For a while now I’ve been saying to myself, “I am tired of working for an organization that keeps making the same mistakes and seems unwilling to learn from them. I would like to start an organization where I can put to good use what I have learned from mistakes/failures and then make new mistakes/failures and keep learning.” What a relief and joy to read Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey’s, “An Everyone Culture: Becoming a Deliberately Developmental Organization.” These two adult-developmental researchers and practitioners have been collaborating for over thirty years on better understanding how adults grow, change, and develop in their psychological/thinking and meaning-making capacities. “An Everyone Culture” captures their vision and hope for twenty-first century organizations to become deliberately developmental in their culture and practice. They use the acronym DDO to reference a Deliberately Developmental Organization. They want to help businesses and other entities live into Kegan and Lahey’s research-supported belief that human potential and organizational potential are part of the same unified vision and mission. They raise the question, why perpetuate the business model where people waste half their time trying to hide their flaws and mistakes? Instead, they urge leaders to develop organizations that empower people to keep on maturing and growing, thus harnessing all that growth potential for the benefit of the company. They also note the reality of “new incomes,” where people now value meaningfulness, personal satisfaction, and happiness at work, in addition to the more conventional understandings of income.
This book falls under the Social Sciences classification of Organizational Change, Development, and Learning. Their introduction lays out the books purpose and structure in a clear format, along with offering the reader a guide for how best to make use of the book’s content. Organized into seven chapters, the authors use the first three chapters to give the reader a novel taste of a DDO and to lay out their theoretical and research base for making the claim that organizations can indeed be deliberately developmental in their culture and practice. From there they offer a guided tour through the practices of three example companies who are living out the vision of being a DDO. In chapter five they seek to address the “yes, but….” resistance to this business approach. An especially helpful chapter for those of us not yet in a DDO, but wanting to move this direction, the sixth chapter offers a very practical exercise to help the reader discover a growth area/blind spot and begin developing a plan to address it. Chapter seven concludes the book with ideas on how to get started on moving one’s organization in a developmental direction. In the epilogue the authors revisit some of the themes introduced in the book’s opening and end with a call to join them and others on this journey of discovery.
There are three concepts that most grabbed my attention. The first is the authors’ nuanced understanding of happiness. They say: “Unlike happiness as a state brought on by experiencing only the so-called positive emotions, happiness as a process of development includes the experience of loss, pain, and suffering (rather than standing in contrast to it).” This grounding gives their approach some reality-based substance and paves the way for leaders and organizations to develop a culture where it becomes possible for staff at all levels to engage their places of growth with a sense of hope. Failure is not a deadend; instead, it becomes the doorway to a deeper maturity and greater wisdom. Their perspective resonates with the second-half of life journey described by Richard Rohr in his book, “Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life.”
The second is their adult development sequence that puts to rest the old research that concluded adults do not develop much in their cognitive capacities past the age of 20. What has been learned through continuing research on the brain is that yes, indeed, adults do continue to cognitively develop over the decades, and have the potential of developing greater and greater mental complexity. This is good news for all of us over the age of 20! Three key mental “plateaus” can be part of our journey: the socialized mind, the self-authoring mind, and the self-transforming mind. If an adult so desires, they can choose to continue developing their mental complexity capacity.
The third point they raise is the key role played by trust and reciprocal transparency in fostering a healthy DDO culture. Without trust, any of the practices they review can become merely superficial ‘going through the motions’ exercises, and at worst can create a truly toxic and abusive environment. Wise and mature leadership is needed for a DDO to develop in a healthy manner.
The reading of this book comes at a good time for me. I’ve been asking the questions about what type of organizational culture I want to cultivate. Kegan and Lahey have given me a lot of tangible material to ponder and engage. Their work brings me back around to Augustine, Friedman, Walker, Poole, and Campbell’s writings once again, so I’m looking forward to further unpacking this in my syntopical essay.
 Kegan, Robert, and Lisa Laskow Lahey. 2016. An Everyone Culture: Becoming a Deliberately Developmental Organization. Boston, Massachusetts: Harvard Business Review Press, 8.
 Ibid., 9.
 Rohr, Richard. 2011. Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life. 1st ed. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
 Kegan and Lahey, 62ff.