This article won an honorable mention award at the Integral Theory Conference, July
2013 and was published in the Journal of Integral Theory and Practice, December 2013,
Volume 8, Number 3 and 4. The Journal is no longer easily available, so we are
publishing this as a blog.
Types is the last of the five elements of the AQAL model and it seems to be one of the
least articulated, yet it holds keys for understanding some vital autopoietic processes at
play in each individual as well as in the collective. In a recording in the Integral Life
archives, Ken Wilber says that typologies help us use skillful means in our interactions
with others. (2007) So what makes a typology helpful in understanding ourselves and
others as individuals, in our intersubjective relationship dynamics, in relation to the
systems we operate in, and in relation to our observable behavior and how our brain
functions? How can we make the most of typologies in general and wisely select which
ones to use for which purposes?
There are many ways to approach types. Some would say that a preference for one side of
a polarity makes a type. Others would say that there is more. All approaches to types
have the potential to do harm when they are used as fixed categories that determine
behavior. Some approaches can foster increased well-being, self-awareness and
perspective taking. This paper examines a meta-model to address the following questions:
- What makes a typology more robust than identification with one side of a polarity and the stereotypes that can go with such identification?
- How can a typology describe some vital autopoietic processes?
- What is the importance of identifying patterns, processes, and structures in understanding complex living systems?
- What are some essential qualities of a robust typology?
- What are some typological models that have these essential qualities?
- How can we introduce a typology in ways that do not freeze development or become just another weapon to be used against others?
What Are ‘Types’?
Simply put, ‘types’ are classification systems. In integral theory ‘types’ has a special
place as one of the five main aspects of the integral map. In an overview of integral
theory Esbjörn-Hargens noted that these five main aspects cover the most basic repeating
patterns of reality. ‘Types’ is used to describe an important aspect of the integral map that
the other aspects do not. “Types are the variety of consistent styles that arise in various
domains and occur irrespective of developmental levels.” They are “…very stable and
resilient patterns.” (Esbjörn-Hargens, 2009)
Type patterns occur in all quadrants of the AQAL Matrix and there are a multitude of
typologies. A typology is a systematic classification of types that centers around some
basic principles. Some typologies are constructed categories made through factor
analysis. Other typologies address shared characteristics that are organically present in
nature, like the kinds of trees—conifer and broad leaf. Some typologies such as
personality types are often used to explain how we make meaning of the world and form
the basis of our individual interiors and can give us a language to describe our differing
subjective perspectives. Others, such as governmental structures, seem to apply to our
collective objective systems. Even so, these various type patterns are interrelated with
each other as well as with other aspects of the integral map. Some typologies can be used
as a framework to describe aspects in each of the four quadrivial realities. In the end, the
construct of types is useful as it helps us understand aspects of ourselves, others, our
relationships, and the systems that form part of our life conditions.
Since human nature is so complex, no one typology can adequately describe behaviors,
systems, relationships, and meaning making, hence there is no one ‘official’ typology
used in integral theory. To this point, no set of criteria seem to have been set forth for
what makes one typology more useful than another and what makes a typology more
consistent with integral approaches to working with living systems. This paper is an
attempt to set forth some essential qualities of a robust typology that can provide very
helpful information and practices for applications of integral theory. Examples from
personality type will be used to demonstrate how having this meta-model for types can
make ‘types’ more useful in promoting vertical development as well as horizontal
development, and skillful means with communication, teamwork, leadership,
organizational design, and other areas of applications.
A Polarity Approach to Types
One definition describes a polarity as “the state of having or expressing two directly
opposite tendencies”. (polarity, n.d.). In other words, this common definition leads to
thinking that the opposite poles are indeed opposite rather than interdependent and
positive or neutral as identified by Johnson (1996).
The polarity construct is useful because it seems to be human nature to think in
terms of opposites. Therefore, people tend to accept it as a way to describe types.
Inherent in our meaning making is the ascribing of value to desirable and
undesirable aspects of experience, as we become socialized members of a human
community. Our tendency to have preferences along with moral judgments creates the situation where we prefer one aspect of experience over its opposite. This privileging is a deeply rooted aspect of human meaning making. (Sharma and Cook-Greuter, 2010, p.2)
Identifying these polarities can be quite useful in helping people disengage from their
own perspectives and stop giving privilege to that perspective. The challenge is that the
healthiest way to use polarities is to see them as both-and rather than either-or. However,
in earlier stages of development, people tend to see them as either/or and at first see their
own preference as better.
These pairs often get set up as competing with each other for ‘rightness’ or
‘betterness’. All of us acquire and express pole-preferences – i.e. we begin to
value one pole of a polarity over the other. Until we have matured beyond a
certain stage, we cannot yet see the dynamic or interdependent relationship part
and whole - that conceptually they define each other. (Sharma and Cook-Greuter,
There is a tendency to speak of one side of any set of opposites as a type. For example, I
have seen this happen over and over in more than 30 years of observing individuals relate
to MBTI ® 2 results and psychological type models in terms of the identified dichotomies of
Extraversion or Introversion, Sensing perception or Intuiting perception, Thinking
judgments or Feeling judgments, and a Judging or a Perceiving orientation to the external
world. (Myers, 1998) I have observed a tendency for many individuals to identify their
own preference for one pole; for example, referring to themselves as ‘Sensors,’ and then
making the assumption that they cannot engage the other side of the polarity. In this way,
they may limit their access to intuitive perceptions and development can get thwarted,
relationships damaged, and teamwork blocked by conflict. If the poles are presented as
polarities to be managed, then a coach or facilitator can use this new awareness to
facilitate development. However, since the MBTI instrument is forced choice, and the
language used is one of opposites, with the word ‘or’ implying a ‘versus’ aspect, the
facilitator has to be conscious of managing the dance of opposites. Unfortunately, the
focus is often on getting a ‘label,’ especially in organizations where inadequate time is
given for deeper exploration. In addition, looking at types this way, misses autopoietic,
self-organizing qualities of a more holistic and systemic approach. If based on polarities
separately as types, the typology is missing some explanatory power that a pattern
Pattern Approaches to Types
A type is often thought of as a classification according to a group of similar
characteristics. Dictionary.com provides a simple definition as “a kind, class, or category,
the constituents of which share similar characteristics.” However, there is another
meaning to type: “the general form, plan, or design distinguishing a particular group”
(type, n.d.) This latter meaning provides utility for describing a meta-model of type as a
pattern or configuration of interrelated characteristics, not a random cluster of
characteristics. In the personality type example, there are those who describe holistic
patterns that get at something more than the sum of the parts. (Berens and Nardi, 1999)
They focus on a full type such as ENFJ as a pattern or they use a temperament model describe four holistic patterns that relate to the sixteen types that the MBTI® instrument
is used to identify. Approaching type this way could be thought of as seeing a type
pattern as an organizing system in which an energy field self-organizes around an
attractor of some kind. We could think of it as an unconscious operating system, with a
core driver of the system and ‘talents’ that maintain the system.
The advantages of this approach are that information is accessed that is not available in
the polarity approach. These patterns are more organic and representative of something
constant and therefore are very meaningful and memorable. The disadvantages include
that they can be more complex to explain, challenging to detect with an instrument, and
can be misused as static, deterministic descriptions.
Holistic, Organic Models of Types—Recognizing Autopoietic Qualities of
The concept of autopoiesis is significant in helping us understand what it means to be a
living system. According to Maturana “ …living beings are characterized in that,
literally, they are continually self-producing. We indicate this process when we call the
organization that defines them an autopoietic organization.” (1997, p. 43) Capra clarifies
autopoiesis as ‘self-making’. In other words living systems are self-organizing in that
they engage in maintaining themselves, transcending themselves, and renewing
In his book, The Web of Life, Capra describes three key criteria for understanding a
living system—pattern, structure, and processes. Patterns are configurations of how
aspects or essential qualities are in relation to each other. They usually have a theme or
central organizing principle. Structure is the physical embodiment of the pattern.
Processes are the activities that help maintain the pattern. Thus patterns ‘rule’ the
processes and the structure.
configuration of relationships among the systems’ components that determines the
system’s essential characteristics. In other words, certain relationships must be
present for something to be recognized as —say— a chair, a bicycle, or a tree.
That configuration of relationships that give a system it essential characteristics is
what we mean by its pattern of organization. (Capra, 1996, p. 158)
He goes on to point out that all three criteria are linked to each other and do not stand
independent of each other.
If we take an approach to types that embraces this systemic view of living systems, we
would seek typologies that include all three aspects of living systems in the descriptions
of the models. Such a typology would present us with the essential qualities of the
patterns, processes that maintain the system, which could include polarities, as well as a
relationship to structures.
The essential qualities of the patterns as related to personality would include:
- A central attractor: Attractor: A set of states of a dynamic physical system toward which that system tends to evolve, regardless of the starting conditions of the system. (attractor. n.d.). In other words, some quality that is a core or central driver.
- Some values and beliefs that are closely related to the core driver.
- Talents that get the core needs and drivers satisfied to further ensure self-maintaining and provide a means for self-transcendence.
- Typical pattern related behaviors that sustain or nourish the central attractor or core.
- Stressors that result when core needs and drivers are not satisfied.
Processes that maintain the pattern would include:
- Engaging the talents in support of the core driver.
- Various behaviors that support the core
- Defensive behaviors that can be seen as self-maintaining ‘stress responses,’ not illnesses.
Dynamic polarities identify seemingly opposite kinds of processes that each type pattern
has a preference for since that process would serve the pattern better. The polarities also
offer a means for the system to transcend itself as it opens up to the other poles and then
integrates them. The approach identifies very meaningful and impactful polarities that
might not otherwise be detected.
Personality Type Examples 3
Using an integrated set of typologies that I call the InterStrength™ lenses, we can see
how these criteria can be met in the area of personality type.
Personality type is a classification system or a way of viewing and understanding
personality differences. It is not a grouping of unrelated traits, but rather a
framework for detecting patterns that already exist and the processes related to
There are two aspects of classification systems to be considered: detection of the
pattern (type identification and clarification) and the applications or use of the
information as a tool to communicate, effect change, or promote growth. (Berens,
Detection is judged by the accuracy or goodness of fit and applications are judged on
how useful a model is. The models briefly described here all have a long history of use
with high construct validity as well as verification of fit with thousands of individuals and
they have proven themselves useful in a variety of settings. (Berens, n.d.; Robertson, n.d.)
This view encompasses both pattern and polarity approaches. The polarities are
the processes and each model would include descriptions of the dynamic processes that
maintain the patterns. The lenses (aka models) of the Berens CORE Approach are all
related to the sixteen personality patterns the MBTI instrument was developed to identify.
In this section each model is very briefly explained with examples of how the essential
qualities of the meta model are present. The models can be used together or introduced
independently and integrated seamlessly. Each model is described in terms of the