ARTists Transforming Action Logic

Developmental Organizational Leadership & Collaborative Education: verticality unbound
Adult Vertical Development – a non linear spiral of action logics


Most psychologists of adult vertical development seem to agree. What differentiates people’s ability to make a positive difference is not philosophy, personality, or style of management. Rather, it’s internal “action logic.” Which refers to how we interpret our surroundings and respond when our power or safety is challenged. It turns out that key in developing repertoire is to integrate personal, interpersonal and impersonal, awareness.  What we refer to as first, second and third person action research/practice.

Action logic is Bill Torbert’s term. It’s a term that brings action and inquiry together so we understand that action is the constructive productive outcome of inquiry.  Other key names in the field of constructivist adult development (aka psychological maturation) include Jane Loevinger’s known for her empirical approach & more recently Robert Kegan, a psychologist at Harvard. A helpful on ramp may be the conversation between  Ken Wilber and Bob Kegan or perhaps an interview by yours truly with Tomas Bjorkman who refers to adult development as updating our social software.

To put the important insights of adult development succinctly:  it appears that our capacity to integrate what we hold in awareness  at any given time – about “me,” “you,” “it/external world” – equals our “action logic.” The more integrated my attention, the more mature my psychological maturity.  Does maturity mean being “better”?  Maybe, maybe not.  But it does correlates pretty highly with being effective in a chosen arena.  Developmental action logic is therefore pretty helpful for understanding transformation. In growing our capacity to focus not just on myself, or on you or on the external world, but instead, to combine these awarenesses grows my capacity as an agent of transformation. As Action oriented Research for Transformations (ART) is all about, um, transformation, the capacity for integrating attention to me, you, it (or first person-, second person-, third person- awareness) becomes central.

Too few of us try to understand our action logic, and fewer still have explored the possibility of developing it. And for the sake of ART, this is something worth engaging with. Action researchers who undertake this voyage of personal understanding and development can transform their own capabilities. And also those of the organizations and institutions they’re part of. We know empirically that they can reliably generate organizational and personal transformation. They do this by practicing inquiry and vulnerability which manifests in mutuality. This has a direct impact on how  power is used.  Unfortunately such leaders are still too few.  Those who consciously practice with self development and a wider repertoire of power that includes mutuality appear in global assessments to number less than 10% in the average professional population. Can it become a higher percentage among ARTists? 

Based on studies from around the world by Susanne Cook Greuter,  Harthill and Global Leadership Associates, we know that the action logic of the majority of professionals is “achiever.” As the name suggests, achievers work hard and are results oriented. Achievers efficiently maintain the status quo.  Bill Torbert helps make sense of this – in dialogue with colleagues, including yours truly, in a series of webinars based on stories from his own life. Some of these insights are central to developmental coaching.

I hope we can agree, that at a time of increasing social complexity, climate disruption and social inequality, things need transforming. Not simply change, but transformation – which means inquiry into the systems that inhibit wellbeing and proactivity to move toward a positive future. And our own contribution to keeping and transforming these current systems.  Transformation across systems sums to the evolution of civilization, away from doom! At AR+ we sense it’s time to think more about this and to link ART practice to supporting transformation wherever we are welcome.

Compelling examples already exist.

Action research is full of examples of transformation, though few as large in scale at this one that comes from the Center for Healthcare Improvement at Chalmers University in Sweden. There they have succeeded in delivering transformational outcomes for hundreds of thousands of patients, healthcare teams and the bottom line. While many interlocking factors account for this success, one factor, according to the research of Bill Torbert may be the difference that makes the real difference: namely the leadership action logic of the few who planted the seeds from which the work evolved collaboratively.

In the following video I describe what was accomplished so we may investigate this transformation for what it suggests for other systems of healthcare & education. An early key catalyst and ARTists transformer is Svante Lifvergren, MD, Ph.D.  He is deeply immersed in the operational details of the transformation. And at the same time that he’s guided by a vision in which patients experience their healthcare as “good.”  This sounds simple. It isn’t. It took linking up many clinicians and effectively redesigning the entire system around the patient. This is a transformation. The status quo means patients work around clinics’ needs. Real transformation involves power relations being transformed. There is no cookie cutter recipe. Lots of inquiry, lots of trust required. Listen into the overview here: The Swedish Patient Healthcare Transformation.

Now here’s the challenge…and why we care about it at AR+

The world has too few strategic transformers, in healthcare, in education, in international development, in… Even worse, we have too little understanding of how to develop these inclusive capacities.  Yet action oriented research for transformations (ART) requires more.

At AR+ we’re doing our part. We’re sharing resources and blogs, we’re convening co-labs. We’re calling the ARTists Academy into being. For example DOLCE Co-lab (Developmental Organizational Leadership & Collaborative Education) is specifically about vertical development in institutional transformations. DOLCE purpose: “Convening a space for inquiry/practice to have transformative “vertical development” become more practical and accessible in response to our most complex sustainability challenges.”

DOLCE co-lab got underway on February 1 2018. We are ongoingly enrolling. The next cohort is with Professor Sofia Kjellstrom of Jonkoping U. as co-steward.

And in truth we want all our offerings to invite ARTists to their developmental edge.  If you fear you might fall –  you have peer support.Don’t worry – be happy!


Learn more about the Swedish case: The AR+ Cookbook opening chapter is by Svante Lifvergren and Danielle Zandee:

Learn more about Bill Torbert’s work:

Sign up for a next AR+ DOLCE co-lab:

Bill Torbert

Pin It on Pinterest