THE BIRTH OF A METAPHOR:
HOW THE DOLPHIN AND ITS SISTER PSYCHOLOGICAL CONCEPTS
HAPPENED TO SHOW UP

I’ve been asked more than a few times where the idea of the carp-shark-NoQuiff-dolphin mindset and worldview model came from. The story takes some telling because this was one of those “one thing led to another, and another, and another” kinds of developments.

A critical component of the “a-ha!” that led to the model’s materialization was my serious acquaintance with the research and writings of the late Dr. Clare W. Graves, the father of the spiral theory of human “bio-psycho-social” maturation.

For years, the thought of condensing his complicated ideas into something more approachable, particularly for personal growth aficionados and also for folks who work in organizational development, was close at hand. The question was how, and, for that matter, what.

Another crucial ingredient was a collaboration that blossomed in the mid- and late-1980s with Paul Kordis. Paul is a one-of-a-kind thinker, whose penchant for synthesizing information fit exceedingly well with my inclination to try and make complex ideas more accessible.

And then—this was the trigger—there was the rip-roaring success of a business-oriented how-to book titled Swim With the Sharks (Without Being Eaten Alive) by a Minnesota envelope company owner, Harvey Mackay, published in the spring of 1988.

Mackay’s book title birthed an epiphany for me. I quickly realized that two of Dr. Graves’ six primary mindsets/worldviews (he also fingered a bare-bones System 1 that keys on extremely basic survival needs and behaviors and a shadowy eighth system that he felt was waiting in the wings for humanity) were “shark” systems. With that idea hammered, it soon occurred to me that Dr. Graves’ systems 2 and 4 could be rightly characterized as “carp” systems. (Why? Because they are sacrificial and vulnerable—bait-fish kinds of thinking systems.)

The idea of dubbing Dr. Graves’ game-changing “System 7” as the dolphin system occurred to both Paul and me about the same time. Our goal was to showcase System 7, believing this was a defining nexus of new perceiving. valuing and acting capabilities that was destined to have outsized importance in handling the complex times that we believed were incoming.

One mindset/worldview remained—Dr. Graves’ System 6. Paul and I struggled with a marine metaphor for this one. We felt that it was important to give this system a name that would double as a warning flag. Starting in the 1960s, it had become increasingly clear that System 6 can be an insidious psychological trap both for individuals and larger communities.

We wanted a marine metaphor that would say, “Be cautious here!” and yet still be suitable for use in polite company. And, in truth, we never really found it.
In our book, Strategy of the Dolphin: Scoring a Win in a Chaotic World, we named System 6 the Pseudo-Enlightened Carp, or PEC. And that left a lot of people with New Age leanings very unhappy with us, since they otherwise closely identified with Dr. Graves’ description of it.

In my newest work, LEAP! How to Think Like a Dolphin & Do the Next Right, Smart Thing Come Hell or High Water, I changed the name of the mindset/worldview separating the shark and the dolphin systems (System 6) to NoQuiff—short for “not-quite-flying-fish.” I like that better than PEC. It still waves a warning flag, as well it should, but it’s less in your face.

The dangers of arriving at the NoQuiff stage of one’s personal development and concluding that this automatically puts you at the pinnacle of current human maturation is more real than ever. It’s an understandable consequence of the vast influence of things like the Internet and the global brain metaphor and Gaia-like concepts that make everything (including their own mind) seem so easily “holonic” to persons currently anchored in this mindset/worldview.

In the early going, we had some unease about the dolphin name, too. We wondered how wise it would be to use the ocean’s chic, witty, charm-school-pedigreed dolphin as a mythological hat peg for our ideas about a radical new kind of thinker? This is why, even to this day, we are quick to observe that thinking and acting like a dolphin—whether the ocean’s kind or the human kind—can sometimes be as surprising to your workaday sensibilities as walking into a wall in the dark. When around dolphinthinkers or when you are one, you need to be prepared for possible whiplash or nose bleed. This is because there is an “iron fin” quality to dolphinthinking that takes some getting used to.

In our workshops on how to think like a dolphin, it didn’t take long at all to detect signs that our concerns were justified. We could see it plainly in some of our participants’ faces before we spotted it in their questions. We were seeing the stunned, confused look that psychologists say is a signal of “cognitive dissidence”—the result of colliding beliefs.

The most memorable incident that either Paul or I can recall occurred in a workshop in northern Colorado. A threesome of earnest young New Age-y “peace and love” types had driven hundreds of miles across the Rockies from Salt Lake City for our three-day “dolphin thinking” event. The seminar had been underway only a short while when the first signs of distress in this trio began to appear. As time passed, the storm clouds on their faces just kept growing.

We intended to speak privately with the distressed threesome during the noon hour, but we never managed to get a word with them. At the first opportunity, our agitated guests grabbed their gear and sprinted for the parking lot like they were being chased by a bear (or a shark!). Jumped in their car and, presumably, fled back to Utah.

And that was how we discovered a very simple way to tell whether a person is ready to think like a dolphin: tell them about the dolphin’s iron fin and discuss what, if they choose to be a dolphinthinker, they are meant to do with it. And see if they hang around.

So that’s the story of how the carp-shark-NoQuiff-dolphin mindset and worldview model came into being and a little lore about those early days. The rest, as they say, is history.

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