Developmental psychologist Robert Kegan provided valuable theoretical insights to shape the design of Kitbag. His starting point is that adults grow and change as they increase their mental complexity or what IFF would call their psychological capacity. His seminal work, “In Over Our Heads – the mental demands of modern life” demonstrated how a relatively small proportion of the population have this capability at present and yet the world is requiring this more than ever from us all.
Sixteen years on from “In Over Our Heads”, Kegan has written a further book, this time with a colleague, Lisa Laskow Lahey called “Immunity to Change – how to overcome it and unlock the potential in yourself and your organisation”.The book documents the way Kegan has used the insights from “In Over Our Heads” to create an intervention in organisations to develop capacity for leadership in rapidly changing times. As he puts it, “Skillful as … managers may be, their abilities will no longer suffice in a world that calls for leaders who can not only run but reconstitute their organisations – its norms, missions and culture – in an increasingly fast-changing environment.”
The case studies make for fascinating reading. Whilst all US based, many of the cultural challenges he writes about will sound familiar to people working in corporations, academic institutions and public services around the world.
Kegan’s approach resembles that of Nancy Kline, whose work has also been an inspiration for Kitbag. They both encourage us to reveal previously unexamined assumptions we have about the world, which can be transformational. Kegan concludes the book with advice to leaders on how they can lead so that people develop.
From a Kitbag perspective, I found this book very affirming. Kitbag recognises that adulthood is a time for ongoing growth and development. It provides support for people to make adaptive changes in their lives, offering short opportunities for real learning within everyday life. Using Kitbag on a regular basis helps people gain strength for their journey. When used in group situations in organisations, Kitbag helps to surface feelings and concerns that people are ignoring. It also encourages behaviour change in support of a change in mindset. Crucially, it provides all of this in a safe manner, thus supporting people whilst offering challenge to inspire people to make positive changes in their lives.
Having said all this, there are distinct differences in approach between Kitbag and Immunity to Change. Kitbag takes an evocative rather than an instrumental stance. Immunity to Change is heavily reliant on a cognitive approach to “push” people up the ladder of mental complexity. Kitbag assumes that people are already intrinsically whole but need help to discover this for themselves to appreciate better the paradox and mystery of life. For this reason, Kitbag is multi-sensory – not just head and heart, but smell, sight, touch and feel. In addition, Immunity to Change is designed as a process that leads to behaviour change, whereas new action is designed in from the start with Kitbag. Opening the bag, rolling out the mat, applying the roller oil provide a very different kind of experience from everyday life – a ritual where a different kind of space opens up.
Kegan has taken sixteen years to develop his practice since “In Over Our Heads” and now has a large number of case studies to support his approach.I hope Kitbag will grow over the next decade and beyond and in so doing, support global transformation.