Integralists that have been following the blogosphere are noticing a growing current of conversations on the theme, or question, of “Why isn’t Integral more popular?” There are many variations on the theme, including “Why isn’t Integral more relevant?” and “What does Integral need to do to make more of a difference in the world?”
Many of my friends and colleagues have weighed in on this important question in recent weeks. Jason Digges just published a thoughtful, nuanced article on this very question in Beams and Struts. He suggests, “In short we need to take personal responsibility for formulating integral philosophy in a way that exemplifies simplicity beyond complexity.” I couldn’t agree more. In fact, simplicity beyond complexity is a theme I wrote about in my recently published online Integral Leadership Manifesto.
Robb Smith has suggested some possible reasons why Integral isn’t more popular in the Facebook discussion group Integral Institute Global Design. Not entirely satisfied with Robb’s answers, Joe Perez offers a point-counterpoint analysis, and some reflections of his own, on his excellent blog Awake, Alive & Aware.
I’d like to take this opportunity to offer another point of view on this question. In this case, I will offer a metaphor for what we might be doing wrong (and how we might think differently). The metaphor I will use is the popularization (and market domination) Apple’s iPod. (Some readers familiar with my writings about Integral Leadership will recognize this perspective, as I am excerpting text from my manifesto.)
What is Integral anyway?
For those not familiar with it, we should first clarify what we mean when we use the term integral. The dictionary definition of integral is “possessing everything essential or significant; complete; whole.”
Integral approaches (whether to medicine, education, psychology, ecology, politics, etc.) seek to incorporate all of the essential perspectives, approaches, and schools of thought into a unified, comprehensive, inclusive, and empirically accurate framework.1
There are many books and publications on Integral Theory but only a few on its application (Applied Integral Theory). While these are all excellent resources for our friends and colleagues who are involved in integral theory and methodology, these publications are generally less accessible, and less useful, for the general public due to their perceived “complexity.” The field of Integral Theory is often experienced by newcomers as highly technical, at times difficult to understand, and frequently difficult to apply.
Simplicity on the Other Side of Complexity
Apple’s ubiquitous iPod provides a useful analogy to help explain the expression simplicity on the other side of complexity.
As you may recall, back in 2001 the late Steve Jobs led Apple into the crowded portable digital music (mp3) player market by introducing the iPod and iTunes. Within a few years, Apple dominated the portable music player market, decimating more than 50 competitors, and achieved a 74% market share for his iPod player. Even more significantly, he transformed the way music was distributed and used by consumers. He went on to leverage his success with the iPod to create a halo effect for the entire Apple product line, spurring unprecedented traffic into Apple’s retail locations, and ultimately leading to the dominance of the iPhone and more recently the iPad.2 Prior to its release, experts, pundits and manufacturers of portable music player technology emphasized the technical capabilities of these remarkable little devices. They would speak of transfer rates in megabits per second, IDE hardware breakthroughs, mp3 vs. mp4 audio compression schemes, and remarkable miniaturization manufacturing innovations. And they believed that consumers cared about these things.
We recognize a very similar phenomenon with our friends and colleagues who are experts, pundits and providers of Integral Theory and Methodology in and around our Integral community.
Those of us who are enthusiastic advocates for applied Integral Theory can be a lot like the early mp3 player manufacturers.
We often speak of the technical capabilities of this new “technology.” But rather than talk about transfer rates, megabits per second, and miniaturization, we speak of quadrants, lines, levels, states and types. We rave about remarkable innovations such as integral methodological pluralism. We are enthusiastic advocates for second-order adaptive change methodologies that move sentient holons out of gamma traps, through flex states into new alpha configurations.
As integral enthusiasts, like the early mp3 manufacturers, we sometimes naively believe that consumers care about those things.
Its not that Steve Jobs didn’t care about the technology as much as his peers. Clearly, he possessed a deep and nuanced understanding of the technology that he intended to use to transform his industry (and other industries, as we have now seen).
What set Jobs apart was his understanding of what consumers cared about.
The people who would really benefit from an iPod didn’t care about file compression, transfer rates, or IDE miniaturization. They cared about music.
What Jobs understood was that if you give people something they can use, something easy and enjoyable to use, something they can begin using immediately, then they will use it!
As anyone who owns one can tell you, the design of the iPod is elegant: form meets function at the next level. For me, the iPod is a good illustration of simplicity on the other side of complexity.
It is my goal in my work popularizing Integral Leadership (and Integral approaches in general) is to provide something useful, something easy and enjoyable to use…. something people can begin using immediately.
I think that us integralists should focus less on Integral Theory and more on solving real-world problems. I’m not very interested in teaching Integral Theory. I’m interested in offering solutions and tools that help people address their concerns and achieve their goals.
I hope the iPod metaphor is helpful as we continue to figure out how we can all contribute to bringing more Integral solutions to our world.
Comments are welcome!
- Ken Wilber and our colleagues at the Integral Institute have developed integral approaches to medicine, education, psychology, ecology, politics, business, and dozens of other domains building on the All Quadrants, All Lines, All Levels, All States, All Types (AQAL) framework. ↩
- In 2005, in an effort to explain what the Stagen Leadership Institute was doing in our pioneering Integral Leadership Program, my partner Rand Stagen and I authored a white paper entitled “Next-Level Leadership” which details Steve Jobs’ leadership of Apple during this transition. It is available at http://www.stagen.com/perspectives/next-level/ ↩