constructive–developmental theories are centered on the particular meaning-making of each individual rather than on age or phase of life. They are constructive because they are concerned with the way each person creates her world by living it (rather than believing, as some theories do, that the world is outside us and there is some kind of objective truth to be discovered). They are developmental because they are concerned with the way that construction changes over time to become more complex and multifaceted.
Unlike the age/phase theories, constructive–developmental theories do not assume that years lived or life stages completed necessarily mean anything developmental at all. There are a wide variety of constructive–developmental theories—all with broad similarities in their orientation to development, and all describing similar trajectories.
As people develop, they become more able to understand and take into account the perspectives of others while, at the same time, becoming more aware of their own responsibility for their emotions and life events. As people develop, the content of their ideas may not necessarily change (e.g., someone might retain a belief he developed in his MBA program that a good leader maintains open lines of communication with his direct reports), but the way they understand these ideas is likely to change (e.g., what “open communication” means may be revised and expanded).
Developmental theory describes the ability of people to gain these new perspectives—and what it takes to be able to move from one balcony to the next one.
Growing is when the form of our understanding changes; we often call this “transformation.” Learning might be about increasing our stores of knowledge in the form of our thinking that already exists (information), but growing means we need to actually change the form itself (transformation).
Each moment of our development, then, is a potentially temporary form of mind that, with the right support, can become more expansive. As we grow, the previous form is overtaken by the new form, leaving traces of the less-mature form behind like rings in a tree trunk.
The modern organizational world, however, often assumes that most people have a perspective that is beyond socialized, and so many organizational structures and programs are “over the heads” of the majority of adults.
Whether you think about it or not, your own form of mind shapes your world and influences everything you see or think about.