Bring Meaning to Work and Purpose to Spirituality

The stunning simplicity and beauty of Theory U can sometimes be a double-edged sword: a powerful tool of social transformation in the hands of a skillful practitioner or an intimidating intellectual toy out of touch with everyday reality. What makes the difference? One of the main drivers, I believe, is an adequate understanding of the context of its applications. Far too often people are drawn and rush into the intricacies of its techniques or methods, unaware of and unprepared for the explosive cultural forces in its path. This is particular true when it comes to the experience of presencing at the bottom of the U. I have not come across any work that adequately describe, let alone induce the authentic learning experience envisioned in Otto’s original idea. While there is no silver bullet to substitute the trials and errors of real life practice, there are certainly ways that could significantly lower the learning curve. In my experience, until recently, Spiral Dynamics by Don Beck and Christopher Cowan has been one of very few lights capable of reaching the full depth of the U fields. Now there is a new work by Steve Macintosh called “Evolution’s Purpose: An Integral Interpretation of the Scientific Story of Our Origins”. Steve is a leading figure in the integral movement, with a strong philosophical and pragmatic bent. While Spiral Dynamics is still unsurpassed in its developmental eloquence, Steve’s more rigorous philosophical analysis may prove a valuable compliment. For example, consider the phenomenon of ‘letting go and letting come’ in theory U. What motivates an individual or group to undertake such a thing? Steve’s insights: “the evolution of consciousness and culture occurs as a result of both the pull of values and the push of unsatisfactory life conditions … interior consciousness almost always co-evolves with exterior circumstances (page 203)”. Otto quoted Michael Ray in formulating the two fundamental questions at the bottom of the U: Who Is My Self and What Is My Work? Steve’s insights: “just as the agency of organisms causes them to strive to survive and reproduce, the emergence of the elevated capacities of human agency results in a new kind of striving – the striving to improve the human condition on every front, which drives the evolution of culture” (page 51). On the crucial question of creativity, the origin and justification of all human inventions such as Theory U, Steve provides the following insights: “the most foundational truth about the universe is not matter-energy, not spacetime, not quantum fields, not strings, but rather creativity – the emergent process through which the holarchical systems of evolving reality have come to be … the rising flow of creative evolution is thus not outside of us or beyond us; we experience the evolutionary impulse directly and regularly whenever we are motivated to improve our lives and help others … to be human is to know what it feels like to be evolution happening” (page 153). Amen,


PS I also posted a more general book review at

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Comment by Gerry Bouey on November 18, 2012 at 8:39pm

Can somethings/experiences only be experienced, without rational linear, "rational" explanations, or words to communicate the experience?

Comment by Yan Song on December 31, 2012 at 2:43pm

Hi Gerry


Happy Holidays!


You are quite right that there will always be a gap between what we experience and can describe using words or rational thoughts. But I wouldn't treat what's 'rational' and 'experiential' as two fundamental categories that never cross each other. Experience always comes first or the words don't mean much as far as human understanding and action are concerned. Once we have the experience, we then struggle to find the words for it in order to communicate and share with other fellow beings, triggering a whole new level of experiences. At a cognitive level, it's also a necessity to 'rationalize' our experiences however imperfectly our efforts maybe. Or we would soon find ourselves so tangled up with exisiting experiences that no room (emotionally as well as intellectually) left to explore further ... We are a two-legged anaimal after all and live on both experiences and rational thoughts. They should feed and stimulate each other, not fight and isolate. I suspect that a major cause of the raging cultural wars in this country and the developed world has something to do with this confusion between experience and thinking. Too much focus on blames, not enough on constructive criticism and co-creations.


Warm Regards,




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