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Exploring Integration

In my quest to accelerate growth—both my own and that of my clients—one building block I’ve come to embrace is integration. In a recent class, I shared my understanding of integration with one of my spiritual teachers. It resonated deeply with her; she asked me to document my definition. As I started down this path, I recognized the opportunity to go deeper in a blog post.

As my understanding of integration has blossomed, it has shifted my view of how I relate to others and how other things relate to one another. I aim to give you a similar gift of awareness.

Integration Defined

When we integrate, we take two or more separate and distinct things and bring them together in some way. If we take the term loosely, we can compare it to terms like combining, mixing, or blending. When I speak of integration, I’m offering a distinctly different definition.

I draw my definition from Dan Siegel’s work. He describes integration in terms of interpersonal neurobiology:

Integration is the linkage of differentiated elements.

When we integrate things, we link them together, and they also retain their differentiation.

One of Dan’s favorite metaphors for integration is fruit. We can have separate pieces of fruit—apples, strawberries, blueberries—each in their own dish. This is differentiation. In separate dishes, there is no linkage.

We can place those pieces of fruit into a blender and mix them into a smoothie. Now, we have linkage, but we have lost the differentiation. I cannot distinguish the strawberry from the blueberry.

Integration is when we make a fruit salad – combining the pieces of fruit into a single dish. They are linked within that dish, but each item retains its differentiation.

Integration in Business

We use the term integration in business all the time. Being precise about linkage and differentiation enables us to be precise about our integration strategy.

When one business acquires another, one strategy is to allow the acquired business to operate as a wholly-owned subsidiary. With this strategy, there is minimal linkage. The acquired business retains its brand name, employees, clients, and systems, remaining highly differentiated.

Often, there is an actual stage of integration, followed by an eventual absorption. I had a client who worked for a consulting company owned by a much larger consulting company. Initially, the smaller company retained its name. Internally, linkage occurred as they integrated with the parent company’s internal systems and processes. Employees began to move from the parent company into the child company and vice versa. Eventually, the parent company absorbed the child company fully – eliminating the separate company name and folding the company into an existing consulting branch. The integration era was at an end. There was linkage with almost no differentiation.

I lived this integration journey throughout my software career. We may acquire a business because of the strength of their product, which complements our product portfolio. We often retain the product’s brand name to support its differentiation. We then “link” that product to our broader portfolio by building discrete APIs between that product and others. Each product remains differentiated, and their linkage allows them to exchange data, creating integration.

Consider the aspects of your business where integration is involved. This could be a reorganization, a merger or acquisition, or the creation of a new product.

  • How do the dynamics of differentiation and linkage come into play?
  • What do you want to shift in those dynamics to create a more robust integration?
  • Do you even desire integration? Or does this scenario require strong differentiation? Or strong linkage?

Integration in Relationships

Let’s consider a more personal example – integration in a romantic relationship.

Consider an individual who discovers their ideal partner. Let’s consider several possible paths for the relationship.

On the first path, our individual does not consider themselves worthy of the partner. They never summon the courage to share their feelings; they are simply two ships passing at night. Our individual remains fully differentiated, with no linkage.

On the second path, they enter into a romantic relationship. To win their partner’s heart, our individual shifts every aspect of their being to attune to their partner. They change their hobbies. They change their friends. What they eat. When they sleep. Over time, our individual bears no resemblance to the person we knew before the relationship began. This is linkage without retaining the differentiation.*

On the third path lies integration. Our individual enters a romantic relationship with their partner, enjoying all the beauty of sharing a linked existence with another while honoring their differentiated self. They find some mutual hobbies, and they retain some separate ones. They love and respect each other’s differences. This is an integrated relationship.

I recently reread The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran. When the prophet speaks of Marriage, he offers vivid examples of integration:

“Love one another, but make not a bond of love:

Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.

Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup.

Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf.

Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.”

Discovering Integration

I have at least ten more examples of integration I wanted to write about. Once you understand the distinctions of differentiation and linkage, you see integration everywhere. Here are a few:

  • Teliodosis – What I now recognize as integrating Doing and Being.
  • Work & Life Harmonization – Integrating work and life can be far more fulfilling than “balancing” them.
  • The Hemispheres of the Brain – Integrating our brains’ left and right hemispheres is one of the most powerful ways to accelerate growth.

It strikes me that integration is an example of Aristotle’s Golden Mean. On one end of the spectrum, we are fully differentiated. On the other end, we are fully linked. Integration is the golden mean that lies in the middle.

Putting It Into Practice

  • Look for the patterns of integration in your world.
  • How much differentiation exists?
  • How much linkage exists?
  • What shifts do you want to make to achieve integration?

I am an executive coach and life coach with software executive roots in higher education and EdTech. I coach because I love to help others accelerate their growth as leaders and humans. I frequently write about #management, #leadership, #coaching, #neuroscience, and #arete.

If you would like to learn more, schedule time with me.

Want to comment? Join the conversation on LinkedIn.

* The extreme version of this is depicted by The Borg from Star Trek, where you are “assimilated” into a giant collective—complete linkage, with no differentiation.

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