Seven Learnings - Finding Merlin by Kate Cowie, avaliable now at

In her amazing book on Finding Merlin, Kate Cowie offers you a challenging opportunity to develop yourself and your organisation.
By: Marshall Cavendish
July 27, 2012 - PRLog -- As a practitioner in the field of individual development, I could review this book from a professional perspective—agreeing with many of Kate Cowie’s ideas and disagreeing with a few. Or, as Kate’s colleague in NTL Institute, I could review the book as a friend and just say it’s great: go buy it. Both reviews would be true.

Instead, I choose to review Finding Merlin in terms of my own learnings. This is a way of showing the impact that Finding Merlin has had on my own individual development—and might have on yours! I am encouraged to do this by the intriguing Afterword in which M. Frances Baldwin discusses her own learnings from her own Merlins—including three Merlins from whom I have also learned.

I read the book straight through, and now I am re-reading it. Here are my seven learnings so far:

1.   Myth and Science
Instead of choosing to see the world from either a mythical perspective or a scientific perspective, I can use both of my eyes and see the world in stereo. Or, as Ted Tschudy says in his very helpful introduction to this book, I can use both the left brain lens of Kate’s thorough examination of the scientific research on the process of human development and the right brain lens of her fascinating explication of the Merlin myth in its various literary versions.

2.   Finding the Path
Although my own preference is to see the individual development process as an iterative cycle of recycling past experiences and previous dreams into new experiences and new dreams, Kate’s use of both research and the Arthurian legends does convince me that individual development may also follow a more linear sequence. So, if I look at the process in stereo, perhaps it is both cyclical and linear.

3.   Dealing with Dragons
Kate cites both myth and science to describe the various Giants and Dragons that confront us along the path of our own development. As I re-read this chapter, I suspect that some of the most dangerous dragons on my own path have been the dragons that looked like wizards with answers. Those dangerous answers have appeared as religions, as scientific studies, as clever theories, as magical mystics, and as seductive stories. And even as Merlin.

4.   Seeking Adventure
My key learning from Kate’s chapter on Adventure is the distinction made by Milton Rokeach between eighteen Terminal Values (such as A comfortable life, An exciting life, A sense of accomplishment, A world at peace) and eighteen Instrumental Values (such as Ambitious, Broadminded, Capable, Cheerful). How I organise these values according to my own priorities and preferences makes me similar to some people and different from others. All the values are important; my contribution is to focus on achieving my dreams in my way.

5.   Finding Merlin
I like Kate’s seven qualities of a Merlin or masterful guide: confidant, seer, sage, strategist, kingmaker, fellow human being, and shape-shifter. The seventh quality of shape-shifter reminds me that my guide may be someone who does not look like a guide. I can learn from people I disagree with—perhaps even more than from those I agree with. And the shape-shifting Merlin may enable me to discover wisdom in a sculpture or a symphony instead of in a person.

6.   Finding the Forest
I like Kate’s explanation of Robert Kegan’s description of the Arthurian forest as a “holding environment” for my development. It holds me, it lets me go, and it stays in place while I move forward on my path. This sounds to me like good parenting, good teaching, and a much better term for my work in small groups. Instead of creating a “safe” environment (which I don’t think is possible), I can focus on creating a “holding” environment, which may (like the Arthurian forest) have dragons as well as dreams.

7.   Metaphor and Metamorph
My final learning is that I am not only seeking Merlin—I am also acting as Merlin for others. And perhaps also for myself. A lot of my learning comes from learning with others. Kate emphasises the power of metaphor. Many years ago I wrote a poem about metaphor and coined a word that I’ve since seen used by others: metamorph. I defined it as “changing with changers” and that is my way of continuing to learn. Kate quotes from one version of the Merlin myth the idea that we become “slowly wise” on the journey of our individual development. If that appeals to you, I recommend Kate Cowie and her book as your next Merlin.

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