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The Growing Mind

Many platitudes can be said about the complexity of the world, the rapid pace of technological changes and growing uncertainties. It is striking to see how often these points are made with deep gravity, as if a new contagious and incurable disease had been discovered. Here is a simple proposition: the world continues to grow up, and its citizens must grow up with it.

In that context, I came across a book by Jennifer Garvey Berger entitled ’Changing on the job: developing leaders for a complex world’ It discusses an adult development theory alongside four stages which is enlightening:

1. THE SELF-SOVEREIGN STAGE (13% of the adult population between the age of 19 and 55)

Here, individuals, typically but not exclusively teenagers or young adults, are essentially self-centered. They rely upon their own perspective only and focus on what they desire. They lack empathy because they are not able (yet) to take the perspective of others. They acknowledge the existence of rules and follow them to avoid trouble, rather than because they adhere to their underlying values. Despite positive intentions, they are stuck in their own story.

2. THE SOCIALIZED STAGE (46% or the majority of the adult population as defined above)

Individuals at this stage of development shed the image of themselves at the center of the world and seek to integrated the views of others into their considerations. They are ready to belong to a social organization (a firm, religious group, etc.) and to become a full, loyal member. One of the limitations at this stage is the ability to deal with conflicts as the individuals lack the conviction required to fix them. The author makes an analogy with an individual who has created an internal Board of Directors to support it in its approach to life and decision-making, but has not managed to put itself in a position to act as its Chair(wo)man yet. This impairs the individual’s ability to establish some order and to make some decisions when conflicting points of view emerge.


Now the individual is able to not only see the world through multiple perspectives which are duly considered but also to deal with conflicts through the reliance upon an internal set of rules and values. An individual who reaches that stage of development is the Chair(wo)man of its own Board and is said to be self-guided, self-motivated and self-evaluative.


Today, a tiny minority of individuals get to the self-transforming state when reaching their midlife. Their mind has grown to the point where they are tuned in to all the various constituencies around them. They look for patterns and similarities instead of dwelling on differences. They connect dots. The self-transforming form of mind is especially suited to understanding emerging challenges for which there have been no previous answers. It is less ideological than other forms, not because it lacks conviction but because it becomes more inclusive.

To me, the self-transforming stage feels like the fourth spatial dimension which is so difficult to fathom. To pursue the analogy, a great article entitled ‘Escape from 3-D’ ‘Escape from 3-D’ suggests that individuals’ difficulty with perceiving higher dimensions is primarily psychological. Unlike the first three, it takes a serious effort to grasp it conceptually and to ‘see’ it. And yet it is there.

Today’s world requires a mindset of a higher stage – or higher dimension. It will not be reached without a conscious effort. It represents a vast investment for individuals (and beyond them, leadership teams) seeking to position themselves as ‘players’ rather than ‘victims’ of a global calamity.

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