The following passage comes from Robert Kegan & Lisa Lahey's Immunity to Change, a great book I first discovered through Vince Horn's site, Numinous Nonsense.
In this section from early in the book, Kegan and Lahey describe the three basic stages of complexity they are working with in their experience with leaders from various fields - for those familiar with Kegan's work, these three stages seem to correspond to his Interpersonal Self (3), Institutional Self (4), and Inter-Individual Self (5) from The Evolving Self.
Socialized MindThe purpose of this particular book is to elucidate the various immunities we all have to change from one level to the next, even when change is the desired outcome. Most of us have some sort of virus protection that blocks the change process and maintains the status quo. More important that changing our behaviors is identifying and dealing with these "hidden competing commitments" that keep us stuck where we are.
Having a socialized mind dramatically influences both the sending and receiving aspects of information flow at work. If this is the level of mental complexity with which I view the world, then what I think to send will be strongly influenced by what I believe others want to hear. You may be familiar with the classic group-think studies, which show team members withholding crucial information from collective decision processes because (it is later learned in follow-up research) “although I knew the plan had almost no chance of succeeding, I saw that the leader wanted our support.”
Some of these groupthink studies were originally done in Asian cultures where withholding team members talked about “saving face” of leaders and not subjecting them to shame, even at the price of setting the company on a losing path. The studies were often presented as if they were uncovering a particularly cultural phenomenon. Similarly, Stanley Milgram’s famous obedience-to-authority research was originally undertaken to fathom the mentality of “the good German,” and what about the German culture could enable otherwise decent, nonsadistic people to carry out orders to exterminate millions of Jews and Poles.1 But Milgram, in practice runs of his data-gathering method, was surprised to find “good Germans” all over Main Street, U.S.A., and although we think of sensitivity to shame as a particular feature of Asian culture, the research of Irving Janis and Paul t’Hart has made clear that group-think is as robust a phenomenon in Texas and Toronto as it is in Tokyo and Taiwan.2 It is a phenomenon that owes its origin not to culture, but to complexity of mind.
The socialized mind also strongly influences how information is received and attended to. When maintaining alignment with important others and valued “surrounds” is crucial to the coherence of one’s very being, the socialized mind is highly sensitive to, and influenced by, what it picks up. And what it picks up often runs far beyond the explicit message. It may well include the results of highly invested attention to imagined subtexts that may have more impact on the receiver than the intended message. This is often astonishing and dismaying to leaders who cannot understand how subordinates could possibly have “made that sense out of this” communication, but because the receiver’s signal-to-noise detector may be highly distorted, the actual information that comes through may have only a distant relationship to the sender’s intention.
Let’s contrast all this with the self-authoring mind. If I view the world from this level of mental complexity, what I “send” is more likely to be a function of what I deem others need to hear to best further the agenda or mission of my design. Consciously or unconsciously, I have a direction, an agenda, a stance, a strategy, an analysis of what is needed, a prior context from which my communication arises. My direction or plan may be an excellent one, or it may be riddled with blind spots. I may be masterful or inept at recruiting others to invest themselves in this direction. These matters implicate other aspects of the self. But mental complexity strongly influences whether my information sending is oriented toward getting behind the wheel in order to drive (the self-authoring mind) or getting myself included in the car so I can be driven (the socialized mind).
We can see a similar mindset operating when “receiving” as well. The self-authoring mind creates a filter for what it will allow to come through. It places a priority on receiving the information it has sought. Next in importance is information whose relevance to my plan, stance, or frame is immediately clear. Information I haven’t asked for, and which does not have obvious relevance to my own design for action, has a much tougher time making it through my filter.
It is easy to see how all of this could describe an admirable capacity for focus, for distinguishing the important from the urgent, for making best use of one’s limited time by having a means to cut through the unending and ever-mounting claims on one’s attention. This speaks to the way the self-authoring mind is an advance over the socialized mind. But this same description may also be a recipe for disaster if one’s plan or stance is flawed in some way, if it leaves out some crucial element of the equation not appreciated by the filter, or if the world changes in such a way that a once-good frame becomes an antiquated one.
In contrast, the self-transforming mind also has a filter, but is not fused with it. The self-transforming mind can stand back from its own filter and look at it, not just through it. And why would it do so? Because the self-transforming mind both values and is wary about any one stance, analysis, or agenda. It is mindful that, powerful though a given design might be, this design almost inevitably leaves something out. It is aware that it lives in time and that the world is in motion, and what might have made sense today may not make as much sense tomorrow.
Therefore, when communicating, people with self-transforming minds are not only advancing their agenda and design. They are also making space for the modification or expansion of their agenda or design. Like those with self-authoring minds, what they send may include inquiries and requests for information. But rather than inquiring only within the frame of their design (seeking information that will advance their agenda), they are also inquiring about the design itself. They are seeking information that may lead them or their team to enhance, refine, or alter the original design or make it more inclusive. Information sending is not just on behalf of driving; it is also to remake the map or reset the direction.
Similarly, the way the self-transforming mind receives information includes the advantages of the self-authoring mind’s filter, but is not a prisoner of that filter. People at this level of mental complexity can still focus, select, and drive when they feel they have a good map. But they place a higher priority on information that may also alert them to the limits of their current design or frame. They value their filter and its ability to separate the wheat from the chaff, but they know it can also screen out “the golden chaff,” the unasked-for, the anomaly, the apparently inconsequential that may be just what is needed to turn the design on its head and bring it to the next level of quality.
Those with self-transforming minds are more likely to have the chance even to consider such information, because people are more likely to send it to them. Why is this? Because those with self-transforming minds not only attend to information once it gets to their door; they also realize their behavior can have a big effect, upstream, on whether people decide to approach the door. Others are not left guessing whether to send potentially “off-mission” communication they judge to be important. They send it because people with self-transforming minds have found ways to let them know such information will be welcomed.
Learning this technology so that we can use it with clients seems highly desirable if we want to be effective change agents as therapists. However, what fascinates me as a psychology student is how we might build this knowledge into our education programs for therapists. Essentially, I want to know how we can grow Self-Transforming Therapists within the two to three years we are in training.
I think it goes without saying that the more complex and developed out thinking is as therapists, the more effective we will be with clients. With complexity comes a greater ability to take the role of the other - often known as empathy - and feel our way into the experience of our clients. More than three decades of studies have repeatedly shown that the specific therapeutic intervention is not as important as the therapeutic relationship between the client and the therapist (Smith and Glass, 1977).
If we can help therapists evolve in our complexity of thinking - allowing us to build better relationships with our clients - as part of the education process, we are likely to produce better and more effective therapists.
I think I will be trying to develop an article around this idea at some point, which more than likely will be posted here, so stay tuned.
Smith, M. L., & Glass, G. V. (1977). Meta-analysis of psychotherapy outcome studies.
American Psychologist, 32, 752–760. [Author's note: This study has been replicated many times since its inception.]