Arthur M. Young


The Theory of Process

TO: Anodos Foundation

FROM: David Sibbet
The Grove Consultants International
RE: Application for the 1998 Arthur M. Young Award
DATE: September 13, 1998

Dear Award Committee:

Thank you for creating the Anodos Foundation and this award. It's a humbling step to apply for it, considering the scope of Arthur's contribution. However, I have been living with his ideas since meeting him in 1976, as you all know, and am as concerned as you are that they result in practical application.


I met Arthur M. Young in March of 1976 at a Saturday seminar series he was holding at the Benvenue house in Berkeley. It was just prior to the publication of The Reflexive Universe and The Geometry of Meaning. He claimed he was developing a theory that would allow people to think about physics and metaphysics in one system and challenged all of us attending the session to take his theories and use them, break them and report back their deficiencies.

I was Director of Training at Coro Foundation at the time, and had been on the staff for about seven years. Coro is a non-profit foundation dedicated to training new leadership for public affairs through deeply immersive, experienced-based fellowship programs. My undergraduate work had been in physics, contemporary philosophy and English literature at Occidental College and journalism for graduate work at Northwestern. At Coro I focused on understanding public affairs as a whole system of organizations, processes, and governance structures while experimenting widely with different ways of supporting experiential learning in our Friday seminars. To that end I studied general semantics, general systems theory, visual thinking, urban planning and politics.

Privately I sustained an active interest in spiritual matters from having been raised in the church (my father was a Presbyterian minister). But the two worlds of spirit and secular affairs were separate in thought, language and action at the time.

Meeting Arthur that first Saturday was electric. Here was a man who talked the language of science AND the language of spirit, together! I couldn't believe what I was hearing.

I became a committed part of his study group, figuring I could not lose whether the theory held or proved faulty. I'd spent eight years working out on Korzybski's general semantics, and felt ready for a new challenge. What began that day became a continuing process of personal healing for me and the direct catalyst for development of a spectrum of process theory-based facilitation tools and conceptual models for others. While I have discovered the limitations of the theory, it has not "broken." In fact it "flies" as flexibly as the helicopter he invented so long ago.

What Current Need in Society or Science is Served by My Project?

In 1977, shortly after the Saturday seminars, I left Coro and began my own consulting practice in organizational development. My initial business mostly involved facilitating meetings with graphics. People loved the process, with its high participation, big-picture thinking and productivity. Of all the methods we tried at Coro, working with big visuals seemed to make the most difference in the quality of group inquiry.

The need I felt I was serving was to bring people back to a sense of wholeness and relationship with each other, their organization and their larger environment. I sensed visual language was a help in seeing things whole and believed that helping people to collaborate in groups was a move toward revitalizing a sense of connection and "membership" in the larger polity of living systems. I was engaged in both an "inner" and an "outer" search for wholeness. The scientific, objectivist paradigm had not satisfied my own need for a deeper meaning nor did it seem to provide answers for others.

My Coro work and earlier journalism work had allowed me to study our public systems from the inside. I was troubled by what I found. In the early 1970's there was little question that massive changes were afoot, stimulated by technology, media and secular materialism running without a leash. Something deep in me rejected the modernist story of progress through technology and rationality. I loved science, inquiry and the attempt to understand our cosmos, but deeply distrusted its institutionalization and exclusion of any consideration of value or purpose.

It is so much more apparent now that we've endured the 1980's and most of the 1990's that modernist, big "T" worldview needs a challenge. As short as two years ago it seemed that "marketplace values" had become accepted worldwide. This year we are talking of impeachment, watching economies collapse worldwide and feeling a rising polarization between the dominant and subordinate players in world politics. The need for healing and a sense of wholeness is becoming a widespread ache.

In my organizational work I find teams and organizations close to exhaustion, on all levels. Increasing speed serves technological advance, but ignores timeworn patterns embodied in humans and other living systems. Attempts to respond have generated a blizzard of concepts, theories and methods that are disorganized and have spotty underlying theory. The need to have some kind of orienting framework and system of explanation has never been higher.

The Grove Consultants International's (and my) focus in this context is to help "advance the art of collaboration" by designing, demonstrating and distributing integrated tools for process management worldwide. Helping people with issues of "sustainability" is bringing a new focus our work. Can we imagine a society that makes decisions based on long-term, multi-generation impacts? Can we find models for organizations that optimize, rather than maximize, results and hold out hope that people can find some kind of balance in their work lives? Can we move to a sense of interdependence that appreciates our relationships with other cultures, other economies, other life forms and that respects these relationships in action? Can we transcend the narrow conceptions of objectivism and rebuild stories and theories of wholeness that incorporate rather than reject the learning of science?

These are the needs I and my community of colleagues at the Grove Consultants International are working on. We moved to the Thoreau Center for Sustainability in the Presidio last year as an enactment of our commitment. It is in this pursuit that I continue to work with process theory.

How Have I Applied Process Theory?

As part of my study group work I began to teach Arthur's work in my own community through public workshops, arguing that process is more fundamental than form and structure and purpose and feelings may be the starting points for successful group interaction. Being both a writer and a graphic designer, I created books and guides that would extend the impact of our workshops and support people being truly collaborative. At the root was Arthur's theory of process, working as a kind of "UNIX operating system." Coincidentally I was faculty for an explicit course on process theory at John F. Kennedy University, along with Jack Saloma and Frank Barr. Arthur coached us, of course. We learned a lot during the many planning and teaching sessions.

Group Graphics® Keyboard and Tools: My initial way of understanding process theory in the study group was to apply it to what I knew intimately-group process and graphics. In a short period of time I had discovered the deep structure of visual language and formulated a Group Graphics system of formats for facilitating meetings that we still teach today and is the foundation of my business. I developed a Graphic Language Keyboard; that outlined a process grammar for visual language and a book called I See What you Mean: A Workbook Guide to Group Graphics (The Grove Consultants, 1980) along with structured workshops to teach graphic facilitation-the generic name that was beginning to emerge for this visual way of working. I wrote the book in seven chapters, each echoing a stage of process. Chapter five explicitly translates process theory into a model for meeting management. It has been reprinted eight or nine times and is a classic in a rapidly growing field variously called graphic recording, graphic facilitation, visual facilitation, or strategic illustration. Understanding the process nature of visual communication has been very important to people learning to work in this manner.

Team Performance System: In early 1980 I began working with my colleague Allan Drexler on a formal model for teams called the Drexler/Sibbet Team Performance; System. Earlier research by Allan had generated a simple, four-step model that mirrored the first four stages in process theory. I argued that the model needed to be extended to explain not only the "creating" stages but also the "sustaining stages." Allan was very experienced with business teams. I applied process theory and eight years, and as many versions later, our Drexler/Sibbet Team Performance™ Model (TPM) has become the standard in the field and used worldwide. We created a Team Performance Inventory (TPI) with the help of Russell Forrester. The Grove created a host of collateral guides, including Team Performance-Creating and Sustaining and Team Startup-Creating Gameplans for Success. The guides organize best practices into the phases of Team Performance, which parallel the stages in process theory. Both Allan and I are explicit about our debt to Arthur in the creation of these tools.

Facilitation Training: In the early 1990's the Group Graphics and Team Performance work combined into a fully integrated approach to facilitation built around the TPM, translating many of the "operators" into practical tools for facilitators. This work is embodied in Effective Facilitation-Achieving Results with Groups (the Grove, 1992) a 245-page resource book for facilitators used as a basis for our licensed training programs. In that material process theory was used to generate a competency model for facilitation called the AEIOU Model, a basic tool for starting meetings called the OARR's Model, and a guide to strategies called the GUIDE Model. These reflect the states, relationship, and action four-folds in the 12 fold, with the TPM reflecting the seven-fold. A Push-Pull Model reflects the two-fold, and our Before-During-After Framework for meeting design, the three-fold. This work does not explicitly introduce process theory but reflects all its elements.

Strategic Visioning Process: In the early 1990's the Grove began working with huge murals in group process, and discovering that repeating patterns of organization could be expressed as pre-designed visual "templates." (Big, 4' by 8' silk-screened forms that groups can use to structure their information.) We wrote Leader Guides to accompany these frameworks and I created a Strategic Visioning Model and Overview Leader's Guide that integrated the tools into a seven-stage system for combining strategic planning, visioning, large-group process and graphic facilitation. (This work was indebted to a colleague named Rob Eskridge, who attended one of my process theory workshops in the early 1980's and was inspired to create a framework called the Growth Management™ Process (GMP) which explicitly used process theory to organize strategy work into five stages). The GMP did not include visioning, and we felt that a new model was needed that re-integrated the first and seventh stages. For the first time I used the "torus" archetype to portray the model, and find that it touches a deep and resonant chord with people.

Institute for the Future Research: For 15 years the Grove Consultants have been affiliates of the Institute for the Future, co-sponsoring a multi-client project called the Outlook Project that tracks emerging technology and its impact on organizations for about 50 client organizations worldwide. We used the Team Performance Model and process theory in the early days of the project to organize our thinking about the new field of groupware. I used the four-fold operator to design a Four-Square Map of Groupware that has become a standard way of understanding groupware in the field. Our first book, Leading Business Teams (Addison Wesley OD Series, 1991) includes these models and a chapter on process thinking (page 105) that are explicit about much of the theory.

We also used process theory extensively to help integrate our research on GlobalWork, which appeared in a later book by that title (Jossey Bass, 1995). In that effort we used process theory to create a seven stage Intercultural Learning Model. The Institute has been deeply effected by process theory and has in turn introduced it to many others.

Stages of Organization Model: My current work process theory is focused on creating an integrative theory of organizational process at the macro level. My French colleague, Meryem Le Saget, and I have been refining a Stages of Organization Model, using process theory to integrate the best thinking we can find on organizational stages and research on complex, adaptive systems. Theory in this latter area is sweeping the consulting field, and is largely pre-figured in Arthur's work, without explicit reference. We've worked out a lot of the bridges and finalized the model. It's being tested by Meryem in Europe and by me in my top management consulting in the States and is being very well received. I'm mid-way through a book on the model at this point and hope to finish it next year. This work should show how powerfully integrative this process way of thinking is. In modern jargon, it is the most scaleable way to understand the fractal nature of process in organizations.

What Evidence Attests to Your Success?

There are many different indicators that people are responding to and using these tools:

  • Our own organization, the Grove, has a language and concepts for integrating all aspects of our human life at work. We don't hang our heads about any of the "levels of reality" (our name for the four levels of constraint). Spirit, energy, mind and matter are all respected. The integrated nature of our way of working has attracted graduates from California Institute for Integral Studies where Arthur M. Young has lectured and a large network of associates and students.
  • Repeat orders for our products have grown, without much advertising, to the point there they represent over one third of our business. Our on-line store at is getting increasing attention. At conferences where we show our tools, like the American Society for Training and Development, the International Associations of Facilitators, and the Organizational Development Network, we are consistently sought out as being on the creative edge of what is happening in these fields.
  • Process theory as a meta-language allows our consultants to work alongside the best-trained people in organization consulting. Our visit to Wharton Business School this year received the highest ranking of any class or session offered last year. There are few conceptual tools used in this field that have the explanatory power of those based on process theory and none that are fully integrated across personal work, meetings, teams, organizations and communities.
  • Our ability to successfully license internal trainers in Group Graphics, Team Performance and Strategic Visioning attests to the practical transferability of the tools and ideas. We have completed system-wide licensing inside National Semiconductor, Hewlett-Packard, and the Mars Corporation and are in discussions with General Motors, Ericsson and affiliates in Europe.
  • People consistently have breakthrough experiences in our workshops when they begin to see the sweeping, integrative scope of Arthur's ideas. I often include a one to two hour lecture on the underlying theory and invariably people who have studied science or systems work come up and ask for the book titles and want to continue the dialogue.
  • Meryem Le Saget reports her European audiences are very excited about the Stages of Organization Model, including IBM Europe, HP, and her French clients. She is a widely published writer in the French business press, and included Team Performance and process theory in the last chapter of a successful book she wrote on Intuitive Management. Her thorough studies have convinced her that Arthur's thinking constitutes one of the most exciting developments in integrative theories of organization.
  • Thousands of our trainees are now working with our tools and ideas all over the world, training others. Graphic facilitation is a field, with annual conferences of practitioners. Team Performance is almost a standard and widely taught in organizational development curriculums. Both Allan and I have trained hundreds of people in this framework. National Training Labs currently offers annual workshops on the TPM. After only two years, consultants trained in our Strategic Visioning process are getting exceptional results with clients and standardizing on our approach. I am getting regular invitations to speak at professional conferences.
I personally think it is too early to assess the total impact. Meta-languages and process tools are systemic and achieve their results in concert with other factors. It takes time to "shift a paradigm." But the number of serious students is growing.

My own hope is that process theory and the practical translations we've made into the world of process management and organizational theory are sowing seeds that can help "reforest" our sense of hope and progress. No one can predict the future, but we can all live and model our deepest values. In my case, finding a bridge between science and spirit has led to a great personal healing, a deep sense of mission and a fountain of improvisations on Arthur's core themes.

I'm forever grateful to Arthur M. Young, Ruth Young, Jack Saloma, Frank Barr and the entire community of students who are inspired by Arthur's ideas. Thanks to you, Joan, and Anodos for inviting this reflection.


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