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Sean Esbjorn-Hargens on Integrative Thinking and VUCA

By June 28, 2017 August 14th, 2020 3 Comments

“And so we’re seeing a whole new kind of leader emerge in the face of a VUCA reality.”–Sean Esbjorn-Hargens

Sean Ebjorn-HargensSean Esbjorn-Hargens (@sesbjornhargens) is the founder of The MetaIntegral Foundation and is a champion of the kind of integral philosophy best known through Ken Wilber. He has a PhD in integral theory and has worked extensively in helping coach leaders to be effective in the chaotic, and endlessly changeable modern world. He and Commander Divine talk about the philosophy of meta-integration and the importance of integral theory for business leadership. Learn how you’re will need to pull together understandings of different areas to make yourself more effective as a leader.

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Discussing Integrative Thinking With Sean Esbjorn-Hargens

Hey folks. This is Mark Divine coming at you from SEALFIT headquarters with the Unbeatable Mind podcast. Welcome back and I’m so stoked that you tuned in yet again. So hooyah! Appreciate that support.

And listen, before I introduce our guest today– and by the way, we’re going to have a really, really interesting conversation. I’m really stoked about it. Around leading in a chaotic world.

But before we do that, I’m asked to remind you to please go to iTunes and rate the podcast, if you haven’t done so already. You’ll see a bunch of stars there and I’m pretty sure there’s 5. So start at the right side and click over there first, okay? Just giving you a hint.

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At any rate, like I said, I’m completely stoked. One of my favorite topics is leadership. My book, “The Way of the SEAL” is all about leadership and in it I introduce some concepts about leading in chaos. And maintaining an offensive mindset. But also, as you’re probably aware, if you’ve read the book–it revolves around development. Developing you as a person. As a leader. Someone who’s capable of leading through chaos. Someone who’s capable of leading teams and yourself, and developing yourself. Taking responsibility for that growth.

And today’s guest is an expert in this area. In fact, Sean Esbjorn-Hargens is a PhD in integral leadership, and he runs an organization called “Meta-Integral.” And he happens, also, to be working with me as a coach and a consultant for our inner circle program.

I’m going to read Sean’s bio, because it’s really cool. Normally, I usually don’t do that. We just get right into talking, Sean. But I like your bio. It’s pretty cool. Kinda like bio-envy here.

So Sean Esbjorn-Hargens is a PhD specialized in supporting leaders, teams and organizations navigate complexity through developmental and integrative methodologies and practices. Sean’s the founder of Meta-Integral, which is a social enterprise/global action network, comprised of 3 companies. Training academy, consulting firm and a non-profit.

Meta-Integral is dedicated to supporting professionals to be impact through the application of integral principles and frameworks. Sean’s areas of expertise include… this is the good part… Executive leadership development and coaching, leadership curriculum design and delivery of integral/organizational consulting.

I wanna talk about that. Like what the heck is that?

Dynamic facilitation. Whole system design–something that I’m really horrible at. Embodiment and presence. And the application of… this is it. Okay, this is the part that I have envy. “The application of integrative meta-theories.”

And I’m sure everyone’s going “What the hell are integrative meta-theories?” So we’re going to figure out what those are.

Sean, thanks a lot for joining me today. I really appreciate your time. How are things going, by the way?

Sean Esbjorn-Hargens: Really good. It’s great to be here. I’m excited for the conversation and yeah, it’s been an amazing few months. I’ve been applying the ideas we’re going to be talking about today in a number of leadership contexts. So yeah, I’m excited to see where our conversation goes.

Mark: Yeah, me too. Now you have some pretty interesting clients. Isn’t like the government of South Africa one of your clients? And IBM and Google or folks like that?

Sean: yeah, we have a team in Brazil that’s been working with IBM and we’ve been exploring a contract with Accenture. We have a team in Australia that’s working with the government there, and looking at healthcare. And we have teams here in the US, working with Google, Sysco and Eileen Fisher–the female… woman’s fashion design. And a number of other interesting and well-known clients and it just highlights that these organizations are really interested in what we call “vertical learning” or “vertical development.” And integrative approaches.

I would never have guessed that these would be some of our clients when I started this company, but I’m excited to see that the world is waking up to the levels of complexity we face and one of the strategies for dealing with it is cultivating vertical development in leaders.

Mark: Yes. Definitely. And I want to come back to vertical development, but it’s been a long time since I’ve spoken with Ken Wilber. I did a podcast with Ken I think you’re aware of, maybe 9 months ago. Ken being the father of integral theory. And since you’re like probably the next guy on the list who knows about as much as… well… nobody can know as much as Ken, right. But anyway…

But since you are definitely an integral expert. You have a PhD in integral leadership. Is there a possibility of giving the listeners a 5 minute, thousand foot overview of what integral theory is? Cause to me it’s fascinating and it helps framework the Unbeatable Mind training. cause when I put that together, and then when I mirrored it or matched it to what Ken had talked about with the AQAL, I didn’t have all 4 quadrants, but I had 3 spheres and I had 5 lines of development, being the 5 mountains, and I’m like “Holy Cow.” Unbeatable Mind is an integrated development model. It’s an integrated warrior development model. But kind of a caveman approach, right? So I’ve learned so much from Ken and now from you.

So, anyways, enough about me blabbing. Tell us what is the integral theory in as simplistic way as you can.

Sean: Yeah. So integral theory is an example of what you mentioned before. An integrative meta-theory. And in my studies and research I’ve identified at least 3 major integrative meta-theories. So there aren’t a lot of them out there.

Ken’s work is the most popular and well known. In many respects.

There’s another body of work called critical realism which is very academic and associated with philosophy of science and is primarily comes out of the British school of thinking.

And there’s another gentleman, Edgar Morin based out of France, who’s a public intellectual figure who’s developed a body of work called “complex thought.”

All 3 of these individuals have in common and why their approaches are referred to as integrative meta-theories is they are a theory of theories. So they look at all the different theories that have been produced by human beings over the last 10,000 years. And they come up with a way of integrating all of that in a coherent, cohesive way that is their best attempt at basically explaining reality.

So integral theory is a theory of reality. And not just reality in terms of the… what we’d call the exterior dimensions. Like, the behaviors and the systems, which is how a lot of theories of everything are framed and discussed in terms of a physics context.

Mark: Like unified theory? Or an attempt to find unified theory?

Sean: Yeah, exactly. The integrative meta-theories include psychology, emotions, relational dynamics. Cultural theory. Religions. Philosophies. So it includes all the quote “interior dimensions.” All the aspects of reality that in some sense are invisible. They’re not just empirical realities that are observable through the 5 senses.

And so integrative meta-theories do their best at studying all the major theories of all the major disciplines that you would find on a college campus, and then coming up with a framework that brings the best insights from all of those disciplines into a single, integrative meta-theory.

Mark: Interesting.

Integration and Reality


It sounds kinda Utopian to me. I mean, do these frameworks kind of meet the reality test? Do they work? When you’re out there working with clients… I mean, I found at a personal development level that people get it. But do they work for team and organizational systems? What is your experience with that?

Sean: They do. There is a process of translating the theory into practice. And theories are so wide-ranging and include so much that… and they could never fully be integrative, right? Cause we’re discovering new dimensions of reality and new aspects, and so the process of integration is ongoing, and so these theories are always having to be revised and adjusted.

But what people like Ken Wilber are really good at is identifying the principles that underlie the integrative dynamics and by identifying what those principles are, you can apply those to teams, and to leaders and to entire organizational systems.

And so, you do this in your own work. One of the main premises of all of these integrative theories is the importance of including what you call the 3 spheres, or what in Wilber’s work; he calls the “Big 3.” The “I” dimension, the “we” dimension and the “it” or “its” dimension. So those are 3 fundamental aspects of reality that when you include them and tend to them with teams, with individuals, with organizations, you get a much better result. Cause when you leave out one of those dimensions, one of those spheres… then you end up really crippling yourself and shows up in all kinds of ways. So you take the core “meta-” principle and you find ways to translate it into the specific context that you’re working in with leaders or businesses.

Mark: In this context, what does “meta-” mean to you?

Sean: Meta- means big.

Mark: (laughing) Yeah. Huge.Sean: it can even mean beyond… like…

Mark: Inclusive? Or all inclusive?

Sean: Yeah, inclusive. So I named my companies “Meta-Integral.” So it’s an integration that’s a very big integration because I work with all 3 of the integrative meta-theories I was mentioning. So not just with Wilber’s work, which is kind of my primary home base, but with additional meta-theories. And so it’s meta- in that it’s global, and it’s trying to be as inclusive as possible. And it also creates a kind of humbleness, because you recognize that it’s impossible to actually accomplish what you’re committed to. And this is kind of the Utopian…

Mark: You gotta pick your battles, right? And find where the real opportunities are for change. In a way, Sean… I just thought of this… you are actually creating a super-meta-theory of meta-theories. So you can add “super-” to your company name too. “Super-Meta-Integral.”

Sean: Yeah. Actually I took the 3 theories that I mentioned and I took one word out of each of them to create a new word. It’s called “complex integral realism.”

Mark: (laughing) Nice.

Sean: It’s my meta-meta integral theory. And there’s a whole chapter devoted to it in a book that came out a few months ago. I’ll give you a copy of that the next time I see you and it’ll blow your mind.

Mark: I can’t wait to see that. Now I’ve got your book “Integral Ecology” And you’ve written 1 or 2 others haven’t you?

Sean: Yeah, one of the things that I think’s really cool about “Integral Ecology” is there’s an appendix at the end of the book that’s about 30 pages in length, and it has a short paragraph describing 200 distinct approaches to the environment. 80 of which are schools of ecology and then the other 120 are distinct schools of environmental thought.

Now each of these approaches, by and large, has their own PhD programs. Their own journals. Their own conferences. Their own research agendas.

And so this is the craziness that

the environment’s so complex and so dynamic that it could support over 200 distinct schools of environmental thinking and ecological research.

And so the question I try to answer in that is “How might it look if we drew on a majority of those to try and deal with our environmental issues?” Cause right now, it’s like we basically draw on 3 or 4 of them for any given issue. But there are dozens and dozens of schools that have great insights about why we’re in the situation we’re in and what we might do to get out of it. And so there’s just this level of complexity that’s rampant in the business world, in the academic world. And even in our own personal lives.

If anything defines the 21st century one could argue it’s complexity.

Mark: Right. And there’s been an unending drive toward smaller and smaller dissection and definition…definititiation of smaller buckets or verticals of knowledge. And so that’s led to 2 to 300 domains of science around the ecology… many hundreds around economics and social systems theory and everything. It’s so cool to see an integrative approach happening and it’s relatively new. I mean, I think Wilber’s been at this for, like, 30 years. Is that right? Do you see the movement growing? Is it catching on? More of an integrative approach or are you a lone wolf out there? You and a few others in the integral community?

Sean: Yeah. You’re right. Wilber as well as Roy Bhaskar and Edgar Morin, the other 2 I mentioned started writing in the mid-70s. So all 3 of these contemporary integrative meta-theories have emerged in our contemporary moment. And it’s no surprise. They’re the result of the complexity that we’re facing globally. And they’re efforts to try and deal with that.

And I do see things increasing, and the zeitgeist is becoming more and more integrative. I’m ongoingly coming across examples of integral approaches, initiatives, frameworks, models that know nothing about any of the 3 bodies of work that I’ve been mentioning. So…

Mark: Similar to Unbeatable Mind…

Sean: Exactly. So they’ve evolved outside of that context because when you’re faced with as much complexity as we are, one natural response is an integrative response. And so creative people who are passionate… they are generating creative approaches all over. I see it at UC Berkeley. There’s a guy down in Columbia who’s created an integrative theory of Mathematics, where he’s brought together all the different major schools of Mathematics. And he calls it a “systemic philosophy” of Mathematics.

I mean so it’s just mind-blowing that these efforts are happening all over the place and they wholly fit within integral theory and these other approaches. And so I think we are in an integral age. We’re in a very fragmented age. And one of the things I’ve often thought about is, is there going to be an omega point where we just integrate it all? It’s like, and I’ve come to the conclusion that actually the fragmentation and the integration go hand-in-hand. And you’re always going to have both. You’re not going to have some kind of moment where the integration gains on the fragmentation. It’s like an interesting polarity where they self-create each other.

And so I think we’re living in an age of fragmentation. And along side that is we’re living in an age of integration at the same time.

Mark: That’s interesting. And it’s possible also that it kind of follows the laws of evolution and involution, so that you have a period of fragmentation, followed by a period of integration which is then again followed by fragmentation. And who knows how long these periods are. They may be long, or they may be speedy.

But, you know, not unlike they say a human being evolves and then involves and even the universe is said to be in an evo-/invo- kind of cycle or dance. Very interesting.

Leadership in a Chaotic World/VUCA


So let’s move on and talk about leading in a chaotic world and then how leaders can develop themselves vertically so they can navigate that. And you use the term… a term that I first heard in the military… and it’s VUCA–leading in a VUCA world. Let’s talk about that. What is VUCA?

Sean: Yeah, VUCA’s an acronym that emerges out of the military context I believe in the 90s, and it stands for “Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous.” And it was an acronym that was designed to basically describe our current moment. And it’s been adopted by the business world and leadership and in a lot of other contexts, because it really does a good job of kind of naming our situation.

And so leading in a VUCA world is…

How do you lead given the high levels of uncertainty? Or the many complex realities we’re facing? Or the ambiguity? And the volatility?

What’s required of leadership now is very different than even 10 years ago. Let alone 20 years ago. So there are different qualities of being, of self that are needed in an individual… different qualities of presence, different capacities of thinking, different abilities of emotional awareness, tracking of oneself, and those around you, in order to navigate this VUCA world. And so we’re seeing a whole new kind of leader emerge in the face of a VUCA reality.

Describing Leadership


Mark: Okay, so totally agree on all that. What is the old leader look like? What’s not working? And then we’ll kind of turn our attention to what will work.

Sean: You know, often it’s described as a command and control approach. And a hierarchical approach. Cause we’ve really moved into a networked system approach. And so what’s not working is unilateral power, top down decisions. One person being able to know as much as they need to to execute.

So, in a sense, the individual has disappeared, right? And so the new leaders are… they’re obviously individuals but they’re plugged into a network of perspectives, a network of methods. A network of thinking that’s very different than kind of this idea of the heroic leader.

So we’ve moved from the heroic leader to the networked leader.

And the networked leader still is heroic in some important ways… but not exclusively heroic in the way that kind of the old-school leaders tended to be.

And you see this in business where… businesses that are led by the heroic-style leader are ones that are not the VUCA conditions that their businesses are embedded in. There’s been a number of interesting studies that the leaders who have higher vertical development, higher levels of consciousness where they’re able to hold more complexity and coordinate it. Business leaders, executives and CEOs that have those highest levels of human cognitive capacity are the ones who are able to lead their organizations through the transitions that their companies are facing as a result of the VUCA realities.

So we’re really seeing the old style leader is just not cutting it. And more and more organizations are recognizing that something different is required.

Mark: So are we talking really about leadership development? Or systemically reorganizing so that you become like McChrystal’s team of teams or a networked organization so that the organization can unblock the energy of the team? And is it the leader’s job, basically, to reorganize and get out of the way?

Sean: It is. And yet, you have to manage the polarity of being a heroic leader on the one hand… because there’s moments when the company or your team needs that heroic drive, that clarity, that focus, that inspired power. And you have to balance that and be flexible and shift into a collaborative leader, a networked leader, a leader who’s able to navigate multiple perspectives, coordinate them, see leverage points within the system–both within departments and organizations, and in terms of market dynamics or geopolitical regions. So it’s that ability to think systemically, build systems, dialogue with the systems, reinvent the systems as you go. And create lots and lots of feedback loops for yourself, your team and your systems. So that they become very agile. Very responsive to the conditions. Because the conditions are shifting so quickly that if you’re not agile in your own thinking, or your own emotionality. Or your team’s ability for relationality. Or your system’s ability to navigate what’s happening in terms of supply chains. In terms of market dynamics. In terms of leadership shifts. Then the lack of agility spells death in a networked world.

So you need a leader who’s integrate in a number of respects is able to support leadership across all of those different contexts. Very demanding set of leadership qualities. It’s not easy.

Mark: No doubt. No doubt about that.

Now you remember recently you administered an assessment for me called the LDMA–Leadership, Development Management Assessment? Is that right?

Sean: Close. Leadership Decision Making Assessment.

Mark: Okay. And it was by a company called Lectica. Some of your peers were involved, in the integral world. I think Zach Stein, right, is one of the folks. Out of Harvard. Involved in the creation of that. And I thought it was fascinating and at first I was looking at it as, “Hey, this is going to test… this is going to grade me on my leadership.” Know what I mean? “And I better get a 10 because I teach it.”

(laughing) And I did not get a 10 on a scale of 1 to 10. I was probably more like a 6. And it was fascinating, because there are skills beyond the skills, beyond the skills. And they’re all soft, right? They’re all really… and I want to ask you this question, but it seems to me this whole notion of really getting out of your limited sense of linear decision making and really being able to look at patterns and frameworks and to be able to really step in the shoes or the head of not just the individual you’re dealing with, but the whole network. And to be able to see multiple perspectives.

I mean, that’s really new. That’s a new type of training. I can see how it’s… not easily, but I can see how it’s trainable. But I’ve never experienced… except in the SEALs, where we had to find our way through these murky VUCA environments. And come up with new structure, again, like the team-of-teams approach from the Joint Spec Ops taskforce in Iraq and Afghanistan.

So what’s your take on that? Why all of a sudden did this idea of vertical development… how come it hasn’t been around in the past? It seems like it’s obvious that we want to be able to navigate complexity, because, you know, that’s what a leader’s always done. But I haven’t seen anything like this Lectica assessment.

Sean: Yeah, it’s emerged in the last 5 years or so, and it’s largely been driven by what has been called “the complexity gap.” And the complexity gap is the gap between your mental capacity and the external or even internal complexity that you’re facing. And what we’ve discovered in terms of developmental psychology over the last 100+ years is the different phases or stages that individuals go through in developing their mindsets and capacity to think and integrate that with emotions and interpersonal dynamics and so forth.

So there’s a really big body of research that has a long tradition. And a lot of the figures currently are associated with Harvard. And you mentioned Zach, who is a graduate of Harvard University, and he studied with Robert Keegan, Kurt Fisher, Howard Garner. A lot of the really big names in this field. And so because complexity is just, you know, exponentially exploded over the last 15 years, there’s been an increased recognition that leaders have not been able to navigate it. And so the question has been asked, “Why? What’s going on? And what do we need to support leaders to have the capacity to navigate this level of complexity that we’re facing?”

And so the research shows that there’s 4 major adult stages of mindsets. And the first one… there’s actually, like, 11… There’s a lot… but just to focus on the top 4…

Mark: Depending upon the model you talk about, right?

Sean: Yeah. And so just to focus on the top 4 in the model that Lectica uses, there’s “advanced linear thinking,” which is the vast majority of the adult population. Around 60% of adults are operating with Advanced Linear Thinking. And this gets us through most of our day.

Beyond that, you have what’s called “Early Systems Thinking.” And this is basically, you know, 30% of the population. So this is where you have your leadership, especially in organizations and companies.

And then, after that, you have “Advanced Systems Thinking” with only 9% of the population. And here you find VPs, executives, CEOs that are testing at these levels of Advanced Systems Thinking because their job demands it. If they don’t have Advanced Systems Thinking capacities, they’re actually not able to perform their function. And serve the company and the stakeholders… the shareholders.

And then the last level is called “Integrative Thinking” or “Principled Thinking.” And only about 1% of the adult human population is at that place, right?

And yet many of the situations we’re in globally require at least Advanced Systems Thinking capacities. Only 9% of the population’s there. So there’s this complexity gap between all the leaders who are at Early Systems Thinking, 30%. And yet they find themselves in situations that really require Advanced Systems Thinking. And so it’s a developmental catalyst if they’re supported and have the right scaffolding, the right environment… they can grow into the abilities that support them to operate at that higher level.

Mark: So, I’m a entrepreneur, and we certainly don’t have any “Advanced Systems” in my business. So do I need Advanced Systems Thinking to be an entrepreneur? Or is this really just applicable to running countries and organizations like Ford and GM.

Sean: Yeah, for your company and the size it is, you don’t need Advanced Systems Thinking…

Mark: Phew.

Sean: Definitely need Early Systems Thinking. But to the extent that you and your team cultivate Advanced Systems Thinking, it’s going to support you to scale, it’s going to support you to build better business models. Have more dynamic teams. So you’re going to have a lot of benefits to the extent that you’re able to cultivate those higher capacities of mental, emotional and interpersonal integration.

Mark: Yeah, that makes sense.



Mark: So let’s talk about how. Let’s talk about how to develop those skills. And you use the term vertical development. I love that. Let’s first distinguish what’s the difference between horizontal and vertical development when it comes to leadership development.

Sean: Yeah, you know, and this is an important distinction that’s often used when presenting these ideas.

So horizontal learning is what generally happens out there. And that’s learning more things. That’s like expanding your tool-box, right? Learning new skills, new theories, new frameworks. Getting more content. So this is what you know. Increasing what you know.

Whereas vertical learning is changing how you know. It’s actually changing your mindset. It’s changing the operating system out of which the “what you know” occurs in.

So the horizontal learning is the content, the vertical learning is the context.

And so you can take someone who is at, let’s say, Advanced Linear Thinking, 60% of the adult population. And someone who’s at Early Systems Thinking, right? So they’re at different levels of vertical learning. And vertical development.

You could give them the same, horizontal learning… like; they know the same theories, the same tools, the same methodologies. They have essentially the same skill sets.

But they have 2 different levels of consciousness. The individual who’s at the Early Systems Thinking will be able to take his or her horizontal learning and apply in more effective, skillful ways than the other guy. He’ll see different patterns, he’ll see different connections, he’ll be able to unlock the potential of those tools in a way that the Advanced Linear Thinking individual would not be able to.

So the more vertical learning you have, the more creative you are with the tools in your tool-box.

Mark: Right. So specifically, though, what types of things can we do as leaders to facilitate or unlock some vertical development?

Sean: Yeah, one of the core practices that we work with… and this comes out of the research that Lectica has done… and it’s consistent with the other research on human psychology and development. And it’s perspective taking, perspective seeking, perspective coordination. And so these 3 practices help cultivate vertical learning. And there’s a lot of different ways to cultivate vertical learning, but this is a really powerful way to go about it.

And so perspective taking is using your mind to think about all the different ways you can look at a topic. Or how different people involved in the situation might reflect on it, or understand it, or make sense of it. So this is kind of like in your mind going around and standing in everyone’s shoes and seeing how the situation looks from that vantage point.

We tend to pretty good at that. That’s a capacity that we cultivate in various ways and we see the value of it.

The next one’s perspective seeking. Where you actually go out and talk to the people who represent those perspectives that you just took, in the comfort of your own mind. And you compare their view of where they’re standing with your view of where they’re standing. And often, it’s not the same.

Mark: Then it’s just leadership by walking around? A classic principle?

Sean: Yeah, in a way it’s just straight-forward. It’s like talking to people. But what happens is like you start to see the gaps between your mental models and their mental models. You start learning the different mental models and all of a sudden you’re confronted with a lot of complexity because not everyone’s seeing it the same way. And they have different reasons, different criteria, different needs, different… you know. And so then it’s like, “Wow. Holy cow. What do I do with that?”

And so that becomes the next step, which is perspective coordination. And this is where you’re trying to bring it all together and find the through line. Find the meta-principles that can organize the differences and unify them. Because we don’t want to just be left with the pandemonium of all the differences, and all the perspectives and all the possibilities. That’s divergent, right?

That’s the out breath. The in breath is convergence. So like with box breathing you need both in-breath and out-breath for it to work. So it’s the same with perspective seeking and for perspective coordinating. They come together. And so the perspective coordination is where you really have to start integrating, and that develops a capacity for vertical development. Because the more you go through that cycle of perspective taking, seeking and coordinating, it exercises this systemic awareness that includes not just cognitive capacities, but emotional capacities and capacities of mindfulness and presence. Of somatic, energetic dimensions.

And so that’s where the integral leader is happening. It’s where you’re bringing all those dimensions of yourself online. And connecting with those dimensions in other people. Because it’s not going to work to coordinate people if you’re just trying to do it mentally. You have to inspire people. You have to show that you’re vulnerable. That you can transform your thinking in the face of their feedback. They have to feel like you’re really are collaborating, that it’s not just a procedure you’re going through.

So you have to build the social capital. You have to be collaborative and flexible and help drive people to action, shared action out of a place of shared vision.

And so there’s a lot involved, but it really requires all 5 mountains. And so this is where on the one hand, vertical development can be viewed as the peak of the mental mountain. So someone at that 1% of Integrative Thinking, right above Advanced Systems Thinking, they, in a sense, are like the Navy SEAL of the mental world. Right? You don’t want to mess with them, right? They know their stuff. They’re amazing cognitive emotional, interpersonal beings that are highly integrated, highly responsive to dynamic conditions and so they’re just amazing to watch in action.

Training and Learning


Mark: So perspective seeking, perspective taking and integration or coordination. Those are skills that can be taught and practiced and role-modeled and whatnot in a training… And what you mentioned was really interesting, is it requires… So those are going to give you some tactical, practical skills. But the more intuitive, the more aware, the more mindful we are, the more effective you’re going to be at both perspective taking and seeking and coordination. And so I can see how an integrative approach to the training is really important. Like the 5 mountains, you said. So you have the embodied practices to develop intuition. You have the mindfulness, and the awareness practices of meditation and silence and being in nature and box-breathing, right? To develop more sensitivity.

And then you apply all these while you’re doing those 3 perspectival developmental things.

Sean: Yeah, absolutely. And the research shows that as people increase in vertical development, they work with intuition more and more. So at Early Systems Thinking, you start to see intuition becoming a larger source of a leader’s approach to making decisions.

And then at advanced systems Thinking, it’s full-on. The leaders at Advanced Systems Thinking are tapping into their intuition moment to moment on a regular basis. And folding that in along the other streams of data. That might be coming more from a cognitive assessment or an emotional assessment of the room or an interaction with an individual. But intuition becomes more and more important. And part of that is because, when you’re in a VUCA environment, and you get good at sitting in ambiguity, and you get good at sitting in uncertainty, that actually trains your embodied awareness to open up to the information that’s coming into your sphere that we often call intuition.

It’s when we’re in an Advanced Linear mode that we kind of cut our self off from intuition. And this is like, in the Navy SEAL context–when you’re out in the field, and you’re in a difficult, life-or-death situation, you actually have to relax and open awareness. Even though there might be moments where you’re really zeroed in and focused, you’re kind of moving between, I would imagine. Kind of a focused awareness and an open, relaxed awareness. That’s where the intuitive dimension comes forward and saves your life.

Mark: Right. This is fascinating and I think I wanna do another podcast on intuition because you’re just opening up all sorts of interesting avenues. And I’m sure everyone listening is just going, “Yeah, let’s go down this path.” Because this is really interesting.

I mean the current kind of accepted theory is that intuition is simply when you’ve mastered a skill or domain, that you’re able to kind of recognize patterns much quicker. And so it’s kind of all cognitive. Like neuroscience… to the neuro-scientist, intuition is just about more effective brain functioning because you get the clutter out of the way.

And my experience is that intuition is much more complicated than that.

Sean: Yeah. There’s a lot of different kinds of intuition. And so you have to kind of “double click” on the word, and just to play with it a little bit here. And we’ve talked about this, where there’s a form of intuition that comes from the mind which I call “insight.”

There’s a form of intuition that comes from the heart center, which I call “intuition.” Then there’s a form that comes from the belly center or the body, which I call “instinct.”

So these are different types of intuition. So there’s different layers of our psycho-emotional system that provide non-linear insight into our moment. And so we can call that intuition, and I think it’s appropriate. And so there’s a lot of different channels of intuition and having an integrative framework helps us see the many different forms that intuition can take. And how to access and benefit from all of them. And not just reduce it into the form of intuition that comes from a deep embodied knowing, being an expert in something.

Mark: Fascinating. In a way, those 3 correspond to the 3 spheres. “I” being insight, the “we” being the intuitive connection with another human being, the heart level. And the “it” being the belly, the body of knowledge. Or the pass-through of knowledge from some other source.

Sean: So Mark, that there was an Advanced Systems Thinking moment that you just had…

Mark: Woo-hoo!

Sean: Right? So, there’s some live progress right here, buddy.

Mark: (laughing) Awesome, man. You just made my day. That’s awesome.

I’m going to put that on my resume. “Advance System Thinker.”

All right, Sean. This has been fascinating. We could go on forever, but we’ve already been cranking for about 45 minutes. Is there a book or an article that people can read on vertical development, VUCA… leading in a VUCA world?

Sean: Yeah. There is. There’s an article that my colleague, Barrett Brown did that’s about the future of leadership. And maybe I can send it to you and you can post it with the podcast.

Mark: Yeah, let’s do that.

Sean: So that people can download it, read it and it brings together and summarizes a lot of the things we’ve been talking about.

Mark: Perfect. Outstanding.

And your website? Where can people find you to learn more?

Sean: Yeah, my primary website is and I just launched a new page called that people can check out as well.

Mark: Cool. (laughing) In the future it’ll be “”…

Sean: (laughing) Yeah, it’ll just be “”

Mark: (laughing) That’s hilarious. I think that domain is taken by the way.

Sean: (laughing) It must be.

Mark: All right, Sean. Thank you so much for your time. Super-appreciate it. And I’m going to continue to work on my Advanced Integrative Thinking here.

We’ll see you soon, I’m sure.

Sean: All right. Bye now.

Mark: Yup. Take care.

All right folks. That was fascinating. Boy was that a lot of fun. I’m gonna come back and we’re going to hit up another podcast with Sean on intuition. That was… I think it’s really critical that we pay attention to our learning and our development–especially this vertical development. Unbeatable Mind really is focused on that, so it’s a great place to start. If you haven’t participated or learned about Unbeatable Mind, go to and check out the online training. Where we develop the 5 mountains and the 3 spheres.

And if you haven’t read my book, “Unbeatable Mind” then that’s also a great place to start. And “The Way of the SEAL,” also kind of hits on it from a perspective of leadership.

Okay, so until next time, train hard, stay focused, and develop some Advanced Integrative perspective taking/thinking.


Coach Divine out.

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