This book is for people who like to think. Deeply. About big ideas affecting the human condition. Recipe hunters and quick-fix seekers, look elsewhere. Kate Cowie has written a book about what she calls “the human development journey.” The phrase is apt. Humans have the capacity to develop throughout the course of their lives, not just in the early years. Cowie cites research from neuroscience, biology, and the social sciences to show that development is in fact an open-ended “journey”. When one phase is reached, another phase opens up to challenge the individual to continue to learn and grow.
Cowie integrates a number of developmental frameworks to show how humans progress simultaneously along several dimensions: intellectual, social, moral, emotional, psychological, and spiritual. For the individual these dimensions act as guideposts: Where am I now? Where can I develop next? For those of us who live our lives helping others navigate these developmental challenges, there are suggestions for how to intervene both as a teacher and coach. Parents take heed: your children don’t leave the nest quite as rapidly as you may have. Cowie points out that parents are increasingly playing an important role not just in child development, but in adult development.
To keep the book from being simply a catalogue of the great and the good developmental thinkers (Most readers will have already read Jung, Piaget, Kegan, etc.), Cowie weaves her theme of development around the Arthuriad. (Now that’s something I hadn’t heard of. If your knowledge of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table has been shaped by the musical Camelot, there is much to be learned here about the legends themselves.) Cowie’s title, Finding Merlin, suggests that if we can find our own Merlin, we will advance in our development much more quickly and completely than if we don’t have the magician at our side. Some of Merlin’s powers are clearly the stuff of legend and not likely to be found in 21st century organizations. But as a sage and a seer, Merlin emerges as the ideal mentor prototype…someone who knows when to ask, when to prod, when to remain silent.
I wish Cowie would have written more about the coaching role that today’s Merlins play. There is much debate about whether coaching is a pure process of helping young Arthurs get their heads screwed on straight, or if there is a role for instruction, didacticism, and even downright emotional confrontation. Perhaps that will be the subject of her next book. Suggested title: Being Merlin.
Rick Harris wrote this review Monday, February 4, 2013.