Integral Business

The guiding framework we use at Integration Training is integral theory – most closely associated with Ken Wilber and espoused in business by the likes of Fred Kofman (Axliant), John MacKay (Whole Foods) and Tami Simons (Sounds True). We use it because it is the most complete and effective meta-model we know of, and it is aligned with our values.

Integral business is a “meta-model” as it positions other theories and practices that we use such as embodied training, NonViolent Communication, emotional intelligence, MBTI and psychometrics, systems theory and traditional business models. It is more than a theory for us as it informs and underpins how we do business in the most effective, enjoyable and ethical manner possible.

So what is the integral business model? Integral means whole, complete, or thorough, and it is our belief that much business is not integral as it misses out critical elements. Because whole aspects of life are missed it may become unhealthy and unethical reducing people and planet to numbers and only perusing profit (we call this “flatland” business) or descend into New-Age fantasy and lose touch with measurables (less common in business – nicknamed “wonderland”).  The integral model encompasses other theories and offers the most compete overview possible of the world so we can do business with the most efficiency (looking after the task), with the healthiest relationships (the people) and taking care of our own integrity and wellbeing (looking after the individual). This is similar to Adair’s three aspects of leadership, and some of Stephen Covey’s work but the integral model incorporates developmental levels (more on this later), “lines” of development (like Gardner’s multiple intelligences), states (as studied in NLP and meditative disciples for example), types (e,g, Myers Briggs) and Wilber’s “quadrants”. We find the quadrants particularly useful for ensuring that we have looked at a challenge (e.g. stress management or leadership within a company) from all the critical angles. This may for example involve taking into account individual leadership psychology, behaviour change, systems and organisational cultures.

These quadrants can also be expressed in a business training context like this (Realize – The Netherlands) or like this (Integral Coaching – USA).

Conscious Business

Integral business is sometimes called conscious business. Conscious business is a term coined by Fred Kofman and ex MIT professor and business consultant. Here is a good summary of his book on conscious business from our Dutch friends Realize.

We believe that business itself can be a demanding personal, even spiritual practice, for those doing business mindfully. This is one step further than social enterprises which take into account “we”(social) as well as “it” (financial) aspects but not “I” (personal development). Rather than seeing money and power as inherently bad for individuals, we would suggest that there is no better test of ethics and attachment than handling wealth and position with compassion and skill. The relational nature of business stretches the emotional and interpersonal intelligence of business people and marketing and sales are an opportunity for the conscious business person to step into others’ shoes and appreciate their perspective. This approach to sales and marketing is not only more ethical but more effective and we find win-win business to be the most sustainable over the long-term.

Second-Tier Business?

Business expresses the values of those who are involved in it. Values can be grouped and tend to develop, which is why business is changing as individuals and society develops. A simple example of this is how people can grow from being “egocentric” (all about me), to ethnocentric (about “my people”) to worldcentric (about all of us). Individual businesses and business culture as a whole is developing from purely considering “shareholder value” to taking other stakeholders into account with policies relating to diversity, environmental concerns and corporate social responsibility now becoming commonplace.

A “second tier” business – to use a phrase from the developmental model of values called Spiral Dynamics – is able to appreciate, include and transcend the main value-sets at work in the world today. It is not about being nice at the expense of being effective, but rather about being MORE effective and ethical through having a wider perspective. This makes such businesses and individual leaders more inclusive and agile than those who are stuck in their own perspective.

As well as values – developmental levels can be measured in regards to other areas such as cognition, emotional intelligence, self development (Susan Cook Greuter) and through our embodied work we have began to map physical intelligence. Taking these into account is a key part of our work at Integration Training and endeavouring to work in a second tier fashion our aspiration.

Multiple bottom-lines

At integration training we value fun, our own learning, helping people AND making money. We will take on jobs which are low-paid for example if we think they will make a large contribution to the world. This values-led approach relates to having “multiple bottom-lines”. People, planet and profit is a classic multiple bottom line summary. While this may seem a foreign concept to business which has traditionally split being effective from being nice (hence the words “work” and “play”) I also find that in fact most organisations do value more than money when it comes down to it, and even if they didn’t it would be wise to act otherwise given the increasing importance of ethical consumerism, CSR and employee engagement. We see business evolving towards this way of doing things and are proud to be a part of this development.

Application – Stress Management Training

If this seems a little abstract or philosophical let’s examine a concrete example from our work. While we take an integral approach to our all courses such as leadership, communication, team building and time management, I will use stress training here as it is relatively straightforward.

A typical scenario may involve a potential client typing “stress training” into Google, finding us online and then giving me a call. I would then listen to their concerns, enquire into their needs and design a proposal based around these. This proposal would be matched to appeal to what I guessed was the buyers type (e.g. Myers Briggs) and value set (level of development). Normally our genuine desire to serve comes across and this builds trust in a way that purely egocentric businesses just after clients money cannot.

The stress training itself would use techniques focused on all four quadrants to consider the biology/behaviour, psychology, culture and environment/systems associated with stress management. We may do some meditative work involving state shifts, CBT influenced techniques to look at cognitive aspects, physical grounding techniques, suggest changes to office layout and build a culture of accountability and empathy in an organisation (see these stress tips for more). We focus on individuals (I), culture (we) and measureable outcomes (it), using face to face training and technological support. Safe to say this is not only enjoyable but gets great results.