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Simple Habits for Complex TimesI was glad to see both a leading model of individual growth (up to the Teal stage) and a leading model for making sense of the complex and non-linear nature of reality included in a new book, Simple Habits for Complex Times*.

For models like these – from Robert Kegan and Dave Snowden – that both seem so illuminating, it’s surprising how rarely one sees them together, let alone truly integrated. Especially as Teal thinking is actually very receptive to the new models of reality centred around emergence, non-linearity and complexity.

Their most self-organising features “had been co-opted by conventional top-down approaches like ‘best practices’, ‘buy-in strategies’ and moves to separate the deciders-from-the-doers”
– Henri Lipmanowicz  & Keith McCandless, Liberating Structures

Frederic himself talks at one point about organizations as ‘living systems’, and uses the analogy of a forest.

But how does all this relate to the organisational practicalities of ‘Next Stage’ organisations?

One way it does is that such complexity thinking is beginning to be embedded in valuable tools and processes that Next Stage organisations might well want to start using.

Developmental Evaluation and Liberating Structures

‘Development Evaluation’ is an emerging approach to evaluating projects that is proving particularly relevant for social innovators seeking to bring about systems change under conditions of complexity.

Dave Snowden's Cynefin framework

Dave Snowden’s Cynefin framework

It draws on such things as Dave Snowden’s Cynefin model of complexity – and breaks away from the conventional simplistic linear evaluation that limits itself to Logic Models, top-down best practice ‘recipes’, Randomised Controlled Trials and suchlike.

Elsewhere, a new set of tools that deftly embed emergence and complexity science thinking is ‘Liberating Structures’. These are a set of 33 practices – taking from 12 minutes to 2 hours – that any of us can use in our meetings to uncover solutions, unleash local action, spread innovations and much more. (The name is actually drawn from Prof. Torbert’s label for post-Teal organizational structures).

They aim to dethrone our dogged adherence to the big five methods most of us use day in, day out to run our meetings: presentations, managed discussions, brainstorms, open discussions and status reports – methods which have done so much to create boring and unengaging meetings (and workplaces)!

Of course, various really engaging group tools have been around for decades – Frederic Laloux describes in detail an imagined large-scale ‘Appreciative Inquiry’ two-day session in his book.

What might make Liberating Structures a good candidate for inclusion in the new wiki of ‘Next Stage’ processes is that its developers found that the use of such powerful group tools was so often limited to the leadership team at the top of the hierarchy, or to retreats. Their most self-organising features – which allow for true distributed participation – “had been co-opted by conventional top-down approaches like ‘best practices’, ‘buy-in strategies’ and moves to separate the deciders-from-the-doers. We wanted innovation for everybody and everyday practice that would nearly spread itself,” the developers explain.

Overcoming ‘Immunity to Change’

Valuable and powerful tools are even emerging that subtly embed the psychological growth models of Kegan, Loevinger and Torbert that have so influenced Laloux.

For example, Kegan and Lahey’s ‘Immunity to Change’ mapping exercise only takes around 20 minutes and – combined with its follow-up tools – enables anyone to achieve important changes they want to make but have so far failed at. This could be such things as losing weight, or listening better to colleagues at work.

Yet this is only what the tool does on the surface; underneath (for some people at least) it is fostering their psychological growth towards Teal ways of thinking and acting.

Whilst talk about ‘Teal’ and ‘Adult Development’ and ‘Technical vs Adaptive change’ might appeal to tens of thousands, talk about successfully making a change you want to see in your life appeals to millions of people – even billions. (Little wonder that something like 60,000 people signed up the first time Harvard University offered a free MOOC on overcoming “Immunity to Change”.)

The Immunity to Change tool can foster stage change without anyone – bar a few aficionados – even realising.

Frederic Laloux’s new wiki is gathering the best of such tools and processes for us all to see – and, more importantly, use.

*Simple Habits for Complex Times – Powerful Practices for Leaders, by Jennifer Garvey Berger and Keith Johnston (Stanford University Press, 2015)



  • Developmental Evaluation
  • Kegan/Lahey’s Immunity to Change MOOC
    I recommend doing it with a small group who meet face to face; see this blog post which includes my experience doing the first Immunity to Change MOOC.
  • Liberating Structures
    (N.B. I rather suspect that the kind of creativity enabled by Liberating Structures collectively will come more naturally – and sustainably as we grow closer to Teal individually. For this reason I’ve been supporting Ian Prinsloo to discover whether a simple ‘Immunity to Change’ tool can be created to join the other potential new Liberating Structures. And ‘Next Stage’ practices – such as the ‘Advice process’ that Laloux describes – would come more easily too. We already know from Kegan/Lahey’s book Immunity to Change (p. 16-20) that Teal stage individuals put in place far more open and inquiring information-sharing networks with their colleagues. The norm, of course, is to seek information that simply reinforces one’s pre-existing viewpoint, rather than challenges it. This doesn’t stop once one gets interested in Teal. As yet, no researcher has actually mapped these contrasting information-sharing dispositions visually, using Social Network Analysis).
  • Find out how enlivening your meetings are: try the Inclusion and Engagement Quotient questionnaire
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