Whilst I assist individuals and organisations to manage change by developing a ‘survive and thrive’ mental toughness mindset, I am always interested in learning about other related perspectives and techniques. In this excerpt below from the excellent Fast Company article, Liz Alexander PhD, a consulting futurist and cofounder of consultants, ‘Leading Thought’, explains the importance of a self-transforming mind and how to develop one.
In the 1930s, Swiss clinical psychologist Jean Piaget identified four universal stages of cognitive development. His work suggested that adolescents reached a final, “formal operations” stage, in which they remained throughout adulthood. This includes the ability to think through things in the abstract and draw conclusions, without the need for direct, physical experience. However due to breakthroughs in brain science research we now know that we don’t plateau and that we’re capable of learning so much more. This becomes increasingly important as machine learning and other forms of workplace automation gain ground and to stay competitive in the workforce we need to get much more comfortable making difficult, complicated, higher-order decisions more regularly—until we’ve achieved what Harvard psychologist Robert Kegan refers to as “immunity to change.” This simply means tapping into the potential that your mind is already hardwired to possess with these three perspectives;
1) Meet Your ‘Self Transforming’ Mind
In his 2009 book (coauthored with Lisa Laskow Lahey) “Immunity to Change : How to overcome it and unlock the potential in yourself and your organisation”, Kegan reveals that successfully navigating a world of inherent unpredictability, demands catapulting ourselves into higher levels of thinking.
He suggests a cognitive path to help get us there. At level three of what is essentially a five-part hierarchy, we operate according to our “socialized mind,” where ideas and beliefs are shaped by our “tribes” (i.e., our politics are regurgitated from our chosen news sources and our purchases mirror our friends’ and social circles’ purchases). One level higher (level four) is the “self-authoring” mind-set, and above that (level five) is the “self-transforming” mind. Kegan and Laskow Lahey don’t see these echelons as inevitable—some folks, they believe, bottom out at one or another, making people who’ve achieved the more rarified mind-sets even rarer. The tricky part, though, is that Kegan and Laskow Haley believe the world we’re living in demands more people operating at those higher levels. Their “self-transforming mind” isn’t just some sort of mystical techno-speak. It recalls F Scott Fitzgerald’s “test of a first-rate intelligence,” which he defined as the “ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.”
2) Take a Seat
Psychiatrist and futurist Charles M Johnston has developed a concept he calls “cultural maturity,” based on some four decades of research. To help clients achieve cognitive upgrades, Johnston offers an exercise that goes something like this. Start by seating yourself in a chair and articulate a specific challenge that you feel uncertain how to solve–maybe you’re worried that your job will be automated, for instance, and don’t know whether to make a career move. Then ask yourself who else is in the room and set out a chair for each of them, which may include the angry part of you, the fearful part, or even the part that’s excited by possibilities for change.
You then move to another chair to give the “angry” perspective an opportunity to express itself, then the fearful part, and so on. It may feel silly at first, but take your time. As you focus on your challenge from these different angles, you don’t just illuminate potential courses for action and give an outlet to your mixed emotions—you also reorient your brain. “Move to another chair to give the “angry” perspective an opportunity to express itself, then the fearful part, and so on.”
“I’m always amazed by the incredibly creative information and ideas that come out of such conversations,” says Johnston. “By addressing conflicting internal perspectives this way, complex cognitive changes begin to happen.” This one-person game of musical chairs that you’re enacting in physical space is similar to the one you’re training your mind to undertake when it faces complex challenges.
3) A Little Goes A Long Way
Human Synergistics CEO, Rob Cooke, supports the potential benefits of this exercise because when people change things up in small ways, they begin to develop more constructive styles to problem solving—roughly akin to Kegan’s and Laskow Lahey’s levels four and five—and move toward what psychologists call an “ internal locus of control “ a belief that they can influence and impact the future rather than be swept along by it. “People with constructive styles take self-development seriously,” says Cooke. “They’ll deliberately seek out and assemble an unconventional mix of people to help them question assumptions, take small risks, and try new approaches.”
According to one recent analysis, level five thinking is currently limited to just 8% of the population—good news for those who want to differentiate themselves and remain marketable in an uncertain future, but perhaps not so great for society at large with artificial intelligence looming large.
The good news is that your brain can be rewired, and leveling up just a little could put you considerably ahead of the pack.