Home All When Does Growth Really Stop? (Part 2)

When Does Growth Really Stop? (Part 2)

written by Donald Officer 22 June 2018

Donald Officer, MA '89, is a strategic thinking practitioner who melds problem solving research models to help clients anticipate unexpected scenarios and opportunities while pursuing what is most meaningful to them. In addition to coaching, facilitation, and consulting Don blogs at The Intention Coach, where he welcomes comments. He is a certified facilitator and a member of the International Coach Federation and the Canadian Positive Psychology Association. Donald's articles can be found here.

Part 1 ended with a question about whether human beings are capable of holistic growth throughout their adult years, just as children learn to expand their perspectives during the early years. In Part 2, I contend that the passing of youth does not leave us confined to learning only very specific grownup skills for which a capacity is already in place. We can go beyond skill training to growth.

Kegan and Lahey give us existence proofs, three very different corporate cultures where continuous personal growth is the norm, with all that entails.

An Expanded Model of Development

Kegan’s three stages. Click for larger image.

In the late eighties, Robert Kegan noticed that some people essentially plateau in early adulthood, while others undergo a whole range of learning that offers more than new skills or knowledge acquisition. Not only do these people come to know more things over the long haul, but like Piaget’s children, they grow to know differently. It’s not just how much more they know. It’s also the different ways they come to know.

Kegan simplifies Piaget’s early childhood categories into an impulse-and-reflex-driven beginning and a needs-and-wishes structure later in childhood. At this point, others in the child’s world are recognized more for the impact they have on the child’s self than as unique persons in themselves. This is where the Kegan theory gets interesting. We recognize lingering bits of under-cooked initial relationship styles among colleagues, neighbors, and public figures. For some of us, these immature styles persist or return at moments of stress well into adulthood. Mentally and emotionally, if not physically, we may exercise the Peter Pan option.

Growth, the invisible kind, is a choice. True, it is hardly surprising that the desire to overcome the awkward interactions of adolescence generally drives most of us to achieve the socialized mind of post-adolescence. Many people settle for that. You can carve out a decent enough life if you can just get along.

More aware of others’ needs and the intricacies of relationships, the expanding self-authoring mind begins to understand the world as a system. Confidence in personal identity leads to willing accommodation and appreciation of others.

In Kegan’s estimation the fifth order, the self-transforming mind, is unusual in individuals under 40, usually deepening with passing decades as awareness expands of differences in identities, ideologies, and systems. This often comes with the acquisition of fuller life experience. Be cautioned though, at this level you really have to want to go there! Do these qualities, taken as a whole, not look like the embodiment of positive psychology’s PERMA formula?

What Do These Stages Look Like in Organizations?

Anyone familiar with the recent history of work and the framework of modern organizations will see that a common shared assumption about workforce members imitates Piaget’s flat line. If you can do the job and fit into the culture, you are not expected to change beyond a few necessary new skills and adjustments. Their acquisition is not always easy, but except along a narrow band, few companies pose true stretch goals. Unless you are slotted for leadership, get used to staying up-to-date on technology and whatever trends HR tells you are currently important, but don’t hope for much beyond that.

Where is lifelong development happening?

Adult learners, we are told, are only interested in knowing what they need to know to get the job done now. We are told to call what can still be mastered training. The theory behind it is called androgogy. Development, at best, should be preparation for the next job.

However, Kegan and Lahey, armed with an awareness of possibilities across the full spectrum of a career take a very different view using a positive, growth-oriented mindset. Most encouraging for those of us who recognize the possibilities of positive psychology in the world of work is that several organizations are already practicing a deliberately developmental approach with all their employees. In Kegan and Lahey’s book, An Everyone Culture, the three companies showcased exhibit not only positive individual results by every important measure, but also exemplary organizational outcomes.

The authors describe the three organizations as deliberately developmental organizations (DDOs), but apart from that key designation they differ extensively. Next Jump is an exceptional e-commerce tech company, Decurion is immersed in multiple branches of cutting edge cinematic entertainment, and Bridgewater Associates operates two hedge funds controlling $165 billion in global investments. While each of these businesses represents a vastly different knowledge pool, the level of excellence required to keep each of them operating at the top of their game requires similarly unrelenting investment in the development of individuals as well as team centered interpersonal and transformative understanding. Without a DDO mindset it can’t happen.

Bridgewater Associates

DDOs in action – adapted from An Everyone Culture – Click to see larger image.

You may have heard of Ray Dalio and his best-selling book, Principles. Dalio is the founder of Bridgewater Associates, a Wall Street firm that weathered the great recession without serious losses. Bridgewater is credited by the Economist for making more money for its investors than any other hedge fund in history. But if you read Principles or watch Dalio’s TED talk you will learn that he considers Bridgewater’s real achievement to be the creation of a culture of radical transparency made possible by deep mutual trust, an outcome of deliberate development.

Next Jump

The same fearless attitude born of unwavering commitment to psychic safety leads Next Jump staffers to continuously ask, “What opportunities will there be to practice my backhand?” insider code for overcoming each individual’s greatest difficulty. The supportive Next Jump culture creates a robust safety net permitting everyone in it to take on steep challenges that teach deep self-knowledge. This kind of learning may be humbling, although it is assuredly bonding.


Likewise, process unfolds in Decurion known for its axioms or tested company values.

Decurion’s axioms are statements about how we choose to view and live our lives. They are decisions about how we act together. They reflect a choice to see wholeness and possibility rather than separateness and trade-offs.

“Decurion’s purpose is to provide places for people to flourish. We believe that every human being has something unique to express. Flourishing is the process of living into one’s unique contribution and expressing oneself fully. It is the process of becoming oneself. We seek to create the conditions for this through our work. And by demonstrating the efficacy of our practices in generating financial and developmental returns, we hope to inspire and guide other companies in making work more profitable and more humane. In this way, we seek to change society for the better.”

Their shared beliefs may explain why Decurion holds together despite continuous forced acceptance of a staggering diversification of every kind imaginable in a business where creativity is lifeblood and would have fractured most other firms.

There are others…

You can look outside the organizations referenced in An Everyone Culture for more instances of cultures where the person is considered as important as the work. You will find them. Daniel Coyle’s recently released, The Culture Code is a great guidebook for creating them.

In another recent LinkedIn post, Adam Grant reproduces a transcript of his conversational podcast with The Daily Show writers. Grant observes that informality, trust, irreverence, and “burstiness” (well-timed and well-tolerated interruptions) move the high-pressure process forward. The comedy writers’ banter (unchanged when host Trevor Noah steps into the room) is a dynamic form of brainstorming that is actually productive.

Obviously not every successful organization practices the integral deliberative development that Kegan and Lahey find so distinguishing. Not every organization can. What is clear, is that if more of our organizations do not realize how important lifelong development is to everyone at work, genuinely achievable career satisfaction and meaning for all will be very hard to come by, and the organizations themselves will miss important opportunities.



Kegan, R. & Lahey, L.L. (2016). An Everyone Culture: Becoming a Deliberately Developmental Organization. Harvard Business Review Press.

Kegan, R. (2013). The further reaches of adult development. RSA Talk.

Coyle, D. (2018). The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups. Bantam Books.

Dalio, R. (2017). Principles: Life and Work. Simon and Schuster.

Dalio, R. (2017). How to build a company where the best ideas win. TED2017.

Decurion (2014). Our Philosophy. Web page.

Dunbar, M. F. & Zurer, R. (2016, November 6). How to profit by helping your workers be their best selves. Conscious Company Media.

Grant, Adam (2018, April 27). The Daily Show’s secret to creativity. LinkedIn post.

Photo Credit: Flickr via Compfight with Creative Commons licenses
Kegan’s 3 stages from Library of Concepts. The three most relevant stages of human development nowadays (Kegan 1/3).
Bovee and Thill
DDO picture source

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