Vertical Development

Letting Go of Control

In my last post, I mentioned about Carol Sanford talking about how to cultivate an “inner witness” which seemed to relate to triple-loop awareness. Specifically she mentioned about “self-observing” which is “separate from ongoing mental activity, that allows one to objectively observe this activity.”

For myself, I don’t think I’ve fully been able to achieve this, specifically in the moment that is, but more and more I’m become aware of myself reflectively, as I seem to be able to step back farther from myself. For example, today I had an epiphany that I began laughing at because it made my life feel like a tragic comedy.

Two decades ago, I began questioning my life and the way that work worked. Due to that questioning, I became increasing aware of how society often tries to force and control us to change, so as to fit in and conform to its expectations.

Discovering a different path to life from that experience, I wanted to help and “save others” from this crushing conformity, only to realize that I myself was trying to control and force others to change and conform to my own expectations, regardless of my own path feeling evolved.

In effect, I was no better than those people I was previously frustrated with because I was doing the exact same thing as them but just in a different context.

Today, in the process of stepping back further, I’m realizing now that I’m doing the same thing again but on another level. In wanting to create a development community, I’m again putting expectations on other people who I’d consider my peers which is bringing flashbacks of my experiences on Google+ again, where I felt like I was trying to “disrupt the disruptors.”

All said and done, I’m sick of this merry-go-round. I sick of trying to control people to “help” people…which when I say that reminds me of something I read a while back. A quote from The Handbook of Adult Development and Learning which refers to Susanne Cook-Greuter speaking about people at the post autonomous stage (although I most definitely don’t think I’ve achieved the construct-aware stage mentioned in the quote).

In what she calls the postautonomous stage (or at other times the construct-aware stage), people are described as changing in two significant ways: with respect to attitude toward language and with respect to ego as a mechanism of self-control. Regarding the new attitude toward language, in earlier stages of development, language is valued because it allows communication between people, enabling us to cognitively package reality into discrete entities placed in conceptual maps. In later stages, by contrast, language is experienced as filtering the underlying reality and detracting from much of the richness of experience.

People take a new attitude toward their egos at higher stages. Whereas in earlier stages, people take pleasure in thinking about their complexity and contradiction—that is, in thinking about themselves—at the construct-aware stage, people question their “objective self-identity” altogether, no longer wishing to be in control in the ways they have been by means of concepts and thinking (what I refer to as simulations). Self-control requires being too concerned with the image of self. People at the construct-aware stage yearn for a mode of being based on noncontrol, a mode of existing not requiring effort, grounded in “radical openness,” a mode not grounded in ego at all.

Handbook of Adult Development & Learning

In effect, the more aware I become of myself, the more distaste I have of what I’m becoming aware of that I’m doing.

All said and done though, I think I’ve reached a point now where I just need to focus on my own development going forward and primarily just on this site (since it allows me to have deeper discussions with my “self”). That’s it. I know I’ve already mentioned this once before but I think I need to take this seriously to heart this time.

Vertical Development

The Intention of Triple-Loop Awareness

I mentioned yesterday that the book Indirect Work by Carol Sanford appears to be about going beyond knowledge. Even more so, it seems to relate to triple-loop learning.

I remembered I had found a triple-loop learning paper before that articulated what the experience of triple-loop learning felt like and I found it again this morning. It’s called Timely and Transforming Leadership Inquiry and Action: Toward Triple-Loop Awareness (PDF), written by Anne Starr and Bill Torbert (who is a major contributor to the vertical development field).

One of the first quotes that jumped out at me from this paper was the following one.

Translating, he explains that triple-loop awareness re-presents a change in consciousness. It is the simultaneous awareness of all 4 territories of experience – of the outside world, one’s own behavior, one’s own feelings and thoughts, and at the same time, a kind of witnessing of all this. It can be called presencing (Senge et aI, 2004). Triple loop awareness occurs in any moment when there’s an attention distinct from the mental thinking, from the physical sensing, and from the objects of perception, infusing them all with an immediacy that is at once passionate, dispassionate, and compassionate. You’re more likely to have these experiences when you put yourself in a position where you’re on the edge of your known reality – on the not-necessarily-comfortable threshold between the known and the unknown.

Anne Starr & Bill Torbert
Timely and Transforming Leadership Inquiry and Action: Toward Triple-loop Awareness

Why this jumped out is because Carol Sanford also has a quote that relates to cultivating an “inner witness” in her book Indirect Work.

The deeper purpose of the intermezzos is to develop your capability to manage, filter, process, and discover ideas as they arrive in your mental space. This requires intentional self-observing, the creation of a conscious awareness, separate from ongoing mental activity, that allows one to objectively observe this activity. It is a common spiritual or consciousness-development practice, and in some traditions, it is referred to as cultivating an “inner witness.”

Once this witness is present, it becomes possible to really notice how we take in influences from others, whether we are reading their words, listening to them speak, or absorbing what they are modeling through their behavior. Learning is at least as much about how one engages with new information and experience as it is about the information itself.

Carol Sanford, Indirect Work

Returning to the paper, an example is given of a person describing their triple-loop awareness.

Quite apart from the profound personal experience that this was for me, it was also an unprecedented experience of a new kind of power. Being a constitutional worrywart, I was accustomed to thinking with limitation – seeing the barriers (in the “real” world) associated with attaining my desires (in “here”) as overwhelming. The emotional shock of this situation gave me a power and clarity I had not experienced before. Instead of seeing limitation, I saw only my intention and knew there were any number of ways it would be met. My desires and the real world were interacting in real time (the present). I never forced a connection or answer, but instead knew that things would fall into place. This felt physically like operating from above myself with infinite flexibility to play/enact in the world “below”. I should also say that I have not summoned this kind of power since then – unfortunately, not even to write this paper (Anonymous, 2004, with permission).

Timely and Transforming Leadership Inquiry and Action: Toward Triple-loop Awareness

This description is common in the more evolved stages of vertical development whereby one describes their experiences as being like on a “balcony” overlooking themselves and their life, seeing all of the interactions clearly going on below, thus no longer feeling trapped by them.

Carol Sanford describes this by being able to see “our projections on others” and taking them back.

Here at the level of living systems (which includes most Indigenous and some Asian worldviews), we start from the assumption that all living beings have their own agency and purpose. There is no need to impose our will or our ideas of what they should be; instead, our work is to cultivate the humility and receptivity that allows us to understand what they are striving to become. From this understanding, we begin to discover appropriate roles for ourselves within their processes of becoming. Our work shifts to evolving the infrastructures and instruments that will enable them to develop for themselves the capabilities they will need to make their own contributions to some other entity’s becoming. Those of us who aspire to play this role must engage in our own development, taking back our projections onto others and turning what had been outer work into inner work.

Carol Sanford, Indirect Work

If I’m understanding this all properly, every interaction with anything in our lives always has an intention to it. Only by stepping back from ourselves and intentionallyperceiving and seeing our own intentions in action, can we truly transform ourselves by changing those intentions. That’s what triple-loop learning gets to the heart of, our deeper intentions.

Carol provides an example of this in her book by describing how Phil Jackson’s unique coaching with the Chicago Bulls created a liberating space for them, letting them step outside of the typical intentions of the game and create their own.

This shift of levels from two to three forces is quite evident in the Bulls’ story. As Jackson directed his players’ attention away from winning and losing and onto the larger cultural meanings of basketball, he also helped them move their attention off the ball and onto the whole system of the game. This freed players and opened up a uniquely creative space within which they could invent new plays in present time and in response to all of the interacting dynamics of court and arena. Players learned to maintain consciousness of the whole of the situation, with its many layers and complexities, and this allowed them to escape the mechanics of the game and experience themselves as agents within a living phenomenon.

Carol Sanford, Indirect Work

Why I find this remarkable is that a lot of games I’ve played in the past, I automatically try to step back and see these undercurrents of the game going on as well. For example, in World of Tank Blitz, a tank simulation game, I noticed three primary types of players which I described as Tactical, Strategic, and Adaptive (primary in relation to situation awareness).

Basically these three tiers of players perfectly aligned with single-loop, double-loop, and triple-loop learning. Tactical players were focused on the question of “Am I utilizing my tank and attacking my target in the right way?” Strategic players were focused on asking “Am I attacking the right target?” And Adaptive players evolved to question “Is it even right to be attacking now?”

The hilarity of reflecting on this now and the poignancy of the question of “Is it even right to be attacking now?” is not lost on me. Our world is fractured and fragmented right now because of the way we perceive it and because of our projected intentions on others. Because of this, most people are spending most of their time “attacking” other people in one way or another.


See the Difference to Make the Difference

I hate this.

I hate that.

These people are bad.

What’s wrong with the world.

Game over. It’s all rigged.

You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.

Buckminster Fuller

When you are solving a problem, you are taking action to have something go away: the problem. When you are creating, you are taking action to have something come into being: the creation. Notice that the intentions of these actions are opposite.

Robert Fritz
The Path of Least Resistance

While the awareness for change usually begins with grief, pain, and suffering, real change can only come from the acceptance of letting go and stepping forward into a larger, meaningful world of our own making.

Vertical Development

Going Beyond Knowledge?

Boom! Mind blown.

In using a new reading technique tonight to get a better understanding of the book Indirect Work by Carol Sanford, I finally broke through a barrier I wasn’t grasping until now.

Indirect development work is about going beyond knowledge.

Development, in other words, is not the same thing as training or knowledge transfer, which are direct ways of working. Development works on our ability to be awake with regard to ourselves, and this is inherently indirect.

Carol Sanford

Here’s some quotes that touch upon this below, first from Chapter 7, which emphasizes how our focus on knowledge actually fragments us from seeing living wholes. And I have to say, her use of the words “aggregate” and “integrate” did immediately make me think of personal knowledge management and building a Second Brain.

Such efforts to integrate multiple, diverse needs and bodies of knowledge are a hallmark of good design and can certainly lead to more sophisticated, holistic solutions and policies. But the process of accretion of information and action, no matter how comprehensive, will never on its own generate the shift in perspective that allows us to engage with a living whole. If anything, the tendency to aggregate and integrate only serves to reinforce the problems associated with fragmentation. This is because it derives its raw materials from the underlying practice of breaking things down into parts in order to understand them before attempting to reassemble them into something that makes sense.

Carol Sanford

And here are a few more quotes from Chapter Eight which show how her knowledge acquisition early in her life didn’t help her as much as what she calls resourcing does now, which is about tapping into your inner knowledge.

In the tumultuous time in my life when I was newly married and a student at Berkeley, I found myself in over my head. It had finally dawned on me that I didn’t know everything and that perhaps I didn’t really even know myself. I had always thought that learning was about mastering content—acquiring knowledge and the skills to put it to use. But as a student at Berkeley, I became increasingly aware that I didn’t know how to observe and manage my own thinking process, and that this was far more important than the content of my thinking.

Since that time, I’ve organized much of my life and work around the insight that real change comes when we engage consciously with our own mental processes. Along the way, I’ve become aware of the importance of what I call resourcing, which works on awakening in people their capacity for critical thinking and agency with regard to growing and expressing their personal potential.

Resourcing is not mentoring or coaching, both of which assume some kind of superior knowledge. Resourcing is not telling people what to do or guiding them into a better pattern of behavior or performance. Resourcing assumes that the potential to know lies within the individual and that what is needed is to awaken their thirst and discipline to find knowledge within themselves.

If I’m not mistaken, what I think she’s referring to here is an innate sense of wisdom. It’s weird and hard to describe but I think I understand what she’s getting at because in looking back upon my life tonight, I keep seeing these moments, like even in the mid 1990s when I was only 30 years old, where I was doing things intuitively in the online communities I was creating that I wouldn’t fully understand logically until a decade later when I was researching organizational development. Like I just trusted myself and my intuition guided me (although being in a playful space helped a lot).

If I’m also not mistaken, this definition sounds very familiar to triple-loop learning (i.e. “Triple Loop Learning gets to the core of things: our purpose, the values that guide us, and so on”) which I’ll check my research on it again later.

All said and done though, I’m not too sure PKM fans would take kindly to her work. They’d probably disbelieve it outright.

In terms of myself, I definitely want to go deeper down this rabbit hole.

Personal Knowledge Management

A Lateral Reading Technique for Deeper Understanding

In reading the book Indirect Work by Carol Sanford, I’m finding I‘m having to reread prolifically to ensure I’m correctly understanding what she’s communicating. It’s not that she’s using difficult words but rather the meaning of her words are deeper than what I’ve experienced before.

To get around this and to ensure I’m understanding what she’s saying (rather than just assuming I’m understanding), I’m resorting to what I’m calling lateral reading. Basically I’ve already read the book from front to back but now what I’m doing is searching keywords in Kindle, thus letting me get a focused, quick sweep of a keyword from different perspectives throughout the book to help me grasp it better.

For example, tonight I searched the keyword “capability” to ensure I got a deeper understanding of it. Then while searching that, I noticed another keyword of “knowledge” and searched that to ensure I was understanding her correctly with it as well.

All said and done, it’s definitely giving me a deeper understanding of what I’ve already read by helping me to look at the content from a different approach.

Vertical Development

What Is a Development Community?

We’re living within a world today where everyone is using the same words but with different meanings behind them. In a sense, it’s like a modern day Tower of Babel but one in which the confusion isn’t immediately apparent until a conflict reveals the true differences of meaning behind the words we use. One obvious example of this is the word “leadership” which can be interpreted in many different ways now, especially as we step into The Future of Work.

Because of this though, when we communicate we want to work towards something, we often have to have to articulate the meaning behind what we want to work towards as well, so that there is no misinterpretation of what you’re communicating. In this post, I’d like to discuss how I’d like to create a development community but also at the same time define the word “development” within the context of this community.

Before I begin though, I’d like to note that I’ve been intuitively wanting to create a community like this for almost a decade but I never knew how to articulate it or categorize it because I’ve never seen anyone else doing it. Coming from a background of building communities online around video games, where I found it fairly easy to build a “guild” community to help players develop and level up within a game, this frustrated me greatly at seeing something I wanted to create but having no bearing as how to create it.

Diving into The Depths of Your “Self”

The primary reason and difference as to why this is a challenge is revealed in the definition of “development” itself, as best described by Carol Sanford in her book Indirect Work.

This is the role of development, to cultivate the capacities for self-observation and conscious choice that enable us to show up as living, creative beings in a living, creative world, to be self-determining rather than predetermined. Development, in other words, is not the same thing as training or knowledge transfer, which are direct ways of working. Development works on our ability to be awake with regard to ourselves, and this is inherently indirect. We become aware of and selective about the influences that shape our thinking and experiencing. We learn to anticipate the systemic effects we produce through our choices and actions. We grow the creative capacity to make new, unanticipated choices based on our evolving understanding of an evolving world.

Carol Sanford

This is why building an online community of practice around video games was so much easier for me because it’s really more about direct knowledge transfer (i.e. how to play the game). With development work though (which can be differentiated by calling it vertical development), you’re not teaching somehow how to play a game so much as you’re awakening them to how our perceived sense of reality is actually a socially constructed “game” of our own creation. Thus you can’t help them directly, as only they can reconstruct their own “lens” (aka worldview) through which they perceive their world.

Hopefully this becomes more apparent as Carol Sanford further describes the key aspects of a development community below (with key points bolded by myself).

I’ve spent most of my adult life participating in, and at times stewarding, communities that are dedicated above all to the conscious development of their members. In such communities, we resource one another, always with the aim of building a field within which consciousness can grow and deepen.

Whether you seek to apply indirect work to an organization, as Phil Jackson did with the Chicago Bulls, or a social change movement, or a town that wants better lives for its citizens, you will benefit greatly from doing so as a member of a developmental community. Developing ourselves is a lifelong effort, and it is hard to sustain force without the challenge and nurturance provided by a community of like-minded seekers.

In my experience, there are several key qualities that distinguish a developmental community from support groups, social circles, professional associations, houses of worship, and other places we rely on for human connection. The first of these qualities is an explicit and transparent agreement to share a developmental method, such as Socrates’s, as opposed to a dogma or rules of behavior. This enables everyone to be self-accountable for the work that they do in the group, which makes the community democratic in the best sense: each member is becoming better and better at governing themself. Also, by making the method transparent, everyone has the opportunity to upgrade their application of its practices and, ultimately, to evolve them.

The second key quality is a certain level of structure that allows the group to gather on a regular, recurring basis to engage in thoughtfully designed developmental processes. A regularly recurring pattern is important because it builds the ability to sustain growth over time. People are able to connect the dots between what they learned in one session and what they will learn in the next, and this allows them to progress as individuals, deepening both their capability and capacity. As the years pass, the group, too, will progress, taking on challenges of increasing complexity and significance. Also, being in a familiar setting with familiar people creates a shared energy field, and this reinforces the quality of intention and dedicated effort necessary to generate the value that the group is seeking for its members.

The third key quality is a shared epistemology based on the idea that people only come to a transformational understanding of themselves and reality when they take responsibility for their own development. People are immersed in an environment where the demand for self-development is ubiquitous, and one that includes older, more established participants alongside those who are stepping onto the path for the first time. The process uses concrete events in people’s own lives as the raw material for their self-inquiry. This is important because the transformational potential of the work is lost the minute an epistemology of self-development drops out and an epistemology of expertise and greater knowledge steps in to replace it.

Finally, I believe that the people in such a community need to view one another as friends, not in a social sense, but in the sense of being unshakably (and at times ruthlessly) committed to one another’s growth and development. These friends in the work don’t seek ease or comfort in their relationships with one another, but rather to challenge and lift one another up to live out the aspirations that each holds for a meaningful life. This is important because we humans love our comfort, and we frequently seek out people who make us feel comfortable. Having friends in the work can serve as a refreshing antidote to this sleepy habit, a place in our lives where we’ve specifically chosen to be among people who have agreed to challenge us.

Carol Sanford

Adventuring Within Dungeons

When I first read these key aspects of a development community, I must say that I was shocked by what I read. That’s because they’re similar to some of the key aspects of the online communities I helped to cultivate around videos games.

For example, when I was an officer within a “guild” community in World of Warcraft in 2005, here’s some of the key aspects of our culture.

  1. Governing yourself was paramount when you joined. In other words, many people often join communities to utilize its resources without providing their resources in return. Thus when someone joined and continually asked for help without contributing and helping others in return, it became apparent they were going to become a drain on the community.
  2. We met up on a regular weekly basis. All of us had lives and work, so we couldn’t invest all of our time, regardless of how much we enjoyed the community. So as to maximize our time, we decided to meet at least two or three times a week on set days. For example, we normally met Tuesdays and Thursdays between 7-10 PM. This consistency allowed us to progress rapidly “taking on challenges of greater complexity” (such as more difficult raids).
  3. We expected people to take responsibility for their development. And I’m not just talking about their skills in the game but how they perceived themselves in relation to others. In fact, some of the more complex raids were so difficult, that all of the diverse roles required perfect precision and timing to pull them off. So when one or two people would keep wiping the challenge on the boss within a raid, they might think that they weren’t understanding the knowledge or skills to take down the boss, but in reality it was more the individuals not believing in their capabilities in the first place. Once they developed a larger perception of themselves, it was like a switch was flipped and everything became easier, even effortless at times.
  4. We loved challenging ourselves as a group of friends. When we wiped on challenging a raid boss, it wouldn’t deject us but rather inspired us to step back and look at it from a different perspective. So we would have an after-action review, assessing what went right and what went wrong, then make another attempt. In comparison, whenever we grouped with other people outside of our community, they would often want to bypass a raid boss after only one failed challenge on it. In effect, they saw their failed attempts as a bruise on their egos, whereas we saw our failed attempts as stepping stones of learning to understanding and overcoming the challenges before us.

Seeking Heroic Company for Epic Quests

This is why I find it remarkable that what I want to be doing in the present is so similar to what I was doing in the past. The primary difference though is obviously that the context is so much larger which feels both scary and exhilarating at the same time. That’s because you’re not trying to fight and overcome an external challenge outside of yourself but instead are trying to overcome your existing perception of reality within yourself. In effect, your existing beliefs and identity as your “self” are the “monster” that is standing in your way, that you’re trying to “slay” and overcome, thus allowing you to “level up” consciously (which mirrors the psychological metaphors within Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey).

Because of this though, it will probably be hard to find people who are willing to take on this “call to adventure” within themselves. That said though, if I can find even just four people to join me to create a group of five, it would be a great starting point.

Vertical Development

We See Not As Reality Is But As We Are

Nathaniel Hawthorne on How to Look and Really See – The Marginalian

“One can’t write directly about the soul,” Virginia Woolf wrote. “Looked at, it vanishes.” This is true of any soul — our own, that of another, that of the world. It vanishes because whenever we look, we see not as reality is but as we are. We see the rest of nature — including each other — through eyes gauzed with preconception, our distracted vision blurred by the thousand thoughts that come alive before the mind’s eye at any given moment, more vivid than the living reality before us.

Maria Popova
Work Isn't Working

Work Is Making Us Feel Disconnected

Disconnection is making work feel more lonely and transactional.

“Everyone is recognizing this feeling of disconnectedness is the No. 1 issuethey’re facing,” says Doug Camplejohn, founder and CEO of Airspeed. But, he adds, “the answer is not going back to to the office. The reality is, this problem has existed forever, and Covid had only made us all more aware and sensitive to it.”

Employee dissatisfaction and disengagement have been on the rise for years, according to Gallup.

To find better solutions, executives will need to recognize they don’t fully understand what employees want and need — at least not without further surveying and open discussions. A sweeping majority of 9 out of 10 executives say their company has a deep knowledge of their workforce, but just 6 in 10 workers agree their bosses understand what motivates them, or their personal characteristics, interests and values.


Everything Everywhere All at Once

I am paying attention.

I’m here because we need your help.
Very busy today. No time to help you.

The universe is so much bigger than you realize.

Every rejection, every disappointment
has led you here to this moment.
Don’t let anything distract you from it.

Site Design

Site Style & Readability

I’ve been playing around with my site design a bit, exploring different Google Font combinations and I think I’ve found one that I really like in terms of overall front-end style and readability but also with regards to backend writing.

I’m decided upon Lora for the body and Lato for the headings.

To apply this to my WordPress Twenty Twenty theme, I’ve added the amazing Twentig plug-in and then when customizing my site, I’ve chosen Twentig Options > Fonts then under Body I’ve set it to “Lora / Medium / Medium” (i.e. font / size / line height) and under Headings I’ve set it to “Lato / Black 900 / Tight / Larger.” I also had to set the Site Title Font Weight to “Black 900” under Site Title as well.

All said and done, I’m absolutely loving the look and feel of my single page layouts in WordPress now.

Next thing to tackle though is how my listing of posts are shown. Currently under Twentig Options > Blog, I’ve set the Blog Layout to “Stack” (which causes the post title and meta details to be tucked in tighter compared to the single page layout format).

While I may set the Blog Layout back to “Default,” I still want some way of visually differentiating long form posts from short form (micro) posts somehow, potentially even rearranging long form posts first and short form posts afterwards on listing pages (using either CSS or JQuery if need be).

Finally, while I’d also love to dive into full site editing with the Twenty Twenty Twotheme, the user interface design and usability of it is just no where near it needs to be. It’s highly convoluted and confusing, especially compared to Squarespace’s interface. In fact, I actually find the old Version 5 of Squarespace to be much more powerful and easier to use, since you activated different focused modes (i.e. Content, Structure, Style, Preview) to work on your site.

So in Style mode in Squarespace Version 5, you could only stylize elements but the interface was way more powerful, yet simpler to use than the style interface in WordPress. That’s the primary problem with the WordPress full site editing interface today, figuring out the context of what you’re working on is extremely confusing and frustrating. However, once they do figure this out, WordPress will finally surpass Squarespace in both power and usability which is amazing considering where WordPress was a decade ago.