Big news from the home front: I, your
humble columnist, have had a baby. Not the bawling, squalling sort:
a book baby. And quite a pregnancy it wasfive years, four
titles, and eight drafts in gestation. The book is called Out of
the Labyrinth: Who We Are, How We Go Wrong, and What We Can Do About
It, and its contents form the tableau from which these snapshot
columns have been drawn.
For over two years now, Ive been sharing my thoughts about
business and sustainability in these pages. If these musings have
had a common theme, it is that, in the usual view of things, much
goes unsaid that needs saying. I see it as my role, or maybe the
word is compulsion, to pull back the curtain and say what I see
behind it. For instance, sustainability is typically thought of
as a state that will be brought about by superimposing various policy
solutions on our techno-economic structures. I say that doesnt
quite capture the reality: sustainability also has interiority and
depth. Another example: words are usually viewed as descriptive
of reality, not as actually shaping that reality. I say no, the
words we usethe words we choose!have magical, world-creating
It is not that I am a contrarian. Au contraire: I have a distinct
aversion to the A, not B, my dads bigger
than your dad game. Sure, elks lock horns, but at the end
of the day, all that gets you is a sore head. I dont want
to reject A for B, I want to find out how
A and B can work together. Theres
even a term for this point of view: its called integral
thinking. I want to take whats in front of the curtain
and whats behind the curtain, I want to take figure and ground,
and have them dance together.
I guess you could say Im not partial to partiality.
This bias extends beyond sustainability. I have my inner life, my
personal life, my intellectual life, my civic life and my professional
life. I want to find the common threads that underlie them all.
I want it all to cohere.
Theres nothing especially unusual about this. If Im
not crazy (and the consensus, by a hair, is that Im not),
a great many people suspect, as I do, that something fundamental
is missing from the standard way of viewing things. A great many
of us hanker to uncover the unifying structures that underlie the
fractious diversity of our everyday lives. Its a spiritual
quest, I suppose, but it has a secular aspect as well. We want to
shuck off that annoying
sense of fragmentation.
This is the itch that Out of the Labyrinth scratches. It probes
for answers behind the curtains, at the level of deep structure
where all that fragmentation starts to fade. Along the way, it addresses
a great many questions, including the following:
* Is there some sort of strategy, or meta-strategy, that can enable
us to brake the western industrial train before it tumbles us all
into the abyss?
* Why do progressives have such a talent for tripping over their
* Is there a relationship, on the grand scale, between personal
growth and social progressand if so, what is it?
* Do spirituality and activism converge, and if so how and where?
I date the books conception to March 11, 1999, when I had
a passing thought that, over the subsequent months, evolved into
a model whose essence is as follows.
Each of us engages in three types of activity during our lives.
We pursue end goals, we interact with other people and the natural
world, and we search for meaning. Each of these three activities
constellates into a subpersonality with its own unique values, attitudes
and gestalt. These three subpersonalities are called the strategist,
the citizen and the seeker, and they inhabit
the objective domain, the social domain
and the depth dimension, respectively. (This is the
who we are of the subtitle.)
The strategist, citizen and seeker are like children in a family.
Sometimes they quarrel, sometimes they get along. And sometimes
the self that contains all these subpersonalitiesthe
parent in the family, as it wereplays favorites.
The self privileges the strategist and devalues the seeker, or vice-versa.
Its Cinderella déjà vu: two favored sisters,
and a third one in the cellar. (This is how we go wrong.)
These three value systemsidentity systems, reallyare
basic design patterns that we project into our social and political
relationships, our institutions and our broader culture. The triad,
this three-part model, is a fractal that shapes our
Playing favorites causes dysfunctionalityin ourselves, in
our organizations and in our broader culture. As people, as managers
and as citizens, it thus becomes our challenge to equitably balance
the needs and interests of these children. I call this
the integral way, and it is, as per the subtitle, what
we can do about it.
Western industrial culture favors the strategic, objective domain
at the expense of the meaning-oriented depth dimension. This is
the tyranny of the objective. It is a tyranny, a dysfunctionality,
that a great many people feel in their souls, even if not consciously.
Think of the movie American Beauty: its the story of how a
man is emotionally and spiritually restored by journeying into the
depth dimension, and then murderedsacrificed, reallyon
account of his transformation.
So thats the model, in a very small nutshell. Its value, in
my experience, lies in its explanatory power vis-à-vis the
unarticulated deep structures underlying sustainability
andhey, why stop there?quite a few other issues in our
lives. For example (and it must be added that the descriptions of
the triad and integral way have been so condensed here that their
explanatory power must, to some extent, be taken on faith):
Why are corporations so widely distrusted and, in some quarters,
Over the years, many corporations have done their share to earn
peoples animosity. But that is not the only reason why so
many people are angry. Corporations are the quintessential objective
domain institutionthey are all about strategy, all about
achieving their goals as quickly and effectively as possible. To
some extent, they are on the receiving end of all that hostility
because they are proxies for peoples rage at the tyranny of
the objective, which suppresses their sense of wholeness and authenticity.
Does the conventional understanding of sustainability accurately
capture its true dimensions?
No. Sustainable development is generally understood to be the state
that is achieved once economic development, environmental protection
and social equity have been harmonized. Theres much merit
to this view, but it misses an essential point.
Modern environmentalism is generally agreed to have been born with
the 1962 publication of Rachel Carsons Silent Spring. For
the next 20 years or more, environmental challenges were generally
viewed as being mostly susceptible to technical solutions. If a
factory was emitting too much pollution, you put a filter on the
pipe, and that was that. This was Sustainability, Stage 1: it was
essentially a linear, analytical, objective-domain approach to environmental
During the latter half of the 1980s, another view took holdsustainable
development. Under this view, the challenge was deemed to
have a social as well as environmental dimension. Terms like social
equity and triple bottom line came into widespread
use. It was now understood that the challenge included such issues
as the income gap between rich and poor and the social empowerment
of women. This was Sustainability, Stage 2: it included the social
With this new insight, it was assumed that the discourse about sustainability
had come to an end. We now knew what sustainability was all about.
Or did we? Actually, no. Virtually the entire focus was on external
structurestechno-economic, social and ecological. The depth
dimensionthe internal, meaning dimensionwas almost completely
neglected. And so it remains to this day.
From one perspective, this is no surprise: it recapitulates the
tyranny of the objective, which is tyrannical precisely because
it devalues the depth dimension. But something critically important
has been left out of a conversation when meaning, and the related
subjects of consciousness and mental models, are not on the agenda.
Until we integrate inner into outer in our shared understandings
of concepts like sustainability, we will continue to feel fragmented
and not whole.
Why did the chicken cross the road?
Well, actually, the triad does not provide insight into this most
basic of philosophical questions. But it does illuminate many other
life issues, including ones relating to self-knowledge, organizational
strategy and development, national (and progressive) politics, spirituality
and activism, leadership and, of course, sustainability.
A couple of years ago, I spoke about the triad at a corporate conference
on sustainability. At the end of my remarks, Nicholas Eisenberger
of Ecos Technologies raised his hand and commented that he found
my views orthogonal. It turned out that this two-dollar
word meant having to do with right angles. Eisenberger
was saying that my view was 90 degrees skewed relative to the usual
It was a fair observation. Once you bring meaning and consciousness
into the equationand once, beyond that, you propose that our
institutions and culture are a function of consciousness, which
it is within our power, within limits, to changethen that
has enormous implications not only for issues of selfhood and social
responsibility, but also for issues of strategy. (It suggests some
other things as wellsocial institutions as art forms, and
sustainability as having an esthetic dimensionbut thats
for another column.)
We live in a fragmented world, and we do so as fragmented individuals.
Many of us, perhaps all of us, long to tie things together, to make
things somehow cohere. We all long for integritythe quality
of being whole or complete. This is the territory Out of the Labyrinth
explores. It explores the triple worlds of the seeker, the citizen
and the strategist, and how they can birth a better world (both
inner and outer!) by dancing beautifully together.
Carl Frankel can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information about the book, visit: www.outofthelabyrinth.com.