigrant throws rocks at the ambulance personnel in the suburbs, according to this logic he can be excused since he only revolts against an oppressing racist system. The same goes if a woman publicly expresses hatred towards men in general. But when immigrant girls are subject to honour violence or when young women are sexually assaulted at concerts or at last New year’s eve (as in Cologne), the postmodern power perspective comes into conflict with itself. How can an immigrant be both an oppressor and an oppressed at the same time? Events such as those did not receive much media attention, which sparked a discussion on the role of mainstream media and the rise of alternative media that were more than happy to report on problems with immigration.

The many facets of personal maturity
The broad overview offered by the Spiral Dynamics model is of great importance in order to understand the long term trends and cultural development. But in order to engage in debates or holding space for others we also need to recognize that individuals are more unique and complex than so. A common simplification in integral settings is that a person goes through the same stages as cultures, e.g. that a person is first at a traditional level, then modern to then end up at postmodern level of consciousness. However, this is not necessarily true since we have several lines of development. This is also evident in the Swedish case. Since the postmodern values have become the new conventions you don’t need to reflect and form complex arguments in order to defend them. In public media you seldom get critical questions if you say you are a feminist and anti-racist. In today’s post-truth climate, it has become more important that you hold a certain set of values and opinions rather than how you hold them, how respectful you are towards those with other opinions than your own, how complex you can reason and how many different perspectives you can take; abilities that we associate with maturity in terms of hierarchical complexity according to Michael Commons and ego development according to Jane Loevinger. Thus, a person with traditional values and a restrictive view on immigration may very well be a more mature and complex thinker than a person with postmodern values favouring minimal restrictions on immigration. A similar conclusion was also made in Lawrence Kohlberg’s famous research on moral development; it is not the answer to the specific dilemma that is important, but how you base it in terms of complexity and social perspective taking. The refugee crisis is an extremely complex and ill-structured problem and there are more or less mature and complex arguments for more than one opinion.

In this article I have outlined some key concepts that are useful for understanding the dynamics and for aiding our cultural development in a healthy direction in terms of complexity and maturity. A crisis in postmodern values doesn’t necessarily imply a permanent cultural regression, although that should never be ruled out. The current situation, if we count in the recent development of Brexit, Trump and Russian expansion, can be alarming but should also be seen as opportunities for promoting developmental perspectives and for demonstrating that there is a way forward.

In Sweden the debate climate has opened up as more and more people realize that the refugee crisis was never about right vs wrong or good vs evil. The issues are complex and we should listen to the mature voices from those with an ability for complex thinking and perspective taking. Although this situation offers opportunities for some, we have paid a high price in economic terms and in terms of trust, social cohesion and order here in Sweden.

A more in-depth analysis with relevant references can be found in my longer article on the refugee crisis presented at IEC in Hungary as well as at a conference on migration and the European welfare state: http://fication.se/?p=807

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Arrival and the meaning of language

What is the nature of our relationship to language? To our own and to new ones that we might acquire? A common conception is that we have knowledge and thoughts, some of which we can express in language and an even minor fraction of which will be understood by others. Some others ascribe language greater importance and see it as defining for our thought. In linguistics the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis states that different cultures have different views and conceptions on the world due to differences in their respective languages, and thus learning a new language can alter one’s worldview.

The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis plays a central role in the recent science fiction movie Arrival by Denis Villeneuve, starring Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner and Forest Whitaker. Adams plays Louise Banks, a linguist professor with the task of translating and making sense of the language of aliens that have landed (almost) at different locations on earth. She is somewhat aided by Renner’s theoretical physicist Ian Donnely, but she is really the star and leader of the team of linguists that is assigned by Whitaker’s Colonel Weber. Weber’s plan is simple and straightforward: make a translation possible so we can ask them what is the purpose of their arrival.

In Weber’s conception asking the question shouldn’t take that long, just find the corresponding alien sign for the English “purpose” and so forth. But his plan comes from a very limited understanding of what language is and how to build up communication between two vastly different species. Louise explains that there are a lot of presuppositions that are implicit in that question, e.g. do the aliens (or heptapods as they are later referred to) understand what a question is and that it requires an answer? Do they understand causality the same way we do, which is essential in order to having a purpose and intention directed forward in time? As it will be reviled, conceptions of time will play another central role in the movie.

But before these very abstract concepts can be mediated Louise and Ian have to start from scratch and from kindergarten level with concepts of low complexity, e.g. in terms of MHC: “human” (not that low, though, 9 th order of hierarchical complexity), “Louise”, “Ian” and then simple combinations “Ian walks”, orders 4, 4 and 5, respectively. It´s not a horizontal and translational task but rather a vertical and transformational in terms of hierarchical complexity and development. For each concept they convey the heptapods answer with a circular calligraphic-ish sign. But the team is on a clock, people are getting nervous having twelve large black pods hovering around the globe. Pressure is being put on the military and consequently on the language team, and communication between the different teams around the world breaks down. Even though people around the world have a common language and can communicate, it’s not always they succeed. All struggle to make sense of the alien language. And even if we can understand their language, how do we know we can trust them? How do we know that the heptapods aren’t playing out the different cultures against each other?



Communicating is more than just a cognitive and linear affair, it’s not only about taking the heptapod’s symbols, translating them to a corresponding word and thus assimilating it to our language and to our understanding. When asking the question on the heptapods’ purpose, Louise initial interpretation of their answer is “offer weapon”, which causes even more concern and stress among all involved. But does the concept of “weapon” have the same meaning as in our respective languages? Is it a thing used for harming others and wage war or do the heptapods mean it as a tool in a broader term? And is “offer” an offering or an injunction?

It seems that understanding the heptapods is not only a complex problem of deciphering a code, but rather a problem of meaning making. And not only in the sense of “for a certain signifier, is the signified the same in both languages?”, but also on a more fundamental level in terms of how reality is perceived and understood by the respective species (here is a discussion on the difference between complex thinking and meaning making). This requires respect and humility towards the other party, a recognition of the inevitable limitations of one’s own worldview, and a willingness to connect and to see the world from the other’s perspective. The other just might have a more complex and mature view on the world. The more immersed in the heptapod language Louise becomes, the more she experiences reality from the corresponding perspective, in accordance with the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. This hypothesis has been widely debated in linguistic communities for decades, although there are several interesting experiments on how we describe and perceive colours differently across cultures. If we broaden the notion of language to incorporate also mathematics and physics I would say the hypothesis is clearly valid.

Without giving any major spoilers to the movie, I find it highly relevant, not only in today’s post-truth society but also as a reflection on what we commonly take for granted, on how we perceive the world and on our underlying assumptions about reality and our place in it. But I see it mainly as an illustration (a really good one) on how a new language, and even new concepts within the given language, can open up new doors and perspectives on the world and on ourselves. And even though acquiring a new language can expand our minds, it can still be a very limited part of the fragile communication process that can break down for so many reasons.

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The postconventional relationship

What is the nature of postconventional relationships? The question arose at a workshop in adult development I was giving this summer and I felt that couldn’t offer a sufficient answer.

Research in adult development offers several perspectives on the way the individual thinks, feels, identifies and views reality at different stages of life. The development is described in general as well as in specific domains such as learning, leadership and moral reasoning. Although the social life is of central concern in ego development theory according to Loevinger and Kegan, and for social perspective-taking according to researchers such as Selman, Armon and Kohlberg, the field focuses primarily on the development of the individual. The way relationships themselves manifest at different levels are to a lesser degree investigated. This is not a review, but rather an own reflection on the topic based on a few different theoretical perspectives and own experiences.


The most interesting investigation of the topic comes from a recent book by Hilary Bradbury and Bill Torbert, Eros/Power. Along with Dana Carman, Heidi Gutekunst and Jane Allen, Torbert facilitated a workshop in Stockholm that I participated in a month ago, thank you all for that! The book, as well as the workshop, can be seen as an exploration of relationships at different action logics, primarily from a personal perspective. The authors share their own experiences of relationships very openheartedly and view them from an ego development perspectives along with dialogical reflections on each other’s perspectives. They focus on relationships between women and men and discuss how they are affected by aspects of asymmetrical power such as within an organization and where one party is junior and subordinate, of the obvious asymmetry between the different sexes and also within.

My impression of the book that it’s a fascinating insight into the lives of established researchers that not only research on developmental stages as profession and then go home to ordinary and conventional lives, but also practice and live according to their postconventional action-logics. For instance, I find the descriptions of their polyamory and dealing with new relationships and conflicts that arise from the entailing complexity refreshing. It is recommended reading. However, the focus on the specific stories makes me think it’s more of therapy for the authors rather than exploring more general patterns on how the nature of relationships in general changes as we change and vice versa, and more accurately delineating the characteristics of relationships at the different action-logics. Probably, that remark says more about me than the book.

In the following I will discuss the nature of relationships between individuals at different levels or action-logics. Sources beside Bradbury and Torbert that will be considered are Robert Kegan and his notion of self-other coordination (see e.g. Hagström and Stålne for an introduction), Martin Ucik’s Integral relationships, and Michael Basseches’ dialectical thought forms in general and applied on relationships. I will primarily follow Kegan’s orders of consciousness from 3rd to 5th, or traditional, modern and (reconstructive) postmodern relationships, roughly corresponding to diplomat to transforming (previously strategist or autonomous) action-logics.

First an obvious disclosure of some own biases. I’m embedded in a Swedish culture and my own relational experiences are limited to a few own relationships. However, no major spoilers or intimate details will be given here. In contrast to Bradbury and Torbert, I will adopt a more analytical approach. But don’t expect any elegant matrices or formulas on the nature of relationships. The development of the individual is a complex process and a relationship between two are even messier, so see this as a very tentative analysis.

The traditional relationship

The nature of the traditional relationship, corresponding to diplomat action-logic, is that I identify with my relationship. The marriage’s “two become one” is an accurate description where I am embedded in what Kegan refers to as a “mutual and reciprocal one-to-one relationship”. I am the relationship and I cannot imagine leaving it. This is a rather undifferentiated view on the relationship, and the hallmark of conformism. If you feel unhappy, I am unhappy and I try to take full responsibility for making it right. Or vice versa: “I’m unhappy, fix it!” Ucik mentions dependent relationships as a consequence of milder neurosis but could as well be an accurate denotation of this 3rd order relationship. In an abusive relationship at this order I am susceptible to the argument “It’s your fault, you made me do it”.

The traditional relationship’s “until death do us part” was the norm of the traditional society and divorce was generally considered shameful. Thus, the social pressure on sticking together “in sickness and in health” was strong. Nevertheless, the virtue of the life-long loyalty and devotion it entails should be acknowledged. If something is broken, in this case the relationship, you try to fix it instead of throwing it away and rush to find a new one.

But cultures evolve, and so do we. We typically don’t stay at the same village the whole life and we can always get a fresh start somewhere else if a relationship ends. In an article “The generality of adult development stages and transformations” Tom Hagström and I argue that a necessary step in the development of meaning-making is the cognitive ability to resolve some social dilemmas. In order to develop beyond the 3rd order of consciousness, I need to be able to differentiate between my needs and your needs that were previously undifferentiated and fused. And I need to go from being the relationship to having it, meaning that the relationship goes from being a subject I am and see through, to an object I have and can see and negotiate with.

In my first stable relationship, I had a hard time mediating between my fiancé’s needs and wishes, and those of my parents’, when they differed. Even after moving from home it took me some time to differentiate from both those relationships, and with my own needs. When I and my fiancé moved together, we pretty much became the couple that friends invited to parties and dinners as a package. Socially, I was one of the parts of the couple rather than an individual.

The modern relationship

In cultural terms, the modern view on relationships is illustrated by “the Swedish theory of love”, which is the title of a documentary by Erik Gandini (available in Sweden). The modern relationship takes place between two independent individuals, which was a key ingredient in Sweden’s development into a modern society. This independency should be emotional as well as structural and economical. For instance, the woman should be economically independent from her husband and also be legally free to leave whenever she wishes. In the 1830th, Swedish author Carl Jonas Love Almqvist wrote in the classic and defining Det går an (“It will do”) that true love can only take place between two free and independent individuals of equal status that actively and voluntarily chose each other.

In psychological terms the independency or “I have a relationship” instead of “I am the relationship” corresponds to Kegan’s 4th order consciousness, roughly corresponding to the achiever action-logic. In contrast to previous traditional view, the differentiated individual is seen as the centre of concern. Individual means non-dividable, an atomistic and self-centred view. The advantages from the previous 3rd order are obvious. If I have a relationship instead of being it, I can leave it without it threatening my identity. I don’t go down with the sinking ship, I can abandon it and there are other fish in the sea.

What are the drawbacks of this type of relationship? Besides the illusion that we are independent individuals? Well, it does solve some problems but create new ones. If I am too keen on preserving my boundaries not to be dragged into the 3rd order dependency, I might lose some of the intimacy that comes with losing myself in another person. Losing myself means loosen the boundaries and open up for vulnerability, which defies the 4th order logic. Further, if we define a 4th order relationship as one taking place between two persons at 4th order consciousness, their selves, or self-systems in Kegan’s terms, are static. Thus, this relationship logic may not be adequate in dealing with change and transformation.

Another drawback may come when different aspects of the relationship start to differentiate. Other aspects than the legal one, which traditionally means having marital status, or living together and sharing the everyday routines and burdens, can involve the intimately emotional, the romantic love, sexual attraction etc. In a typical modern relationship, some aspects of it might work well and others not as much. Some may wither and others may grow and replace the previous ones. The standard recipe “learn to communicate better” may not get beyond the surface layers and revive or compensate for what’s not there anymore. Thus, a relationship can be more than ‘a thing’. It can be several, the same way that I am part of the Swedish culture ethnically, geographically by living on Swedish soil, legally by means of my citizenship etc.

Postmodern relationships

Most associate the term ‘postmodern’ with questioning norms, power structures, heteronormativity and conventionality, and all assumptions around relationships that we are culturally conditioned to adhere to, for instance that we should have one in order to be happy. This way of questioning and deconstructing norms per se can be characterized as ‘deconstructive postmodernism’. Needless to say, this opens up to a range of possibilities of pushing the boundaries and experimenting. However, I am more interested in how they manifest from a succeeding ‘reconstructive postmodernist’ perspective, corresponding to Kegan’s 5th order and the transforming action-logic. Here a few themes will be outlined on the nature of these kinds of relationships.

Differentiated and complex 
Breaking out from the 3rd order relationship required some cognitive complexity and accordingly, 5th order relationships are typically complex and messy. One of my relationships entailed long email conversations where we discussed how we should view the conflicts that arose, what we should expect from each other in terms of the different aspects of the relationship. Sometimes poetic descriptions but also rather analytical investigations and argumentations. Examples of relational aspects, or embraces that my friend Stina Deurell would call them, can be the intimate relationship where you meet on the deepest levels and disclose your deepest layers, the sexual aspect which is what it sounds like, or the spiritual where both see the connection and relationship as a manifestation of… something larger. Another aspect of a particularly permanent nature is the biological relationship in which you have children together. That relationship doesn’t end with the divorce. A relationship can also rest more on a partnering, where both parties subordinate to the same mission or calling. Managing to integrate several aspects of a relationship can be a blessing and have an impact on the larger social surrounding. These integrated couples can act like social gravity fields and draw people and event around them. For many others, life tend to be less perfect and a lot messier.

The messiness comes not only from dealing with the different relational aspects, but also from the 5th order personality being more complex than the 4th order, which is the next item or theme.

The multifaceted personality
Kegan describes the 5th order consciousness not as a self-system but rather a trans-system, with several systems or layers and sub-personalities. I am not myself, but rather I have selves and show up differently in different contexts and companies. Not only do I bring my ‘self’ to the relationship, but several selves and all my personal history of relational experiences with ideals, desires and wounds, damaged goods as we all are. And not only my history but also patterns that come from previous generations as well as more generic qualities associated with being a man with all that entails. Thus, a relationship between a man and a woman is a manifestation of the everlasting dance between the two sexes. This is like moving to a town where you don’t know anyone except some of your relatives. After a while you discover that the relatives are involved in a family feud with others. Without having done anything to anyone you are embroiled in a conflict and dynamic largely beyond your control. Similarly, a relationship never starts from scratch. But conversely, what is healed in the relationship can have ripples beyond it.

Further, it’s not only that I bring different parts into the relationship. There are parts of me that are created in it. They couldn’t have been brought into light without you seeing them. Thus, have you been in a relationship with me, not only do I carry something with me from that. I am fundamentally changed from that and I am a different person as a result of our bond. A piece of you is me. What you recognized and what you accepted and embraced in me became an accepted and integrated part of me. And conversely, what you saw and didn’t embrace, I buried even deeper down. The difference can be expressed as holding space for the other party, which is a central aspect of the relationship. This means trusting that I am safe when I lose myself and allowing myself to be vulnerable and reveal my soul and my shadows. When I fail to hold the space for you at a crucial moment, a door may close and with that an aspect of our relationship may freeze or wither.

Being defined by the relationship
Kegan’s description of the 5th order rests largely on dialectical principles, the relationship comes before the parts or the individuals. It is not the individuals that have a relationship, but rather the relationship that is constituting for the parties. This is a view on relating that is in line with Swedish philosopher Alexander Bard’s notion of us being ‘dividuals’ rather than ‘individuals’, which means defining ourselves through our networks and our collaborations instead of seeing ourselves as centre of the universe.

If the 4th order self is a system independent from the relationship, the 5th order selves has both individual aspects as well as relational and can thus be seen as the synthesis of the 3rd and 4th order. This may correspond to Ucik’s dependent-independent-interdependent. From this, the balance or stability of a relationship can be seen in how much I can let myself go and surrender to the relationship. The more I let myself go and lean into the ‘us’, the more unstable and frightening it may be, although this depends on the nature of the relationship. This can be illustrated by different types of kayaks where the beginner’s types have a lower centre of gravity and broader base, and are more stable and hard to overturn. The more advanced kayaks have a higher centre of gravity and requires better balance. In the most advanced marathon kayaks you need to constantly move or keep an oar in the water to stay up. They are fundamentally unstable, like riding a bicycle where you need to move to keep the balance. But if neither of us has a stable foundation to stand on and both grasp onto each other to find balance, it can be a bumpy ride. This brings us to the dynamic nature of these kinds of relationships.

The transforming self and relationship
Kegan referred to the 5th order consciousness as interindividual in 1982 and as self-transforming mind in 2009, both appropriate denotations. Transformation means ‘change through forms’ and for the 3rd order relationship this change is a threat, conformism means that the nail that stands out gets hammered back down. For the 4th order relationship that assumes stable and static identities (as the corresponding relationships), transformation can mean growing apart in the long run. But the 5th order relationship has as a basic premise that both you and I are in continuous transformation, as is the relationship. Neither let ourselves be defined or controlled, a continuous renegotiation of who I am, who you are, and who we are. If the relationship consists of several aspects, then some aspects can be stable whereas others change.

In the postconventional personality and relationship process and change are assumed to be the normal condition and stability the exception, truces in Kegan’s words. Thus, what we have here and now is unique and precious. It will not last or come back, but it will always stay with me as a part of me. My most recent experience has been of a particularly impermanent kind. It was as strongest and most intimate when the impermanence was most apparent, the same way we feel most presence in life when we are closest to death. One that I still haven’t been able to let go of.

This more dynamic description may sound theoretical and complex, but just think of it the same way as a relationship between a parent and a child. A central task of the parent is to hold a space and give support for the child to develop and grow up to be an adult. The relationships between the parent and the toddler, the schoolchild, the teenager and the adolescent, respectively, are fundamentally different in nature. We also know that this relationship will be renegotiated several times between these phases. My children will defy and break out, and we will find each other again if I don’t cling too hard to the relationship. And adult development is just the research field that describe how we continue this process of transformations, process and growth throughout our whole lives. Thus, from this perspective we should expect that relationships change if they last a longer time.

Final remarks

So, here are four themes that come up for me in relation to the question of postconventional relationships. Needless to say, there are blind spots and further aspects to be explored, such as all those beyond the heteronormative and monogamous. Further, I haven’t dived deeper into the gender issues and the sexual aspects. Feel free to keep filling the gaps of the description and let’s all keep on exploring. But please don’t see this as new standards or norms of how we should relate to each other. Postconventional doesn’t mean new and more complex norms.

But does it have to be this complex? Do we need to start every relationship by filling sentence completion tests and different forms? Can’t we just meet, fall in love or let whatever wants to arise arise? Sure! And neither do I start a relationship or meeting by planning, rather I try to follow my intuition (in best case). This is more my way of making meaning and sense of my own experiences in hindsight with help of the theories in a way that we might have an informed conversation around it and possibly getting past some obstacles that prevent us from being even closer, more authentic and intimate with each other.

Even though this 5th order perspective on relationships might sound more interesting and more complex, it might be that one has to live through several relationships in order to get there or to understand what a relationship really is. And to make all mistakes that can be made until one realizes that “this is not working” before taking it to the next level. As usual, higher is not better per se.

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Teal shadows – and how to deal with them

This year initiatives around Frederic Laloux’s notion of Teal organizations have emerged around Europe, most notably at the Integral European Conference in May that dedicated a significant space for Teal. But what is Teal, why is it relevant today and are there any blindspots? Which problems do Teal address and which new problems might arise as a consequence?

My background is that I’m a researcher in adult development where I study stages of psychological development, but I have a growing interest in cultural and organizational development, and leadership issues in relation to this. I’ve also participated to some small extent in starting up a Teal4teal salon in Malmö, Sweden, which have triggered some own thoughts and reflections. The aim of this article is to give a short introduction of Teal and to discuss some possible blind spots of it, or shadows, and how to address them.

What is Teal?
Teal is a colour representing a certain stage or level of consciousness according to philosopher Ken Wilber, which corresponds to the yellow level according to the Spiral dynamics model. Wilber also draw from insights from the Adult development field. See for instance this short introduction and this wiki, the original book or the newly released illustrated version.

Laloux investigated twelve organisations who he considered operated from a Teal level, and formulated three breakthroughs. I here consider these breakthroughs as defining principles according to which the companies at this level operate. The principles are: Self-management, Wholeness and Evolutionary purpose. Let us return to them, but first the most important question.

Why Teal?
Instead of just jumping on the hype we should review what Teal is and why it matters. What is the rationale of the Teal organisational paradigm, what problems does it address and what’s wrong with previous paradigms? In order to do so, we immediately see a central point of having this discussion. The notion of Teal presupposes that there are other forms or ways of organising, denoted by other colours, and that those forms might not be adequate in all situations and should not be taken for granted.

The colours represent different organisational paradigms that are based on different assumptions on how the organisation should be defined in terms of the nature of the hierarchy, non-hierarchy, holarchy or way that people organise within the organisation, and most importantly, the purpose of the organisation. They also come with different language and metaphors of the organisation such as “wolfpack”, “army” along with competition as “enemy” or as “competition”, organisation as “family” or “organism”, and a view on the how the employee works in a psychological sense and should be motivated. Laloux describes each paradigm according to a set of breakthroughs or conceptual inventions which solve some issues that previous paradigms have failed to address. And in turn, they may fail to address new problems, or even create new problem, that the next paradigm will have to deal with. The shifts from one paradigm to another is not a gradual and linear one, but rather transformative by nature.

So by having a conversation about what Teal is and what it isn’t, and if it’s a good thing, we can step out of the assumptions of other paradigms. Such discussions can give rise to questions such as “Do we need hierarchies or managers?”, “What is the organisation for and who decides that?”, which is great. The notion of Teal and the framework around organisational paradigms in turn offer metaphors and language with which we can have these kinds of valuable discussions. But let us move on and investigate what the Teal paradigm consists of, what problems it solves and the new problems it may give rise to. I do this by examining the core assumptions or breakthroughs that characterise the Teal level, starting with the notion of evolutionary purpose.

Evolutionary Purpose
I argue that an organisation exists essentially in order to address some problem or issue, thus it must have a purpose and this purpose is its raison d’être. For instance, organisations that operate from assumptions that are characterised as orange typically have as their purpose to maximise profit for the owner and shareholders and use employees and resources as means for this end. For organisations that are characterised as Green, a broader corporate social responsibility is acknowledged towards employees, communities, environment and so forth. The organisation is here typically considered to be a means to the end of serving the employees and other stakeholders. The stakeholders get to decide and define what the organisation should be and do.

A shift that Laloux describes for Teal organisations is the notion of an evolutionary purpose. The term “evolutionary” is typical at the Teal level, but here it doesn’t necessarily imply that the organisation should serve the evolution of mankind towards greater levels of development or complexity. Rather, it should reflect a deeper purpose of ‘greater good’ and that this purpose is not cut in stone but the result of a continual process of discovery. The key point of the evolutionary purpose is that no one gets to decide what the organisation is for. The organisation is treated as something that has a soul. The organisation itself decides its mission and raison d’être – its evolutionary purpose – and the participants or employees task is to listen and understand what it is. Thus, the employee serves the organisation, which in turn serves its purpose. This is distinct from previous levels where the organisation serves the shareholders or stakeholders. But it does have some similarities with amber organisations that serve something greater. For instance, the church ultimately serves God and the army serves its country. They have and are permeated with higher purposes, although these are seen as static and not evolutionary. The evolutionary aspect, as I interpret it, regards the organisation as a dynamic entity acting in a dynamic world. ‘More sense and respond’ than ‘predict and control’.

It may sound New Agey and it can always be discussed whether the organisation really have a soul in an ontological sense, but I really think it’s an interesting perspective to take in order to answer the question on what the organisation wants to do and why it should exist. For instance, a part of my work is about serving the field of research that I belong to. I don’t primarily serve the persons involved but rather the field as a whole that I see as something that is alive and organically changing and possibly evolving. Treating an organisation as something organic and alive can allow us to have a better understanding of the organisation’s purpose and how we can influence it. This breakthrough may address the core of the issue that many people feel disengaged and unmotivated at work. It may be that the work is not meaningful enough since they feel that it doesn’t contribute to making the world a better place. It may sound harsh, but if you don’t feel motivated at work, it might be because what you do is not that important.

I find this feature the most important and interesting to discuss in our current world where we either allow organisations to exploit their environment and employees, or see it as something primarily for satisfying our personal needs and wishes. However, one issue that I’d like to bring to the fore, which can be seen as a shadow of the higher purpose, is that people and employees may be seen as sole means for the greater good. This responsibility to the employee is something that the previous Green paradigm actually addresses in its feature ‘stakeholder value’ and should not only be transcended but also included at the Teal level or paradigm.

The notion of self-management addresses several issues of the Orange hierarchical structures. Firstly, hierarchies are often problematised from a conflict and power perspective. It is often argued from a Green perspective that hierarchies are bad per se and that getting rid of the managers is a way of achieving equality and equal influence between the employees and consensus in decision-making. A limitation with this, as often argued, is that the decision-making process gets very lengthy and not necessarily resulting in good decisions.

Secondly, a point with self-managing groups is that they can act as sensors to the outer environment and respond more quickly if they are more autonomous. Orange hierarchies presume a top-down chain of command where the needs and corresponding measures to be taken are defined by the manager and assigned to the lower level managers or employees along with means to complete the task. This modus of operation was primarily intended for large organisations acting in more stable environments but puts enormous demands on the top managers in terms of complex thinking. They need to be extremely mature and complex thinkers, but it’s not necessarily these post-conventional thinkers who make it to the top of the hierarchies. A central motivation to why the Dutch company Endenburg started experimenting with self-management was to quickly adapt to new circumstances, resulting in the governing system Sociocracy. It is often argued that Sociocracy, Holacracy and other Teal variants of organising are better at responding in more dynamic times and environments.

However, one should not idealise the manager-free and organic process too much. Often there is someone who calls the shots, formally or informally. There is always some person or persons who make the decision of going Teal in the first place, e.g. in the case of Zappos’ CEO making a top-down decision. Also, even if there are no formal managers there is a need for someone to facilitate the decision-making processes, which also is a sort of leadership. Sociocracy and Holacracy have formal roles of facilitators and practices around that. I will return to the role of leadership.

This is the item where I have least own experience and I see this as mostly an empirical question. How do the companies that try this manage? Does it really work? In which contexts? What problems arise and which practices are developed to address them? How formalised do the practices and procedures need to be? How does accountability work if no one formally owns a question?

The final breakthrough is wholeness which essentially refers to the psychological aspect. One reason that we are not fully engaged in our work, Laloux argues, is that we don’t show up at work fully. We come with a mask, persona or ego which is only a very limited aspect of ourselves. It is the aspect that we show, perhaps because we want to shine or because we are afraid of showing our own vulnerability. The shift to Teal is often characterised with a striving for integration of many aspects. Integration of mind, body, soul and spirit, of masculine and feminine, rational and emotional, extrovert and introvert and so forth. Instead of our limited egos, wholeness means that we should bring our bigger, deeper and more authentic selves to the organisation. To be ourselves.

Of the three breakthroughs, if treated as principles for designing an organisation, I find this the most idealistic and also most problematic. I can sympathise with the notion of vulnerability and not being afraid of backstabbing, but there are limits on how personal I want to get in an organisation. Even though the organisation may have a kick-ass purpose. A useful distinction is between professional, personal and private. I am professional if I only see myself as part of the role I’m filling and I can meet a colleague professionally and see her/him only from the role and value s/he brings to the organisation. This may be seen as cold and impersonal. If I am personal I can meet you as a human being and care for you beyond what is required from me in my professional role. Being private means having no boundary between my work life and my most intimate private life. I don’t get private with my colleagues and my students. That’s a boundary that we should be careful not to cross. Potentially, wholeness can threaten the integrity of the employee. On the topic of vulnerability, my discussion on Kegan’s and Lahey’s notion of DDO, Deliberately Developmental Organisations, is also valid here. Again, I sympathise with getting more whole at the organisation, but not too whole. The key question here is: can this principle be misused for exploiting the employee?

Further, and here I return to the leadership issue, the psychological description of wholeness is particularly problematic in my view. As stated, we have this shallow ego or mask that we remove in order for our deep authentic selves to reveal themselves. This is a pretty simplified and polarised view on our psychological functioning. I sympathise with creating a holding space where everyone gets treated respectfully, but there is something that I find disturbing with the notion of “taming the ego”. It can easily become a way of dismissing valid critique or solving conflicts to blame people for not “taming their egos”. If wholeness means bringing the whole self to the workplace, it would mean that I brought my ego, all my previous levels, perspectives and shadows. Teal (roughly corresponding to Strategist in Torbert’s term) doesn’t mean no ego, it doesn’t mean no conflicts, it means more of everything. Was Integral Institute free of conflicts and from big egos? As I see it, the notion of wholeness invites all kinds of problem on a deep psychological level. What type of leadership would it take to hold such a space?

One way of addressing this, instead of wholeness, is Holacracy’s notion of roles. You don’t bring your entire being to the workplaces, only what is required to fill the role. Sometimes I see critique of this being a cold and instrumental part of Holacracy. But I understand it primarily as a way of protecting the employee of getting exploited and leaving their egos outside. Holacracy is limited to the structural aspect while Laloux’s notion of Teal spans from the structural to the cultural and psychological – wholeness. This is not necessarily a deficiency in any of them, just a description of what they imply.

Conclusions and future work
I have discussed the development and movement around Teal and I do welcome the pioneering work and approach of Laloux, Holacracy, Sociocracy and all companies. Mostly since it offers a language around the organisational aspect of development. But also since it can create new solutions and better working organisations. With Wilber’s notion of Teal follows also insights on shadow aspects and the aim of this article is to identify some possible drawbacks of the new breakthroughs that may cause problems if this new way of organising is treated with too much idealism or is misused. I have also proposed ways to address them. Hopefully this can give rise to some further discussions and, who knows, maybe there is a Turquoise way of organising that can address these issues which in turn gives rise to new ones?!

Some questions that I particularly would like to explore further are those relating to the mental demands on the employee to initiate or participate in a Teal organisation. What level of maturity in terms of adult development does it require to be a leader and hold the space of wholeness? These are questions that I think deserve attention both from the AD community as well as from the Teal community. Presumably it is more demanding to work in a dynamic Teal organisation than for instance in a more static Orange one. The Teal paradigm has more degrees of freedom and have also access to the previous breakthroughs. Thus, it probably requires more from the employee in terms of complex thinking, adaptability, dealing with uncertainty, perspective-taking and so forth. Those are aspects that are very hard to promote top-down and to demand of the employee. This is not only a matter of pragmatism but also of ethics.

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Values as Complex Adaptive Systems – An Analysis of the Swedish Response to the Migration Crisis from a Value Systems Perspective

[The following text presents an analysis of the Swedish response and debate around the refugee crisis from a value systems perspective. It was presented at the conference for Migration and the welfare states in October 2016. ]


The Swedish response to the refugee crisis is analysed from a value system perspective, using the Spiral Dynamics model. The analysis gives an overview of the conflict between the traditional, modern, and postmodern values. Due to the crisis and changes in life conditions, traditional and nationalistic values and perspectives have challenged the dominating postmodern values. Two defining aspects were the sheer volume and its economic consequences that made Sweden substantially reduce its intake, and the sexual assaults in Cologne, Germany, along with similar incidents in Sweden. The first aspect entailed a conflict between a postmodern emphasis on global human rights and tolerance, and traditional stability and national interest, as well as a modern emphasis on economic aspects and a preserved welfare state. The second aspect led to two expressions of the postmodern value system coming into conflict with each other, namely gender equality and multiculturalism. It is discussed whether the conflict leads to a regression of values or progress towards post-postmodern values.


”Instead, the entire house behind the façade is torn down, bit by bit. The façade remains until the decisive moment. At a given signal the old façade falls. Behind it there is already a new one. It seems to always have been there. In one stroke, everything changed. Politicians, journalists, everyone, follows.

Now this is the corridor that applies. ”

(Hakelius, 2015)
[The author’s translation]

The description came from Swedish columnist Johan Hakelius as he tries to capture the dramatic shifts in the discourse and debate around the migration and refugee crisis in October 2015. What was previously viewed by many as racist and intolerant became governmental immigration policy in an instant. The “corridor” refers to the space of acceptable opinions that you need to keep within if you don’t want to have a diagnosis of your mental health, a Swedish version of an Overton window. The term was coined by political scientist Henrik Oscarsson (2013), professor and director of the SOM-institute at Gothenburg University, which studies public political opinion. In relation to the issues of immigration and the refugee crisis, the opinion corridor can be seen as the space within which you express tolerance, acceptance and a general positive attitude towards migrants, a generous immigration policy and multiculturalism. However, as Hakelius illustrates, the opinion corridor and the discussion around values seem to has shifted significantly recent year, most notably with the refugee crisis and the sudden change in immigration policy. Further, incidents such as the sexual assaults in Cologne, Germany, and assaults at Swedish youth festivals have triggered discussions on the topic of Swedish values, what they are, what they should be and if they exist at all. The political debate around immigration is often likened with a minefield (Häger, 2015) – polarised and hard to navigate with a high social price for missteps and for presenting facts and opinions that do not fit within a narrative of tolerance. Häger (2016) describes how this polarisation has been reflected in journalism and a tendency of not reporting on issues that may promote intolerance towards immigration. Such development is sometimes argued to represent a regression towards the 30th style fascism. Regardless of position in the debate, there seems to be notion on progress and regress in terms of values, although the interpretations vary. But what does progress mean in terms of values? And how should the issue itself, on immigration and the refugee crisis, be addressed?

Challenges around the refugee crisis, immigration and integration issues can be characterised as wicked problems, also referred to as complex societal issues (see e.g. Jordan, Andersson & Rignér, 2013; Jordan & Andersson, 2010) or ill-structured problems (King & Kitchener, 1994). This means that the problems can be understood in more or less complex ways, they don’t have definite and final solutions but rather more or less complex and fruitful ways of being dealt with, and they demand the cooperation of many different actors and coordination of different perspectives in order to be properly addressed. The research field of adult development gives that competences that are useful in this context, such as complex thinking and reasoning (Commons, 2008), social perspective-taking (Selman, 1980; Kohlberg, 1981; Armon, 1984), develops throughout the adult life. They can also be supported by means of scaffolds and group processes (Ross, 2006), cognitive tools (Commons & Goodheart, 2008) and theoretical frameworks for perspective-taking (Wilber, 1996). In order to address the problems properly, a more complex understanding of the different perspectives need to be acknowledged, rather than stating that a certain perspective and associated values is either inherently good or problematic. Thus, we need to better understand what different values and perspectives there are, how they evolved, how they are changing and why, and to develop cognitive tools and scaffolds for supporting such understanding.

The shift in immigration policy in 2015 triggered a discussion on whether there exists a Swedish culture with a certain set of values. However, such discussion is far from new. Swedish mentality and traits, and how they have developed historically along with the socio-techno-economic development, have been discussed by scholars such as Daun (1994), Berggren and Trägårdh (2006) and Lundgren (2013, 2016). Swedish values can also be understood by means of comparisons and by contrasting with the values of other cultures. There are several approaches to analyse cultural values, most notably the World Values Survey (Inglehart, 2007) where cultures are evaluated according to dimensions such as survival vs self-expression values and traditional vs secular-rational values in different waves since the 60s up till present time. Another popular cultural measurement is the Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions Theory (Hofstede, Hofstede and Minkov, 2005) which evaluates values according to dimensions such as power distance, individuality and masculinity. These approaches view the cultures on an aggregated level and only acknowledge the differences of values between different cultures and not within it. Two approaches that can be used for capturing such differences are Schwartz Theory of Basic Human Values (Schwartz & Boehnke, 2004), which defines ten different value systems across cultures, and the GAL-TAN dimension (Hooghe, Marks & Wilson, 2002), the latter have been applied to describing and explaining the increasing polarisation in Swedish public opinion (Bergström, Johansson, Oscarsson & Oskarson, 2014). Psychological perspectives on political differences and polarization in USA have been investigated by e.g. Haidt (2013) who traces differing views on political issues such as immigration to different basic moral intuitions, an analysis that has gained some interest in Sweden, although it remains to be empirically validated in these cultural and political settings.

Such discussions and attempts to describe differences in values within and between cultures, particularly in Sweden, have also been problematised for several reasons. Firstly, that such characteristics exist at all are contradicted by the studies that emphasise differences and conflicts within the culture, which is a central aspect of the problem and of the present analysis. Secondly, it can be argued that it would be problematic to try to define such set of values since they might be considered to exclude people with other values. As previously stated, a complex challenge requires a diversity in perspectives and values. Thirdly, it can be problematic to define a static set of values since they are constantly changing due to external influence in terms of other cultural memes or changing circumstances. There is not a set of correct values that have been acquired but rather the result of a long developmental process without any fixed goal. A process that is likely to continue, particularly if the current values shows to be inadequate. It can thus be questioned whether the Swedish culture can be regarded as an entity with distinct and well-defined boundaries. Rather, the culture is in constant interplay with other cultures in terms of ideas, memes, people, technological breakthroughs and so forth, moving across the borders. Fourthly, what is often described as desired Swedish values are often values that can be found in any western democratic society. Fifthly, it can be argued that it is difficult to describe a culture in which one is part of, or in Robert Kegan’s (1994) terms, embedded in. The point of describing the own culture is to become aware of the unspoken assumptions and invisible norms that are taken for granted. So how can one describe that which is invisible and taken for granted?

Despite these objections and difficulties, it is here argued that some description and mapping of the values is called for, for several reasons. As previously stated, these complex challenges require that different perspectives and values are properly understood and represented as accurately as possible. Also, if people from other culture are to be properly integrated in or only to understand and be able to relate to the Swedish culture, it is not helpful to them to deny that such exists. The challenge that is presented to us can also be seen as an opportunity to discover who we as a culture. Concluding, there are different approaches to describing cultural values that are based on different assumptions and with different results. These different approaches along with respective difficulties should be considered in any attempt of describing the Swedish values and how they are developing. A key question is that regarding development in terms of progress or regress and a map should be able to capture this movement or at least offer a language for it. If the Swedish culture and its values can be regarded as a large system consisting of several different values that we may take for granted, such mapping could offer a scaffold or support for stepping out of the embeddedness in the system and to be able to see it from different perspectives.


The aim of the study is to analyse the Swedish values from a value systems perspective with focus around the recent development around the refugee crisis. The analysis takes as a frame and general perspective a view where values, value systems and the value systems landscape as a whole are seen as complex adaptive systems, which will be further elaborated in below. More specifically, the analysis aims to introduce a value systems perspective where today’s situation is seen as a consequence of the historic development and can explain whether the recent shift in values can be regarded as progression or regression in terms of cultural development. The analysis also aims at introducing a scaffold for social perspective-taking that can be useful for understanding the value system landscape, the conflicts that have arisen and how to address these conflicts in a constructive way.

Guiding Assumptions of the Analysis

The analysis will span several broad aspects of the problem that can be regarded as a complex issue. Sometimes the acronym VUCA is used to describe problems and situations that are characterised by Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity. This calls for a number of simplifications and assumptions that will guide the analysis.

First, a systems theory approach will be taken. The Swedish response to the refugee crisis is at least to some extent affected by our cultural values. For instance, the high degree of tolerant attitudes towards immigrants has likely motivated a generous immigration policy. But the causality is not unidirectional, external events such as the refugee crisis has also triggered a shift in the value landscape, as described above. This motivates a systems theory approach where the Swedish values and value system landscape as a whole is regarded as a complex adaptive system (Cabrera, 2006) that is in a constant interplay with the surrounding world. They are seen as systems, since they consist of clusters of opinions and preferences in many issues; they are complex, since they cannot be fully understood or controlled; and they are adaptive, since they change when the outer circumstances and life conditions change.

In order to address the main question on how the values are changing in terms of progression or regression a developmental approach will be employed. Further, the sudden shift as well the historical development of values can be seen in terms of cultural transformations. The adult development field offers several such stage theories of the individual level. One of these adult development models is also commonly used for describing cultural development. Thus, the cultural values and public discourse is seen mainly as a consequence of the values and perspective of the individuals’ on an aggregated level. This application and connection between the individual and cultural level is further discussed in below along with the co-development with the techno-economic development (Wilber, 1996). As will be demonstrated, this connection and co-development makes the historical development highly relevant in understanding the current value landscape.

The approach takes into consideration the results of the mentioned models for values and political opinions along with their limitations and the difficulties associated with the problem. The cultural development will be described in general terms applicable to any western culture, and will be complemented with a feature that is seen as unique for the Swedish culture. In general, the approach to this highly complex problem will be guided by Occham’s razor, by choosing the simplest available model and the fewest and most plausible assumptions that offers the highest explanatory power and usefulness as a scaffold for social perspective-taking.

Oscarsson’s notion of the opinion corridor is sometimes discussed and problematized whether it exists at all. In this article it will be treated as existent and the analysis will not aim at proving that is the case, but rather at explaining why it exists, how and why it has shifted. Further, it is also assumed that last autumns shift in immigration policy was in correspondence with a shift in values, although it is difficult to demonstrate.

A key assumption and attitude towards the different values are common to all described models for describing values and attitudes is that the different positions or perspectives that are described are treated as valid ones and seen from a constructive light. The different perspectives are not seen as mutually excluding but rather as valuable in describing the complex problem. A model that fits these requirements is the “the emergent, cyclical, double-helix theory of adult biopsychosocial systems development”, more commonly referred to as Spiral Dynamics.

Theory and Key Concepts

The analysis will employ the model called “the emergent, cyclical, double-helix theory of adult biopsychosocial systems development” that was developed by Clare W. Graves (2005). The model is sometimes included among the adult development theories and has an indirect support from theories such as Loevinger’s ego development theory (Loevinger, 1976) and Kegan’s subject-object theory (Kegan, 1982). Graves collected essays of students on their views on the functioning of a mature human being, that were ordered developmentally. Graves was inspired by new ideas about general systems theory (Graves, 2005), which showed in the double-helix view of the psychological functional of the individual, group or culture were seen as a consequence of the environment and life conditions. This systems theoretical connection and description of the value system as a complex adaptive system is later articulated by Hamilton (Christensen, 2015). Graves described the levels or value systems in themselves as closed systems and human psychological functioning as open systems that adapted and moved through the different levels.

A broader ambition of the model was to describe the development of psychological functioning on the individual as well as on the cultural level. Further, it aimed for a synthesis between different psychological schools, represented by Maslow, Skinner and Rogers, and can thus be characterised as a psychological metathetory or framework for organising different views on the psychological functioning of the human being. Recent years, the model has been further developed by Beck and Cowan (2006) and has primarily been employed in describing value systems on the cultural level and to some degree on the organisational. It also shows similarities with frameworks for social or organisational development, such as Scharmer and Kaufer’s (2013) framework for socio-economic development, and framework for organisational structural development according to Laloux (2014).


A key concept in Spiral Dynamics introduced by Beck and Cowan is the vMeme, which refers to the value system. The concept of vMeme, paraphrased from Richard Dawkins’ book The Selfish Gene, denotes an amount of information, an idea, an -ism, a value or the like, that is spread through the population like a virus. Thus, a vMeme is a coherent set or cluster of basic beliefs, opinions and values that are related to each other and based on one or more core assumptions. They describe what people consider to be healthy, rational and desirable in various situations. If a person, for example, shows a high tolerance for different cultures also advocating gender equality, one can expect that s/he also advocates human rights. Another person who advocates conformism and obedience can be expected to value tradition and security. Value systems are not just collections of opinions, but also perspectives on the world. One can say that it is not only a way of seeing the world, but also a way of not seeing the world. Similarly, Graves identified 8 different value systems in a developmental order, although three value systems, the traditional, modern and postmodern, suffices in order to accurately enough capture the debate around the refugee crisis. Further, the development of values and value systems is a very slow process and these perspectives have evolved throughout history. Thus, the current value landscape is considered to be a consequence of a developmental process of the culture. A further assumption is that the value systems and their historical as well as individual developments, oscillates between two polarities, those of individualistic and collectivistic. It is, however, not a pendulum motion going back and forth without any progression, but rather a spiral movement, that for each turn also moves upwards – hence the name of the model. Each new level or stage builds on the previous one, but is also a reaction against it and tries to solve the problems that the previous fails to address or creates.

Value Systems from Pre-traditional to Postmodern
The different levels can be described in terms of themes and logics based on certain assumptions that were derived from Graves’ material of essays on what is rational for a mature human being. The values and perspectives are simplified idealisations and needless to say, a typical person’s preferences and outlook are in general more complex than this. It should be noted that the descriptions reflect representative individuals’ values, perspectives and assumptions that are dominating at certain eras, and should not be seen as full descriptions on entire eras or scientific paradigms. For instance, few people with predominately postmodern values have really read Foucault, Derrida, Butler and other postmodern thinkers and build their arguments and worldview from those. The core assumptions at all levels are in general implicit and unexamined to the individual (Kegan, 1994). Here follows a brief description of a few value systems, a more thorough description follows in the historical review.

The traditional value system and perspectiveis characterised by conformism, collectivism and a traditional view on faith, knowledge, national identity and gender roles. These values can be traced back to the birth of the national states and the monotheistic religions. They can be seen to have emerged as a response to the significantly more violent and self-affirming pre-traditional value system. The traditional perspective is based on an assumption that stability, order and honouring tradition and formal authorities are most desirable for a society.

The modern value system emerged historically with the scientific and industrial revolutions, and emphasises rationality, scientific objectivity, technological progress and economic growth. Individualism and rationality are seen as ideals as well as questioning the conformism of the previous traditional values. This is the predominant value system in most western democracies. If the traditional values emphasise stability of the system, this one advocates system growth.

The postmodern values emerged in the public sphere with movements such as post-colonialism, feminism, the environmental and peace movements. In the personal level human bonds, tolerance and connections, and creativity are ranked higher than the cold rationality of the previous value system. System critique is at the core of the postmodern values, which is articulated in a critical stance towards norms, traditions, power structure and any attempt to exert power or to uphold stability.

Life Conditions

According to the model the value systems are fundamentally a consequence of how the individual (or culture) perceives the world around them. Thus, a value system can be seen as an agent’s response to its life conditions, which comprise of:

• Locations and physical environments, for example in the inner city of Stockholm, in the suburbs, or in rural areas,

• Problems and challenges faced, such as working conditions or safety in the neighbourhood,

• Social circumstances as governed by social status, gender, education and family situation.

These life conditions should not be seen as objective truths, but rather, we experience them from different perspectives. We do not see the world as it is, but we see it largely as we want to see it and from the perspectives that are associated with our respective value systems. The notion of life conditions is therefore central to the model and one of the main points of the analysis is the following: if life conditions change, we can expect that the value systems landscape on a cultural aggregate level will change accordingly. For instance, after the 9/11-attacks 2001 the value system landscape in the USA shifted towards more traditional, emphasising security and patriotism on the expense on postmodern values such as tolerance for other cultures (Sjölander & Stålne, 2012). This is in accordance with the adaptive aspects of the complex value systems.


In collaboration with Ken Wilber, Beck elaborated on the model and referred to it as Spiral Dynamics Integral and thus further relating the value systems to the development of a psychological as well as a structural level. For instance, by linking the different value systems with different forms of structural complexity in terms of governance, organisational logics and techno-economic development, as well as in terms of meaning-making or mindset, i.e. frames of reference and ways that individuals take perspective on the world. The model has not received some interest outside of academia due to its applicability as will be demonstrated. An example of the application in the structural dimension is the evolution of economic ideologies and systems (Dawlabani, 2013). Other applications are as a framework for organisational development (Cacioppe & Edwards, 2005), for cultural clashes in post-apartheid South Africa (Beck & Lindscott, 2011) and on the development and conflicts of the Middle East (Maalouf, 2014). It is also fairly easy to relate to the development of scientific paradigms and the history of ideas, megatrends, and technological breakthroughs. However, in order for the model to be more accepted in academic settings, further empirical support is called for (Stein & Heikkinen, 2009) along with establishing closer relations with other approaches for value systems as described in above. A rough sketch of such comparison will be presented in the following to illustrate the model’s relevance.

The GAL-TAN dimension: In the analysis of the most recent Swedish parliamentary elections a new perspective was introduced to the public. Besides the classic right-left scale previously mentioned a second vertical scale was advocated, GAL-TAN, with the former indicating Green, Alternative, Libertarian and the latter Traditionalist, Authoritarian, Nationalistic. The parties that were successful in the election positioned themselves at different extremes of the dimension or scale, mainly the Feminist party and the Sweden democrats. The analysis gives that parties and persons with a general positive attitude towards immigration positive tend to have libertarian values (GAL) and immigration critical parties correspond to authoritarian values (TAN). A brief comparison with Spiral Dynamics shows that GAL should correspond to the postmodern values, although the libertarian values also could be associated with the modern values. The TAN seems to correspond quite clearly with traditional and nationalistic values. This would be a reasonable conclusion, although it would need further empirical support.

Shalom Schwartz value systems: Another commonly used model to describe value systems was developed by Shalom Schwartz (Schwartz & Boehnke, 2004) and popularised in contexts around the environmental and transition town movement as Common Cause (Holmes, Blackmore & Hawkins, 2011). Schwartz’ model can be characterised as an inductive one, meaning that it is primarily based on empirical data. The values and value systems emerged as the respondents’ preferred values were grouped into different clusters. The Spiral Dynamics model, however, can be viewed more as a deductive model with levels and their descriptions formulated early on in the research process from evaluated essays and subsequently empirical data are assimilated into the existing model. A drawback with inductive methods is that they do not disclose any underlying mechanism or logic, they only describe the groupings and distribution at different times. Hence, a deductive framework should be more favourable as scaffolds for social perspective-taking. However, both approaches should not be seen as mutually exclusive, rather they can complement each other, and can be shown to be consistent with each other. Correspondingly, Loevinger’s ego development theory and Kegan’s subject-object theory can be seen as mutually complementary to each other in a similar way as Schwartz’ and Spiral Dynamics. An analysis by Strack (2011) demonstrated that they are based on the same structure, and Schwartz himself suggested a continuing work where the value systems are arranged according to a development dimension.

World Values Survey: The most influential measurement of cultural values is the World Values Survey (WVS) (Inglehart, 2007). WVS has since the 80s studied the values of socio-cultural, moral, religious, and political issues among a representative sample of the populations of many different cultures in five year intervals, resulting in different cultural value maps. These maps are usually used to illustrate how values differ between different cultures. The data is openly available and can also be used to study how values are distributed within cultures, and can also be analysed from a development perspective. Such an analysis was carried out by Sjölander, where the value systems of the dates 1996 and 2006 in both the USA and Sweden were compared (Sjölander & Stålne, 2012).

Summary of the Spiral Dynamics Model and some Critical Remarks

Spiral Dynamics can thus be characterised as a deductive framework for how values develop throughout history. Here focus will be on describing three of the currently most dominating value system and their corresponding perspectives. The model provides a rough overview of the value system landscape of a typical industrialised Western country from a developmental perspective. These simplifying assumptions are beneficial to the models applicability and its popularity, although they should be made as explicit as possible. A further assumption is that all cultures move through the same stages. Hence, there is a need to complement an analysis of a certain culture with a discussion of cultural uniqueness. Even if the stages are accurately captured, every journey is unique.

One obvious criticism that can be directed towards the model is its normative elements. A model or theory being normative means that it not only describes how the world or a part of it is constituted, but it also prescribes how it should work. Normativity can be more or less explicit and can in this case imply that certain value systems are more desirable than others without demonstrating why. One way to avoid this normativity is thus to clarify the underlying argumentation or by referring to the empirical data. Another way is to be transparent with the assumptions and axioms on which the model is based. Here the model of hierarchical complexity (Commons, 2008) can be seen as a good example.

In contrast to, for instance, Schwartz’ model and WVS, the Spiral Dynamics model describes value systems as being more or less developed. It is not explicitly normative in that higher levels are better or more desirable; Graves himself emphasised the adaptive alignment between values and life conditions as central, although he considered progress of a culture to be beneficial in the long run. Nor is it deterministic, progress is not predestined to happen. Temporary setbacks, more permanent regressions or collapses are always possible (Stålne & Horn, 2014). Further, such an assumption is the advocacy that the spiral should be balanced and therefore “healthy” (Beck & Cowan, 2006). This means that a culture needs a representation of all value systems up to the highest existing level. From this assumption follows, firstly, that cultures cannot skip a step, but need to pass all levels. And further, that value systems that are further down the spiral will never disappear or should be fought per se. This idea can possibly find support in view of the value system landscape as a complex adaptive system. Values and value systems do allow themselves to be fully described or controlled. Thus, the model can function as a taxonomy for cultural values and as a societal version of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (Maslow, 1962) in terms of values. However, it should be added to the discussion that although value systems can be regarded as more or less developed on a cultural level, they can be held and argued for by means of more or less complex and mature ways.

In the discussion of these normative aspects it should be noted that one of the main points of the model is the part that is all but normative. The different value systems and their corresponding perspectives can also be seen as different kinds of rationalities. Rationality, or action-logic, mean frames of reference; an understanding of what are desirable behaviours, goals and values. Assuming that there would be a single set of correct, rational and good values, where other values are irrational and based on fear or malice, would have been normative, if anything! Although the model rests on several assumptions, it is very broad in its claims and demands further research in order to be more fully recognised in the scientific community it is interesting due to its usefulness as a heuristic and scaffold for social perspective-taking and for supporting a big picture view on values and perspectives and how they have evolved.

A main assumption of the model is that all cultures pass through the same developmental stages or levels. However, the model does not give any characteristics of individual cultures. Therefore, the uniqueness of, in this case, the Swedish culture, will also be explored in this analysis. In the following section, the Swedish culture and history will be discussed from a Spiral Dynamics perspective, in which the different value systems will be introduced.

An Overview of the Swedish Value System Landscape with a Historic Context

Here follows an introductory description of the dominating value systems or perspectives, and how they emerged in the Swedish culture, starting at the Viking Age and its dominating pre-traditional values. The historical description is very general, resting on Daun (1994), Berggren and Trägårdh (2006), Lundgren (2013, 2016), and Berggren and Greiff (2000), serves as an overview on Swedish history seen from the perspective of the Spiral Dynamics model and will be connected with current phenomena and perspectives. The perspective serves to illustrate how the historic development is relevant and present today. The value systems were colour coded by Beck for pedagogic reasons, which will be described in the following.

The pre-traditional (red) values emerged in the Viking Age in A.D. 800-1100 as a consequence of, among other things, a revolutionary development in a marine technology that opened the way to the oceans with the conquest of new lands and plundering of places which lacked proper defence and countermeasures for several hundred years. The Swedish voyages eastward were likely driven mainly by trade with inhabitants along the Baltic and Russian coasts, and further down the rivers toward the Orient and Constantinople or present day Istanbul. At the end of the Viking Age the Swedes consisted of a number of loosely connected and practically autonomous regions with their own provincial laws. They worshiped and sacrificed to the Norse pagan gods of Odin, Thor and Frey. Vikings can be considered a clan culture where blood ties and honor were very important for the identity. Retaliation and vendettas were common elements according to the Icelandic sagas. According to pagan religious beliefs, the bravest and best warriors were brought to Valhalla after their death to fight in glorious battles at the end of the world, in Ragnarök. This warrior mindset, lacking fear of death, was very effective in combat.

According to a Spiral Dynamics perspective, the prevailing cultural, political and structural organisation was well consistent with the pre-traditional value system. The Viking Age was put to an end on the battlefield, the rest of Europe got better at defending themselves. In the late 900s Christianity was introduced by Danish king Harald Bluetooth who was baptised and later became a leader in the Christian political sphere. This guaranteed him protection from other military adversaries within the Christian realm.

The pre-traditional value system appears today to a very small extent and has so far little influence on the debate. They can be seen as a form of extremely individualistic self-assertion, where the outside world and social context are seen as fundamentally threatening. Purpose and meaning of life is given by acquiring power at the expense of others. The means to achieve this are threats, force and violence. This simple rationality or action logic is: the strongest will win! It is a mindset well suited in contexts of more or less organised crime.

The traditional (blue) values emerged in the shift from the Viking to the Middle Ages when the Swedish state emerged, roughly in the 1100s. This new Sweden became in essence a feudal society, with a strict hierarchy with the king at the top, with static roles and with a ruling elite that exerted top-down power. Although the feudalism was not that pronounced, since the farmers had political power to a large extent, compared with those on the continent. During this time the church developed as an increasingly important player on the scene, although in comparison with other European states it had a relatively less prominent position, mainly because the power came to be divided with the nobility, bourgeois and farmers.

Martin Luther’s Reformation movement in Germany spread to Sweden, meaning that the sermons were conducted in Swedish, the Bible was printed in Swedish, and literacy of the general population became a concern for the church. Sweden began to function better as a country administrating a functioning judicial system, also making use of raw materials such as iron and copper as subsequent trade took off. Another important aspect of the functioning of the internal politics was the political development towards a proto democracy with parliamentarianism. The establishment of the “Ståndsriksdag”, a parliament consisting of four separate “houses”: nobility, clergy, burghers and farmers, had a factual impact in the 1600s. This ancient tradition is commonly cited as unique in international comparison. Here, the farmers had a real political influence. Historians and ethnologists usually point to this order to explain both our inclination to negotiate and reach a consensus in various discussions, and also our trust in the state and an understanding that the societal system is ultimately beneficial (Österberg, 1989). This tradition, according to many, is manifested in today’s political and organisational culture. Sweden is described as a culture of cooperation and consensus, and according to WVS we rank among the highest in the world in terms of trust in social institutions, and among the lowest in corruption (Lundgren, 2013). This culture of consensus is in this analysis regarded as the unique Swedish trait that is added to the picture.

In the Middle Ages Sweden operated according to a traditional logic, in terms of Spiral Dynamics. It relied on a conformist and authoritarian logic of a hierarchical, feudal social structure, in which you were born into your place in the hierarchy. Agriculture accounted for the dominant share of production and employment. The traditional logic is associated with order, justice and stability.

Today the traditional value system and perspective is characterised by conformism, collectivism, and a traditional view of e.g. faith and knowledge, national identity and traditional gender roles. In the political landscape, the traditional values are associated with the former working-class movement, and can today be seen in the policy of for instance the Sweden Democrats. Institutions that operate on a traditional logic are those who are connected to the core task of the state, guaranteeing external and internal stability and security, such as the military and the police forces.

The modern (orange) values are associated with the transition into modernity and capitalism that emerged in Sweden around the 1750s. Already hundred years before, philosophers, such as Rene Descartes, Francis Bacon, and also scientists such as Isaac Newton, who formulated classical mechanics in the 1600s, paved the way for modern science. The Enlightenment and later along the extraction of fossil fuels, brought about the Industrial Revolution. The French revolution with the development of democratic ideals of human equality and the right to vote, even though women’s suffrage would take yet another hundred years, was a strong force in this European transition. Enlightenment ideals can be seen as the triumph of reason over the traditional collective authority, science liberation and victory over the church and religion, and the liberation of the individual from the law of social order that we today in Sweden call Jante, meaning roughly that you shall not think you are the least bit better at anything than your fellow citizens. From a financial market perspective, man later came to be regarded as a rational being whose highest purpose should be to maximize self-interest, homo oeconomicus.

The Enlightenment and modernity also meant a redefinition of the individual, on the cultural, as well as on the psychological level. The modern Swedish society was constructed according to a principle that is referred to as “state individualism” (Berggren & Trägårdh, 2006), which is characterised by an accented individualism, mostly a breaking loose from family ties, sponsored and supported by a strong welfare state that guarantees economic security, e.g. if you lose your income or get divorced. Thus, the Swedish modern individualisation project can be said to be an emancipation from the family and the collective that would instead be replaced by the state. Public schools were introduced in 1842, which contributed to Sweden in 1850 having the highest literacy and the highest number of university students per capita in Europe. This is an obvious example of how the state supports the citizens’ education and personal development, although the school also had as its mission to foster the pupils into good and law abiding citizens.

In the late 1800s industrialisation took off with large successful engineering companies, such as LM Ericsson, Asea, Alfa Laval, SKF, Electrolux and steel companies such as Sandvik and LKAB. With this followed a rapid urbanisation and a new working class quickly grew to 30 percent of the population. In 1880, 85 percent of the population were still farmers, which decreased to 50 percent at the onset of World War I. Sweden kept out of the war but was still one of the poorest countries, and many chose to emigrate to America. This wave of emigration, peaked in the second half of the 1800s due to population growth, combined with a crop failure. The emigration was encouraged as many positive reports in the form of letters and newspaper articles came from the United States.

Finally, it should be noted that the strong industrial development in Sweden during the mid 1900s, largely was due to a strong Swedish tradition of engineering and the ability to collaborate within and between companies. But it also had its cause in Sweden keeping out of  World War II which could thus produce and export while the rest of Europe was being rebuilt. This created a demand for labour, which was a strong incentive for women to enter the labour market. Further, immigrants from southern Europeans could be put to work, primarily in the engineering industry. From being one of Europe’s poorest countries, from where people emigrated, Sweden quickly became one of the world’s richest, to where people immigrated from all over the world.

Today modern values are most evident in the business sector where companies and individuals compete on a market logic. Economic liberalism and capitalism developed as a consequence of the deregulation of banks and trading on the free market, as opposed to a state-controlled planned economy. Continuous economic growth and a positive future outlook are at the core of the modern value system. Technological and scientific advances are key and define a culture’s success from this perspective. The scientific ideals are seen in the positivism of natural sciences, with the scientific hypothetical-deductive method at its base.

The postmodern (green) values emerged roughly half a century ago with political movements such as post-colonialism, feminism, and the peace and environmental movements. One of the three big postmodern political movements that has had a strong impact in Sweden is the environmental movement with sustainability as central concern. This can be seen as a reaction to modernism’s logic and belief in technological and scientific advances, the view of nature as an inexhaustible resource, a reaction which was triggered by advances in systems theory applied in Limits to Growth simulations from 1972 (Meadows, Meadows, Randers & Behrens, 1972). Climate change and its consequences have subsequently emerged as an increasingly influential and defining issue for the civilisation. Since the early 70s environmentalism and sustainability perspectives went from being a marginal alternative movements to having a widespread acceptance in the population as a whole, but particularly in the media and the political establishment. Climate change and sustainability issues are obvious examples of how new values are emerging as a consequence of changed living conditions.

In the transition to modernity it was primarily man’s emancipation that was of central concern, but with time the awareness of women’s situation was gradually increasing. Feminism is usually described in three waves: the first involved a quest for equal rights and suffrage in the early 1900s, the second, in the post-war period, focused on upgrading the status of the woman with gender equality and with a voice against discrimination, and a third wave that can be regarded as postmodern feminism, which instead focused on how gender is constructed by means of cultural beliefs that are inherited as we raise our children differently depending on their sex. The strong impact of the feminist movement in Sweden is reflected in Hofstede’s cultural studies, where we rank as the world’s most feminine culture (Hofstede, Hofstede & Minkov, 2005).

If environmentalism and feminism can be seen as two major political postmodern movements, then post-colonialism together with anti-racism is the third. In different value studies Sweden is described as one of the world’s most tolerant towards other cultural expressions and towards immigrants (Inglehart, 2007), which is typical for countries with a high emphasis on self-expression values but is likely to have several specific reasons. We have an own history of emigration, mainly to America in the 1800s and we only need to go back a few generations to find starvation and poverty in our own country. We also have many positive experiences of immigrants having enriched the country, for example German and French immigrants in the 17-18th centuries  and in the form of post-war labour immigration by Finns, Turks and other central Europeans. In addition, it should be emphasised that tolerance towards other cultures tends to increase with the level of cultural development. Postmodern values are often associated with tolerance and care for all people, regardless of ethnicity and sexual orientation. It is significantly more difficult to be homosexual, for example, in a culture dominated by traditional values.

On the political arena multiculturalism has been the dominating ideology, which means the view that foreign cultural expressions are seen as enriching and worth preserving instead of immigrants having to abandon their previous cultural expressions and identities and fully assimilate into the Swedish culture. Immigration policy has long been Europe’s most generous relative to population size, but has strong support from politicians and foremost in the established media in which the postmodern values have the strongest foothold. Politicians and the mainstream media have aimed at being in the frontline of cultural development advocating tolerance, feminism and anti-racism. A logical assumption would be that the state and the elite are more progressive, at least given this view of how development unfolds. This has apparently been a recipe for success during the last 1000 years. However, the debate about the refugee crisis has gradually become increasingly polarised from the time the Sweden Democrats entered parliament in 2010, although the polarisation process and fragmentation has been ongoing for decades (Bergström, Johansson, Oscarsson & Oskarson, 2014).

According to the view on development according to Spiral Dynamics, a certain value system and perspective doesn’t necessary replace the earlier. Even though it addresses some problems that the earlier one fails at, they rather build on each other so that one value system emerges on top of the previous. From this follows on that in the current debate, the postmodern value system should not be expected to be the only one present. The modern and traditional value systems are in increasing extent active as well. Thus, the traditional, modern and postmodern perspectives are all active in the cultural values landscape and represented in different positions and opinions in the public debate.

Conclusions from the Historical Review

The review of the Swedish historical development through the value systems recognises some unique cultural features in international comparison, such as the ideal of consensus and the high trust in the state. They have been beneficial factors for our cultural success and strengths when our sparsely populated country has competed on an international market and developed through the value systems. But from a systems theory perspective, what were formerly the strengths and success factors for Sweden has increasingly turned into weaknesses. This is seen in the postmodern values, which dominate among established politicians and the media, which is evident from e.g. surveys of political sympathies and values of journalists (Asp, 2012). The postmodern values have become the new norm. All are expected to be feminists and anti-racists, which has created a polarisation of the debate since not all agree. Thus, it has previously not been generally accepted to discuss limitations in volumes, economic aspects, security concerns, and national identity, in relation to refugee issues. Arguably, this may have contributed to the growth of the immigration-critical Sweden Democrats party. The opinion corridor can from the developmental perspective be understood as the combination of the ideal of consensus and high trust in the government and the establishment, along with the strong influence of the postmodern values which are presented as the democratic, just and tolerant values to have. However, as stated in the introduction, the values are shifting and some reasons for this beyond the particular issue of immigration politics will be discussed in the following.

Recent Development and Changes in Life Conditions

Now the stage is set for a closer analysis of the debate and response to the refugee crisis from these perspectives and how these have challenged the postmodern values and perspectives. However, value systems are adaptive and changes when the life conditions and the development in the surrounding environment change, and the refugee crisis is far from the only aspect that influences values. If we want to understand the rise of traditional values in Sweden as well as in other Western countries, other events and aspects of the development should be considered. Here follows a brief description on some key events and trends that is likely to have influenced our values and worldviews.

At the time of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, the Euromaidan revolution in Ukraine took place and shortly thereafter Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula. Separatists in Eastern Ukraine started an uprising which was supported by Russia, first in the form of military equipment, then with “volunteer” troops, while all official involvement was denied. This is a new type of warfare than previously conventional war, usually referred to as “hybrid warfare” which includes irregular troops, disinformation, psychological operations, aggressive military exercises over (and under) the Baltic sea, cyber-attacks and a generally threatening rhetoric, with the intent to destabilise the opponent without direct military measures. This development has triggered a broad discussion and concern around security issues, military spending and a possible joining in NATO. The increased concern over security issues can be seen as part of a rise of traditional logic and perspectives, and henceforth in traditional values. Another reason for an increase in traditional logic is the emergence of ISIS with terror attacks in France and Belgium, and committed cruelties in Iraq and Syria. From a traditional perspective, such phenomena should not be answered with more tolerance but by emphasising more security and order.

Despite these advances of the traditional logic, the postmodern perspectives were the dominating narrative, in particular around the increasing flow of migrants. In the summer of 2014, just before the national election, Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt held a famous speech where he urged the Swedes to “open their hearts” to the refugees. The fact that the Migration Agency asked for increased funding and discussions on the economic perspectives in connection with the refugee crisis brought the focus to economic aspects and made it clear for many that the refugee crisis was not necessarily an economic opportunity to Sweden, but could rather be a cost. With this, references to volumes or costs started to be considered as valid objections to the generous refugee reception, although the reference to human rights and having a moral responsibility to help those who are fleeing across the Mediterranean trumped all other arguments in the political response. A very powerful, and for the debate defining, image became the drowned three-year-old Alan Kurdi, who was washed up on the Turkish shore in the summer 2015. The picture made the debate even more emotionally charged, and the polarisation between the postmodern and the other values increased. The stronger the polarisation, the more difficult it is to take the other side’s perspective. However, the other two value systems and perspectives became increasingly vocal in the debate. These objections are described in the following section.

Critique on the postmodern view on the refugee crisis

Firstly, there are objections from a traditional perspective that primarily emphasises law, order and security. This is seen in relation to the lack of integration and with suburb areas populated with high fraction of immigrants that are seen as living outside society and no-go zones where the police are unable to maintain order and security – a breeding ground for radicalisation and hundreds of people traveling from Sweden to Syria to fight with ISIS. In connection with those issues the work situation of the police force with a heavy workload, a reorganisation and increasing number of policemen leaving the force are discussed to a greater extent. A large part of police resources have been allocated to handling the influx of refugees, of which a large share have disappeared and gone underground before being registered as asylum seekers. ‘Control’ is a key word and of central concern according to the traditional vocabulary.

Then, from a nationalistic perspective, the multicultural society is seen as a threat towards the integrity of the Swedish culture – a line of reasoning held by the Sweden Democrats. The objections have not had any great impact among the mainstream media or the other parliamentary parties. In the debate on immigration a common perception has been that the traditional values and perspective have been equivalent to those of the Sweden Democrats. But rather, I argue, the Sweden Democrats have been allowed to usurp the traditional values, where other parties have abandoned them and instead indulged in modern and postmodern values.

Objections from a modern perspective have mainly focused on practical and on economic aspects. Famous professor of public health Hans Rosling argued that our prime measure should be to donate money to the UNHCR, to which Sweden has considerably reduced its aid in order to fund the substantial increase in costs for the refugees managing to reach our border. Rosling argued how much more cost effective it is to help those in situ than those who come here. Rosling then highlighted a conflict between refugee costs and the cost to help those who are unable to leave the refugee camps, for example by not having the money to pay the smugglers. Another criticism has come from Tino Sanandaji, Swedish economist with Kurdish background. He has time and again exposed how the mainstream media gives overly optimistic numbers on costs, education levels and long duration to get immigrants into employment. We are ranked as the lowest in Europe to integrate immigrants into the labour market, mainly because the job marked consists of so few low-wage jobs. Sanandaji has argued that the welfare state cannot be sustained should the large influx of refugees continue. Another argument has come from the professor of history, Lars Trägårdh. He has described the debate about the refugee crisis as a conflict between two different perspectives, one based on human rights (postmodern) and one based on a social contract that can be likened to an insurance company (the modern). We work and pay taxes, and we expect to utilise the welfare when we get ill, have children or retire. If the social welfare erodes and with that the trust in the state to be able to keep its part of the contract, then our work and willingness to pay tax will decrease and the system cannot be sustained. But Trägårdh also linked the argument to a traditional logic of the social contract also being based on a common vision and identity based on a national belonging. These are lines of reasoning that also have shown themselves in established media. Leading critics of the postmodern values have also been the bourgeois editorials, and their perspectives on the issues of immigration and integration that have challenged the culture of consensus and the opinion corridor. Four examples are: Anna Dahlberg, Ivar Arpi, PM Nilsson and Alice Teodorescu. Still, the postmodern values were dominating among the politicians of the Social Democrats and the the Swedish Green Party, that are in office.

However, the new security situation in the area around the Baltic Sea, the internal security and the maintenance of law and order, the Euro crisis, Brexit and the EU’s major internal tensions, have made the traditional and nationalist values become increasingly prominent in Sweden, as well as on the EU level. The factor that had the greatest impact over the past year is probably the rapidly increasing influx of refugees during autumn of 2015.

ID controls on the Öresund bridge

In April 2015, Prime Minister Löfven answered a direct question regarding the volume of the refugee flows: “No, there is no limit. We will keep receiving according to the conventions we are bound to” (Sydsvenskan, 2015). But in October, the government and parties from the political opposition (not including the Sweden Democrats and the Left party) made an agreement on how to handle and reduce the large refugee flow. There was in fact a limit, and the volumes had reached unsustainable proportions. And here we are now at the time described in the introduction. The previously unthinkable had suddenly become the new reality. And the dominating part of media that has campaigned towards tolerance and human rights, and upholding the opinion corridor, quickly adapted to this new order. This shift captured in the introducing quote by Hakelius can be seen as an aspect of the value system landscape as a complex adaptive system.

In November ID controls were introduced at the Öresund Bridge, which had the immediate effect of a substantial reduction in refugee flow. The police could not maintain order and register those who came, costs soared, and the Migration Agency struggled to administer and arrange short term accommodation for all that arrived. The ID controls can be seen as a defeat to the postmodern values and perspectives. One can say that the postmodern values and ideals not only came into conflict with the other value systems, but also with the reality and the practical aspects. It can be expressed as idealism being defeated by realism and reality constraints, at least for now. But new conflicts awaited the postmodern perspective. In particular mainstream journalism.

The sexual abuses in Cologne

The introduction of ID controls created a change in the political reality, the media followed accordingly. But one event, or actually several, that triggered a critical discussion on media’s role were happening in Cologne on New Year’s eve, when over 600 women were subjected to sexual abuse. It would take a few days before it was reported in media, as most of the perpetrators were from North Africa, and many of them asylum seekers (Süddeutsche Zeitung, 2016). When the media reported on the Cologne incident it was revealed that similar events had taken place in Stockholm, albeit on a smaller scale at the We Are Stockholm Festival. The most prominent Swedish morning paper DN had refrained from reporting from this despite having been tipped off, which was reviled by alternative media (Frick, 2016). This triggered an intense discussion of to what extent media had not reported correctly on the crimes, or withholding information that could have a negative effect on the general opinion on immigrants.

One factor to bring to the fore here is that this issue is not convenient to address from a postmodern perspective which has as conflict and power perspective as core tenets. The Cologne- and We are Stockholm-abuses illustrate how the two groups, women and immigrants, both of which are assumed to be subordinated and oppressed according to the logics of the two postmodern ideologies, feminism and multiculturalism/anti-racism, come in conflict with each other. Thus, it can be said that two aspects of postmodern values come in conflict with each other. The more apparent the complex nature of a problem is, the harder it is to maintain a polarised view with a good and evil side. When issues such as this one emerges, the postmodern values have proved to be inadequate, at least to be able to claim to be “the only true and good values”.

On a cultural level, we seem to have reached the point where the prevailing postmodern perspective and values have failed to properly address the very important, if not defining, situations described above. The political refugee agreement and ID controls have shifted the opinion corridor and the postmodern values have come into conflict with what was possible to implement in terms of the refugee crisis. And further, the abuses in Cologne and the We Are Stockholm-festival illustrated how the postmodern values and perspectives come in conflict with themselves and the established media’s postmodern bias in reporting. Therefore, we must conclude that the postmodern values have failed to offer a coherent story of the complex and rapidly changing VUCA world and how to act in it, and cannot be seen as the only real and desirable ones.  But on the other hand, neither can they be seen as completely incorrect or irrelevant. But where will we go from here? Does this shift mark a regression and slow collapse of the previously so developed values, back to fascism of the 1930th or are there other possibilities?


In the article, last autumns shift in immigration policy and values was described and analysed using Spiral Dynamics as a tool or heuristic, which introduces the three value systems, traditional, modern and postmodern values and their respective perspective on the refugee crisis. The model was introduced and compared with other similar models on values and attitudes, and then applied for reviewing Swedish history from where the current values and perspectives can be deduced. The historical review showed that the culture can be characterised by an ideal of consensus and as being dominated by postmodern values. However, these have shown inadequate in addressing the recent years’ development in terms of refugee crisis and the worsening security situation. Before the implication of this is discussed, some methodological considerations will be addressed.

Methodological considerations

The Spiral Dynamics model is in this analysis characterised as a heuristic rather than an established scientific model, mostly due to its broad claims and weak empirical support. Therefore, an effort has been made in discussing the model’s assumptions and the possible relation with other more established scientific theories, which should be regarded as work in progress. The developmental aspect of the Spiral Dynamics model should be commented further. This is supported from other adult development theories on the individual aspect, most notably from the ego development perspective (Loevinger, 1976).

The Spiral Dynamics model can offer descriptions of different perspectives which makes it useful as a scaffold for social perspective-taking. However, some of these descriptions were formulated decades ago and need to be updated, most notably the description of the postmodern values and perspectives (Stålne, 2016). It should be noted that the three perspectives are described as being equally complex from a cognitive and individual perspective. This means that all perspective can be applied, defended and argued for in more or less complex ways. From this perspective, preferred value is not a good indicator of ability for complex thinking or personal development. On the cultural level, Graves’ view was that values primarily do and should adapt to the circumstances or life conditions. In the long run, however, societies should benefit from developing according to the description of the model. Thus, beyond being a heuristic for perspective-taking, the Spiral Dynamics model can offer a taxonomy for cultural progression as well as regression. This brings us back to the question if last autumns shift in policy and values should be regarded as a regression.

A systems theory perspective

The shift in values may from a systems theory perspective be characterised as a transformation, but in which direction? And how can we understand the value system landscape as a complex system? According to dialectical thinkers such as Basseches (1984) and Laske (2008), and systems theorists such as Scharmer (Scharmer & Kaufer, 2013), Meadows (2008) and Senge (1990), a complex system can be described in terms of different characteristics such as stability, process, diversity, resilience, antifragility, transformations and collapse (Tainter, 1988). Around the time of the shift in values was preceded by a discussion around collapse of the asylum system, of law and order, and of the welfare state as a whole, which is worth investigating further but beyond the scope of this article to address. However, the perspective can be applied on the Swedish culture as a system with different properties, such as stability.

The stability aspect can manifest when an external event influences the system and the system responds by resisting and pushing back (Senge, 1990). Correspondingly, any attempt to attack and defeat the traditional values have so far only contributed to them fighting back and even growing stronger since these perspective have been best at responding to some of the events previously described. The transformational aspect can be seen when the system departs from its original equilibrium and finds a new one – or collapses. When it comes to ecosystems or the climate system, it is said that the climate is stable up to a certain point, referred to as a threshold or ‘tipping point’. In the value systems landscape, such a threshold was passed last autumn. However, the new equilibrium should prove to not be that stable. The process aspect is reflected in the view that the cultural values are in continual motion. The Swedish value system landscape is a living system in constant interaction and adaption with its surrounding. The resilience can be seen as the systems’ ability to adapt and recover from chocks or disturbances. In relation to this, the opinion corridor can be seen as a low degree of diversity which entails fragility and a low resilience that could lead to a regression in terms of values, which might seem as a likely development. However, there are other possible interpretations of the situation which will be discussed in the closing section.


A key conclusion from the analysis seems to be that the recent shift in values is a regression from more developed values, ideals and perspective to less developed so. Although it will be difficult to tell for certain at this point, there is another possibility provided by the Spiral Dynamics model and related theories from the research fields of adult development and systems theory. In the discussion this possible transformation will be introduced and the conditions and actions necessary to achieve this.

As previously mentioned, the Spiral Dynamics model outlines eight different levels, of which the postmodern values represent the sixth in order. The alternative path is that last autumn’s shift in the value landscape could eventually mark a shift from a postmodern to the integral (yellow) value system? These are also denoted integral (Wilber, 1996), flex-flow (Beck & Cowan, 2006), metamodern, Society 4.0 (Scharmer & Kaufer, 2013), Teal (Laloux, 2014), post-postmodern and reconstructive postmodernism (Griffin, 2002; Kegan, 1994). This new value system can be understood as a synthesis of all previous value systems and their corresponding perspectives. The term integral, coined by Jean Gebser (1991), indicates that it will integrate and bring together the previous value systems in a synthesis instead of seeing them as different truths of which only one can be right and the others are wrong. Rather, they are seen as important perspectives which all have different features and fulfil essential purposes. A central principle of the integral value system, or rather ‘metasystem’, is the emphasis on the developmental dimension, where instead of economic development the development of the psychological, cultural and social aspects are of central concern, to which the economy is means.

Often it is assumed that development takes place by one paradigm replacing the previous, with the agricultural society having been replaced by the industrial society, which then has turned into the information society. This is however not an accurate description, we still live in an agricultural society, even though agriculture represents only two percent of the population and two percent of GDP in Sweden. We also still live in an industrial society, rather than all working in the postmodern knowledge sector. Similarly, from an integral perspective it can be said that a value system of a culture does not replace the previous one, but rather, they build upon each other. Although the different value systems critique each other from their respective perspectives, and although they have largely arisen as a reaction towards the limitations of the previous value systems, all value systems, from this perspective, need to perform their respective functions. For instance, a functioning market economy requires stability in terms of law and order, such as property rights and trade agreements being respected. High levels of corruption and crime make it difficult to do business. The integral value system requires postmodern as well as modern values with its  technological and scientific progress, and a certain amount of traditional order and security. Thus, the introduced notion of Spiral Dynamics as a heuristic for perspective-taking as a necessary skill for dealing with complex issues also functions as a scaffold for a transformation of this new set of cultural values. The article and analysis has been performed from this perspective.

Returning to the initial question of the discussion, it has been stated that the Spiral Dynamics model could be seen as a taxonomy for socio-cultural development, and not as being deterministic in any way. Thus, there is no guarantee that the shift in values described above will result in a progress toward more complex values. It is always difficult to differentiate signs of collapse with signs of transformation, since both entail some sort of breakdown in current structures, logic and identity. To grow and transform is to some extent to die. So, is this crisis a sign of collapse or transformation and progress?

The answer is, to some extent, probably both. We will see some parts struggling and maybe even collapsing while others finding opportunities and thriving. Typically, there are some groups that will benefit, learn and develop from this new situation and order, while others will suffer economically, socially and psychologically. So the question should rather be: how can we contribute to a development where as many areas and sectors as possible can thrive and develop in a healthy direction?

Competences and challenges for change-makers

This is of course an extremely complex question, but I’d like to address a few aspects in terms of competences that are needed for change-makers, as well as for the culture as a whole. This is taken with the Swedish context in regard, but could to some extent possibly apply to other cultures in similar situations.

First, the debate around the immigration and refugee crisis has been very infected and the tone and debate climate have suffered accordingly. The debate and the crisis has, so far, been costly in economic terms as well as in terms of cultural capital, trust and cohesion. There is tremendous amount to be learnt from this experience, for instance about who we are as a culture, where we came from and where we might be heading, and what defines a culture. Thus, the first concern should be to rebuild the public debate climate which now seems to be locked in polarisation. Different public arenas must give room for a multitude of voices, not only those who adhere to a certain set of “right” values.

A more specific aspect or skill that is needed in the public debate is the ability to differentiate between healthy and unhealthy values. So far, the postmodern values have been declared to be the correct values and the traditional, and later the modern, as problematic per se. It needs to be acknowledged that there are healthy aspects of nationalistic values and perspectives, such as upholding the law and defending the country, as well as having a healthy and balanced cultural integrity and identity, whatever they might be. Further, there are of course healthy aspects of modern values, emphasising the importance of having a functioning industry and welfare state in the future as well, and also being able to direct the economic help where it can be most useful to most people. Also, unhealthy aspects of all value systems need to be addressed, even postmodern. The most obvious one being the conviction that the other ones are wrong.

It has been argued that the Swedish attitude towards immigrants and refugees has been characterised by having a big heart, however, the mind also needs to be included. The refugee crisis is part of larger mega-trends where security issues, climate change, food security, financial crisis and the rise of right wing nationalists can be seen as being interlinked. Complex thinking is an essential skill in order to see the connections and see the world transforming, and to be able to have an own impact on it. Complex thinking is also needed in order to assess different arguments. An experience from the Swedish debate is that arguments based on the “right” values have been more influential than those from the “wrong” side. The more complex arguments and thoughts should be allowed more space, regardless of who’s side they’re on.

The recent decade’s cultural development in Sweden has been characterised as a fragmentation in terms of media intake, use of social networks (or lack of), and of opinions, most notably in the issues around immigration. In a culture with a 1000-year history of emphasising consensus, we need to accept disagreement and even conflict as the new normal condition. This could mean to some degree letting go of our consensus ideal.

Finally, actual suggestions on how to address the actual issue of the refugee crisis is beyond the scope of the current analysis. The remaining conclusion in this matter is that all perspectives need to be considered and all have important functions and parts to play in addressing the crisis and related complex issues. And possibly lead to something new.


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An Everyone Culture by Kegan and Laskow Lahey

Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey just released the book An Everyone Culture – Becoming a Deliberatively Developmental Organization. Here are some quick thoughts on it along with some background.

In 1982 Kegan wrote The evolving self where he took departure from Jean Piaget’s stage theory and introduced his subject-object theory, SOT, on how we make meaning in increasingly complex ways (this article offers some background on Kegans work). According to the theory a measurement instrument, subject object interview, was created by Lisa Lahey, Kegan and colleagues. In 1994, Kegan released In Over Our Heads – the Mental Demands of Modern Life, where he elaborated and applied the SOT in different dimensions of our lives, such as parenting, partnering, school, work life etc. Here Kegan connects the different orders of consciousness or meaning-making with the demands that modern life exposes us to, and argues that a significant proportion of the population does not live up to this. These two books have since been very influential in the field of adult development, rightfully so.

In 2009 Kegan wrote Immunity to Change, ITC, together with Lisa Laskow Lahey, where they introduce the Immunity to change process. ITC builds on the insights from the SOT and the dynamics of stage transition where meaning-making can be seen as frames of reference based on certain assumptions that are invisible or taken for granted by the person. Moving from one order of consciousness to the next one means being able to see these assumptions and thus making them an object. So, you go from being the frames of reference and identifying with them as a subject, to having them as an object. The ITC process doesn’t necessarily induce transitions of orders of consciousness of the individual that performs it, but can help in getting rid of some blockings and unproductive assumptions on the way. The ITC process was also introduced in a MOOC and several instructors have been trained in facilitating it. Thus, Kegan can be said to have moved from being a researcher to dealing more with applying the insights with the process tool, foremost in organizational settings and to a mainstream audience.

In order to introduce the main scope of the book, imagine that you are interested in personal development and apply the ITC process on yourself. You succeed, make progress and then go back to your organization where you soon find yourself reverting back to your old habits. This can also be observed in therapy when you back in your social environment tend to go back to your old behavior. Therefore it can be a point in involving family and peers so they can accept and support the new version of you, so to speak, instead of resisting the change.

But what would it look like if an entire organization has a culture where it is not only accepted for you to grow and change, but even expected of you to develop as a person and expected of you to consciously take measures to make that happen, e.g. by using the ITC process? And not only in the work role but as a whole human being. An Everyone Culture introduces the notion of a deliberately developmental organization, a DDO, where the company culture is based on that exact assumption.

A central aspect that Kegan and Lahey is putting forth is vulnerability, and refer to Brené Brown’s work. In typical work settings we are doing two jobs, they argue, one of doing what we are supposed to do at work and then one of covering up our weaknesses. Vulnerability in this context means being open and transparent about your limitations, failures and weaknesses. If not, you won’t be able to learn from your mistakes. And not only do you want to learn from them, but also see them as a source of personal development. In relation to this, leadership has as a main function to ensure a holding environment so that people that expose their weak sides won’t get a lower salary or get backstabbed, the fear of which is probably the main reason for us not to be more vulnerable at work or in any context.

This focus on failures and mistakes may sound counter intuitive, we are often told that in groups we should primarily focus on and build on peoples’ strengths and positive aspects, while focusing on weaknesses can be a way of putting the employees in place and exert power over them. Kegan and Lahey argue, from the three companies they have studied, that no one there is safe from exposing their own failures and that anyone can provide negative feedback to anyone. Thus, the leaders need to go first and set examples with exposing their own “backhands”. This way, the company culture and view on personal development involves everyone in the organization, not only handpicked talents. I find this interesting and a useful discussion. Being able to be vulnerable and expose your limitations, I believe is a very important factor of becoming a learning organization. If everyone covers up their mistakes, no one will learn anything. And I think the organizational culture sets the bar for how much you dare to expose yourself.

But in DDO:s it’s not only being able to expose your weak sides, you are obliged to do something about them and develop. Therefore the third dimension of a DDO, where the two first are the individual aspect of developmental aspiration and the communal holding aspect, is developmental practices, i.e. a set of tools and methods that will help the employee, the group as well as the organization to develop.

In the end of the book, the authors give some further context and limitation on their scope by applying Ken Wilber’s quadrants of interior/exterior and individual/organizational. From this they argue that their main scope and interest have been on the interior quadrants of development psychology (interior and individual) and organizational culture (interior and organizational):

“We confess, as the authors of this book, that collectively our natural bent has been toward the [individual interior] and from there, to the [collective interior]. We have long been interested in the way the less visible issues [the interior aspects] have been omitted from the leadership agenda and from the responsibilities management must take up if organizational life is to become what companies and their members need it to be.” (p 244)

It’s great that they are explicit about this limitation, and given my introduction on Kegan’s work, this focus is understandable. However, and here follows my main criticism, when I started reading the book I expected to find some further connections to the structural dimension. For instance, I would want to know if there is any correspondence between a DDO and a Teal organization in Laloux’ terms. Or correspondence with organizational structures described by Sociocracy or Holacracy, or the structural aspect of Spiral dynamics. One common denominator is the notion of “evolutionary purpose” and “bringing the whole person to work” described by Laloux. But this connection is not discussed or referred to by Kegan and Lahey at all. It seems that they have focused only on applying their own research and not so much reviewed others. The research around ITC is recent, but the adult developmental aspect they refer to is 20 years old.

Regarding the structure of the three organizations that have been studied, I get the impression that they are based on an orange meritocratic and modern logic. Two questions that I would be interested in learning more about are:

What are the connections between teal/yellow organizations, the level or complexity of the organizational culture, and the meaning-making and complex abilities of the employees? This book can offer some pieces of this puzzle, but not an overview. This is a blind spot in Kegan and Lahey’s book, if the organization demands that I develop my whole being, then correspondingly, I would expect to be able to influence the organizations structural logic as well as purpose.

And regarding the organization’s purpose. Here the three organizations claim that they have the two main goals of profit and employee growth, and that they are not mutually exclusive, but rather reinforcing. Being a DDO and investing so much effort in the employees to grow is not a means to the end of making more money, but an end in itself, they argue. This sounds great, but I would be even more appealed to these organizations if they did something of relevance for the world or if CSR or sustainability were central concerns. These aspects are however absent from the discussion. The three organizations chosen could be in any industry, which is intended since it demonstrates a point that it’s possible for any company to be a DDO. Ok so, but Bridgewater – a hedge fund?!?

Concluding, nevertheless I find the book interesting and useful for me. As Kegan, my interest is shifting from the interior individual quadrant to the collective ones. Hopefully, the next book by him and his colleagues will make further progress into the structural quadrant, and relating with more recent developmental research within the organizational realm. I believe that’s where their growing edge lies.

Addendum 11/6: In relation to this book and my review, a further critical perspective can be added based on the ethics of promoting adult development exercises and development of the whole person. See this excellent article by my kolleague Sofia Kjellström from 2009, with special attention on Kegan’s and Lahey’s Immunity to change process, ITC:

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