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The Co-Evolution of Big Data and Big Psyche – An Emerging Perspective

December 19, 2013

trees cropped

My twitter stream has been pretty active over the past several years with tweeting and curation about the dramatic shifts underway in organizations and the related processes of social interaction.

Complexity is a bit part of this, as is human development, as is knowledge sharing and creation. And, of course, there are many more aspects in play as well.

In general it appears–and this is not new thinking–that the shift is from conceptual models based on mechanistic processes towards ways of thinking that account for the organic and interdependent evolution of organizations and human social interaction.

Our Evolving Selves

However, I will add to that the notion that along with process of evolution also comes the development we as humans are experiencing with our own psychological capacities.

Not many are speaking about that part of things but as we get deeper into this process, I get the impression we’ll see that the emergence of more sophisticated organizational forms and practices will be deeply entangled with the emergence of greater psychological capacities as well.

Research is already showing that human beings are beginning to develop new, more sophisticated type of thinking and inter-relating in order to better handle the disorienting acceleration of communication, computing, and customer-centered operations.

Big Data is critical; but, unattended, that move may prove problematic–or even harmful–without the development of a more sophisticated kind of relational capacity for many of those involve.

The Arrival of Big Psyche

In short, we’ll need a step forward into something I somewhat playfully think of as Big Psyche.

And, interestingly, its growth trajectory is similar in many ways to what we see with Big Data; except, rather than dealing with massive amounts of diverse data, what we see here is the a form of psychological evolution that involves a greater capacity for integrating multiple points of view and value systems.

In other words, if we think about psychological growth, it moves in what are thought to be developmental “stages” or “waves”. As respected psychologists like Robert Kegan and Kenneth Gergen tell us, the stages considered to be on the evolutionary edge of psychological growth show the same kind of ability to aggregate complex and divergent streams of thought.

Gergen even gives it a name: he calls it “multi-being” [here and here].

William Torbert has been working on a similar link between human development and organizational development for a number of years. His HBR article with David Rooke provides one of the best foundations on the subject out there.

More recently, though, Harvard’s Kegan was speaking at the RSA in London and had some fascinating things to say about the shared developmental path of human institutions and the human psyche.

An Evolving Perspective

Yet, as intriguing as some of us may find these new streams of thought, it’s all still very preliminary. That means it is all open to a lot of debate and even dismissal. Therein lies the challenge for a relatively new (but, er, far from young…) writer like me to put this material out there. It can be grist for the mill for those with a stronger point of view or longer resume.

But I think the sharing is important, so I want to make a better effort to get more of my own thinking out there. Even if it’s still preliminary, I think it could make for some worthwhile discussion.

I’ve done a bit of that on twitter. But as good as that platform can be, I also see that some of what is emerging through my dissertation–as preliminary as it may be–could benefit from having a bit more space to breathe.

To that end, I intend to do my best and revive my long-suffering blog by bringing more of a “working out loud” spirit to it. This way I hope to connect with more of you, share my thinking as it unfolds (with a bit of prudence, of course), and, hopefully, develop some kind of ongoing dialog that supports this thinking as it moves forward for all of us.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. December 20, 2013 9:44 am

    Hello David! Glad to re-connect (on Twitter) and catch up with your perspective here. Great post! I believe you’re on to something.

    One of our Agency’s focus (for the last 7-years) has been in the area of organizational disruption and transformation.

    The question we’re exploring is how might we co-evolve ‘forward-looking organizations’ to deal with the state of flux in a complex world? Where the people and the organization understand more, adapt and renew to do thinks better; and systematically innovate and execute what matters the most to lower business risks, create sustainable human momentum and increase profitability and organizational growth.

    While our approach is systemic and systematic, we believe, the key to success is moving the people first. This is the co-evolution part where we probe the unknown (forward-looking) and build on it to innovate.

    Looking forward to reading your ‘working out loud’ perspectives on Big Psyche.

    Happy Christmas!

    • December 20, 2013 11:39 am

      Thanks so much for your feedback and it’s great to connect with those who see the value and creative potential of disruption. I strongly agree with your view that “the key to success is moving the people first” and, yes, that process gets to the heart of this unique co-evolution we’re now moving through.

      In my own work I find one of the most critical–and often most difficult–parts of the process is shifting the meaning-making conversations about organizational life. Traditionally, organizations were places where people detached themselves from their own inner processes and focused solely on the needs of the business. This approach worked well as long as the horizon was relatively clear and the tools of prediction were reasonably reliable. Since, of course, that’s no longer the case the focus needs to shift to one that integrates a dynamic balance of business transformation (external) and psychological development (internal). For this reason it could be said that the whole meaning of business life has changed. For many workers–especially those more comfortable with the traditional boundaries–this shift can be quite a challenge.

      Interestingly, I’m finding that millennials get it immediately–which is great. However, despite diverse histories and backgrounds, I think we have to find ways of bringing as many as possible into this new paradigm. That’s where I think opportunities for ongoing conversations can open things up and actually leverage the diversity and disruption that is increasingly common.

      After perusing your website, it seems that you are on the front lines of that process (how totally exciting!). I hope we can stay connected and share experience. From my own perspective, I’d really value bouncing these ideas off you as they come to fruition in order to gauge how viable they are in different settings.

      Best of the Holidays!

  2. December 21, 2013 5:10 pm

    I like this approach David – having a ‘thinking out loud’ place where there is no word limit and also the ability to hyperlink people to sources of information – great idea. Nice to read where your head is at.

    I’d love some resource links for this statement please – it interests me greatly:

    “Research is already showing that human beings are beginning to develop new, more sophisticated type of thinking and inter-relating in order to better handle the disorienting acceleration of communication, computing, and customer-centered operations.”

    • December 21, 2013 5:48 pm

      Thanks so much for your kind comments. The Working Out Loud approach is new for me. I’m really fascinated by its potential, however I am a bit uncertain also; my process can be very messy and appear a bit unfocused at times however it seems to work at some level. (But perhaps sharing it with a community will also help me streamline a bit.)

      Regarding the emergence of more sophisticated forms of human cognition, I think the best and most recent source is the presentation Robert Kegan recently did at the RSA:

      Also, this article by Baron and Cayer gives a good overview of where the field of leadership is with this subject at the moment. (Spoiler: leadership has not gotten that far.)

      Baron, C., & Cayer, M. (2011). Fostering post-conventional consciousness in leaders: why and how?. Journal of Management Development, 30(4), 344-365.

      In addition, Kegan’s book “In Over Our Heads” really offers the most comprehensive understanding of the shifts taking place. Without exaggeration, after I read that book, the world appeared quite different to me:

      Kenneth Gergan’s work is less detailed on the subject than Kegan’s, however, in my opinion it offers a better take on the developments as a collective social process. His book “Relational Being” is the best start there:

      Also, here’s a great lecture Gergan did on the subject (warning: it’s quite long):

      So you’ve piqued my interest: is this development something you are seeing in your own work? I’d be curious to know what sparked your interest.


  3. Tom permalink
    December 21, 2013 11:46 pm

    Hi David. Great post. I really like the juxtaposition of big data and big psyche. With the evolution of big data (for instance in mapping) is leading to quantom advancements in all sorts of fields. Your idea of big psyche could be world changing just a few iterations out. We first need to map it better though.

    • December 22, 2013 12:48 am

      Thanks Tom. And and I agree, there is still a great deal of exploration and observation ahead. This is very preliminary but the implications–if in fact there is a correlation between the patterns of data and psyche–are quite intriguing to say the least.

      Thanks for your comment!

  4. December 22, 2013 10:52 am

    You may find this piece on correlative thinking a useful seed in the growing discussion of “new” ways of thinking

    • December 22, 2013 12:02 pm

      This looks great. The connection with this notion of ‘Big Psyche’ is intriguing. And of course your point is well taken; it’s quite easy to get caught in the trap of thinking that we’re breaking ‘new’ ground, when in fact we’re actually reaching back to traditions that we’ve long dissociated from. Thanks so much! ~David

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