What does it mean to create places for people to develop?

It starts with the acknowledgement that you cannot develop another person. Perhaps you can help people develop themselves, you can certainly hinder another’s development.

What does it mean to develop?

I would define human development as the response to the evolutionary impulse that is pulling us to greater and greater stages of capacity to deal with wholeness and complexity. Greater capacities to be, to think, and to act together.

We know from the last fifty years of research something of how people develop during the course of their lifetime. Many researchers have proposed models of development. Models focuses on different aspects of adult human development, yet they all agree on the central phenomena: People develop through a series of developmental stages characterized by a distinct set of beliefs, assumptions, and values; ‘Vertical development’ means shifting and evolving our mindsets, behaviors, worldviews, and expanding our capacities to engage with more complexity; Each subsequent stage includes more scope, more complexity, and more freedom; Each stage includes and transcends the prior stages; ‘Horizontal development’ develops skills and capabilities within a stage.

Are there conditions that are more conducive to human vertical development than others? I think so. It comes in two parts: First, intervene in the powerful cultural dynamics that repress, reduce, and subvert development, then offer the challenge, support, and know-how that a person can use for self-development.

We are awash in power dynamics in our culture, organizations, and interpersonal relationships. Our culture imposes, for example, a set of given assumptions about the ideals of success that effectively represses and reduces development to functional horizontal material achievement. Organizational culture imposes a set of given assumptions about potential and acceptable behavior that effectively subverts the evolutional pull to simpler organizational goals and imperatives. Interpersonal dynamics reinforce expectations for conformity, safety, and success.

These conditions repress, reduce, and subvert development. Hence, a first step is to intervene and create a space that is different. These forces are powerful and pervasive and it takes an equally powerful intervention to begin to realize a different type of interaction where the individual and the individual’s potential are seen, honored, and served. Because the outside culture never stops, this is an ongoing process.

Once a new space is opened, challenge, support, and know-how can be offered. Although people are different there are common themes: individuals must be ready for this developmental step; accept a challenge that is beyond their current capacities while being supported in the process; experience destabilization and struggle upon which they reflect; and be given enough time for new ways to take root.

It is hard to create these conditions deliberately in daily life, much less daily work life. It is unusual to create the space, mindsets, and behaviors that assist people to take step after step on their own path. We often wait for a crisis instead and even then don’t change.

The reality is that even in a space insulated from the pervasive cultural influences, it’s still not possible to be free from our mutual impositions of power on each other. The best we can do is to work to be more and more aware and accountable for how we are and interact. Fortunately, this is the very definition of development: to increase our capacity to be, to think, and to act together.

What is also true is that no space can remain isolated from the world and stay healthy. Indeed, connection and reciprocal contribution forms the basis of healthy living systems. Our challenge and opportunity is to push back on the prevailing cultural assumptions to create a place of development that is connected to our world. This is what a Deliberately Developmental Organization (DDO) does: create conditions for people to develop through how we work together.