Who Do You Need To Become To Solve Wicked Problems?


Wednesday, 8.41pm

Sheffield, U.K.

We can not solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them – Albert Einstein

It’s obvious that we change as we grow – but by how much?

Is it a little, or a lot?

And when does it happen?

These are the kinds of questions Robert Kegan, a developmental psychologist has explored and it makes for interesting thinking.

One of his contributions is the idea of orders of consciousness as we grow older.

The first couple of stages, 0 and 1, are when we’re babies and toddlers and can be passed over – because babies are cute but not really contributing a great deal yet.

Stage 2 is when you’re a child, more aware of what you want – like ice-cream right now – but you’re also forced to live within rules and structures imposed by others.

Stage 3 is when those rules seem less like tyrannical impositions and more a normal way of living in society.

You’re socialised – you learn that there are ways to live and co-exist with others and you need to get your work done and listen to teachers and managers.

At some point you start to move to Stage 4, where you rather than having what you do scripted by others you start to make up your own mind.

You come up with your own ideas of what is good and bad, make choices about the kind of work you want and start to script your own life – literally self-authoring it.

All this takes time, and most people reach what Kegan calls mid-life before they get to Stage 4 – and many don’t.

What’s also interesting is that mid-life is changing.

Once upon a time that might have been 25 while now it’s closer to 50.

Some people, Kegan observed, very few before midlife, get to another stage – a self-transforming stage called Stage 5.

The difference is that in Stage 4 you make up your own mind about the right way to do things.

In Stage 5, you look at yourself and question your own approach and start to keep more than one way of doing things in your mind.

If you think about the stages, 2 has to do with rules, 3 has to do with the way things are, 4 has to do with your way and 5 has to do with the good way.

Good here not in the sense of best or only but the way that is good for right now right here to make things better.

In this video Kegan puts forward some interesting ideas.

He says that we are the first species where people live as long as they do – long past any useful biological function such as reproduction, for example.

He also says Stage 5, the stage when we start to question our own thinking and try to take a wider view, only starts later in life – which means that it’s only recently that people have lived for long enough to reach that kind of thinking.

And maybe, the reason we’re living longer is so that we can get to the point where we become the kind of people that can do something about the problems that result from thinking that we know what to do – the kind of thinking that happens in Stage 4.

In other words, in Stage 4 we think we know what to do and end up destroying the planet and ourselves in the process – not because we’re bad but because we think we’re right.

By living longer maybe we’ll instead do what is right – what is good for everyone and not just for us.

It’s just a theory though…

But, if you’re old enough to know what to do maybe you’re old enough to know what you should do.

And that’s the kind of person we need to address the big problems of today.


Karthik Suresh

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