I think it would be a help for you to learn a little more about adult development this year. You might know nothing about it; you might know a ton. But I think 2019 is the year for you to deepen your knowledge, no matter what it is. Let me explain.
Right now we’re in trouble as a human race. Things are breaking down. It’s not the horrific carnage of the World Wars, but it’s a frightening time when our governments seem to be unable to govern and many of our organisations seem less and less able to organize. We have gotten out ahead of our ability to deal with how powerful and complex and interconnected we are as a species. This is a worry.
See, for most of evolutionary history, the creatures and the context were able to keep up with each other. When they didn’t, the creatures were the big losers; the annals of extinction are a list of the ways evolution didn’t work fast enough to help one species or another to navigate a new threat. Up until now, creatures who found evolution too slow, and found themselves faltering were responding to external threats. The big difference for us is that we ourselves are creating the conditions that are the new threat: climate change, migrations, resource depletion, lifestyle diseases, artificial intelligence etc. are all human-created challenges, and each of them puts us right at the edge of our ability to think and engage and act in a way that is conducive to our general thriving.
I’m not sure what to do about all this. But I am increasingly sure that we need more of us to be thinking about the world in more nuanced ways—and to be resisting the simplistic solutions our bodies and brains and societies conspire to serve us, such as Brexit or the Wall. We are built to reduce data complexity quickly, to narrow in on what is fast and consumable, and to leap to straightforward conclusions. After all, our systems evolved for a world where knowing which berry to eat and which animal to avoid were life and death decisions. This is not the operating software we need to handle tricky environmental and geopolitical forces.
So, we need to update our software. We need to intentionally create the evolutionary response to the complex conditions we have created. One way to do that is to understand our own evolution—the way we grow and change over time, the way we become better able to deal with intersecting, unbounded, entangled problems. The more of us who understand the way humans develop new capacities for making sense of the world, the more we can support ourselves and others to grow. In a world where we so desperately need to search beyond our simplistic responses, where we must evolve new approaches to the new technologies, new organisations, new societies we have created, we can use all the help we can get.
This means we could all stand to learn a little more about adult development this year. You can do that by taking our workshop (our virtual Conversations at the Growing Edge is a fabulous introduction—and it starts this week) or other people’s workshops (Coaches Rising has a fantastic Art of Developmental Coaching that starts next month). You could read books like mine or any of the brilliant Bob Kegan’s or others. You can check out videos: little introductions like this or big ideas like this. Or, if you’ve done all that, you can do research. You can push the edges of your own knowledge of the world. You can join a community that helps you extend your practice.
I’m going to do lots of those things this year. What will you do to help deepen your understanding of human evolution so that you can become a force for good?