Robert Kegan’s first major scientific contribution was his research of human developmental stages. This text will attempt to summarize this work, which drives all his subsequent efforts.
The fundamental idea is that there are different paradigms of consciousness that people go through as they mature. What is vital to understand is that human development does not stop when one turns into an adult. There is an obvious difference between children and adults and early researchers like Piaget have literally based their models on this wisdom. And indeed for the largest part of the 20th century, the scientific consensus of how human development looks like looked like this:
However, several researchers focusing on different aspects of human development have come to the conclusion that humans have the capacity to develop significantly after their teenage years. Kegan’s theory of human development is one of the most accessible of these theories that include adult development as well. He himself uses the three stages of his framework for his work in organizations: the socialized, the self-authoring and the self-transforming mind.
The Socialized Mind is able to live in stable relationship with others in a community. Identity and roles are determined by local culture, which also means that one is subject to the opinions of others and wants to please them through telling them what they want to hear. This institutional stage relies on authority to say what beliefs are right, which one will then loyally follower.
The Self-Authoring Mind can take a step back from one’s surroundings and upbringing and regard them critically. One forms one’s owns judgments based on the evidence that is provided. As a result, one is “self-authoring” an identity that is independent of one’s environment. At this inter-individual stage, one can appreciate that others have a different yet equally valid value systems
The Self-Transforming Mind is able to look at multiple value-systems simultaneously and evaluate which one is suitable for this occasion. One is wary of any single right ideology, even if it is one’s own that is based on reason. This multi-frame perspective is able to hold the contradictions between competing belief systems and can become comfortable with the dialectic between systems of thought.
Supporting other human beings in their personal development is the most important work that can be done because higher stages of development make us better equipped to engage with the world whether be it in relation to others to ourselves or in the kind of impact that we have on this world.
As humanity is faced with so many challenges, higher stages of human development are our secret weapon to face up them. In 2013 Kegan pointed out that because humans can become way older than they used to that their chances of developing higher orders of consciousness at some point of their lives are highly altered.
Through becoming aware of this development and being intentionally developmentally affirmative we can accelerate this growth significantly. This text is only the starting point of this direction. In the following two summaries of Kegan’s work we will see practices and approaches how this can be done.
References (Content and Illustrations)
Kegan, R. (1982) The Evolving Self. Problem and Process in Human Development. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Review Press.
Kegan, R. (2003). In over our heads: the mental demands of modern life. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Kegan, R., & Lahey, L. L. (2009). Immunity to change: how to overcome it and unlock potential in yourself and your organization. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Press.
Kegan, R. (2013) The Further Reaches of Adult Development. [Video File] Retrieved in October 2017 from https://www.thersa.org/discover/videos/event-videos/2013/05/thoughts-on-the-self-transforming-mind-.
Kegan, R., Lahey, L. L., & Miller, M. L. (2016). An everyone culture: becoming a deliberately developmental organization. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Review Press.