Vertical Development

Understanding The Deeper Connection of This “Thing” Called Vertical Development

Something has happened in the last 24 hours, due to a serendipitous collection of articles read (both old and new), that has made me step back, reflect, and realize something that I’ve known for a long time but have not really “known” in terms of deeply understanding it. Well, that is until now.

I’ve repeatedly said over the years that there are number of notable people all talking about the same thing but from different disciplinary perspectives and languages. This “thing” I’m talking about is vertical development.

And what’s important to realize about this though, because of the complexity of understanding what vertical development actually means, is that many of these notable people talking about it, may not even be aware that they are talking about it.

The reason for this is that vertical development is like a narrative which has many elements to it. One notable person may be talking about one aspect of it (i.e. creativity), while another person may be talking about another aspect of it (i.e. social innovation). The thing is though is that if you go below the surface of all of the different words used from all of the different disciplinary languages, a deeper unified meaning will reveal itself, that is an undercurrent to everything these people are talking about.

David Suzuki

In reading some recent articles by David Suzuki, I’ve realized that he is finally begin to understand the deeper problem with his work in environmentalism. That being that he has to go beyond environmentalism into the realm of vertical development to actually make an impact in his work.

Global conferences and agreements are necessary, but we need far more ambition and action — and humility. To fulfil our potential as a species, we need a paradigm shift, from an archaic consumer mindset to a wider vision that encompasses nature and recognizes the values and connections that will help us live well.

Paradigm Shift Needed To Halt & Reverse Biodiversity Loss

What interesting about this is that I actually applied for a job with the David Suzuki Foundation a decade or more ago but never got the job. I was actually something thankful that I didn’t get it though because I realized I probably would have been frustrated within the position. That’s because I knew back then that they needed to widen their scope as an organization but I didn’t have the capacity to articulate this clearly at the time and thus I’m not sure if they would have comprehended the bigger picture at the time.

Today, I would have described to them that until they can help people understand and see the deeper human nature within themselves (which our current society’s culture is alienating us from), they will continue to have a hard time making people see how humanity is embedded and integrated with nature.

Gabor Mate

This also directly relates to Gabor Mate’s tireless and amazing work on trauma, addiction, stress, and childhood development which his website encapsulates as “human development through the lens of science and compassion.”

Therefore our true nature is to love, and love is required for our species to exist. If we live in a society that does not provide or support our most basic needs then our society will adapt and our behavior will not reflect our true nature. Today’s modern societies are incredible and it’s amazing to witness our innovation, ability to control our environment, and experience advances in medicine; just to name a few. However, it’s evident that our innovation and focus on material resources has out paced our biology and basic needs. Therefore, despite many advances, we will see illness, dysfunction, and trauma persist until we are able to truly understand what our most basic needs are and how to provide them to one another.

Human Nature

In effect, because our base needs are not being met as children and, even more so, as adults, we are experiencing widespread trauma and addiction in our society today. To put it another way, due to our basic needs often being unmet, especially in our workplaces, we are addicted to trying to meet them in any way we can.

And until we can create a society and a cultural environment where meeting people’s needs is a basic human right of their well-being, people, organizations, and society will be unable to experience any vertical development growth in the process. Something that is essential if we want to psychologically adapt and meet the wickedly complex challenges of our world today which are actually caused by our own existing systemic behaviours and mindsets.

Brené Brown

And a way we often get stuck focused on our basic needs is the subject of Brené Brown’s foundational work on shame. Once we can get past beating our selves up and giving ourselves some space just to be, we can connect with the vulnerability of who we are which can help us to take leadership over our lives.

And this is something that relates to vertical development intimately, as Brené herself discovered within her recent podcast with Lisa Lahey, the co-author of the book Immunity To Change with Robert Kegan. During the podcast, Lisa actually stepped Brené through the process of making invisible assumptions and beliefs in her own life visible. In doing so, she helped her to objectively see and relate to how her past identity was competing and conflicting with a larger identity of herself that was trying to emerge, mainly due to these assumptions she believed.

In particular, two quotes by Lisa Lahey really stood out for me because they relate to my metaphor of vertical development being a roleplaying game which involves not only adventuring within the dungeons of yourself to levelling up but also participating within guilds to get the support to do so. These guilds of the 21st century though will be one’s where we can “craft a different possibility of reality”, letting us to “play” a larger “role” beyond the identity of the one’s we’ve been conventionally expected to fulfill by society. So just like Brené needs to role-play and test out a newer, larger sense of Self with her team, others will be able to do so within these 21st guilds as communities of practice as well.

LISA LAHEY: But if I don’t, if I can change that assumption to see where its edges are, and I can explore the possibility that the world is not so black and white.  Where’s the gray? Then I’m in a position where I can begin to craft a different possibility of a reality where it’s possible to be both disciplined and be a creator. And that’s what the work ahead would be. How do you test out that big assumption? And for me, the way to go about testing any assumption is try to really stack the deck in the direction that shows you the ways your big assumption may not be correct. Because it’s very easy to show how it’s correct. It’s way harder to show yourself how it isn’t incomplete. It’s just not seeing all of the way the world can be.

BRENÉ BROWN: God, Lisa, this is hard. It’s a lot of excavating. But it’s also really powerful to understand that there are legitimate important commitments that are working against the change that I know is also an important thing and having to understand what the assumptions are behind those existing commitments and challenge those. I mean, would you tell the folks listening that this is the heart of the process?

LISA LAHEY: I would say the heart of the process is to start with that map, those four columns, and to be in it in the way that I’ve experienced you today, which is to let yourself go to places that don’t feel very comfortable. They feel uncomfortable, but they feel real. They feel true. And if you can let yourself just see what is and work at the not judging yourself to just allow yourself the humanity of… This is what we all do. Every single person’s got an “immunity to change” map. If they want to take on some really good reach goal for themselves, we all have this stuff going on. So, if you could let yourself just be with that, and that’s one big step that has to happen because it gives you a map in some way around what you do need to actually address in this deeper landscape that’s going on inside in order to change your external behaviors. And then the next big heart of it all is to actually engage in some pretty active testing of your big assumptions so that you can learn the ways in which it isn’t accurate or there may be times it is accurate, but you’re having a much more rich data informed understanding of how the world works and how you also work in the world. And you let your bigger self actually be more in charge of seeing that world and not the self-protective, more scared part of us, which tends to more often be in control.

Harold Jarche

These communities of practice are something I’d like to see more people doing but specifically in the sense of delving deeper into our selves. For example, Harold Jarche has his own community of practice which he indicates is a “trusted space” but I’m unsure if they go that deep in their sessions, trying to put into practice and work on living what they are learning.

It would be interesting to find out because the deeper intention of Harold’s work again touches upon vertical development at its core, as this older post of his reveals.

The job was the way we redistributed wealth and protected workers from the negative aspects of capitalism. As the knowledge economy disappears, we need to re-think our concepts of work, income, employment, and most importantly education. If we do not find ways to help citizens lead productive lives, our society will face destabilization. This is a challenge for government, as our institutions are premised on many assumptions that are no longer valid. Changing the worldview of politicians, public servants, and citizens will be a key part of addressing the issue of wealth redistribution. Old mental models will not help us much.

Democratizing Distribution

I could go on and on describing many more people who are all talking about vertical development but probably aren’t aware that they are actually doing so. The important point I’m trying to make here though is that there is a collective movement of people striving for change but this movement probably won’t achieve any traction and serious momentum transforming society until they can begin to start seeing each other and connecting up the different aspects of their work collectively. When that happens, that’s when we’ll start seeing massive change.

In effect, the potential is already there and already in process, it’s just not being seen and recognized. Pretty much the same thing that’s happening with the potential of people not being seen and recognized within organizations and society as a whole.

If these “walk-outs” remain isolated from one another, nothing happens. The dominant system will crush, absorb, or coopt the pioneers because every living system is inclined towards self-preservation. But if they get connected to one another, exchanging information and learning, then their separate efforts can suddenly emerge as a powerful system capable of disrupting the old order and giving birth to something new.

Deborah Frieze

By Nollind Whachell

Questing to translate Joseph Campbell's Hero’s Journey into The Player’s Handbook for The Adventure of Your Life, thus making vertical (leadership) development an accessible, epic framework for everyone.

Leave a Reply