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Growing Beyond the Self-Authoring Mind

This article was based on the RSA video featuring Robert Kegan, “The Further Reaches of Adult Development”

The Further Reaches of Adult Development – Robert Kegan



Robert Kegan begins his talk by explaining that we, as human beings, are creators of meaning and that we shape our own experiences. He demonstrates this by showing pictures of ambiguous images that can be interpreted differently.  This is to prove that we take in raw material and shape it into our own meaning. We organise these different meanings according to a system that creates what we call knowledge.


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Frameworks and Mindsets

There is a basic framework that we use for constructing reality which can be described and named. Because we are dynamic beings in constant development, we are not stuck with any one framework during our lifetimes. These frameworks can evolve in the direction of increasing capacity enabling us to see more deeply into ourselves and our world.

The framework that begins in adolescence moves us beyond our short-term interests and needs. We evolve a more complex way of constructing the world where we take in the expectations and values of those surrounding us.  These values become intrinsically important and bring about a newly developed self that is more coherent and aligned with society. This is the beginning of the socialised mind where adolescents become more responsible and trustworthy.

In our modern society, we have the need to go beyond this framework and beyond meeting other people’s expectations. Increasingly there is a demand for us to step back and form internal judgment and ideology, which becomes known as the self-authoring mind. It is at this point that we can evaluate outside expectations to create a unique identity.

Adult developmental research shows that these frameworks continue to develop into adulthood.  As we live even longer, new mindsets are being discovered. For instance, the self-transforming mind is a recent development in our species that does not appear until mid-life.


A Species Driven by Survival

When we look at the progression of our species, we know that in less than 100 years, we have tripled our numbers.  We are also living an entire generation longer than we used to. We are the only species with so many new members living long after the years of fertility and reproduction. This prompts the question as to why this is happening.

It is true that advances in science and medicine are able to prolong life. This, however, only answers the means by which it is happening.  It does not answer the why.

Kegan believes that our species is collectively at work trying to figure something out. All species are driven by a desire to survive.  When you look at our current reality, you can reasonably conclude that we are a species in peril.  As we strive to make the most of our capabilities, we are simultaneously creating a potentially dangerous environment. While there is currently an abundance of human generosity and kindness, at the same time we have arranged the means of our instant destruction through the likes of nuclear weapons and devastating bombs.  

Taking this contradiction of our duplicitous environment into consideration, it makes sense that we have an extra generation to live.  Perhaps we are living longer so that we can create a deeper and more profound order of consciousness that may save us from the peril in which we live.


The Importance of Developing People

What if we are living longer in order to increase the chances that our troubled species can find positive ways to deal with the extraordinary dangers of our third order tribal passions and our fourth order prideful sovereignties of thought and state? What if we are living longer in response to Einstein’s challenge that we will never solve the problems of tomorrow with the same order of consciousness we are using to create the problems of today? If any of this is true, there may be no more important work to do than supporting the development of people.


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