Review of best-practice adult development interventions


In 1982, Robert Kegan published The Evolving Self: Problem and Process in Human Development. Many found The Evolving Self to be a difficult book, but it nonetheless launched a revolution in the way we think about adult development. Before Kegan, academicians and clinicians were primarily interested in investigating adult development from a point of view that emphasized the age-related issues, problems, and patterns that evolved predictably over the course of an adult's lifetime. Dr. Kegan sculpted a new approach to adult development out of a truism embedded in Aldous Huxley's famous quote; "Experience isn't what happens to you. Experience is what you do with what happens to you." In The Evolving Self, Kegan took this idea and focused our attention on adult development as a meaning-making process. Kegan described his way of thinking like this; " is not that a person makes meaning, as much as that the activity of being a person is the activity of meaning-making."

TLO's 21st Century Adult Development Resource Center will profile interventions that are particularly effective in supporting the expansion of an individual’s existing order of consciousness, or in facilitating their movement from one order of consciousness to the next. In particular, we will highlight interventions that support and facilitate movement from the 3rd Order of Consciousness to the 4th and 5th Orders of Consciousness.

Steve Thomason: A Thketch of Robert Kegan’s 5 Orders of Consciousness

In his book, In Over Our Heads The Mental Demands of Modern Life, Robert Kegan talks about adult development in terms of a progressive movement through five increasingly complex and sophisticated orders of consciousness. He describes these five orders of consciousness as progressively more sophisticated ways of making meaning. In Over Our Heads is a difficult book; consequently, the first intervention that anyone interested in exploring their own order of consciousness needs is one that helps them distill the essence of what Kegan has to say across his book’s 385 pages. Someone fresh to Kegan’s ideas needs a conceptual synthesis that gives them a short-hand way of conceptualizing his order of consciousness model. Steve Thomason’s “thketch” is that tool. It’s a short visual presentation that presents Kegan’s theory through the use of cartoon characters and a background dialogue. It’s a really good introduction to Kegan’s complexities.

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Lisa Lahey, Robert Kegan: The Subject Object Interview

The Subject-Object Interview (The SOI) is an intervention designed by Robert Kegan to help individual adults assess, from within Kegan’s Orders of Consciousness framework, their habits of mind. The Subject/Object Interview is perhaps the only intervention available that purports to help someone understand themselves better in terns of the nature and structure of their modes of thinking. Kegan’s SOI theory describes the different forms of mind that an individual can inhabit, as well as the process of movement they can make between each of his stages. The SOI distinguishes the five central “form of mind stages”—qualitatively different ways of making meaning—as well as four substages between each successive form. The four orders of consciousness that Kegan identifies are the Self-Sovereign Mind, the Socialized Mind, the Self-Authored Mind, and the Self- Transforming Mind.

Those adults who see the world through a Self-Sovereign form of mind are focused primarily on their own perspectives and needs, because they cannot yet comprehend perspectives of other than their own. Those who currently see the world with a Socialized form of mind are able to distance themselves enough from their own perspectives on the world to fully internalize the perspectives of others, and thereby value relationships for more than just their own self- interest. Those with a Self-Authored form of mind are able to recognize, understand, generate and evaluate their own standards and values for behavior sufficiently to be differentiated and integrated with respect to those around them. Finally, those with a Self-Transforming form of mind are able to take a perspective on their self-authored system and understand that their system is, like any other system, partial. As defined by Kegan’s theory, the process of growth between these stages is about moving more and more of what is unseen and unexamined about the way we understand the world to a place where what was unseen and unnoticed can be seen, understood and examined. Hidden “subjects” move from being embedded subconscious issues to being conscious objects that are available for our inspection, and, if we chose, for our reflective action.

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