An Integral Approach to Marketing

Ken Wilber is an integral philosopher who has been heralded as “the most comprehensive philosophical thinker of our times” and “the most influential integral thinker in the world today.” His ideas have influenced  such individuals as writer Michael Crichton, leadership guru Warren Bennis, alternative medicine’s Larry Dossey, and the Wachowski Brothers (directors of The Matrix) … so why not marketers, too?

Wilber has written such books as A Brief History of Everything and A Theory of Everything: An Integral Vision for Business, Politics, Science and Spirituality, which present a new, integrated way of thinking about the world in light of globalization and rapid, technological progress. In 1998, he founded the Integral Institute, for teaching and applications of Integral theory. (In fact, the Notre Dame Mendoza School of Business now teaches a course in integral leadership. Click here for video.) To clarify what is meant by Integral theory, Wilber writes:

The word integral means comprehensive, inclusive, non-marginalizing, embracing. Integral approaches to any field attempt to be exactly that: to include as many perspectives, styles, and methodologies as possible within a coherent view of the topic. In a certain sense, integral approaches are “meta-paradigms,” or ways to draw together an already existing number of separate paradigms into an interrelated network of approaches that are mutually enriching.

The Integral theory, as it relates to business and marketing, is more clearly explained by Ken Wilber himself in the below video:

As Wilbur mentions in the video, there are currently four major theories of business management:

  1. Theory X, which stresses individual behavior
  2. Theory Y, which focuses on psychological understanding
  3. Cultural management, which stresses organizational culture, and
  4. Systems management, which emphasizes social system and its governance

What Integral theory does is draw on all four theories (which represent the intentional, behavioral, cultural, social dimensions) by integrating them into a singular holistic view, which results in an incredibly rich and sophisticated model of leadership. At its most basic, Integral theory  incorporates the dimensions of “I, we, it ,and its” to achieve a more complete view of a situation or issue.

See the Whole System – There are many lenses through which to see and define the elements of a system. The integral model suggests that there are subjective ( thoughts, beliefs and feelings) and objective (demonstrated and observed) aspects of systems. Many organizations seek to drive change by attending only to the objective elements. Increasingly however, they are finding that success comes from attending to the subjective ideas, beliefs, passions and perspectives taken by individuals and shared culturally. Wilber writes:

The individual and collective dimensions of the interior/subjective and exterior/objective aspects of a given situation are also known as the Integral Quadrants. Without considering all four dimensions (or perspectives), it is difficult or impossible to answer the question “What’s really happening here?” with any confidence that the answer is either complete or accurate.

Because Ken’s Wilber’s Integral theory lies at the very heart of having a holistic marketing approach to business, this is an important framework for marketers (specifically: marketing managers) to understand because Integral theory offers a new way to recognize and reconcile the scope and complexities of marketing activities.

For more info on this incredibly rich topic and how you can apply it to your business, visit these links:

  1. An All-Inclusive Framework for the 21st Century: An Overview of Integral Theory
  2. Introduction to the Integral Theory and Practice
  3. A Two Minute Introduction to Integral Leadership
  4. AQAL Map (high res version)

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