Joerg Schmitz 0:08
Welcome to the inclusive leader podcast. The practice of inclusive leadership enables us to tackle the complex challenges of our times. This is the space for conversations about inclusive leadership. I am your host York Schmitz and I welcome you to this episode when you work in the area of intercultural or cross cultural effectiveness and communication, the name Milton Bennett is very familiar, primarily because he is the originator of the developmental model of intercultural sensitivity, which underpins so many approaches in this area, and has really revolutionized our understanding of building competence in this space around an understanding of developmental stages, and framing those and the pathway from an ethnocentric to an ethno relative perspective is so foundational to the work, and certainly the art and science of inclusive leadership. It is with great pleasure that I introduce Milton Bennett here as part of, of our work at the inclusive leadership institute, and certainly also as a way to introduce his latest thinking in this space. And so without much further ado, here is my conversation with with Milton. So, Milton, it's such a pleasure to speak to you today. I was as I asked everyone, just a couple of simple questions. But I really need to start with the question, what do you do? How would you describe what you do?
Milton Bennett 1:51
Well, the answer that I think it would be best for me to go back to some of my earlier educational preparation, I started out as a scientist, I went to Stanford to study physics, and did that for a couple of years. But turned out that what I was really interested in, didn't know it when I started, but as I finished, what I was really interested in was the philosophy of science. And basically the question of how do we know what we know, you know, generally referred to as epistemology, the that in most physical sciences, this is a well established idea that physicists, particularly theoretical physicists, are well aware that they are using the paradigm and Thomas Kuhns terms, you know, to to to approach situations and that they are approaching them in a more sort of, they would call it Newtonian or causal way or a more Einsteinian or sort of relativist way, or increasingly in a more quantum or what I would call a constructivist way. And I remained, even after I left that major and shifted to creative writing, rather dramatic change. You know, I kept that, that idea, and incorporated it into the subsequent work I did, which was largely around, I would say, the construction of meaning. So the rest of my undergraduate career, I was looking at the psychology of perception, perceptual psychology, largely cognitive psychology, then went on into psycho linguistics, you know, where I was looking at the relationship of language to the construction of meaning, and then ended up in intercultural communication for the PhD, which was essentially a context in which it's clear that people are creating meaning, you know, that that's what we do, as a poker is we generate, meaning that we can more or less share, and we use it to negotiate, you know, how to coordinate our actions, basically. So that seemed like a really good context in which to explore this construction of meaning. And what I started out really with the kind of traditional college professor, teaching undergraduate and eventually more and more graduate courses, and notably, something called the Intercultural Communication workshop, which I've taught hundreds of, which is this beautiful little curriculum that takes people through a progression that I have subsequently talked about in terms of the development developmental model of intercultural sensitivity. But in some ways, it was based on this idea of taping, taking people through a progression of becoming less ethnocentric, and then finally becoming more ethno relative as I coined the term. But essentially being able to construct meaning around cultural difference in a way that was more intentional and people were more aware, eventually more able to exercise agency in those situations. So so that's the way it started. And then I started applying that into consulting work in largely corporations. So I've been on the executive leadership faculty of Boeing Company and Motorola for many years, the Stockholm School of Economics, you know, a number of these other leadership groups, that I've been very pleased to participate with it, since it tended to draw the kind of the cream from organizations, people that they were, we used to call them high potentials, you know, the high. Yes, people, the organizations saw as being their best and brightest kind of top gun, you know, leadership, and they would bring those people in, and it was a lot of fun to work with them, you know, they tend to be very motivated people, very smart. And what I think makes them bright, to me is the jumping ahead a little bit. But what I think makes them bright, is that they are at least self aware, in the sense that they are aware of themselves in some kind of a context, you know, that they're acting in a context. And, in some cases, self reflexive, which, by which I mean, able to use that awareness to exercise agency to do something in that context. And people who are seen as hyper hypo leaders, I think, are people who at least have higher potential for doing that. So anyway, I've been doing that kind of consulting work in corporations and educational situations, educational organizations, increasingly, these days in diversity, inclusion and equity issues, just sort of an obvious overlap between inter contextual relations in general, and that particular form of that which involves, you know, power relationships and, and equity issues. It's not a big jump, you know, to really see how this constructivism that we're talking about in general applies to that situation.
Joerg Schmitz 6:54
And having straddled many of these worlds myself, I'm just struck by your description of this as an epistemological journey, in a sense, right at the end. So the DM is, is, is actually taking people on an epistemological discovery,
Milton Bennett 7:09
I believe it is. I didn't start out that way. I started out with it as a perceptual development, you know, sort of more or less following Piaget and saying, Well, hey, what what we do or what all human beings do, is they started out with kind of vague categories for things and they develop more and more finer discriminations, basically, about how this is different than that. And that when you apply that to cultural issues, you know, you become more interculturally sensitive. So as I use the term, but then increasingly, as I kind of consolidated that with the earlier work in heretic ontology, you know, the Thomas Kuhn stuff, I realized exactly what you're saying, you know, I mean, that was kind of like a surprise to me too. But I've mapped the that those epistemological positions and say, Wow, exactly, these earlier sort of denial and defense and even minimization positions are essentially positivist, you know, Newtonian, and that is huge. Make that big shift into ethno relativism. It's really a shift into relativism into cultural the original sort of Boaz, Mead, Rutherford, sort of cultural relativism, cultural relativity, they call it, but then that only takes you through essentially the acceptance part. But then if you really want to do something with that, you need to shift into this more constructivist view, I think.
Joerg Schmitz 8:28
Yeah, I mean, earlier, we talked a little bit about this, it's really a work of consciousness development.
Milton Bennett 8:34
Yes, I increasingly, I'm defining the end state, which I originally called integration, which I still think is an appropriate term. But in many ways, it's kind of confused by the idea of social integration or, like, real integration. What I meant it to mean, however, is essentially consciousness integration, the integration of this ability, this inner, this perceptual constructivism into your everyday thinking about things, you know, the way in which you are conscious, which I think means that you are conscious in a more consistently self, reflexive way, or in this case around intercultural issues. I think the same principle probably applies to any issue.
Joerg Schmitz 9:19
I mean, I'm so intrigued also, because you've taken that work to the next level recently, most people will be familiar and that mean, you know, it's not a, not a not an accident that you're an icon in the intercultural fields. And you've done some really groundbreaking work in so many ways and created a very different paradigm that's widely used in, in diversity and obviously, the intercultural field. But you've also added a dimension to your recently and I'm just curious if you want to touch on that a little.
Milton Bennett 9:55
It has to do with what's called the unit of analysis and unit Have analysis is pretty simply, you know what you're paying attention to. And in most leadership areas, particularly, but you can say, in social science, in general, a unit of analysis tends to be the individual. And this is more true in Western societies than it is in Asian societies or societies that are a little more collectivist as a generalization, and are more likely to to have some attention to groups as the unit of analysis. But for the most part in western business, psychology, and it is typically psychology, the unit of analysis is the individual. And then organizations are seen as collections of individuals, if you want to measure that, you need to average those individuals. And then you have a measurement of the organization. And almost all measures that are used in organizations use that strategy, they average rules, and they say, okay, that's the organization. But we know that's not true, we know that organizations are either more or less than the sum of the parts, you know, depending on the synergy in the organization. So I started out with the question, how would we apply the DM? Is this developmental model? How would we apply that at an organizational level in a way other than just averaging individual responses to some instruments? And I started working on that for I don't know, a couple of years? And said, Nah, that's not really the best question. The best question is not, how does the organization exercise competence. It's how is the individual relating to the organization in terms of something that we might call intercultural competence, or any other kinds of competence, but they intercultural competence, which I'm focusing on, and it's it's in the interface between the individual and the organization, the relationship that the competence emerges, and thus, the unit of analysis needs to be the relationship. But the problem is we don't have any method, we don't have any measurement methodology for measuring relationship is the analysis. So the real innovation in this tool, I think, this instrument that, that I developed, is to develop a strategy for making individual organizational interaction, the unit of analysis, I call quantum measurement, you know, for good reason, because, you know, it's basically saying, the event is a function of an interaction between the observer and the observed, and that in the observer, an observer can be anything, but let's call it the individual in the organization. One is the observer, the other is the observed. And what we're looking at is the construction of an event that's occurring in the interaction of those two entities. That's the underlying philosophy of this measurement. And yeah, I'm really excited about it, too. I think it's, it's going in a direction we need to be going. And it's
Joerg Schmitz 12:57
so interesting. I mean, I'm just stitching a couple of conversations together with even lately after this in this post COVID world of hybrid connectivity, the and and what has organization mean in this context, right, what and the struggle people have even organizations seem to have to actually recreate a level of affinity or connectedness between the individual and the organization. And how do we cultivate that? What is the organization? Actually?
Milton Bennett 13:31
That's a great question. It really is. And, you know, years ago, Edgar Schein, I think, posts a good direction for us to be considering here, which is that and let me say, parenthetically, that this was also shared by Edward T Hall, in intercultural communication in the sign language, you know, one of the reasons that I like intercultural communication, because it uses the same principle that I'm about to get to, which is that organizations are coordinating mechanisms, that they are not things, they are coordinating systems. And that, as you say, in the post COVID condition that we're in, that has suddenly become a lot clearer than it was before, that in the previous situation, people could kind of pretend that the organization was an entity, it had a physical location, you know, it had a set of, you know, policies and procedures, none other than that. And you would go there and, you know, it's sort of like have contact with that thing. But now, there is no place, you know, it still is a set of policies and procedures, but those policies and procedures have necessarily become more flexible, more oriented towards trying to incorporate a wider variety of activities, and frequently remote activities that are being that are occurring virtually and remotely. And so I think it's becoming clear to people in a way that they really don't know what the Do it, you know, it's becoming clear to people that this is not a thing. It's a coordinating system.
Joerg Schmitz 15:06
And it's interesting that the act of CO creating or CO constructing is actually becoming much more conscious act. I mean, not everyone, not by everyone, not everywhere, but but almost, you have to develop a certain level of consciousness that it is a created co created phenomenon.
Milton Bennett 15:25
Absolutely. And this is exactly the same mechanism that Edward de Hall said is going on in culture in general, that culture is a coordinating, we're coordinating meaning and action amongst a group of people typically through there's some kind of a shared narrative, and some kind of a shared purpose and people coordinate is shared. And frequently that is then expressed in the shared language. So culture is really writ large, sometimes writ small, similar to an organization as any organization as a coordinating system. And thus, the the energy of that system is in exactly the interaction of the individuals as it is, in a culture or in a society. It's not that there is a society, it's in the interaction of the individual and the group. And in the US right now, just to use that as an example, that is also becoming painfully clear that the so called system that everybody was depending on, you know, to kind of control for, you know, insane behavior turns out to not be a thing that can control anything, it turns out to be a, you know, an emergent quality of this interaction. And when the interaction gets insane, the emergent quality starts looking more and more. Strange.
Joerg Schmitz 16:41
Yeah. So it's, it's interesting how I think your definition of focusing on this quantum reality, or this quantum phenomenon is so timely in so many ways, and linking it to leadership. And, you know, to me, that's the essence of inclusive leadership as well. Because when I think about it, and and sometimes we use different language for different things, but inclusive leadership is really, you know, understanding the social context and the, the constructed context element of construction and using it, you know, in the spirit of creating inclusiveness in a sense, you know, between different individuals within a group within an organization. At least that's one way perhaps, of looking at it. But I'm more struck by this. I mean, after all these, these years of spending your energies in this, why, I mean, why, why do you? Why do you focus on that? I mean, we feel we've come full circle a little bit to the, to your physics, you know, initial motivation of physics, which has probably something to do with understanding the true nature of things.
Milton Bennett 17:52
I would be a little cautious in using the word true. Certainly the nature of things. Yeah. And not so much the nature of things, but the nature of our relationship with a construction of reality. It's hard, we don't have good language. I mean, this is a nice example of you know, of course, the easiest way to say that is, you know, well, what's the true nature of things or being able to see how things really are. But once you are operating with the idea that things really are pretty much a function of the way we're relating to them, then we need to come up with some language that that into account and the way we talk about it, and then I don't think any of us really have that language down? I mean, certainly I don't and and I don't see others as having it. But this goes to the question of that you're asking, which is, this is why we're doing this, that we are in a position that we as human beings have never been in before we have constructed a reality that has never existed before. And we know you know, what, there were some good things about that, which is no a higher level of well being and probably has ever existed in the in the world before following thinker and others who have commented on that, as well as the other side of that which is the danger of exterminating ourselves, you know with climate destruction, not to mention, you know, the nuclear annihilation, which is been around with us for some time. So, the issue that has changed is where we look for direction, where we look for solutions to problems. And as we discussed earlier, if we look to solutions that have been around before, those solutions may have been effective in a previous form of reality, but that form of reality is no longer they operate form of reality. This is particularly clear in the intercultural area, which is one of the reasons why I like intercultural communication. We have never before lived in multicultural society's in this in the way that we currently construe that meaning, you know, including people, you know, deriving value from the diversity, you know, being able to generate the kind of every day action across cultural systems that are maintaining their integrity, you know, so it's not like we're in the process of the melting pot or anything, it's that we are accepting the equal validity of a wide variety of worldviews and saying, how do we coordinate that, I would use the term medical coordinate, you know, each of those little worldviews are essentially coordinations of a group of people, then the role of a multicultural society. Remember, it's an organizing system, the role of the organizing system is to medical coordinate is to coordinate across coordinating systems. Right. And this, this goes back to some of the early, you know, cybernetics of cybernetics. You know, I mean, Margaret Mead, and, you know, Gregory Bateson and others, were talking about this, you know, back in the 40s. But of course, nobody understood what they were saying,
Joerg Schmitz 21:01
Milton Bennett 21:04
It was a condition that wasn't all that common, then. But now, it's pretty if you said, it's pretty common, you know, we can post pandemic, you know, it's like the look around, you know, he's pretty easy to see that this is the need is for something that we might call this medical coordination. So that's why,
Joerg Schmitz 21:21
in fact, the IT industry does it all the time, in offense,
Milton Bennett 21:25
increasingly, all of these platforms, all this, all of the platform methodology is a coordinate medical coordination kind of, kind of methodology. Exactly. And so we're moving into that we don't really understand it very well. Why I do this is to address what I think is this emerging need for us to be able to think about these things in an in a paradigmatically different way, you know, to get out of even the relativist idea, which is, oh, well, there's that worldview, and this worldview is not bad or good. It's just different. You know, this is inadequate. This is not a coordinating system. This is simply a recognition of those contexts, but that's good. But then what do you do when people are living side by side, you can't just say it's not bad or good, it's just different when you have to coordinate towards a common goal. And too often what we do is we retreat to what we used to do, you know, which is, you know, converted to be like you
Joerg Schmitz 22:24
that's clearly a winning strategy.
Milton Bennett 22:27
As imperialism, colonialism, you know, there's no melting pot, or unfortunately, we'd retreat even further and say, well kill them, at least get rid of them. But if they won't go away, well, what are you going to do? You know, and this is so literally primitive, in the sense that it to our primate past, it goes to the idea that we are monkeys in a troop. And we've got a patriarchal Alpha monkey that is, you know, sort of running the show, and we've got a bunch of beta monkeys that are, you know, kowtow into the Alpha monkey, and we're fighting off the other troops, you know, and killing. This is ingrained, I think, in our human species, you know, we must have lived for a couple 100,000 years like that. And so it's not surprising that we easily retreat to that, you know, it doesn't take much, you know, you get a moderately charismatic leader who comes along. And one of the, one of the things I've studied over the precisely for this reason, is pulse, hunting, I call it coating process. And I think it's extremely describable. I have some other podcasts floating around and some articles on this. It's extremely describable, to say, here's how, if you want to get people to suppress their consciousness, if you want people to suppress their self, any ability to be even self aware, nevermind self reflexive, here's how you do it. And most people who run coasts, know how to do that and have an eye. You know, it's been clear from, you know, the Moonies and Jonestown and you know, Branch Davidians. And I mean, you can name 1000 of these groups. What we didn't know until recently is how easily that could be propagated through social media, other another form of interconnectedness that we're currently experiencing, so that essentially you're seeing mass collecting events that are occurring, you know, this is where the most of this conspiracy theory business is around the idea of mass halting. That is really scary stuff. But to me, it represents a kind of retreat back to this more primitive, literally primitive condition, where we're looking for the Alpha leader to be telling us what to do. As Julian Jane says, we took we want to hear the voices of the gods, you know, we want them to talent, we want them to tell us what to do. And we're not yet self reliant enough. We're not resilient, maybe I'm not sure that word resilient is the best term here. But we don't yet have the integrated agency in our interaction with the world to resist that,
Joerg Schmitz 25:20
coming back to that integration phase, in a certain sense, so that's the
Milton Bennett 25:25
answer to why I'm doing this is that I think that we need this new form of consciousness to counteract our literally primitive. And it's not just rationality. I mean, you know, it's, just as I said, that I said, Oh, well, some people are gonna hear, you know, if they studied any history at all, they're gonna, they're gonna say, Oh, well, you know, that's the enlightenment, you know, I mean, that that's just the scientific revolution. And, you know, but it's not rationality that we're talking about, which was that original idea. It's not that rationality is counteracting emotionality in any kind of dichotomous way, it's that we are being we are needing to be conscious of ourselves in a self reflexive way, meaning that we are conscious in a way that includes being able to generate new meaning.
Joerg Schmitz 26:13
Yeah, and generate moral meaning to well, the Yeah,
Milton Bennett 26:16
that's the unfortunately, that's a really lagging areas, as people have said, of course, for a long time, you know, technology as well out ahead of moral or ethical development. But I think the issue is probably deeper than that, which is that while we sometimes recognize the need to be constructing new meaning to be exercising agency, that when that falls into the category of exercising agency around ethical issues, we then go back again, to a kind of universalism, you know, kind of say, well, there's a kind of ethics, where do they come from? Well, I come from God, I guess, you know, that there's an ethical positions that apply to everybody, whether they know it or not, you know, these things apply to them. And that can be used, you know, for sort of missionary purposes, but you know, it can be used for human rights purpose. So same thing, you know, people going around the world saying, you may not know it, but you have this right. But if those people, whoever they are, are not constructing the world in such a way that that that that is operating that way, then it doesn't make any sense minimally. And in that way, it ends up being a kind of form of ethical colonialism, you know, where we go around saying, here's an ethical system that we think applies to everybody. And we have the power to impose that. So we're going to do that. Yeah. So how do we deal with that? I think that you're right, that is the real cutting edge question.
Joerg Schmitz 27:40
Well, that's what I what excites me also about really dedicating our energies into this, this idea of what kind of leader do we need to actually work in that world, right, and with those insights that you so elegantly put together? So since we're coming to the end of our time, for you, I mean, I always ask this question about when you look back, when you reflect on everything that you've learned, what are some key actionable insights? And I almost hesitate to put it in those terms? Because I mean, there is this real, you know, sometimes the action is not what we sometimes believe actions to be on. I mean, and there is a you know, and obviously, especially in business, people want actionable mobility and, you know, lists of to dues or whatnot. And, and I don't think in this space, it is that simple. And yet we do need to, you know, work on something, and we need starting points for that.
Milton Bennett 28:39
Well, let me let me try to engage that a little bit of although I totally agree with you, that that we tend to see action in a kind of simple way, you know, essentially a Newtonian way, you know, which is their cause and there is an effect, and you need and if you're not the cause, something else is going to be the cause of the effect and therefore, you should try to cause things to happen. This makes an epistemological assumption that there are that there is a set reality which, you know, you can exercise energy on in some way that will push it in one direction or or another, because it's no longer think that way at all. The current thinking, not only in physics, but in the constructivist application of physics in social science, is that we are engaging with the events in a way that are that are generating conditions. Carlo Rovelli, who is a currently popular physics writer writes about quantum, the application of quantum thinking to everyday situations very, very articulately and he himself is quite an accomplished. quantum physicist says this. He says the future is rushing towards us as a cloud of possibilities. We which will become actualities dependent on how we relate to them, how we relate to them. So there's, we, at every instant, we're surrounded with the possibilities of things essentially being any way. And because we typically relate to things in the same way that we've related to them before things continue to be to emerge more or less in ways that were familiar from the past, no matter how inappropriate that might be to the new conditions that we're in. So we're relating to events in one sense by creating new conditions. And this is true for our organizational realities and for our social realities in general. So we relate to events such as to create those new conditions. And yet when we try to, to coordinate those systems, we go back to the previous way of relating to the events, which turned out to not be adequate to coordinate and so then we try to bring to explore different kinds of causal approaches. And, and, and it doesn't work. So my advice is, really simply be conscious. And let me put this into a little more of an anecdotal form. One of the pieces of work I've done over the years is to work with teachers in both higher education, but also in secondary education situations. And I'm trying to help the teachers to work in multicultural classrooms increasingly, the situation and make use of those cultural differences. And the teachers rather commonly we'll say, what can we do? And what they mean is, what exercise can we do with the students? You know, we have to have a curriculum, what can we write down? What can we do with these students the next day, and my response increasingly has been? Well, I understand that that's an important thing for you to be doing, but don't do it prematurely. That before you decide what to do, you need to be a particular way. You need to develop a sense of the situation and of your intention in the situation in a way that generates some some coherence in what kind of coherent intentionality, I would call it in that situation. And then you can't just sit back and say, Well, I have coherent intentionality, you know, you know, think money and, and the money will come, I mean, it's not a stupid thing like that. It's more that once you have this more coherent intentionality, and that you're aware of that, then you can start developing exercises, that, in fact, are going to make a difference for people, they're not just something off the shelf, or, oh, let's do this, because of, you know, it's, you know, we need to get it, we need to do something active now. Or let's do this because, you know, suddenly it seems to deal with cultural difference. And so yeah, let's do that, you know, let's, let's talk about Hofstede is, you know, power distance, you know, or, you know, just because it seems to be about culture, it isn't really, you know, within our culture, so why don't we do that, you know, and then we can say that we've done intercultural training for our, you know, expatriate, you know, business people, but in fact, this is not coming from coherent intentionality, that if we are conscious of the reality that we are in, and the reality that needs to exist for us, you know, to, for us to manage this stick and to coordinate the situation that we're in, that we constantly need to have the intention of generating that new reality that has to the intentionality is the intentionality to generate an appropriate reality, coordination for the conditions that we're in. And that once we have that, then we can start doing stuff. But the problem is, we're doing stuff before we have that and it ends up being incoherent. And, and or going back to previous solutions that no longer are appropriate, etc. Sure.
Joerg Schmitz 33:58
And then we we look for other things to do, because we're not satisfied with one. So it's
Milton Bennett 34:04
kind of an it's an issue of timing. It's like the joke about the comedian, joke about the comedian, who's, who says, you know, ask me the secret of my success. Go ahead, ask me
Joerg Schmitz 34:15
what time he quit
Milton Bennett 34:20
the job negatively as illustrating that the issue here is timing. The issue is sequencing. The it's the same as I have worked with in the developmental model is that you can't start talking to people about equity. While they are ethnocentric, equity doesn't make sense because you are not attributing equal humanity to the other. And if you don't attribute equal humanity in a sense of equal complexity, to otherness, then you can't then equity doesn't make sense. So it's a sequence issue. First, you overcome the your ethnocentric tendencies to simplify others, and you come to the point of seeing others as being at least pretend equally as complex as yourself, then you can start talking about equity. And similarly, I think in all of these leadership issues, that first we develop the consciousness that allows us to a recognize the context that we're in it's mutability. And then to be able to imagine the alternative viable context, which is the basis of that intercultural viability indicator that we were talking about earlier, the the intentional, viable context, and then we say, what do we need to do to make that happen? How do we need to relate to events in real valleys terms of for that to happen, not to make it happen, but to essentially allow that to happen? We have time we could talk about passing volition, you know about but I think that will go beyond our time.
Joerg Schmitz 35:49
That may go beyond our time. That's true, but but fascinating. Thank you.
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