Be Integrally Impactful (So Say We All)

The Fourth International Integral Theory Conference, a global gathering of integralists in many different academic disciplines, is a wrap. The event’s theme, “Integral Impacts: Using Integrative Metatheory to Catalyze Effective Change”, seemed to generate a fair amount of excitement and debate. Many photos and comments from participants can be found at the event’s Public Facebook Group.

Striking personal reflections were posted to social media by Mark Forman and (separately) Terry Patten. Because the messages weren’t put squarely in the Internet commons, I won’t quote extensively except to say (1) that Mark observed the “quirky” nature of the gathering and the “social fluidity” of the gathering, and (2) Terry said, “The Integral community is the ecosystem that most nearly meets me, in my dimensionality”, a phrase which I love, and in his post he goes from general impressions to specific reflections on highlights of the gathering, and he closes with information on his paper presentation.

To follow the breadcrumbs of conversation following the conference, check out the blog by Jeremy Johnson, an editor for Reality Sandwich magazine as well as the blog with an integralist pedigree. Johnson has written several posts during the conference an afterward sharing reflections, photos, and illustrations from his perspective. Here are a few highlights from Johnson’s blog, with links so you can read the entire post.

Opening Invocations, Welcoming Address #ITC2015

Blogging from The Cooperage at Sonoma State, Jeremy writes:

I hurried over towards the front and grabbed a chair, immediately noticing the noticeably large plant that Mark Fabionar, the “brain child” behind the evening events at ITC2015, had shrouding his profile. A pomegranate plant? Sure enough.

Many of you know the theme for ITC2015 is “Integral Impacts”, but during the opening invocation tonight, Mark explained what the image of the pomegranate actually meant to him. After leading us through a brief meditation – bringing our attention to the body, the room full of participants, the campus, the hills of Sonoma and their ancient histories, he told us the mythical connotations behind this delicious fruit. Potent yet transformative, the pomegranate beckons further reflections beyond its sweet delicacy. Its juiciness leads us down the dark path of the unconscious; the shadow, and the transformations that lie therein.

A further recognition, then, to have a real live pomegranate plant attending the opening invocation. He raises a vile and announces the pouring of libations for the opening ceremony. We say prayers to the dead. Those who have recently passed, like Roy Bhaskar (keynote speaker for ITC2013), Piaget, Aurobindo, Teilhard de Chardin, Alfred North Whitehead, Allan Watts and Bucky Fuller are among the few who are called out. Mark, a self-admitted science fiction fan, asks us to respond to each pouring of water over the pomegranate with “SO SAY WE ALL”. I gladly chant this for every name invoked.

Read the full post.

Karen O’Brien on Integral in Action with Climate Change: #ITC2015 Keynote

I won’t try to summarize Jeremy’s full post, but point you to it instead. There is one brief remark:

Sean Kelly made some remarks about avoiding “despair” by the scientific consensus that there is less and less we can do to avoid severe climate change, and Karen reiterated the fact that these studies, while important and true, don’t take into account the human potential dimension. She suggested that we need people doing the adaptive work to help us through a process of “disequilibrium”, and focus on the possibilities not in the official discourse.

Read the whole post.

Chris Dierkes and Eric Towle: Searching for Centaur, Uprising of the Human Spirit #ITC2015

Jeremy carefully describes the powerful presentations by Dierkes and Towle, and offers some meta-refletions of his own. In part, he says:

What struck me powerfully in this combinatory presentation was the significant macro/micro perspectives Tim and Chris were sharing. While Eric focused on the “meta” approach, that is, a look at the rise and fall of civilizations, cultural evolution,  what a “deficient” (Gebserian term) phase of consciousness looks like as it begins to consolidate itself, and how to gain “efficient” forms of thinking and being-in-world in order to empower yourself, Chris looked specifically at the integral movement’s early “Centaur”. Arguably, the Integral Centaur in earlier Wilber works was the “efficient” phase of integral, itself, and the latter Integral Theory? Well, here’s where it gets tricky.

Chris also mentioned during his talk that the Vision-Logic development in Wilber’s later work wasn’t wrong. But something is amiss (willingly admitted to by Sean Hargens and other presenters in ITC2013’s reflective panels looking at the integral shadow). Symptoms point to, as Chris mentions, “a lack of grounding,” a loss of intentionality, and the common accusation of cognitive dissociation. A-political meta mapping while the city of Rome burns.

We also shouldn’t forget that Chris stands alongside Zak Stein’s critique of the “growth to goodness fallacy” (also presented in ITC2013) and Susanne Cook Grueter’s “transcendent hubris” and Bonnitta Roy’s critique of Integral Theory’s “monological use of developmental logics” (Thanks, Bonnitta, for pointing this out in a recent, post-ITC thread).

None of this is to say we need to abandon Wilber’s latter work. I don’t think anyone, including myself, is calling for that. What I would like to see, however, is exactly what he mentioned in his talk: let the “right-brained” integralists have the play they deserve.

Read the whole post.

I have a feeling we haven’t heard the last of this plea/invitation/injunction to “let the ‘right-brained’ integralists have the play they deserve”. We’ll see!

Corporate Interests, Capitalism and Social Justice: #ITC2015

Jeremy summarizes the much-discussed forum on capitalism featuring Zak Stein and Bonnitta Roy and Zak Stein debating Andrew Johnson and Dr. Michael McElhenie (moderated by Lauren Tenney).

Read the whole post, including Jeremy’s own assessment of who he thinks won.

Based on what is reported in the blog post, I don’t think my own mind on economic philosophy would have been altered by the panel discussion or participant questions. But then that’s expecting too much from one panel! It is wonderful to see lively conversation on the topic brought into the mainstream of the Integral world, and it is good to see the shadow of economic privilege begin to be unmasked.

With appreciation to Jeremy Johnson and everyone who made an effort to bring the world into the Integral conference, and bring the Integral conference into the world. Thank you!

Smells Like Post-Capitalist Spirit

The smell of post-capitalist spirit is in the air. Recently on his un-dated blog, integralist Zak Stein wrote, “Thus, revolutionary praxis, or totalizing depth praxis—integral activism aimed at replacing capitalism with a new economic system—should be one of the goals of the integral movement, perhaps its most important goal.” (see “The Integral Movement Is An Anti-Capitalist Movement: ITC Debate Preamble”).

Last Friday, economics writer Paul Mason said, “[W]e are entering the post-capitalist era,” in the Guardian (see “The End of Capitalism Has Begun.”)

In a rebuttal/response piece at Forbes today, management author Steve Denning writes “What we are looking at is not the end of capitalism, but rather the next phase of its evolution.” (see “Is Capitalism Ending?”).

The first of these articles was prepared as a debate preamble for an Integral Theory conference, so it does not attempt to expound a complete argument. Instead in the spirit of provocation, Stein seeks to light the fire of debate by boldly proposing to integralists that their philosophy is “anti-capitalist”. Furthermore, he says that integral theorists have poorly misunderstood Marx and not adequately digested Marxist philosophy in their writings, for instance by casting Marx as a theorist of the Lower-Right Quadrant rather than an integral thinker in his own right. Stein claims “a commitment to integral meta-theory entails a commitment to the disruption and ultimate overthrow of capitalism.” What are good first steps?

We need to work out an integral diagnostic critique if capitalism, leavening integral theory with the best of the non-reductive Marxists (or Integral Theorists could actually read Bhaskar’s Dialectic). We also need to engage in projects that articulate and exemplify real alternatives, integral concrete utopian[4] futures for economic and productive systems, as well as new forms of organizational governance and cooperative structures.

Stein’s program is theoretical and proscriptive, but it looks like Mason and Denning are mainly writing descriptive accounts of the ambiguous, amorphous, and continually innovative state of economics, mainly in a British setting for Mason, especially with regard to technology companies. Mason fired the first shot with a missive claiming the end of capitalism is near. After bemoaning the fall of the political left from his heyday advocacy of overthrow of the existing order to its sorry state as a critical force offering merely piecemeal reforms, Mason sees a threefold reason for hope.

Postcapitalism is possible because of three major changes information technology has brought about in the past 25 years. First, it has reduced the need for work, blurred the edges between work and free time and loosened the relationship between work and wages. The coming wave of automation, currently stalled because our social infrastructure cannot bear the consequences, will hugely diminish the amount of work needed – not just to subsist but to provide a decent life for all.

Second, information is corroding the market’s ability to form prices correctly. That is because markets are based on scarcity while information is abundant. The system’s defence mechanism is to form monopolies – the giant tech companies – on a scale not seen in the past 200 years, yet they cannot last. By building business models and share valuations based on the capture and privatisation of all socially produced information, such firms are constructing a fragile corporate edifice at odds with the most basic need of humanity, which is to use ideas freely.

Third, we’re seeing the spontaneous rise of collaborative production: goods, services and organisations are appearing that no longer respond to the dictates of the market and the managerial hierarchy. The biggest information product in the world – Wikipedia – is made by volunteers for free, abolishing the encyclopedia business and depriving the advertising industry of an estimated $3bn a year in revenue.

There’s more to Mason’s article that may make it worthwhile to read the full article, though I must admit to finding it a bit tedious. Essentially, based on these three points above plus a smattering of miscellaneous observations, he wants to direct “the logical focus for supporters of postcapitalism” to “build alternatives within the system; to use governmental power in a radical and disruptive way; and to direct all actions towards the transition – not the defence of random elements of the old system.” His three arguments are meant to provide hope that the left’s long-sought changes are already upon us.

Denning doesn’t see it quite that way, though he is friendly to the idea of evolutionary stages within capitalism. As a writer, Denning is committed to the view that the “Creative Economy” is emerging in the midst of capitalism, making obsolete the old ways of working. It requires not just new technologies, but a change in mindset. And it deals with the fact that work and meaning-making are more intimately connected than ever before.

Denning does not buy the idea that capitalism is on its way out; he sees us entering another stage in its evolution. He looks at Mason’s evidence to the contrary, and says hey what?! One by one, the Forbes writer attacks the theses of Mason’s article, calling into question (a) his belief that the “sharing economy” is not a business, (b) his claim that there is less need than ever to work, (c) that Google prevents access to public information, (d) that Wikipedia could replace firms like Apple, (e) that global firms are doomed, and (f) that “a new kind of human being” is emerging.

Take the disagreement regarding the “sharing economy”. Mason seems to believe that the “sharing” economy with firms like Airbnb and Uber are a fundamental shift out of capitalism, wearing the cloak of capitalism only incidentally. But this is a Romanticist’s distortion, according to Denning. In fact, Airbnb and Uber are essentially part of the old rental economy, and any pretense to the contrary is a mistake. Who is correct? I think they both have a claim on the truth. I would not say that the term “sharing economy” is a misnomer, as Denning would have it; there does seem to be something new about the spirit and motivation (the Upper-Left quadrant) of these companies that is worth putting attention on. It could turn out to be highly significant, and I think it’s a mistake to refuse it any validity. On the other hand, it is worth the reminder to any economist wanting to emphasize the newness of the sharing economy that the burden of proof is on them to show how it is truly new in significant and interesting ways, and not merely the old rental economy. Proponents of left-leaning economics ought not assume that the latest trend in sharing is really unique on the face of it.

Again and again, Denning makes seemingly valid criticisms of Mason’s thesis. I must admit to not taking sides on all of these back-and-forth claims because I’m not an economist and found several parts of Mason’s original article difficult to follow. Regarding claims that I found vague, Denning seems to have a clear idea of what Mason meant, and Denning makes the case that those ideas are wrong. I’m just not sure Denning is really interpreting Mason fairly, since I thought Mason laid out his arguments unclearly and therefore unpersuasively. Perhaps Mason will reply to Denning and get the upper hand; it could happen!

The integralist in me watches the debate between Mason and Denning not merely as any sort of random interaction, but as a sort of Green v. Orange/Teal divide. They both look at different parts of the same animal and one sees socialism in a new guise and the other sees the evolution of capitalism. One emphasizes the pluralistic and communal and non-competitive features of certain ambiguous economic phenomenon and sees proof of Green phenomena; the other emphasizes the continuity of ambiguous phenomena with the older, capitalistic, market-driven Orange forces elevated possibly in evolution to Teal structures.

Continue reading “Smells Like Post-Capitalist Spirit”

Growing Pains at Zappos Draw Attention to New Management Operating System

Imagine that you can belong and involve yourself in an organization without bosses or hierarchical org charts. You must become self-managing, evolving into new capacities and roles. In the management philosophy of Holacracy, you are becoming more present in the moment and evolving into what you truly are.

It’s a management philosophy with a deep affinity with the Integral movement, beginning with the notion (of Arthur Koestler’s adopted by both Ken Wilber and Brian J. Robertson) that reality is comprised not of parts or wholes, but holons organized into holarchies.

In the weeks ahead, I will write more about Holaracy and its role in our world, starting with a discussion of Brian J. Robertson’s new book Holacracy (which I’m reading now). By way of introduction, let’s notice the front page article on the philosophy at today’s The New York Times in “At Zappos, Pushing Shoes and a Vision”.

Unfortunately the article doesn’t dig deep into Holacracy’s intellectual influences, but there have been a slate of articles on Zappos in recent weeks. Some of them have gone there.

The NYT seems most interested in talking about the difficulties in the Holacracy implementation process: confusion, employee buyouts, and one person stuck in five hours of meetings in one day. It charcterizes the philosophy’s adoption as unenthusiastic and problematic:

Nothing about Holacracy is easy to understand. In place of a traditional organizational chart are concentric circles of responsibility. Employees get to choose which circles they belong to and what projects they work on. The jargon is relentless. At meetings, “tensions” are resolved. People don’t have one job; they have multiple “roles.” “Lead links” are designated to communicate between circles. Everyone must use the Holacracy software, called Glass Frog.

Such self-management remains the exception in the workplace today, yet its advocates constitute a small but growing movement. Holacracy has other adherents, including the David Allen Company, a consultancy, and Medium, the blogging platform started by the Twitter co-founder Evan Williams, though none of the other users are as large as Zappos.

“I feel like I’m in control without being controlling all the time,” said Ruben Timmerman, who adopted Holacracy at Springest, a 25-person online education company he founded in Amsterdam. “The team is more efficient and more creative because of the sharing, and also more accountable. It has definitely helped us.”

At Zappos, Mr. Hsieh seems to regard Holacracy as a way to revive the close-knit community feeling that made the company so special 10 years ago, when it was just a few hundred people taking on the giants of e-commerce. “Once you have that level of friendship, there’s higher levels of trust,” he said. “Communication is better; you can send emails without fear of being misinterpreted; people do favors for one another.”

If only it were so simple. Holacracy has been met with everything from cautious embrace to outright revulsion at Zappos, but little unequivocal enthusiasm.

The article does nothing to refute the adage that there is no such thing about bad press coverage. Sure there are difficulties at Zappos, the largest implementation of Holacracy that’s ever been, but now many more companies can be exposed to this important new management approach. I think the conflict adds dramatic tension to the  stories that reporters hunger for, even as they are set in the context of one of the most radical and far-reaching business management experiments ever conducted.

One thing I will be looking for as I read Holacracy is how well it spells out the proven benefits of the new management style that make implementation difficulties worthwhile. Judging from today’s NYT article, it’s going to be more important than ever to tell the success stories as well as the growing pains.