Friday, July 30, 2010

Keynote: Robert Kegan, Ph.D. - Is There Life After ‘Self- Authorship’? Thoughts on the ‘Self-Transforming’ Mind #itc2010

Robert Kegan just finished his keynote address, and he is actually staying to answer questions and have a conversation. This man is truly amazing - I've been a fan of his books for years. He earned a standing ovation following his main talk.

Unfortunately, I am too wiped out to stay for the Q&A, so I'll blog the Keynote and if anyone feels moved to share what he talked about after I left, please leave a note in the comments - thanks.
Robert Kegan, Ph.D., Harvard Graduate School of Education: Is There Life After ‘Self- Authorship’?: Thoughts on the ‘Self-Transforming’ Mind.

Robert Kegan has spent a lifetime studying the development of adult meaning-making. His theory of an evolving succession of increasingly encompassing “personal epistemologies” has influenced theory and practice in multiple disciplines on every continent. People have often requested that he give a talk addressed entirely to what he has learned about the highest stage in his model, “Stage 5” or “the self-transforming mind.” In this talk, for the first time, he responds to this request. Is it really possible to grow beyond the self-possession and psychological independence of “the self-authoring mind”? Why would one want to? What does it cost us? How much does the world need it? As a self-described “student of [his] own research subjects,” Kegan will tell us what he has learned from them over the years about the further reaches of adult development.

Robert Kegan, is the Meehan Professor of Adult Learning and Professional Development at the Harvard University Graduate School of Education. The recipient of numerous honorary degrees and awards, his thirty years of research and writing on adult development have contributed to the recognition that ongoing psychological development is at once possible and necessary to meet the demands of modern life. His seminal books, The Evolving Self, In Over Our Heads, and (with Lisa Lahey) Immunity to Change have been published in several languages throughout the world. He can be reached at
For those unfamiliar with Kegan's theory, here is a brief outline of his developmental stages:

Stage 0: Incorporative stage

  • Subject: reflexes
  • Object: nothing

Stage 1: Impulsive stage

  • Subject: impulses, perceptions
  • Object: reflexes

Stage 2: Imperial stage

  • Subject: needs, interests, desires
  • Object: impulses, perceptions

Stage 3: Interpersonal stage

  • Subject: interpersonal relationships, mutuality
  • Object: needs, interests, desires

Stage 4: Institutional stage

  • Subject: authorship, identity, ideology
  • Object: interpersonal relationships, mutuality

Stage 5: Inter-individual stage

  • Subject: "the interpenetrability of self-systems"
  • Object: authorship, identity, ideology
As mentioned tonight, perhaps the most common transformation occurring right now is from 3rd order to 4th order mind. However, when we consider that only about 5% of the population in the US can do 5th order thinking, that is still 10 million people - only in the US.

Kegan walked us through some "beads" in a mosaic, beginning with a traditional image from Gestalt psychology, and an image from MC Escher.

Almost everyone has seen this image at some point.

Both of these images require our minds to shift perspective, but in different ways.

The first one is either/or, we see either the old woman or we see the young woman - with some training we can see both at the same time. It's a static image.

In the Escher image (The Encounter), it's a both/and experience - it's in motion. It requires a different type of perceptual ability than the first one, a higher order.

From there he led us through a sentence completion exercise (each person in a pair says a word, alternating, that constructs a sentence, until someone ends it with punctuation). This was a good lesson in "interpersonal relationships and mutuality" - the sentence never goes where we think it should or want it to. We are in an interpersonal dance of mutuality with the other person.

A little later, he have the image of a glass tube, round, with openings at both ends. Then he turned it around, it really is two openings connected by a glass tube. Think about.

Then think about two people in conflict. They are not having a conflict - the conflict has them. And example of 5th order thought - what we need more of in the world today.

Kegan talked for a bit about Obama as an example of someone transforming the self-authoring mind (4th order). He gave some examples that you will never hear on Fox News - and I suspect that part of why liberals feel cheated is that they elected him as a liberal, but he is governing from thew middle. As an example, when it became clear that he would get NO votes from the GOP for health care reform, and once he had his party lined up, he could have gone much further and made the bill much more liberal - but in fact, significant portions of it are EXACTLY what the GOP had lobbied for in the past. He did not need to do that.

Moving on from there, he talked about the public conversation project in which an equal number of pro-choice and pro-life women began to have monthly meetings that lasted over six years. When their story came out in the media, a reporter asked them if they had found some common ground. The all answered, NO, without hesitation. "Well, then surely there must have been something?" Well, yeah, the experience was extraordinary. "So what was it?" We love each other.

It was not about merging or overlapping their very different circles to find common ground, it was about creating a bigger circle that could contain both of their circles.

Finally, he asked WHY are we living longer? Not how, which is medicine and science, but WHY?

We have in general outlived our reproductive years, more so than any other species on earth. There is no good evolutionary advantage in this.

Perhaps we are living longer because we need more time to grow into higher order thinking. We are constantly engaged in a race to the top (empathy, kindness, compassion) and a race to the bottom (killing, starving, stealing). Maybe we are living longer so that we can "find our way out of hell."

There is a scene in Gandhi where a man confesses that he is going to hell for killing a child, and does not want Gandhi's death on him as well (Gandhi is engaged in a hunger strike). Gandhi asks why he killed the Muslim boy, and the man (who is Hindu) tells him it was because they killed his son. Gandhi tells him he knows how can find his way out of hell.

To do so, he must find a boy whose parents have been killed in the wars. He must take the boy in and raise him as his own. BUT . . . the boy must be Muslim, and he must raise him as a Muslim while remaining himself a Hindu. The man looks shocked, terrified, the falls to his knees and kisses Ghandi's feet.

This is the 5th order thinking that can save our planet, save us as a species, help us find our way out of hell.


tom sullivan said...

Thanks for posting this. I hope you can do some follow up.

boaby said...

Thanks for this.

Some typos you may want to prune:
1) You write "is that the elected him as a liberal, but he is governing from thew middle."
""is that THEY elected him as a liberal, but he is governing from THE middle.""

2) And where you have "Finally, he asked WHY are we living longer? Now how, which is medicine and science, but WHY?" I expect you meant " longer? NOT how, which is medicine and..."

william harryman said...

thanks for pointing out the typos - I don't type so well or proofread so well when I am tired - and I am always tired right now

Nathanael Chawkin said...

my dad, Ken Chawkin forwarded me your page a few months ago... didn't know you were at the conference! I just came upon your post searching for the escher pics that Kegan used for his keynote to explain 5th order to a friend! I will have to catch you next time.