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Dimitri Glazkov - What the heck is Adult Development? - Summary πŸ”—

Below is my summary of the presentation ‘What the heck is Adult Development?’ by Dimitri Glazkov, mostly quoting and paraphrasing the content.

Overview πŸ”—

Stages πŸ”—

Reached bynearly everyone
Right iswhat benefits me
Power iscoercion (hard power)
Feedback isan attack
Giftgut instinct
Curseno capacity for empathy or perspective-taking
Challengeunderstand impact of actions on others, how they feel
Scaffolding to next stagebasic societal norms and culture
Reached bymost adults (>90%)
Right iswhat my group believes
Power ischarm (soft power)
Feedback ispainful loss of face
Curseavoids conflict
Challengedevelop own unique voice
Scaffolding to next stagehigh school and college education
Reached bysome adults (<40%)
Right iswhat I learned
Power isproducing valuable outcomes
Feedback issought and offered fearlessly
Giftsees and values others’ perspectives
Cursehard on self and others
Challengelearning how to stop β€œdoing” and start β€œbeing”
Scaffolding to next stageself-work methods / practices
Reached byvery few (~1%)
Right isa journey
Power isaction inquiry
Feedback isabsolutely necessary to function
Giftcomfortably holds conflicting / opposing ideas
Cursefirmly believes everyone should strive to develop / grow
Challengebalancing confidence with humbleness
Scaffolding to next stageself-awareness and own intention
Reached byextremely rare
Right isthis (and every) moment
Power ismutual transformation
Feedback isinteresting source of perspective to play with and build on
Giftcan see deep interconnections and patterns others can’t
Cursetend to gravitate to their solitary inner world, away from others

Compared πŸ”—

StageReached byRight is
Self-Sovereignnearly everyonewhat benefits me
Socializedmost adults (>90%)what my group believes
Self-Authoredsome adults (<40%)what I learned
Self-Transformingvery few (~1%)a journey
Unitiveextremely rarethis (and every) moment
StagePower isFeedback is
Self-Sovereigncoercion (hard power)an attack
Socializedcharm (soft power)painful loss of face
Self-Authoredproducing valuable outcomessought and offered fearlessly
Self-Transformingaction inquiryabsolutely necessary to function
Unitivemutual transformationinteresting source of perspective to play with and build on
Self-Sovereigngut instinctno capacity for empathy or perspective-taking
Socializedteamworkavoids conflict
Self-Authoredsees and values others’ perspectiveshard on self and others
Self-Transformingcomfortably holds conflicting / opposing ideasfirmly believes everyone should strive to develop / grow
Unitivecan see deep interconnections and patterns others can’ttend to gravitate to their solitary inner world, away from others
StageChallengeScaffolding to next stage
Self-Sovereignunderstand impact of actions on others, how they feelbasic societal norms and culture
Socializeddevelop own unique voicehigh school and college education
Self-Authoredlearning how to stop β€œdoing” and start β€œbeing”self-work methods / practices
Self-Transformingbalancing confidence with humblenessself-awareness and own intention

Everyone Knows: Children Grow πŸ”—

From object permanence to magical thinking, it is easy to see how children rapidly evolve their sense-making abilities and their growth is not just a physical phenomenon.

Adults Grow, Too! πŸ”—

A more exciting claim is that adults aren’t fully formed once they reach their physical maturity. Rather, they continue to grow, developing their sense-making abilities.

Adult Development Theory (ADT) πŸ”—

This is the realm of the adult development theory. There are several folks working in this area, and here’s my attempt to coalesce their work into a coherent story.

Story Structure πŸ”—

It will unfold in two parts: first, I will set things up with a few big ideas, and then we will examine the stages of adult development using what we learned from the setup.

Warning: Some Sense-Making Turbulence Ahead πŸ”—

As we walk through stages, you might feel that suddenly, a stage description makes less sense, feels more fuzzy and unclear than the previous. This is normal. After all, we all are somewhere along this developmental journey, and the later the stage, the more likely it will appear to us as “lands unknown”, a territory we are yet to discover.

Part I. The Setup πŸ”—

Ready to jump in? Some of the concepts in the setup might be a bit too hefty to fully convey in a flip-through slide deck, but fingers crossed – I hope you will stick with me.

2 1/2 Big Ideas πŸ”—

The whole story is held together by three big ideas. The third one is kind of a follow-on to the second one, so I’ll dub this bunch the “2 1/2 big ideas”.

1. We Construct our Reality πŸ”—

The first big idea is truly massive and will not get the full attention it deserves in this deck: the notion that my reality – including myself in it! – is constructed by me.

As opposed to the notion of “objective reality” in which what we perceive actually exists as it appears to us, the constructed reality is literally “what we make of it”.

In this world, reality is unique to me, and is populated by concepts that I acquire through experience. One of these concepts is Self, or how I perceive “me” in my reality.

Organizing Concepts πŸ”—

In addition to acquiring these concepts, my mind constantly optimizes organization of these concepts, merging, splitting, grouping and regrouping them.

Learning πŸ”—

Learning = Through Experience Acquiring and Organizing Concepts

So when I say “I am learning”, I am probably talking about the continuous experiential process of acquiring and organizing concepts that comprise my constructed reality.

Learning Horizontally and Vertically πŸ”—

As concepts grow in numbers, they start overlapping / conflicting with each other, making organizing more and more challenging, demanding change in how we learn.

The development challenge is an upward force that tells us that our current methods of learning are reaching their limit and new, different methods are needed.

Vertical Development πŸ”—

Vertical Development = Acquiring and Organizing Concepts of How I Acquire and Organize Concepts

So we intuitively turn the learning inward, onto the concept of Self. Since it’s just a concept, it’s a fair game to reorganize, to find new ways for it to fit with other concepts.

Subject-Object Shift πŸ”—

The go-to tool here is the subject-object shift: moving concepts I previously thought to be “me” to something I can hold, reflect on, engage, and relate with other concepts.

2. Vertical Development Happens in Stages πŸ”—

The second big idea presents the notion of stairstep-like, rather than linear progression of vertical development. How we learn seems to fit a punctuated equilibrium pattern.

We Grow in Spurts πŸ”—

According to adult development research, our growth process is arranged as a series of plateaus and transitions, one followed by another in an ever-repeating sequence.

A change in “how I learn” πŸ”—

Transitions are the effects of subject-object shifts, resulting in a reorganization of all concepts surrounding Self. A new “me” emerges through a transformative change.

Hero’s Journey πŸ”—

Joseph Campbell’s concept of a Hero’s Journey might be a useful way to imagine such a transformation: an adventure with trials, tribulations, and a lowest point (a “death”).

Wait … A “Death?!” πŸ”—

The crux of the journey narrative is that gaining something new necessarily means letting go of something that, despite limiting me, is familiar and well-understood.

Immunity to Change πŸ”—

This framing may hint at why development happens in stages: the uncomfortable prospect of venturing into the abyss creates reluctance to leave the stage I am on.

A Personal Copernican Shift πŸ”—

The internal shift in how we construct reality feels like a change in the world around us: new horizons open up, new possibilities become unlocked, new frontiers visible.

A New Plateau to Inhabit; Rinse, Repeat πŸ”—

We explore these new horizons and enjoy the new-found ground of our sense-making: the world feels larger, more vibrant, with more possibilities and hope until we reach the limits of this stage of sense-making and the next adventure begins to beckon, the next transformative journey – dragons and all.

2 Β½. Stages Include and Transcend πŸ”—

Finally, the adult development theory posits that stages are both incremental and cumulative. I can’t reach the next stage without first reaching the one before it.

Growth Includes and Transcends πŸ”—

Like with the rings of a tree, each later stage includes the earlier. The next stage incorporates all the learnings of the previous, transcending rather than discarding.

Multiplicity πŸ”—

This means that all of the earlier stages remain accessible to me. Depending on the situation, I may show up embodying any of them.

Flexing = Intentional; Fallback = Unintentional πŸ”—

When I do it intentionally matching a situation to the level of sense-making that would be most effective in it, I am said to be flexing, and when I am doing this unintentionally – usually leading to unproductive outcomes – I am said to be experiencing fallback.

Recognizing Earlier Self πŸ”—

When seeing myself or others showing up at earlier stages, I will tend to sense these stages’ limitations, echoing experiences of development journeys I once traveled.

Encountering Yet-Undiscovered Self πŸ”—

Conversely, seeing clothes showing up at later stages will have this weird feel of fuzziness and nonsense, like straining to see a picture through TV static.

Part II. Stage By Stage πŸ”—

With these big ideas in hand, let’s embark on the exploration of developmental stages, with an eye on subject-object shifts and elements of the hero’s journey in each.

Earlier Development Stages πŸ”—

We begin in early childhood, when the concept of Self has not yet been established and I am subject to my impulses, and only have moving / sensing to play with.

Self-Sovereign Stage πŸ”—

aka Opportunist, Self-Centric

Through that play, the next stage emerges, where I recognize my Self and become aware of being separate from others. We marvel at this transformation in children.

A sense of boundary forms around me, and I recognize that I can feel, perceive and have impulses – though I am very much embedded in my needs / desires. I am them.

This stage should be familiar to all of us, because we all travel through it, and it is a simpler, more primitive stage that we all tend to fall back into in the times of crisis.



However, getting stuck embodying this stage quickly results in less-than-optimal outcomes that are polarizing, actually producing crises rather than resolving them.


Scaffolding to next stage: Broad and Hard to Miss

Thanks to the society around us, it is difficult to avoid getting past that stage. I am asked to learn to see the larger picture, to recognize that “I am” is part of “we”.

Socialized Stage πŸ”—

aka Group-Centric, Diplomat

This recognition triggers the next transformation: I am suddenly awash in awareness of others’ perspectives and I realize that me and my actions are part of the story of “us”.

I embed in my relationships, becoming them. I now hold my interests and needs and compare them against people around me, identifying them as “us” vs “not us”.

I see my value relative to others, intuitively seek a tribe and a leader to orient my Self in relation to the environment. Belonging feels existential: I am my relationships.



This stage enables functional communities and societies. Over-relying on it leads to stagnation and exclusion in pursuit of having everyone align on “one true” perspective.


Scaffolding to next stage: Available, Aspirational

To overcome these limits, I am asked to recognize the subtle pull of “what I want” as separate from “what I should”, and am given quite a few pathways to get there.

Liminal Stage: Expert πŸ”—

aka Skill-Centric

This transformation takes more effort and tends to produce a sort of in-between stage: the one where I’ve established “what I do”, but not quite separated it from “us”.

More than Socialized:

Less than Self-Authored:

This stage is the motive force of progress: I perfect my craft to create increasingly refined things, yet my aspirations are rooted in the old “one true perspective” thinking.

Self-Authored Stage πŸ”—

aka Self-Determining, Achiever

The next breakthrough is no less dramatic: I recognize that I don’t cease to exist when I have a different perspective, and, in fact, perspectives are just that – perspectives.

Able to hold relationships separate and reflect on abstractions, I’ve constructed my own way of thinking with supporting systems. And – for now – I am embedded in them.

This stage is idealized by the Western world. Many organizations seek out the traits indicative of it in aspiring leaders and foster cultures that attract those at this stage.



The downsides stem from the limits imposed by being embedded in my own ideology and systems view: I choose my own horizons, which means I also can’t see past them.


Scaffolding to next stage: Limited Access

And, frustratingly, reaching beyond those horizons is ever more challenging: the pull of “knowing who I am” holds me tightly in place, and the path of the next journey is unclear.

Liminal Stage: Redefining πŸ”—

aka Self-Questioning

More than Self-Authored:

Less than Self-Transforming:

I start seeing complexity: an unnerving realization that some things aren’t “solvable”, and no amount of effort can make them coherent and neat. I feel both excited and lost.

Self-Transforming Stage πŸ”—

aka Self-Actualizing, Transforming

I make it to the next plateau through another subject-object shift: what I believe is “Self-made Self” is just one possibility, and trying to make it cohere is no longer existential.

I appreciate the richness and complexity around me, no longer beholden to an identity or ideology, moving back and forth across diverse roles and ways of thinking.

I am able to name my own shortcomings without attaching negative emotion to them, often acting as catalyst for organizational – and individual! – transformations.



Folks at this stage can be truly transformative leaders, yet they also tend to come across as too “out there”, not focused on “here and now”, and just weird.


Scaffolding to next stage: Comes from Within

At this point in development, the motivation and the scaffolding for the next hero’s journey comes almost entirely from within as part of continuous, intentional self-work.

Developmental Stages πŸ”—

Beyond Self-Transforming πŸ”—

aka Alchemist, Construct-Aware, Unitive

Because folks at the self-transforming stage become aware of their developmental journey and begin to pursue them intentionally, the question that comes to mind is what is beyond that last stage we just covered? Does the journey continue? The adult development theory folks have some evidence that it does.

It appears that individuals at these stages are extremely rare. Here are some bits of how someone at this stage might show up, gathered through the studies.

Folks at this stage embrace the paradox and non-dualism, their self-awareness evolving to in-the-moment awareness of multiple levels (spiritual, ecological, social, ethical, etc.).



Perhaps one way to look for them is among the leaders who seem to be genuinely making the world a more harmonious place … or solitary monks and hermits.

The ADT Lab: You πŸ”—

And for the Self-Authoring / Achievers in us, here are some take-home assignments for that extra credit. Now that you’ve learned about adult development theory, see if you can spend a bit of time noticing ADT stages in how you show up in your daily life, and how this newly-acquired set of concepts might be applied. Have fun!

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Updated on 2024 Jan 12.

DISCLAIMER: This is not professional advice. The ideas and opinions presented here are my own, not necessarily those of my employer.