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An Integral Theory Analysis of Complexity Leadership

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An Integral Theory Analysis of Complexity Leadership
by System Administrator - Tuesday, 17 November 2015, 7:10 PM
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An Integral Theory Analysis of Complexity Leadership

Learner Papers


  Jim Best

Jim Best

In this paper I provide a description of complexity leadership theory and its antecedents in complexity science, and then use integral theory as a meta-theory to evaluate complexity leadership theory.  I will use Wilber’s AQAL model as interpreted by Forman and Ross, focusing on quadrants, lines, stages, and meaning-making systems.  Complexity leadership is important first because it acknowledges that organizations are complex adaptive systems (CAS) embedded in a complex world, and that the notion of organization as a simple causal-based machine that can be led and controlled with a traditional cybernetic command-and-control leadership approach is an inadequate model for most modern organizations.  Second, it recognizes that the problems of an industrial era organization are dramatically different from the problems of a knowledge era organization that requires high levels of innovation and dynamic adaptation, and the ability to quickly appreciate the organization’s human and social capital. Third, that complexity leadership is not about top-down design, but rather bottom-up organic growth that coexists with the command-and-control structures that currently coordinate the organization.


I have used “Complexity Leadership: Part 1 – Conceptual Foundations” (2008) edited by Mary Uhl-Bien and Russ Marion as the core text for understanding complexity leadership. Uhl-Bien, Marion, and Bill McKelvey are the primary authors of the theory but have attracted a number of other authors that use CAS concepts as antecedents for their leadership-related work. Together these authors provide a rich mixture of new thinking.

I have chosen Forman and Ross’ “Integral Leadership: The next half-step” (2013) to guide the analysis because it seems to be a good summary and interpretation of the primary sources for Integral Theory. Other sources are brought in as needed.

Searching on Google Scholar for “Integral Theory” AND “Complexity Leadership” anywhere in the article from 2000-2014 came up with only 12 results, none of which were an integral theory analysis of complexity leadership theory.  Perhaps it is premature to consider this body of work a theory.  Nevertheless, an analysis of what is extant is possible at this time.


Complexity Leadership Overview

Complexity leadership theory (CLT) has arisen as a relatively coherent body of thought within the last decade, primarily through the organizing work of Mary Uhl-Bien (University of Nebraska) and Russ Marion (Clemson University) with a growing group of scholars (Uhl-Bien & Marion, 2008).  Complexity leadership (CL) focus is first and foremost descriptive at the organizational level (Crosby, 2008) and secondarily at the team and individual levels. The unit of analysis in CL is the complex adaptive systems (CAS) aspect of the organization, rather than the individual or follower as it has been in much of the traditional leadership literature (Avolio, Walumbwa, & Weber, 2009). CLT is a reaction to the notion that organizations are increasingly seen by many scholars less as hierarchical monolithic structures designed to operate coherently under a command-and-control regime, and more as dynamic organic associations of intelligences with multiple and often conflicting goals at multiple levels with a high degree of interdependent relationships not defined by the official organizational structure. This is especially true as we move from a theory-of-the-firm that supports efficient physical product creation to a more services-based economy and firms that thrive on knowledge-era capabilities like adaptation, knowledge transfer, collaboration, and innovation in response to an unpredictable and dynamic environment.

CLT reasons that if a CAS framework is increasingly useful in describing complex organizations and the dynamic environment in which they operate, then understanding leadership in terms of CAS mechanisms will be useful in creating the conditions for leadership to emerge. In the words of Uhl-Bien et al (2008, p.187), “Complexity leadership theory (CLT) focuses on identifying and exploring the strategies and behaviors that foster organizational and subunit creativity, learning, and adaptability when appropriate CAS dynamics are enabled within the contexts of hierarchical coordination (i.e., bureaucracy).”

In the next sections the basic elements of a CAS are described and their application in the development of CLT.

Complexity Theory and CAS Theory

Following the outline of Ralph Stacey’s masterful recapitulation of complexity science development (Stacey, 2007), Jeffery Goldstein does a good job of surveying the main CAS concepts used in CLT and their antecedents in five decades of systems theory development.  He concludes “It can be plausibly asserted that CAS has assimilated most of the preceding material on complexity, not just in the sense of a grand synthesis, but, more to the point as prompting many innovative research initiatives out of this very synthesis” (Goldstein, 2008, p. 41).  Goldstein acknowledges key antecedent influences of current CAS theory – systems thinking, theoretical biology, nonlinear dynamical systems (NDS) theory, graph theory, phase transitions, and the unique contributions of recent complex adaptive systems theory around emergence.

Some examples of CAS theory antecedents follow.  A main contribution from systems thinking is feedback loops. Interlocking negative and positive feedback loops, along with the delays generated by stock and flow structures, make a system’s behavior “complex”. Negative feedback drives the closed system towards equilibrium (dampening fluctuations) and is the essence of cybernetic control. An actual state deviates from target state at which point the control system reduces that deviation iteratively to zero.  Biological systems thinking have deep implications for understanding organizational systems.  There is the focus on whole systems, and new levels of complexity with new behaviors at each level.  Optimization for the whole and the parts is not the same.  Homeostasis moves the system to an equilibrium point by absorbing fluctuations but does so from an open systems perspective.  Autopoiesis is about self-sustaining but not necessarily self-organizing or adapting.  NDS (non-dynamical systems) thinking brings in the theory of chaos, attractors, state space, phase transitions, bifurcation (jumps from one attractor to another), iteration, and fractals.  Systems naturally go through a kind of evolution passing from one attractor to another, but this phase trajectory is largely unpredictable due in some part to a sensitivity to initial conditions.  The concepts of NDS have been used primarily as metaphors in sociology up to this point, with leaders and their vision operating as attractors.  Network theory ties structure to function.  Structure becomes visible with network analysis tools and simulations, and metrics have been developed to quantify the structures.  Clusters, structural holes, boundary spanners, giant clusters, etc. give voice to the mechanisms behind exploitation and exploration, homophily, belonging, segregation, collaboration, innovation diffusion, and a host of other phenomena.  Finally, CAS brings emergence into the picture, spontaneous, self-organizing order that derives from the amplification of successful strategies (structures) in a dynamic system close to the edge of chaos.  Instability or tension drives the emergence of novel order in self-organizing systems far from equilibrium.

But where does this emergence come from? CAS theory says that if the contributions of four particular aspects of the system are high enough, order emerges.  Those four aspects include the existence of multitudes of agents with agency (the ability to act and adapt), their connectedness, their interdependency, and the variety of populations operating in a landscape where the “fittest” varieties are selected.  The agents co-evolve by “transforming their internal models to become more adaptable to changing environments” (Goldstein, 2008, p. 43).

In the end, CAS is a new model for a new world.  The problems organizations face tend to be wicked – incomplete, contradictory, and changing requirements driven by multiple stakeholders creating novel and unique problems.  In the new fitness landscape there is no one right and optimal answer as there is in a cybernetic-defined system designed to reach equilibrium through feedback controls.  At the very least the landscape is rugged with many suboptimal peaks separated by deep valleys of failure.  In reality, that rugged landscape is “dancing” – dynamically changing its shape as the myriad agents constantly co-adapt to each other, changing the rules of the game at every step.  And yet, this is not chaos.  There are discernible structures and patterns the next level up as we dial the zoom lens back out.  The expert kayaker sees the reliably “permanent” holes and standing waves in a whitewater river.  It is these “features” of the landscape that CLT intends to recognize and exploit.

Main Components of Complexity Leadership

Complexity leadership derives its theoretical basis from the mechanisms of complexity theory.

Complexity leadership theory is first a description of how creativity, innovation, and adaptability emerge from the dynamic interaction of individuals and groups under the proper conditions, and second, about how individuals and groups can arrange things so this emergence does occur.  Complex systems like organizations are largely unpredictable at the fine-grain focus, and only roughly predictable at coarse-grain.  Weather (until recently) has been largely unpredictable, while climate (coarse-grain) is very predictable.  CLT takes for granted the vast variety and unpredictability of individuals (CAS agents) and treats them as black boxes – there is no individual insight.  However, using a coarser-grain lens, patterns may emerge, attractors may influence, and conditions managed that encourage creativity, innovation, and adaptability.

Increasingly, the major challenges of the firm are not about perfectly efficient systems to produce product under highly stable conditions (industrial era), but rather to respond to novel conditions by collecting, processing, and creating information that helps deliver new solutions to new problems (knowledge era).  Command-and-control organizations have limited utility in the knowledge era whereas unleashing the collective intelligence of the workforce is seen as offering a richer base of creativity and innovation which emerges through an interactive dynamic that is much less constrained.

CL distinguishes between leadership and leaders.  Leadership arises when the interactive dynamic between individuals is enhanced by the participants or by influencing the conditions under which it takes place, at all time scales, across all organizational levels, and across functional silos. This so-called adaptive leadership produces adaptive outcomes.  CL considers leaders to be those who act in ways that enhance this outcome, whether or not they have been invested with organizational authority.  Adaptive leadership is differentiated from management (administrative leadership), which has been the organizational basis for most of the traditional study in leadership.

Bill McKelvey (2008) describes the positive value the organization derives from these innovative interactive dynamics using the economic concept of “rents” (profits above the industry average). Each collaborative interaction in which creativity and innovation emerge through microevolution at a very fine-grained level contributes to the appreciation of the human and social capital of the organization and increases aggregate rents.

Craig Schreiber and Kathleen Carley (2008) offer a related angle on the interactive dynamic.  They identify four aspects of organizational context that promote increased learning and adaptability: 1) relational coupling (connection and interdependence), requisite variety (matching internal to external complexity), network form (formal v. informal structures), and stress (the correct level of tension that generates change but does not destroy the system).  Taken together, these result in a few fundamental aspects that characterize CLT:

First, learning and adaptability are the result of what people do in an organization; they are the result of collective action. … Second, the coevolution of human and social capital is at the heart of the collective action process. … Third, collective change agents are the competitive source of learning and adaptive responses. … Fourth, collective action needs to be stimulated, not controlled. … Last, while organizations need to stimulate emergent collective action they also have a bureaucratic nature and need to control organizational outcomes efficiently for exploitation. (Schreiber & Carley, 2008, p. 293-294).

This leads to the formulation of a tripartite structure of leadership that includes a traditional top-down administrative leadership best at exploitation (doing known things well), an adaptive leadership that emerges from collective action and the co-evolution of human and social capital that is well suited to exploring the novel, and an enabling leadership that interfaces the other two and intentionally creates the conditions for adaptive leadership to thrive (Uhl-Bien, Marion & McKelvey, 2008).

To help crystallize some of the differences that CL offers from more traditional approaches, Donde Plowman and Dennis Duchon in “Dispelling the Myths about Leadership” (2008) identify four myths about leadership in the knowledge era organization and suggest new formulations (adapted from Table 6.3, p. 144):

Cybernetic Leadership Emergent Leadership
leaders specify desired futures leaders provide linkages to emergent structures; enhance connections among members
leaders direct change leaders make sense of patterns in small changes
leaders eliminate disorder and gaps between intentions and reality leaders encourage disequilibrium; disrupt existing patterns of behavior
leaders influence others to enact desired futures leaders encourage processes that enable emergent order

Table 1: Cybernetic and Emergent Leadership Compared

As can be seen, this describes a very different view of leadership capability in the individual.



Edwards (2010, p. 39) recalls Ritzer and Colomy’s four categories of meta-theorizing: to support understanding against a general theoretical landscape (Mu), as a preparatory for building middle range theory (Mp), as the development of an overarching integration theory (Mo), or as a means of evaluating or adjudicating the conceptual adequacy of a theory (Ma).  As used in this paper, CAS is a meta-theory in the Mp sense of providing a platform for the development of the middle-range theory of complexity leadership (CL).   AQAL (all quadrants, all lines) can be applied in a number of ways.  Edwards (2010, p. 69) describes it in the Mo sense as “an overarching metatheory of psychosocial development that has been applied across many disciplines, including those within the environmental, psychological, social, and organisational sciences … a large-scale conceptual system for integrating many different paradigms …”.  Reams (2005) uses it in the Mu sense of a landscape or framework to guide and explore the historical development of leadership theory.  I use integral theory in this analysis as a meta-theory in the Ma sense that we can use it to evaluate the “completeness” of (from an integral perspective) middle-range leadership theories like complexity leadership theory (CLT).  The following analysis uses the AQAL (quadrants, lines, stages, types, but not states) formulation of Ken Wilber as interpreted by John Forman and Laurel Ross (2013).  Forman and Ross also slightly reformulate the work of several adult development theorists to construct “meaning-making systems”, again for the purpose of evaluation.  Adult development theory appears to be roughly on the same theoretical level as leadership theory.  Wilber has strongly incorporated the general adult development work into integral theory so it too, becomes part of integral theory as meta-theory in the Ma sense.  In this analysis I consider both AQAL and adult development theory solely from a 3rd person perspective as all of my sources are from that perspective, and acknowledge that from an integral methodological pluralist stance, a more complete analysis would explore 1st and 2nd person perspectives (Esbjorn-Hargens, 2009).


CLT’s primary focus is on the exterior quadrants, especially changing individual or team behaviors (UR) and also system processes (LR) to enable correlation, novelty, creativity, and adaptability to emerge in any interaction between individuals and groups.  Necessarily there is development required in the cultural quadrant (LL) representing in the organization what is essentially a new paradigm for how the firm works.  Sense-making both for the organization (LL) and the individual (UL) radically shifts with the complexity lens, but it is in the culture of the organization that the collective makes meaning of perceived events in this different way.

Individual Behaviors (UR)

Armed with a new way of making meaning of how leadership emerges as a process, CL-aware individuals can behave (UR) in ways that promote this emergence.  The following are four examples of behaviors that might be targeted in a CL development program.

McKelvey (2008) in “Emergent Strategy via Complexity Leadership” considers what CEOs can do to speed up the development and appreciation of distributed intelligence (human and social capital) in their organizations and directs it away from unpromising uses while avoiding the creation of a command-and-control structure.  CEOs should ensure that the organization is exposed to the appropriate set of adaptive tensions and manage them at the most effective levels to promote creative emergence (not too “hot” too push into chaos, and not too “cold” to settle into static sinkholes).  When individuals and groups are exposed to tensions in this way the theory says they tend to spontaneously self-organize in structures that dissipate the tension through creative and novel collaborations, producing the greatest value (rents) for the organization.  The CEO needs to carefully harness the vision of strong charismatic leaders without those visions becoming static fixed-point attractors of organizational energy.  And finally, the CEO needs to use traditional command-and-control practice to attach slack resources to the legitimate tensions of organizational mission to manage the agency problem of misalignment.

Middle managers are often in the best position to create the enabling conditions for adaptive leadership to develop.  In “Complexity Leadership Theory”, Uhl-Bien, Marion, and McKelvey (2008) focus on fostering interaction, interdependency, and injecting adaptive tension. Interaction creates the networks through which information and resources flow and connect. Managers can create open work spaces, self-selected work groups, and adjust schedules and interaction rules.  They can create cross-group initiatives or coordination.  They can create interactions outside the organization.  They can support individuals to build out their personal networks, keep themselves informed of organizational and industry issues, and monitor the environment.  Interdependency creates a pressure to act on information.  Creating and managing conflicting constraints leads to active engagement between parties.  Tension creates an imperative to adapt and promoting heterogeneity tends to create these positive tensions.  Individuals can generate tension by welcoming creative tension in their engagements with others.

Lord (2008) suggests in “Beyond Transactional and Transformational Leadership” that background field (context) biasing factors around emotion, goals, and identity lead to useful bottom-up emergence.  That is, by exhibiting positive emotions, by talking about goals as something to be reached for rather than trying not to fail to achieve, and by triggering prosocial (collective) identity rather than proself (individual) identity behaviors, these contexts bias interactions in a general way.  These behaviors can come from anyone in the organization but formal leaders may have more influence because of their granted authority.

Schreiber and Carley (2008) in “Network Leadership” focus on behaviors that affect context and process.  By encouraging the right organizational contexts collective action emerges in response to change or tensions.  Collective action is required for superior information processing and the faster organizational learning speed that sustains superior performance.  The contexts the authors call out are the right levels of interdependency (relational coupling), requisite variety of knowledge diversity to enable the right balance of exploration v. exploitation (March, 1996), certain social network structures that defer to expertise rather than authority, and the right level of organizational tension. Improving collective intelligence is at the core of CL and the processchanges necessary come from shaping the communications structures.  Human and social capital (what we know and who we know) co-evolves from the tension of communication structure changes.  How centrally-hubbed are individuals to local information flow?  How well connected for the diffusion of knowledge?  Can employees be groomed as boundary spanners across siloed groups with significant structural holes between them?  And to what degree is the interface between the formal structures and the adaptive informal structures connected as they indeed must be?  The ability to recognize and create these conditions appears to me to require very sophisticated skills that can be developed in the enabling leader.

Purpose – the interior experience of the individual (UL)

In all of the sources considered in this paper there was only one “A Complexity Perspective on Leadership Development” (Van Velsor, 2008) that addresses what is needed developmentally of the individual.  Daniel Weberg’s recent case study dissertation on complexity leadership turned up very little on the interior side (Weberg, 2013).  Weberg collected data to begin describing that space (D. Weberg, personal communication, April 14, 2014) but the case study literature is sparse.  A second book by Uhl-Bien and Marion is slated to address this gap.  CL requires relatively sophisticated behaviors for the nurturance of creativity, innovation and adaptation within groups of people that are embedded in a formal organizational structure.  The traditional formal structure has many incentives for interpersonal competition, self-promotion, and often very weak conflict resolution capacity.  CL requires a very enlightened view in these areas, even going so far as to encourage conflict and its resolution in productive ways.

I consider the implications for leadership development in a later section.

Lines and Stages

Lines are a useful way of separating some dimensions of development and as Forman and Ross (2013) see them, dimensions of intelligence.  They call out six lines – cognitive, interpersonal, intrapersonal, moral, spiritual, and physical.  Reams (2005) adds an emotional line.  “One implication of differentiating the various streams of development is that it helps us understand how we can be at different levels of development in different areas of our lives” (Reams, 2005, p. 122) which in turn has implications for leadership development. CLT in its broadest description heavily addresses the cognitive and interpersonal, implicitly requires intrapersonal development, but does not address emotional, moral, spiritual, or physical lines at this point.  Forman and Ross simplify the spectrum of developmental stages by specifying characteristics that define them as early (doing their own work), middle (coordinating or managing through others), or late (guiding whole groups).

Cognitively, CL requires a mind shift (UL, LL) from seeing organization as machine to organization as organism or complex system.  CLT does not envision the leader role inhabited formally by particular people but rather by a variety of people at various times with particular skill sets.  CLT sees adaptive and enabling leadership arising from the interactions of all people at various times.  At the individual level it requires some people in organizations to look for opportunities to enable the adaptive organizational response at the same time they acknowledge the traditional coordination and programmatic roles that administrative (formal) leaders continue to play.  At the collective level, culture (LL) and systems (LR) must accommodate this shift.  This shift requires the ability to hold multiple realities and paradox simultaneously in dialectic tension, to be aggressively learning.  This corresponds to a late or advanced cognitive developmental level.

At its core CL is about supporting interpersonal interaction that is generative of innovation, creativity, and adaptability.  All the novelty and microevolution that creates forward motion at a macro level happens between people.  With any focus on the interpersonal, that requires a substantial intrapersonal level of development.  This enablement therefore happens in all quadrants but CLT has little to say about exactly what kind of development on the interior side must occur for this to be successful.   CLT includes a mention of what Vallacher & Nowak (2008) call dynamical social psychology (2008) but their focus is more on the mechanisms that bind individuals into social aggregates rather than on what it takes for an individual to develop the awareness and skills to do this work successfully.  Again, the stage of development of both the inter- and intrapersonal lines for enabling leaders is probably late stage.  It is important to note, however, that CLT assumes mixed levels of development to exist simultaneously across the employee population and that uninitiated staff may blossom (innovation, creativity, and adaptability) in an enabled situation without any real awareness of CL.

Meaning-making Systems

Forman & Ross capture the adult development work of Don Beck and Chris Cowan (based on Clare Graves), and Torbert (based on Loevinger and Cook-Greuter) to describe meaning-making systems that individuals and collectives tend to inhabit as “containers”. These containers roughly correspond to the combined profile of all the simultaneously functioning lines at their respective stages of development.   These containers describe how we make sense of our experiences rather than what we think about our experiences.  The transitions we make from container to container are critical and are the subject of leadership development programs. We first explore a container’s boundaries when we “arrive”.  At times it can become a crucible for forging identity.  And finally, an eggshell to be broken through as we move to a new container. Forman and Ross (2013) simplify the Spiral Dynamics scheme (Beck & Cowan, 2006) a bit into four basic systems (impulsive, diplomatic, achiever, and pluralist) and one integral system that embraces them all.  Each of the four basic levels is centered in a particular quadrant – impulsive (UL), diplomatic (UR), achiever (LR), and pluralist (LL).  The integral system sees all quadrants rising simultaneously.

It is key to note that CLT takes the practical stance that the organization will always be filled with individuals and collectives that operate in any one system (or multiples simultaneously) and that the mix itself has utility.  On the one hand, the formal organization may comprise traditional managers operating the administrative leadership functions from any one of the five systems but there is sure to be a liberal mix of the basic four meaning-making systems at play.  And on the other hand, the adaptive leadership that emerges from interaction and interdependence is likely to be enhanced by a diverse mixture of types, as is usually the case for any kind of variation that increases novelty. But in my opinion, the enabling leadership and those engaged in adaptive leadership will tend to be operating primarily from the pluralist or even integral systems.  A more detailed discussion follows.

Individual Meaning-making Systems

Impulsive types operate from emotion and are oriented around “me”.  Diplomatic types focus on “we” but are tied rigidly to a black and white view of what works.  Neither is very suitable for the nuanced and somewhat improvisational requirement of intentionally creating the conditions for creative, innovative, and adaptive emergent behavior.  The achiever system starts to embrace the rationale and thoughtful aspects the new CL paradigm requires and values the idea that “knowledge is power” (but get it and keep it) and of human and social capital rising together  (“work is an extension of what you know and who you know”), but the notion that “a well-managed company runs like a well-oiled machine” is indicative that this container is severely limited at a fundamental level (Forman & Ross, 2013, p. 88).  The pluralist container on the other hand concurs that “knowledge is power, which is precisely why it should be shared” and “ a well-run company will grow if it is cultivated like a well-tended garden” (p. 99).  There is the needed paradigm shift.

Collective Meaning-making Systems

Collective meaning-making itself sits in the land of culture (beliefs, values, expectations, priorities, status, power, conflict resolution, habits) and systems (metrics, finance, accounting, regulatory, law, policy, communication channels, etc.).The four containers also are useful in looking at the collective form.  Local norms and strong personal empire-like leadership drive an organization that defines itself as impulsive.  It is not likely that CL will thrive in this environment.  If the byline for diplomatic is “what is prevails over what might be” and the premise that there is one right and optimal answer for every problem, then again this container does not suit.  Likewise, achiever is about exploitation (doing specific things well) rather than exploration (responding to novel changes by learning and adaptation).  Standards, competence, and continuous performance improvement are signature qualities of this type of organization or unit. Pluralist culture values stewardship, community building, consensus, relationships, emotional intelligence, and may eschew hierarchy.  Although these are important qualities for adaptive or enabling leadership, the level of uniformity, “being on the same page”, is likely to put the pluralist system in conflict with the CL paradigm.

Integral Meaning-making System

The integral meaning-making system by definition embraces the other four systems.  This is a perfect start for CLT in that it assumes that the mix of types present in the organization is valuable if managed, for emergent creativity, innovation, and adaptation.  “Because they are less identified with their roles, integral minds are more able to stay present and grounded amidst high levels of complexity, diversity, and change” (Forman & Ross, 2013, p. 135). Who wouldn’t want integral individuals and collectives operating in their organization?  But are they necessary? My sense is that they are, even if they are few in number.  There must be a center of gravity, distributed or not, that holds the vision of the CL program in the organization, at least at first until the culture and systems start to build upon themselves and the individuals and collective see the power of the CL approach and are changed by it.

Implications for Leadership Development

In her article “A Complexity Perspective on Leadership Development” Van Velsor (2008) sets the task of leadership as “setting direction, creating alignment, and building commitment”.  Further, “leadership development has to do with the development of systematic processes, collective practices, and organizational cultures that facilitate the emergence of leadership as an outcome of interaction around shared work” (p. 334).  Santana (2008) recalls Heifetz’s “adaptive challenges” that leaders in a complex world routinely face for which no technical solution exists.  New approaches to unforeseen situations require the development of a leadership capacity to enable an individual or collective’s ability to deal with this complexity.

How is leadership “development” enacted in an organization that acquires the CL lens?  This is an interesting question because leadership as a process lies within the dynamics of interaction and not within an individual or group. Per William Drath “developing leadership capacity might include enhancing interactive dynamics within organizations and developing organizational cultures and systems that recognize those dynamics as a key source of leadership” (Drath, 2000).  Clearly the CT and CLT paradigms need to become part of the way the organization makes meaning.  This will be embedded in the culture (LL) and the systems (LR) and also requires individuals to cognitively “learn” the model.  But CLT is relatively new and there is no coherent body of knowledge readily available or CL “development program” ready-made.  CAS-savvy executive management at Billings Clinic in Montana were inclined towards thinking about their organization as a CAS and hired Curt Lindberg (principle of the Plexus Institute, an organization using CAS to approach organizational change issues) to provide that vision in their organization (C. Lindberg, personal communication, October 17, 2013).  Van Velsor (2008) points out that traditional managers can be coaxed to let go of their control orientation for a more facilitative approach by adopting a perspective shift, increasing self-awareness, and making behavior changes.  Van Velsor feels that creating shifts within groups is a rich source of perspective change but recognizes that in forming such groups attention must be paid to the boundaries set up that frustrate collaboration.

In the end, the potential program for developing a CL capability in an organization is very ill-formed at this early stage.  The systems changes required are vaguely conceived to be redesigned to encourage rather than suppress interpersonal dynamics, and this notion must get embedded in the culture.  The required cognitive changes are from a control orientation to an enabling role.  Individual interior development is about the perspective change required to re-conceptualize one’s role, a self-awareness shift to understand the need to develop new skills, and behavior changes to enact the new role.  At this point it appears to go no deeper than that.

Henri Lipmanowicz and Keith McCandless (Plexus Institute) espouse an interesting perspective in their recently published book “Liberating Structures” (2013).  Their work defines a catalog of 33 “adaptable microstructures that make it quick and simple for groups of people of any size to radically improve how they interact and work together.” (Lipmanowicz & McCandless, 2013, p. 21).  The term Liberating Structures was first introduced by William Torbert to denote structures that support people to develop skills to guide themselves.   Liberating Structures promote full participation to leverage the experience and creativity of everyone in an interactive learning mode.  They enable high levels of creative dynamics in lieu of the five commonly used means of traditional organizational interaction (presentations, reportbacks, managed dialog, brainstorms, open discussion).  There are many case studies that give evidence that using these structures promote microevolution via creative, innovative, and adaptive outcomes at the fine-grained level.  The authors contend that experiencing these interactions changes the participants, their view of the organization, and their place within it (their meaning-making systems).  Leadership arises, bottom-up, from this very local but highly distributed (anyone can do it) intervention.  If this is actually the case, then it may be that other bottom-up mechanisms (e.g., positive deviance) circumvent the top-down leadership development problem faced by CL as well.

Finally, Van Velsor identifies three conditions that might promote a successful development program: 1) a high visibility CL program that itself acts as a catalyst, laying a “practice field” for enabling enhanced interactive dynamics, 2) strong senior executive sponsorship and modeling of the enabling leadership behaviors, and 3) a very strong action-reflection practice that highlights the value of distributed intelligence so that learning gains an equal footing in the typical action-oriented organizational culture.


The AQAL framework has proved to be an interesting way to evaluate complexity leadership theory.  It is easy to see that the individual interior quadrant requires more “light”, and one wonders what impact exploring the other lines of development (emotional, moral, spiritual, physical) might have.  Enabling leadership can abide and be empowered by the full range of meaning-making systems inhabited by individuals in the organization, but clearly the most traction for enablement will come from the pluralist and integral systems.  The model explicitly names administrative leadership (exploitation, “doing things well”) as a necessary component of a whole organization alongside enabling and adaptive leadership (exploration, “doing novel things”).  Furthermore, AQAL is a useful common platform to compare CLT with other leadership theories, which is a topic for further exploration.

The phenomenon of emergence is core to CLT.  Here, the rubber meets the road.  This is where the fine-grained interactive dynamic in dyads or groups magically result in large scale, coarse-grained behavioral outcomes.  Where creativity, innovation, and adaptability at the micro turns into the gold of evolution and transformation at the macro.  Several of the authors take a stab at the essence of this magic (McKelvey, Lord, Schreiber & Carley, Lipmanowicz & McCandless, Vallacher & Nowak).  How does incremental translational change result in a transformational phase shift from one attractor to another?  It would be interesting to explore the CLT literature on that through the transformation-translation, relational exchange, and transition process lenses of AQAL. Equally interesting would be to use a holonic approach to examine the phase transitions. The language of CAS provides many tantalizing metaphors for constructs that have been recognized in psychological, social, and organizational domains by different names.  The excitement that those domains have had about the CAS metaphors is recognizable by the amount of literature that has been generated over the last 10-15 years.  “Complexity theory is up and running by any standard” (Byrne & Callaghan, 2014, p. 2).  The application of CAS theory to leadership in the last decade is a case in point.  But it goes beyond metaphor.  CAS theory is grounded in models that are developed by examining simulations in computers and in scientific domains of physics, chemistry, and biology where the instruments have been honed for many years by technology, applications and reductionist peer review.  We can pick up the models in our hands, turn them around, examine them closely, and ask and answer what-if questions much more quickly and with a much more hypothetic-reductionist lens than we can through traditional methods of inquiry of human systems.  This undoubtedly is both good and bad but is certainly different and allows a much broader range of human intelligence to get involved in the play.  The topic of “how we know” relative to CAS simulations using an integral methodological pluralist lens is yet another interesting angle to explore.  Kevin Dooley and Benyamin Lichtenstein (2008) offer an interesting window in their article “Research Methods for Studying the Complexity Dynamics of Leadership”.

On a final note, leading, leadership, and leaders are embedded in the ways we make meaning together.  The CT lens is becoming more prevalent within academia and business.  Thinking well about what that perspective affords the practitioner, as well as what it obscures, will surely have value as the paradigm of command and control organizations shifts to more agile and complex organizational structures.  There is much to explore.


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 About the Author

Jim Best, Ph.D. Student (Organizational Leadership and Transformation), Saybrook University

Jim’s past work in healthcare IT (Kaiser Permanente) as a Principle Enterprise Architect supporting care delivery systems clients (especially nursing and hospital operations) has afforded him a unique view of the workings of a large and diverse organization under the duress of complex industry, technology, and policy changes.

Now as a full-time student and part-time consultant, Jim brings a whole systems, complexity and network thinking lens to his study and work.  He is currently contributing to efforts that weave together, in theory and practice, approaches augmenting complexity leadership with front-line practice that enable full, innovative, and adaptive participation of those affecting organizational transformation.   His other focus is on using social network analysis to enhance innovation, collaboration, innovation diffusion, and network-based interventions for transformation in health care organizations.

Contact: best.jim@gmail.com | LinkedIn

Integral Conscious Evolution

Learner Papers

  Jorge Taborga

Jorge Taborga


This essay examines conscious evolution through an integral lens. It presents a perspective on the dilemma of our times focusing on evolutionary responsibility. Evolution is examined from the dimensions of depth and complexity, or subjectivity and objectivity. Frameworks are explored encapsulating human evolution from both of these dimensions. The integral framework is presented as informed by integral theory. Wilber’s integral constructs of All-Quadrants, All-Levels and All-Lines (AQAL), levels and lines of development, states, and types are introduced. The author presents a holon for conscious evolution. This holon is explored for each of its quadrants, and their corresponding levels and lines of development are proposed in the context of conscious evolution. This proposal is presented both from a theoretical and an experiential basis. The author shares his own experiences in his journey toward conscious evolution.

Table of Contents 

  • Introduction
  • The Dilemma of Our Time
  • Depth and Complexity
  • The Integral Framework
  • Levels of Development
  • Lines of Development
  • States
  • Types
  • The Conscious Evolution Holon
  • Subjective Quadrant
  • Subjective Levels of Development
  • Subjective Lines of Development
  • Behaviors Quadrant
  • Objectified Levels of Development
  • Objectified Lines of Development
  • Cultural Quadrant
  • Intersubjective Levels of Development
  • Intersubjective Lines of Development
  • Social Quadrant
  • Interobjective Levels of Development
  • Interobjective Lines of Development
  • Conclusion
  • References 


Evolution is a constant in the human experience, although we interpret it in different manners. To some, particularly science, evolution is an accidental progression that yielded the cosmos, our planet and life. To others, it is a process created by a supreme being as part of a master plan. Regardless of our beliefs, life in the universe evolves with new stars being born, galaxies forming, and life on planet Earth continuing in a constant state of flux.

According to scientific analysis, the evolution of the universe started with the Big Bang 13.8 billion years ago and will continue for an indefinite period of time (Alles, 2010). We humans are as much a part of this cosmic evolution as any galaxy or star. Even with the increasing sophistication of scientific methods and tools, we cannot predict where evolution will take us. It is not clear if our degree of evolution on Earth is the most evolved in the universe and if it can continue further. What is certain is that we as a species are changing and that to a large degree, we have control of what happens to life on Earth (Banathy, 2000).

There is significant debate about the sustainability of our planet (Schor & Taylor, 2003). Driven by scientific evidence, some adhere to the notion that Earth is a planet in peril. Others deny this notion and sustain that life will continue its course and that humans do not need to worry. Global warming has been identified as one of the threats to sustainability (Letcher, 2009). Figure 1 shows the multi-year results of a survey about global warming. In it, only 36% of those surveyed currently believe that global warming is an issue we should worry about.

  Gallup poll on global warming

Figure 1. Gallup poll on global warming (Jones, 2014). The question asked in the survey was, “Do you think that global warming will pose a serious threat to you or your way of life in your lifetime?”

In contrast to the results of the survey in Figure 1, scientists are 95% to 100% certain that increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases produced by human activity such as the burning of fossil fuel and deforestation are contributing to global warming (Letcher, 2009). Figure 2 shows the increase in temperature on Earth since the 19th century.

  Gallop land-ocean

Figure 2. Global Land-Ocean temperature index (Earth: The operator’s manual, 2014). This graph shows the increase in temperature by about one degree Celsius since the start of the 20thcentury.

Aside from global warning, there are other pressing issues related to our sustainability. Water and food shortages are becoming more prevalent due to increasing population (Hulme, 2013). Deforestation not only contributes to global warming but also to atmospheric and hydrological, soil erosion, and biodiversity loss. Along with impact to human life, we are also experiencing dramatic species extinction (Hulme, 2013). Over a thousand species have disappeared over the last 500 years (Center for Biological Diversity, 2014).

The large discrepancy between the facts of our planet being in peril and the response from Earth’s inhabitants to it point to significant differences in the understanding of evolution. It is hard to conceptualize that anyone who has internalized how life came to being in the 13.8‑billion-year cosmic journey would be apathetic to the sustainability challenges we are experiencing. Figure 3, also a Gallup survey, shows differences in cosmological understanding.

   gallop survey

Figure 3. Gallup survey over the last 30 years showing the cosmology perspective of those surveyed in the United States (Evolution, Creationism, and Intelligent Design, 2014). The survey asked the following question: “Which of the following statements comes closest to your views on the origin and development of human beings: a) human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but guided this process; b) human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God had no part in this process, or c) God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so?”

The graph in Figure 3 shows that 46% of those surveyed in the United States believe that God created humans in their present form in the last 10,000 years or so. That notion completely negates the main tenants of cosmic evolution. My first reaction to this data was that perhaps the 46% corresponded to mostly uneducated people. This notion was somewhat invalidated in conversations I had with highly educated individuals in my workplace who sustain that humans were created in their present form, and no more than 10,000 years ago.

This essay will make a case that a certain level of development (maturity) in terms of subjective and objective experiences is necessary for someone to connect with our evolutionary reality and have appreciation for it. This appreciation translates into not only the recognition of where evolution has brought us but what we need to do in order to actively participate in it. The solution to the problems of our planet may entirely rest in the hands of the individuals who have reached a level of maturity needed to connect with evolution itself.

Integral theory will be used as the lens to present the case. The integral theoretical framework places a person at the center of its subjective and objective experience both in individual and collective contexts. Given that the integral lens is completely experiential (Esbjorn-Hargens, 2010), I will bring my own evolutionary experience into the core of the essay, understanding the risks of balancing academic research with subjectivity. In this fashion, this essay aims to build an intersubjective reality with the reader.

I submit that conscious evolution is a personal journey, and it is necessary to make meaning of it (internalize it) before it makes sense. Over the last 30 years, a meta-discipline has emerged on the subject of conscious evolution, which is the output of the personal evolutionary journey of a number of luminaries. Its main purpose is to identify and develop a path to a sustainable planetary future based on the concept that human evolution can be guided. The proponents and contributors to this meta-discipline—such as Bela H. Banathy, David Bohm, Eric Chaisson, Duane Elgin, Erich Jantsch, Ervin Laszlo, Brian Swimme, Ken Wilber, and Barbara Hubbard—define and describe a developmental path that we can deliberately establish, resulting in an consciousness shift similar to when we gained awareness of self over 50,000 years ago (Banathy, 2003b). Social scientist Bela Banathy summarized the intent of the conscious evolution meta-discipline with the following statements:

The right of people to guide their destiny; to take part directly in decisions affecting their lives; to create healthy, authentic, and nurturing evolutionary communities; and to control their resources and govern themselves is a most fundamental human right. If people learn how to exercise this right, then they have the power to create a civil society, a true democracy, in which they can design their own lives, participate in the evolutionary design of the systems in which they live and work, and organize their individual and collective lives in the service of the common goal. (Banathy, 2000, p. 2)

The Dilemma of Our Time

Our history is plagued with end-of-the-world scenarios. Our documented doomsday prophecies date as far back as 634 BCE, when many Romans believed that the city would be destroyed in the 120th anniversary of its founding (Vacker, 2012). The latest predictions about the end of the world were associated with the Mayan calendar that pointed at the year 2012 as the end of times (Vacker, 2012). I provide these references because I worry that our scientific predictions about climate change, water scarcity, and other modern complications may simply be more sophisticated “end-of-the-world” predictions backed by scientific observations that may be based on narrow perspectives.

In my mind, we should not embrace an evolutionary consciousness only because of the possibility of a large impact to life in our planet. We should do so because we understand the enormity of evolution itself and that at this point in our development we have influence in what happens next to our species, other species on Earth, and perhaps the planet itself.

To gain a deeper appreciation for where we are in our planet’s evolution, it is important to understand climate changes and levels of carbon dioxide. Both of these conditions significantly affect life (Letcher, 2009). Climate change has been part of our planet’s history. There have been five major ice ages in the 4.7 billion years since the formation of Earth (Woodward, 2014). We are currently in the Quaternary glaciation that started 2.58 million years ago. Within each ice age, we experience cycles of glaciation with ice sheets advancing and retreating on 40,000- and 100,000-year time scales called glacial and interglacial periods.

Earth is currently in an interglacial period (Woodward, 2014). The last glacial period ended about 10,000 years ago. All that remains of the continental ice sheets are Greenland and Antarctic and smaller glaciers such as the ones on Baffin Island (Woodward, 2014). Population development greatly advanced in the last 10,000 years from an estimated 1 million inhabitants to our current level of nearly 7 billion humans. This growth was made possible by many technological advances, but having a warmer planet was a significant condition.

Figure 4 shows three superimposed graphs of the amount of flooding, the fluctuation in temperature, and the concentration of carbon dioxide in our planet across eras from the Precambrian to the current Cenozoic. In this figure, we can graphically appreciate that in our current epoch (Holocene), we have the greatest amount of inhabitable landmass, the least amount of temperature fluctuation, and the least concentration of carbon dioxide. These three conditions have not previously occurred in the history of Earth. We are living in a unique period of geological wonder. This alone makes our current life conditions miraculous regardless of any cosmological belief. Whether God architected the life conditions we now enjoy or had nothing to do with them, we live in very special times that have taken 4.7 billion years to reach.

  life conditions

Figure 4. Life condition markers across Earth’s eras (Nahle, 2007).

From the information in Figure 4, we can discern that the dilemma of our times is not so much temperature or carbon dioxide because both have widely varied and have been at unsustainable levels to support life before. I believe the dilemma we face has do to with providing dignified life conditions to our large population, the harmonious coexistence with the remaining species, and maintaining our natural environment with as much life-sustaining capability as possible for as long as we can. After all, we know from geology that at some point life conditions will drastically change as we return to another ice age (Woodward, 2014).

I do not believe we have the power to affect cosmic evolution, including what happens to our planet in the long run. Our own sun—a star—will cease to exist in approximately 6 billion years (Cain, 2012). This seems like an eternity to worry about in anyone’s lifetime. However, I go back to how precious life is in the present moment considering all that had to take place since the Big Bang for us to enjoy a cup of coffee at Starbucks. What is sad about our human evolution is that not everyone can enjoy that cup of coffee; and this is where the opportunity lies. We can consciously evolve as a species taking care of all humans, other species, and our home planet

Depth and Complexity

At the heart of evolution are depth and complexity. Depth refers to our subjective and intersubjective development, the degree of consciousness we exhibit individually and collectively (Esbjorn-Hargens, 2010). Complexity is associated with our physical reality, which has advanced from the moment two hydrogen atoms combined to form helium to our sophisticated technologies and social environments. This section explores the evolutionary aspects of our physicality (complexity) and our psychic and cultural evolution (depth).

Our evolutionary history starts with the Big Bang, estimated to have taken place 13.8 billion years ago (Alles, 2010). From the Big Bang, about 400 million years transpired before atomic structures necessary for the formation of stars manifested and about a billion years to the start of the first galaxies. Our current universe developed in the subsequent 13 billion years. About 4.6 billion years ago, our solar system was originated and, with it, our planet. Life on Earth started 3.8 billion years later, and our research shows that humanoids—our ancestors—surfaced around 7 million years ago (Banathy 2000; Banathy, 2003b; Alles, 2010).

As astrophysicist Eric Chaisson (2005a, 2005b) stated, evolution seems to be wired into the DNA of the universe. Chaisson posited that no matter what we do, the universe continues to expand and change. Seventy-two percent of the known universe is composed of dark energy (Alles, 2010). We understand very little what this dark energy does or where it comes from. What we do know is that it is the force responsible for the expansion of the universe. It acts as an anti-gravitational force that pushes the universe to seek new order in the formation of additional stellar structures.

We do not know where the cosmic evolutionary process is headed. There is even scientific evidence that our universe may not be the only one in existence (Chaisson, 2005a). What we do know is that evolution moves us into higher levels of complexity. Chaisson (2005b) studied this phenomenon particularly in relationship to entropy. This second law of thermodynamics tells us that disorder is the natural state of things, and it takes energy to create order. A planet requires more order than a star, and a star requires more order than a galaxy to exist. Consequently, evolution requires higher rates of energy to create and sustain newer structures.

Chaisson (2005b, 2010) developed a measure of the rate of energy required to sustain higher levels of evolution. He conceived this measure in units or erg/second/gram and called it energy-rate-density. It measures the amount of energy flow through a given mass. Higher order structures like the human body require a much larger amount of energy-rate-density to keep it together than a star. Figure 5 shows Chaisson’s evolutionary timeline for complexity as measured by energy-rate-density.


Figure 5. Evolution timetable measured in energy-rate-density units of erg/second/gram (Chaisson, 2005a, 2005b). The evolution timeline is in increments of 10 million years. The evolution of life on Earth took place over the last one billion years with society originating about 50,000 years.

Figure 5 shows that the amount of energy-rate-density to hold a galaxy together has a value of “1” erg/second/gram in contrast with society that registers close to 1 million of the same units. This figure makes the case for the increasing levels of complexity as evolution moves into higher levels of structures and the requirement for more energy to keep it together.

Chaisson (2005b, 2010) divided our evolutionary history into three eras: Energy, Matter and Life. He stated that we are now entering the Life Era even though we have had life on Earth for the last 4 billion years. However, he posited that for the first time in our evolutionary history, life is more dominant than matter (Chaisson, 2005b). Chaisson (2005b) also pointed to the fact that we are evolving at a much higher rate than our natural environment. This astrophysicist surmised that we have to change our way of living and adapt to the natural Earth environment, or we have to build synthetic environments to sustain our way of living, including food. As Chaisson remarked, our role in the Life Era is one of co-creation.

Humans physically evolved into the homo-sapiens-sapiens (HSS) and started to advance culturally only in the last 50,000 years (Banathy, 2003b). Table 1 provides a summary of the cultural advancement characteristics defined by paleoanthropologist Rick Potts and covered in Banathy’s (2000) Guided Evolution of Society: A Systems View. This table was used by Banathy to describe the cultural evolution of the leading to the HSS.

Table 1: Cultural Advancement Definitions by Rick Potts Synthesized from Banathy (2000)

Cultural Advancement Definition
Transmission Transfer of information between individuals. Higher level of transfer requires more social encounters.
Memory Retain information to which the person was exposed.
Reiteration Tendency to reproduce or imitate stored behaviors or transmitted information
Innovation Capacity to alter transmitted information or generate new as a result of the development of new skills or variations
Selection Process by which a social group blocks or filters certain innovations and maintains others
Symbolic Coding Ability to develop and use language/communication that can be used by others
Institutions Association containers with specific cultural functions


Using the definitions in Table 1, we can construct an evolutionary lens into the cultural advancements of the precursors to the HSS.

Table 2 shows how each major humanoid was limited in its advancement and required the next form to acquire higher cultural characteristics. For instance, the Archaics survived and gave birth to modern humans, the HSS. They were able to achieve symbolic coding given their longer larynx that enabled them to speak, in contrast to the shorter one of the Neanderthals that limited their ability to verbally communicate (Banathy, 2000). In addition, the Archaics were able to perform selection, improving their ability to adapt and use tools. In contrast, the Neanderthals left their tools behind when they relocated and had to rebuild them at the next location (Banathy, 2000). They could not “select” and change what their ancestors did before. The Neanderthals’ limited selection and absence of symbolic coding may have contributed to the disappearance of this humanoid species.

Table 2: Cultural Advancement for the Major Humanoid Species

Cultural Advancement   Afrensis4M Africanus3M Habilis2.5M Erectus2M Neanderthal0.5M Archaics1M Human35K
Transmission   Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Memory   Limited Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Reiteration     Limited Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Innovation       Limited Yes Yes Yes Yes
Selection           Limited Yes Yes
Symbolic Coding             Limited Yes






Note: This table is an adaptation and synthesis of the human evolution narrative in Banathy (2000) using the cultural advancement definition by Rick Potts.

Banathy (2000, 2003b) introduced the concept of four generations of modern humans. The first—the Cro-Magnon—is only 50,000 years old. The Cro-Magnons were the first humans to develop self-awareness. Their predecessors—humanoids, early homo-sapiens, and Neanderthals—did not have a consciousness distinct from their environment. During the 7 million years that the humanoid form graced this Earth, consciousness was a dreamlike state that was undifferentiated from nature. This dreamlike state of consciousness changed and acquired self-identification when the homo-sapiens-sapiens, or Cro-Magnon, burst into the evolutionary scene around the beginning of the Upper Paleolithic era (Banathy, 2000). Their consciousness model was magical, sensory based, capable of reflection, and focused on “today.” Cro-Magnons lived in tribes and manufactured a number of tools, primarily for hunting (Banathy, 2000). It took another 25,000 years or so for them to develop into the second generation of humans with the advent of agriculture.

The Agrarian Age emerged about 12,000 years ago (Alles, 2010). It started with agricultural villages developing into the big cities of the Hellenic period followed by the Byzantine and Roman empires. This Age ended with the decline of civilizations in the Dark Ages. At the start of the Agrarian Age, collective consciousness shifted from a magical to a mythical context. Also, the mostly sensory reflectivity developed into emotional. The “live-in-the-present” focus of the Cro-Magnons evolved into one of planning and preparation for future events, such as the harvest, storing food, and building edifices (Banathy, 2000). Language played a key role in the development of this second generation human. Spiritually, Mother Earth was the center of attention, and rituals correlated to the need for rain, crop, and protection from the elements.

The second generation of humans is responsible for building our ancient civilizations from Mesopotamia, to Greece, to Egypt, and to Rome, and the ones in Asia and South America (Banathy, 2000). A new myth emerged in these civilizations based on the separation of the sky and Earth. This precipitated the concept of heaven and a God that lives in the skies. Writing allowed these civilizations to perpetuate their knowledge and make it available to the next generations. Technology evolved allowing them to build and become more efficient in their work endeavors.

The third generation of humans entered the scene at the end of the Middle Ages (Banathy, 2003b). It was the Renaissance that gave birth to our current human generation. This era has been called The Age of Enlightenment, the Age of Reason, and the Age of Science and Technology. This age brought (a) a new level of consciousness: mental consciousness; (b) the printed word, which became a new mode of mass communication evolving into our connected social media; (c) scientific pursuits leading to today’s technological advances; (d) industrial/ machine technology; and (e) capitalism (Banathy, 2000). Nation states became the social structures for third-generation humans, and technological development exploded into a multitude of directions. The third-generation human gained—for the first time—control of life.

From a human complexity perspective, we are at the portal of what Banathy called the “fourth generation” human (2003b). According to Banathy, what distinguishes this fourth generation from its predecessors is evolutionary consciousness. He also posited that we are the first generation of humans that have access to concrete information regarding the human trajectory and the knowledge of where this trajectory can lead (Banathy, 2003b).

Table 3 recaps the cultural advancement of Banathy’s four generations of humans using the Rick Potts framework. Banathy placed the inception of the fourth generation in current time. The characteristics corresponding to this generation in Table 3 are to some degree speculative.

Table 3: The Cultural Advancement for the Four Human Generations

Cultural Advancement First GenerationCro-Magnons35K – 10K Second GenerationAgriculture / Ancient Civilizations10K – 0.5K Third GenerationScientific Industrial0.5K – today Fourth GenerationEmergingToday – Future
Consciousness Magical, reflective, sensory Mythical, reflective, emotional Rational, reflective, mental Reflective, spiritual, ethical
Transmission One-to-one One-to-many Many-to-many Any-to-any
Memory Simple concepts Simple to Complicated Complicated to Complex Complex
Reiteration Within tribe Within community Within nation to global Global
Innovation Tools Agriculture, metal Industry, electricity, electronic communication Sustainable technologies, renewable energy  
Selection Family and Tribe Community Nations and some worldwide Global community
Symbolic Coding Oral Written Print, Multi-media Rich-media, social media





Ancient civilizations


Nation states


Global Federation


Note: This table is an adaptation from the information in Banathy (2000, 2003b).

Banathy (2000, 2003a, 2003b) stated that we are at the threshold of the emergence of our next evolutionary event. This event, he said, is marked by “conscious evolution, the self-guided emergence of the fourth generation of homo-sapiens-sapiens” (Banathy, 2003b, p. 313). The social scientist specified a number of markers that point to this threshold based on the evolutionary events that have preceded our three generations of humans.

Undoubtedly, our universe, our planet, and we have evolved in complexity since the Big Bang. Human development has accelerated since the time of the Cro-Magnons 50,000 years ago. But how about our subjective development, our depth? How do we understand our internal development both individually and collectively? This is a challenge that Graves undertook with his research as primarily documented in Spiral Dynamics: Mastering Values, Leadership, and Change (Beck & Cowan, 1996) and The Never Ending Quest (Cowan & Todorovic, 2005).

Through his research, Graves developed the Emergent Cyclical Levels of Existence Theory (ECLET) from the data he initially collected from 1952 to 1959 regarding the personality of the mature adult in operation and his extensive follow-up with his subjects (Lee, 2009). His researched yielded the following evolutionary psychic patterns:

  • Expressing self impulsively at any cost—changing to
  • Denying/sacrificing self for reward later—changing to
  • Expressing self in calculating fashion and at the expense of others—changing to
  • Denying/sacrificing self now for getting acceptance now—changing to
  • Expressing self as self desires but not at the expense of other

There was a sixth classification that Graves noted in the transitions as individuals evolved in depth. This group was another deny/sacrifice self that evolved from the last express-self group that focused entirely on existential realities. It is at this point and throughout the 1960s that Graves developed and matured ECLET. His conclusion was that his classifications represented the amalgamation of unique life conditions and mind capacities (internalities) that form part of human evolution. The life conditions present the collection of problems that individuals need to solve, while the mind conditions correspond to the problem-solving neurology (psychic abilities) currently active in each individual. The recorded evolution from one group to the next had to do not only with a change in life conditions (new problems) but an internal transformation that readied the individual to operate at the new level.

As Graves prepared his first set of essays on ECLET, he added two entry-level classifications that preceded the first one he found, express self impulsively (Lee, 2009). In ECLET, Graves theorized that humans evolved from primitive humans to contemporary beings not just physically but socially and psychologically through what he concluded were eight levels of human existence combining life conditions with mind capacities. In his theories, Graves posited that the first six levels of human evolution are fixated on issues of subsistence ranging from physiological survival to mastery of materialism. The last two systems, he viewed, function at a higher octave repeating the basic patterns of the first six but operating at a level of existence no longer preoccupied with subsistence but rather focused on the higher purposes of being human.

Graves utilized a simple notation to refer to the eight value systems in ECLET. He used the letters A through H to represent the life conditions and the letters N through U to denote mind capacities. The pairing of the two letter sequences identifies each of the eight value systems. These are: A-N, B-O, C-P, D-Q, E-R, F-S, G-T and H-U. Using D-Q as an example, this is the sacrifice self for reward later level which has “D” life conditions or problems and “Q” mind capacities to solve them.

Graves conceived that humans evolve from A-N to H-U and beyond. However, he also found in his research that given harsh life condition changes, humans could regress to a lower level (Lee, 2009). Additionally, humans could enter or exist in an environment that is different from their mind capacities. For instance, humans with “R” mind capacities could be in a system with “D” life conditions. ECLET conceives mind conditions to be nested or accumulative. A person with “R” mind capacities has the neurology and psychic ability to understand and operate in any system ranging from A through E. Graves theorized that most humans operate in a combination of a sacrifice and express-self mind conditions (Cowan & Todorovic, 2008). His research showed that a small number of people operate in a single-mind condition system. He termed this rare mature adult in operation “nodal.”

According to ECLET, human beings transition from one system to the next when a number of conditions are met that result in a “higher level of neurological direction of behavior” (Cowan & Todorovic, 2008, p. 43). Graves identified six conditions necessary for the transition (Cowan & Todorovic, 2005). The first is the potential in the brain. Unless impaired, the potential for all systems exists in the human brain. Second, the individual should have resolved the existential problems in the current system. Third, a dissonance associated with the breakdown in the solutions at the current level must occur. Graves found that all individuals making a system transition do so after a period of crisis and actual regression. The fourth condition, and the one responsible for stopping the regressive process, is insight. This condition involves having insight into the new ways of solving problems. The next condition, the fifth, is overcoming barriers, including relationships and other constraints. Most relationships ground humans in one system and provide resistance for an individual to move on (Cowan & Todorovic, 2008). Consolidation is the sixth and final condition. It involves the practice and affirmation of the new way of solving problems.

To make Graves’ levels of evolution more accessible to the general public, author Chris Cowan devised a color scheme to replace the A-H and N-U letter nomenclature (Cowan & Todorovic, 2008). The colors denote only the “nodal” state of a system, not its life condition/mind capacity pairing. Table 4 provides the key attributes of the eight value system in ECLET.

Table 4: The Eight Value systems in ECLET

Value System Spiral Dynamics Thinking Motivation Means/End Values Problem of Existence
A-N Beige Automatic Physiological Purely reactive Maintaining physical stability
B-O Purple Autistic Assurance Traditionalism/safety Achievement of relative safety
C-P Red Egocentric Independence Exploitation/power Living with self-awareness
D-Q Blue Absolutistic Peace of mind Sacrifice/salvation Achieving ever-lasting peace of mind
E-R Orange Multiplistic Competency Scientific/materialism Conquering the physical universe
F-S Green Relativistic Affiliation Sociocentry/community Living with all humans
G-T Yellow Systemic Existence Accepting/existence Instilling sustainability in the planet











Accepting existential dichotomies


Note: This table adds the color correspondence introduced by Beck and Cowan in their book,Spiral Dynamics. The contents of this table are based on the article “Human Nature Prepares for a Momentous Leap” published by The Futurist in 1974 (pp. 72-87) and reprinted in Cowan and Todorovic (2008).

The ECLET framework in its popularized form of Spiral Dynamics is widely used to understand and work with social groups of all types, including nations. It is an evolutionary lens with the capability of assisting with our role of co-creators. Following the definitions of each level in ECLET, the Yellow value system has been identified as the most likely source of fourth generation humans (Wilber, 2000; McIntosh, 2007). The Yellow mind capacities seem to be in alignment with the notion of looking at life at a cosmic level and understanding all other mind capacities and life conditions without prejudice. It follows that the work of these Yellow-minded individuals collaborating with all other levels of consciousness would result in the unfolding of the Life Era with the consideration for all of life and the embodiment of our role as co-creators (Chaisson, 2010).

The Integral Framework

The word integral means comprehensive, inclusive, non-marginalizing, and embracing (Esbjorn-Hargens, 2010). An integral approach to any field aims to include as many perspectives, styles, and methodologies as possible within a coherent view of the topic (Wilber 2000, 2011). As mentioned in the introduction, I am using integral theory as the lens to describe my relationship with conscious evolution. Integral theory explores phenomena from subjective and objective perspectives, both at individual and collective contexts (Cacioppe & Edwards, 2005; Edwards 2005; Wilber 1997, 2000, 2011). As addressed in the previous section, the subjective experience corresponds to evolutionary depth and the objective to evolutionary complexity. This section introduces the integral framework and its connection to evolution.

Koestler (1990) introduced the term holon in his book titled The Ghost in the Machine. The wordholon is derived from a combination of the Greek holos, meaning whole, and the suffix on, suggesting a particle or a part, as in proton or neutron. In this definition, a holon is both a whole and a part and can be described in terms of its holistic and independent nature, as well as its dependent and interconnected components. Koestler envisioned that holons exist in a nested hierarchy, which he called holarchy (Edwards 2005). A holarchy differs from the more common network hierarchy in that the holarchy is an encapsulating construct, not just relational, as is a network. Holons exist within holons, which in turn live inside larger holons.

Koestler’s (1990) work with holons was motivated by his desire to establish a bridge between the Newtonian, or mechanistic, worldview, which places importance in the parts of a system, and a holistic view, which downplays the parts in favor of the whole (Wilber 2000). He also recognized the importance of the evolutionary process in social systems. Koestler sought to define a framework to understand social systems, which provide a balance between the micro‑level of individuality and the macro-level of collectivity.

Philosopher Ken Wilber, building upon Koestler’s holonic construct that defined an individual and a collective reality, added the concept that a holon also has an interior or subjective reality, and an exterior or objective reality (Esbjorn-Hargens, 2010). Wilber further extended Koestler’s construct in the articulation of the evolutionary properties of a holon, defined as stages and lines of development. Further, he articulated the premise that a holon co‑evolves through stages of development via synergistic integration of its individual-collective and interior-exterior realities (Esbjorn-Hargens, 2010; Edwards, 2005). Wilber’s stages of development synthesize the research of developmental psychologists including Piaget, Lovinger, Kegan, and Graves. For Wilber, lines of development are the capacities we need to master to solve the problems we face at each stage of development. This is consistent on how Graves conceptualized the stages in ECLET as a duple of life conditions and mind capacities (Merry, 2009).

Wilber introduced the integral framework to articulate the “fundamental domains in which change and development occur” (Edwards, 2005, p. 272). Wilber’s integral theory proposed that social phenomenon requires the consideration of at least two dimensions of existence: (a) interior-exterior, and (b) individual-collective (Wilber, 2000). The interior-exterior dimension corresponds to the subjective/reflective experience in relationship to the objective or behavior-based reality. In the second dimension, the individual-collective refers to the relationship of the experience of self-agency and that of community. The All-Quadrants, All‑Levels framework is represented as a 2 x 2 matrix demarcated by these two dimensions. Figure 6 shows this framework, its dimensions, and the definition of the resulting four quadrants.  


Figure 6. This framework, an adaptation of Edwards (2005), shows the four organizational quadrants formed by the two existence dimensions of interior-exterior and individual-collective. The shaded arrows correspond to the dynamics inside the dimensions. The short vertical and horizontal lines represent the continuous and incremental changes that take place in life. The diagonal arrows correspond to developmental levels that denote transformational changes, typically associated with growth and integration.

In the framework shown in Figure 6, the upper left quadrant corresponds to the consciousness of individuals. This reflects their level of awareness, how they make meaning of life, how they interact with others, their beliefs, values, and intentions (Wilber, 2000). This is the internal world of individuals. According to Wilber and others, across the millennia and particularly over the last 50,000 years, we have evolved from an archaic/animistic idea of self to one that is more holistic and integral to the whole of life (Wilber, 2000; Edwards, 2005, Lee, 2009).

The cultural quadrant represents our evolution as a human collective (Edwards, 2005). Over 50,000 years ago, we did not have the idea of the “I” and the “you.” As these ideas came into being, the “we” was manifested, and with it we evolved into the sophisticated societies populating our planet today. We moved from clan life, to tribes, to power-controlled societies; then, we continued to evolve into absolutistic thinking, giving way to modernism, postmodernism, and now an integral way of relating (Lee, 2009).

The upper right quadrant corresponds to the behaviors, skills, and knowledge that form our daily lives. This quadrant evolved with our cells; bodies; brain; and cognitive functions leading to practices like leadership, systems thinking, design thinking, and emergence (Wilber, 2000). The evolutionary path in this quadrant has followed millions of years. Our social capabilities and sophistication in this quadrant have accelerated in the last hundred years. Technology has played a key role in this acceleration (Chaisson, 2010).

The final quadrant depicted in Figure 6 is associated with our social development, in particular, with our social systems (Edwards, 2005). Our foraging beginning as clans and tribes developed into horticulture and later agriculture as our collectives moved from tribes to more organized systems. These early systems gave way to technology and trade, making agriculture a vital part of our societies. Evolution continued into the industrial and later the information age with advances into every facet of our lives. Our social systems developed from simple tribal organizations to the sophisticated global entities we have today.

Integral theory posits that we cannot understand any of the realities depicted by any one quadrant through the lens of any of the others (Esbjorn-Hargens, 2010). All four quadrants are required to completely represent and understand any phenomenon. Unlike other approaches to meaning-making that may want to reduce phenomena to a purely subjective or objective reality, or a purely individual or collective experience, integral theory understands each quadrant as simultaneously arising (co-evolving). This is the connection that the integral framework has with depth and complexity development.

There are two approaches that integral theory provides to explore a phenomenon: quadratic and quadrivia (Esbjorn-Hargens, 2010; Wilber, 2011). The first—the quadratic approach—depicts an individual situated in the center of the quadrants. The arrows point from the individual toward the various realities that he or she can perceive as a result of his or her own embodied awareness. Figure 7 illustrates the quadratic approach to meaning-making.


Figure 7. The quadrant representation for a quadratic inquiry to a given phenomenon (Esbjorn‑Hargens, 2010).

The second approach to pursue the understanding of a phenomenon is known as quadrivia. This approach refers to four distinct ways of meaning making (Esbjorn-Hargens, 2010). In quadrivia, the different perspectives associated with each quadrant are directed at a particular reality, which is placed at the center of the quadrants. Figure 8 shows the quadrant representation in the quadrivia approach. For this essay, I am embracing the quadratic form of inquiry on conscious evolution.


Figure 8. The quadrant representation for a quadrivia inquiry to a given phenomenon (Esbjorn-Hargens, 2010). This figure shows conscious evolution as the subject of the inquiry and four different methods of inquiry, one for each quadrant.

Aside from the quadrants, the integral framework as defined by Wilber consists of four additional constructs: (a) levels of development, (b) lines of development, (c) states, and (d) types.

Levels of Development

Within each quadrant there are levels of development that correspond to increasing depth and complexity (Wilber 2000). As stated previously, depth is associated with both individual and collective subjectivity, while complexity corresponds to the external reality, also at the individual and collective dimensions. Levels at each quadrant can be understood as waves of probability representing the dynamic nature of reality and how this reality is manifested under certain conditions (Wilber 2000, 2011). Graves defined levels (stages) as life conditions that have evolved as humans gained consciousness from the A-N stage (Beige) to the H-U stage (Turquoise).

The levels of each quadrant provide the map to the life conditions within it. These life conditions co-evolve (Esbjorn-Hargens, 2010). As an example, the cultural quadrant level of E-R (Orange) has led to entrepreneurship, which has produced advances in technology, a physical manifestation in both the upper-right and lower-right quadrants. As we interact with technology in those quadrants and apply it to social systems, our culture (intersubjective reality) is impacted and continues to evolve. Newer generations grow up in complete sociotechnical environments that co-evolve.

Levels in each quadrant demonstrate holarchy, which is a “kind of hierarchy wherein each new level transcends the limits of the previous levels” (Esbjorn-Hargens, 2010, p. 41). In this type of holarchy, each level inherits the waves of the past and adds new ones of organization and capacity. As a result, each level of depth or complexity is “both a part of a larger structure and a whole structure in and of itself” (Esbjorn-Hargens, 2010, p. 41). Levels are additive, and all of them are needed in each quadrant. For instance, the level D-Q (Blue) of structure is necessary for E-R (Orange) of entrepreneurship to operate properly.

Lines of Development

Lines of development describe the distinct capacities needed to address the life conditions (levels) at each quadrant (Cacioppe & Edwards, 2005; Merry, 2009). They are sequentially developed to address increasing levels of depth and complexity. Capacities can unfold in parallel and can continue their development across levels. For instance, in technology-driven societies, we need capacities to interact with them. Regardless of the cultural level of a society (e.g., Blue, Orange, or Green), its technology requires certain capacity from its members from understanding traffic lights to operating a nuclear reactor. As a society evolves from one level to another (e.g., from Orange to Green), technology requires different capacities, such as the ability to develop and maintain intentional communities completely in cyberspace.

Graves stated that an individual or society moves from one level to the next once the existential problems (life conditions) of the current have been solved (Lee, 2009). Lines of development are the capacities needed to solve the problems of a given level. Each level presents a set of problems, which the capacities solve. For instance, we are currently working on solving the overconsumption of natural resources brought by the Orange level. We are doing this through the sustainability capacities (lines of development) available in individuals who have shifted to the Green level. We still need the capacities of Orange to develop better and innovative life capabilities, but we need to temper the tendencies of Orange by paying attention to what it consumes. Orange can be more effective and longer lasting with the infusion of the Green lines of development.


States are temporary occurrences of aspects of reality (Wilber, 2011). They can last from a few seconds to months and even years. Weather is an example of a state that changes with the seasons and with atmospheric conditions. States are mutually exclusive and cannot occur concurrently (Wilber, 2011). An area cannot be windy and not be windy at the same time. Even though Wilber defined this construct as part of Integral, it does not have a direct impact to conscious evolution; however, it does relate to life conditions that may have a higher proclivity for evolution. Earlier in this essay, I pointed to the unique state of landmass, temperature stability, and carbon dioxide levels on planet Earth that present ideal conditions for our type of biology to procreate and evolve.


Types are contexts that develop in nature (Esbjorn-Hargens, 2010). Unlike states, they can be present concurrently. From an integral perspective, types help with the understanding of phenomena manifested in any of the quadrants. As an example, the typology of the Myers‑Briggs’ Type Indicator (MBTI) guides us in the understanding of externalized individual behaviors in the upper-right quadrant. They also help us to see how social systems operate based on the MBTI of the individuals in the system. There are almost an infinite number of types in nature from the physical (e.g., blood type) to the psychological (e.g., personality types).

The Conscious Evolution Holon

This section explores my relationship with conscious evolution. As stated, I am using the quadratic approach of integral theory to frame and explore this understanding. The semantics I use in this section are founded in the literature of the conscious evolution meta-discipline introduced earlier in this essay. Figure 9 presents a holon I develop to focus the exploration into conscious evolution. It has the required four quadrants from integral theory, and I place my understanding at the middle of all quadrants consistent with the quadratic approach.

In this section, I will explore each quadrant starting with a definition and present levels and lines of development for each. In my understanding, these levels and lines correspond to the life conditions and capacities necessary to gain conscious evolution, the fourth generation human identified by Banathy (2000) that, in my estimation, corresponds to the Yellow stage defined by Graves. Wilber has written about the Yellow level of awareness but has not built a complete model for each quadrant. The rest of this essay introduces a complete model for each quadrant with levels and lines of development. There are no concrete and complete examples of holonic models in the integral theory I have surveyed. Consequently, there is no way to validate if the models I am presenting are accurate and faithful to integral theory. However, I believe that building these models has deepened my understanding of conscious evolution. Integral theory aims at a deeper understanding of reality through the interconnected lenses of the four quadrants (Esbjorn-Hargens, 2010). From this perspective, the models in this section have served their purpose.


Figure 9. The conscious evolution holon developed by the author. It is based on the principles of integral theory as addressed in Cacioppe and Edwards (2005); Edwards (2005); Esbjorn-Hargens (2010); and Wilber (1997, 2000, 2011).

Subjective Quadrant

This quadrant corresponds to the “I.” It is the subjective form of experience. This quadrant can only be accessed through the individual’s awareness. It is not visible or accessible to others. The subjective quadrant contains the memories and experiences of the individual. Personal values and morals are its foundation. The main activity in this quadrant is reflecting (Esbjorn-Hargens, 2009). In this subjective reality we learn through experiencing, collecting data, and then reflecting. The operating question for this quadrant is, “What is happening?” Edwards (2005) referred to it as the “illuminative strand” (p. 284).

From a conscious evolution perspective, the subjective quadrant reflects our individual relationship with evolution. It starts with an awareness of the evolutionary process and extends to the notion that we are an integral part of the evolution of the universe and actively participate as co-creators (Merry, 2009). I have to assume that there are even deeper levels of conscious evolution that are outside my own awareness and what is documented in the literature. Even though we understand the evolutionary process in different ways, the purpose of evolution is even more relative (McIntosh, 2012). To some, evolution is accidental, and its purpose is purely mechanical. For others, God controls evolution, and how and why it works remains a mystery. Yet others understand evolution as a grand design emanating from a great intelligence. The meaning of evolution in this manner of understanding comes from its coherence (McIntosh, 2012). A more mystical view of the purpose of evolution involves our own divinity and our journey to integrate with the source of creation. This is a metaphorical reverse “Big Bang” where we journey back to the source of creation, bringing with us the complete understanding of life and evolution.

My own understanding of evolution and its purpose is that all of the different perspectives are possible. At different times in my life, I embraced one philosophy or another. I have held the purely scientific view of evolution as I have embraced a deeply religious conception of why we exist. Through the practice of meditation and self-reflection, I am convinced that evolution also happens internally. Numerous mystics and evolutionary scientists have explored and documented the internality of the evolutionary process. McIntosh (2012) expressed that perhaps a richer set of internal universes are evolving within ourselves with every instant. I believe that I am constantly changing and adapting to new situations and realities. Over the course of my life, I have let go of single ways of knowing and seeking truths that needed to be absolute.

Subjective levels of development

It can be controversial to suggest that we belong to different levels of subjective development. The implications of levels present the notion that a person may be better than another. Merry (2009) explained that developmental levels are more of an expression of directionality of evolution than a given direction. He stated, “Directionality is important because it gives us a sense of our context and the path we are walking” (Merry, 2009, Kindle location 675-678). Merry further suggested that no one can be forced to shift levels and that each of us has our own lessons and tasks in life. Graves’ core research and his eventual development of the ECLET framework were entirely focused on levels of development (Cowan & Todorovic, 2005). Aside from the empirical data he collected, Graves added anthropological details to round up how human consciousness (internality) developed over the last 50,000 years. This time demarcation is relevant because we have archeological evidence to point at an entry point in psychological and social development that our scientific community has followed and documented. Numerous social scientists have addressed levels of development with their own frameworks from Piaget to Lovinger, Kegan, and Graves.


Figure 10. Levels of individual internal development. Adapted from Beck and Cowan (1996).

Beck and Cowan (1996) documented Graves’ research attributing the evolution of self across eight known levels of development (Figure 10). According to these researchers, all humans start at the instinctual level at birth and move across multiple levels into maturity, experiencing the characteristics of each. Levels are part of a holarchy, meaning they are composites of the previous ones. For instance, the achiever self level encompasses the characteristics of the mythic, egocentric, magic, and instinctual selves. Graves found that adults settle on a given level and stay there for most of their lives (Beck & Cowan, 1996; Lee 2009). Levels cannot be skipped and are followed sequentially. Shifting from one level to another constitutes a major undertaking and requires a change in mindset and values (Cowan & Todorovic, 2005, 2008). For instance, a teenager in the egocentric self would require a series of life events and a fair amount of reflection to shift to the mythic self. Typically, with this shift, the teenager becomes a self-reliant young adult interested in a more organized lifestyle with responsibility for self and others.

Beck and Cowan (1996); Merry (2009); McKintosh (2007, 2012); Wilber (1997, 2000, 2011), and others associate the sensitive and integral selves as the state of consciousness needed to be aware of our evolutionary past and actively engaged in the stewardship of our planet. Wilber (2000) was critical of the sensitive self and believes it to be self-absorbed in relative righteousness. This level is post-modernistic and aims to accept diversity in all walks of life. It considers absolutistic thinking as limiting, and modernistic as exploitive. In contrast, the integral self is not concerned with the limitations of any of the levels but rather with the synergies that can be generated by all people at all levels of development. Wilber (2000, 2011) pointed out that true movement in our evolution towards a global community, and world peace and progress, would come when we achieve critical mass at the integral level of development.

My thinking and value system has been aligned with the notion that everything and everyone has a place in the universe. My main mentor in this mindset was my mother. She always had something positive to say about everyone, and I never heard her utter any negativity or even criticism about anyone. Even when challenged by life events and actions directed against her, my mother upheld the goodness in all people and their right to be who they are. She had no awareness of ECLET or any form of levels of evolution. She simply acted in the most considerate manner toward all forms of life. I admired this behavior, and even at an early age I saw it as different than my experience with others. I deeply appreciated my mother’s message of equality and her perspective that no one was in the wrong. I also saw how much empathy she had and how much pain she felt about the suffering of others. She never complained about her own life, just her feelings and hopes for the well-being of others.

I embraced, for the most part, what my mother taught me. I now see how much she operated in the integral way of being. I cannot say that she was concerned about how to make the world a better place but that she was concerned about making the world of those she knew a better one. This has become my primary purpose in life. I do not see any other purpose than to utilize who we are and what we have to make life better for everyone and everything, accepting and respecting all people regardless of their level of development. To me, levels of development are deep perspectives with directionality towards greater empathy and understanding.

Subjective lines of development

There are many potential choices for lines of development. Wilber and other integral theorists provided some guidance on the developmental lines in the subjective quadrant (McIntosh 2007; Wilber 2011). The lines Wilber identified as part of his integral framework include kinesthetic, cognitive, moral, emotional, spiritual, and aesthetic. McIntosh (2007) expanded on Wilber’s work and provided a framework with three broad lines of development: volition, cognition, and emotion. These developmental lines progress concurrently and are impacted by their relationship with the intersubjective reality given that individual growth occurs in the context of interaction with others. (Merry, 2009; McIntosh, 2007, 2011).

Table 5 introduces specific lines of development associated with conscious evolution. This is by no means an exhaustive set; however, it captures subjective attributes amply represented in the conscious evolution literature. It also corresponds to my developmental experience as I became aware of our evolutionary reality and worked to integrate this realization.

Table 5L Subjective Lines of Development for Evolutionary Consciousness

Line Definition
Evolutionary purpose / agency Deep understanding of the evolutionary process and our role in it as part of our life’s purpose.
Interpersonal / Interconnectedness/communion/ Knowing and feeling connected to all is brought into awareness and integrated into self
Contemplation / spirituality Need for inner quietness, reflection and contemplation. Development of deeper states of mind. Connection to the global unconscious/the absolute.

Beauty, truth and goodness


The value triad that drives our development toward love, gratefulness, wisdom, compassion and empathy.


McIntosh (2007) emphasized volition as the relationship of self with the universe from the perspective of free will. This agency establishes a relationship both cognitively and emotionally with the evolutionary purpose. Hubbard (2003) identified the purpose of conscious evolution as learning “to be responsible for the ethical guidance of evolution” (p. 360). Laszlo and Laszlo (“Evolutionary Consciousness”) support this notion, stating, “The development of an evolutionary consciousness implies becoming aware of the processes of evolution of which we are a part in order to becoming co-creators of evolutionary pathways” (para. 3). This consciousness strives to guide humanity toward a better future. It also involves the recognition that we are at a critical phase in Earth’s development “in which our old ways of doing things are proving inadequate to the challenges we are facing, and we are searching for more adequate ways of organizing [sic] ourselves that will fit better into our larger context” (Merry, 2009, Kindle locations 823-825).

Csikszentmihalyi (1993) reminded us that our current human life is not the product of planned effort. He posited that planning and designing our future is our central activity for the next millennium. This activity starts with a vision and a concerted direction for evolution. What we should be aiming for, then, “is to facilitate the emergence of a new system by listening to the feedback from the world around us, and from our own inner voices, and by experimenting with ways to adapt” (Merry, 2009, Kindle locations 503-504).

From the interpersonal perspective, Daloz (2000) made the point that we learn through our relationship with the “other.” This is the same concept of Buber’s (1970) “I-You” relationship. Daloz (2000) added that together we are “part of a rhythmic dance of differentiating and integrating” (p. 110), which is central to transformation. This theorist posited that we develop a synergistic consciousness as we gain the capacity to hold different consciousness as equals. He posited that through our own critical reflection on a larger sense of self we can identify “with all people and ultimately with all of life” (p. 105). There cannot be transformation without the presence and influence from the other.

The interpersonal and transpersonal levels are viewed by Buber (1970) as the realms of encounter. This is different than experience. In Buber’s mind, encounter is performed by the person, not the ego. These are also the realms of love and unconditional relating. In Buber’s interpersonal level, we connect to people as if they were ourselves. Love, explained Buber, is when we cannot tell the difference between ourselves and the other person, and we cannot see any fault in the other person. This is also the level of transformation. The “I-You” relationship enables both parties to learn from one another and thus transform. The transpersonal level is where Buber believes we encounter God. This level cannot be reached unless the individual has first learned how to access the “I-You” level through repeated encounters with other persons.

Regardless of religious and cosmological beliefs, spirituality is at the center of our subjective development. It specifies how we relate to the universe in abstract (Merry, 2009). Spirituality defines who we are in the context of evolution and establishes our meaning. Meaning-making of the concrete is learned through our external experiences. Meaning-making with the abstract relies on our inner experience. This experience comes from contemplation and reflection. Spirituality connects us to an absolute reality that cannot be explained, only experienced (Merry 2009).

McIntosh (2007) emphasized that “beauty, truth, and goodness, taken together and understood as an integrated system of primary values, represent a kind of ‘great attractor’ of evolutionary development” (p. 81). He explained that these values form a triad that has been transcendental in our evolutionary psyche. McIntosh further asserted, “The aesthetic, the rational, and the moral, constitute essential, irreducible dimensions of human experience that continually come to the forefront whenever we think about the world from philosophical and spiritual perspectives” (p. 84).

In my mind, beauty is the development of the heart, of our finer emotions. Through beauty, we come to appreciate the universe, evolution, and all of life. Truth is cognition, knowledge, and ultimately wisdom. We learn about our evolutionary reality cognitively, but ultimately we connect with its purpose. Goodness is reflected in all of our actions. At the evolutionary levels, it calls for planetary responsibility. Together, beauty, truth, and goodness are manifested in our compassion, suffering, and empathy (Merry, 2009). Ultimately, we feel and understand how life unfolds and how we connect to everyone and everything. This connection would be impossible without this value triad.

Behaviors Quadrant

The behaviors quadrant contains the objective reality we interact with on a daily basis. Unlike the subjective quadrant, behaviors are perceptible to our five senses, and we can process and make meaning of them. Wilber called it the “It” quadrant (Esbjorn-Hargens, 2009). From an integral theory perspective, the physicality of this quadrant ranges from atoms, to galaxies, suns, planets, life, species, humans, and human behavior. The premise of this quadrant is “acting” (Edwards, 2005). In this form of reality, we learn through physical action and involvement. We perform what is both expected and what we consider to be correct. Ethics are the foundation for our behavior. Edwards (2005) called this the “injunctive strand” (p. 284).

As it relates to conscious evolution, in the behavior quadrant, we practice what we consider to be our role in the evolutionary process. This can range from complete non‑engagement to full dedication to the co-creative process. The latter includes behaviors associated with Banathy’s (2000) fourth generation human. On the one hand, we can act with complete disregard to evolution and its interconnected nature with all of life. Our world’s environmental challenges are the direct result of behaviors disconnected from conscious evolution. As the awareness of the evolutionary process and our role as co-creators emerges and matures, our ethics and actions are in line with environmental conservation, social justice, and the practice of a holistic form or spirituality (Merry, 2009).

My behaviors associated with evolution changed and matured over time. Since early childhood, I remember embracing a deep sense of responsibility towards everything with which I interacted. This included toys, clothing, plants, insects, animals, and all humans. I could not conceive purposely hurting anything or anyone. I always had the sense that everything was alive, regardless of form. To me, even physical objects were relatable and deserved my care and attention. I could not understand why we humans could be so indolent to nature, animals, and each other. Multiple life experiences helped me understand behaviors that hurt others and also me. Making meaning of aggression in any form was difficult and painful. To this day, I react almost irrationally when I witness abuse of any kind.

I did not gain awareness of our planetary condition until I was in my 40s. Since this awareness entered my cognition, I have been an avid participant in social activities that promote environmental consciousness. I am also an activist within my workplace for providing the best working conditions for everyone, including eliminating abusive behavior wherever possible. I know that I can do more as my ethics embrace new life conditions where I can be impactful. I am joyful that through life events and opportunities for inspiring people, I have developed stronger evolutionary behaviors.

Objectified levels of development

The integral theory literature does not offer levels of development for the behavioral quadrant. Wilber, Edwards, and other integral theorist referred to Wilber’s original documentation on this subject that provides physical levels of development from the atomic to the cognitive brain. It is curious that these theorists referred to this quadrant as the one holding the reality of behaviors. In investigating to develop a complete model for the evolutionary consciousness holon, I kept referring to Kegan’s evolutionary mind framework (Berger, Hasegawa, Hammerman, & Kegan, 2007; Eriksen, 2006; Kegan, 1982, 1994, 2000). Most of what Kegan documents in his framework deals with internal development, but what is attractive about Kegan’s work in this area is that his model has a dialectic correspondence between subject and object. At any level in our evolution, Kegan posited that we have an internal component that is evolving (subject) and one that has evolved (object). When we make the shift to the next level, the subject that we have mastered becomes object and a new subject emerges that needs to be learned (Berger et al., 2007). Figure 11 shows Kegan’s mind development framework.


Figure 11. Kegan’s levels of development adapted and correlated to the eight developmental levels in ECLET (Eriksen, 2006; Wilber, 2011).

In his constructive-developmental theories, Kegan (2000) identified five distinct levels or epistemologies that denote the stages of human internal development. In each level, the subject of the previous one becomes the object of the current. The first two levels deal with reflexes, impulsivity, and the realization of personal experiences. These epistemologies are primary and develop by the time the individual is 20 years old (Eriksen, 2006). The third level corresponds to the socialized mind. This is the level of traditionalism in which the object is concrete; comes from an established point of view; and follows enduring dispositions, needs, and preferences (Kegan, 2000). The fourth order epistemology belongs to the level of the self-authoring mind (Kegan, 2000). The object for this level contains abstractions, the principle of mutuality, interpersonal awareness, inner states, subjectivity, and self-consciousness. This is the level where self-reflection is primary. The fifth order is the level of the self-transforming mind. The object at this level includes abstract system ideology, institution, relationship-regulating forms, self‑authorship, self-regulation, and self-formation (Kegan, 2000). Wilber (2007) introduced an intermediate level between self-authoring and self-transforming that corresponds to the post‑modernistic consciousness that equates to the F-S (Green) level in ECLET.

Table 6: Kegan’s Five Levels of Development and the Correspondence of Object and Subject Relationships Note: Adapted from In Over Our Heads: The Mental Demands of Modern Life (Kegan, 1994).


From an evolutionary perspective, Table 6 shows that at the third order of development our behaviors are still concerned with our own needs, personal interests, and desires. Internally, we are developing interpersonal relationship capabilities and the idea of interconnectedness (mutuality). It is at the fourth level—the self-authoring mind—where these mind capacities become objectified and drive our behaviors. The underlying meaning-making structure of the fourth level is systemic, which would be necessary to see how evolution connects everyone and everything. Wilber (2000) postulated a level between the fourth and fifth to place the post‑modern mindset. He believes that Kegan’s fifth order mind corresponds to the integral human who is capable of behaviors aligned with a global mindset that aims to unify and accept full co-creative responsibilities. Table 6 shows the transition to the fifth order mind where self‑authorship, identity, and ideology are in the objective plane and drive behaviors.

A key distinguishing factor in Kegan’s framework for the fifth order level is the conceptualization of all states of thinking as in “both/and” rather than “either/or” of the previous levels (Kegan. 2000). This is a multiframe perspective that is able to hold contradictions between competing belief systems and is capable of accepting the incompleteness of wholeness, that is, the presence of multiple levels of existence as part of a perfect evolutionary process.

Even though my values were based on acceptance and empathy towards everyone, my behaviors were not aligned with my internal development. I remember feeling uncomfortable around certain people and situations. Life events and various mentors were instrumental in shifting my adaptive subjectivity to my external reality. Mutuality-based behaviors took awhile to fully manifest, way into my 30s. I wrestled with what was truly my own interests and desires over the needs and the well-being of others.

It was not until I turned 50 that I felt the beginning of “both/and” thinking being externalized into my behaviors. I experienced the “both/and” thinking for awhile but could not find the language or the form to express it. Over the last several years, I have been more comfortable with behaviors that express a more holistic ideology without any form of dogma. Leaving my dogmas behind was a real struggle. I felt I was becoming empty. I remember a period of at least a year where the consideration of being alive was a real struggle. Then, my thinking became simpler, unencumbered by rules and expectations. My behaviors became more focused and I felt more in control, without trying to be in control. The effort I used to apply to be in control of situations went away, leaving a state of acceptance of everything that occurs as just being perfect.

Objectified lines of development

Integral theory, anchored in Wilber’s work, only offers physical lines of development for the objective quadrant, from the atom to the human brain. It is ironic that this quadrant is the “behavioral,” yet no behaviors along lines of development are provided by the literature. Although McIntosh (2007, 2012) did not provide nonphysical examples for levels and lines of development for the objective quadrant, he delivered an in-depth view on the evolution of the internality of humans, including culture and systems. He posited that science is well aligned and recognizes physical evolution from Lamarck and Darwin to now but that there is significant controversy delineating our nonphysical evolution.

From early age, I had the sense that there were differences in the internal development of individuals and that the person’s age, socioeconomic background, education, and IQ had little to do with how he or she interacted with life and, in particular, others. I was always puzzled by the actions of people in power, assuming that their position bestowed them great wisdom. It was not until I read Hawkins’ (1995) Power vs. ForceThe Determinants of Human Behaviour that I became more certain that we humans are at different levels of development. This understanding was further validated and enhanced once I discovered the works of Graves, Kegan, and Wilber.

In selecting the lines of development for the objective quadrant, I chose capacities that are tangibly expressed as behaviors and skills and that are singled out by the leaders in the evolutionary consciousness literature as being relevant to this topic. Table 7 shows the lines of development associated with conscious evolution. It is an amalgamation of my understanding from the conscious evolution meta-discipline and also the behaviors and skills I experienced as I became aware of our evolutionary journey and started to embody its associated responsibilities.

Table 6: Objectified Lines of Development for Conscious Evolution

Line Definition
Evolutionary learning and competence Full understanding of evolution, and our place/role in it. Development of evolutionary competencies.
Systems thinking Competency of seeing systems and not just parts. Holistic (not reductionist) approach.
Design thinking Design competency. Applying design principles to social benefit and development.
Global ethics Living values harmonized with global wellbeing
Collaborative praxis Practice collaboration in all aspects of interaction

Dialogical inquiry


Development and practice of “thinking together.”


In her work, Hubbard (2003, 2012) addressed a community that has evolutionary awareness and urges them to learn the history of the universe. Banathy’s (2000) Guided Evolution of Society: A Systems View is a legacy on human and systems evolution and an excellent source for evolutionary learning. Laszlo and Laszlo (“Evolutionary Competence”) have written extensively about evolutionary learning leading to competence. They stated, “Evolutionary competence is about developing the abilities and sensitivities to act upon the awareness and understandings of the two previous stages [consciousness and learning]. The development of evolutionary competence involves self-empowerment as evolutionary systems designers” (Laszlo & Laszlo, “Evolutionary Competence”, para. 2).

To develop competency in any area of endeavor requires practice. Banathy (2000) and Laszlo and Laszlo (“Evolutionary Praxis”) focus competency development on evolutionary systems design. “Conscious competence corresponds to the evolutionary competence stage in which the focus is on gaining mastery of the techniques, skills, competencies, attitudes, and abilities that empower evolutionary systems designers” (Laszlo & Laszlo, “Evolutionary Praxis”). Merry (2009) expressed that “evolutionary leaders are expert learners, continually looking for ways to accelerate their learning and the further development of their consciousness, compassion, and competence to absorb complexity” (Kindle locations 2394-2398).

The other line of development—system thinking—is the ability to see and understand a whole system, not just its parts. There is much written about this discipline, including the seminal work by Senge (1990), which brought systems thinking to global awareness. Daloz (2004), as an educator, believes that systems thinking should be required learning at all levels of education. His view stems from seeing how much we adversely affect our natural and human environments by addressing the needs of the parts and neglecting the entire system. Daloz (2004) posited that systems thinking provides the ability to think dialectically—to recognize that (a) knowledge is emergent and not static, (b) reality is constructed and not given, and (c) meaning-making is the result of an ongoing series of transformations. Daloz stated, “In our dialectic-paradoxical thought processes, we can embrace contradictory systems simultaneously and become conscious participants in our own evolution” (p. 38).

Laszlo and Laszlo wrote, “Evolutionary Systems Design is a heuristic that integrates the evolutionary learning journey—from evolutionary consciousness to conscious evolution—in a larger framework of collaborative work that includes generative and strategic processes” (“Evolutionary Competence”). Design thinking is viewed as the necessary ingredient for systems design (Banathy, 2000) and, in my view, an important line of development.

Although not a new concept, design thinking has been popularized by Tim Brown, CEO of design house IDEO. At the heart of the design thinking methodology from IDEO is thinking systematically and leveraging all stakeholders in the design. Brown (2008) stated that the stakeholders know what they need and should be included in the design process.Weisbord (1992), in Discovering Common Ground, presented the idea that the world is moving from experts designing our systems to regular people performing this activity. This is in line with Ackoff’s (1981) assertion that design is “the creation of a desirable future and the invention of ways to bring it about” (p. 62).

As my lines of development progressed, I struggled with my responsibility as a designer of social systems. I had no trouble accepting the role of designer of products and information architectures; however, I found guiding people into new states of interaction and operation unnerving. Along my career, I had the opportunity to work on a number of large business process reengineering projects. This gave me the opportunity to design new system containers and ways that people worked and delivered value. Over the last 12 years, I have finally accepted the responsibility of designing human systems in my capacities of management consultant, corporate executive, and philanthropist. Notwithstanding the pressures of doing careful and thoughtful work, and given the large impact to people lives, I can comment that the rewards of seeing better living and working conditions as a result of design changes is unparalleled.

Chaisson (as cited in Banathy, 2003b) addressed the ethics line of development in his own set of required evolutionary capacities: (a) process of change; (b) synthesis and consciousness; (c) humanism; (d) integration of science, philosophy and religion; and (e) ethical evolution. Banathy (2003b) stated that Chaisson equated our future with ethics. The astrophysicist believed that our planet would not have a future if we do not apply a planetary level of ethics to our evolution. Specifically, Chaisson named our next potential era “Ethical Evolution.” According to Chaisson (2010), ethics is at the turning point of human evolution. This evolutionary ethics requires as its scope the well-being of the entire planet. This broad-base application of ethics is necessary to sustain and resolve our current crisis.

I believe that our current planetary condition is a moral and ethical dilemma. Morals are subjective capacities and associated with truth, beauty, and goodness and exist at different levels of development (McIntosh, 2007). Ethics are reflected in our behaviors and manifested in our actions and social systems. The fact that most of the world lives in a state of poverty compared to the lifestyle we enjoy in the developed countries speaks to the level of our global ethics. Sociologists, economists, and scientists have stated repeatedly that no one on Earth should go hungry if we indeed wanted to make this a reality. There is enough food to feed the population of the planet; what we lack is the ability to grow and distribute food globally (“World Hunger and Poverty Facts and Statistics, 2013). At the heart of conscious evolution is the development of our ethics at a global scale to address the needs of all.

Evolution is a process performed in interaction with the universe (Merry, 2009). In the human sense, it requires connections and synergies. Nature has a leg up on humans where no one needs to tell the bee to move pollen from one flower to the next. How do we then participate in the conscious evolutionary process with others? Laszlo and Laszlo (“Evolutionary Praxis”) guided us to “connect with others and create synergies with like-minded people. Collaborate on projects and activities aligned with the vision of a sustainable and evolutionary future” (para. 3).

The last line of development identified in Table 5 is dialogical inquiry. According to Isaacs (1999), dialogue is a vehicle for creative problem identification and solving. It follows a different method than what is normally practiced in problem-solving, such as Lean and Six Sigma. The usual modalities engage people in discussion. We are used to exposing our points of view, enter into a dialectic exchange, and sometimes debate. In discussion, we are more often than not defending our ideas. Resolution or problem-solving emerges out of consensus or a decision from a decision-maker.

Dialogue follows a different approach and is appropriate for solving large planetary problems where contention and even compromise will not produce the required answers. Dialogue allows for the identification and solution to a problem by “thinking together.” This notion was first introduced by Bohm (2004) and extensively documented by Isaacs (1999). Thinking together is the result of the dialogic process. It starts with the suspension of our underlying assumptions followed by deep inquiry into the assumptions of all the participants.

As stated earlier in this essay, we are at a critical stage in our evolution, and the speed of change in the world has accelerated greatly (Merry, 2009). Schein (1993) submitted that dialogue can speed up the process of change within our organizations. The argument for this is twofold. First, resistance to change is driven by fragmentation—fragmentation of thought, culture, language, and understanding. Second, our customary communication approach of discussion often ends up in suboptimal solutions through compromise or mandate. Dialogue addresses fragmentation by giving all participants access to proprioception. Thought coherence is its result. Thinking together is a key capacity for interaction in conscious evolution and a support skill for evolutionary systems design.

Cultural Quadrant

The cultural quadrant represents our internal global reality. Each one of us is a member of a variety of cultures. Our membership and exposure to culture starts with our families and nationality. As we join schools and become aware of our communities, we assimilate their cultures. Later in life, we become representatives of various cultures and may have roles where we actually help develop cultural norms. The most obvious form of this latter activity is when we constitute our own family and raise children under a culture we consciously or unconsciously establish. The main components of culture are mindsets and values (Beck & Cowan, 1996). Edwards (2005) referred to this quadrant as the quadrant of interpretation. This is the reality where we are the most active in meaning-making. We do so by interpreting results from what we do and see. Merry (2009) stated that we need interaction with others under certain value systems to trigger our ability for meaning-making. Banathy (2000) stated that we gained our ability for socially-based meaning-making about 50,000 years ago as our consciousness shifted to be aware of our ourselves in relationship with others.

From an evolutionary perspective, this quadrant encapsulates our collective experience with evolution. Major shifts in this experience took us from the purely religious views of evolution to the more scientific. We navigated from the idea that God created the universe and our planet, starting from the notion that Earth was the center of the universe until Copernicus proposed otherwise. Lamarck and Darwin introduced the concepts of the evolution of the species in 1859. It was not until 1931 that we addressed the larger cosmic evolution with the theory of the Big Bang as postulated by Lemaitre. For the last 80 years, we have been refining how the universe came into existence, how life started, and how we current humans arrived to this point in history (Hubbard, 2012). Further, we now have a meta-discipline that is exploring our relationship with evolution and our roles and co-creators. This latter notion is not pervasive in the minds of the broader population, but we are starting to see deeper levels of planetary stewardship manifested throughout the world. This is an indication that we are expanding our collective meaning-making beyond our nearby cultures and embracing a more global reality.

Evolution was not a topic that concerned me until my mid-20s. I studied physical evolutionary theories as part of my academic education but was not particularly attracted to this topic. Through a series of life events, I became completely enthralled with the subject of internal evolution at about the age of 25. I spent the better part of 2 years reading as many books as I could on philosophy, religion, metaphysics, and psychology. As a next step, I joined many groups to gain experience in what I had read. This journey took me down many religious and metaphysical paths. My mindset and value system were in rapid development. I seriously considered the life of a philosopher and a writer. I prepared myself for that path through activities such as writing and publishing newsletters. This passionate perspective changed as several of my advisors pointed to a mainstream path in which I could bring value from an evolutionary perspective. This led me to a career in technology as a front but with the underlying mission of supporting the internal evolution of those around me, which has been a very fulfilling path.

Intersubjective levels of development

Chown (2014) stated, “There was no change in the design of stone hand axes for 1.4 million years” (p. 8). He was referring to the period of time that our anthropological records show no real changes to our tools as an indicator of social progress. Chown presented the case that the advent of farming accelerated our cultural development, propelling us to the iPhones of today. Table 3 depicts this accelerated development starting with what Banathy (2000) referred to as the first generation human—the Cro-Magnon. Chown posited that farming allowed for greater densities of people to stay together and interact. He stated, “If there are three words that, more that any others, explain the history of the 13,000 years they are: interaction, interaction, interaction” (p. 8). Chown isolated the last 13,000 years as the period of time post the last ice age.

Graves’ research has been completely focused on human interactions and the development of culture (Lee, 2009). Table 4 delineates how Cowan and Todorovic (2008) summarized the eight levels of intersubjective development identified in ECLET by Graves from Archaic to Holonic. Figure 12 draws a correspondence between the levels of development and the ECLET nomenclature of A-N through H-U. From Graves’ perspective, human intersubjective reality develops as we deal with a given set of problems and life conditions (Cowan & Todorovic, 2005). As discussed earlier, each developmental level includes the previous ones. Graves’ research shows that the levels alternate between “express-self” and “sacrifice-self” cultures.


Figure 12. Levels of intersubjective reality. Adapted from Beck and Cowan (1996).

Beck and Cowan (1996) provided a chronology for the various cultural levels identified by Graves in his research. Starting with the Archaic culture 100,000 years ago, we developed from clans assembled for pure survival to tribes sharing a set of values and beliefs. The Animistic culture emerged 50,000 years ago and provided guidance and protection to its members and a core set of beliefs associated with the natural world its state of aliveness. The complete control of the tribe gave way to the Power Gods culture of independence about 10,000 years ago. This is one of the “express self” levels where rebellion and self-reliance were the norm. The Roman Empire is a great example of the Power Gods intersubjective reality.

The Mythic Order culture started 5,000 years ago and is very much present today. It is a “sacrifice-self” level and aims for order and tradition. Organized religions across the world have maintained the traditional values across many national cultures. The Renaissance was responsible for the establishment of the Scientific Rational culture. The Industrial Revolution further developed what we refer to as modernism. Advances in our industries and our societies are the direct result of our modern culture. Post-modernism started about 150 year ago and gained strength in the last 50 years since the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s. This is another “sacrifice-self” level focused on a pluralistic worldview. Changes in social justice and environmental awareness came from the Pluralistic cultural shift. The adoption of large environmental programs by the likes of Exxon and Coca Cola denote the impact of this level in the transcendence of the previous one.

The Integral and Holonic cultural levels are developing, and there are no clear indications of their impact to our broader culture. Graves was able to determine the existence of individuals with subjective realities associated with these levels. Beck and Cowan (1996) estimated the percentage of individuals operating at the Integral and Holonic levels to be about 1% of the total population. As Chown (2014) indicated, it is interactions that determine the evolution of culture. It will take some time for the individuals operating past the post-modernistic culture to interact and develop new cultural norms. The evolutionary meta-discipline may be a cultural landmark heralding the establishment of the integral culture.

From an evolutionary perspective, the Scientific Rational culture is responsible for the physical evolutionary theories, including cosmic evolution with the Big Bang. It is the post‑modern culture and to some degree the Integral that have expanded our awareness of evolution to include a co-creative concept that places us as responsible participants in the evolution of the universe.

The majority of my life has been immersed in the Traditional and Modern cultures. I see my own family as a combination of the two. My early academic studies and professional work were deep into the science of the modernistic worldview. This was further complemented by a successful career in engineering and information technology. My work circle was absorbed in capitalistic thinking, with little to no awareness of the needs of the planet, social justice, or how we can have an impact in the world. My friends in the previously mentioned philosophical and metaphysical activities provided a respite from the materialistic reality of my work life. It was through these friends and their support that my own subjective reality changed towards internal evolutionary concepts.

My wife was completely instrumental in helping me become aware of a post modernistic reality. Her strong pluralistic mindset had a profound effect on my thinking. We formed a post‑modern household and raised our children with social and planetary awareness and a strong sense of responsibility that they have to make the world a better place for everyone. Both of our children’s higher education and current work are associated with social domains, and they view their contribution as a service to humanity. My experience at Saybrook University brought me in contact with a larger post-modernistic culture, which has further expanded my own cultural values. I can now see how I can continue to evolve and be an active participant in evolution. I have not yet encountered centers of Integral culture. I know individuals whom I surmise operate with integral values but who are not acting together to develop new cultural norms. Perhaps this encounter still lies ahead on my path.

Intersubjective lines of development

Teilhard de Chardin introduced the term noosphere to differentiate it from the biosphere that had been evolving for billions of years. The noosphere is a layer of psychological evolution that accelerated 50,000 years ago (McIntosh, 2007; Merry, 2009). That critical threshold of the noosphere “resulted in the emergence of a qualitative distinction or change of state between conscious life and self-conscious humanity” (McIntosh, 2007, Kindle locations 2792-2796). Teilhard, along with a number of social scientists, chronicled that we have been evolving psychologically and socially as a species.

In attempting to define the lines of development for the intersubjective quadrant, I considered the conscious evolution literature along with my views on the “lines” we should be developing to achieve a broader base of awareness than what we have now. It has been only 60 to 70 years since we entered the role of co-creators, as our atomic power, medicine, and other technologies gave us the ability to dramatically alter life in our planet (Chaisson, 2005b). The lines depicted in Table 8 constitute the capacities I surmise we need to make life conditions better for all and sustain them along an evolutionary continuum.

Table 7: Intersubjective Lines of Development for Conscious Evolution

Line Definition
Planetary stewardship Caretaker culture of the planet, its resources and inhabitants
Social justice & equality All beings are equal and have the same rights in all aspects of life
Social democracy Equality in participation in civil society and its political and social processes
Global governance Belief in governance across nation states towards a unified Earth

Diversity acceptance and integration


Full acceptance of gender, ethnicities, religions, lifestyles, and cultural backgrounds into a unified human rainbow.


Note: These lines are a collection of cultural values and beliefs that would drive our behaviors and social systems toward conscious evolution. All of them are in some form of manifestation today.

In Figure 1, we saw that only 36% of the people surveyed had a positive response to the question, “Do you think that global warming will pose a serious threat to you or your way of life in your lifetime?” This does not mean that 36% of the people in United States are planetary stewards. It does, however, mean that a third of the population of this country can respond to guidance in the direction of planetary stewardship.

Through my involvement at Saybrook University and my role of environmental sustainability leader in my workplace, I have taken an active stewardship role. In this capacity, I work with a number of people who are committed to lowering environmental impact. Additionally, through this experience, I can see the influence my company is having with external manufacturers and their own environmental impact. My contributions toward planetary stewardship are miniscule compared to leaders and organizations that dedicate their entire focus to this endeavor. I am appreciative of what they do and grateful for being able to contribute even in a small way.

As mentioned in the previous section, we have a significant gap in our morals and ethics. Our collective sense of truth, beauty, and goodness is wide ranging. Graves, Wilber, and others working with ECLET estimate that less than 15% of the population operate at the Green (post‑modernistic) level or higher (Cowan & Todorovic, 2005; Wilber, 2000). This means that our absolute sense of social justice and equality would be off for the majority of inhabitants. It takes the Green level of development to fully feel the outrage of injustice without any discrimination. All levels are capable of understanding injustice, but they are able to compartmentalize areas with acceptable levels of injustice and inequality. For instance, individuals operating at the Blue level would find it completely unacceptable to discriminate within their own race but find it acceptable to do so with other races.

Growing up in South America and in a relatively upper-middle-class family, I could not understand why we treated the people that helped us with our food and housekeeping differently. I could not see them differently than myself. As I grew up and saw people blatantly discriminating, I fought back and challenged their actions. Later, I realized I could not change people’s perspectives on justice and equality, only that I could make choices for my own interaction with others. I choose to treat everyone as equals and with the same level of consideration. In the workplace, I have made it a point to foster a just, nurturing, and life‑affirming environment.

Like religion, forms of governance engender difference of opinions, even from individuals who are at the same level of development. From a line-of-development perspective, I submit that a form of social democracy could be a more evolved form of democracy than what we practice in the United States. For one, politicians should not be influenced by special interest groups and/or private industry. The influence of the Orange level in United States politics limits the development of our governance by not allowing it to evolve and fully support diversity and greater equality (McIntosh, 2007). Orange is a powerful force, which normalizes all activities to a capitalistic common denominator.

Social democracy has as an objective the growth of the middle class by raising the earning power of the majority (Berman, 2014). Proportional taxation, global health coverage, free education, and retirement are social programs that all citizens should have access to by virtue of their civil society membership and their contributions to the welfare of all. Daloz (2004) stated that natural prosperity relates to a healthy and thriving commons. This is the state reachable through the imagination and transformative collaboration between businesses, non‑governmental organizations, and government. This state is about moving from “defending private interests to promoting the public good” (Brown, 2005, p. 194). There is a wealth of material describing how we can achieve natural prosperity.

From a global governance perspective, McIntosh (2007) made the point that post‑modernism, although an advanced form of political consciousness, has its limitations. This is an observation that Graves made as he was defining the Green level in ECLET (Cowan & Todorovic, 2005) and was corroborated by Wilber (2000). It suffers from relative impotence, the inability to take decisive action, particularly when total equality may not be possible. Pure post‑modernism alone is not capable of forming a large enough system to take charge of the world stage (Wilber, 2000).

The integral Yellow level is viewed as the next stage of evolution to usher in a practical and implementable world-centric political system (Wilber, 2000; Merry 2009; McIntosh 2007; Cowan & Todorovic, 2005, 2008). Individuals with this level of consciousness are capable of working on large-scale systemic solutions based on their ability to not only see systems but connect with them emotionally. Post-modernists (Green level) cannot get past the offenses, particularly of the economic modernism of Orange (Cowan & Todorovic, 2005). The integral Yellow is able to work with people of all views and value systems. Although relativism is present in Yellow as it is in Green, its practicality and passion for execution make this level see past the mistakes of our previous states of consciousness.

The ultimate political goal of Yellow is global governance (McIntosh, 2007). A global federation would be based on post-modern consciousness with a world-centric view and sets of values. This federation would arrive through the evolutionary pressures of globalization, over‑population, and increasing complexity. The global governance envisioned by the integral Yellow worldview would consist of a federation of nations united under a constitution of laws guided by the insights and principles of an integral set of values. This world federation would be instituted to provide democratic oversight of the global economy, protect the world’s environment; establish a universal bill of human rights; preserve cultural diversity; and bring an eventual end to war, disease, and poverty. Nation states would maintain their own system of laws but would abide to the jurisdiction of the world federation for matters dealing with global justice and peace.

At the foundation of the intersubjective lines of development is the acceptance of diversity and the integration of this diversity into our array of world activity. I see greater acceptance in the workplaces than in general society, granted that I live and work in the San Francisco Bay Area, known for its diversity and tolerance. I surmise that what I experience in my workplace should be the least we aim to achieve in civil society. In my workplace, we aim for diversity, gender equality, flat organizations, self-organizing teams, risk-taking, sense of family, respect, and support for personal life. I see how we treat each other as dignified human beings regardless of who we are. This is the intersubjective reality I wish for all, and I know we are capable of even more.

Social Quadrant

Edwards (2005) referred to the social quadrant as the “validation strand” (p. 284). Its reality encompasses all of the social systems that we have created from the early tribes to sophisticated global organizations, such as the United Nations. It also includes the processes and tools we utilize in every form of endeavor. Wilber’s pronoun for this quadrant is Its to signify the plural version of the it of the behavior quadrant. Social learning is at the foundation of this form of reality, and we do so by testing implications and discussing the findings (Edwards, 2005). The majority of our daily lives are concerned with this quadrant. Given its collectiveness and objectivity, it is the easiest to relate and gain agreement. Unlike the other quadrants, this one has tangible objects that enable us to engage with common purposes. In the United States, even though we have wide-ranging political views (intersubjective reality), we agree that we need to elect a president every 4 years (interobjective reality).

Looking at the social quadrant from the evolutionary perspective, we can tangibly see how we have evolved from primitive social and physical structures to global societies interconnected with sophisticated technologies. The acceleration of the realities in this quadrant is astonishing. Just 20 years ago, connecting with someone outside our immediate physical space was challenging. Primitive forms of email and long distance telephone communication were available; however, these were expensive and non-ubiquitous. Today, most people living in developed and developing countries have access to powerful computers either through their phones or other internet-connected devices. The social media capabilities of these computers make it possible to stay connected with many people outside our immediate physical reality. This connection has resulted in tighter social networks that make it easy to challenge, solidify, and even create social structures. Evolution has moved beyond physical boundaries.

Given my involvement in a number of organizations and my national background (I was born in Bolivia), I have had the opportunity of experiencing a multitude of social systems. My roles in these social systems have been diverse, from simple membership to primary leader. Since middle school, I was inclined to participate in leadership roles, volunteering on class councils and leadership teams. My desire to be at the forefront of social systems gained larger focus in my professional life. I volunteered to lead efforts of different kinds. It seemed that it was less important to focus on the context and more on needed transformation. In my late 30s, I became involved with nonprofit organizations of various kinds and participated in escalating roles leading to president and director roles. I appreciated the opportunity to lend my service to a variety of causes, mostly focused on helping social development of marginalized groups in underdeveloped countries. My academic work a Saybrook University provided me with additional perspectives regarding how we evolve in our organizations and introduced me to frameworks to help the organization I belong to evolve. My ever-present connection with technology has also been very helpful to me in enabling and empowering people, and to form and maintain stronger relationships.

Interobjective levels of development

Our organizational systems have evolved primarily in the last 50,000 years from survival clans to value communities and integral commons (Hubbard, 2003). These systems have been supported by technologies that frame our interactions (Figure 13). Each evolving level is founded in our ability to sustain our interactions. For instance, during our foraging beginnings, life conditions could only support survival clans that banded to hunt for food. Our social technologies did not allow for grouping more than 50 or so individuals at a time. Consequently, whatever these clans were able to learn was not broadly shared with other clans because of their lack of interaction. The horticulture technology enabled us to form larger tribes, and, through multigenerational interaction, we were able to pass along a series of enduring capabilities.


Figure 13. Organizational systems levels of development along with their foundational social technologies. Adapted from Wilber (2000, 2007).

Feudal empires and nation-states developed with the advent of agriculture. The ability to grow food and domesticate animals changed how we lived and allowed for larger cities and ultimately nation states to flourish (Banathy, 2000). The industrial revolution helped solidify nation-states and gave birth to corporations, starting with the British East India Company to continuing to the global corporations of today that are financially larger that many nations (Venkat, 2011). Information technology has given us the opportunity to support and also build communities beyond the physical. Interest groups and communities of practice are sustained through the means of Internet-based communication. As an example, the Occupy Wall Street movement in 2011 was promoted via the Internet, organizing and communicating across the United States, bringing together almost 1,700 people and later thousands more across 951 cities in 82 countries.

At the upper level of organizational systems, we find intentional communities and evolutionary learning communities that bring together people with similar mindsets focused on the well‑being of society and the internal development of their members. The Findhorn Foundation in Scotland is an example of a spiritual community whose stated vision is to be a “centre for holistic learning, helping to unfold a new human consciousness and create a positive and sustainable future” (Findhorn Foundation, 2014). The Foundation was founded in 1962 by Peter and Eileen Caddy, and Dorothy Maclean. Barbara Marx Hubbard, a futurist, operates an internet-based global communication hub entirely dedicated to the subject of conscious evolution. Hubbard is one of the most recognized leaders who has emerged in the evolutionary meta-discipline.

My involvement with organizational systems has been, for the most part, with nation‑states and corporations. Both of these organization types do not offer deep perspectives in the evolutionary process. It has been surprising to me how little awareness in evolution and our role in it appears to be present in the highly educated set of individuals I interact with in my professional life. It is even more surprising to find limited interest in conscious evolution in my interactions with people in organizations dedicated to post-modern thinking. I have encountered a few exceptions. Last year, I attended a seminar on integral theory that featured several lectures associated with conscious evolution, including one presented by Peter Merry. I surmise that the intersection of post-modern communities, along with the developing integral thinking, will result in numerous integral commons that promote conscious evolution and practical ways in which we can be true co-creators.

Interobjective lines of development. Reality in the interobjective quadrant includes all of the systems we have created across our history (Wilber, 2000). Organizations are fundamental components of this reality. Our families, neighborhoods, communities, workplaces, communities of practice, cities, and nations are all organizational structures that impact our daily living and are very closely aligned with our evolution. From early clan and tribe life to global enterprises, we have been molding our organizations to go along with our sociocultural shifts, our technologies, and our population needs (McIntosh, 2007).

Several possible paths can be considered for lines of development for the interobjective quadrant. Technology is one of these paths, which offers multiple capacities that have evolved over time. For instance, we can map our ability to cure human disease from early herbal remedies to sophisticated nano-technologies for advanced diagnostics and 3D printing of cellular structures for DNA-conforming implants. However, organizational structures provide lines of development that can be associated with conscious evolution. As leaders awake to a deeper evolutionary consciousness, they guide our organizations into greater alignment with the good for civil society and planetary stewardship (Merry, 2009).

Table 9 identifies lines of development associated with evolutionary interobjectivity operating at the cusp of conscious evolution. For this table, I selected organizational constructs where I have a degree of firsthand knowledge and academic understanding from the literature.

Table 9: Interobjective Lines of Development for Conscious Evolution

Line Definition
Natural Step and other frameworks for guiding environmental and social stewardship in organizations This is a framework for strategic sustainable development that creates a unifying view of the activities necessary to achieve sustainability in an organization. “It converts theory to practice using logical, practical criteria for consistent decision making” (The Natural Step).
Self-organizing teams (Scrum) Work teams that are self-autonomous, capable of self-transcendence and cross-pollination.   Scrum is a methodology employing self-organizing teams for software development.
Communities of Practice Self-organizing and self-governing organizations whom share a common interest in a domain and whose association yields knowledge sharing and practice development.
Social enterprises Non-profit, self-sustainable enterprises using commercial know-how to deliver social value, typically to marginalized individuals.

Evolutionary learning communities


Environments to interactively learn about interconnectedness, ecology, and the joy about contributing to our communities.


 Note: The “lines” in this table come from a variety of sources (Laszlo, “What is Evolutionary Learning Community?”; McIntosh, 2007; Merry, 2009; Nattrass, 1999; Rubin, 2013; Takeuchi & Nonaka, 1986) and my personal experience with them.

The Natural Step (TNS) is a framework for environmental sustainability created by Swedish oncologist Dr. Karl-Henrik Robèrt (Burns, 2000). Robèrt, inspired by the collaboration of cells in dealing with cancer, developed an analog of the collaboration of governments, industry, and environmentalists to solve what in his mind was the single most important problem faced by humanity—planetary sustainability. In 1987, Dr. Robèrt drafted a framework outlining the conditions by which humanity could reach sustainable existence. His initial draft was sent to a broad cross-section of scientists and medical doctors, soliciting their input. After many revisions, TNS framework emerged, defining the types of actions organizations should take for this global pursuit (Burns, 2000).

TNS has been adopted by a number of organizations since its inception. The most famous implementation of this framework was by IKEA. Several case studies are documented in Waage’s (2003) book titled Ants, Galileo, & Gandhi: Designing the Future of Business Through Nature, Genius, and Compassion. I became aware of TNS during an independent study course at Saybrook University. I worked closely with Dr. Jaffe on updating the course materials for the sustainability introductory class in the Organizational Systems program. I leveraged my learning of TNS to write an article for The Triple Bottom Line blog and to start the environmental sustainability program at my workplace. Aside from this program reaching strategic importance for the company, we were able to achieve Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design Platinum certification for one of our buildings. Later, I continued my study of TNS through my dissertation critique essay, which dealt exclusively with four case studies of this framework by Nattrass (1999).

The relevance of TNS as a line of development is that it goes beyond simple recycling and antipollution programs, and even triple-bottom line practices. TNS brings a decision-making ability at the top level of an organization that integrates the organization’s operation with natural systems. Ray Anderson, while CEO of Interface, Inc., changed the way his company produced industrial carpeting to a modularized format completely owned by Interface with 100% recyclable materials (Waage, 2003). Anderson not only changed his industry; he inspired other executives to embrace TNS and change the relationship of their companies’ processes with nature. Although this line of development is labeled as TNS, organizations do not have to adopt this exact framework to be better aligned with conscious evolution but could embrace a similar one.

Takeuchi and Nonaka (1986) introduced the concept of self-organizing project teams in their article titled “The New New Product Development Game.” Self-organizing teams along with built-in stability, overlapping development phases, multi-learning, subtle control, and organizational transfer of knowledge were identified by the authors as a different product development paradigm, as contrasted with traditional sequential approaches. Takeuchi and Nonaka documented case studies of a new form approaching projects with successes at Fuji‑Xerox, Canon, and Honda. In their study, self-organizing teams are driven to a state of “zero information” (p. 139) where prior knowledge does not apply and members aim to create their own dynamic order. In this sense, they operate as a start-up, taking on new initiatives and risks, and develop an independent agenda. A team possesses self-organizing capabilities when “it exhibits three conditions: autonomy, self-transcendence, and cross fertilization” (Takeuchi & Nonaka, 1986, p. 140).

The work by Takeuchi and Nonaka (1986) is credited for the inception of the Agile project management methodologies, and in particular with Scrum (Rubin, 2013). Scrum is a popular approach to software development that relies on self-organizing teams and was advanced by Schwaber and Sutherland (Rubin, 2013). There is much covered in the literature about Scrum. What is most relevant about these self-organizing teams in terms of conscious evolution is what Takeuchi and Nonaka identified their self-transcendence. In the context of Scrum, this capacity is translated into the ability of a team to go beyond its stated goals and have it emerge with higher goals through its own discovery. There are many examples cited in the literature where self-transcendence is a result of self-organizing teams and a key driver for organizations choosing to adopt them as a cornerstone for their product development practices.

I became aware of Scrum about 3 years ago, when my company embraced it as its software development methodology. In my current role, I am responsible for the well-being and the value delivered by 14 scrum teams building software products. Given both my work and my academic interests in self-organizing teams, I have been working very closely with the practice of Scrum at my workplace and have undertaken a few academic research projects on this methodology and its impact on team efficiency. One of the early products of this research include an integral model of Scrum teams, which addresses levels and lines of development similar to what I have covered in this essay. I conceive that Scrum is an advanced form of teamwork, which I believe has applicability outside of software development. I would go so far as to say that it is the future of how work will be done across the spectrum of disciplines, where teams self-organize to deliver value to the social systems they serve.

Another one of the identified lines of development in Table 9 is communities of practice (CoPs). These are “are self-organising and self-governing groups of people who share a passion for the common domain of what they do and who strive to become better practitioners” (Merry, 2009, Kindle locations 2057-2060). This type of organizations are proliferating in the workplace and rapidly becoming needed institutions to advance broad or specialized agendas.

Broad scopes for CoPs are found in large organizations where common practices are desired across departments and locations. The traditional way of organizing by functions and business units isolate practitioners, limiting their ability to share knowledge and participate in global problem-solving. CoPs address these problems by breaking functional and location barriers and allowing practitioners to share and work together in advancing their common capabilities, even though their business unit missions may be different. Narrow specialties can also benefit from CoPs, where practitioners can come together and further the capacities of their field regardless of their organizational placement.

CoPs are not limited to the workplace and exist in the public domain. The most common application is in the form of “communities of interest.” Communities of various types exist where information, knowledge, and practices can be shared. Social media makes it possible for practitioners and people interested in a particular domain to come together and share. LinkedIn is a good example of a social media container where thousands of communities of interest exist, each providing access for exchanging information about a particular subject. Merry (2009) stated,

Developing a Community of Practice once a container has been built for the people sensing the new need, that container must be developed into a space where these people can do the work they feel they need to do in order to contribute to the shift, and can safely exchange experiences and get support from each other. (Kindle locations 2057-2060)

In my workplace, I am involved with the definition of the CoPs we need and those that our teams would also like to have. I see them as necessary, given that my organization is organized by missions with multiple disciplines in each. These disciplines have the need to come together to share knowledge and develop common practices. A challenge I see with CoPs is that they require focus, leadership, and effort by their members. It is easy to organize them but far more challenging for them to produce value. In addition, I am an active member of a number of online communities of interest, where I benefit from the shared information and have the opportunity to also contribute. I view CoPs as evolutionary containers because they break the barriers of location and organizational structures, and give members the opportunity to co‑evolve.

Social enterprises constitute another line of development for organizations. They are the amalgamation of commercial practices from for-profit institutions and the social value inherent in nonprofit organizations (Alter, 2007). Traditionally, for-profit organizations have not focused on social benefit, given their primary mission of making money for their shareholders. These organizations need to achieve financial sustainability in order to exist. In contrast, non-profit organizations are focused on delivering social value but have traditionally existed through endowments and donations.

Social enterprises are not a new phenomenon. They have been evolving and becoming more pervasive in delivering social value worldwide. Joint ventures between business and nonprofit organizations have also taken place to bring the commercial knowhow to the social sector. A good example of this is the partnership of Danone from France, producers of dairy products, and Grameen Bank, pioneers in micro-lending. This partnership—known as Grameen Danone Foods, Ltd.—produces a fortified low-cost yoghurt sold in Bangladesh to deliver nutritional value to people with low financial means in that country.

Health systems in the United States are hybrids, where part of their funding comes from payers such as insurance companies and part from large endowments. About 9% of hospital systems in this country are nonprofit social enterprises. Through my work, I am involved with the patient outcomes and cost efficiencies of healthcare organizations. Through products and services, my company enables health systems to administer medications safely and cost efficiently. My company provides capabilities for medication adherence, which in this country alone is a $290 billion problem (New England Healthcare Institute, 2009) and, more importantly, the cause of 125,000 deaths (Fleming, 2008). My role involves bringing to market innovative solutions to support health systems with these important needs. Even though I am part of a for‑profit enterprise, my daily interaction is with social enterprises where I am focused on improving their sustainability and delivery of better patient care. I believe that social enterprises will continue to proliferate and mark an important part of our evolution toward a socially responsible world.

Laszlo (“What Is Evolutionary Learning Community?”) stated, “Evolutionary Learning Communities (ELCs) are flexible environments where people can learn about the interconnected nature of our world, the ecological impact of our individual and collective choices, and the joy of finding a meaningful way to contribute to our communities” (para. 1). ELCs are foremost communities, not formal educational structures. They include our families, neighborhoods, and other types of communal arrangements. They are meant to be interactive and natural. Additionally, ELCs are containers for active learning. This learning is through engagement in the community. Laszlo (“What Is Evolutionary Learning Community?”) stated that ELC learning “is not simply accumulative individual learning, but synergistic collaborative learning: learning content issues together while at the same time learning process issues about how to be community.”

ELCs are evolutionary containers in which members consciously co-evolve with their environments (Laszlo & Laszlo, 1995). This is different than other organizations in which their structures and values are set as independent of the members and their aspirations. ELCs in this sense are geared for conscious evolution and are aligned with an evolutionary process.

I have limited exposure to true ELCs. I am part of the Pachamama Alliance, an organization devoted to the experiential education on sustainability. My involvement with Pachamama Alliance has help me become more aware of my role as planetary steward. Pachamama’s approach to education is for all members to bring their sustainability knowledge to their own communities and engage in learning experiences that are most conducive in their environments. I brought the Pachamama knowledge to my community at Saybrook and to my workplace. In each instance, the approach was different and was adapted to the needs of these communities.

In addition to Pachamama, Saybrook University and the department of Organizational Systems is an ELC that has supported my own evolution. I am not the same person now as I was before enrolling at Saybrook. Although learning at Saybrook is not entirely within the community, I have always felt a strong connection to this community as I practiced what I learned and learned more while I practiced.

Over the last several years, since my involvement with Saybrook, I have treated my teams at work as ELCs. Although I work in earnest to meet the business goals of my role, my primary motivation for leading organizations and teams is to provide containers to learn and evolve. I believe that workplaces are evolutionary containers and that we can be intentional about this purpose. I continuously challenge myself to enable learning, consciousness development, and joy for all of the people who I can influence and the environments that I create. My aspiration is that workplaces become conscious ELCs and that people recognize them for what they are and actually make choices about joining the right ELC for their development.


Seven million years have transpired since the human form appeared on Earth. Our evolution for most of this timeframe was physical. In it, our physiology and neurology became increasingly more complex to the point that we could accumulate knowledge, pass it on, copy it, improve it, select what was appropriate for the situation, and ultimately communicate with one another through sophisticated symbolic coding—language. It has been only in the last 50,000 years that we developed socially. Aided by a capable neurology and assisted by our technologies, we have evolved from our archaic and tribal institutions to our nation-states and urban communities.

As explored in this essay, an emerging part of our population is coming to terms with our role as co-creators. Our technologies, our way of living, and our intentionality have transported us to Chaisson’s Life Era. In this era, not only do we control matter but life itself. This new reality presents the need for a deep understanding of our evolutionary history and a new architecture for our evolution. As Banathy, Chaisson, Hubbard, Laszlo, and others have stated, it is no longer possible to continue to blindly evolve as our consumption outpaces the capabilities of our eco-systems. No one knows how much time we have left to design our evolutionary systems or if we have reached the maximum level of complexity that is possible in our human and societal forms. We simply know that we have an awareness of our possible extinction and of the invaluable opportunity ahead of us to transcend our current thinking, evolving it to a sustainable planetary consciousness.

Banathy (2000) left a blueprint for guided social evolution, not only through his book titledGuided Evolution of Society: A Systems View but also through his life, his influence, and the connections he established with his own evolutionary inquiry. As Laszlo and Laszlo (2002) emphasized, we have the opportunity to develop a culture of design and evolutionary awareness.

This essay aimed at providing an integral perspective into our evolutionary journey and how conscious evolution has developed through the co-evolution of the four quadrants of reality and their associated levels and lines of development. Frameworks from Graves, Kegan, and Wilber were useful to conceptualize an integral model for the levels of development. As stated in the body of this essay, the lines of development are numerous, and I made an attempt to select the ones that would be most appropriate for conscious evolution based on the literature and my own experience. Providing a correlation between the literature and my personal life was challenging with regards to maintaining academic relevance.

As noted by the authors in the conscious evolution meta-discipline, this subject is about consciousness, learning, and praxis (Banathy 2000; Hubbard 2003, 2012, Laszlo & Laszlo, “Evolutionary Praxis”). Community-building and evolutionary system design have been noted as fundamental aspects of this praxis across multiple domains (Banathy, 2000, 2003a, 2003b; Laszlo & Laszlo, “Evolutionary Praxis”). The available literature gives us inspiring examples of evolutionary praxis in communities formed by individuals with similar thinking and common goals. Most of our urban population spends considerable time in organizations. I believe that it is in our organizations where we have the greatest opportunity to design our sustainable future, first, by designing socially responsible and sustainable organizations and, second, by humanizing their systems to accommodate for the transformation of its members into higher levels of consciousness. Furthermore, I believe that our sustainable future lies through the portal of socially conscious and materially sustainable organizations working globally for the well-being and prosperity of all beings.


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Correlations Between Crisis Management and Innovation

Learner Papers

 Christine Haskell

Christine Haskell


Corporate leaders focus primarily on growing their businesses. They should also focus on mitigating potential setbacks (crises). Innovation (in its many forms) is a guided exploration of purposeful uncertainty. A company knows they want to grow but are generally unsure how. Customer-centric approaches such as participatory innovation are a recent focus for leaders looking to negotiate this tension. In contrast, crises are problems. They are part of an intricate system of related problems, and all crises are human-caused (Mitroff & Alpaslan, 2011). When leaders are unprepared, crises quickly spin out of control. This essay explores contextual factors and various perspectives related to the management of the tension between innovation and stability. It seeks to provide support for further doctoral research into the topic area.

We have a “violent Fondness for change,and greater Eagerness after Novelties”, –Mandeville, 1732, p. 196


The idea of managing the interrelationship between flexibility and control in the workplace is not new. Virtually all organizations feel pressure to grow and yet the turnover of companies has gone from 1.5 percent a year in the 1930s and 40s to 4 percent in the 1970s. By 1998, the annual attrition rate had risen to 10 percent (Forster, 2010). The fast attrition rate (through acquisitions, mergers, or basic declines) during the past fifty years has attracted increasing attention in the media, popular press, and scholarly literature. One way companies attempt to manage their growth is through innovation. In May 2012, Leslie Kwoh wrote in The Journal: “A search of annual and quarterly reports filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission shows companies mentioned some form of the word ‘innovation’ 33,528 times last year, which was a 64% increase from five years before that. More than 250 books with “innovation” in the title have been published in the last three months, most of them dealing with business, according to a search of Amazon.com” (Kwoh, 2012). According to Google Book Search, use of the term “innovation” has increased 28% from 1993. The surge in interest in the topic has also been reflected on the internet, where a related search garners a plethora of websites, blogs, and journal articles.

Clearly, the issue of managing growth while protecting current assets is of growing, if not paramount, interest to leaders and employees alike. Virtually every business magazine (Inc, Entrepreneur, Forbes, Wired—to name a few) has its own top 10 or top 100 list of innovative companies. There are innovation summits and conferences. Companies are touting chief innovation officers, innovation teams, innovation strategies and even innovation days. Much is known with respect to how to make companies more innovative. Crisis does not receive the same level of expression in the media (such as top 10 lists or conferences), most likely because the topic is less popular to talk about or align a brand with. However, organizations starting to take notice of issues such as global warming, resource scarcity, and economic interdependency. Michael Klare (2012) discusses in The Race For What Is Left that in many cases, the commodities procured during this new round of extraction will represent the final supplies of their type; the race we are on today is the last of its kind that we are likely to undertake. Mentions of the word crisis in the Google Book Search decreased 3% from 1993 but is at an all-time high with an increase of 74% from 1950.

Despite all this interest, however, there is still much unknown about the difficulties of making the shifts in thinking and behavior that innovation requires. Most of the research to date has centered on technical solutions and organizational structure. This is understandable given the speed of change and pressure to grow, and the number of crises that organizations manage (Christensen, 2011; Mitroff & Silvers, 2010; Tushman, Smith, & Binns, 2011).Largely missing in the research, however, is an understanding of the impact of leadership bias and organizational anxiety. It is this dimension of the tension that leaders must manage.

The purpose of this essay is to explore the contextual factors and various perspectives related to the management of tension between innovation, stability, and crisis management in organizations to provide support for further doctoral research into the topic area. The structure of the essay is in three main parts:

  • An exploration of the antecedents of organizational culture: climate, culture, organizational lifecycle; ambidexterity
  • An exploration of leadership within the specific context of the management of organizational tension: understanding problems and errors; bias, anxiety, and ways of approaching problems.
  • Implications and future research directions. Based on the available literature, and the large unknowns about this subject, what are the future research opportunities for studying the role of management of tension in organizations?

Antecedents of Culture in Organizations

A number of studies have investigated the potential antecedents of organizational culture. Some have focused on the impact of the leaders, while others have examined the contextual factors that may contribute to organizational culture. The following segment this essay explores both the individual characteristics and organizational factors that contribute to how tension is managed.

Organizational Factors

Some researchers believe that the path to growth and the ability to ward off crisis effectively lies in technology solutions and organizational structure (Christensen, 1996). From other perspectives, however, leaders deal with significant challenges to managing welcome and unwelcome change: the pace of technological advances; stakeholder readiness to blame management for failures; leaders’ feeling that they must create growth at any cost; irrational goals for the company’s longevity; and, general fear and complacency (Sull, 2003; Ormerod, 2005; Tellis, 2006; Forster, 2010; Christensen, 2011).

Summarizing information from existing research studies imply that organizations are best positioned for success if they are: open to new information/experimentation; relatively flat; have good internal-external information flow; are aware of conflicts; have competences emphasizing ambidexterity; and, are customer-centric (Hauschildt, 1993; Tushman & O’Reilly, 2002; Leonard-Barton, D., 2007; Patniak, 2009).

Culture and Climate

Organizational culture and climate are concepts that focus on how organizational participants observe, experience, and make sense of their work environments (Schneider, Ehrhart, & Macy, 2011). They are fundamental building blocks for describing and analyzing organizational phenomena (Schein, 1984). Culture and climate have been approached from different scholarly traditions and have their roots in different disciplines. However, both are about understanding psychological phenomena in organizations. Both concepts rest upon the assumption of shared meanings—a shared understanding of some aspect of an organization.

Historically, the construct of climate preceded the construct of culture. The social context of the work environment, termed “atmosphere,” was discussed as early as 1910 (Scott, 1911). The termclimate was formally introduced in the1960’s. It was primarily based on the theoretical concepts proposed by social scientist Kurt Lewin. As student of group dynamics, Lewin (1943) coined the term “force field”, which is analysis that provides a framework for looking at the factors (forces) that influence a situation—specifically, forces that are either driving movement toward a goal (helping forces) or blocking movement toward a goal (hindering forces). This was followed by empirical research (Lewin, Lippitt, & White, 1939) which included unconscious motivations in individual and group behavior (Scheidlinger, 1994). The important idea to understand is that climate is about experiential descriptions or perceptions of what happens. Culture helps define why these things happen (Schein, 1984; Schneider et al., 2011). However, not all of the literature makes a distinction between climate and culture and often refers to them synonymously. Additionally, culture is the most frequent term used in the business literature to describe both the what and why of organizational behavior. This essay adopts the same protocol.

Organizational culture is learned, passed on, and can be changed (Schein, 1984). It is more than a shared set of meanings. Schein (1984) defines culture as “the pattern of basic assumptions that a given group has invented, discovered, or developed in learning to cope with its problems of external adaptation and internal integration, and, therefore, to be taught to new members as the correct way to perceive, think, and feel in relation to those problems” (Schein, 1984, p. 3). Leonard-Barton (1998), who studied how managerial systems support and reinforce the growth of knowledge through carefully designed education initiatives and incentives, suggests that organizational values serve to screen and encourage or discourage the accumulation of different kinds of knowledge.

Thinking about the topic of culture has evolved from considering skills to be core if they differentiate a company and can be operationalized, to considering skills core if they can differentiate a company strategically (Leonard-Barton, 1998; 2007). When skills such as experimentation, the ability to work with autonomy, and integration of deep learning are not encouraged in an organization, the core strategic skill of asking the right questions also declines. Leadership is an important direct or indirect factor believed to influence organizational culture (Kozlowski & Doherty, 1989; Zohar & Tenne-Gazit, 2008) due to the fact that managers and leaders are largely responsible for communicating meaning (Schein, 1984). Even their personalities have been related to individual workers’ perceptions of justice in the culture (Mayer, Nishii, Schneider, & Goldstein, 2007).

An organization’s culture goes deeper than the words used in its mission statement. Hofstede (2001) would say organizational culture is a commonly held framework in the minds of its members. This framework screens, encourages, or discourages the accumulation of specific kinds of knowledge or behaviors (Leonard-Barton, 1998). Organizational culture is developed over time as people in the organization learn to deal successfully with problems of external adaptation and internal integration (Schein, 1999). It becomes the common language that employees speak and the common background they share among each other as they negotiate opportunities for and threats to the organization.

Though many try, leaders do not build products or declare a culture. Leaders build companies (systems) that build products. The most powerful thing a leader can do is change the system, not tinker with product features—that is where leaders can have the highest leverage. Culture is created through a leader’s behaviors which define what is permissible toward the implicit or explicit goals/values of the organization (such as profit, integrity with customers, or increased market share). Melvin Conway, a computer programmer introduced this idea in 1968. His formulation of it was dubbed Conway’s Law by participants at the 1968 National Symposium on Modular Programming. It states that organizations which design systems “… are constrained to produce designs which are copies of the communication structures of these organizations (Conway, 1968)”. For example, leaders cannot foster a culture of experimentation if they punish failure.

Cultures have many levels and facets. At the deepest levels are values that express enduring preferences. For example, customer-centered organizations are held together by a central value that every decision begins with the customer and with anticipated opportunities for advantage for the organization. A more accessible level of a culture is its norms, which are shared beliefs about appropriate or expected behavior. A common norm within customer-centered organizations is that employees are customer advocates. Another distinguishing norm shapes the individual employee’s willingness to share information with his or her counterparts: When this norm encourages sharing, the entire firm is in a better position to meet customer needs. Conversely, a destructive norm found in many firms is that sales ’owns the customer,’ which greatly impedes information sharing. Norms and values are a way to ensure alignment and consistency across the organization. Once established, they can contribute to a construct of the organization which can make the organization seek stability over evolution and become resistant to change (Leonard-Barton, 1998).

Cultural change follows from behavioral change. Although culture is generally the most significant impediment to change, there is no evidence that efforts directly aimed at changing a culture are likely to succeed. Cultural change is achieved by altering behavior patterns and helping employees understand how the new behaviors benefit them and improve performance. Senior management commitment, persistence, and intense communication eventually overcome inevitable resistance. The odds of success are much improved if there is a sense of urgency and a compelling strategic rationale (Sarros, Cooper, & Santora, 2008).

Strategies and Lifecycles

Market Strategies

Organizations utilize three primary types of strategies in order to innovate or develop a lead in the market: as pioneers, imitators, or late entrants (Kalyanaram & Gurumurthy, 1998; Trott & Hartmann, 2009; Tybout & Calder, 2010). Pioneers specialize in performing the discovery research function that previously took place primarily within R&D functions of larger organizations. They innovate for the sake of innovation. Research suggests that the ability of a firm to commercialize disruptive technology ahead of competitors is a rare and valuable marketing capability and qualitatively different from those skills required for later entrants (Bowman & Gatigon, 1996; Kalyanaram, Robinson, & Urban, 1995). Interestingly, a number of explorers evolved as spinoffs of laboratories that used to be part of a larger organization (Chesbrough, 2003b). The breakup of the Bell System from AT&T Corporation provides a good example. AT&T needed to give up control of Bell Operating Companies, which provided local telephone service in the United States. This effectively took the monopoly that was the Bell System, and split it into entirely separate companies which would continue to provide telephone service.

As in nature, imitation is about scale and energy (cost) minimization. Also called “early or fast followers,” imitators base their strategy on being low-cost producers, and success is dependent on achieving economies of scale in manufacturing (Trott & Hartmann, 2009; Tybout & Calder, 2010). Such a company requires exceptional skills and capabilities in production and process engineering. This strategy is defensive. It involves following another company, except that the imitator’s technology base is not usually as well developed as the pioneer or the late entrant. Imitators often license technology from other companies. Early years of Microsoft illustrate this best, where in order to compete effectively in the productivity space, they acquired much of their technology (Word Perfect, Lotus, etc.) externally, later reverse engineering Microsoft Office to be an integrated suite of products, which took several years. Similarly, much of the technology that went into Windows 95 actually came directly from Xerox. From this position, it is then possible for imitators to incorporate design improvements to existing products (Hobday et al., 2004). Imitators require enough of a technology base to develop improved versions so that they may develop improved versions of the original product: improved, that is, in terms of lower cost, different design, additional features, etc. (Trott & Hartmann, 2009). An imitator needs to be agile in manufacturing, design and development, and marketing. Microsoft copied or acquired much of its initial technology offerings, perfecting the manufacturing path. This enabled it to respond quickly when a new pioneering company created a new market. Without much in-house R&D in the early days, the Microsoft’s response would have been much slower in getting Office or Windows to market, as this would have involved substantially more learning and understanding of the technology.

Late entrants come to the market once a product is established and the market is mature. Their costs for entry are typically the lowest as they enjoy the benefits of not needing to educate customers and have lower research costs. They can also learn quickly from a changing market since they lack the history of pioneering organizations. An example of this was Sony’s 1975 Betamax video standard, followed a year later by JVC’s VHS. The two standards battled for dominance, with VHS eventually emerging as the winner. One major reason cited was because the VHS recording length was 2 hours longer than Betamax. JVC not only listened to customers and responded to their frustration at Betamax’s inability to record movies, but they formed the right alliance with strategic partners, putting Sony at a disadvantage (Tan, 2008).

Organizational Lifecycles

In order for leaders to gauge whether a problem is occurring at a normal time for their development stage, they must understand the corporate life cycle. Organizational life cycles are defined by the management of a particular kind of polarity: the interrelationship of flexibility and control (Adizes, 1988; Johnson, 1996). Much like human maturity, organizational life cycles are not defined by their chronological age, sales or assets, or number of employees. They are defined by the leader’s (and subsequently the organization’s) ability to distinguish between technical and adaptive challenges (Heifetz, 1994). Most of the challenges leaders face today are adaptive. These challenges require leaders to adapt their level or stage of mental complexity rather than simply apply technical solutions. The misapplication of technical solutions to adaptive problems (a type 3 error) is seen as a major source of dysfunction.

Chris Argyris (1999) has long proposed a model of leadership wherein the leader is implicitly being asked to have a self-transforming (or fifth order) mind. It is that mind that can understand the challenges at each stage of the development lifecycle, reduce the amount of death experienced, and attain the Prime (renewal) stage most frequently. Organizations age much as people do (Heifetz, 1994; Argyis, 1999; Keagan & Lahey, 2009), they manage tensions throughout each stage of development (Adizes, 1988; Johnson, 1996; Tushman, Smith, & Binns, 2011), and they scale like all other life forms (West, 2011). Corporate lifecycles have the following phases:

  • Courtship. Founders focus on ideas and future possibilities, plans are ambitious. Organization is small, power rests with founder, and the structure is simple. Information is simple to process. Courtship ends and infancy begins when the founders assume risk.
  • Infancy. Founders’ attention shifts from ideas and possibilities to results. Power is spread among investors and owners, specialization starts, information processing increases in complexity (Lester et al, 2003). The need to make sales drives this action-oriented, opportunity-driven stage. There is not much emphasis on efficiency, paperwork, controls, systems, procedures, delegation, or work-life balance.
  • Go-Go. The founders believe in their infallibility (Linnell, 2005), sales are the main goal and emphasis is on rapid growth. Due to arrogance and hubris problem identification can be challenging (Mitroff & Silvers, 2010). Founders see everything as an opportunity; their arrogance leaves their businesses vulnerable to obvious mistakes. They organize their companies around people rather than functions; capable employees can—and do—wear many hats, but the founders continue to make every decision—which increases cultural anxiety (Adizes, 1988).
  • Adolescence. Founders hire chief operating officers and organization starts to formalize but delegation is still an issue. An attitude of us (the old-timers) versus them (the COO and his or her supporters) hampers operations. There are so many internal conflicts, people have little time left to serve customers. Companies suffer a temporary loss of vision.
  • Prime. Leaders achieve balance between control and flexibility; tap into the right flow of internal-external and top-down flow of information (Adizes, 1988; He & Wong, 2004). Leaders are “managing the middle” of the polarity (Johnson, 1996). They are disciplined yet innovative, prepared yet not bureaucratic. Consistently meet their customers’ needs. New businesses sprout up within the organization, and they are decentralized to provide new life-cycle opportunities.
  • Stability. Companies are still strong, but without the eagerness of their earlier stages. They are larger than most of their competition, power is distributed among numerous stakeholders, structure is functioning and becoming more formal, and information processing is more sophisticated (Lester et al, 2003). Leaders welcome new ideas but with less excitement than they did during the growing stages. The financial people begin to impose controls for short-term results in ways that curtail long-term innovation. The emphasis on marketing and research and development declines
  • Aristocracy. Not making waves becomes a way of life. Outward signs of respectability–dress, office decor, and titles–take on enormous importance. Companies acquire businesses rather than incubate start-ups. These organizations are generally more widely dispersed, structure is divisional or matrixed, information processing is complex, and decisions emphasize the need for continued growth (Lester et al, 2003). The culture emphasizes how things are done over what’s being done and why people are doing it. Company leaders rely on the past to carry them into the future.
  • Blame. In this stage of decay, companies conduct witch-hunts to find out who did wrong rather than try to discover what went wrong and how to fix it. Cost reductions take precedence over efforts that could increase revenues. Backstabbing and corporate infighting rule. Executives fight to protect their turf, isolating themselves from their fellow executives. Petty jealousies reign supreme.
  • Bureaucracy. If companies do not die in the previous stage—maybe they are in a regulated environment where the critical factor for success is not how they satisfy customers but whether they are politically an asset or a liability—they become bureaucratic. Procedure manuals thicken, paper work abounds, and rules and policies choke innovation and creativity. Even customers—forsaken and forgotten—find they need to devise elaborate strategies to get anybody’s attention.
  • Death. This may come gradually or suddenly, with one massive blow. The organization has a centralized structure with few controls, information processing is not as sophisticated or current as it once was, decision making is centralized and generally top-down, and decisions are conservative (Lester et al, 2003). Organizations crumble when they cannot generate the cash they need; the outflow finally exhausts any inflow; customers and employees leave.


Effective responsiveness to internal or external disruption plays a key role in whether the organization can develop winning strategies for its survival. From this perspective, leaders (and employees) often tend to come up against, wrestle with, or try to harness invisible forces in the organization’s culture when attempting change. Innovation is viewed by most organizations as hard work. Why? When it fails to work, four primary challenges to innovation come up in the literature: 1) management is to blame (Agarwal & Echambadi, 2004; Leonard-Barton, 2007; Rosenbloom, 2000; Tripsas & Gavetti, 2000; Jassawalla & Sashittal, 2002; Prather & Turrell, 2002; Sanz-Valle, Jiménez-Jiménez, & Naranjo-Valencia, 2011); 2) all stakeholders have unreasonable expectations around growth (Allen and Zook, 2001; Foster and Kaplan, 2011; Collins, 2001; Olson, 2008); 3) there are irrational goals for the longevity of the company (Wiggins and Ruefli, 2002; 2005; Ormerod, 2005; Forster, 2010) and, 4) ineffective management leaders must contend with complacency and fear for themselves and the organization (Porter, 1998; Mitroff & Anagnos, 2001).

Organizational ambidexterity (or agility as it is referred to in organizations) is the ability to create processes for both small and large change simultaneously. Current studies on innovation management suggest that it is crucial to an organization’s survival. Successful firms are effective at using existing skills to create gradual improvements (exploitative innovations) while at the same time successfully exploring new skills and technologies to create breakthrough (explorative) innovations (Levanthal & March, 1993; Floyd & Lane, 2000; Volberda & Lewin, 2003; Gibson & Birkinshaw, 2004; He & Wong, 2004). To achieve this, an organization must reconcile internal tensions between the two innovation pathways as well as tensions caused by contradictory demands for fast growth placed on the organization by its external environment (Jansen et al., 2006). Openness to information and ideas reduces the need for formal controls and decreases the usefulness of bureaucracy. According to Burgelman (1991) and other researchers (Tushman & O’Reilly, 1996; Volberda, 1996; Eisenhardt & Martin, 2000; Benner & Tushman, 2003), an organization needs to learn how to achieve a balance between exploitative and explorative innovation activities if it is to achieve sustainably superior performance. An organization that fails to achieve this balance risks falling into a downward spiral of mediocrity (March, 1991).

Most companies are constrained by the pressures of the here and now and as a result have a short-term focus. They typically think quarter to quarter, driven by shareholders’ (and markets’) irrational and constant demands for growth. Some companies are highly reactive to this dynamic, while others take a more measured, proactive approach. To stay on top of ever changing demands, an increasing number of corporations are starting to engage with users in open-innovation (Burr & Matthews, 2008; Kruse, 2012; Wagner, 2013) as a strategy to manage internal / external information flow, bringing more of the outside-in.

Three studies illustrate good examples of the need for balance in order to innovate. Their suggestion is that leaders need to develop internally consistent structures and an internal operating culture that provides for excelling today while also planning for the future. While most Fortune 500 companies claim these dual processes today, very few have reset their markets with new truly new paradigms. These organizations manage inertia through iteration, and business continuity practices, resulting from the very capabilities that made them successful. Given the contrasting forces for change and stability, leaders need to create environments that celebrate efficiency as well as experimentation and discontinuous change simultaneously.

In the first study, O’Reilly III & Tushman (2002) use case study research to propose that in order to avoid long-term failure while focusing on short-term success leaders must manage an “ambidextrous organization (p. 15)” (as discussed above). The concept of ambidextrous organizations is not new (it was first suggested by R. B. Duncan in 1976), but O’Reilly III & Tushman add “innovation streams” to the discussion, which are the “patterns by which organizations develop new and better products and services (2002, p. 14)”. Success with innovation hinges on the understanding of the dynamics of technology cycles and management of these “streams” and being able to proactively shape these streams through irregular organizational change. Innovation streams and technology cycles require that managers periodically cannibalize what they are doing today in order to ensure leadership of other innovation streams in the future—to destroy their business while it is still working. The danger is that, out of fear of not making next quarter’s numbers, they regress back to the core capabilities that made them successful (O’Reilly III & Tushman, 2002; Leonard-Barton, 2007).

Tushman et al. (2011) did a later study researching 12 top management teams at major companies and suggest that firms thrive only when senior teams lead ambidextrously—when they foster a state of constant creative conflict between the old and the new. Tushman (2011) highlights three core tenants for success for CEOs: the development of a broad, forward-looking strategic aspiration that sets ambitious targets both for innovation and core business growth; the ability to hold the tension between innovation unit demands and core business demands at the very top of the organization; and, the ability to embrace inconsistency, allowing themselves the latitude to pursue multiple and often conflicting agendas. Chandrasekaran, Linderman, & Schroeder (2012) suggest that a competency in ambidexterity involves three capabilities at different organizational levels: decision risk (strategic level), structural differentiation (project level), and contextual alignment (meso level). They examined the relationship between qualifications and ambidexterity competency by collecting multi-level data from 34 high tech business units and 110 exploration and exploitation R&D projects. Their results indicate that decision risk and contextual alignment affect ambidexterity competency for high tech organizations. Structural differentiation does not affect ambidexterity competency but has mixed effects on R&D project performance.

In the third study, Sarros, Cooper, & Santora (2008) surveyed 1,158 managers and found evidence that transformational leadership is associated with organizational culture, primarily through the processes of articulating a vision, and to a lesser extent through the setting of high performance expectations and providing individual support to workers. Combined with the capacity to consider others’ feelings and recognize others’ personal needs, both indicators of providing individual support, leadership vision and setting high performance expectations are significant forces to be reckoned with (Sarros, Cooper, & Santora, 2008, p. 154).

Key Principles

Eight themes come to the forefront of the literature that characterize an innovative organization (Hauschildt, 1993; Tushman & O’Reilly, 2002; Leonard-Barton, D., 2007); they are: openness; flat organization; information management; awareness of conflicts; recruiting requirements; competences and responsibilities (in particular ambidexterity); and, customer-centricity. These characteristics are able to optimize organizational innovation processes leading to innovation success.

The openness of an organization is its ability to absorb information and effectively transform it into action. Innovative companies focus on relationships with opinion leaders. They are open to any kind of discussion. Employees at all levels are encouraged to be intellectually curious, willing and free to experiment and to explore knowledge creation (Davenport, Delong, & Beers, 1998).

A minimum level of organization is typical for innovative organizations. High-velocity, or high-uncertainty environments require simple routines, and a dependenceon people over process (Eisenhardt & Martin, 2000). To be creative, people need the freedom to manage their roles and responsibilities—a very high degree of autonomy. Only a limited number of rules define the joint working process. Work is not assigned to them: They create projects aligned to core business goals.

Openness and independence are also reflected in the information management of highly innovative organizations. Communication is organized by rules only to a small extent. People are not inhibited in sharing knowledge, and they do not fear that sharing knowledge will cost them their jobs. As a result, they are not alienated or resentful of the company.

Creative conflicts (experimentation) are the seeds for innovation. Innovative companies support cultures, where conflicts arise and are discussed. With conflicts the employees are trained how to handle new situations.

Innovative companies have accordingly adapted recruiting requirements. These organizations attract and hire people who reinforce the positive orientation towards creativity, innovation, autonomy, and adaptation. People need to have the ability to create conflicts and find ways how to solve them.

Competence and responsibility for innovation is shared within the entire workforce but is especially expected of the leadership team. Everybody within the organization is responsible to develop and push innovation. All employees have the one joint overall target (provided by leadership) to support the development of innovation as it aligns to customer needs.

The organization is not focused on selling products but rather on fulfilling customer needs (Levitt, 1960); the customer determines what a business is, what it produces, and whether it will prosper (Drucker, 1954).

A culture with a positive orientation to innovation is one that highly values learning on and off the job, and one in which experience, expertise and rapid innovation supersede hierarchy.

Individual Characteristics

The following sections of this essay explore specific concepts relating to managing the polarity of flexibility and control. The axis of understanding is organizational anxiety. This exploration establishes the basis for dissertation research to contribute additional knowledge to this crucial and understudied aspect of transformational leadership, innovation, and crisis management.

How tension is managed (or not) included in this section all have applicability to help better conceptualize and understand the ways in which leaders operate in the organization. Successful management of this tension has unique characteristics, they can: effectively respond to internal or external disruption; correctly interpret complex, adaptive problems, and identify errors; and, they can manage a wide spectrum of change (from innovation to crisis), including the anxiety and uncertainty that comes with it.

Bias and Mental Models

There are two elements that leaders need awareness of in order to boost their odds of success: tackling cognitive biases and understanding their own impact on culture. Both of these factors contribute to the creation, nurturing, protection, and evolution of mental models. These elements also impact leaders’ ability to correctly identify opportunities they might be blind to and problems they might be misinterpreting.

Leaders of start-ups and long-time companies alike are mindful that factors such as timing, scale relative to the competition, and the ability to leverage complementary assets (Horn, Lovallo, & Viguerie, 2005, para. 1), geographic expansion, new products, and diversification efforts should prompt detailed analysis. However cognitive bias—that systematic error in the way we process information—can warp decision making (Mitroff & Silvers, 2010) of any kind—and rarely gets discussed. “The majority of bad decisions, errors, and mistakes that [leaders] make are … are the result of the highly standardized ways in which [leaders] are educated and of the enormous pressures placed on them to think and act decisively” (Mitroff & Silvers, 2010, p.xvi).

Leaders (and subsequently the organization) need to distinguish between technical and adaptive challenges. Ronald Heifetz’s Leadership Without Easy Answers (1994) defines technical leadership as doing what is required to address an issue or problem when there a known or knowable resolution. Adaptive leadership is when the solution was unknown and members of the organization need to be drawn together to discern a new direction.

When confronted with a difficult decision, most executives solve old and new problems with the assumptions, mindsets, and institutions of the past (Mitroff & Silvers, 2010). In essence, they are behaving like mere managers and technicians who, as part of the corporate machine, do already-known things right. Leaders need to pause and ask ‘what is the right thing to do?’ Solving the wrong problem perfectly prevents many leaders from developing an outside perspective and even from evaluating opportunities in the light of common predictors of success.

Biases enable hubris which can often lead executives to believe that a company’s skills are more relevant than they really are, that the potential market is bigger than it actually is, or that rivals won’t respond to the entry move. Heifetz warned that there were a number of perils involved in adaptive leadership, because such challenges require experimentation, the discovery of new knowledge, and various adjustments throughout the organization. Only by adjusting attitudes, values, and behaviors can the organization adapt to a new environment and sustain such change over time; this shift in values or perspective is the most difficult (Heifetz, 1994; Graves, et al, 2005, Keagan & Lahey, 2009; Argyris, 1999).

Bias impacts how leaders and organizations perceive, take in, and react to disruption—mental models provide a construct for bias to develop. Mental models and organizational capabilities rally in protection of current assets. A calcification of knowledge occurs and bureaucracy starts to set in. For change to occur, employees have to be disloyal to their past and some of the constructs and relationships that shaped it (Heifetz, 2007). For example, if an organization were to consider abandoning formal processes such as status reports, scorecards, and monthly review meetings, they would have to be disloyal to the processes utilized in previous generations of the organization which had achieved the successes they were benefitting from. Exploring new possibilities would mean considering the idea that current processes could be ineffective. One option might be to adopt a technical approach such as automating current processes may mask the more substantial change that could enhance the organization’s effectiveness. Or the organization might be considering radical departures such as transparent accounting or monthly sessions that are open to the entire company rather than their current centralized processes. Staying with the old way may obscure a deeper and more important concern related to core organization purposes.

New growth typically involves different disciplines within the company. However, cross-functional collaboration presents a number of challenges (Schein, 1984). Members of different functions may hold different mental models of innovation, which can lead to frictions and misunderstandings. Mental Models are people’s representations of the world based on experiences and assumptions. The concept originated from cognitive psychology (Craik, 1943; Johnson-Laird 1983). It was adapted and later used heavily in the field of Human Factors Engineering as conceptions about how systems work (Nielsen, 1990; Moray, 1999), which since the 1990s has largely been incorporated into the field of Human-Computer Interaction (HCI).

Use of mental models was popularized in the HCI and interaction design community by Donald Norman (1998) in his book The Design of Everyday Things. He provides several examples of how mental models became an explanatory device for making sense of usability problems. For example, if a system fails to match a user’s mental model of it then there will be a breakdown. When a system matches the mental model of the person using it there should be fewer if any problems. Therefore it is thought that in order to build computer programs, systems, and especially interfaces, system developers should aim to match the mental model of those using the system. The concept of mental models is a powerful one, bringing with it the baggage of cognitive psychology, but we do not import this wholesale; rather, we invoke it as a metaphor useful in explaining how people understand their work.

Mental Models are used in organizations to edit the world and facilitate operations by simplifying complex situations and permitting distributed decision making. They are, in essence, goal-driven images of the world that are built to understand the current and future states of a situation. As such, they are best characterized by incompleteness.


Like all crutches, both bias and mental models are useful because they can help filter information. However, they can also enable dependency, atrophy, and focus on maintaining the status quo. When faced with disruption (such as a crisis event, regular market competition, or finite resources) people generally favor the mental factors that are based on experience, expertise, knowledge, and learning; these become liabilities and make the system rigid (Senge, 1990; Leonard-Barton, 1998; 2007).

Mental models experience four common challenges. First, the oversimplification that made them useful ca n render them incorrect. Second, they can be improperly used. Third, they can lead to wrong answers if provided incorrect information. And fourth, their effectiveness is rarely assessed. Much like a company’s highly developed core capacity, mental models can often present the single most important barrier to change. Long-held mental models can make a company rigid.

The elements of the corporate architecture change as the corporation matures and the mental models change. It is the evolution of corporate architecture—with the mental models steering the direction—that determines the competitiveness of the corporation. Unmanaged, the evolution of the corporate architecture proceeds in a predictable way, which inevitably leads to cultural lock-in—a state in which the organization is effectively frozen in place by three fears: the fear of cannibalization of the existing product line, the fear of moving into businesses that will conflict with its customers’, and the fear of acquiring companies that will result in the short-term dilution of the company’s earnings and therefore a potential decline in stock price (Foster & Kaplan, 2001). Thus the process of building mental models—whether these processes are explicit and examined or implicit and unexamined—is the core managerial process of the corporation. If a mental model goes undefined, it will go unrecognized. A mental model unrecognized is a mental trap, a trap that prevents further learning.


Although mental models cannot and should not be avoided, they must be re-examined and adapted to reflect discontinuity and new opportunities (Senge 1990; Foster, 2001). An example of this is the myopia suffered by the railroad industry, and later the taxi industry. The railroads did not stop growing because the need for passenger and freight transportation declined. That grew. The railroads are in trouble today not because the need was filled by others (Cars, trucks, airplanes, etc.), but because it was not filled by the railroads themselves. They let others take customers away from them because they assumed themselves to be in the railroad business rather than in the transportation business. The same fate has befallen the taxi industry in the advent of rideshare programs like Uber and Lift.

Every industry has been a growth industry. However those that are riding a wave of growth enthusiasm are already in the shadow of decline (Levitt, 1960; Collins, 2011; West, 2011). Others which are thought of as seasoned growth industries have actually stopped growing. In every case, growth is threatened, slowed, or stopped not because the market is saturated but because of a failure of management. Shortsighted managers often fail to recognize that in fact there is no such thing as a growth industry (Levitt, 1960). This is an example of a restrictive “mental model,” an image that some industries have of themselves which keeps them from seeing their actual situation more objectively.

In a period of disruption (technical advancements, external threats, finite resources, quality issues, etc.) the very mental models that are at the heart of managerial strength are also at the heart of managerial weakness. Functions like sustainability, crisis management, and corporate responsibility have become increasingly relevant in organizations (Sterman, 2000; Kahane, 2004; Mitroff & Anagnos, 2001; 2011; Carroll & Shabana, 2010). Here again, leaders fall into technical leadership (doing what was required to address an issue or problem when there was a known resolution) instead of adopting these new functions. Such functions were not required on path to success, so incorporating them seems initially unnecessary. In trying to replicate the success of the past, however, leaders have missed that the world context is changing, requiring such functions to help them navigate, prepare, and innovate.

Understanding Problems

As globalization, finite resources, and other influences force companies and entire industries into greater interdependence with their stakeholders, companies are called upon to deal with an ever increasingly amount of complexity. Melanie Mitchell (2009) defines complexity as containing three primary characteristics: the situation is emergent; 2) as a result, there is a constant flow ofinformation to negotiate; and 3) this means that actors in the system are constantly adapting their behavior. Complexity can result in positive or negative disruption. The problem is not an inability to take action but an inability to take appropriate action. The world is changing in complex ways. Companies need to respond to the changes, but because of the complexity, finding an appropriate response is a challenge. Companies can look at this challenge either through an innovation lens (seeking to respond via new products and systems) or a prevention lens (seeking to prevent loss or disruption of existing business).

A major concept in understanding how leaders respond to welcome and unwelcome change is understanding how they negotiate complexity, and how the identify problems. Mitroff & Alpaslan (2011) quote Russell Ackoff on the understanding of problems as symptoms of wider systemic messes:

[People] are not confronted with problems that are independent of each other, but the dynamic situations that consists of complex systems of changing problems that interact with each other…..I call such situations messes. Problems are abstractions extracted from messes by analysis…..

Therefore, when a mess, which is a system of problems, is taken apart [i.e., analyzed], it loses its essential properties and so does each of its parts. The behavior of a mess depends more on how the treatment of its parts interact than how they act independently of each other. A partial solution to a whole system of problems is better than whole solutions each of each of its parts taken separately [emphasis added]. (Mitroff & Alpaslan, 2011, p. 16)

Leaders are not just tasked with leading change but with being sensitive to the many reasons why change in programs or procedures is not only needed but becoming more urgent. The basic idea between First and Second-order change is simple. First-order change is doing more or less of something already being done. First-order changes are always reversible, require small adjustments to existing structures in order to maintain or restore balance, and are non-transformational (Bateson, 1979; Bergquist, 1993). With first order change, the old story remains the same. Second-order change is deciding (or being forced) to do something significantly or fundamentally different from what was done in the past. These changes are irreversible, enable a new way of seeing things, and requires new learning (Bateson, 1979; Bergquist, 1993). Second order change often begins through informal networks and results in a transformation to something new. A new story is born.

Related to the kinds of changes leaders need to make, are the kinds of errors they are likely to commit. A Type One error is the incorrect rejection of a true null hypothesis—or a false positive. An example of this would be measures indicating a tsunami where there is none. A Type Two error is the failure to reject a false null hypothesis. An example of this would be a tsunami coming, and measures remaining unconfirmed. Although Type I and Type II errors are taught in virtually all statistics courses, Type Three errors are almost never discussed (Mitroff & Silvers, 2010). Type III errors are the right answer to the wrong question (Raiffa, 1968). We commit Type III errors when we attempt to solve higher order problems with lower level solutions. Mitroff & Silvers (2010) credit Peter Drucker in framing the issue this way: “Managers and technicians do known things right; leaders ask what are the right things to do” (Mitroff & Silvers, 2010, p.4). Raiffa’s point was this: “What good does it do to minimize or control for Type I or II errors if the problem one is attempting to solve is wrong to begin with?” (Mitroff & Silvers, 2010, p.4).

When organizations manage they focus on existing offerings and existing users. They are focusing on the new version of something already successful. They forecast based on what is known, and attempt to control the predictability of the revenue stream—this turns part of the discussions of running the business into an exercise. Exercises are well-defined, canned scenarios, generally within a single discipline, where the information to answer the issue is provided. All confusion and extraneous information (noise) are removed. Once solved, exercises remain solved, turning the solver into a “certainty junky“ (Mitroff & Alpaslan, 2011, p. 19). The majority of the company’s effort is organized toward this type of growth because it provides the most comforting message to their shareholders. In many ways, management turns the business into an exercise. However, something unexpected always happens. Given the pace of technology, failure rate of companies, and general turnover, conditions can never be fully controlled. Mitroff & Alpaslan (2011) make a distinction between exercises and complex problems. However,complex problems cannot just be divided into a series of simple and independent exercises. They are not canned scenarios. They are ill-defined and multidisciplinary. They have more than one solution because they have the potential for more than one formulation. Complex problems are dynamic, always reacting to the solutions implemented, or their environment. Complex problems are messy. If the problem is sanitized to be simpler or more palatable, the solution becomes less effective and the problem becomes worse.

Consider some of the interconnectedness of systems we interact with on a daily basis, such as cloud services constantly under security attacks, or the amount of personal and financial data we share with various organizations on a daily basis. This complex web of relationships started with small and relatively simple transactions. Most people have an online email and bank account. Over time, personal information has become the currency in which many companies barter with us in order to begin a relationship —they require a login. Personal and financial information is now spread exponentially to news and information, entertainment, and online retail sites. The consumer is now faced with how to protect their identity, remember multiple logins, and secure their information. We have created systems that are now so big and so complicated that they have mutated into entirely new forms, highly complex and intertwined (Mitroff & Anagnos, 2001, p. 20). They have grown so complex that no one, including their designers, fully understands how they will act even under “known” operating conditions. In effect, we have created systems that are unmanageable precisely because they have unforeseen and, even worse, unknowable side effects (Mitroff & Anagnos, 2001, p. 22).

The inability of a leader to manage their own fear and complacency (as well as that of their organization) can not only hold the company back, but can hijack an entire industry. Since 2002, Google, Amazon, and Netflix have joined the S&P 500, Kodak, the New York Times, Palm and Compaq have all been forced off, essentially by changing technology. Richard N. Foster, a consultant who helped popularize of the idea of “creative destruction” suggests that big companies cannot ever out-innovate the market (Innosight, 2012). Instead, he thinks that to stay big, companies need to be willing to exit old businesses and enter new ones—and do it quite boldly. The taxi industry is too heavily regulated to innovate something like Uber. And HP could not decide whether to jettison its PC business. Foster’s data do tell us which company is America’s greatest corporate survivor. It is General Electric, the only company that has remained on the S&P Index since it started in 1926.

In the early 1990’s a problem that many early technology companies were trying to solve was the ideal of cross-platform compatibility[1]. Technical approaches such as vendor interdependency, push-button code generation, and cross-compilation were attempted to solve this issue but were unsuccessful. Microsoft, Oracle and other corporate platform entities were blamed for being proprietary and creating a fractured landscape. But the real problem was not a technology issue: it was a usability issue, a culture issue, and a marketing issue. The value in these platforms lay in their differences; they each approached different knowledge areas in a unique way. At one point, Java managed to solve the technological problem for good, and that was the point where the industry realized with sadness that cross-platform compatibility was not as important as was previously thought.

Now that we have multiple devices such as tablets and smartphones, the issue on the table once again is the need for a common operating system. We want to use the same software across these environments. Windows 8 offers the same OS across all these devices. But people do not buy operating systems, they buy devices. A uniform OS will likely not solve the issue of convergence across devices since the devices are inherently different. All the subtle differences will start to add up, requiring unique approaches. Convergence is not the issue, it is interoperability[2]—especially considering that the actual ways of using the devices are starting to diverge. The cell phone is becoming more voice-operated, which is not a feature relevant to the tablet or PC.

The decisions relating to convergence versus interoperability came from an organizational culture where there was twenty five years of legacy to protect (in the operating systems and related software). This resulted in products that had platform convergence as their number one feature. Innovation begins by acknowledging these biases and mental models early on so that the organization can be explicit in its decisions, and enable creativity in thinking beyond the predictable, iterative step.

The literature refers to small versus large changes using a variety of paired terms: incrementalversus iterative (Christensen, 1993), first-order versus second-order (Bateson, 1979; Bergquist, 1993), or exploratory versus exploitative (Ahuja & Lampert, 2001), to name a few[3]. First-order (iterative) change tends to focus on adjustments within existing structures, doing more or less of something; new learning is generally not required, and the old story about the organization can continue. First-order change helps organizations deal with rapid obsolescence of products and services. Examples of this are the iterations of the iPhone and the Windows 95 operating system since their initial launches. The first versions of these products were game changers for their respective companies. Subsequent iterations of the products contained updates, color changes, and platform enhancements, but the primary technologies did not change.

The danger of iterative change is that it provides an open window for competitors to imitate or evolve these same stories at lower cost. Google has done just that with Google Docs, providing a free, cloud-based solution to Microsoft Office’s shrink-wrapped software. This has forced Microsoft to create their own version of their own cloud-based version of MS Office.

Second-order change is about a new way of seeing things: it is irreversible, often begins through an informal system, requires new learning, and tells a new story. Before the iPhone was announced, the Android did not support touchscreen input, a feature that has now become standard throughout the smartphone industry. Google’s plans for Android in 2006 involved physical keys for control and no touchscreen input support. Revealed in court documents from the ensuing Apple-Samsung legal fray, the early specification says that “the product [Android] was designed with the presence of discrete physical buttons as an assumption. However, there is nothing fundamental in the product’s architecture that prevents the support of touchscreen in the future” (Smith, 2013, para. 1). Between the announcement of the iPhone and the finalizing of Android’s software requirements, not only did touchscreen input become supported — multi-input touch was required. Our phones have never been the same again.


Given all this potential for rigidity, there does not seem to be much room for the culture absorb, synthesize, and act on disruption. In his book, Culture’s Consequences, Geert Hofstede (2001) researched over 115,000 IBMers across 50 nations and analyzed differences in their “mental programs” (or what he referred to as “the software of the mind (p.2)”. His research indicated that national culture mostly stems from consistency in values and organizational culture stems mostly from consistency in practices. Hofstede (2001) highlighted five dimensions of culture, one of which was uncertainty avoidance (UA). His distinction between uncertainty avoidance and risk avoidance is significant in considering an organization’s ability to effectively manage for welcome (innovation) and unwelcome (crisis management) disruption.

Uncertainty is to risk as anxiety is to fear. Fear and risk are both focused on something specific: an object in the case of fear, an event in the case of risk. Risk is often expressed in a percentage of probability that a particular event may happen. Anxiety and uncertainty are both diffuse feelings. Anxiety has no object, and uncertainty has no probability attached to it. It is a situation in which anything can happen and one has no idea what. As soon as uncertainty is expressed as risk, it ceases to be a source of anxiety. It may then become a source of fear or accepted as a routine (Hofstede, 1984, 2001, p. 148).

Uncertainty avoiding cultures shun ambiguous situations. People in such cultures look for structure in their organizations, institutions, and relationships, which makes events clearly interpretable and predictable (Hofstede, 2001, p. 148). Paradoxically, they are often prepared to engage in risky behavior in order to reduce ambiguities—such as starting a fight (i.e., act out) with a potential opponent rather than sitting back and waiting (Hofstede, 2001). His Uncertainty Avoidance index (UAI) is comprised of three questions focused on rule orientation, employment stability, and stress. It suggests that ”in higher-UAI countries innovations are more difficult to bring about” (Hofstede, 2001, p. 167); cultures with lower UAI scores showed higher rates of innovation in terms of trademarks granted (p.169).

Innovation-Crisis Continuum

A number of companies have tried to build themselves up around creating something truly new, and many have struggled when that idea failed to produce anything that could eventually be commercialized. Being first to market has nothing to do with being first to profitability. And being first to profitability has little to do with how quickly, deeply, and ubiquitously an innovation spreads. What keeps organizations where they were at? What calcified their growth and in some cases enabled their decline? What catalytic factor(s) support(s) a small group of people who felt otherwise and created new enterprises?

Change—welcome or unwelcome—can be viewed through several lenses:

  • the type of innovation a company engages in;
  • their approach to management of business continuity;
  • leader’s degree of ability to manage both short and long term change (ambidexterity) and,
  • their perception of problems which have a significant impact on culture.

The type of Innovation an organization engages in (i.e., management, extension, adaptation, and/or creation) determines their growth outcomes. It also is reflective of where the organization is in their market strategy (i.e., pioneers, imitators, and late entrants) and their lifecycle (birth, adolescent, death, to name a few).

Business Continuity is the result of the level of preparation for unexpected disruption (i.e., crises) and serves to protect the company’s current assets. This function is generally staffed based upon the organization’s perception of its relevant markets and the risks within those markets. This paper is investigating the correlations between innovation and crisis management in organizations. Is how one grows one’s business related to how one protects it? While this may be true of all organizations, this paper and subsequent research will focus on high tech organizations.

In dealing with change, leaders need to be aware of the kinds of errors they are likely to commit. Two areas where leaders are likely to misinterpret potential problems are: incorrect interpretation of opportunity (and the organization’s capability to achieve growth or compete) and incorrect judgment of the probability of threats.

Cognitive bias—that systematic error in the way we process information—can warp decision making of any kind. Fear, complacency, and a desire to protect current assets are forces for maintaining the status quo.

High tech organizations confront dual demands of exploring new and exploiting existing products/processes. Ambidexterity is the ability to manage both innovation and protection of assets. Rather than taking a backseat in debates over resources or ceding much of their power to middle managers, leaders need to avoid stagnation and decline by leading toward the correct problem.

An opportunity exists to learn more about how organizational bias and market entry type impact the growth the organization is capable of. For example, it is this paper’s assertion that organizations’ biases and mental models influence cultures and may be an indicator of the kind of anxiety they prefer. For instance, those cultures that favor anxiety and uncertainty related to the unknown will lean more toward creation, and those that favor anxiety and uncertainty related to the predictable will lean more toward managed change.

Examples of companies that were unable to get to the next level are numerous: Why couldn’t the newspapers invent a simple and free online classified-ad service? Why couldn’t jewelry stores have thought of the cost savings and educational opportunity to connect with their customers’ online before Blue Nile came along? Why couldn’t any of the big real estate firms consider Red Fin’s easy to use home listing platform? Why couldn’t local auto dealerships develop a negotiation-free car buying platform like TrueCar.com? Why couldn’t the taxi industry have invented Uber’s ride request mobile application?

Essential to the management of change, whether deliberate or accidental, is the ability to observe, synthesize, and effectively act upon information. Whether predictability of the impacts and responses to change are important depends on the magnitude of the impact and the time needed by the [organization] to respond to the change (Ansoff, 1979, p. 59). Hierarchical organizations tend to need more time to react to threats, so we might assume that is one reason they value predictability. The ”novelty” of change is a measure of how difficult it is for the organization to deal with the change (Ansoff, 1979). Most organizations have a built-in capacity for dealing with incremental change, such as version updates to software. If the change is novel, however, none of their capabilities will apply and substantial additional time will be needed to gather the necessary resources, to train people, to build facilities, and to develop and test new programs.

If organizations want to achieve specific innovation outcomes, they will have to learn to work with and more fully utilize their diverse talent. Inclusion of diverse perspectives is so crucial to innovation that books such as The Ten Faces of Innovation (Kelley, 2005) are simplifying, repackaging, and redefining basic individual contributor personas specifically for innovation purposes. Once cultures become established, they have increasingly lower tolerances for a broad range of personality types—Instead, they require people to fit in, get with the program, and learn “the [IBM, HP, or Microsoft] Way.”

Spectrum of Change

There is no escape from crises. Depending on their complexity, crises undermine an organization’s sense of stability. Policy responses are based on flight, paralysis, or fight-responses (Mitroff & Silvers, 2010). But everyone in the organizations knows that normal life already “contains” crises. Some can be resolved, many must be contained. Pauchant & Mitroff (1992) define a crisis as a “disruption that physically affects a system as a whole and threatens its basic assumptions, its subjective sense of self and its existential core.” Virtually all crises are interconnected with other crises (Mitroff & Silvers, 2010).

Most organizations rationalize many reasons not to prepare for threats to their business. Disruptions related to business continuity (risk management, crisis preparedness, etc.) are generally unwelcome because they force unplanned change and generally entail tremendous cost. Situational crisis communication theory (SCCT) describes three major categories of crisis types and their related response strategies. They are categorized by the level of responsibility that is likely to be attributed to the organization(s) involved (Coombs & Holladay, 2012, p. 103) (See Appendix-B).

Coombs and Holladay (2012) state that leaders can maintain, gain, or lose customers depending on how they react to organizational threats. For instance, applying the wrong response strategy to a crisis cluster might come from mischaracterizing a Type III problem, responding with a Type I solution, and, as a result, losing products and/or customers. Likewise, a leader who is maintaining the relatively predictable success of veteran products might not notice that the game has changed and that they need to prepare the organization for extending the brand or creating something new.

Disruption and uncertainty created by crises remind us of what makes us human, and emotion is a large part of what requires managing. Crises gives birth to triplets: anxiety (produces tension because its source is difficult to find); fear (results when an organization feels threatened); and hope (that it does not occur again). Jon & Pang (2012) identify four negative emotions (anger, fright, anxiety, and sadness) as the dominant emotions that are most likely to be experienced by the public in crisis situations. Anger is demanding offence against “me” and “mine”; fright is facing uncertain and existential threat; anxiety stems from the core relational theme of facing immediate, concrete, and overwhelming danger; and, sadness related to irrecoverable loss (Jon & Pang, 2012).

When a company has enjoyed a long time leadership position, a decline in performance is a crisis. When this happens, shareholders turn against organizations, and profits and revenues decline. Valued employees migrate to competitors. How quickly the company can reorient itself toward the customer determines how quickly it emerges from crisis. Leaders and organizations overlook the clues hidden in the problem-filled present. On some level, they know they always have the tools that helped them in the past. Perhaps they can cover up, continue to patch, or simply overlook some of the current leaks in the boat. Therefore a policy against problems rests not on reactivity, but planning ahead—thinking toward growth, innovation, and strength.

From creativity, to experimentation, to discipline, to execution, innovation resists definition. There are as many types of innovation as there are organizations. When considering the kinds of organizations in which innovation thrives, many people think of the twenty-something office of self-empowered employees that bring their dogs to work. Behind this image is a view of innovation as the outcome of an unconstrained flow of ideas in an open environment. And, this image is deeply misleading. Innovation can come as readily from a set of simple, structured practices. A more complete definition of innovation that aptly describes how some organizations in crisis have managed to innovate can now be suggested: Innovation is a disciplined process by which an idea is created, realized, and iterated upon, resulting in increased business value and an improved experience.

Additionally, creativity depends on open networks, whether we are considering personal creativity or organizational creativity. It is assumed that entrepreneurial people, the type that thrive in high uncertainty, are typically driven from the large established corporate environment. The slow-moving, hierarchical decision making processes, the bureaucratic mindset and the numerous formal channels through which employees are required to report are too burdensome for the entrepreneurial type to handle. But O’Connor & McDermott (2004) found evidence to the contrary. There are aspects of large corporations that some very action-oriented, entrepreneurial, visionary people thrive on (p. 26). They simply know how to work the system, and that system is based largely on human connections of immensely capable people.

There are many innovation frameworks and all of them start with the idea of moving from existing customers and products to new customers and products. Within these frameworks most leaders utilize aspects of two primary product strategies: 1) penetrating the market, product development, market development and diversifying (Ansoff; 1979, 2007); 2) costs (implies intensifying the investments, which afterwards implies productivity growth), differentiation (implies a growing attention to maintain the uniqueness of the product’s characteristics or service), and focusing (implies concentration over a narrow market segment, or niche) (Porter, 1980). The first strategy concentrates on the extension of a strategy, the second is based on identifying an organization’s implicit strategy and bringing it to the foreground so that it can more explicitly incorporated into the company’s vision.

IDEO’s CEO, Tim Brown (2009) wrote Change by Design which brings together concepts of participatory and open innovation to emphasize the power of design thinking in innovation. His model is representative of a standard innovation diagram. Called the “Ways to Grow” matrix (See Appendix A), it illustrates four main ways to grow a business: managing existing customers on existing products and services with incremental changes; extending the business to new customers and products by enhancing the brand proposition; creating new products that reset the industry; and the most radical sort of innovation—adapting the industry entirely to a new level (Asnoff, 1979; Porter, 1980; Tushman & O’Reilly, 1996; Brown; 2009). This paper proposes a more radical interpretation of this quadrant as not only resetting the industry, but including the possibility for establishing an entirely new one (Tushman, 2011). Organizations tend to find themselves in one area of this matrix or another during their lifespan. For instance, when Apple developed the first Macintosh, iPhone, and iPod, they created new stories for themselves. Later, they managed iterations on existing products.

Change Continuum

Imagine a continuum. On one end is the high anxiety of the unknown. On the other end is the high anxiety of crises we have a hand in creating. The middle is relatively safe and predictable.

To understand emotional processes, Friedman (2007) employs the family systems theories of Dr. Murray Bowen. Rather than trying to understand families in terms of their cultural, ethnic, or socio-economic distinctions, Bowen focused instead on the underlying processes that families share in common with all other groups or societies (Gilbert, 2006). From this perspective the most critical thing for any society or family is how well they are able to “handle the natural tension between individuality and togetherness, their ability to maintain their identity during crisis, and their capacity to produce well-differentiated leadership (p. 56)”. The same holds true of anxiety in organizations.

In deciding what mode of innovation to pursue, companies need to consider not only where the industry is in its lifecycle but where they are in their own, and what bias they have toward anxiety. In essence, which kind of anxiety do they prefer?

The “Disruption Continuum” (See Appendix C) illustrates the continuum of disruption an organization is likely to face in its lifetime—from crises (loss) to innovation (growth). Movement occurs depending on the event and the organization’s ability to tolerate the anxiety that comes from change. They can slide to the left for various clusters of crises, and to the right through various states of innovation. An organization with an orientation toward openness and experimentation will prefer the anxiety of the unknown, as in the case with Apple. Steve Jobs took his organization to the creation state where the product introduced represented the new dominant design for the market. A company like Microsoft managed much of its legacy with Windows and Office and spent much time mitigating crises related to them such as antitrust law suits. While both organizations developed products that reset the market, spent time managing the success of those revenue streams, and mitigated crises, Microsoft visited the create state less and managed an orientation of anxiety toward predictable revenue.

Those organizations that are in high crises clusters are low in innovation are defensive. They are prepared systemically for many crises, not just a few. Conversely, those organizations that are high in innovation and low on crises are reactive. They generally have a low preparation for any crisis. For example when Apple’s Taiwanese factories detailed “serious and pressing” concerns over excessive working hours, unpaid overtime, health and safety failings, and management interference in trade unions (Garside, 2012, para. 1). Apple, an organization that has visited the “create” area of the innovation quadrant and reset the computer, mobile, and entertainment industries, was not prepared. They lacked end-to-end insight of their supply chain. They soon issued the following statement:

Apple takes working conditions very seriously and we have for a long time. Our efforts range from protecting to empowering to improving the lives of everyone involved in assembling an Apple product. No one in our industry is doing as much as we are, in as many places, touching as many people as we do (“Apple,” 2012, para. 1).

Like many companies before it, Apple sought to improve performance by taking actions which could be interpreted as both business and social. The Apple-Foxconn incident represents a crisis that led to creating sustainability program. Among many actions of increasing safety and compliance, Apple has their first sustainability report.


Figure 1: Disruption Continuum illustrates the combination of crisis clusters and growth outcomes an organization has the potential to experience. Larger version in Appendix B.

As shown at the bottom of Figure 1, Coombs and Holladay state that leaders can maintain, gain, or lose customers depending on the changes they implement or the type of errors they commit. For instance, applying the wrong response strategy to a crisis cluster might come from mischaracterizing a Type III problem, responding with a Type I solution, and, as a result, losing products and/or customers. Likewise, a leader who is maintaining the relatively predictable success of veteran products might not notice that the game has changed and that they need to prepare the organization for extending the brand or creating something new.

Various research has been conclusive with regard to the key role of culture in innovation (Ahmed, 1998; Higgins & McAllaster, 2002; Jamrog, Vickers, & Bear, 2006; Jassawalla & Sashittal, 2002; Lao & Ngo, 2004; Martins & Terblanche, 2003; Mumford, 2000). The main reason is that culture can stimulate innovative behavior among the members of an organization since it predisposes them to accept innovation as a basic value of the organization and thus fosters commitment to it (Hartman, 2006). Furthermore, culture and management are closely related. They can either foster change or be serious impediments to it (Boonstra & Vink, 1996). According to Tesluk et al. (1997), from the perspectives of socialization and of co-ordination, the basic elements of culture have a twofold effect on innovation. Through socialization, individuals know whether creative and innovative behaviors are acceptable. At the same time, the business can, through activities, policies and procedures, generate values which support creativity and innovation. If so, its capacity to innovate will subsequently improve.

The downside of implementing change in large, ponderous organizations is well documented (Schein, 1984; Hofstede, 1984, 2001; Brown, 2009). When change of any kind occurs, numerous antibody mechanisms are embedded in the organization that constantly block and thwart the advancement of fundamentally new ideas and sometimes view maverick individuals as too painful to tolerate (O’Connor & McDermott, 2004) or react through preparation (Mitroff & Alpaslan, 2010).

There are some common themes among innovative companies: ambidexterity (management of exploratory and exploitive innovation), customer-centricity (an organization whose systems, people, and processes are aligned to the customer) and above all, the ability to host a learning organization (an organization that can efficiently manage the implementation of experimentation and the synthesis of test results). These elements demand a nimble organization and management of two common emotions that creep up as success increases: fear (about changing what might be working) and complacency (about the need to try anything new).

Conclusion: What Makes a Culture Innovative?

One of the greatest misunderstandings of our time is the assumption that a brilliant insight will be enough to change the behavior of leaders and organizations who are unmotivated to change. Communication does not depend on eloquence, or whether one can package it in a sexy TED talk, but on the emotional context in which the message is being heard. People can only hear when they are leaning in, when they are ready to be educated—not when they are playing a defense strategy.

When an organization creates a product or service that is well received by the marketplace, they move from Creating (something) to Managing (success). When Microsoft created Windows 95, the leadership was gambling that it would be as accepted as well as it was. They were early Explorers. They took risks. Once successful, their business changed from exploring, to managing the gold. They have managed the gold for almost twenty years. Now Google is Exploring (with services like Google Docs) and Microsoft has to decide if they want to get back into exploring or to continue managing the gold. Microsoft has proven to be one of the single most effective machines in terms of maximizing delivery of revenue in the market. There is almost nobody better in the world at that one skill. But that is no longer the business they are in.

Among all of the principles of innovation and leadership discussed, the primary qualities that help leaders and organizations remain resilient to change are fast, incremental, experimentation of new information and the ability to effectively manage short- and long-term change. For the last twenty years (in particular the last ten), experimentation has not been as important as skillful management. Protection of the gold (increasing share and user penetration) was more important than exploring and learning where the market was headed. But now, those who can explore a fast-changing environment and do it nimbly are winning. There is now a demand for more Explorers.

Much like IBM in the 1990s, Microsoft is at a crossroads where it needs to hear this message of experimentation and openness. They have not utilized that muscle themselves in a long time. Perhaps they could acquire companies that are market leaders (as they did with the original Office Suite), but bringing Explorers to a Guarding culture creates tension. Hierarchy and engaging mechanistically were once effective tools for increasing revenue by predictable means, but they are no longer in that business.

The Explorers are told to guard the gold, and they develop guarding skills to fit in. It is hard for them at first. They are used to being outdoors, negotiating the elements. However, they soon learn that feasting can be fun. They lose their ability and sometimes their will to shoot outside. The Explorers no longer attend informal events. Now they attend events of 10,000 people or more. They opt for scale, pomp, and circumstance. They want to be heard from the farthest mountaintops—preferably in developing countries (to expand their market share). They no longer communicate informally or directly with their users and customers. Everything goes through filters of several layers of management, and back down again, treated for correct use of logos, and prepared for formal agreements no matter how minor the message.

In essence, as they engage (with anyone) they attempt to control as many of the conditions as possible in order to create a predictable outcome. All effort has to have a return on investment. Much like trying to hit a target with a bow and arrow. An Explorer will score more often if she takes six different arrows and six different shots than if she invested in one massive bow and aimed a single massive arrow (like a large product launch in Times Square). If the target is moving, she will probably miss. But if the event is 10,000 people, and the message has to be vetted by fifteen people – she is likely shooting indoors, where there is no wind, and she understands her target. She has as many hours as she needs to aim. This is how Gold Guards shoot.

Explorers who shoot outside where the target is moving, and the wind is blowing, will shoot six arrows. The chances of shooting with the big arrow are gone because the target has moved by the time she figured out where she was going to aim. That is the kind of change happening in today’s world. The pace of business and technology is so rapid, and the short lifespans of companies are passing by so quickly, that leaders no longer have the time to spend hours aiming their arrows meticulously as they once did. With roughly a one in ten[4] chance at sustaining growth, the leader’s probability of aiming off target with a single arrow is high. Google is shooting outdoors. Time will tell if Microsoft will join them.

Appendix A: Ways To Grow


Ways to Grow Matrix;The relationship between growth intentions and innovation outcomes organizations are seeing. Incremental, evolutionary, and revolutionary outcomes require different approaches and expectations for results (Brown, 2009). 

Appendix B: Operationalization of ICM Model


Operationalization of ICM Model

Appendix C: Disruption Continuum


Protection-Growth Continuum


  • [1] A family of computer models is said to be compatible if certain software that runs on one of the models can also be run on all other models of the family. The computer models may differ in performance, reliability or some other characteristic. These differences may affect the outcome of the running of the software.
  • [2]Interoperability is the ability of making systems and organizations to work together (inter-operate) for the purposes of information exchange.
  • [3] For the purposes of this paper the two categories of change addressed will be referenced as first-order and second-order change.
  • [4] Zook & Allen, 2001; Foster & Kaplan, 2011; Jim Collins, 2001; Olson, 2008


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 About the Author

Christine Haskell is a leadership coach and consultant based in Seattle, WA. She works with executives and leadership teams to think about the similarities in behaviors that exist between how people protect their business and how they think about innovating it. Such bias can be limiting. A doctoral candidate, she is looking to work with organizations on research projects related to this topic.

Occupy The System: An Integral Perspective on Leading Through Social Change

Learner Papers


Eric Reynolds

[This is a revised version of a paper submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for a PhD seminar, Integral Leadership, offered at Saybrook University by Russ Volckmann in the Fall 2012. The assignment was to bring an integral lens to three articles on leadership that were not required reading for the course. – Ed.]


Leadership and the theoretical body of knowledge around it, like all things, is evolving. The days of leadership being thought of as the sole purview of the elite few are coming to a close, as the collective begins to realize the transformative power it has been giving up simply because that seems to be the way things have always been done. As humanity collectively shifts its attention from what “is” and begins to creatively respond to what is possible, leadership ceases to be the focal point of power. It is now the active process of coming together, the process of relating and acting towards a common purpose, complexifying with intent and cohering with compassion.

Occupy The System: An Integral Perspective on Transformative Leadership

Mark Edwards (2010) defines Integral Theory as

a theory of perspectives. Developed by American philosopher Ken Wilber, [it] states that there are at least five “irreducible” elements in any phenomenon: quadrants, levels, lines, states, and types… Quadrants refer to the four basic perspectives one can take on any phenomenon: subjective, intersubjective, objective, and interobjective, commonly referred to by their pronouns, “I,” “We,” “It,” and “Its.” The other four elements—levels, lines, states, and types—arise in each of the four quadrants. Excluding any one of these elements, results in a less comprehensive understanding of that phenomenon. (3)

Integral Theory, and Wilber’s AQAL model, which refers to all quadrants and all lines, as well as all levels, states, and types, will be used as a framework for analyzing three current articles on various aspects of the topics of leaders, leading, and leadership. The first two articles introduce a model and a theory of leadership, while the third is an account of participatory leadership and inside out transformation of the Nova Scotia public healthcare system. This paper, alongside a reframing of leadership, examines whether these articles address all quadrants, all lines, etc., if so in what way, and ultimately, to what, if any, effect.

Leaders, Leading, and Leadership: What’s the Difference?

There is a movement, though not yet particularly noticeable in the mainstream, towards an increasingly differentiated interpretation of the concepts evoked by the words leaders, leading, and leadership than has been in the literature of leadership over the past decades, and even centuries.  There is certainly no lack of leadership theories. As Donna Ladkin (2011)  inRethinking Leadership notes, “Situational leadership, trait-based leadership, transformational leadership, distributed leadership, servant leadership, collaborative leadership, shared leadership, charismatic leadership, authentic leadership – the list goes on and on” (15). And yet, in focusing on the leader as the unit of leadership, they tend to “[collapse] ‘leadership’, a collective process that encompasses not only leaders but also their followers and the context in which they come into contact, into ‘leaders’, an individually-based unit of analysis” (5). In other words, leadership research tends to focus on “those in charge” while missing the bigger picture of the underlying patterns and relationships of which those labeled “Leader” are only a small part.

This paper uses a distinction between leader and leadership that is contained in the following quote by Alfonso Montouri (2010), from the ReVision article “Transformative Leadership for the 21st Century: Reflections of the Design of a Graduate Leadership Curriculum”, such that leadership is

not merely the function of the characteristics of a lone individual, but occurs in, and in fact arguably can said to be, a network of interactions in a context. A leader can be a nexus, a systemic attractor, a catalyst, a facilitator; a leader can push or pull, but always in the context of a set of relationships. (5)

In other words, leadership is not so much a phenomena resulting specifically from the actions of those in formal lead roles, as it is the observable meta-phenomena of groups negotiating the complex exchange and synthesis of memetic, somatic, ecological, environmental and other types of information at roughly 40 million bits per second per person in the attempt to find balance and coherence within a multitude of seemingly conflicting needs, desires, and perspectives. Given the complexity of a single human being’s psychological make-up, the plethora of roles a person must assume on a given day, the many varying and often competing affiliations one has, and the increasing pace and complexity of modern life, any definition of leadership that does not consider these other variables is myopic, at best.

In this context, then, to lead would be the act of anything that facilitates leadership. Eric Reynolds (2012), in defining transformative leadership and the characteristics of a transformative leader in the human sense, implies that being such a leader is less an act of getting somewhere and more a mode of coactively synergizing with what is wanting to collectively emerge.

Transformative leadership implies an understanding and an acceptance of the fact that the world is in flux at all times, and that there are near infinite factors which come together to create reality as we perceive it. A Transformative Leader is able to look past form and beyond current paradigms, consider new models, and be open to new ways of doing things, even if the outcome is unknown. He or she can identify alternative future narratives which will mobilize people towards greater cooperation and purpose. By remaining true to the essence of this vision, while being malleable as to its ultimate form, a Transformative Leader is able to incorporate feedback at all levels, broadening the vision appropriately. The idea then becomes a movement, and takes on a life of its own. (4-5)

Indeed, this very distinction is the sort of understanding which emerges from using a meta-theoretical perspective like Integral Theory to consider multiple layers and perspectives of a given topic. A leader, then becomes anyone or anything which can “mobilize… towards greater cooperation and purpose”, regardless of position, power, or even form from a traditional standpoint.

Epoch of Transformation: An Interpersonal Leadership Model for the 21st Century

Nick Ross, BA, FRSA, (2012) opens the paper titled as above in the Integral Leadership Reviewwith the following from the abstract “Existing and emergent global challenges are placing ever greater demands on leadership today. In order to meet those challenges more effectively, there is a growing need for leaders to overcome the limitations of existing ways of thinking and operating” (2). Ross argues that this ability is correlated with the psychological health of the leader. In terms of the four quadrants of the AQAL model, his claim is that the internal psychological development of a leader has a great deal to do with the leader’s ability to address the complexity and ambiguity of today’s global environment, giving one the necessary cognitive, emotional, somatic and, dare I say, spiritual development to lead in such times.

The central argument of this paper rests on the following assumption: that the ability to reconcile the tension between a leader’s external and inner worlds is fundamental to 21st century leadership development (Jironet xiii)… It is the capacity to find alignment, coherence, and a dynamic harmony within and between these inner and outer states that reflects the leader’s capacity for greater mental complexity. The ability to self-organise across an array of mental states towards high levels of effectiveness is critical for today’s leader. (Ross, 2)

Ross, under the subheading Interpersonal Leadership, provides two important distinctions as to what he means by this term. First, he recognizes that each of us “is made up of a multiplicity of selves or states” (3). Who we are in a given situation has everything to do with the context of the situation, the roles we identify with, and our personal experience. The term also “references the principle of collaboration between diverse disciplines across an array of fields, leading towards more integrated and complex levels of understanding among individuals, groups and organizations. Interpersonal leadership invites diversity of thought and experience” (3).

Ross’s model essentially separates the conscious states that a leader needs to be able to successfully navigate in “increasingly nuanced, integrated, and aligned ways” in order to have the greatest effect on the system into four quadrants (Q1 – Q4), each of which invites the leader to respond to one of the corresponding questions, or mediations: Q1 What can I achieve? Q2 Who am I? Q3 What am I? Q4 How can I serve?

Executive development within this framework can be understood as the capacity to respond to each question in increasingly nuanced, integrated, and aligned ways. This is state integration according to Siegel. Evolution means alignment between states and towards ever higher purposes, whilst development refers to the conscious and intentional capacity to access and exit from the different states as context demands. (10)

These states are also specifically access points between the internal and external environment, and the personal and transpersonal selves. In other words, the more facility one gains with moving in and out of these various states – given the context of the situation, or the better one becomes at adapting one’s ways of being, knowing, doing, and relating to who or what is in front of them, and whether they need to be tuning into the physical or more subtle layers of the dynamic – the greater one is able to facilitate leadership, i.e. lead.

It may be beneficial to recap, as the traditional and emergent meanings of the memetic metaphor called “leadership” easily co-mingle, and the new can become lost in one’s resonances with the old. It is a “natural” reaction, conditioned by thousands of years of practice, to read the above and immediately interpret it as mostly, if not only, relevant to those people “in charge”, while being largely irrelevant to “everybody else”. The main point being elucidated here is that the herd moves in relation to the herd, no matter which cow has the L for Leader stamped on his forehead. As the whole herd begins to realize this, as well as gain quality, facilitated access to the appropriate hard and soft technologies for development, it will evolve.

Complexity Leadership Theory: An Interactive Perspective on Leading in Complex Adaptive Systems

Lichtenstein, et al., in the above titled 2006 article, capture the need for their theory quoting Heckscher as follows:

There is a growing sense that effective organizational change has its own dynamic, a process that cannot simply follow strategic shifts and that is longer and subtler than can be managed by the insights of many people trying to improve the whole, and it accumulates, as it were, over long periods. (1)

They also more fully define this concept of leadership as a product “of interactions among agents… leaders in the formal sense can enable the conditions within which the process occurs, but they are not the direct source of the exchange” (1).

Central to their theory, building on this concept of leadership as a series of interactions, is the concept of adaptive leadership, which occurs not by “getting followers to follow the leader’s wishes; rather, leadership occurs when interacting agents generate adaptive outcomes” (4). In human terms, then, an adaptive leader recognizes that organizational structures are not simple outpourings of some corporate designer, but are in effect “events… held together and regulated in dense, circular, lengthy strands of causality perceived by members” (p. 4). Interestingly, this evokes a parallel in the work of Steven Rose from his 2005 book The Future of the Brain: The Promise and Perils of Tomorrow’s Neuroscience, when delineating the process in which memories and other functional systems in the brain are held together. You see, “systems do not exist in the brain in abstract; they are called into play by actions, and are as transient and dynamic as the actions themselves” (163).

Traditional leadership theories purport to have the ability to assess a leaders’ likelihood of achieving specific “results” by adopting said theories. The core understanding, both of complexity theory generally, and complexity leadership in this context, however, is thateverything, including this ephemeral concept of leadership, is an emergent property, a “something” more complex than the sum of its parts and technically inexplicable without expanding another holonic order of complexity to explain it.

By focusing on how leadership may occur in any interaction, this new perspective dramatically expands the potential for creativity, influence, and positive change in an organization. More than simplistic notions of empowerment, this approach encourages all members to be leaders – to “own” their leadership within each interaction, potentially evoking a much broader array of responses from everyone in an organization (8). Whereas leadership research has been focused on durable, distinctive properties of entities, a complexity-inspired model of leadership in events presents an alternative conceptual framework, based in relationships, complex interactions, and influences that occur in the “space between” individuals. (9)

Again, the implications here cannot be overstated. In an already complex and rapidly complexifying environment, the predictive potential and overall ability of the collective to respond as a whole to calamity, let alone emergent potential, can be far more effectively leveraged by addressing the average level of development of the group. This is an operational given for corporate middle management and higher, which is where the majority of the market, and hence research focus, for “leadership development” still rests. Team building and executive development programs abound for this reason, and yet the traditional mindset fails to see the transformative power of transferring these practices to “those being led”.

System Change through People Power: A Look at How the Nova Scotia Public Health Care System Transformed from the Inside Out.

This final article by Alan Moore (2012) is a short description, not of an academic theory, but of an inspiring example of theory being put aside in favor of what Moore refers to as participatory leadership. He describes a process in which “public health practitioners and others are co-designing solutions to challenge organizational issues” (p. 1). Janet Braunstein Moody, the director of the Nova Scotia heath care system, “describes the process as initiating, sensing, ‘presencing,’ creating, and evolving, where the defining purpose of he organization and how the work is done is supported by intensive collaborative practices” (1).

The results are in. Better decision making, greater commitment, individual growth, and more agility have been measured as a result of Moody’s commitment to a holistic leadership approach. This is an example of what Moore (2012) refers to as the Human-OS, a human centric operating system. “Upgrading our world and our enterprises to a human-centric operating system (OS) offers us greater opportunity, freedom, empowerment, mutualism, diversity, efficiency, independence, and even beauty” (3).

It is important to note that no miracles were needed and no outside experts could be entrusted with, or given credit for, this shining example of what can be. Indeed, Moody seems to be operating on a very simple premise, which practically speaking is the whole point of this paper. She didn’t need to hire external consultants, or fix major problems, or even train her people differently. She “simply” needed to allow them to mix and share in new ways, to facilitate the communication and co-mixing of the embodied yet culturally buried brilliance of the beings who make up the health care system.


Theories are important, as they inform our understanding and give us the tools to respond with increasing fidelity to all. However, as is evidenced by the case study in Nova Scotia, at some point theory must be set aside for the messier but far more dynamic and interesting process of doing something, perhaps now more than ever. However, if there is anything to be learned from these theories, it might be that we all need to jump in, but with our eyes wide open and our senses alert to possibilities that are beyond our current imagination, though they be the natural outgrowth of the mixing of our collective creative juices.

In support of this I offer a final quote to conclude from an article by Russ Volckmann (2002), from the archives of the Integral Leadership Review, entitled “Leadership System Change: It’s an Evolutionary Process – Integral Leadership, Part 15.”

…in order to develop, leadership systems must have individuals engaged in self-management practices, attunement with the leadership culture, and engagement with other individuals. The boundary spanning dynamics of these activities will promote leadership system evolution… The leadership system is an organic, messy, quantum phenomenon that is unpredictable. It lives and evolves in an unpredictable environment. Consequently, our approach to leadership development in an organization requires a process approach.


  • Edwards, M. (2010). Organisational transformation for sustainability: An integral metatheory.  New York, NY: Routledge.
  • Ladkin, D. (2010). Rethinking Leadership. Northampton, MA: Edward Elgar
  • Lichtenstein, B., Uhl-Bien, M., Marion, R., Seers, A., Douglas, J. & Schreiber, C. (2006). Complexity leadership theory: An interactive perspective on leading in complex adaptive systems. ECO, 8(4), pp. 2-12.
  • Moore, A. (2012, September 20). System change through people power: A look at how Nova Scotia public health care system transformed from the inside out. [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://www.ssireview.org/blog/entry/system_change_through_people_power
  • Rose, S. (2005). The future of the brain: The promise and perils of tomorrow’s neuroscience. New York, NY: Oxford University Press
  • Ross, N. (April, 2012). Epoch of transformation: An interpersonal leadership model for the 21stCentury – Part 1. Integral Leadership Review. Retrieved from http://integralleadershipreview.com
  • Volckmann, R. (May, 2002). Feature article: leadership system change: It’s an evolutionary process – Integral leadership, part 15. Integral Leadership Review. Retrieved from http://integralleadershipreview.com

About the Author

Eric Reynolds, M.A., lives in Rohnert Park, CA with his amazing wife and two inspiring daughters. He is currently pursuing a PhD in Organizational Systems at Saybrook University, with an emphasis on Leadership in Sustainability. An executive coach, social business consultant, and career counselor, his greatest passion is catalyzing change. His particulars can be found at creativecatalysis.com.

Interpreting Along the Deckled Edge: The Artist’s Place in Leadership

Learner Papers

Life is—or has—meaning and meaninglessness. I cherish the anxious hope that meaning will preponderate and win the battle. (Jung, 1998, p. 359).


Diane Meyer

Art reflects the soul of humanity, its beauty, dissonance, and struggle. We can’t imagine our world without art. But artists, unless they have received the acknowledgement of the great museums, are not considered for any essence of wisdom or reflection within the high-rise architecture of the corporate world. Today more than ever the artist stands in the margins of all that is valued in our culture in terms of worthwhile and compensation-worthy work, as art programs are cut from school curriculums, galleries continue to close in a depressed economy. Although electronic media can produce exciting images and products, the understanding of the unique process of art-making and the value of artistic translation and integration is lost. The artist’s value to society and therefore the artist’s value to leading and leadership is increasingly overlooked.

It seems that every day a new leadership guru is born with new buzzwords, acronyms and formulas for leading in complex environments, yet we still do not know the magic formula to get it consistently right.

[T]he tireless teaching of leadership has brought us no closer to leadership nirvana than we were previously; . . . we don’t have much better an idea of how to grow good leaders, or of how to stop or at least slow bad leaders, than we did a hundred or even a thousand years ago. . .(Kellerman, 2012, p. xiv)

But there is an art to leading and those who can actually steer these great ships must be comfortable with innovation, interdisciplinary language, and relationships. They need to be capable of seeing from a multidimensional perspective. Integral leadership provides the fluency to draw connections and build bridges between unconventional processes. After thirty-five years navigating between two worlds, as a painter/art educator and a variety of roles in the healthcare industry, the pieces are beginning to fit together. Now more than ever as we reconnect with the art of leading and integral leadership, it is time to dust off the artist and invite creativity to the table.

Defining the artist’s place in leading Corporate America enlists a creative process in itself, an orchestration of many different disciplines. In the harmony and blending of these voices, much like colors on a canvas, we find the heart and soul of integral leadership. Through deep understanding of Potentiating Arts™  (McCaslin & Snow, 2012), transformational learning (Mezirow, 2000), “congruous autonomy” (Scott, 2002), human motivation and creativity (Fox, 2005), and others, we offer wholeness to the organization and the individual in a comfortable space to conceive, explore, evolve, and celebrate.

As these elements move into the intention of leading, an artist begins the integration and the introduction through the process of wonder, and wondering. Wonder is a word that has deep roots in my childhood. As I sit with wonder I am aware of an innocent openness and excitement. It is a word with many subtle meanings as well as profoundly archetypal meanings. When something is referred to as ‘a great wonder of the world’ wonder gives substance, weight and meaning to the age of our existence. In this context, wonder is both question and answer, certainty and uncertainty. Wonder is a word that from my own experience leads to divinely powerful transformation. Wonder secures mystery and amazement as valued tenets toward human self-recognition. It is wonder that sparks genius.

I know epistemologically that as one evolves as an artist one engages in transformative life processes through wonder. As an artist myself, through time the actual processes became my greatest frontier of discovery. It was within the creative process that I found ways to access inner wisdom; it was within my creative process where I found the urgings to become, to question, to look farther. Those who live with both feet in the corporate world seek much of the same transformative cultivations, yet they lack the knowledge of creative language to make the safe passage. The boat is at the dock, but they are still trying to understand water. The artist can offer the integrative element that activates blending of leadership styles, mindsets, values, and abilities; influence the receptive field and catalyze synchronicity within the great corporate brain. The artist can imagine and persuade openings, find places for the obsolete and the extreme. The artist is most capable of mining the true wisdom of an organization.

“Wisdom begins with wonder” (Plato, 155d). McCaslin and Snow (2012) honor that deep connection between wonder and creativity when they write that:

Perhaps this declaration is the most intimate reflection of Socrates’ character and was his philosophy. Perhaps he understood that when nothing was certain all things remained possible. He kept his eye on the possible as he was full of wonder. To be full of wonder, to be wonder-full, is what it means to be a potentiator. When we are wonder-full nothing possible escapes our perception. When we are wonder-full we see as the gardener sees; we see bounty in a seed. When we are wonder-full human potential and therefore the Potentiating Arts™ become our purpose. (McCaslin & Snow, 2012)

I would reach further by saying to be wonder-full is to be full of creator, or creativity. Interestingly the marine god Thaumas, whose name means “miracle” or “wonder” fathered Iris the goddess of the rainbow, messenger from heaven. This perfectly illustrates the origins of wonder coming from the heavens, and communicated by way of creativity, color, and diversity.

Within the integral leadership ensemble, the harmonic voices carry the keys of potential, learning, evolution, and creativity to name a few. Jack Mezirow offers a definition of learning, “Learning is understood as the process of using a prior interpretation to construe a new or revised interpretation of the meaning of one’s experience as a guide to future action” (Mezirow, 2000, p. 5). We must wonder before we construe. Wonder stands at the trailhead of possibility and expansion.  Ken Wilber (2000) refers to the proximate self in ego development and makes the comparison of ego structure to “waves of being and knowing” (p. 35) in a process that moves to identify with and consolidate, transcend and disidentify, then include and integrate into the next level. In other words, as we rise to one platform we are reaching for the next. And if one were to consider the internal culture within a corporation as an arrival of being, it then follows that what took this long to evolve must now reach for transcendence.

Mezirow’s concepts of transformative learning can be used to understand the integration within any internal culture (individual or communal) because, “Adults have acquired a coherent body of experience—assumptions, concepts, values, feeling, conditioned responses—frames of reference that define their world” (Mezirow, 2000, p. 288). As we age the potential for transformation deepens and may be experienced as a “quickening” as the transformative mechanism evolves from the fertile ground of that coherent body of experience. The point where a “revision of meaning” takes place from a creative perspective may be influenced by certain environmental factors such as freedom to wonder, assistance in integration, or age of the individual.

Mezirow believes that the journey of transformation is proving to be more individual and recursive. It is in this recursiveness, I believe we find a smaller mirror, the creative flow model (Csikszentmihalyi, 1997, p. 31). These process paradigms may be sister paradigms where Mezirow views the wheel of transformation on a larger scale, Csikszentmihalyi defends transformation in the minor tasks with each movement into flow. Here again we meet the artist as interpreter or catalytic force. Mezirow parallels the creative flow process in the journey toward creative transformation, or these might actually be the same processes where knowledge becomes medium. Mezirow claims:

The journey of transformation needs to be explored in everyday situations, looking at the process of change over a number of years. This long-term perspective could, for example offer understanding about regression that might follow the transformative process. Also, it would provide a window into how the individual is acting on his or her life differently in response to the transformative experience. (Taylor in Mezirow, 2000, p. 292)

The confines of our current knowing though comfortable at first at the subconscious level seem to set these states of being (relaxation, boredom and apathy) into anxiety as they soon begin to resonate as unfulfilling (Csikszentmihalyi, 1997, p. 30). Anxiety motivates us to peek around the corner, to wonder, and what follows is what Mezirow refers to as “disorienting dilemma”. For a perspective to be built and set up for transformation one must live in an egoistic place for an indefinite period of time. This is what Mathew Fox would refer to as the buildup of heart (Fox, 2005) and a preparatory phase to face anxiety, adversity, life crisis, or major life transition, and that disorienting dilemma. Can it be that a corporation as an entity would spend great periods living in that egoistic place, building up heart, and now must face anxiety, adversity, crisis, disorientation, and finally transformation? My sense is that if this is so, then we are exactly where we need to be in the evolutionary scale. Therefore, though these may be the worst of times, all is truly well. The artist is native in any ethos where a creative process is either stunned by disorienting dilemma, or completely in flow.

Creative processes continue to be examined, scrutinized, and defined and there are many versions of this. Among the musicians and one of the first to define a creative model is Graham Wallas. Wallas narrowed the creative process to four stages: preparation, incubation, illumination, and verification (Auh, 2000, p. 4). Comparatively, John Kratus (Auh, 2000, p. 5) in 1989 clarified a four-stage process as exploration, development, repetition, and silence (p. 4). Artistic image-making processes have been reduced to two primary processes by Galenson & Jensen (2001) as “conceptual execution” and “aesthetically-motivated experimental” (p. 34). It would seem reasonable however, that creativity as an entity would not follow a familiar path over and over again and could not be confined to one set process. Why we endeavor to capture such an elusive bird has destructive implications. We know there is process at the essence of creativity and perhaps that should be enough.

Looking at the Creative Brain: Enter the Artist, Stage Right

Only since the late twentieth century has neuroscience been studied to the extent that it has, and yet the neural basis of creativity rarely considered. Creativity exists in every one of us. Every day we are forming new thoughts, assumptions, ideas, or conclusions. We think of new ways all the time to dress, decorate, or relate.  But there is such a thing as extraordinary creativity and we are yet to discover how one who is extraordinary, like Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart or Friedrich Kekule, pattern thoughts and acquire brilliant revelation.

Some theories state that these extraordinary people have enlarged neural processes, or an enriched variant of ordinary creativity that might fluctuate and increase at different times of day or periods of life. We do know that high “creatives” describe mental activities that are anything but ordinary and neural processes that are uncommon and different qualitatively as well as quantitatively.

Before the 1950’s there was little known about the creative brain. J. P. Guilford, a psychologist noted for extensive research on thinking skill and genius urged the psychological academy to begin research on creativity when he gave his 1950 Presidential Address to the American Psychological Association. At this address he brought to light the scarcity of published research on creativity and argued that creativity was not necessarily a natural result of intelligence (so assumed at the time), but came rather from an unordinary process of thinking (Andreasen, 2006, p. 24). Guilford laid out a model of thinking abilities he called “Structure of Intellect” (Barlow, 2000).  Basically he was saying that different people rely on different sources of information, more or less.

These sources included:

  • Visual information directly from the senses or from imaging
  • Auditory information directly from the senses or from images
  • Symbolic items such as words and symbols which generally convey some meaning
  • Semantic meanings often, but not always, associated with words
  • Behavioral information about the mental states and behavior of observed individuals (Barlow, 2000, p. 1)

By this model Guilford speculated that an artist might excel at processing visual information, but be poor at processing words, numbers, or other symbolic content. Just how an artist processes and prioritizes meaningful information still remains in the realm of the mystical and ethereal, but Guilford’s call to undertake studies of what he regarded as one of humanity’s most important traits: the ability to generate novel ideas (Andreasen, 2006, p. 25) attempted to pin down that trait that contributed to the advancement of culture. Guilford wanted to know if creativity was a “continuous dimension” or a “discrete category”. If we could isolate the utility, we could maximize the potential Nobel Prize winners, the great composers, architects, scientists, or painters.

My own experience as a painter and an educator of art has led me to my own conclusions on what conjures the artist from the ashes of humanity. For me it begins with an urging by life’s challenges to create, control or interpret the world through images and narratives that restructure and build a trusting utility free of abuse, restriction, limitations, and disbelief; a safe environment to engage in anxiety and challenges, meaninglessness, and disharmony. Then there is the passage and employment of this utility and a submission to that space to allow for change and transformation. From this experience follows a rest and a harvesting, a silence that allows the field to lay fallow, a time of reflection and meaning, and then wonder.

As belief systems cross pollinate, traditional leadership paradigms find their justifications diluted and ineffective. With the rise in followership and the merging of internal cultures, the old guard desperately struggles to hold on while the new generation evolves with technology further advancing the blending of beliefs and perspectives. Truths become increasingly sophisticated, ultra-faceted, and difficult to contain. With an exceptional ability to generate novel ideas combined with synchronistic abilities to integrate and restructure it would seem essential to have an artist’s mind directed toward the transformative vision of any great corporation.

The Necessary Path of Ego: Artist Lifespan Development

As student of art we were never told that art would change us. We wanted to change Art, of course to suit our ego; we wanted art to change the world. But we all thought as beginners that we had something already and all we needed was the perfect viewer or patron to validate our work. Moreover, we never fathomed that we might actually change the world by simply knowing artistic language, and then simply being.

Karen Wilson Scott (2002) contends that older adults move toward fulfillment, satisfaction, and self-actualization in challenging life pursuits. She refers to Carl Rogers for an illustration of that departure from egocentricity to authenticity.

The individual moves toward being, knowingly and acceptingly, the process which he inwardly and actually is. He moves away from being what he is not, from being a façade . . . He is increasingly listening to the deepest recesses of his physiological and emotional being, and finds himself increasingly willing to be, with greater accuracy and depth, that self which he most truly is. (Rogers, as cited in Scott, 2002, p. 262)

Artists, by way of their own means, by way of innate process will encounter creative challenges that will force the decision to continue in the face of uncertainty. Those who continue to paint, but set aside their ego, desire for adulation, and fame crosses a threshold into a spiritual maturity that has not often described in the history books (Ryken, 2006). Though I believe this transformation has always been part of the artist’s experience, artists and society have only recently had the language and freedom to articulate this phenomena, and how or where the artist progresses. In many instances this stage or “abandonment” in an artist’s life is regarded in a negative context. The artist is referred to as a “has been” or, because the projection of fame has been eliminated, she is seen as less motivated in her process. Yet, it may well be that the process itself determines direction at the time of crisis.

David Galenson, an economist, along with Robert Jensen, an art historian (2001), published an article discussing the life cycles of great masters. In this writing they examined typography of the artists’ life cycle showing the point in life when they “peak” as their most valued work was completed. They were able to observe a link between an artist’s process type and stage of notoriety to indicate if one would peak in early career versus late career. Galenson and Jensen set out to determine if there was a way to predict the significance of the artist’s work as it relates to the impact of society and ultimate value, and “the idea of making inexpensive materials the source of great wealth” (Galenson & Jensen, 2001, p. 3).

Csikszentmihalyi (1988) also suggests that art has a time and place that may be different from the artist and suggests that art should be judged in its time (p. 325). Great musicians such as Vivaldi and Bach were under-recognized in their lives only to be credited years after their death with their great contributions to the Baroque concerto (Auh, 2000, p. 7). But the ability to clear up the mystery about “when” a work of art will be impactful on the world, collected for the transformative qualities perceived and experienced by an audience, is what Marshall McLuhan leaned toward when he said, “I think of art, at its most significant, as a DEW line, a Distant Early Warning system that can always be relied on to tell the old culture what is beginning to happen to it” (cited in May, 1975, p. 23). Though it sounds like sorcery and divining the future, if understood from the perspective of divine intention, it could offer many insights on the ways society will reach forward for the sacred. Artist as prophet is not a new concept, but as May (1975) declares, “Our problem is: Can we read their meaning aright?” (p. 24). Who better than an artist to be the DEW line translator within the evolving corporate cultures?

Galenson and Jensen (2001) maintain that the key to the correlation of artists’ importance to humanity is innovation and alignment of the work with the intellect of the period. They approach their research trying to understand the association between age and innovation. Galenson and Jensen propose that the life cycles correspond to production methods (process). The two processes are: aesthetically-motivated experimentation, and conceptual execution (p. 34). Young exceptional genius artists work deductively to make conceptual changes, while the older artists work inductively and innovate experimentally. They have developed a confidence in their innate process and suspended the need to control by proceeding then in faith to allow for experimentation and engagement with something outside of themselves. I might add that these are all qualities of great potentiating leaders.

Table I



Masaccio, Raphael, Picasso, and Johns Conceptual ExecutionThese artists enjoyed notoriety during their earlier years (30-40) and by the end of their lives had fallen in popularity.
Michelangelo, Titian, Rembrandt, Cezanne, and Pollock Aesthetically-Motivated ExperimentalThese artists gained a bit of recognition, but at the end of their lives were soaring.


Table II (Galenson, & Jensen, 2001, p. 34)



Artist’s age in year of median illustration

Age in single year with most illustrations

Conceptual Execution

















Experimental Innovators





















Note: n is the total number of illustrations of each artist’s work in the book surveyed.

For the Experimental Innovators their work becomes more spiritual in their processes. As Vincent van Gogh wrote, “Art is something greater and higher than our own adroitness or accomplishments or knowledge; … art is something which although produced by human hands, is not created by these hands alone, but something which wells up from a deeper source in our souls” (van Gogh, 1958, pp. 399-400). Van Gogh understood the task he was given to interpret the deeper evolutionary messages. He only sold one painting in his life; the value of his work (over 900 paintings total) came after his death in 1890.

One could go so far as to conclude that the experimental artist, while being assisted in divine conversation, is being guided as an interpreter of God, God creating art for the future, in the artist of current time, mind, and heart. This might explain why van Gogh’s work became and continues to be so powerful long after his death.

Galenson and Jensen (2001) believe strongly that age, spiritual maturity or a lifetime of experience with minimal or slow rising in fame change the artist in such a way that they develop an inner strength, wisdom, faith and knowing in their late years. The experimental artist can start anywhere when they begin a painting. Once the painting has begun they experience their work as open to something beyond themselves in a way, they work in a frenzied fashion meeting the painting’s changes and challenges with a dialogue within the language of the painting. This artist knows when to stop when the conversation feels complete, for the moment. They also allow themselves to return to the conversation later on. They keep watch long after they have stopped painting for harmonic and disharmonic nuances.

Conceptual artists do careful renderings and diagrams in the planning stages of the work and they have an image in their mind of what a finished piece looks like. These tend to be the painters who reached notoriety early, and feel as if they must not change any part of their creative or production process. They are confined within their early rules and preconceptions. The experimenters allow for rule breaking.

Describing the late life process of an artist and the transcendent urges of this station the initial question of age really has no bearing. The evolutionary process of each artist is as individual as his or her art.  But as Wilber (2000) defines, creative emergence as “spirit-in-action”, or “God-in-the-making” (creativity being the ultimate metaphysical ground, p. 25), implies that there is prior development to be obtained before reaching that element. According to Wilber self-transcendent creativity is spirit, but one must develop a self before one can transcend. It is the self-transcendent creativity that behaves as God and requires a willingness to leave the self behind.

The creative movement, “secret impulse” referred to in Wilber (2000) understands that the evolution as it progresses toward a higher behavior moves toward inclusion, a more complex organization. With reference to holarchy, Wilber (1996, 1999, 2000) describes the system as being dependent on the lower holons. The lower holons can get along without the higher, but the higher cannot exist without the lower (Wilber, 2000, p. 32). In the system of development as an artist each leg of progress is dependent on the previous work, the previous struggle, the artist’s internal conflicts, movement toward meaning and resolution. The “secret impulse” of the artist follows Wilber’s holarchy model.

It is not that “higher” or “lower” is a value judgment but necessary steps in evolution. It takes alived life to build the lower “holons”, to follow the trail upward. This evolutionary process is described by Ervin Laszlo as “The Grand Synthesis” (as cited in Wilber, 2000, p. 35) and ultimately says that where the first level (matter) is favorable, life emerges; where life is favorable mind emerges, mind then leading to spirit. Corporations now move toward spirit as well.  This creative evolution is simply the process of transcendence. The artist is well equipped to manipulate the layering and interweaving of life experiences and personal meaning derivation, through his or her belief in personal capability and commitment to the extraordinary, enriching the fertile field now more than ever in terms of assets, or great deposits in the corporate bank of wealth.

It is in the higher levels of the holon where the whole of life’s experience comes together. Scott (2000) suggests that in later years we follow the pull of extraordinary involvement, the direction of inspiration. Scott defines this as Congruous Autonomy:

[A]n enduring, self-efficacious belief in personal capability and compelling rightness and identity, inspiring commitment to extraordinary involvement in a pursuit (rich in lifetime patterns and trends), despite sacrifice and risk, to develop one’s highest potential. (p. 257)

We are finally able to discern the voice of a divine calling after setting aside the distractions of our ego making, if possible, to do our greatest work later in life.

Carl Jung (1998) in his later life reflected on his own evolution and urgency of his transformative process.

I have had much trouble getting along with my ideas. There was a daimon in me, and in the end its presence proved decisive. It overpowered me, and if I was at times ruthless it was because I was in the grip of the daimon. I could never stop at anything once attained. I had to hasten on, to catch up with my vision. Since my contemporaries, understandably, could not perceive my vision, they saw only a fool rushing ahead. (Jung, 1998, p. 356)

He later says, “A creative person has little power over his own life. He is not free. He is captive and driven by his daimon” (p. 357). Jung understood the unfolding processes of a creative individual from early developmental stages into later life as a beckoning from what he called mana, daimon, or God.

Jung (1998) uses the word “mana” to mean an extraordinarily transformative power that comes from a person, object, action, event, supernatural beings or spirits (p. 396). Mana has the power to work magic and heal; it is a force of creativity. Especially in the healthcare industry, we must be mindful of our internal ‘mana’.

More in line with Mezirow’s belief that as we age we develop a greater potential for transformation, Abraham Maslow (1970) understood that there was a marked time in life when self-actualization occurred.

Self-actualization does not occur in young people. In our culture, at least, youngsters have not yet achieved identity or autonomy, nor have they had time enough to experience enduring, loyal, post-romantic love relationship, nor have they generally found their calling, the altar on which to offer themselves. Nor have they worked out their own system of values; nor have they had experience enough (responsibility for others, tragedy, failure, achievement, success) to shed perfectionistic illusions and become realistic; nor have they generally made their peace with death, nor have they learned how to be patient; nor have they learned enough about evil in themselves and others to be compassionate; or have they had time to become post-ambivalent about parents and elders, power, authority; nor have they generally become knowledgeable and educated enough to open the possibility of becoming wise; nor have they generally acquired enough courage to be unpopular, to be unashamed about being openly virtuous, etc. (p. xx)

To risk giving it all back, to have ‘acquired enough courage to be unpopular’, earning the label of “has-been” the self-actualized artist follows that “secret impulse” that can no longer be denied. The crucible contains the early egocentric romance, the technical development to mastery, ten thousand hours of studio time, life’s injuries, losses and joys to yield self-actualization and true authenticity.

Crisis With the Internal Culture

Tests and challenges in a creative life are reflective by and through the artist and the work. Stephen Nachmanovitch (1990) illustrates this by saying, “Creativity, like life, is a recursive process, involving interactive, interloping circuits of control and nourishment between organism and environment” (p. 186). Here is where he or she falls naturally into a corporate system.

As an artist evolves he interacts continuously with culture, the global environment, internal environment and creating environment. In this constant interaction an artist develops that language by which he or she communicates. A fusion begins to develop, as Maslow describes (1963, 1993) of person and world.

My feeling is that the concept of creativeness and the concept of the healthy, self-actualizing, fully human person seem to be coming closer and closer together, and may perhaps turn out to be the same thing. (p. 55)

With this fusion comes a greater and greater integration of self with non-self, person and world and characterizes what Maslow describes as the “creative attitude” (Germana, 2007, p. 68) where an artist becomes so integrated and joined with their artistic environment that they become “one”.

And the creative attitude which promotes a fuller, more intimate engagement in such transpersonal realms may be characterized as extending oneself beyond one’s self on behalf of that which is greater than just oneself, alone. (Maslow as cited in Germana, 2007, p. 68)

With crisis defined as a turning point, or “an unstable condition, as in political, social, or economic affairs, involving an impending abrupt or decisive change” (American Heritage Dictionary, 2009) this crisis stage for both artists and corporations leads to the development of dominant internal cultures. The internal culture and its strong role in contributing to motivations or the drive toward individuality require the distinction of the artist’s ability to interpret the internal culture.

“It seems one can pick up the art of a village through one’s bodily participation in its ceremonies” (May, 1985, p. 15). This quote speaks to the holistic and multimodal nature of culture as it connects to psychology and is further clarified by Belzen’s (2010) illustration of belief and faith when he offers the perspective of Much and Mahapatra (as cited in Belzen, 2010) that the experience in a religious cultural framework is a “socially shared illusion” (p. 50).  I would take this one step further and say that the experience in an artistic cultural framework is the same. Matsumoto (2001) contends that within the cultural psychological perspective, mind emerges in the joint mediated activity of people co-constructed and then passed on by the culture (p. 19). Culture emerges from individuals interacting with their natural and human environment. This is reflected in the art, music, architecture and literature as byproducts of this emergence.

With the understanding that mind and culture are in constant dialogue, the illusive and ever changing nature of culture comes to light. Culture is continuously developing in context and meaning as we advance as humans, and within each individual culture there exists constant change and evolution. It is in this movement toward individual culture that an artist evolves; therefore, within individual cultures evolve individuals with their own deeply personal internal cultures. The development of internal culture happens by crisis diverting the individual from external to internal in order to survive. A place free from confinement where one can give oneself to the natural process of creation (Cassou & Cubley, 1995, p. xix).

John Stuart Mill (Goldstone, 2006) believed that the ‘internal culture of the individual’ was ‘among the prime necessitate of human well-being’ (p. 1). Mill was a British philosopher, economist, moral and political theorist, and administrator. He is considered the most influential English-speaking philosopher of the 1800’s. His writings are considered among the deepest and certainly the most effective defenses of empiricism and of a liberal political view of society and culture. His father, also a philosopher, who kept him home and isolated from other children, rigidly raised Mill. Emotion was regarded with contempt; Mill was confined to an environment of extreme detachment. “I thus grew up in the absence of love and the presence of fear: and many & indelible are the effects of this bringing up, in the stunting of my moral growth” (Mill in Stillinger 1961, as cited in Goldstone, 2006, p. 2).

In Mill’s childhood there was no room for emotion. The immediate culture in which he lived was difficult, he grew to understand the value of developing his own internal culture, to turn his attention inward toward the cultivation of character. In doing this he recounted:

I found the fabric of my old and taught opinions giving way in many fresh places, and I never allowed it to fall to pieces, but was incessantly occupied in weaving it anew. I never, in the course of my transition, was content to remain, for ever so short a time, confused and unsettled. When I had taken in any new ideas, I could not rest till I had adjusted its relation to my old opinions, and ascertained exactly how far its effect ought to extend in modifying or superseding them. (Goldstone, 2006, p. 5)

Here we can tease out a faded image of the non-emotional corporate world refocusing in a way that integrates an emotional component. Mill’s account of his process of creating a new and deeply personal internal culture perfectly illustrates this experience as it would happen for both the artist and the corporation.

No human child can develop without culture. Culture seems to be intimately connected to the life force on the planet. Life force being creative force, we then understand that creativity and art are the vital essence of culture. And as large corporations invest in their internal cultures, they must be mindful of the internal creative force, and careful not to starve the culture’s artist.

Creativity existed long before humans and Fox (2005) makes the point, “[It] is not a human invention or a human power isolated from the other powers of the universe” (p. 30). Creativity is the universal energy that is activated by the provoking and prodding of life.  When we are confronted with sorrows and joys, as “deep heart” experiences (p. 45) we are broken open and made available creatively.In the words of Cassou (1995):

[T]he creative process is enough. It is not only enough, it is a doorway into a direct experience of the essential life force which is at the root of the urge to create art. It is the process itself—in the creative energy it releases, in the new perceptions it brings and in the deepened connection with oneself it fosters. (p. xviii)

In viewing culture as an ethos of an organism or organization, an outcome of process, dialogue, and emotion, it is easy to see how these dialogues flow and evolve outward into the art and symbols that are reflected within the indigenous environment. Returning to the concept of a socially shared illusion, a vision of visions (Belzen, 2010, p. 50), and emerging from history and narrative, I am tempted to envision the comparative analogy of a painting environment to the corporate environment. Each stroke of paint, containing color, weight, and emotion builds up the surface until a culture, in a sense, is compiled. Within that environment a dialogue takes place, stroke responding to stroke, artist to image and memories, and emotion to human spirit.

It is the dialogue between culture and emotion that is the essence of integral leadership and externally expressed in creative inquiry to create further dialogue. Within these dialogues we examine nature of beauty and the essence of the human spirit. Maja Rode (2000) offers that “It is our willingness to continue asking, to continue inquiring that provides the fertile ground for these repeated, deepening insights” (70). Our concept of beauty evolves with culture and human emotion through our willingness. Said practically, the artist consults his inner culture and his external culture, history, beliefs, and individual and shared emotions when he attempts to translate, interpret and negotiate his world.


It must be said that examination and inquiry of this nature could not be possible unless the researcher has reached a point of self-actualization, though not self-actualization as a destination but an acquired language. This language tells us what lens to use, which colors off our palette, and the time we must allow for harmony, harvest, and spirit.  With regard to the success of cultures and relationships there is much remaining to chance and there is much that creativity has yet to reveal. It might be interesting to reflect on the nature of generosity-of-spirit and how this phenomenon must be engaged to fertilize the creative ground as a leader. Impoverished attitudes within the corporate walls are the Achilles heel to any creative language, or transformative efforts.

One might argue that since self-actualization can occur on its own, perhaps the advancement of a corporation toward transformation would naturally follow. I believe for this natural process to take place we need the artist’s mind and heart, and their fluency in the languages of chance and change – a sage in every native sense to integral leadership.

I am certain of nothing but of the holiness of the Heart’s affections and the truth of the Imagination – What the imagination seizes as Beauty must be truth – whether it existed before or not – for I have the same idea of all our passions as of love: they are all, in their sublime, creative of essential beauty. John Keats (Letter to Benjamin Baily, November 22, 1817)


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About the Author

Diane Meyer, MA, is a doctoral student at Sofia University (formerly Institute of Transpersonal Psychology) Graduate School of Transpersonal Studies where she is researching transformation through the creative process. Diane holds a Master of Arts degree in counseling and psychology from Prescott College, Prescott, Arizona, and a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in studio art from The University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona. Meyer has also been a professional artist since 1975 and has shown nationally in many prestigious galleries. Her watercolor paintings are housed in over 25 distinguished corporate and museum collections. Diane Meyer has been an art educator since 1983 teaching painting, drawing and design at Pima Community College, Tucson. Since 1979 she has worked in the healthcare industry providing education and organizational development. For more information: www.dianemeyerart.com, dlucyart@msn.com.

Inca Wisdom and Integral Theory

Learner Papers 

Part One: Inca Quadrants Similar to Those of Ken Wilber’s Integral Theory



Giorgio Piacenza Cabrera

The four dimensions that combine to form the quadrants in Integral Theory are the Individual, Plural, Interior and Exterior. These quadrants are similar to the main dimensions defining the Quechua-Andean quadrants. Like Integral Theory, these dimensions also complement each other vertically and horizontally. This is to be expected as external elements symmetrically placed above, below and on both sides naturally relate geometrically in this way. They represent conceptually similar concepts as those represented in Integral Theory. As such, could a pre-modern culture come up with an integral concept?

In the Andes, the areas or quadrants generated by the four directions and/or dimensions ofHanan, Urin/Uku, Allauca and Ichoq generate what are called suyus. Suyus are defined as regions to inhabit. The political division of the Inca Empire attempted to follow this model. These suyus are populated by elements of the Quechua mythical cosmos and its cosmovision, or worldview and are thought to relate diagonally. This is unlike the quadrant relationships in Integral Theory. We could find ways to relate our IT quadrants diagonally, however. The important idea is to relate complementary opposites that had mirror-like, complementary symmetry, or parity. Thus, a mirror-like relation is perceived between the Quechua quadrants orsuyus.

The Andean people in general have a very old concept pertaining to the existence of Pachas – three worlds. These worlds refer more to experiential times than to permanent spaces and relate in a Tinkuy (tense encounter) through the present world of experience. These worlds exist simultaneously but are also potential to each other, unless directly experienced in our “present” experience. Complementary principles were paramount in the Andean cosmovision. The cosmovision emphasized relationships of reciprocity in which tensional encounters took place.

The higher world of abstract ideas, (often confused with the Catholic Heaven) Hanan Pacha, relates with the lower world of instinct, Uku Pacha, through the present world of experience Kay Pacha. Humans can creatively officiate in this relationship and participate in the order of worlds. While Urin or Uku Pacha is the future world to be, Hanan Pacha is usually conceived as the world that gave the higher abstract principles. Urin is related with the underground, the multiple, and the hidden, while Hanan is related with the sky, the unifying, the past, and the clear or luminous.

Social encounters and relations as well as personal and communal human relations with nature and the spirit worlds were often performed ritualistically under the concepts of Yanantin andMasintinYanantin refers to an ideal encounter of perfect reciprocity as among complementary opposites that cannot exist without each other nor exist without each other. This encounter is harmonious but retains differences, thus is tensional. It is said to generate not only four suyus but also be related by a fifth magical-spiritual center called Chaupi, a center that we may compare to the dual and complementary Greek elements of Fire/Water” and Earth/Air. It could relate with quintessence, a fifth point or direction from which the living energy, Kawsay, flows and vivifies everything. In Western and Indo-European mystical terms, we might say that it is related with an inexpressible Non Dual Source that not only relates but transcends and includes opposites. In other words, the central point where the quadrants converge is considered a source of life. This good source is sometimes called Allin Kawsay because all Life flowing from it, even within duality, is considered to be good. However, it is said that this central point can also invisibly generate the possibility of empowering a hidden enemy, adversary, or challenger because, under the idea of complementary opposites and of parity, everything that exists has its opposite. Nonetheless, in the natural order, the living energy itself is always good and refined in itself and at its source. Only humans are capable of turning it into a denser, although not necessarily evil kind of energy called Hucha.

Trans-level Principles

How can the Quechua quadrants possibly relate with Integral Theory if the Quechua people were not a post postmodern society? First, we must recognize that there were more learned, wise men than the bulk of society among the Quechua and that some universal truths may have emerged in a sui generis way among people whose rituals worked around with what we now call complementary opposites. Just thinking about complementarities may give rise to the same general quadratic ideas. It may be a cognitive level recognition; nevertheless, the manner in which the dimensions that form the quadrants are described as a universal, integral metaphysical realization combined with a particular cultural interpretation.

Perhaps there were concepts that came close to some from Ken Wilber’s Integral Theory; as well as some other unrecognized disclosures made by the Quechua. These concepts and disclosures could add to Integral Theory, as in their pre-modern style they may have also unveiled other universals, which current theorists may be overlooking. Here I’m focusing on the main structural element upon which the Integral Theory framework is built: The Quadrants. I’m not considering lines of development or stages, as it seems that concepts did not exist and really came to the world’s attention in modern Western cultures. In fact, the Quechua were known for their cyclical approach to life as many other pre-modern cultures. They may have developed a unique, intuitive and moderately conceptual (but living and applicable) perception of the Integral Quadrants  – thesuyus –  and also of the four main dimensions of life recognized in Integral Theory.

  Quechua Holon

The Quechua “holon” with its four “Suyus” looking out from its own perspective Contents of the “Suyos” and Parity Symmetries (following the arrows)

Quechua holon contents

These resulting quadrants/suyus are described under a divinatory significance in relation to the concepts of Hanan and Urin. While Hanan is considered “above” and “superior”,pertaining to an abstract world and its power, Urin is considered “below” and “inferior”, pertaining to an instinctive world and its power. Nevertheless, Urin is as necessary as Hanan as they need one another for each to be.

The combination of Hanan (above) and Allauca (right) is considered a very positive “Hanan-Hanan” suyu. The combination of Hanan and Ichoq (left) is considered a positive “Hanan-Urin” suyu. The combination of Urin and Allauca is considered a negative “Urin-Hanan” suyu. The combination of Urin and Ichoq is considered a very negative “Urin-Urin” suyu. While much knowledge has been lost and we need further research to uncover further distinctions among the surviving Quechua who maintain the traditions, it would be interesting to consider whether assigning relatively positive and negative qualities to the quadrants/suyus would in some way be applicable to an interpretation of quadrants in Integral Theory.

Another detail to recall is that the quadrants/suyus relate diagonally in order to maintain a mirror-like symmetry of complementary opposites. If we could validly extrapolate this to Integral Theory the Subjective Quadrant (Interior-Individual) it would diagonally relate with the Inter-Objective Quadrant (Exterior-Plural) and the Objective Quadrant (Exterior-Individual) would relate with the Inter-subjective Quadrant (Interior-Plural). The symmetries are more readily perceivable by considering the dimensions that combine to form the quadrants. Perhaps the Quechua had an understanding that also applies to the quadrants as we know them but have not developed.

In a previous exploration of the possible Quechua-Andean “Integral Quadrant” (http://www.integralworld.net/piacenza5.html)  I considered that Yanantin, or the relational identity of opposites, might represent the Individual Dimension. I also considered that Masintin, the similarity of that which is diverse, as a possible representative of the Plural Dimension. This would mean that Hanan is equivalent to Yanantin  – that the superior, the abstract, is equivalent to the ideal relation of the identity of opposites. It would also mean that Urin is equivalent toMasintin. That is, the lower, plural, chaotic and instinctive are equivalent to the similitude of the diverse, In spite of their emphasis upon relations and not upon the One, the Quechua thinkers of this model would have also considered, or at least intuited, that implied unity is superior to multiplicity even within a relational perspective of dualistic, living manifestation.

Relating the Four Suyus with the Quadrants”of Integral Theory

Although in the pre-modern, mythic Quechua-Andean worldview there is no radical sense of good and evil, and it is understood that opposites cannot exist without their complements, Hananhas connotations of that which is clear and superior and Urin of that which is lower, hidden and inferior. In fact, for some time, apparently, there were two ruling classes in the city of Cuzco: Those from the higher geographical area located in upper or “Hanan Q’osqo” and those from the lower geographical area located in “Urin Q’osqo.” According to chroniclers including Juan Diez de Betanzos, the first Inca rulers were from Urin families and later rulers from the Hananfamilies.

While the concepts of unity over diversity or of the Transcendental One was not stressed over that of relations in Quechua culture, it seems that it could not be altogether avoided, at least as an implicit principle. As mentioned, when joined to the word Pacha, the word Hanan also refers to a time and to a world of higher abstract principles that eventually connotes a simplification stemming from or leading to an origin that cannot be divided. This is the Quechua dimension that is placed above and seems to correspond with the integral dimension of that which is individual and without division. Contrarily, the word Urin, which relates often interchangeably, with the concept of Uku, the subterranean future time, is also related with the idea of a chaotic, instinctive, vital world that generates diversity and, in that sense, plurality.

The right side Allauca, where the rising Sun is situated inside the suyus, may conceptually relate with the word Yanan, which has the meanings of essence and that which is bright. Thus, Allaucareminds me of an interior source from which its correlated opposite is dependent. Its complementary opposite on the left side, or Ichoq. Where the Moon is situated inside the suyuswould be Yana, which means dark, dependent, or in service and can be considered to be “in love” with Yanan , It is subtle distinction but if we consider that, in spite of simultaneous correlations observed in the world of contingency, relation or manifestation, exterior objects are fundamentally dependent upon the essence of interiorities. We could think of Yana as an exterior object that reflects light but which has no light of its own. At the left side of the Inca quadrants-holon seeing from inside the diagram, we can think of it as depending upon Yanan – self-effulgent and, ultimately, its own being.

Exploring Implications

In my view, Hanan would nearly correspond to the Individual dimension, Urin to the Plural dimension, Allaucca to the Interior dimension and Ichoq to the Exterior dimension. We must understand that the correlations are not clearly stated in the way Ken Wilber inductively found them before 1995, but they seem to be present in a different ways of intuiting them. This could mean that some integral level findings are not necessarily limited to a post postmodern cultural milieu and that the universality of the basics now appreciated in the Integral Model could have been perceived and surfaced in other, even pre-modern, cultures. This would also mean that cultural and developmental stages could be so sufficiently fluid  that particular universal elements of wisdom  can be disclosed, intuited and modeled. This might also mean that some other elements of a universal wisdom, perhaps encrypted within myths, already discovered by the Quechua and by other pre-modern cultures are perhaps not being recognized as they might be missed or misinterpreted under modern, post-modern and pseudo integral, Western biases.

A very interesting symbol that could be carefully studied by integral researchers and which encodes a deep wisdom is the so-called Tawa ChakanaTawa means four and Chaka means bridge. In a way, it is a four-sided bridge that connects the three worlds. It depicts the source as an empty center. It has dual symmetry; four sides and each side with three stairs represents the three pachas or worlds also related to time. In it, different levels of reality as circles inscribe squares and levels of squares inscribe circles. Furthermore, I believe that it also relates quadrants with realms. It may connect in present day experience the Hanan ideal order with the Ukuundifferentiated chaos of emerging possibilities. It can generate a fractal image and Andean traditions. Researcher and advocate Mr. Javier Lajo shows that it also represents an Andean way to “square the circle” or, rather, to relate circle and square through proportion. Mr. Lajo (author of Qhapaq Ñan: The Inka Path of Wisdom) made a very interesting study of this symbol whose origins not only relate to the pre-Incan Tiwanaku culture but also extends more than 5,000 years into the past.

  Lajo image

Figure 1: Javier Lajo’s Image borrowed from http://www.oocities.org/MPLT_4/tawachakana.htm

  Quechua cosmovision

Figure 2: A Semi-quadratic Representation of Quechua “Cosmovision” drawn by XVII Century native American Peruvian chronicler Joan Santa Cruz Pachacuti Yamqui Salcamayhua

A large version of this drawing is found in a modern exhibit inside the popularly known “Temple of the Sun,” or the “Coricancha”, which is located in the City of Cuzco. This temple is the central site with sacred power of the Inca Empire, the Tawantinsuyu, a site from which the four suyus as well as many radiating Ceques originate.

This representation possesses upper, lower, right and left sides. The source of unspoken unity within diversity is suggested in the upper side where the supreme, and perhaps non-dual, deity called Illa Teqsi Wiracocha Pachayachachi is depicted as an ovoid shape in touch with a five-pointed cross. It was most likely originated by a Yanantin, an ideal or perfect complementary relation/identity between opposites.

The right side would correspond to Integral Theory’s left quadrants; the left side to its left quadrants but the upper side and lower sides would correlate well in both systems. Although pairs of complementary sides are depicted I think that a certain dependence of the Moon upon Sun and of implicit converging unity over multiplicity is suggested. The right side, Allauca, has the visible Sun, Inti, and the left side, -Ichoq, has the Moon, Killa. This suggests self-effulgence and dependence through reflection or the interior self-effulgent life and its dependent, object-like, exterior reflection. As shown in the Quechua ‘holon’ diagram before, there are other mythical, divinatory, cosmological elements of daily Quechua life inside the four sides/quadrants/suyus. Where the upper side suggests principles, and Wiracocha is depicted connected to a cross with quadrants, the lower side depicts the collca pata, which can be understood as a deposit of food and other products and as a network implying multiplicity.

Thinking in terms of complementary poles naturally leads to the recognition of the quadrants of existence, I investigate how else the best of traditional Andean wisdom complements Integral Theory.

Part Two: “El Buen Vivir,” Quechua Quadrants and Integral Theory


In the search for alternative voices to today’s dominant mode of global development some thinkers in Perú, Bolivia and Ecuador sought to find a regional idea that could contribute worldwide. The Buen Vivir idea is borrowed from Quechua, Aymara and Andean traditions. This idea is one of several which is being open-mindedly considered at Instituto Peruano del Pensamiento Complejo Edgar Morin (IPCEM), an institution which formed under Universidad Ricardo Palma, after Edgar Morin’s visits to Peru. The Institute is trying to reunite and integrate a wide range of non-reductionist perspectives, while incipiently becoming aware of Integral Theory.

Buen Vivir literally translates as “Good Living” but involves the practice of living virtuously or in a good relational harmony with all of Life. The words used in the Incan language, Quechua, are Sumaq KawsaySumaq means beautiful and can also refer to an ideal prototype. The wordKawsay means life but including in its meaning Life as source, beauty, mystery, cycles, flowing, spirit force, complementarity and all of its manifestations. The original people in the Andes had worldviews and social organizations based largely upon respect and reciprocity as inspired by their interpretation of Kawsay. Dr. Jorge Ichizawa, a member of IPCEM, explains more in his essay “The Concept of Buen Vivir” published in the June 2012 issue of Development Dialogue.

Sumaq Kawsay (or, Sumaq Jakaña in the Aymara language) has been recently applied to the Ecuadorian and Bolivian constitutions. Some social scientists may think the idea is only applicable to small-scale, pre-modern economies. Others, as we notice in Bolivia and Ecuador, consider it compatible with current efforts to re-interpret Marxist socialism. I believe the concept is far-reaching enough to be part of a post postmodern worldview and accompanying social systems. As the current economic and dominant cultural systems become intolerable and unviable, the human needs of practical living will gradually turn collective awareness more receptive to an integral application of Buen Vivir. However, as of today it is generally more recognized by left-wing intellectuals. Nonetheless, many intellectuals who follow the proposals of Dr. Aníbal Quijano’s work in cultural colonization are also quite receptive to suppressed, distorted and still surviving original indigenous worldviews and practices. Other intellectuals dedicated to a broad exploration of ideas include sociologist José Martínez Llaque, of Ricardo Palma University’s Department of “America Latina y la Colonialidad del Poder”, systems engineer Jorge Ichizawa Oba,and physicist-mathematician Teresa Salinas Gamero, who also serves as IPCEM’s executive director.

There also is collaboration with the Latin American Sociological Association (ALAS) and there are working agreements with United Nations University, the Regional Centre on Expertise on Education for Sustainable Development, Edgar Morin’s Association pour la Pensée Complexe,and with the California Institute of Integral Studies.

Recent left-wing regimes like the ones currently governing in Ecuador and Bolivia find it easier to incorporate the concept of Buen Vivir in their social experimentation. Leaders in these governments may or may not be inclined to learn about Integral Theoretical perspectives. They may perceive them as an extension of Eurocentric cultural and economic domination and under Marxist influence as imperialism.

Generally speaking, philosophy and social theory intellectuals in this part of the world have been more attracted to French and Euro Continental thinkers than to English and American ones. For instance, Edgar Morin was well received in Perú, Brazil and other Latin American countries. In fact, there was mutual resonance and sympathy because he seemed to be plain and willing to learn as much as to share his ideas. Furthermore, he strongly suggested that a new kind of globally-influential model, called Pensamiento del Sur (Thinking of the South), could also be born in Latin America, and he was quite clear that ancient traditions in the Andes and the Amazon held keys for that development. I believe that he is not caught in the partial modern discovery of stage-like progressions and that, because of that, he is able to recognize more plausible contributions of the once forcefully suppressed original indigenous traditions.

What should also be understood by integral theorists trying to extend their reach outside of Anglo-American interpretations of reality and into the world is that Integral Theory itself can be understood as another possible cultural voice, opposed to reductionist, industrial, political-economic systems, paradigms and worldviews that are suffocating local wisdom traditions, harmonious living and ecological health upon the planet. As Edgar Morin (Complex Thinking), demonstrated integral theorists are suited to contribute more effectively if their attitudes evolve beyond their own cultural blinders. Indications suggest that there are intellectuals in Perú willing to learn more about Integral Theory, perhaps even as much as they were willing to listen to Edgar Morin.

I’m a “bird” of several worlds. I was born in Perú and studied many years in the U.S. Now, I’m spending some time again in Perú and recently found that the outstanding and publicly involved French philosopher of complexity, Edgar Morin, recently came here twice and inspired local intellectuals to create a sui generis socio-political-cultural movement. This was well received because something had already been gestating locally and regionally.

I recently attended a conference at the Universidad Ricardo Palma in Lima. It was given by the sociologist César Germaná. In this conference I became more aware that in today’s Perú there is a small but growing resurgence of the search for a worldview that incorporates modern Western values, which transcend them by re-identifying with values that are more germane to our historical context. This means that rationality is not rejected as in a post-modern re-evaluation. What is rejected are the limitations imposed by hegemonic cultural conditioning in the realms of theory, political thinking, ontology and epistemology. Perhaps the current weakening of European and American hegemony may be reawakening this historically suppressed intellectual search, which owes much to José Carlos Mariátegui, a non-formally and non-linearly self-educated seminal thinker, who also identified as a Marxist from the first half of the Twentieth Century. According to Professor Germaná, Mariátegui proposed that Western rationalism and empiricism couldn’t apply well to Peruvian reality since they were a product of another historical context.

I learned that, aside from being a Marxist, the main thing is that Mariátegui appealed for the creation of a sui generis cultural, economic, political model – not dominated by reductionist, modern Western ideas under the epistemology of instrumental reason but in which such reason would be integrated with the recognition of a greater degree of subjectivity, myth, fantasy and relational socio-cultural coherence. Perhaps with the retreating hegemony of the Euro-American models, the search for a different integrative Peruvian theoretical voice, with the flexibility to become an integral one, will gain ascendance. I believe that a similar search will take place in other countries that are former European colonies.

An exploration of El Buen Vivir applicable to today’s world was also presented at the 2012 Earth Summit in Rio. To a great extent it refers to living in harmony with nature and with fellow humans by practicing reciprocity, through culturally sanctioned mutual service not related to commercial transactions. Self-reliance and self-government are also part of this tradition and concept, and, in fact, has been effectively practiced by indigenous Andean and Amazonian communities for centuries. Under predominantly socialist governments, it has now been officially recognized as valuable in Ecuador and Bolivia, whose current governments, however, may still be excessively “colonized” by Marxist Western epistemology. Like Mariátegui’s search for a unique Peruvian voice, even while incorporating Marxism, both Descolonización and El Buen Vivir are non-reductionist but not anti-rational. Their proponents may find elements of Wilber’s Integral Theory quite compatible. In fact, perhaps understanding and applying Integral Theory in countries like Perú may not require going through clearly defined cultural stages and through a clearly defined Green stage. As previously suggested, we didn’t completely transcend one stage in order to incorporate another as might have been the case in the U.S.

That said I also recognize that inhabitants of pre-modern, shamanic cultures in general also strongly tend to have marked exclusivist, non-integral biases. What I propose is that integral level disclosures can now be incorporated into Second Tier integral models that also arose in pre-integral cultural stages. It’s a matter of refining our understanding and not being so caught into the modern Western idea of well-defined progress. If integral primarily refers to an awareness that all valid disclosures stem from deeper and shared universal patterns, then we need to pick and choose all valid disclosures about the nature of reality but much more carefully and with a much greater participating respect than what has so far been the case when interpreting not just shamanic but all other pre-integral knowledge, wisdom and cultures.

My interest is not to over idealize local Andean, Amazonian or shamanic cultures, or other pre-modern cultures in the world. I still find human and animal sacrifices distasteful, along with female suppression, ritual warfare and the idea that other people are less human than those in our nation or tribe. However, I am trying to refine the inquiry and to build a more integral and useful model that doesn’t continue unwittingly suppressing or colonizing the cultural lives of people’s from emerging countries. I’m proposing that in some aspects, pre-orthodoxly defined, integrally aware people can be more integral than many current integral theorists deeply associated with Ken Wilber’s magnificent productions.

I’m praising all actors and trying to point out some perceived deficiencies. If we experience a strong integral awareness lifting us beyond the constraints of the predominant orthodox version of Integral Theory, we may be able to transcend the non-integral cultural biases still limiting otherwise more effective and transformative integral thinkers to unrecognized Modern and Green epistemologies. Following the advice of Brazilian education theorist Paulo Freire who proposed a “dialogue of wisdoms” among nations to overcome the long history of knowledge imposition, I believe that many U.S.-born and developed integral “movers and shakers” need to become aware of their unsuspected biases and to listen more attentively to other enriching and complementary forms of integral thinking emerging “south of the border.”

I find that without necessarily limiting their perspectives to Edgar Morin’s, there is an attitudinal openness towards all coherent sense-making discoveries, toward all ideas, models and truths, including Wilber’s, among the main organizers at IPCEM. This may be due to the fact that these people are, after all, Peruvians and since the arrival of the Spaniards there was the need to cultivate a certain amount of psychological adaptive flexibility without rigidly accepting acculturation or completely abandoning the previous culture.

I don’t deny the important elements in Integral Theory, such as stage-by-stage evolution, but suggest that integral theorists and practitioners should be careful not to dismiss some integral qualities and wisdoms still available in post-colonial nations whose people have undergone psychological adaptive processes. Adaptive psychological flexibility may be an integral characteristic of culturally colonized peoples and may not have been clearly recognized before. This characteristic may be why well-defined developmental stages do not equally apply for them as much as might be expected.

Although traditional ways and wisdoms were stereotyped as inferior both during the “amber” colonial period and the “orange” modern republican period, this integral quality of relating to receptivity and flexibility may exist expressed or latent not only amidst open-minded intellectuals like those at IPCEM but even amidst large collectives otherwise simplistically understood as “red”, “mythic” or “modern.” People with these characteristics may have less qualms living under modern systems, venerating under mythic-stage religion, learning about systems theory and then easily falling into red-stage illicit behavior as need be in the blink of an eye. They are able to thread across all the stages with greater ease as needed. I expect that, if properly exposed and supported by context and system, a great number of people in these societies will be able to recognize with great ease the importance of world-centric and Second Tier values. Unlike peoples in the U.S., who for the most part didn’t mingle with Native American societies, and the Middle East, who for the most part remained in their original lines of development, their self-identities do not seem to be too rigidly attached to any particular cultural stage.

Besides a general flexibility in relation to stages, in Peru it might be easier to accept and to retain the main discoveries and practices from every stage. Without a clearly defined identity people may enjoy multi-stage findings saving them for later inclusion in a genuinely all-inclusive post postmodern world culture. In spite of this, I’m trying not to over-idealize what is stirring up in Peru or in Latin America. An out-of-control, competitive commercial system fostering dehumanizing commercial values is also currently flattening perspectives and replacing community and life-supporting values. Furthermore, a general lack of mutual trust and uncertainty flourishes.

For the last 22 years Peruvian society in general has embarked upon a resolute pursuit of development and of personal wealth under larger depersonalizing free market rules. Sustained growth and an enthusiastic pursuit of modernity have increased the size of the middle class and attracted foreign investors. Amidst great levels of corruption in all institutions, including increased crime, state inefficiency and lack of adequate governance, there is a successful macro-economic stability prevailing. People in large cities suffer greatly under poorly structured health and deplorable educational and legal systems., However, I believe that a great percentage still retain an adaptive flexibility which may in itself be an integral quality and through which they may potentially be more capable of quickly adopting the ways and values of a more inclusive, integral cultural stage than might be normally suspected by Northern Hemisphere theoreticians. This integral flexibility may be a continuing subconscious remnant of the age-old relational openness toward all aspects of Life.

In “my people” a flexibility allowing them to assimilate Second Tier ways is still broadly present. However, I also fear that there is a danger that it might not last for another generation or two as multitudes of ill-educated, cynical youths now growing in neo-liberal, money-driven, chaotic, urban conditions extolling selfish, hedonist and commercial values are becoming a large majority. Mario Vargas Llosa (La Sociedad del Espectáculo), a modern liberal novelist and political activist, might agree that high culture is in danger of becoming irrelevant as throngs of superficially educated generations  are influencing all aspects of culture at large. Through them, flexibility around relational wisdom may easily turn into an “anything goes” mentality, which remains focused upon red values and – through their influential overflow – society might finally disconnect from any integral remnants of the original traditions. However, in order to counteract these degenerative tendencies with an expanded integral theory we must try to remember what those remnants once referred to more copiously.

Becoming Aware of Living or Experiential Flow both in the “Inca Quadrants” and in “Integral Theory”

As mentioned, the idea of El Buen Vivir (Sumaq Kawsay and/or Sumaq Jakaña) is now part of an alternative sociological and epistemological research and hermeneutical practice in some intellectual Latin American quarters. It is more often associated with ecological approaches being explored as a post-cultural “coloniality”  alternative to current Marxist intellectual and postmodern intellectual thinking. Both the living-practical idea of El Buen Vivir and what I’m incipiently exploring as the “Quechua (or Inca) Quadrants” coincide into an integrated and embodied knowledge. This knowledge requires feeling and relating with Life visible and invisible in all levels of manifestation.

If we simplify Integral Theory’s quadrants into “The Good”, “The True”, and the first person, subjective, the “Beautiful”, as both Ken Wilber and Steve McIntosh often do, we’ll find that the Quechua people could have respectively called them Allin Kawsay good life, Yachay Kawsay, conceptual knowledge life and Munay Kawsay, feeling or sentiment-based life. In the embodied ways of El Buen Vivir, Life is present in every form of experience and Life, which ultimately cannot be defined, flows from the relation of complementary opposites. Author and wisdom teacher, Javier Lajo, (Capaq Ñan: Path of Wisdom) might say, in the Andean worldview orcosmovisión all that exists depends upon parity or a sacred relationship between pairs. The experiential, embodied emphasis is not upon static unity as in the West but upon dynamic relation. In my view, the quadrants of Integral Theory can be structurally understood as simultaneously arising, correlated and static, or, experientially speaking, in a relational, living flow between complementary pairs. The latter understanding (now also arising under Oleg Linetsky’s “Five Experiential Boundaries” and Gary Hawke’s “Integral Ontological Moment” is akin to an Andean understanding. Here, both the so-called mythic past and the so-called emerging integral future converge.

In all of these cases and proposals we are trying to re-cognize what could be called an experiential approach to integralism, and this approach involves relating subjectivity with objectivity on equal footing. Furthermore, decades before Ken Wilber, when Emeritus philosopher and Professor of Comparative Religions, Archie J. Bahm, was developing what I also consider to be a Second Tier, world philosophy called “Organicism,” he included in his deduced structural model experientially perceived or inductively detected complementary polar opposites. I think that – not unlike Bahm’s detection, recognizing the four elements which populate the quadrants is also derived from experiential recognition. While Bahm used “either-or” logic, I think that it was as a subset of a more inclusive form of dialectical “both-and” logic without which neither his model nor Wilber’s or the scantily structured “Inca Quadrants” would have been possible.

Among the “Five Elements of Integral Theory,” I believe that the Quadrants can both be inductively discovered and deductively discovered. Inductively, for instance by noticing that in a pile of books representing the major discoveries and methods of humanity we can distinguish four main categories; deductively, as Archie J. Bahm apparently did in his own way through dialectical polar analysis. However, the remaining four elements (lines, stages, states and types) which are harbored within these metaphysically fundamental quadrants are also inductively found and perhaps more will be added in the future if we are able to subjectively recognize others in a coherent way which serves to describe, relate or explain more crucial aspects of reality. In all of these cases – the Quechua, Wilber, Bahm, Linetsky and Hawke’s – there are living, subjectively-recognized, non-rigid, flowing aspects whose importance needs to be recovered in order to instill self-nourishing Life into the theory and to become aware of a more complete kind of integralism.

Because the Quechua recognized three levels of experiential and interactive worlds which they called Pachas and, because perhaps Ken Wilber chose not to explore the issue of the three main realms recognized in Indian Vedanta, I particularly like Oleg Linetsky’s theoretical inclusion of realms – Gross, Subtle, and Causal – in addition to the fundamental quadratic framework. Linetsky came up with the suggestion that our living involvement flows between the experienced boundaries defined by moments of choice between quadratic aspects and realm aspects. These are the “Exterior-Interior,” “Individual-Collective,” “Gross-Subtle,” “Subtle-Causal,” and “Causal-Non Dual” boundaries. In fact, I could argue that many Western, particularly Anglo-American, integral theorists have an unacknowledged bias against the recognition and exploration of other realms without which no current theory can truly be integral. Furthermore, these biases are compatible with elements of a preserved integral knowledge from pre-modern cultures. They don’t seem to want to recognize that experiential, and not simply speculative, exploration and disclosure of other realms is possible and that serious evidence is accumulating through exotic fields of inquiry such as ghost and survival research and even if “no-nonsense” physical scientists and cosmologists are slowly coming to the recognition that other levels of “reality” may actually exist and that a realm of “pure information” may give rise to and be subjacent to our physical universe. Regarding this issue I believe that, if quadrants consistently remain wherever there is duality, they should also express in the three main realms, which primordially correspond to three foundational principles and their logics. Furthermore, their metaphysical-ontological variances in relation to their Interior, Exterior, Single and Multiple quadratic expressions may allow us to discover scientifically useful differential forms of interaction between them; but that’s something to be explored more carefully in other essays.

Since the original Andeans and/or Quechua were pre-modern in the sense of not rigidly dividingKawsay (Life) into well-defined and mutually exclusive categories and realms, such as the living vs. the non-living, spirit vs. nature or objective vs. subjective, they were also more capable of holding on to a state, which under modern either/or rational times would be one of insufferable ambiguity. Being able to live less strictly to definitions is one of Edgar Morin’s prescriptions for learning how to harmonize globally in a non-reductionist manner in today’s more fluid, uncertain and complex world. In this sense, we could say that the Andeans were capable of simultaneously processing existence in a certain pre-modern and post-postmodern kind of integral manner, which for Westerners was more transcended than embraced in relation to their own evolutionary processes.

We may recognize the validity today for Integral Theory if we consider that the Andeans generated relational quadrants through an embodied understanding which we are now recognizing as El Buen Vivir, and which utilized principles like Yanantin – ideal reciprocity between complementary pairs – and Masintin – the relation between equals); and, if we consider that this fluid understanding adequately sees Life in everything and not just fantastically or mythically as part of the needs a low technology oral culture . We would see that within this fluid understanding of the Life present in all realms, and potentially available to our experience, subjects are embedded in plurality and all our relations need to be actively embraced in order to embody a Non Dual path.

The Principle of Three

I believe that the Principle of Three is universal and should be included in Integral Theory. It derives from a sustaining relation with “that which is beyond description” after the appearance of duality has been generated.  Inspired by perennialist Fritjoff Schuon but following a slightly different concept, I temporarily name the “three” as “Absolute Beyond-Being,” “Being as Universal Intelligence” and “Being as Shakti, Light Spirit or Sustainer of Forms.” In Kabbalah, we have three supreme uncreated Ain, Ain Soph and Ain Soph Aur. In Catholic doctrine the uncreated Father, Son and Holy Spirit are recognized. In emanation Plotinian models we have the One, the Logos and the Nous. There are comparable representations in Sufi and Buddhist thinking but explaining them now would extend this discourse too much.

The three main realms, the three grammatical persons describing the quadrants and three main logical ways of making sense and of intelligently disclosing or interpreting reality each derive from a particular element of the Principle of Three. In Quechua cosmology there are “hree pachas, which can be understood in different ways but one of them is in relation to time. As previously explored, the present world of experience is Kay Pacha; the already-given or past-related abstract world of principles is Hanan Pacha and the future world of that which is emerging is the still semi-formed world of Uku PachaKay Pacha” could correspond to the Gross Physical Realm of our present experience; “Hanan Pacha” to the Causal World of the highest beings from which organizing principles were given and “Uku Pacha” to the Realm of the Dead which can also relate with the Subtle Realm and with the realm of semi-formed, potential possibilities emerging into the Physical Realm. By traveling through the center  from where Life flows, a highly conscious person can relate or connect, converse with, influence or travel across all of the pachas which probably shows that  he or she can make them present in an experiential way through consciousness; however, they potentially may be time-wise in relation to his or her physical experience Thus, potential pasts and potential futures can be reached and actualized into our present.

Again, the Principle of Three expressed as four quadrants is linked to three main logics through which we can derive meaning from experience. Briefly, these logics are: The logic of mutual exclusion and interaction, the logic of interpenetration and relation and the logic of mutual immanence inspiring Non-Dual awareness. I believe that people in the Andes, and of other cultures, use all three logics but, while Western civilization emphasizes the “either/or” logic of mutual exclusion and seeks to find interactive relations between stable and clearly-defined exterior objects, Andean culture emphasizes the “both/and” logic in which subjectivity relates equally with exterior objects and becomes inseparable from them.

Using Thomas Berry’s terms, the first logic would focus upon the cosmic principles or universal tendencies of Differentiation, the second upon Communion and the third upon Subjectivity. Each logic is concomitant not only with the quadrants but with the realms. While emphasizing the first logic the quadrants would reveal as structured, simply correlated and static. While emphasizing the second logic they would reveal as experientially living and fluid and in equal measure subjective and objective. Finally, while emphasizing the third logic these would reveal as almost entirely subjective or as mutually immanent, as Archie J. Bahm might have understood them if related with the highest understanding of the Yin/Yang symbol. In fact, by recognizing Vedanta, Plotinian and Medieval philosophy we would understand that, ontologically-speaking, the Gross Realm would operate more intensely under the first logic, the Subtle Realm under the second logic and the Causal Realm under the third since, gradually, subjectivity would correlatively gain ascendancy in each subsequent more fundamental realm and simultaneously the experiential influence of quadratic exteriors would diminish. In other words, the Three Main Logics associated with the Principle of Three manifested both as the four quadrants and as the three realms can reveal an exterior prioritizing structural static, an equally exterior-interior fluid and a within-only prioritizing understanding.

When Andean people are thought of as pre-modern because of not being able to clearly distinguish things from subjects, we may be partially correct in thinking that they are in a previous cultural stage. Nonetheless, we may also have to understand that they are thinking in terms of a logic that is useful in the vital Subtle Realm and that, correspondingly, they may grasp a form of integral thinking which is extremely important to relate with the integral flow of Life. This logic and its full experiential implications has been greatly forgotten in modern Western tradition and although it may actually transcend and include the Aristotelian “either-or” logic, the priorities it implies in relation to the Subtle world do not appear to be clearly recognized by most Euro-American integral thinkers even if they are in the process of gradually including and transcending the reductionist, objectifying epistemologies of their more rigidly established tradition.

As more pristine Andeans originally know, and as researcher Jorge Ichizawa endorses in his essay Diálogo de Saberes, “A community from the high Andes or the high Amazon is an epistemic community that shares the idea that everyone knows, the mountains, the stones, the lakes, the rivers. Their difference with the techno scientific conventional community is that, in them, there’s no place for exclusion, either of entities or of concepts.” Ichizawa (who recognizes the importance of Gregory Bateson’s work) also writes that a “dialogue of wisdoms” between Western thinkers and Andean and Amazonia wisdom keepers is not just absolutely necessary but would require shared values. He mentions that some traditional communities are actually demanding what they call Iskay Yachay/Paya Yatiwi, meaning “two kinds of knowing.” They are radically demanding respect for their own knowledge and cultural diversity and showing great interest in learning from Western knowledge.

On a very personal note, in a conference recently given by Professor Julio Mejía on the current crisis of the nation-state, I learned that during the early stages of modernityutopians Thomas More and Tomasso Campanella had borrowed from indigenous people in America the concept ofEl Buen Vivir. I also learned that Felipe Guaman Poma de Ayala, an indigenous colonial author educated by a Spanish landlord, wrote in the 17th Century about this concept foreseeing that the new mode of life imposed in America lacked a healthy interest in the good of the community and that it also lacked interest in maintaining balance with nature.  After 20 years of traveling throughout Peru’s Viceroyalty Guaman Poma de Ayala wrote and illustrated an extensive letter to the King of Spain and to the Pope reporting on the many abuses indigenous peoples were being subjected to. Even if the El Buen Vivir concept was by some means retransmitted by Moore and Campanella, modernity continued with the idea of providing for individual wealth and freedom even at the expense of community and nature.


To be better integral leaders, integral theorists and practitioners would do well to ground their proposals for the world in a more radical respect and interest in the wisdoms of pre-modern origin. In doing this, they may be able to be better accepted by the people they are trying to relate with and in the process also find keys to incorporate Subtle Realm experiences into an expanded version of their theory. Fluid, living experience connects Integral Theory’s otherwise incomplete and rigid quadratic structures and relates well with the less defined, less analytical, but uncomplicated and straightforward, participatory variety of “both-and” logic in the Andes. They may not only serve to extend a living, relational flow into quadrants but also onto Western taboo relations with other realms, a restriction delaying a comprehensive and integral human and theoretical evolvement.

There must be a dialogue of wisdoms with shared understandings because an excessive emphasis upon differentiation doesn’t recognize the interior life of things and an excessive emphasis upon non-differentiation precludes refining living experiences through an understanding of Life’s own projection onto exterior things.


  • Exhibits inside the “Coricancha” (“Temple of the Sun”) and in its site museum in Cuzco, Peru.
  • Literature Professor Aliza Yanez and her course on “The Andean Mythical Universe” illustrating me about the elements within the “suyus.”
  • Intip Megil Guaman Pacary, http://templo.tawa.free.fr/Illa/IllaContenido.html
  • Juan Nuñez del Prado, http://www.tawantin.com/en/index.htm
  • Conversations with shamans at “The 2007 Heart of the Healer Foundation Seventh Annual International Gathering” in Pisaq, Peru.
  • Ceremonies and conversations with Quechua shaman Pedro Condori in Cuzco, Perú. 

Structured Written Sources 

  • Arévalo Merejildo, James. (1997). Camino Iniciático Inka: el Despertar del Puma. Centro Bartolomé de las Casa: Cuzco.
  • Bahm, Archie J. (1996). Organicism: Origin and Development. World Books: Albuquerque.
  • Calderón Quillatupa, Francisco. (2009). Diccionario Filosófico Runasimi. Pako: Huancayo.
  • Calero del Mar, Edmer. “Dualismo Estructural Andino y Espacio Novelesco Arguediano.”
  • http://www.ifeanet.org/publicaciones/boletines/31(2)/153.pdf
  • Diez de Betanzos, Juan (1550, 2004). Suma y Narración de los Incas. Ediciones Polifemo: Madrid.
  • Huamán Mejía, Mario. (2010). Hacia una Filosofía Andina. Universidad Ricardo Palma: Lima.
  • Huamán Mejía, Mario. (2011) Teqse: La cosmovisión andina y las categorías quechuas como fundamento para una filosofía peruana y de América Latina. Universidad Ricardo Palma: Lima
  • Ichizawa, Jorge & Rengifo, Omar. (2012). “Diálogo de Saberes: una aproximación epistemológica.” AMC Editores SAC: Lima.
  • Lajo, Javier. (2007). Qhapaq Ñan: The Inka Path of Wisdom. Amaru Runa Ediciones: Lima.
  • Linetsky, Oleg (2012). “Open Letter to Ken Wilber and Integral Teachers”http://www.integralworld.net/linetsky4.html
  • Lira, Jorga A. & Huamán Mejía, Mario. (2008). Diccionario Quechua-Castellano Castellano-Quechua. Universidad Ricardo Palma: Lima.
  • Lozada, Blithz. (2007). Cosmovisión, historia y política en los Andes. Producciones Cima Editores: La Paz.
  • Milla Villena, Carlos. (2007). Ayni: Semiótica Andina de los Espacios Sagrados. Ediciones Amaru Wayra: Lima.
  • Parisi, Wilcox, Joan. (1999). Masters of the Living Energy: The Mystical World of the Q’uero of Peru. Inner Traditions: Rochester.
  • Piacenza, Giorgio. (2012). Inca Cosmovision Glossary.http://incaandeanquechua.blogspot.com/2012/06/inca-cosmovision-glossary.html
  • Schuon, Fritjoff. (2000). Survey of Metaphysics and Esoterism. World Wisdom Books: Bloomington.
  • Valdivia Ismodes, Juan Carlos. (2010). Hanaq Pacha: Mundo Celestial Inka. Editorial Kopygraph E.I.R.L: Cuzco.
  • Wilber, Ken. (1995). “Sex, Ecology, Spirituality: The Spirit of Evolution.” Boston: Shambhala.
  • Wilber, Ken. “The Kosmos Trilogy, Volume II: Excerpts A thru G”http://www.kenwilber.com/professional/writings/index.html
  • Some suitable emails: IPCEM’s general email: ipcem@urp.edu.pe  IPCEM’s executive director Teresa Salinas teal33@yahoo.com Dr. Jorge Ichizawa Oba: jishizawa@ddm.com.pe  Giorgio Piacenza holonexplorer@gmail.com

About the Author

Giorgio Piacenza Cabrera was born in Lima, Peru. From the age of 10, he began to question the nature of reality and what motivates human behavior. From the age of 12, he began to participate in Western esoteric and Oriental mystical groups, trying to synthesize knowledge while maintaining a critical perspective all along. In 1987 he earned a degree in Sociology from Georgetown University and, in 1990, two business certificates from John F. Kennedy University.

For several years, while working in a regular business, he researched the UFO phenomenon and offered lectures, and TV/radio interviews. Between 1999- 2000, he became one of the civilian founding members of OIFAA, the Peruvian Airforce Investigations Office on Anomalous Aerial Phenomena. Through the years, Giorgio has maintained a wide-ranging interest that impinges on various aspects of reality, aspects such as the mind-body problem, philosophy, cosmology and physics. He has been a life-long student of integrative theoretical models and, since 1981, of Ken Wilber’s. He has completed a Certificate in Integral Theory offered by John F. Kennedy University, plans to write articles and essays, to pursue a Masters degree in Integral Theory and also the analysis of Meta Theories.

Living Leadership: Integral Dimensions of a Complete Life

Learner Papers

  Walker Karraa

Walker Karraa

As integral leadership juxtaposes Western and Eastern leadership philosophies and epistemologies, the contrast can often feel murky, ambiguous to those of us striving to live a life of leadership grounded in appreciation of difference, dare I say diversity. At this cross roads, Eastern philosophies appear more palatable to the West, and theories of leadership born in penultimate diversity—America, are eschewed. As a result of our discomfort with mysticism in the West, and infatuation with that of the East, Western pedagogy often mimics Eastern philosophy, while simultaneously cutting ourselves off from the wealth of wholistic leadership living in our American history. The fullest spectrum of dimensions of knowing generates sustainable leadership.

Hillman (1996) noted that for the West, all elements of transcendence, or connection between the realm of the gods/goddesses, and that of human life have been destroyed, or pathologized as disease (p.108).   All explanations for, or connection with, the invisible, the mystical realm of the spiritual world we cannot see, describe, measure or dominate have been eliminated.  Hillman (1996) reflected:

In the kingdom (or is it a mall?) of the West, consciousness has lifted the transcendent ever higher and further away from actual life. The bridgeable chasm has become a cosmic void.  The gods have withdrawn, said the poets Hölin and Rilke; it takes a leap of faith, said Søren Kierkegaard.  Not even that will do, for God is dead, said Nietzche.  Any bridge must be of superhuman proportions.  Well that kind of bridge our culture has ready at hand; the greatest bridge, some say, ever constructed between the visible and invisible: the figure of Jesus Christ. (Hillman, 1996, p. 110)

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. exemplified a rare ability to make this stretch across the cosmic void through bridging Christian mysticism with social action. Dr. King bridged the gap of consciousness, living leadership in full dimension—drawing people, systems, organizations and races together. He lived a complete life of leadership. Using King’s work provides a sturdy Western frame for describing the transcendental beauty, divine, and the existential questions necessary for self, collective and global growth.  Within his kingdom, the words are chosen with deliberate Christian reference, for he was a man of a Christian God.  From his study and faith, scripture served to illuminate ontology with a Jamesian radical empiricism suggestive of Plato’s cave, Buddha’s essence of wisdom, and Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle.  When Dr. King preached scripture, nothing was as it appeared.

On April 9, 1967, Dr. King delivered the sermon, The three dimensions of a complete life at the New Covenant Baptist Church, in Chicago, Illinois—one year, nearly to the day, of his assassination.   I have chosen to use the 1967 version, published in Carson & Holloran (1996), as it is a direct transcription of the audio archive available at the Stanford University’s King Institute/King Papers Project.  A complete audio recording of the sermon is available at: http://bit.ly/4V1kO7 .

King’s (1967) Three dimensions of a complete life was set within the mystical vision of John, and King masterfully expands a Christian paradigm to physical proportions—spatial dimension. Spatially the model symbolizes a harmonious geometry and physical balance similar to Pythagorean theory.  Harmonious living requires balance of outer and inner aspects of the Self.   Philosophically the sermon resembles a cross-cultural dynamism of individual, familial, social self, and the Platonic search for ontological knowing and axiological maturity. What is valued by self is extended to demonstrate relationship with and necessity for, value and meaning in community, and humanity. Spiritually, the model reinforces Eastern philosophical premise to integrate all aspects of self in a mandala of interconnection yet does so not by borrowing from Eastern mysticism, but through authenticating the application of Western mysticism as described in biblical scripture.

The First Dimension of a Complete Life: It’s Length

For King (1967), the model of a complete life begins with an epistemological examination of its length—an “inward concern that causes one to push forward, to achieve his own goals and ambitions” (King, 1967, p. 122).  This dimension offers the individual examination of Self, relative to longevity, the lifespan, and self-actualization.  The benefit of the length of life is the opportunity to challenge mundane appreciation of the Self, instead discerning and following it’s unique gifts and calling.

Hillman (1996) noted that loving oneself demands a similar overcoming of our belief in dominant psychological theories that diagnose our difficulties within a modern paradigm of victimhood.  For King, loving oneself involves deep acceptance of one’s inherent flaws and capacities.  “And you know what loving yourself also means? It means that you’ve got to accept yourself” (p.123). King’s (1967) love thyself message rooted the length of life dimension in promoting self-acceptance, despite “haunting emotional conflicts” (p. 123).  The first dimension of the complete life, and perhaps the life of leadership, is grounded in self-awareness—deep understanding and critical reflection.  Strengths are to be fostered, limitations are to be addressed, and calling is to be answered. The length of life becomes meaningful, equal in value to the other two dimensions, accepting the human Self, and then acknowledging the acorn—one’s higher calling:

After accepting ourselves and our tools, we must discover what we are called to do.  And once we discover it we should set out to do it with all of the strength and all of the power that we have in our systems.  And after we’ve discovered our life’s work, we should set out to do that work so well that the living, the dead or the unborn couldn’t do it any better (p. 125).

Leaning forward to the onward push of self-fulfillment, development of inner powers demonstrates mastery of the length of life:

They call it the law gravitation in the physical Universe, and it works, it’s final, it’s inexorable: Whatever goes up can come down.  You shall reap what you sow. God has structured the universe that way.  And he who gets through life not concerned about others will be a subject, a victim of this law. So I move on and say that it is necessary to add breadth to length. (King, 1967, p. 126)

The length of life, to be sustained, must be viewed and practiced as inherently dependent on the sustainability of the other dimensions.  King’s bridge to the second dimension of a complete life modeled trans disciplinary leadership. Integrative practice in leading oneself to a complete life involves engaging other disciplines, other strategies, other contexts of social change. We have to participate beyond our self-interests.

The Second Dimension: The Breadth of Life

King (1967), like Buddha, discerned that one of the quintessential requirements for a complete life is concern for others.  King (1967) described the dimension of the breadth of life, as expanding definition of Self to collective community of mankind—an  I/Thou paradigm of social responsibility (Buber, 1970). The radical nature of King’s (1967) message, like that of Buddhism, is its call to engage in the full range of compassionate action with the individual, neighbor, society, and systems surrounding them in order to benefit the Self.  Compassion, hand in hand with wisdom realizing emptiness, destroys ancient attachment to an illusory sense of self as inherently existing, that has been the cause of our “endless wandering in samsara” (Rinpoche, 2000, p. 193).  Stability and sustainability emerge from integral accountability. We must engage in compassionate action.

What is compassion?  It is not simply a sense of sympathy of caring for the person suffering, not simply a warmth of heart toward the person before you, or a sharp clarity of recognition of their needs and pain, it is also a sustained and practical determination to do whatever is possible and necessary to help alleviate their suffering. (Rinpoche 191)

For Eastern and Western theological philosophy, compassion must reach beyond charity and grasp the inherent interrelatedness of all phenomena.  For King (1967), the Christian parable of the Good Samaritan explained the fundamental message of the breadth of life—outward concern for the welfare of others, and modeled integral social processes.  And it begins with the story of a man wanting to engage Jesus in debate:

He had a man that came to him to talk with him about some very profound concerns.  And they finally got around to the question, ‘Who is my neighbor?’  And this man wanted to debate with Jesus.  This question could have very easily ended up in thin air as a theological or philosophical debate.  But you remember, Jesus immediately pulled that question out of thin air and placed it on a dangerous curve between Jerusalem and Jericho. (King, 1967, p. 127)

The parable demonstrates the Christian belief in the virtue of compassionate action.  And yet King doesn’t stop at charity.  King’s (1967) analysis of the full range of behavior, and motive of the Samaritan, the Priest and the Levite, integrated profound existential questions posited for personal reflection on interpersonal ethical dilemmas:

The first question that the Levite asked was, ‘If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?’ But the good Samaritan came by and he reversed the question.  Not ‘What will happen to me if I stop to help this man?’ but ‘What will happen to this man if I do not stop to help him?  That is why the man was good and great.  He was great because he was willing to take a risk for humanity; he was willing to ask ‘What will happen to this man?’ not ‘What will happen to me?’ (King, 1967, p. 127)

The reversal of the question is also found in Buddhist doctrine.  Indian Buddhist scholar Shantideva (AD 637-736) stated:

The suffering I experience
Does not harm others,
But I find it hard to bear
Because I cherish myself

Likewise, the suffering of others
Does not harm me,
But, if I cherish others,
I shall find their suffering hard to bear.

Therefore, I should dispel others’ suffering
Simply because it is suffering, just like mine;
And I should bring happiness to others
Simply because they are living beings, just like me. (Gyatso, 2002, p. 128)

Western and Eastern paradigms of leadership include increased the understanding of the inter-related nature of self, collective and universal aspects. Furthermore, there is agreement on the deleterious effects of ignoring it, King (1967) proceeded:

This is what God needs today: men and women who will ask: ‘What will happen to humanity if I don’t help?  What will happen to the civil rights movement if I don’t participate? What will happen to my city if I don’t vote? What will happen to the sick if I don’t visit them?’ This is how God judges people in the final analysis. (King 130)

Self-sustaining systems, individuals, and organizations must critically reflect on the cost of not engaging in this dimension. A complete life must completely surrender to the instability of division, dualism, separation and objectivism. King (1967) then posited, in Christian terms, the law of cause and effect.  Disharmony in this dimension of life does not go unnoticed—ultimately, we are held accountable for our participation in compassion:

It seems as if I can hear the Lord of Life saying: ‘But I was hungry, and ye fed me not.  I was sick, and ye visited me not.  I was naked, and ye clothed me not.  I was in prison, and you weren’t concerned about me.  So get out of my face.  What did you do for others?  This is the breadth of life. (King, 1967 p. 131)

The sacrifice of self to service transcends personal dimensions of extending one’s personal happiness. Failure to do so creates the causes for systemic collapse, and potential is transformed into potential for loss of integrity. To remain generative, we must remain in service to others. Sogyal Rinpoche (2000) echoed: “So the teachings tell us, if we do not assume the fullest responsibility for ourselves now in this life, our suffering will go on not only for a few lives but for thousands of lives” (p. 102).  Transgressions of actions in body, speech and mind directly affect transition to the next realm.  The transition, the intermediate state either between lives, or delegation to Heaven or Hell, is a time tremendous uncertainty involving moral inventory.

The Third Dimension of a Complete Life: It’s Height

And so with the length and breadth of life addressed, what more is necessary for a complete, meaningful life of living leadership?  It’s height—reaching up for the hand of God:

You know, a lot of people master the length of life, and they master the breadth of life, but they stop right there.  Now if life is to be complete, we must move beyond our self-interest.  We must move beyond humanity and reach up, way up for the God of the universe, whose purpose changeth not. (King, 1967, p. 133)

Engaging the height of life requires leaning forward into the heart of uncertainties regarding the existence of God in the cosmological realm—and pushing through a priori epistemological thinking perpetuated by Western ideals of knowledge, progress, and science: “Modern man may know a great deal, but his knowledge does not eliminate God” (King 135).  King (1967) determined:

A few theologians are trying to say God is dead.  And I’ve been asking them about it because it disturbs me to know that God died and I didn’t have a chance to attend the unreal.  They haven’t been able to tell me yet the date of his death.  They haven’t been able to tell me yet who the coroner was that pronounced him dead.  They haven’t been able to tell me yet where he’s buried. (p. 134)

The height of life involves ontological consideration:

God is the only being in the Universe who can say ‘I am’ and put a period behind it.  Each of us sitting here has to say ‘I am because of my parents; I am because of certain environmental conditions; I am because of certain hereditary circumstances’.  But God is the only being that can just say ‘I Am’ and stop right there.  ‘I Am that I Am’. (King, 1967, p. 135)

Philosophically, King (1967) argued:

You may not be able to define god in philosophical terms.  Plato said that he was the Architectonic Good.  Aristotle called him the Unmoved Mover.  Hegel called him the Absolute Whole.  Then there was a man named Paul Tillich, who called him Being-Itself. (p.138)

In a final and ultimately transpersonal reflection:

Maybe we have to know him and discover him another way… He’s a bright and morning star.  He’s a rose of Sharon.  ‘He’s my everything.’  ‘He’s my mother and my father.’ ‘He’s my sister and my brother.’  ‘He’s a friend to the friendless.’ This is the God of the universe.  (King, 1967, p. 139)


Who is my neighbor? Self, other, we and ours— one and the same and inextricably connected, diversity across dimensions bring leadership its life. Through this sermon, we have seen that the length of life, self-acceptance and pursuit of the acorn?, and the breadth of life, concern for others are dimensions that must be actively addressed, and supported equally by the height—an upward reach of the Self to the ultimate, universal, absolute truth—a2 + b2 = c2.   For a complete life, the Good Samaritan must not figure out how to love himself enough to put him on the road to Jericho where his true calling may be.  For a complete life, the Good Samaritan must observe the humanity on the road, and setting his own interests aside, reach down to participate in the tending to the suffering of others.  Then, the Good Samaritan must reach up, beyond reality as it is perceived, to the Dharmakaya—and recognize his place in the cosmos.  The web of interrelated dependence of the Samaritan, the compassionate act, and the relationship to the cosmos are inextricably interrelated, interdependent.


  • Buber, M. (1970). I and thou. New York: Simon & Schuster, pp. 53-85.
  • Capra, F. (2010). The Tao of physics: An exploration of the parallels between modern physics and Eastern mysticism (5th ed.). Boston: Shambhala.
  • Gross, R. (1993). Buddhism after patriarchy: A feminist hisotry, analysis, and reconstruction of Buddhism. Albany, NY: SUNY Press.
  • Gyatso, K. (2002). Shantideva’s guide to the bodhisattva’s way of life: How to enjoy a life of great meaning and altruisim. Ulverston, England: Tharpa Publications.
  • Gyatso, K. (2003). Joyful path of good fortune: The complete Buddhist path to enlightenment(Rev. ed.). Glen Spey, NY: Tharpa Publications.
  • Hillman, J. (1996). The soul’s code: In search of character and calling. New York, NY: Random House, Inc.
  • Kardaras, N. (2011). How Plato and Pythagoras can save our life: The ancient Greek prescription for health & happiness. San Francisco, CA: Conari Press.
  • King, M. (1967). The three dimensions of a complete life. In C. Carson, & P. Holloran. (1998). A knock at midnight: Inspiration from the great sermons of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. (pp. 121-140). New York, NY: Warner Books.
  • Rinpoche, S. (2002). Gaffney, P., & Harvey, A. (Eds.). The Tibetan book of living and dying (Rev. ed.). NY, NY: HarperOne.
  • Roland, A. (1988). In search of self in India and Japan: Toward a cross-cultural psychology. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

About the Author

Walker Karraa, MFA, MA, is a doctoral student at the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology/Sofia University where she is researching transformational dimensions of postpartum depression. She is the social media intern for Integral Leadership Review, 2012-2013. Walker holds an MA degree in Clinical Psychology from Antioch University/Seattle, and both an MFA and BA degree in dance from UCLA. Walker is currently the President of PATTCh, an organization dedicated to the prevention and treatment of traumatic childbirth, and is co-authoring a book on PTSD following childbirth with Kathleen Kendall-Tackett, Ph.D., IBCLC, FAPA set for publication in Fall, 2013. A perinatal mental health advocate and writer, Walker is a contributor for Lamaze International’s Science and Sensibility, and the American College of Nurse Midwives (ACNM) Midwives Connection. walker@walkerkarraa.com

Leadership Stage Development and its Effect on Transformational Change

Learner Papers

  Jorge Taborga

Jorge Taborga


This case study investigates the impact of leadership stage development in transformational change initiatives. In particular, it looks at how the structure and characteristics of leadership teams determine large change outcomes in organizations. The core theory that grounds this research is that post-conventional leadership is required for organizational transformation to take place. This theory comes from the work of Bill Torbert and his colleagues. Along with this theory, the researcher explores a change leadership team structure (holarchy) and characteristics associated with a holistic team organized along the integral dimensions of interior-exterior and individual-collective. Integral models are leveraged to convey the developmental nature of leadership teams and their effect on transformational change. Two questions are pursued in this research: a) how leadership stage development correlates to the success of transformational change initiatives, and b) how the make-up of a change leadership team affects outcome in the absence of leadership stage development awareness. This research follows a comparative case study research methodology. Senior leaders of an organization that has undergone at least two large transformations in the last 5 years provided the details for this research.



The purpose of this case study research is to determine how post-conventional leadership as defined by Rooke and Torbert (1998) affects the outcome of large transformational change in organizations.  In particular, this research aims to link post-conventional leadership with the way organizations structure their leadership teams for large change initiatives and the results they achieve.


Since the time that large transformational changes in organizations became the subject of research in the fields of management and leadership studies, it appears that only one in three change initiatives has been deemed successful (Meaney & Pung, 2008). Social scientists, psychologists and organizational developers have amassed thousands of volumes about change management and the role of leadership in change initiatives (Vinson & Pung, 2006). However, this large body of resources has not altered the success ratio in transformational change since statistics started to appear in the nineties. Aiken and Keller (2009) state “it seems that, despite prolific output, the field of change management hasn’t led to more successful change programs” (p. 1).

Isern and Pung (2007) characterize large organizational transformation as having “startlingly high ambitions, the integration of different types of change, and a prolonged effort often lasting many months, in some cases, even years (p. 1)”. Kotter (2006) and other change luminaries have provided complete methods for managing large change, often claiming that their method would at least raise the probability of success. Aiken and Keller from McKinsey in their article The Irrational Side of Change Management (2009) offer four basic conditions for large transformation to take place in an organization: a) a compelling story, b) role modeling, c) reinforcing mechanisms, and d) capability building.

Torbert and Associates (2004) approach the subject of organizational transformation purely from the leadership standpoint irrespective of method and practice. Their premise is based on research they conducted which yielded a seven stage developmental framework for leaders. Rooke and Torbert (2005) state that leaders evolve to one of seven stages of leadership where they will most likely stay for the better portion of their lives with a few continuing to slowly evolve into higher levels. This evolution is guided by the experiences of the individual, which start early in life (Simcox, 2005).

Torbert and Associates (2004) posit that only in the last three of the seven stages of leadership development do individuals have enough reflective meaning-making to successfully drive transformational change. These authors argue that a high level of internal awareness is necessary for a leader to grasp all of the nuances present in large change situations. Torbert defines these later stage leaders as transformative learners, that is, they are in a constant path of self-development. This notion of transformative leaders as being self-transforming is well addressed in the literature of leadership studies (Nailon, Delahaye & Brownlee, 2007). However, Torbert and his associates are more deliberate in their pronouncement and associate certain leadership developmental stages with a capability that presumably could have profound impact in the success of large transformational initiatives.


The subject of transformational change is not new and, as stated earlier, the results have not improved even with the ever-increasing amount of materials available on the subject. As documented in the IBM study (Capitalizing on complexity, 2010), the priority for most organizational leaders is dealing with complexity driven by the structures of globalization, world economies, shifts in consumer power, environmental concerns and the need for organizations to address the evolving requirements of their social systems. This complexity seems to present even larger challenges to the mostly unsuccessful transformational initiatives.

Torbert’s leadership stage development framework appears promising in explaining why only a third of the large change projects succeed. From his research, the author posits that only 15% of the leader population has the capability to execute transformational change (Rooke & Torbert, 2005).  Given that most organizations and leaders are not familiar with Torbert’s work, it stands to reason that their transformational initiatives are not consciously staffed to include one or more of these latter stage leaders. Consequently, transformational projects will have a random chance of success based on their leader membership.

Assuming that the research of Torbert and his associates is correct and that leadership stage development is a key determinant of the success of transformational change in an organization, then conscious assignment of leaders based on their developmental stages is paramount. This is most fundamental relative to transformational leaders but it also applies to the inclusion of the other stages of leadership development.  According to Burke (2011), most change project teams are assembled based on roles, organizational politics and on who is available. To make matters worse, we are clueless on the leaders’ developmental stages and on the unintended consequences of their assignment. This research correlates the outcome of organizational transformation initiatives to the make-up of change leadership teams.

Research Questions

Two questions orient this research: a) how leadership stage development correlates to the success of transformational change initiatives, and b) how the make-up of a change leadership team affects outcome in the absence of leadership stage development awareness.

Research of the Literature

Four topics are explored in the literature research for this study: a) integral transformational change, b) leadership stage development, c) transformational change and transformative learning, and d) the holistic leadership development model.

Integral Transformational Change

The concept of the holon was introduced in 1967 by Arthur Koesler in his book The Ghost in the Machine (Koestler, 1990). A holon is both a part and a whole. Koesler aimed to bridge the dichotomy of philosophical holism and scientific reductionism through a structure that could express both (Edwards, 2005). Social scientists have since used holons to describe organizational structures. They are recursive in nature and share properties across levels.

Ken Wilber, the philosopher behind the Integral movement, introduced the AQAL (All-Quadrants, All-Levels and All-Lines) framework to articulate the “fundamental domains in which change and development occur” (Edwards, 2005, p. 272). Wilber’s integral theory proposes that social phenomena require the consideration of at least two dimensions of existence: 1) interior-exterior, and 2) individual-collective (Wilber, 2000; Cacioppe & Edwards, 2005a, 2005b; Edwards, 2009). The interior-exterior dimension corresponds to the subjective/reflective experience in relationship to the objective or behavior-based reality. In the second dimension, the individual-collective refers to the relationship of the experience of self-agency and that of community. The AQAL framework is represented as a 2×2 matrix demarcated by these two dimensions. Figure 1 shows this framework.

  This version of the AQAL framework was adapted from Edwards (2005) and Cacioppe and Edwards (2005a).

Figure 1: This version of the AQAL framework was adapted from Edwards (2005) and Cacioppe and Edwards (2005a).

In the framework shown in Figure 1, the consciousness quadrant corresponds to the overall level of awareness in the organization. Pruzan (2001) explores the subject of organizations having consciousness attributes similar to individuals such as “being reflective, purposeful and values oriented” (p. 276).  Pandey and Gupta (2007) define consciousness as the way organizations make meaning and relate to the world. In their view, organizations manifest their consciousness in three distinct manners: market (wealth creation), social responsibility, and spiritual (collective evolution and existential harmony).

The cultural quadrant of the organizational holon represents the values and beliefs and the underlying assumptions in an organization. This is in line with Schein’s definition of organizational culture as a pattern of shared basic assumptions, values and believes, and artifacts that the group developed as it solved its problems of external adaptation and internal integration (Schein, 2010). The behavioral quadrant embodies the collection of emotions, cognitive processing, and all manifested actions. Organizational learning is a key part of this quadrant (Edwards, 2005). The last quadrant in the organizational holon corresponds to the social. Policies, procedures, processes, structures, systems, technologies and social norms are all manifestations of the social quadrant (Cacioppe & Edwards, 2005a).

Wilber defined developmental structures in the AQAL framework (Wilber, 2000). Two of these structures are relevant to organizations: developmental lines and levels. Figure 1 shows horizontal and vertical arrows that symbolize the continuous and incremental change that organizations go through. Wilber called these dynamic developmental lines, which in an organization may include “culture, goals, customer and community relations, ethics, corporate morals, marketing, governance and leadership (Cacioppe & Edwards, 2005b).  Incremental changes typically occur from the co-evolution of the quadrants (Edwards, 2005).

The other dynamic structure in AQAL is the developmental levels depicted as diagonal arrows in Figure 1. They correspond to the stages of development that individuals and organizations go through as they are exposed to life experiences.  Several researchers have conceptualized developmental frameworks including Piaget, Loevinger, Cook-Greuter, Graves, Kegan, Kohlberg, Wilber and Torbert (Lichtenstein, 1997). Moving from one level of development to the next requires large transformational changes as a result of a significant experience and a process of reflection and inquiry.

Expanding on the subject of a transformational change, a holon can be built that takes into account the dynamics of large change inside an organization. Figure 2 shows this holon. The consciousness quadrant takes on the specific dimension of transformative consciousness.  Pandey and Gupta (2007) state that at the highest levels of consciousness “the organization is able to unleash the human power of introspection and reflexivity and show the capability to renew, adapt and transform itself” (p. 894). Transformative culture is the other internal quadrant in this holon. It reflects the cultural values associated with change.  Sarros, Cooper and Santora (2008) state “the type of leadership required to change culture is transformational because culture change needs enormous energy and commitment to achieve outcomes” (p. 148).

  Figure 2. The transformational change holon. The individual quadrants in this figure correspond to the developmental lines (changes) and levels (transformations) in an organization.

Figure 2. The transformational change holon. The individual quadrants in this figure correspond to the developmental lines (changes) and levels (transformations) in an organization.

Along the external dimension of the transformational change holon we have the transformative learning quadrant. Mezirow (2000), Henderson (2002), and Gambrell, Matkin and Burbach (2011) view transformative learning as a fundamental behavior or practice inside an organization to achieve large changes. Peter Senge (1990) and the learning organization movement characterize the internal conditions for change as directly connected to the organization’s ability to learn. Henderson (2002) states “transformative learning is the process of examining, questioning, validating, and revising our perceptions of the world” (p. 200).

The last quadrant in the transformational change holon corresponds to the change systems present in an organization (Cacioppe & Edwards, 2005a). These systems support incremental and large transformational change (lines and levels of development). Leader development is an example of a transformational system that could have far reaching implications in transformation. However, most leadership development programs focus on behavior and skills and not transformational-type learning (Gambrell, Matkin & Burbach, 2011).

Leadership Stage Development

In 2007, Accenture conducted a worldwide survey of 900 top executives across large organizations to determine their effectiveness in developing top leaders that could handle rapid changes and be adaptable.  Harung, Travis, Blank, and Heaton (2009) communicate the results from this survey showing a mere 55% success rate in developing top leaders.  These results indicate that we are still looking for how to develop leaders and leadership in organizations.

There are many leadership frameworks in existence, most aiming to point out what good leaders do and how leaders should perform in certain situations (Harung, Travis, Blank, & Heaton, 2009).  William Torbert introduced the concept of action-logic as a way to describe stages of development for leaders. Along with other stage development theorists such as Piaget, Loevinger, Cook-Greuter, Graves, Kegan, Kohlberg, and Wilber, Torbert formulated that leaders progress through successive stages of development “involving greater levels of complexity, responsibility, empathy, understanding of the world, and appreciation of the undefined creative potential of each moment” (Lichtenstein, 1997, p. 400).

During the eighties, Torbert and his colleagues conducted a multi-year study with the leaders of ten companies (Rooke & Torbert, 1998). In this research the activities of multiple levels of leadership were observed and also validated through the ego development test initiated by Jane Loevinger and further refined by Cook-Greuter that utilizes the Washington University Sentence Completion Test (SCT). Through their observations and testing, Torbert and his colleagues established a seven stage leader development framework. Each stage is comprised of specific action-logics or mindsets. In the framework, leaders developed from stage one and gradually move to a stage where they will operate for most of their lives (Simcox, 2005). Like other stage development frameworks, Torbert’s leadership stages capture the elements of complexity and meaning-making that leaders experience in the context of their roles. Table 1 summarizes the seven action-logics present in this framework.

Table 1. This table summarizes the seven action-logics in Torbert’s leadership development stages. It is an adaptation of Torbert and Associates (2004), and Rooke and Torbert (2005).  The column with the “percent profiling at action-logic” comes from 495 leaders tested with the Leadership Development Profile (LDP) (Barker & Torbert, 2011).

Action Logic



% profiling at

action logic

Opportunist Win any way possible; self-oriented; manipulative; “might makes right” Emergencies and competitive opportunities


Diplomat Need to belong; avoid overt conflict; follow group norms; Routine work; enforce standards; help bring people together


Expert Logic and expertise; seek rational efficiency; be unique; perfectionist Problem solving; design; improving efficiencies; contingencies; developing work products


Achiever Long term goals; effective delegation; balance managerial duties and external demands; handle feedback Day-to-day improvements; general team leadership and management; action and goal achievement


Individualist Relativistic perspective; aware of emotions and self-expressions; non-judgmental; maverick; against norms Independent creative work; consulting; drive change


Strategist Value action inquiry, mutuality and autonomy; interweave short with long term; aware of paradox; creative conflict resolution; Handle multiple roles; planning; future design; transformational change



Integrate material, spiritual, and societal transformation


Lead society-wide transformations



According to Torbert and Taylor (2008), leadership development starts early in our lives as we navigate through the action-logics from the Opportunist level to the one in which we feel most comfortable. This will be the stage where we experience our “most complex meaning-making systems, perspective, or mental model we have mastered” (Simcox, 2005, p. 4). The seven action logics are divided into conventional and post-conventional. The first four stages (Opportunist, Diplomat, Expert and Achiever) correspond to the conventional action-logics. The majority of leaders (85%) operate from one of these conventional stages (Rooke & Torbert, 2005). Conventional leaders are focused on objective reality and their leadership actions are aimed at execution with minimal reflection, and modification of only behaviors and not action-logics themselves. In contrast, the post-conventional leaders are more likely to reframe problems and constraints and to recognize different action-logics in others (Torbert & Associates, 2004). Their aim is to create shared visions founded in diversity. Collaborative inquire is a hallmark of post-conventional action-logics which is used to develop solutions (Rooke & Torbert, 2005). These later-stage leaders can identify incongruities in their own thinking and experience and modify them to serve the global good.

In their research, Torbert and his colleagues found that post-conventional leaders are the ones capable of leading transformational change in organizations. These researchers did not find evidence of transformational capabilities in conventional leaders (Torbert & Associates, 2004). One of the key differences between conventional and post-conventional action-logics is single, double and triple loop awareness. Torbert & Associates (2004) state that conventional action-logic leaders have demonstrated single loop awareness only. With this type of awareness, only behaviors and operational facts can be assessed and modified. Double loop awareness is needed to reflect on goals, strategies and structures. In this context, structure refers to the action-logics themselves. Starting with the Individualist stage, Torbert and his colleagues observed double loop awareness relating it with the ability to transform an organization (Simcox, 2005). Triple loop awareness, which is associated mostly with the Alchemist level, brings reflection at the attention and intention levels along with vision.

In the conceptualization of leadership stage development, Torbert and his colleagues state, “[L]ater stages are reached only through journeying through the earlier stages” (Simcox, 2005, p. 4). Once a stage has been integrated by a leader, it remains part of his or her capabilities even when new stages are reached. The expectation is that leaders operate through various action-logics depending on the situation. A leader may behave as a “Diplomat” in one setting and as an “Individualist” in another based on what is required. As with any stage development framework, there is always the risk of believing that a later stage is better than an earlier one. Organizations need leaders in all stages of development to be successful (Rooke & Torbert, 2005). Further, competence is not an attribute of a developmental stage.

Torbert and his colleagues found that leaders can develop across action-logics. This is primarily true in the first conventional stages (Torbert & Associates, 2004). Common leadership development programs in organizations are geared to develop leaders with Expert action-logics into Achievers. Most organizations do not have awareness of what it takes to develop an Achiever into an Individualist (Rooke & Torbert, 2005).  Consequently, most post-conventional leaders are formed through experiences external to the workplace and bring their higher action-logics to their organizations after they have already formed (Simcox, 2005). Figure 3 provides an integral model that captures the elements of Torbert’s leadership stage development framework. The internal dimension shows the reflective aspects of leadership both at individual and collective levels. The external dimension does the same with the objective world of a leader.

Rooke & Torbert (2005) state that the leadership stage development framework applies to organizations acting at a collective action-logic. They posit that the most effective organizations would act at the Strategist level where learning and growth opportunities would be the norm for individuals and the collective. However, these researchers found that most organizations operate at the Expert or Achiever action-logics. The reason for this is that organizations prefer unambiguous targets and deadlines, working with specific strategies and tactics (Rooke & Tolbert, 2005).

  Figure 3. This figure is a synthesis of the characteristics of the seven action-logics from Simcox (2005), Torbert and Associates (2005), and Rooke and Torbert (2005).

Figure 3. This figure is a synthesis of the characteristics of the seven action-logics from Simcox (2005), Torbert and Associates (2005), and Rooke and Torbert (2005).

Transformational Change and Transformative Learning

Based on the attributes of the seven leadership stages from Torbert and his colleagues only leaders in the post-conventional action-logics understand and can navigate through transformational change. If this premise is correct, how do these leaders guide change where the frame of reference for all individuals in an organization must change for a successful transformation? Transformational change for an organization implies individual transformational change for its members, which further implies that the leaders must change first—in this case the post-conventional leaders whom are capable of this type of change. These implications point to two types of changes during a transformation: organizational and individual. Although organizational change theory addresses the change of individuals as an end state, most of this theory does not address it as part of the change itself (Henderson, 2002). This leaves a gap for organizations and leaders attempting large change through the limited scope of conventional change management practices.

Adult development theories have led to the formation of Transformative Learning (TL), which is “the process of examining, questioning, validating, and revising our perceptions of the world” (Henderson, 2002, p. 200). TL is about individual change and how we see ourselves and make meaning of the world around us. Based on this definition, post-conventional leaders are transformative learners. This is supported by the literature on transformational leadership (Kegan, 2000; Mezirow, 2000; Mezirow & Taylor, 2009). According to Mezirow (1991), considered the founder of TL, transformative learners distinguish between three types of reflection: a) content, b) process, and c) premise. Process reflection involves checking on the problem-solving strategies while premise reflection questions the problem itself. Both of these correspond to double-loop feedback awareness, the hallmark of post-conventional action-logics.

Henderson’s article Transformative Learning as a Condition for Transformational Change in Organizations (2002) provides a comprehensive analysis of organizational change and Transformative Learning theories. This author maps attributes of each theory to the transformation of an organization and the individual. Henderson’s conclusion is that all the major theories of organizational change consider individual change as an end but not as the means. In contrast, all of the theories of transformative learning consider individual change as the means. This important distinction establishes the connection with post-conventional action logics where “internal” change is the pre-requisite for transformational change (Rooke & Torbert 1998, 2005; Torbert & Taylor, 2008; Barker & Torbert, 2011). Nailon, Delahaye and Brownlee (2007) distinguish between transactional and transformational leaders. These authors posit that transformational leaders are concerned about efficiencies and organizational goals with a focus on supporting their staff emotionally and intellectually.  In contrast, transactional (conventional action-logic) leaders accentuate inefficiencies and provide negative feedback.

Holistic Transformational Team Model

To gain a deeper understanding of the structure of a change leadership team, we return to Koestler and the concept of the holon. According to Koestler (1990), holons, because of their dual nature (part and whole), are necessarily connected to other holons in a vertical structure he called holarchy, which can be viewed as a multi-layer system. It is important to note that holarchies do not form larger holons but simply arrange them to represent conceptual entities. Koestler (1990) conceived that holarchies structure social organizations into what he called open hierarchical systems capable of learning and evolving.

Edward’s views in alignment with Koestler’s stipulate that organizations evolve along the lines and levels of development as a holarchy (Edwards, 2005; Cacioppe & Edwards, 2005b; Edwards 2009). Rooke and Torbert (2005) in Seven Transformations of Leadership make the point that organizations have a collective leadership developmental stage. Applying the holonic structure to this concept, we arrive at a holarchy that has the internal-external and individual-collective dimensions capable of transformation present in its members. The questions that emerge are how holons look at each leadership stage and how organizations can apply change holarchy principles.

Earlier in this document, a conceptual holon for Torbert’s leadership stage development was presented (Figure 3). The contents of this holon correspond to integral attributes that relate to the seven levels of the leadership stages. Even though this model is descriptive, it provides a fundamental structure in which to build the dimensions of a holistic leadership team holon. Cacioppe and Edwards (2005b) postulate that a holistic model must not only contain the dimensions on internal-external and individual-collective but it should clearly articulate the lines and levels of development along these dimensions.

In her dissertation, Marjolein Lips-Wiersma (Lips-Wiersma & Morris, 2011) introduced the concept of the Map of Meaning which is a 2 x 2 structure which provides a possible holistic framework to capture the elements of a transformational team holarchy. Lips-Wiersma and Morris (2011) define four developmental containers along the two integral dimensions of internal-external and individual-collective. These containers are: 1) developing the inner-self, 2) unity with others, 3) expressing full potential, and 4) service others. The authors performed an extensive validation of their framework at a variety of organizations and with individuals at different levels of leadership. Their approach was to measure the level of meaningfulness, including personal development associated with the integral expression of all four quadrants by their subjects. In their findings, a person with a strong sense of inner self-development, connection with others, finding realization in their activities, and having a strong sense of service would experience the highest level of meaningfulness. It is this author’s view that these four states of meaningfulness correspond to Torbert’s post-conventional attributes of the post-convention levels of leadership: the Individualist, Strategist and Alchemist.

Lips-Wiersma and Morris (2011), describe their model as having four pathways held in tension along each dimension of the quadrant. One pathway counters the needs of self with the needs of others while the other tugs between being (reflection) and doing (action). These pathways are congruent with the integral dimensions of internal-external (being and doing) and individual collective (self and others). Figure 4 shows the resulting holon from the Map of Meaning (Lips-Wiersma & Morris, 2011).

 Figure 4. Map of Meaning holon. This is an adaptation from the Map of Meaning described in Lips-Wiersma and Morris (2011). These authors do not use Wilber’s AQAL format but the representation of their map can easily be adapted to this quadrant structure.

Figure 4. Map of Meaning holon. This is an adaptation from the Map of Meaning described in Lips-Wiersma and Morris (2011). These authors do not use Wilber’s AQAL format but the representation of their map can easily be adapted to this quadrant structure.

In Figure 4, inner self-development results from the meaningfulness that comes from active involvement with the person we are becoming as a result of being engaged in our life and work—from being a good person to being the best we can possibly be.  The unity with others quadrant refers to the meaningfulness of living together with other human beings. This does not mean uniformity. It primarily involves finding unity in diversity.  Expressing full potential refers to the meaningfulness of making our mark in the universe. It is active and outwardly focused. This quadrant is based on the concept that we are all unique, and that we are responsible for bringing our unique gifts and talents into the world.  The service to others quadrant is about the human need to make contributions to the wellbeing of others, from helping an individual to making a difference in the wider world.

Applying the Map of Meaning holon to Torbert’s seven leadership stages, we end up with seven holons, which can form a holarchy for the transformational change team. Figure 5 shows a representation of this holarchy. The shading of the quadrants in this figure represents the level of focus for each of the leadership stages. Focus in this context means a high degree of awareness of the leader in the particular quadrant. There are two degrees of focus being represented, primary and secondary. Primary focus provides the driving force for the actions of the leader while the secondary focus complements them. For instance, the Achiever has a strong focus on the application of leadership in the service of others and a secondary focus on expressing full potential. The strategist is focused in all of the quadrants except for unity with others. Non-shaded quadrants do not necessarily mean absence of activity in that location of the holon. It simply means not enough activity to be consequential in the current meaning-making of the individual as a leader. As an example, the Diplomat appears to be totally focused in the service to others quadrant. This individual will engage with others and to some degree work to express full potential. However, based on Rooke & Torbert (2005), the Diplomat as a leader seeks to maintain the status quo, which corresponds to being in almost blind service to the other leaders and the organization with whom this type of leader is engaged.

  Figure 5. Transformational team leadership focus.

Figure 5. Transformational team leadership focus.

Given the Map of Meaning holon and the direction provided by Cacioppe and Edwards (2005b) on an integral leadership stage model, a holistic transformational team holon can be specified. The objective of this specification is to have a blueprint for the leaders in a transformational team so that membership can be made consciously and not randomly. The goal in building a transformational team should conceptually be a holarchy in which the individual holons bring the right and complete focus for it to be transformational.  In essence, the transformational holarchy should have complete focus in each quadrant provided by one or more of its holons. There should not be any quadrants with an absence of focus.

Case Study

Case Study Subject

Medcab (not its real name), a public medical devices company that was the subject of the case study, is headquartered in the San Francisco Bay Area. This is a medium size company that experienced rapid growth over the last ten years. This precipitated the need for transformation both in its products and services, and also in its internal processes. The company is primarily focused on the US market and has a distributed workforce with about a thousand employees. Company yearly revenues are around $330 million.

Transformational Change Initiatives

Medcab has had a few transformational initiatives over the last five years. Among them are two which are the basis for the case study. Project 1 was a broad process reengineering initiative affecting the entire company from quoting products and services to closing the financial books. The change efforts for this project started in January of 2008 with the introduction of the first set of changes a year later. Two additional years were required to complete the transformation. Although the results of the overall transformation have been positive for the company, the initial results of Project 1 experienced during most of 2009 were challenging by all accounts.  These results correlate to two thirds of all transformational processes that are challenged or fail (Meaney & Pung, 2008).

Project 2 encompassed the development, manufacturing and market availability of eleven new products that transformed the company’s product offering in record-setting time.  This project launched in March of 2010 with the formation of project teams and the direction from the CEO to complete all products by the following May.  Historically, Medcab had difficulty executing multiple products in parallel and the average time for each far exceeded the goal of launching all eleven products in that timeframe.  New development processes and a different method of cross-functional collaboration were needed to accomplish the objectives, both requiring transformation. The outcome of Project 2 was exceptional with all eleven products being launched in May of 2011 with immediate availability. This transformational initiative falls in the one third of the population of successful change initiatives.

Participants and Their Qualifications

The case study sponsor was the Vice President of Human Resources at Medcab. She provided the background on the two selected initiatives and others that were considered. The criteria in appendix B were utilized to select the two case studies to compare and contrast via this case study.  Five individuals were identified by the sponsor to participate in the interview process for the case study. They all met the criteria identified in appendix C. This researcher was most particular about the dual membership of the participants: a) they all had to be leaders in both change initiatives and b) be influential in their outcomes. The driver for these requirements was to ensure a common experience and perspective by the case study participants.  Appendix D defines the current roles of the participants at Medcab and their roles in both projects

Project Holarchies

Figure 6 shows the governance structure for both projects. In this figure we can see that both initiatives had a three layer leadership structure. For Project 1 the first layer was composed of members of Medcab’s Senior Staff (executive vice presidents) and the functional vice presidents affected by the project’s changes. Their mission was that of oversight.  The second governance layer for this project was the Core Team. It was composed of functional experts at senior manager and director levels with the mission of leading and managing the day-to-day activities of the change initiative. The interview findings observed that not all Medcab functions were represented in the Core Team and that its members had their own specific agendas.

In Project 1, the third layer was comprised of the leaders of each function affected by the initiative. These functional leaders were expected to drive the change for their function. However, there is little evidence that this actually took place. The case study participants indicated that the functional leaders in Project 1 (layer 3) relinquished this responsibility to individual contributors and more junior personnel. In addition, the third layer of Project 1’s governance holarchy did not feel responsible for the change, thus expecting the Core Team to drive the change details and perform the actual work.

  Figure 6. The governance holarchy for the transformational change initiatives at Medcab.

Figure 6. The governance holarchy for the transformational change initiatives at Medcab.

In contrast to Project 1, the first governance layer of Project 2 was formed purely with members of Medcab’s executive team, Senior Staff. This governance layer acted coherently and provided the overall governance and direction for the program.  The second layer of Project 2 did not exist until four months before the launch of the eleven new products. Each product team (the third layer) had its own core or management team and reported its progress directly to Senior Staff (first governance layer). As Project 2 proceeded and encountered the unknowns of the functional integration required by the massive product launch, Senior Staff decided to form the Leadership Team, the second layer of the governance structure for Project 2. This team was composed of vice presidents and directors of most functions in the company. The Leadership Team became responsible for the execution of the product launch across all functional disciplines (similar charter to Project 1’s Core Team).

The structure, mission and attitude of the third level in the governance structure for Project 2 were completely different from its counterpart. Instead of the teams at the third layer being composed of individual functions, the Project 2 teams at the third governance level were product oriented, encapsulating the required functional members for each product. The challenge of these teams was their uneven functional representation and the lack of know-how to coordinate a massive product launch.

Map of Meaning Analysis

From a Map of Meaning holon perspective, the participants provided their insight, which are compiled in appendix E. This appendix shows a summary of the responses from the interview questions arranged by each of the dimensions in the Map of Meaning: Inner Development, Unity with Others, Expressing Full Potential, and Service Others. Table 2 provides a rating for each dimension based on the feedback provided by the participants.

Table 2. Map of Meaning ratings.  The ratings specify: 1 – no evidence of any development during the project; 2 – about 25 percent development; 3 – about 50 percent development; 4 – about 75 percent development; and 5 – full evidence of a developed dimension.

Map of Meaning Dimension

Rating for Project 1

Rating for Project 2

Inner Development



Unity with Others



Expressing Full Potential



Service Others




Table 2 indicates that participants in Project 1 did not experience any discernible personal growth. In this project, the Core Team and the individual functions could not form a coherent whole. Individuals kept to their agendas and their own ideas. Learning was limited to technical matters and not to the subject of how to work together for a common goal. Project 2 shows that individuals changed and embraced the demands of their role. The inclusion of the Leadership Team (layer 2) by Senior Staff infused the sense of responsibility across the board. Members of all teams in the holarchy connected with their own sense of purpose and became aware of their impact.

In the Unity with Others dimension, Project 1 also shows a low score. This came from the interview questionnaire data that pointed to a set of individuals who recognized the importance of the project but could not leave their own ideas and their functional membership behind to come together as a cohesive collective. The leadership team in Project 1 could not agree on any shared values and belonging to the team was not viewed as important, particularly by the third layer of the holarchy. In contrast, Project 2 shows a higher score for the Unity with Others dimension. As previously stated, all layers for this project came together with a common purpose and developed the shared value of accountability. No one wanted to let others down, particularly with Senior Staff and the CEO fully engaged. The unity exhibited by the holarchy in Project 2 appeared to be one of purpose and not of identity.

Both projects received medium to high scores in the Expressing Full Potential dimension of the Map of Meaning. Medcab, being a high-tech company, focusing on deliverables rather than relationships is natural for the company. Project 2 obtained a slightly higher score than Project 1 for this dimension. As all of the interviewees noted, developing products is in Medcab’s DNA.  In contrast, several of the interviewees observed that process reengineering, the main objective of Project 1, did not come naturally.

The final dimension of the Map of Meaning is Service Others. This is a dimension that goes outside of the company and positions the organization to work for the greater good. Neither change initiative in the case study had elements of going outside the company. Project 1 was an inwardly focused project while Project 2, at its core, had the objective of revamping the company’s product offering. In the rating, Project 2 received a slightly higher score because there was thought about the impact to others and how the new products could positively affect the lives of Medcab’s customers and their customers. In Project 1 team members were aware of the company’s greater good and could see it in the horizon. However, they were not able to translate this greater benefit in terms of their own engagement.

Leadership Stage Development Analysis

A set of the questions for the participants in the case study aimed at uncovering what leadership stages, as defined by Torbert and his colleagues, were present in the leadership teams of the two transformational initiatives (Torbert & Associates, 2004; Rooke & Torbert, 2005). Only four of the seven leadership stages were being investigated in this case study. It is the opinion of this researcher that the characteristics of the Opportunist and Diplomat do not map to roles that would be imperative in a transformational leadership team.  The presence of the Alchemist was also excluded given that this stage of leadership is present in only one percent of leaders and the likelihood that an Alchemist was present in the Medcab initiatives and could be recognized as such was low. The actions of an alchemist would most likely be interpreted as an Individualist or Strategist (Torbert & Associates, 2004).

Table 3 shows the results of the answers about leadership stages provided by the Medcab participants (see Appendix F for a summary of the answers).  From these answers, it is clear that Project 1 did not have all of the Experts available during the project. This feedback by the participants was unanimous. The lack of critical expertise in this initiative was evident in both the internal resources and the consultants that were engaged in Project 1. In contrast, Project 2 included all of the experts necessary to achieve its objectives. As mentioned earlier, the company has deep expertise in product development and felt comfortable in stretching to improve its ability to handle parallel product development and in improving its time to market cycle time.

Table 3. Presence or absence of the leadership stages for each transformational initiative at Medcab. This table provides a rating of the findings for the leadership stages for each initiative. A rating of 1 indicates the total absence of the leadership stage characteristics based on the input provided by the participants to the questions related to each stage. A rating of 2 specifies about a 25 percent presence of the leadership stage. A 3 in the rating columns indicate about 50 percent presence, while a 4 corresponds to 75 percent. A rating of 5 states that full presence (100 percent) of the leadership stage was determined during the interviews.

Leadership Stage

Rating for Project 1

Rating for Project 2







Individualists (Architects)








Table 3 shows that Project 1 did have enough Achievers to drive the project to completion. However, these Achievers were not able to create a common understanding of the priorities and drivers for the project. Further, several of the interviewees stated that people in the project believed that the dates in the project were not real and that they could slip.  Project 2 had a markedly different Achiever result. The head Achiever in the project was the CEO. He made clear that everyone knew what was at stake and what needed to be done and by when. There were no doubts from the leadership team on what was expected.

The characteristics of the Individualist are harder to pin down in a set of questions. For instance, how do people understand and recognize relativism? To clarify matters, this researcher encapsulated the traits of an Individualist in the role of a solutions architect. This type of individual exemplifies the attributes of an Individualist leader. A solutions architect has to be able to consider multiple points of view, be consultative, approach situations systematically and be able to bring everyone together in a cohesive approach. This type of role has to be able to see the goodness and the risks in the views of others without alienating anyone.

From the interview responses, it became clear that Project 1 did not have a solutions architect. No one in the leadership team could see the big picture or could assemble the necessary details to articulate a path for everyone. Consequently, Project 1 experienced multiple paths, multiple solutions and a fair amount of controversy.  The results of Project 1 were deeply impacted by the lack of this leadership stage.

Using the same line of inquiry, the researcher was able to uncover that Project 2 did not have an architect to bring the multi-product launch together either.  When Senior Staff created the missing second layer with the Leadership Team, it was this team that was able to architect the global launch solution. There was not a single architect but a number of them collaborating in an achievable solution.

From the Strategist stage perspective, both projects had vision and strategies that were communicated and maintained throughout their execution. Project 1 was more complicated than Project 2 and required the translation of the strategy into digestible chunks. Many of the Project 1 participants got lost in the details and could not relate to the overall strategy. Several of the case study participants stated that at least half of the people did not know what they and their functions were getting out of the project.  In Project 2, the subject matter was known to all participants. The vision and strategy of this initiative was communicated by the CEO and his Senior Staff often. Interviewees commented that everyone was on board and that there were no doubts in everyone’s mind as to what was at stake. From the responses of the case study questionnaire, both projects missed understanding the needs of the people in the projects. This lack of understanding was deeper in Project 1, but the Project 2 leaders did not see the level of stress that the team members were under. One of the comments was that at times Project 2 felt like being at the dentist: “you know it is good for you but you can’t wait for it to be over.”


This research aimed at answering two questions: a) how leadership stage development correlates to the success of transformational change initiatives, and b) how the make-up of a change leadership team affects outcome in the absence of leadership stage development awareness. The case study at Medcab dealt with two transformational initiatives with different outcomes.  Project 1 and 2 at Medcab shared key similarities including their importance to the company, proper funding and support from their executive team. As explored in the analysis sections of this document, the projects were dissimilar in their Map of Meaning and their leadership stages. These two lenses were used in the case study to address the questions posed by the research.

Using Figure 4 as a reference, Project 1’s Map of Meaning shows a weak Being dimension. Both, the Inner Development and Unity with Others quadrants received low ratings based on the answers from the participants. This overall weakness manifested into low awareness, individual agendas, inability to come together, minimal to no ability to grow, and limited learning. In particular, Project 1 had a low score in the Inner Development quadrant. This prevented this initiative from developing an identity that team members could relate to and to which they wanted to belong. The dimension of Doing in Project 1’s Map of Meaning showed some strength, particularly in the Expressing Full Potential quadrant. This strength enabled the project to develop its work products and complete them by a given due date. As documented in the analysis section, the work products and team readiness for this initiative had issues that resulted in major challenges right after the new system and processes went into effect.

From the leadership stages perspective, Project 1 did not have all of the Experts it needed. It appears that it had enough Achievers but they were not effective in convincing team members what to accomplish and by when. This difficulty could have been rooted in the company’s culture but it appears that Achievers in the leadership team were not collaborating or aiming for the same goals. It was noted in the analysis that Individualists as incarnated in one or more solutions architect were totally absent from Project 1. This void prevented this initiative from having a holistic solution that drove work products and team engagement. Finally, there is evidence of the presence of Strategists in Project 1 from the established vision and the overall strategy for this initiative. However, this leadership stage was not able to create a cohesive collective.

Integrating the Map of Meaning and leadership stage lenses, we can conclude that the development of the Being dimension in Project 1 was affected by the absence of the Individualist stage and by the ineffectiveness of the Strategists on the team to create a cohesive collective. The Doing dimension for this initiative was more developed due to the availability of some Experts and a number of Achievers. This allowed Project 1 to deliver work products but with limited completeness and accuracy. This was due to the emphasis in the Individual dimension of the Map of Meaning over the Collective. The fact that the leadership team for this initiative could not get its Collective dimension engaged, ultimately translated into the diminished capabilities of the new system and processes being put in place.

The Map of Meaning ratings in Table 2 shows a stronger set of Being and Doing dimensions for Project 2. This is also true for the Individual and Collective dimensions of this holon. This indicates that the leadership team in this initiative had a strong sense of identity, was able to accomplish results and could work well with others. The rating of 3 for the Inner Development quadrant corresponds to a team that had enough awareness to guide its own course and learn as it went along. The strong rating of 4 associated with the Unity with Others quadrant reflects a team that was effective, shared common values, and could pursue unified goals. On the Doing dimension of the Map of Meaning, Project 2 shows a strong Expressing Full Potential quadrant that correlates to solid execution, complete and accurate work products, and active management of risks. As stated in the analysis, this initiative along with Project 1 did not score high in the Service Others quadrant given their technical scopes. However, Project 2 had enough collective awareness of the each individual’s impact to the whole to score higher than its project counterpart in the case study.

From the leadership stage perspective and as noted in the analysis, Project 2 had all of the Experts it needed. This supply of expertise came from all three layers of the leadership holarchy, but, primarily the second layer. The abundance of Experts made the deliverables of Project 2 completely realizable. The Achiever stage was also well represented in this initiative starting with the Medcab CEO who participated in the daily leadership meetings. This translated into a fast paced execution with well-defined milestones. Even though the Individualist level in Project 2 was not manifested into identifiable solutions architects, the members of layer 2 of the holarchy provided the Individualist action logic aplenty. The results of this abundant Individualist energy were complete solutions, a fair amount of introspection and overwhelming critique for everyone’s work. The last leadership stage investigated in the case study, the Strategist, was well personified in the senior team members of Project 2. Vision and strategy were well defined, communicated and globally accepted.

Looking into the intersection of the Map of Meaning and the leadership stage development lenses, we can conclude that the Experts and Achievers in Project 2 provided a strong backbone for the Doing dimension of the Map of Meaning. Similarly, the team-oriented version of the Individualist stage and the effective Strategists in this project gave way to a solid Being dimension of the holon. The Individualist energy supported the development of Inner Development quadrant while the Strategist level created the environment for effective collective activities.

On the first question of the research, we can conclude that the stage development as analyzed through the Map of Meaning and leadership stage lenses affected the outcome of both initiatives. Project 1 had missing leadership stages and underdeveloped Map of Meaning quadrants both limiting how much this initiative accomplished and how challenged was its output. In contrast, Project 2 did not have any missing leadership stages and showed strength across three of the Map of Meaning quadrants. This initiative was successful and met all of its objectives.

On the second question of the research, we can also conclude that the leadership team make-up impacted the outcome of the initiatives. Medcab did not have any awareness of leadership stages prior to this case study. The assembly of the leadership teams for both projects followed criteria that did not consciously include all leadership stages. Project 1 suffered the effects of missing Experts and the absence of Individualists. On the other hand, Project 2 had the benefit of the Medcab Senior Staff forming layer two of its team holarchy with a highly qualified Leadership Team. This new leadership layer came together only in the last four months prior to product launch but was able to guide the project to success. It appears that all of the leadership stages in Project 2 became present through the combination of the Leadership Team members and Senior Staff.

This research opens the door to further investigation on how to assemble transformational team holarchies that have the best chances for success. Future research could focus on practical mechanisms to identify the leadership stages of potential leaders in a transformational team. Additionally, this research did not provide any guidance on the number or roles of the leaders at the various leadership stages. It is easy to conceive that Experts in all of the domains for a given scope would be required in a leadership team. However, what is the right number of Achievers and what should their roles be? This and other important questions could guide additional research on a topic that promises improving the outcome of transformational changes to a number greater than one in three.


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Appendix A – Interview Questions

The following are the questions which were asked to each participant during the one hour interviews along with the estimated duration for each question group:

Participant qualifications (5 minutes)

  • What is your role with the organization and how long have you been in this role?
  • How do you define transformational change and what makes it be successful?
  • Where do you see you can contribute the most in a transformational initiative and why?
  • As a leader, what personal attributes do you bring to your organization?

Transformational project characteristics (30 minutes) – The questions in this group were asked to the research sponsor and only two of the other participants.

  • At a high level, describe the scope of the two transformational initiatives in the study in terms of locations, functions, processes, systems and organizations.
  • Were the targeted transformations successful; why or why not?
  • What interventions were required to accomplish the goals of the initiatives, where did they come from, and how were they applied?

Context of your involvement (10 minutes) – The questions in this group were asked for each initiative.

  • Describe your role in the change initiative.
  • What are your main observations in how the organization approached its transformational change?

Project leadership structure (30 minutes) – The questions in this group were asked to the research sponsor and two of the participants for each of the initiatives.

  • Governance lens: Describe the leadership team organization for the transformational initiative. Specify the governance layers. Do you know how the team members of this leadership team were selected? What was missing from this structure?
  • Ecological lens: How was the interaction between the layers of the leadership team? How did the leadership team interact with the company’s functional and executive leaders? What are the high-lights and low-lights of the leadership team interaction with its environment?
  • Learning lens: How did the leadership team learned? Was there a concerted effort by the team to learn and if so, how did this happen? What are the main things the team learned? What did the team missed learning?

Leadership characteristics in the transformational project (45 minutes) – The questions in this group were asked for each transformational initiative.

  • Inner self-development: What were the driving forces for the leadership team to accomplish the goals of the initiative? What level of awareness did the leadership team have on the needs of its constituencies? How were decisions made by the leadership team? What was the balance between the needs of the project and the needs of the team members?
  • Unity with others: What did the leadership team value the most from its team members? How did the leadership team relate to “others” in the organization? How were opinions and ideas from different levels of the organization handled? Did the leadership team create a sense of community and if so how?
  • Expressing full potential: How did the leadership team manage its objectives? What work standards did the leadership team held itself and others to? How did the leadership team deal with the “low” points during the project? Were there higher level company goals the leadership team felt connected to?
  • Service others: What kind of responsibility did the leadership team feel it had with the global organization? What was the leadership team’s view of the systems and processes in the transformational project? To what extend did this team work to integrate their work products with the rest of the company’s and externally?
  • Leader stage development: How was the leadership team staffed to have all the experts it needed to accomplish its objectives? Who created the sense of urgency for the initiative and were these individuals effective? Did the leadership team have one or more individuals identifying potential risks? Was their early warning accepted and useful? Who provided the overall strategy for the initiative and guided its journey? What was effective from these individuals and what was not?

Appendix B – Characteristics of Transformational Projects

The following set of characteristics was used in determining the level of transformational change involved in the projects that were assessed as part of the participant interviews. These characteristics are based on the transformational change definitions from Burke (2011), Doppelt (2003), and Kotter (2006).

  1. Results in transformation of the organizational culture
  2. Introduces fundamental change in the organization’s strategy
  3. Results in significant changes in processes and systems
  4. Affects organization as a whole or a significant portion
  5. Change is introduced over a considerable period of time (> 2 years)
  6. Requires large investment of people and physical resources
  7. Benefits of change are significant
  8. Consequence of failing with the change could be disastrous
  9. Outside expertise is required to accomplish the change
  10. Major developmental opportunity for the organization’s leaders

Appendix C – Participant Criteria

The following is the criteria provided to the research sponsor to facilitate the selection of the participants:

  1. Senior role in the organization
  2. Member of both of the transformational change initiatives. Alternatively, member of one of the initiatives.
  3. Held a leadership role in the change initiative(s) at level one or two of the leadership team holarchy.
  4. Individual is known for being insightful and can effectively communicate organizational experiences.

Appendix D – Participant Organizational and Change Initiative Roles

Current roles and roles in the transformational initiatives for the five participants in the case study.


Current Role

Project 1 Role

Project 2 Role

Person 1


Project Sponsor and Steering Committee Member

Sr. Staff Member

Person 2

Executive Vice President, Field Operations

Steering Committee Member

Sr. Staff Member

Person 3

Sr. Director, Information Technology (IT)

Program Director

IT Leader on Leadership Team

Person 4

Sr. Director, Field Operations

Field Operations Leader

Field Operations Leader on Leadership Team

Person 5

Sr. Manager, Cost Accounting

Program Management Office, Finance

Finance Leader on Leadership Team

Appendix E – Map of Meaning Interview Summary

Map of Meaning summarization for the transformational change initiatives at Medcab along with the rating of how developed each dimension appears to be based on the input provided by the participants.  The ratings specify: 1 – no evidence of any development during the project; 2 – about 25 percent development; 3 – about 50 percent development; 4 – about 75 percent development; and 5 – full evidence of a developed dimension.

Map of Meaning Dimension Project 1


Project 2


Inner Development The leadership team was not fully aware of its role and how to go about driving change for the company.  Multiple agendas were present and personalities dominated conversations.  There were minimal to no transformations that took place.  There was some technical growth.


Initially, the leadership team for this project did not have full awareness on how to successfully complete the objectives.  The awareness of the Senior Management team changed the leadership constituency, bringing more awareness of what it would take to be fully successful.  Growth in the dimension of team collaboration was evident.  Individual growth was limited.  Some leaders stepped out from their comfort zone and embarked on remarkable work.


Unity with Others Team was connected through the project deliverables.  Although effort was placed in building community, this did not take place.  People espoused different values and aimed for different goals.  Most team members did not have a sense of belonging in the project team.  This changed after go-live when team members spent 1-year together solving the problems introduced by the project.


Initially, the core team was not aware of the needs of others and could not create a cohesive work team.  Senior Staff and the larger leadership team achieved work cohesiveness, although it was not a work community.  Unity of purpose was achieved through work products and daily meetings.  Personal commitment was the main shared value all the way from the CEO.


Expressing Full Potential A fair amount was accomplished by the team.  However, misalignment with the objectives made some of the teams under-perform.  Some critical areas received focus and creativity.  Others were ignored and left for later.  Personal agendas prevented coherent work and mutual leverage.


Goals were clear, particularly after the broader team was brought together.  People worked for the common goals.  Teams executed at their best under much of pressure.  Time compression and the need to succeed (not fail) created a fair amount of stress.  Problem solving resulted in a fair amount of creativity.  Direction and influence was provided by the leadership team acting in unison.


Service Others Some of the leadership team had a strong sense of the common purpose and the global benefit for the company.  However, this was not a global view.  A fair number were concerned of what would happen to them when the change occurred.  Also, some had the expectation that someone would deliver the change for them and therefore they did not need to be engaged.


After the larger leadership team was engaged, everyone understood that the company would be positively or negatively impacted.  The leadership team had a strong sense that their contribution made a difference.  Even though the new products would contribute to the industry, there was a stronger sense of what it meant to the company as opposed to Healthcare.



Appendix F – Leadership Stage Development Interview Summary

Presence or absence of the leadership stages for each transformational initiative at Medcab.  This table provides a summary of the findings for the leadership stages for each initiative along with a rating.  A rating of 1 indicates the total absence of the leadership stage characteristics based on the input provided by the participants to the questions related to each stage.  A rating of 2 specifies about a 25 percent presence of the leadership stage.  A 3 in the rating columns indicate about 50 percent presence, while a 4 corresponds to 75 percent.  A rating of 5 states that full presence (100 percent) of the leadership stage was determined during the interviews.

Leadership Stage Project 1


Project 2


Experts Missing business expertise in the consultants.  Business and IT did not know SAP.  Intersection of knowledge deficit created large solution gaps.  Solutions could not be completely conveyed.


In the first part of the project not all experts were involved.  Once Senior Management became a driving force, all the experts were engaged either directly in the leadership team or through the leaders in the “room.”  There were no expertise gaps.


Achievers Sense of urgency and drive was in place via the go-live date and pressure from the leadership.  However, there were multiple interpretations of the sense of urgency and why the project was being done in the first place.  This led to mixed levels of engagement and broad procrastination.


Urgency and overall drive came all the way from the CEO.  Senior Staff was fully engaged and provided the forcing function for everyone’s sense of urgency.  The benefits and the risks to the company were understood by all and managed daily.


Individualists (Architects) There was no single architect or solution designer.  There were a number of contributors, all of which had their own ideas on how the solution should work.  Risks were not well understood and unintended consequences were mostly hidden.


This project also lacked an overall architect or solution designer.  However, once the global leadership was formed, the solutions’ architects for each area were engaged.  This allowed for all risks to become known and managed.  The lack of a cohesive solutions resulted in second guessing the experts.


Strategists There was an overall strategy and vision.  Generally people understood the vision but everyone got lost in the details.  The vision and overall strategy were not translated into digestible “chunks” that the organization could understand and contribute to.


The vision was known to all.  Some critical strategies were missing until the global leadership came together.  Strategies were developed “live” with the leadership team in the daily meetings.  This enabled global understanding of the strategies and their full support.


About the Author

Jorge Taborga  is the Vice President of Manufacturing, Quality and IT at Omnicell, Inc.  He has an extensive background in change leadership, product development, management consulting, process reengineering and information technology.  His 29 year work experience includes companies like ROLM Systems, IBM, Quantum, Bay Networks, 3Com, and UTStarcom.  Jorge also delivered organizational development and management consulting services to a number of companies in the San Francisco Bay Area and China.  He is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Organizational Systems at Saybrook University.

Learner Paper: Complexity Leadership

Learner Papers

Complexity Leadership: An Overview and Key Limitations


Barrett C. Briown


An overview of the complexity leadership literature is provided. This includes a history of complexity theory and its core concepts, the central propositions of complexity leadership, a review of six prominent frameworks, and a summary of practitioner guidelines. The article also discusses two key limitations to complexity theory: the need to supplement it with other epistemologies and leadership approaches, and the importance of recognizing that its sustained execution likely requires a developmentally mature meaning-making system. The conclusion is that complexity leadership offers a fresh and important way of perceiving and engaging in the management of complex organizational behavior, one which may help leaders to address the most pressing and complex social, economic, and environmental challenges faced globally today.

Complexity Leadership

Complexity leadership was introduced by Marion and Uhl-Bien (2001). It is based upon the application of complexity theory to the study of organizational behavior and the practice of leadership. In the 1990s, researchers drew from complexity theory studies in physics, chemistry, biology, and computer science to cultivate novel insights about their fields. Such research was initially focused on the social sciences in general (Goldstein, 1995; Marion, 1999; Nowak, May, & Sigmund, 1995), but soon thereafter complexity theory was applied to organizational processes (Anderson, 1999; McKelvey, 1997).

This article offers an overview of the complexity leadership literature. To understand complexity leadership requires knowledge of the fundamentals of complexity theory. The first section of this article briefly describes the history and lineage of complexity theory and defines some of the important concepts from it that are applied in the field of complexity leadership. This if followed by a summary of the core concepts of complexity leadership and a review of six complexity leadership frameworks. The article continues with an overview of guidelines for putting complexity leadership theory into practice, and concludes with a discussion of two key limitations to its application.

Complexity Theory

The science of complexity theory concerns the study of complexly interacting systems (Marion & Uhl-Bien, 2001). Complexity theory has been defined the “study of behaviour of large collections of…simple, interacting units, endowed with the potential to evolve with time” (Coveney, 2003). While the entire theory is more complex than this, this definition is useful as it encompasses three fundamental characteristics of complex systems: they involve interacting units, are dynamic, and are adaptive. In essence, complexity theory is about (1) the interaction dynamics amongst multiple, networked agents, and (2) how emergent events – such as creativity, learning, or adaptability – arise from these interactions (Marion, 2008).

Complexity theorists inquire into how such systems engage with each other, adapt, and influence things like emergence, innovation, and fitness (Marion & Uhl-Bien, 2001). Complexity theory developed out of myriad sources, many of which arose during World War II. However, nine main, interrelated research strands form the lineage of its contemporary expression. Each of these traditions offers core constructs that are essential to the overall theory. Systems thinking offers the concepts of boundaries and positive and negative feedback loops. Theoretical biology frames organizations as organic, evolving, whole systems. Nonlinear dynamical systems theorydeveloped the notions of attractors, bifurcation, and chaos. Connectivity and networks were developed in the purely mathematical field of graph theoryComplex adaptive systems theorycontributes the idea of evolving, adapting systems of interacting agents. Finally, the concept of emergence of novel order arose across through work on several fields/constructs: phase transition, Turing’s morphogenetic model, synergetics, and far-from-equilibrium thermodynamics(Goldstein, 2008).

A full review of complexity theory is beyond the scope of this article, but the following key concepts are explained below, as they are instrumental for understanding complexity leadership: complex vs. complicated; characteristics of a complex system; interaction; dynamic; adaptation; mechanisms; self-organized criticality; dissipative structures; emergence; and complex adaptive systems.[1]

Complex vs. Complicated

In the complexity sciences, the term “complex” does not mean the same as “complicated.” A system is complicated if each of its individual components or constituents can be described (even if there is a huge number of them). For example, computers or jumbo jets are complicated systems. A system is complex if its relationships cannot be explained fully by merely analyzing its components because they are dynamic and changing. The brain, for example, is a complex system (Cilliers, 1998 cited in Uhl-Bien & Marion, 2009). The term complexity is meant to impart the sense of deep interconnectedness and dynamic interaction that results in emergence within and across complex adaptive systems (described below). Complexity generates novel features, often called emergent properties. Other examples of complex systems that generate emergent properties due to being richly interactive, nonlinearly dynamic, and unpredictable are the Brazilian rainforest, natural language, and social systems (Cilliers, 1998; Snowden & Boone, 2007; Uhl-Bien & Marion, 2009).

Characteristics of a Complex System (Snowden & Boone, 2007)

Complex systems incorporate myriad interacting elements. The interactions between these elements are nonlinear and minor changes can cascade into large-scale consequences. Such systems are dynamic, with a whole greater than the sum of its parts. It is not possible to impose solutions or order upon them; rather, such novel forms arise from the circumstances within them (called emergence – discussed below). The elements of complex systems evolve with one another, integrating their past with the present, and their evolution is irreversible. Due to the constant fluctuations and changes of external conditions and connected systems, complex systems are not predictable, although they may seem ordered and predictable in retrospect. As such, no forecasting or prediction of their behavior can be made. This is due to the fact that individual elements and the system itself constrain one another over time. Such mutually constraining behavior is different than in ordered systems in which the system constrains the elements, or in chaotic systems which have no constraints.


Complexity theorists study the “patterns of dynamic mechanisms that emerge from the adaptive interactions of many agents” (Marion, 2008, p. 5). When sentient agents (like humans in an organization) interact, they change due to the influence of relationships, interdependent behaviors, and the emergence of subsets of agents that engage one another interdependently. The structures, dynamic behaviors, and patterns that arise from these complex interactions become unrecognizable when perceived as linear combinations of the initial actors. These interactive behaviors and outcomes ultimately create feedback loops with each other, leading to effects becoming causes and influence arising from extensive chains of effect.


Complexity does not refer to static events. Rather, it concerns a dynamic process that consistently changes its elements and brings forth new things in a process called emergence (described below). While there is global stability and resilience within complex systems and complex behavior, they are fundamentally defined by change.


Adaptation refers to a complex system’s ability to strategically change or adjust in response to individual or systemic pressures. Adaptation arises at two levels, the individual and the aggregate. Individual adaptation concerns local stimuli and individual preferences. Individual adaptations amongst agents in a system can interact with each other, resulting in compromises that simultaneously serve the individual and the collective, thus forming aggregate adaptation.


In general, mechanisms are processes that result in given outcomes (Hëdstrom & Swedberg, 1998, as cited in Marion, 2008). There are certain, universal mechanisms that drive complex dynamics. When change occurs, it is these mechanisms at work. Complex mechanisms are emergent behavior patterns, universally available, that enable a dynamic mix of causal chains and agents. An aspect of complexity theory is to identify and describe complex mechanisms and the patterns that arise from their interaction. There are four key complex mechanisms. First,correlation arises through the interaction of agents as they share part of themselves (technically called their “resonance”, but loosely can be understood as their worldview, assumptions, beliefs, preferences, etc.). Correlation brings about bonding and aggregation, which is the second mechanism. Aggregation represents the clustering of multiple agents due to the development of shared or interdependent resonances. Autocatalytic mechanisms are the third type. These are emergent structures and beliefs that catalyze or accelerate other mechanisms. For example, deviant behavior like looting can be autocatalyzed by rioting behavior. The fourth key mechanism is nonlinear emergence. This mechanism is experienced as a sudden shift in dynamic states. An extreme example is the demise of the Soviet Union; another would be the transition of water from liquid to solid. Emergence will be further discussed below.

Self-Organized Criticality

Self-organized criticality (Bak & Tang, 1989; Kan & Bak, 1991) and far-from-equilibrium dissipation (Prigogine, 1997) are two causative mechanisms that lead to nonlinear emergence. Self-organized criticality refers to instances in which a minor event can lead to chaos, driving large interactive systems to a critical state (Kan & Bak, 1991). Within complex, interacting systems of many agents, it represents sudden, unexpected shifts in structure or behavior. These emergent shifts are not “caused”, but rather happen due to the dynamic, random movements within complex systems. They occur as these complex systems are randomly exploring and come within range of – and “fall” into – a complex attractor. Dramatic shifts in the stock market or the onset of looting in riots are examples of these attractors that draw in systems that come close enough to their basins of attraction. Criticality cannot be influenced by external agents, such as leaders or environmental pressures.

Dissipative Structures

Dissipative structures are the order that emerges from the dissipation of energy. Typically, dissipation refers to the entropy and deterioration of order that results with the release of energy. The creation of order is normally associated with increased energy. Prigogine (1997), however identified dissipative structures that do not result in deterioration, but an increase in order with the release of energy. An example is when oil is heated slowly. For some time it demonstrates little change (no new order). Once the oil reaches what Prigogine (1997) called a “far-from-equilibrium” point – in which the energy builds to an unstable level – the oil molecules release energy, break the tension, and shift into a gentle boiling roll. As opposed to criticality, dissipative structures can be influenced by external agents, like leaders and environmental pressures.


Emergence is “a sudden, unpredictable change event produced by the actions of mechanisms” (Marion, 2008, p. 9). It is a type of naturally occurring change and subsequent stabilization into a new order that is “free” – meaning that it does not require external energy to happen. It can result in dissipative structures. When complex systems are dynamically interacting, they often generate many low-intensity emergent changes; occasionally they experience a high-intensity change. These changes are different than those which arise through steady, step-by-step trajectories from known beginnings through predictable outcomes. Emergence arises through interaction and energic pressure as opposed to the actions of any lone individual. It is the dynamic actions of mechanisms that generate it, rather than the constant, predictable effect of variables.

Complex Adaptive Systems

The complex adaptive system (CAS) is a very important element in both complexity science and complexity leadership theory. It is the basic unit of analysis in both. According to two prominent researchers (Uhl-Bien & Marion, 2009, p. 631), complexity leadership is about leadership “inand of complex adaptive systems, or CAS” (Cilliers, 1998; Holland, 1995; Langston, 1986; Marion, 1999). CAS are open, evolutionary aggregates – neural-like networks – of interacting, interdependent agents who are cooperatively bonded by a common goal, purpose, or outlook (Cilliers, 1998; Holland, 1995; Langston, 1986; Marion, 1999; Uhl-Bien, Marion, & McKelvey, 2007). Arising naturally in social systems, CAS learn and adapt rapidly and are capable of creative problem solving (Carley & Hill, 2001; Carley & Lee, 1998; Goodwin, 1994; Levy, 1992; as cited in Uhl-Bien, et al., 2007). Complexity theorists essentially frame organizations as complex adaptive systems that are composed of heterogeneous agents that interact and affect each other, and in the process generate novel behavior for the whole system (Marion & Uhl-Bien, 2001).

With this review of the key concepts in complexity theory, I now turn to a review of some of the key findings and theoretical constructs arising from the research of leadership through the lens of complexity sciences.

Complexity Leadership: An Overview of Core Concepts and Frameworks

The field of studying leadership through the perspective of complexity is young (Panzar, 2009). Nonetheless, over the past decade, a group of researchers have focused on reframing and advancing the field of leadership through the use of the complexity sciences (Goldstein, Hazy, & Lichtenstein, 2010; Hazy, Goldstein, & Lichtenstein, 2007; Lichtenstein & Plowman, 2009; Lichtenstein, et al., 2006; Marion & Uhl-Bien, 2001; McKelvey, 2008; McMillan, 2008; Plowman & Duchon, 2008; Stacey, 1996, 2007, 2010; Stacey, Griffm, & Shaw, 2000; Uhl-Bien & Marion, 2008). This section will provide additional historical context, review some of key insights of the field and briefly present six prominent frameworks by these researchers.

Complexity leadership theory emerged in response to perceived limitations in existing leadership theory. Much leadership theory is based in a bureaucratic framework representational of the industrial age in which it was developed. This includes the assumption that goals are rationally conceived and that the achievement of these goals should be done through structured managerial practices. As a result, much of leadership theory focuses on how leaders, amidst formal and hierarchical organizational structures, can better influence others toward desired goals. The core issues within such a leadership paradigm have then become motivating workers regarding task objectives, ensuring their efficient and effective production, and inspiring their commitment and alignment to organizational objectives (Bass & Riggio, 2006; Zaccaro & Klimoski, 2001, as cited in Uhl-Bien, et al., 2007).

Fundamentally, there is a core drive toward top-down alignment and control in this model. The traditional bureaucratic mindset that has developed as a result of this paradigm has demonstrated limited effectiveness with the rise of the Knowledge Era and the complexities of the modern world (Lichtenstein, et al., 2006). The Knowledge Era is characterized by the forces of globalization, technology, deregulation and democratization collectively creating a new competitive landscape. In such an environment, learning and innovation are vital for competitive advantage (Halal & Taylor, 1999; Prusak, 1996, as cited in Uhl-Bien, et al., 2007), and control is arguably not possible or sustainable. Complexity leadership is proposed as a framework for leadership in the fast-paced, volatile, and uncertain context of the Knowledge Era (Marion & Uhl-Bien, 2001). It is, its various proponents contend, a needed upgrade to leadership theory to reflect our shift out of the Industrial Era (Uhl-Bien, et al., 2007).

Rather than focusing on top-down control and alignment, complexity leadership theorists argue that leaders should temper their attempts to control organizations and futures and instead focus on developing their ability to influence organizational behavior so as to increase the chances of productive futures (Marion & Uhl-Bien, 2001). The fundamental concept underlying complexity leadership is that, under conditions of knowledge production, informal network dynamics should be enabled – and not suppressed or aligned (Uhl-Bien, et al., 2007). Marion and Uhl-Bien (2001) contend that leadership success is not dependent upon the charisma, strategic insight, or individual power of any given leader. Rather, it is attributable to the capacity of the organization to be productive in mostly unknown, future states. Leaders must therefore foster the conditions that develop that organizational capacity, focusing on understanding the patterns of complexity and manipulating the situations of complexity more than results. Specific recommendations are discussed below for how to do this. In a broad sense, though, leaders should create the conditions for bottom-up dynamics, leave the system essentially alone so that it can generate positive emergence, and provide some basic control to keep the system focused (i.e., broader goals and a vision) (Marion & Uhl-Bien, 2001).

Lewin and Regine (2003, as cited in Panzar, 2009) agree with this overall description of the new type of leadership required. For them, leaders need to move beyond setting an organizational vision and mobilizing around it. Successful long-term strategies are those that emerge from the continuous, complex interactions among people. As a result, leaders need to stop trying to control individual outcomes and instead shift their focus to the interactions with the intention to create the healthy conditions for people to self-organize around relevant issues. To do this requires leaders to change their perspective to see the organization as a complex adaptive system that unfolds, fluctuates and emerges. This shifts a leader’s attention from trying to direct people to serving the flourishing of dynamic interactions within the organization.

Complexity leadership has been approached from a variety of directions. Table 1, reproduced from Panzar (2009), offers a distillation  and comparison of six important frameworks for studying and understanding leadership within a complexity worldview. Table 1 is followed by a brief overview of each framework.


Table 1: Complexity Leadership Contributions (Reprinted from Panzar, 2009, p. 41)

MacIntosh and MacLean (1999) developed one of the first frameworks for organizational transformation based upon complexity sciences, specifically grounded in the concept of dissipative structures. They describe a specific, three-stage sequence of activities that support effective transformation. First, the organization articulates and reconfigures the rules that underpin its deep structure, thereby “conditioning” the outcome of the transformation process. Second, steps are taken to shift the organization from its current equilibrium. Third, the organization moves into a period where the dominant focus of management attention is on positive and negative feedback loops. Their contention is that this management of the organization’s deep structure enables influence over the otherwise unpredictable self-organizing processes.

Hazy’s (2005, 2007) framework for organizational change is grounded in complexity theory as well as other disciplines. His approach is process-focused as opposed to MacIntosh and MacLean’s (1999) leadership focus (Panzar, 2009). Hazy strove to identify the general principles that relate the organizational process of leadership with an organization’s sustaining social processes. Organizational leadership in this case is framed as a meta-capability that modifies or extrapolates the system’s other capabilities. Hazy explicitly inquired into how such a meta-capability operates within a social system and its potential impact on performance and adaptation through various environmental changes. By using system dynamics modeling, he found that different patterns of leadership – either transactional or transformational – did emerge depending on the environment. Out of this research, Hazy developed a leadership and capabilities model able to test hypotheses about leadership and the relationships between it and the organization’s social processes (cf. Goldstein, et al., 2010; e.g., Hazy, 2008). He has also used this framework to measure leadership effectiveness within complex socio-technical systems (Hazy, 2006).

A third framework called adaptive leadership was developed by a group of prominent complexity leadership researchers (Lichtenstein, et al., 2006). With this framework, they shift the traditional focus from that of leaders operating in isolation to influence their followers to that of being fundamentally interactive in nature. Leadership from this perspective therefore emerges out of interactions and events, out of the interactive spaces between people and ideas. Leadership from this adaptive perspective is framed as a complex dynamic process transcending individual capacities, drawing from the interaction, tension, and rules that govern changes in perception and understanding. Each leadership event is an action segment whose meaning is derived from the dynamic interactions of those who produced it. These researchers also developed a methodology analyze these leadership events.

Two parallel theoretical streams developed off of the adaptive leadership framework, leading to two more frameworks. In the first instance, Surie and Hazy (2006) build upon the adaptive leadership construct (Lichtenstein, et al., 2006) to develop a framework called generative leadership. This is a leadership approach that creates the context for stimulating innovation in complex systems. They contend that generative leadership is a process for managing complexity and institutionalizing innovation that balances connectivity and interaction between individuals and groups. Generative leaders do not focus on developing individual traits or creativity amongst those they work with, but rather create the conditions that nurture innovation. The authors describe five distinct aspects of agent interaction that they claim are leadership mechanisms: interaction experiencing, interaction aligning, interaction partitioning, interaction leveraging, and interaction speed. Their work demonstrates how leaders can leverage these mechanisms to catalyze the environment for innovation to arise.

Hazy has collaborated with Lichtenstein and Goldstein to write two mainstream leadership books that flesh out the concept of generative leadership and its application (Goldstein, et al., 2010; Hazy, et al., 2007). In their latest book (Goldstein, et al., 2010), they introduce the term “ecologies of innovation” to reflect the system-wide set of processes and interactions within complex adaptive systems that foster innovation. They then build upon ecological and complexity sciences to show how leadership can cultivate these ecologies of innovation.

In the second theoretical stream building upon the adaptive leadership framework (Lichtenstein, et al., 2006), Marion and Uhl-Bien (2007) draw upon it and their earlier work (Marion & Uhl-Bien, 2001) to present a (fifth) framework for the study of complexity leadership theory (CLT). This framework is also at the core of a business book on complexity leadership (Uhl-Bien & Marion, 2008). They define complexity leadership theory as a “leadership paradigm that focuses on enabling the learning, creative, and adaptive capacity of complex adaptive systems (CAS) within a context of knowledge producing organizations” (Uhl-Bien, et al., 2007, p. 298). CLT is a change model of leadership that helps leaders to tap into the informal dynamics within an organization as part of the process of designing robust, dynamically adapting organizations (Uhl-Bien & Marion, 2009).

The framework for CLT is built around three leadership functions: adaptive, administrative, and enabling. Adaptive leadership refers to actions that emerge as CAS interact and adjust to tension, such as constraints or disturbances. These actions are not acts of authority, but an informal emergent dynamic. They can be adaptive, creative or learning in nature, and can occur anywhere from the boardroom to a workgroup of line workers. Administrative leadership concerns the actions of those in formal managerial roles to coordinate and plan activities to achieve prescribed outcomes. This includes vision-building, resource allocation, conflict and crisis management, and organizational strategy management. Its focus is on alignment and control and is exemplified by hierarchical and bureaucratic functions. Enabling leadership concerns efforts to “catalyze the conditions in which adaptive leadership can thrive and to manage the entanglement…between the bureaucratic (administrative leadership) and emergent (adaptive leadership) functions of the organization” (Uhl-Bien, et al., 2007, p. 305). All levels of an organization can engage in this type of leadership, but its nature varies by hierarchical level and position.

CLT, then, is a framework for studying emergent leadership dynamics – via three types of leadership – as they relate to bureaucratic superstructures. It proposes that properly functioning CAS generate an adaptive capability for an organization while bureaucracy provides a coordinating and orienting structure. The central challenge of complexity leadership is to effectively manage the entanglement between the administrative and adaptive structures and behaviors, so as to ensure optimum organizational flexibility and effectiveness. For CLT, leadership solely exists in interaction and is a function of it; nonetheless, individual leaders can play a role in interacting with this dynamic, such as by enabling it.

Stacey, Griffin and Shaw (2000) offer a final, sixth framework, one they contend is different than existing complexity leadership frameworks. They point out a frequent internal contradiction within the complexity leadership science. They note that while most researchers focus on the dynamic interactions between agents, and the influence of relationships, their theories often collapse to being centered on the individual leader and his or her ability to influence interactions. Stacey (2007) builds upon this criticism with the contention that leadership theorists acknowledge the paradoxes generated by complexity theory, but then strive to dissolve them with a systems view of human organizations in which a rationally informed leader objectively observes the system and influences relationships (Panzar, 2009). In Stacey’s (Stacey, 2007, 2010; Stacey, et al., 2000) textbook-long framing of complexity leadership, he moves away from the notion of leadership as an individual agent that can control the evolution of a social system. He presents leadership as a “complex response process” that is based upon human interactions, realized through communicative acts, and grounded in the individual agent who has the freedom to choose amidst a context of enabling and constraining interactions (Panzar, 2009).

This section has reviewed the core concepts of and key frameworks that have been posited for complexity leadership. Nonetheless, it has only scratched the surface of the literature on complexity leadership. This field itself is an emergent dynamic, with new frameworks, insights, and practice guidelines being spawned regularly out of the interactions of the CAS that is complexity leadership science itself. In the following section I review some of the behavioral recommendations for positional leaders who want to apply complexity theory in their organizations.

Toward a Practice of Complexity Leadership

Various theories of complexity leadership have been in development for over a decade, resulting in, among other things, the frameworks noted above. There appear to be two general types of research on the behaviors required to engage in complexity leadership. In the first case, some researchers (e.g., Marion & Uhl-Bien, 2001; Plowman & Duchon, 2008; Uhl-Bien, et al., 2007; Wheatley, 2006) have identified the principles of complexity sciences and then extrapolated leadership behaviors from them. The second variation consists of researchers (e.g., Goldstein, et al., 2010; Hazy, 2008; Lichtenstein & Plowman, 2009) who have longitudinally studied (sometimes retroactively) organizational and inter-organizational emergence phenomenon, using the lens of complexity leadership theory, and begun to validate the behaviors predicted by complexity leadership theory. There has been no longitudinal research done to date that I am aware of in which leaders intentionally applied complexity leadership theory to their organizations and overall organizational performance was monitored.[2]

After my review of literature on complexity leadership, there were three sets of practices that I feel are representative of the field to date. These are not meant to be a comprehensive distillation of complexity leadership behaviors, but rather a representative sampling. For further details, I refer readers to the book-length treatises on the topic (Goldstein, et al., 2010; Hazy, et al., 2007; McMillan, 2008; Stacey, 2007, 2010; Stacey, et al., 2000; Uhl-Bien & Marion, 2008; Wheatley, 2006). In the subsequent pages I describe those practices, and then offer a summary of recommendations for my personal practice.

The first of these sets of complexity leadership practices is from Marion and Uhl-Bien’s (2001) pioneering work in which they identify guidelines for leading in complex organizations. The second is from Plowman and Duchon’s (2008) research on dispelling the myths about traditional leadership – which they call “cybernetic leadership” – in service of the new, enabling behaviors of emergent leadership based upon complexity sciences. The final set of practice injunctions comes from Lichtenstein and Plowman’s (2009) work to construct a complex systems leadership theory of emergence at successive organizational levels.

There is some overlap amongst these sets of practices, as the authors are building upon each other’s work. However, I feel it is valuable to present each as a separate entity rather than attempt to consolidate them, as they each take a different perspective on complexity leadership. Marion and Uhl-Bien’s (2001) guidelines are more general in nature, for example, than Lichtenstein and Plowman’s (2009) emergent leadership behaviors, as the latter are specifically focused on actions that create the conditions for new emergent order. Plowman and Duchon’s (2008) approach, in contrast, focuses on traditional approaches to leadership and dispels the myths that arise from them through the application of complexity theory principles.

Guidelines for Leading in Complex Organizations (Marion & Uhl-Bien, 2001)

Complex leadership is the process of fostering conditions in which the new behaviors and direction of the organization emerge through regular, dynamic interaction. Rather than trying to control or exactly direct what happens within the organization, they influence organizational behavior through the management of networks and interactions. The following five practices underlie the execution of such leadership.

Foster network construction. Effective leaders learn to cultivate interdependencies through the management and development of networks within – and external to – their organization. This involves forging new connections where none exists, or enriching existing connections. The development of these networks provides contacts, but more importantly, they form the structure from which innovation can emerge. A strong network is a source of fitness for an organization, as it provides fitness to the technologies upon which it is based, as well as to the participating systems as well.

Catalyze bottom-up network construction. In addition to creating and maintaining networks, leaders also need to create the supportive environment in which new networks can emerge. By indirectly fostering network construction, they can catalyze network development. The ways to be such a catalyst range from delegation, resource allocation, and encouragement, to simply not interfering in network construction. Work environments can be reorganized to support interaction, additional decision-making powers and trust can be extended to their staff, and even new rituals and myths can be constructed that help create a culture of interaction and networking. Finally, complex leaders can also catalyze network development by avoiding solving problems for workers, insisting, rather, that they work out their own issues collaboratively.

Become leadership “tags.” A tag is the flag around which all parties rally, the binding philosophy that brings people together. Leaders can catalyze network development by becoming a tag. This does not mean that they control people with respect to a certain philosophy, but rather that they represent the essence of that philosophy or concept. For example, a school principle might serve as a tag for institutional excellence and the school’s reputation. These leaders rally people around the ideals of the organization, promoting an idea and an attitude.

Drop seeds of emergence. Complex leaders drop seeds of emergence by identifying, encouraging, empowering, and fostering connection between knowledge centers within an organization. Rather than trying to closely control, such leaders let people try new approaches, and pilot the application of novel ideas, then challenges them to evaluate and adjust their experiments. One way to do this is to send workers to conferences or other idea-generating environments in search of new insights and opportunities. The purpose here is to create a space of organized disorder, that spawns dynamic activity, emergent behavior, and creative surprises at multiple locations throughout the system.

Think systemically. Systemic thinking (Senge, 1990) is central to complexity leadership. It challenges leaders to continually be aware of the interactive dynamics at multiple levels of engagement, from aggregate, through meta-aggregate, to meta-meta-aggregate levels. This is not an easy thing to do, but it is vital to consistently see the broader pattern of events and understand the network of events that have caused a problem.

Emergent Leadership Dispelling Myths about Leadership (Plowman & Duchon, 2008)

Through the lens of conventional leadership, the world is assumed to be knowable and desired organizational futures are considered achievable through focused planning and the use of control mechanisms. Complexity scientists counter that uncertainty is a better starting point. Specifically, they contend that the world is not knowable, systems are not predictable, and living systems cannot be forced along a linear trajectory toward a predetermined future. There are four myths of conventional leadership that are therefore dispelled by the application of complexity sciences: leaders specify desired futures, leaders direct change, leaders eliminate disorder and the gap between intentions and reality; and leader influence others to enact desired futures. The behaviors of emergent leadership, based upon complexity science, which replace these “myths”, are summarized below.

Myth 1: Leaders specify desired futures. Conventional leadership worldviews frame leaders as visionaries, who see the future, chart the destination, and guide their organizations toward that destination. The repeated prescription is to: clarify the organization’s desired future, scan the external environment, design the requisite actions, and remove any obstacles. Complexity theorists suggest that organizational unpredictability often comes from within the organization, through the interactions of its members, which are not controlled by its leader. It is usually organizational members that develop the ideas that lead to productive futures for the organization, arguably a more important source of ideas than the vision of the leader at the top of an organization. Therefore, complex leaders should focus on enabling productive futures rather than controlling them (Marion & Uhl-Bien, 2001). Thus, the “new reality” to replace Myth #1 is that “leaders provide linkages to emergent structures by enhancing connections among organizational members” (Plowman & Duchon, 2008, p. 139). This is based upon the complexity theory principle of emergent self-organization, in which the interaction of individual agents, exchange of information amongst them, and continuous adaptation of feedback from each other creates a new system level order.

Myth #2: Leaders direct change. Leadership theorists often contend that the essence of leadership is to lead change (e.g., Kotter, 1996). One of the principles of complexity theory concerns sensitivity to initial conditions. It notes that major, unpredictable consequences can arise out of small fluctuations in initial conditions (Kauffman, 1995). Thus small changes at anytime, anywhere in the system, can cascade and lead to massive change that may be inconsistent with the leader’s change vision. The new reality to replace this myth, then, is that “leaders try to make sense of patterns in small changes” (Plowman & Duchon, 2008, p. 141). By detecting and labeling patterns in the midst of emergent change, leaders have a greater chance of helping their organizations to respond effectively.

Myth #3: Leaders eliminate disorder and the gap between intentions and reality. Leaders are typically seen as needing to influence others to accomplish the tasks required to achieve organizational objectives. They are also expected to minimize conflict and cultivate harmonious relationships, such as in the case of leader-member exchange (LMX) theory (Graen & Uhl-Bien, 1995). Complexity theorists contend that organizations are not characterized by stability and harmony, but rather exist on a continuum between stability and instability (Prigogine, 1997; Stacey, 1996). As organizations gravitate toward greater instability, due to destabilizing forces, new, emergent ideas and innovations arise. Therefore, rather than constantly attempting to stabilize an organization, leaders can at times help their organizations to benefit by being a source of disorder and destabilization. The new reality to replace Myth #3 is therefore: “leaders are destabilizers who encourage disequilibrium and disrupt existing patterns of behavior” (Plowman & Duchon, 2008, p. 142).

Myth #4: Leaders influence others to enact desired futures. The core of leadership is often considered to be influence. Two assumptions about influence run counter to a principle of complexity science. First, influence is often based upon the assumption that a leader knows what needs to be done and that the leader can subsequently influence those who need it to bring about a desired future state. These notions are, in turn, grounded in assumptions of linearity: that changes in one variable lead to anticipated changes in another. Complexity science, though, is based upon nonlinear interactions, in which multiple agents with varying agendas engage and influence each other’s actions. Nonlinear, living systems can learn, though. With such complexity and uncertainty within organizations, is it impossible for leaders to know and prescribe to others what to do. Instead, organizational members often help leaders to find directions out of confusion and uncertainty. As such, the new reality to replace Myth #4 is: “leaders encourage processes that enable emergent order” (Lichtenstein & Plowman, 2009, p. 143). An example would be for a leader to focus on clarifying processes rather than clarifying outcomes, and allow the organizational members to determine the relevant outcomes.

The Leadership of Emergence (Lichtenstein & Plowman, 2009)

Lichtenstein and Plowman (2009) build upon both of the sets of behaviors discussed above (Marion & Uhl-Bien, 2001; Plowman & Duchon, 2008). Their focus is not on complexity leadership as a whole, but rather specifically on the production of newly emergent orders from the dynamic interactions between individuals. A newly emergent order arises when the capacity of a system to achieve its goals increases profoundly, by several orders of magnitude. The researchers identified four conditions for such emergence: the presence of a dis-equilibrium state, amplifying actions, recombination/”self-organization”, and stabilizing feedback. These conditions can be generated, they contend, through nine specific leadership behaviors, which are briefly discussed below. Figure 1 shows how these behaviors and conditions integrate to create a new emergent order.


Figure1. Behaviors that co-generate the conditions for the new emergent order. Reprinted from Lichtenstein and Plowman (2009, p. 621)

Disrupt existing patterns to generate dis-equilibrium. Two leadership behaviors contribute to this practice: embracing uncertainty and surfacing conflict to create controversy. Leaders and organizational members need to embrace uncertainty they face in order to initiate or heighten the system’s state of dis-equilibrium. By honestly assessing the situation, possible choices and uncertain outcomes, and not simply dictating solutions, leaders and members change the context in which they are operating, helping to destabilize the system. Additionally, generating constructive conflict and creating controversy are also key to driving a move toward dis-equilibrium, as this practice alters the conditions in which members function. In a space of discomfort and conflict, new ideas and possibilities tend to emerge.

Encourage novelty to amplify actions. Three behaviors serve to encourage novelty that in turn amplifies actions, helping small changes to cascade, escalate, and quickly move through the system. The first of these behaviors is to allow experiments and fluctuations, by letting seeds of potential change be dispersed widely and grow, leaders increase the chances that some will “take root” and spread rapidly through the system. The second leadership behavior is to encourage rich interactions through a culture of “relational space.” The non-linearity of complex adaptive systems can lead to rich and meaningful interactions that catalyze unexpected, positive outcomes. When done within a context of mutual trust, respect and psychological safety – a “relational space” – these rich interactions deepen the interpersonal connections amongst participants, thereby supporting the amplification of changes as they occur. The final leadership behavior is to support collective action. While certain individuals are responsible for key actions, often it is the collective action that creates the coherence and strength of an initiative, and allows for unexpected connections to arise. By allowing chaotic, collective action, leaders create the conditions for amplification of initial changes.

Sensemaking and sensegiving for recombination and self-organization. When systems are at their capacity limits, they either collapse or reorganize. As agents and resources in a system are recombined in new ways of interacting, system functioning tends to improve. By making and giving sense to issues within a complex adaptive system (through the following three behaviors), leaders support development of the conditions in which systems can recombine and self-organize. The first leadership behavior is to create correlation through language and symbols. Correlation means a shared understanding of a system (Marion & Uhl-Bien, 2001). It can be created through specific, repeated language that reframes or gives additional meaning to a phenomenon, or via symbols that cultivate mutual understanding. Secondly, leaders can work to recombine resources. By uniquely recombining space, capital, capabilities and other vital resources, emergence can be fostered. These novel combinations alter the context in which people are working and stimulate new connections. Finally, leaders can accept “tags.” Tags were discussed above in the section on guidelines for leading in complex organizations (Marion & Uhl-Bien, 2001). The researchers contend that when a single, or multiple, individuals accept becoming a “tag” for an emergence process, there is greater likelihood for recombination/”self-organization.”

Stabilizing feedback. Once amplification of change has begun, it sometimes needs to be dampened so that the emergent change does not spin the system out of control.  The key behavior the researchers identified to enable this condition is to integrate local constraints. This means to make adjustments to the system based upon localized needs, thereby helping the emergent change to better adapt to that specific context. An example would be changing the hours of new operations of an organization to better meet an important group of constituent’s needs.

In sum, Lichtenstein and Plowman (2009) engaged in longitudinal research on three organizational and inter-organizational phenomenon that experienced emergence. They identified nine leadership behaviors that contributed to the development of four conditions vital for the emergence of new order. This set of practices builds upon previous work Plowman (2008) had done to dispel key myths of traditional leadership in the light of complexity sciences, as well as the ground-breaking insights of Marion and Uhl-Bien (2001) on complexity leadership in general. Multiple books (Goldstein, et al., 2010; Hazy, et al., 2007; McMillan, 2008; Stacey, 2007, 2010; Stacey, et al., 2000; Uhl-Bien & Marion, 2008; Wheatley, 2006), have extended these recommendations for practice, and are replete with examples. Nonetheless, I believe that the heart of complexity leadership in practice is represented in these three reviews.

As I venture forward as a leadership practitioner, based upon these readings, I have synthesized my understanding of what to do in practice in the following statement on complexity leadership.

A Memo to Myself on Practicing Complexity Leadership

Strive to create emergent conditions in the complex adaptive systems in which I engage and those which I serve. In such situations, the capacity of the system can dramatically increase, by orders of multiple magnitudes. The conditions for doing so include a state of dis-equilibrium, actions that amplify throughout the system, recombination or self-organization, and feedback that stabilizes the system from spinning out of control.

Strive to think systemically as much as possible, paying attention to multiple causal loops, the impact of small fluctuations, and consistently scanning for broad patterns at the micro, meso, and macro levels. To support emergence, there will need to be many networks – within and external to the organization. As such I can build them directly and support their development by others. I can plant seeds for emergence by strengthening knowledge centers within organizations and encouraging and enhancing the connections between those that are internal as well as with those that are external. Along the way, I need to be willing to become, or encourage a group of colleagues to become, a leadership “tag” – in which we represent the essence of a philosophy or concept central to the emergence process.

Remember that I don’t need to see the future and chart a linear path to get there. While I can create broad brush strokes for where we might consider going, my greatest impact will be in strengthening the connections among organizational members, thereby linking them to emergent structures. It is through them that most if not all of the innovations and novel ideas will arise. Therefore, my role is to enable productive futures, rather than controlling them, by enriching these connections. Rather than trying to direct change in a methodical manner, look instead to understand emerging patterns in small changes, so that I can feed that meaning-making into the learning, living system that makes up the organization I serve. These small changes can create unpredictable large scale impact, so my energy is better spent looking to identify them rather than trying to manage a linear change process over the long term. Thus, change leadership becomes more of an improvisational dance with the system, listening to how it is responding and adapting quickly in accordance.

Do not feel that I need to keep the organization and its systems in a state of constant harmony or equilibrium. Remember that innovative ideas and novel structures emerge not out of stability and balance, but from a state of dis-equilibrium and destabilization. Thus, be willing to allow for and even foster destabilization as I sense appropriate; go ahead and disrupt even healthy patterns of behavior if necessary. Don’t pretend that I know what to do and how to get there in a linear way. Remember that these are complex adaptive systems that operate with nonlinear behavior and therefore focus instead on strengthening and clarifying the processes that lead to emergent behavior rather than cutting down the obstacles in the way of the long-term vision.

Regularly encourage novelty, experimentation, pilots and prototypes. Small successes can become a form of positive deviance that rapidly scales across the system; the key is to create healthy conditions for those experiments to take place, trusting that the successes will emerge. Engage with others, and support the development of, “relational spaces” – arenas of deep trust, mutuality, respect and psychological safety in which the connections among members of the organization can be enriched and expanded. Use my abilities to see patterns and generate metaphors to help make and give sense to the phenomenon arising throughout this work. I can also use symbols to help create a mutual understanding. Above all, though, work to create this mutual understanding as it supports the process of self-organization when needed.

Remember that I will occasionally need to stabilize changes that are emerging, so that they don’t spin a system out of control. This can be done by adapting the change process and its effects such that they honor local constraints and are therefore more easily embedded within the local context. Above all, have fun, don’t get stuck in trying to logically figure this all out, and trust that within my network exist all of the resources required to support development of a newly emergent order in the systems I serve.

Two Limitations to the Practice of Complexity Leadership

This section briefly discusses two of the key limitations I see to the practice of complexity leadership: the need to supplement it with other epistemologies and leadership approaches; and no acknowledgement of the potentially insufficient capacity that people with conventional meaning-making systems may encounter in attempting to engage with it.

The Need for Other Perspectives to Enhance the Complexity Leadership Approach

While complexity leadership is maturing as a field unto itself, it is important to remember that it should be held in relationship to other leadership practices. In one of the first academic inquiries into complexity leadership, Marion and Uhl-Bien (2001) explicitly link complexity leadership to other trends that were emerging in the leadership literature (e.g., social capital, transformational leadership, self-leadership/empowerment, followership, and charismatic leadership). It is transformational leadership that holds the strongest link in their opinion. Bass (Bass & Avolio, 1990; Bass & Riggio, 2006), the leading scholar in transformational leadership agrees. In theBass Handbook of Leadership (Bass & Bass, 2008), he describes complexity leadership as a field that “enlarges transformational leadership to include catalyzing organization from the bottom up through fostering of microdynamics of interaction among ensembles” (pp. 624-5). Thus, an individual should not venture into the realm of leadership with complexity leadership alone; other leadership theories and practices are likely needed to accomplish his or her objectives.

One way to frame the limitations of complexity leadership and the need to consider other leadership perspectives is to consider it within the context of integral methodological pluralism (IMP) (Wilber, 2006). A full explanation of IMP and its application is best left to other articles (e.g., Brown, 2010). Yet, essentially, IMP is a meta-epistemology that integrates all of the major epistemological methodologies. It is summarized in Figure 2.


Figure 2: The eight major methodologies of integral methodological pluralism Source: Wilber (2006). Courtesy Integral Institute.

Each of these methodologies enable us to reliably reveal knowledge about the different aspects of a phenomenon. These eight major methodologies help us to understand and explain the intentional, behavioral, cultural, and social forces that affect any given phenomenon, such as a leadership initiative. The more aware we are of all major forces at play, the greater chance we have of responding appropriately and succeeding in bringing about our objectives. The eight major methodologies are: phenomenologystructuralismautopoiesisempiricismhermeneutics,ethnomethodologysocial autopoiesis, and systems theory (Wilber, 2006). The usage of these terms here differs slightly from their use in other contexts.[3] The eight methodologies represent the main families of research methods available to scholar-practitioners. Certainly there are other research approaches, but these are some of the more historically significant (Wilber, 2003a). Each is a unique culture of inquiry which reveals a perspective and data that the others cannot. The practice of using as many of these methodologies as is practically possible, to gain a comprehensive understanding of any phenomena, is called integral methodological pluralism (Wilber, 2006).

Complexity theory is based in two of the eight methodologies of IMP: it is mostly grounded in systems theory (Bertalanffy, 1968; Laszlo, 1972a, 1972b) and somewhat draws upon social autopoiesis (Capra, 1996, 2002; Luhmann, 1984, 1990). Complexity theory has been explained as an expansion of systems theory by some leading researchers (Stacey, et al., 2000). Thus, while it can offer very powerful insights about leadership, it still holds an epistemological bias that filters out other equally valid data concerning leadership. As such, the practice of complexity leadership should be supplemented with other types of leadership that draw upon different epistemologies, thereby helping leaders to see a broader picture than that offered by complexity leadership alone.

Uhl-Bien and Marion (2007) strive to do this in their article on complexity leadership theory. Not only did they mention the linkages to transformational leadership and other leadership approaches in their earlier writings, their framework for complexity leadership includes adaptive leadership, administrative leadership, and enabling leadership. In my opinion, this is primarily done to acknowledge that not all leadership activities require or are served by a complexity leadership approach. In some cases, such an approach is unnecessarily complex and not useful when traditional managerial and leadership practices are sufficient (such as in administrative leadership). Thus, when combined with transformational leadership and even other leadership practices, a leader begins to draw upon multiple epistemologies that enable him or her to see a more comprehensive picture.

However, it should be noted that even this combination – complexity leadership theory plus transformational leadership theory and adaptive, administrative, and enabling leadership – will still leave out several of the key epistemologies that provide important data on any leadership situation. Missing but often highly relevant perspectives include phenomenology (Idhe, 1986), hermeneutics (Howard, 1982), ethnomethodology (e.g., cultural anthropology, ethnography, discourse analysis), and psychological structuralism (Kegan, 1982, 1994; Kohlberg, 1981, 1984; Loevinger, 1976).

In my review of the complexity leadership literature, particularly salient for me was how strongly it de-centers the subject.[4] The complexity sciences upon which this field is based are grounded in objective, third-person epistemologies such as empiricism and systems theory. These perspectives, as traditionally defined, do not incorporate the subjective viewpoint of the observer or participant. This appears to be a profound limitation for the complexity leadership literature because it does not acknowledge, much less attempt to tap into as a source for creative insight, the subjective reality and internal experience of leaders themselves. Humans are not merely rational, objective beings, and, as such, subjective forces, dynamics and influences are presentduring any leadership moment. To not even acknowledge the entire subjective reality experienced by leaders and draw upon it as part of the complexity leadership process seems to be doing a disservice to both the field and the leaders that engage with it. A complexity leadership theorist might say that such subjective experiences and influences are indeed incorporated into the approach as they are considered as potential small perturbations to the complex adaptive system that can cause large-scale change. However, this response still demonstrates an objectification of subjectivity, for which empiricism has long been criticized.

Fundamentally, despite the critical viewpoint I have offered, I believe that efforts to encourage complexity leadership to incorporate the subjective sciences and other epistemologies are not likely succeed. Such a strategy seems short sighted. Rather, complexity leadership should be embraced for the valuable perspectives it provides and encouraged to develop its approaches to leading through that epistemology. Yet it should also be held within a larger context and broader leadership approach that incorporates other types of epistemological inquiry. What we need is not to force different epistemologies and leadership approaches to change so as to be inclusive of all others, but instead to adapt a meta-epistemological framework – and ultimately a meta-leadership framework – that embraces each of them for their unique perspective while also recognizing their inherent limits. Integral methodological pluralism offers one such meta-epistemological framework, and a leadership framework based upon it may offer a pathway through this theoretical entanglement.

Meaning-Making Systems and Complexity Leadership

The second potential limitation I see to complexity leadership concerns the degree of meaning-making maturity that may be required to effectively engage with it. My proposition is that leaders with more mature meaning-making systems may be more capable of engaging the practices of complexity leadership. Conversely, those with conventional meaning-making systems may not be able to fully adapt to the fundamental changes in leadership perspective called for by complexity leadership.

Complexity leadership calls for a letting go of the notion of control and “knowing what to do,” acknowledgement that the future cannot be predicted, and a recognition that organizations and groups are not able to move in a linear path toward a pre-defined objective. Traditional leadership is largely decentralized in this approach, and those with positional power are asked to think in systems, tend to the conditions that support emergence, and focus on process rather than outcome. The literature challenges leaders to manage the polarity between equilibrium and dis-equilibrium – between stability and chaos – and that they foster conflict and dissonance in the system regularly. Complexity leaders are also called to see multiple causal loops, recognize patterns within complex processes from the micro to the macro, and engage in improvisational dance with complex adaptive systems – listening closely and responding in an instant. Finally, they also need to remember to stabilize things when too much emergence occurs too fast so the entire system does not gyrate out of control (Lichtenstein & Plowman, 2009; Uhl-Bien & Marion, 2008).

These leadership behaviors would seem to require not only considerable cognitive complexity, but also a very mature self-identity and ability to make meaning. The meaning-making systems of the majority of managers and leaders may not be sufficient to sustainably engage – without regular support – in these behaviors. To clarify this point, I offer below a brief review of the studies that have estimated the distribution of leaders and managers across the spectrum of meaning-making systems, from pre-conventional to conventional to post-conventional.

The constructive-developmental frameworks of Kegan (1982, 1994) and Loevinger/Torbert (Loevinger, 1966, 1976; Merron, Fisher, & Torbert, 1987; Torbert, et al., 2004) have most frequently been used to study the intersection of leadership and meaning-making. In a large-scale (n = 535) study of managers and consultants in the UK (Cook-Greuter, 2005), approximately 43% held a post-conventional stage of meaning making. These are the most mature stages [Individualist, Strategist, Alchemist and Unitary/Ironist in Torbert’s action logics framework (Torbert, et al., 2004)]. In a study (n = 497) of US managers and supervisors (consultants notincluded), only 7% were assessed with post-conventional meaning-making, and in the general adult US population (n = 4510), about 18% have developed to this level of maturity (Cook-Greuter, 2004, 2005). Rooke and Torbert (2005), drawing upon some of the same data sets, claim that 15% of leaders hold these post-conventional stages. While there is no precise data available on this topic, it is fair to say that a large majority (65-85%) of leaders and managers in developed countries hold a conventional meaning-making system.[5]

I propose that the qualities of conventional meaning-making systems limit the ability of those with them to engage effectively in complexity leadership. This is because complexity leadership seems to require a strong comfort with ambiguity, uncertainty, and not knowing. Other requirements seem to be: enter deeply into multiple frames of reference and take many perspectives [such as to manage the entanglement between adaptive and administrative structures (Uhl-Bien, et al., 2007)] ; recognize mutual causality in human interactions; deal with conflicting needs and duties; and consciously allow others to make mistakes. Research suggests that these qualities arise with the development of postconventional meaning-making (Cook-Greuter, 1999, 2000; Joiner & Josephs, 2007; Nicolaides, 2008).

Thus, those with later stages of meaning-making may be able to adeptly handle the challenges of complexity leadership. Leaders with a conventional stage of meaning-making (Diplomats, Experts, Achievers in Torbert’s action logics framework) would seem to have less of a chance of being successful. This is because, for example, the main focus of the expert action logic is expertise, procedure and efficiency (Cook-Greuter, 2004). Experts tend to be immersed in the logic of their own craft and regard it as the only valid way of thinking. They are often reactive problem solvers and make decisions based on incontrovertible “facts” (Joiner & Josephs, 2007).  These qualities of the Expert meaning-making system do not seem to align with the demands of complexity leadership. Achievers face a similar struggle, although they may have better chances. For them, the main focus is on delivery of results, effectiveness, achieving goals and being successful within the system (Cook-Greuter, 2004). They tend to emphasize reason, analysis, measurement and prediction (Cook-Greuter, 1999). It is not until the first of the postconventional action logics – the Individualist – that one really begins to understand complexity, systemic connections and unintended effects of actions. Additionally, Individualists can play different roles in varying contexts and are able to adjust their behavior to the context (Torbert, et al., 2004). These qualities, and the others previously mentioned that develop in the postconventional action logics, seem to more accurately fit the needs of complexity leadership.

In sum, while complexity leadership theory and its various approaches offer considerable potential improving leadership, the training of it should probably be reserved for leaders who have demonstrated advanced (i.e., postconventional) meaning-making capacity. It does not seem realistic to expect leaders with a conventional action logic to learn and sustainably engage with it over an extended duration.


The application of complexity theory to leadership has generated a novel field and important perspective that facilitates the understanding of complex organizational behavior. It reveals dynamics and forces present within and across organizations that no other approach to leadership offers. When combined with other leadership approaches that complement its epistemological bias toward systems theory, complexity leadership can be a powerful tool for any individual to support organizational change.

For me, personally, the study of complexity leadership theory and practice has provided a fresh and powerful leadership lens. My engagement with this literature has dislodged several notions I previously held about leadership and has inspired new ways to think about and act in the face of complexity. My biggest change is a commitment toward supporting the conditions for the emergence of novel order within complex adaptive systems. By focusing on creating fertile ground for innovation and insight to sprout within and across systems, I feel that I do have some degree of influence over the otherwise uncontrollable reality of organizational behavior.

The field of complexity leadership theory and practice is still young and will require considerable research to substantiate its claims and realize its full potential. Complexity leadership is not a panacea for our leadership problems, and never will be in my opinion. No matter how much research backs its findings, it will continue to require supplemental perspectives to fully map the leadership terrain. Nonetheless, I feel that it offers one of the most important ways to reflect upon and engage in leadership. Our organizational environments are becoming increasingly complex, and the complexity leadership approach is grounded in decades of research in how to work with complex systems. Fundamentally, its insights and guidelines provides me with additional hope and inspiration that we will, collectively, learn how to handle the global social, economic, and environmental challenges that symbolize today’s world.


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  • [1] The explanations for all of these elements, except “complex vs. complicated,” “characteristics of a complex system,” and “complex adaptive systems, are from Marion (2008).
  • [2] This lack of research on conscious long-term application of a leadership theory seems to frequently be the case with leadership theories (e.g., Bass & Riggio, 2006; Goleman, 1995; Heifetz, Grashow, & Linsky, 2009). In my experience, leadership researchers often first identify a leadership phenomenon and then find examples of leaders who were intuitively or unconsciously enacting that leadership approach; or, they identify a leadership approach through the study of exemplary leaders and create a leadership theory to explain it. I have yet to see research in which leaders intentionally followed a given leadership approach for years and their performance was evaluated. Given that the human brain is a complex adaptive system, this makes sense, as new ways of responding to leadership challenges emerge within a leader’s brain as they mature and face different conditions that drive their own innovation.
  • [3] For full explanation of the “technical” use of these terms, consult Wilber (2003a, 2003b, 2003c, 2003d)
  • [4] I am grateful to my colleague Darcy Riddell who first pointed this out to me.
  • [5] This estimate of 65-85% does not include consultants, who tend to be assessed more frequently with a postconventional meaning-making system than do leaders, managers, and the general population (personal communication with Susanne Cook-Greuter, April 2009). However, complexity leadership is geared toward leaders, managers, and even individual contributors in organizations, thus the focus should be on their meaning-making, not that of consultants who may advise to them.

Learner Papers: How Organizational Archetypes Manifest at Each Level of the Gravesian Value Systems

Learner Papers

How Organizational Archetypes Manifest at Each Level of the Gravesian Value Systems

Jorge Taborga


Organizational culture provides the impetus for the behaviors in an organization which work to fulfill its mission or work against it. Schein (2010) stratifies culture into artifacts, values and beliefs, and underlying assumptions. The latter are the deeper and unexamined values that contain the models of behavior resulting from the shared experiences of the organization as it solves problems and which are taught to all its members. According to Jungian organizational depth psychology, as documented by Corlette & Pearson (2003), these underlying assumptions reside in the unconscious of an organization, particularly in the part of the its psyche called “complexes.” These complexes are formed through organizational experiences patterned by the psychic energy of archetypes as they take form through the minds of individuals and collectives.

Dr. Clare Graves spent most of his professional life researching and ultimately developing theories for the value systems that associate different life conditions with the mental capacities that emerge in humans as they solve problems (Lee, 2009). He named his research the Emergent Cyclical Levels of Existence Theories (ECLET). His theories have been popularized by Beck & Cowan (1996) in their work of Spiral Dynamics. Cowan & Todorovic (2000) equate the Gravesian value systems to the underlying assumptions inside an organization which are largely responsible for organizational cultures.

This essay explores the connections between archetypes and the value systems of an organization as a way to arrive at a deeper understanding of the emergence of organizational culture. Each archetype is explored as a pattern of behavior at each level of the ECLET value systems. An archetypal correspondence map is articulated for three of the most common Gravesian value systems found in modern and post-modern organizations. This correspondence is validated through a case study of a small consulting company. The case study provides a framework for the analysis on how archetypes are manifested in an organization and how the emerging culture can be interpreted through the lens of value systems.

The correspondence of archetypes to values systems explored here provides an approach to a deeper understanding of the emergence of organizational culture. As presented in this essay, this approach is far from being a repeatable method of cultural assessment and much less for intervention. However, it is a start to further research which has the potential for shining light into the organizational unconscious and in particular into the effects that archetypes have on underlying assumptions (value systems). This new light could emerge as a way to assess organizational culture and to determine interventions that would bring culture into greater alignment with the fulfillment of the organization’s mission.


Organizations are complex entities, both socially and psychologically. There is also a broad biological element given the neurology of the diversity of humans involved. This bio-psycho-social milieu makes each organization unique, yet they all seem to operate following common patterns of behavior. Strategic plans, Management by Objectives (MBOs), career development plans, performance reviews, budgets, project plans, employee meetings and a host of other practices can be found across most enterprises. Teamwork, consensus, entrepreneurship, bureaucracy, power play, gossiping, scapegoating, and back-stabbing are also behaviors that reside in the depths of organizations and either help or hinder their missions, and either uplift the humans in these organizations or oppress them.

Schein (2010) posits that the culture of an organization determines its actions. He defines culture as:

A pattern of shared basic assumptions that the group learned as it solved its problems of external adaptation and internal integration, that has worked well enough to be considered valid and therefore, to be taught to new members as the correct way to perceive, think, and feel in relation to those problems. (p. 18)

This definition by Schein corresponds to two concepts that will be used throughout this essay: life conditions and mental capacities. These concepts were introduced by the research of Dr. Clare W. Graves and are documented in the book The Never Ending Quest (Cowan & Todorovic, 2005). Dr. Graves developed what he called Emergent Cyclical Levels of Existence Theory (ECLET). In this theory, humans are exposed to a variety of life conditions (Schein’s problems) which give way to mental capacities to solve them (Schein’s basic assumptions). In Graves’ theory, human development can be grouped into value systems that are in agreement with what has “worked well to be considered valid and, therefore, to be taught to new members” (Schein, 2010, p. 18). This is the culture or the value systems of individuals in an organization or a much larger social system like a country or a particular ethnicity.

Schein (2010) describes culture in three layers: artifacts, values and beliefs, and underlying assumptions. The artifacts are the physical manifestations that tell how the organization is conducting its affairs. Artifacts would include a company’s P&L, its products and services, its workplaces, the pictures on the walls, the types of cups used for coffee, and the t-shirts sporting a catchy slogan given to employees after a product launch. Artifacts are the focus of cultural archeology. Much can be interpreted from their analysis but only superficial theories can be derived about the behaviors of the humans in the organization.

In contrast, value and beliefs correspond to a deeper level of culture. It is the set of shared learning and experiences by an organization. It started with the leader and then became a shared experience. As values are repeated in solving problems, they take on the flavor of underlying assumptions. These assumptions become the internal, reflective muscle of how individuals inside an organization are not only expected to behave but are perpetuated by every action. Even though organizations have a relatively transient population with each member bringing their own set of underlying assumptions, organizational culture normalizes each into a shared set that defines how the organization responds to the problems it faces every day.

Graves studied underlying assumptions starting in the 1950’s through his death in 1986 (Cowan & Todorovic, 2008). He leveraged his students and their lives to capture the data necessary for his research. Graves did not start with a theory about the emergent levels of existence (how individuals cope with problems) rather he let the collected data generate a theory. His research started as he wrestled with questions from his psychology students at Union College in New York on which theory of human psychology was correct. He taught a psychology survey class which introduced students to a variety of theories, from Freud’s to Maslow’s.

Graves’ research was simple in structure. He asked each student to write a short essay describing the mature adult personality in operation. After collecting a large number of these essays (he reportedly ended up with about 40,000 of them in a 30 year span), he started to notice patterns in the essays that corresponded to similar descriptions of life conditions (problems for the mature adult) and mental capacities (how the mature adult is supposed to respond to them). He grouped the similar responses into clusters, which gave way to the 8 value systems in ECELT. This theory was popularized by Beck & Cowan’s book Spiral dynamics: Mastering values, leadership and change (1996). Incidentally, both Beck and Cowan worked with Dr. Graves and have continued his work both in application and teaching.

Corlett & Pearson introduced a framework for the organizational psyche in their book Mapping the Organizational Psyche: A Jungian theory of organizational dynamics and change (2003). This work focuses on the interaction of the organizational unconscious and its conscious components through the structures of the organizational psyche. Corlett & Pearson draw a parallel of the organizational psyche from the human psyche as defined by psychologist Carl Jung. This famed psychologist did not focus his attention on organizations because he believed that the organizations of his time (he died in 1961) did very little to emancipate and support human evolution to a state of wholeness (Corlett & Person, 2003). The authors of Mapping the Organizational Psyche undertook this work in response to the new Jungians who felt the need for the application of Jung’s intricate theories of the psyche to various groupings of humans.

Corlett & Person (2003) state that:

Jungian Organizational Theory shares the belief that the question of meaning—why organization members are willing to invest so much of their creativity and agency in organizations—is bound up by the collectively held values at the heart of an organization’s culture. (p. xiv)

These authors further posit that meaning is deeply connected to the unconscious of an organization, which represents the unseen psychic forces that “bind people to each other and their work” (Corlett & Pearson, 2003, p. xiv). Further, Corlett & Pearson hypothesize that the unconscious is the container for the organization’s behaviors and norms that get transmitted to newcomers. The organizational unconscious is also responsible for the collective dynamics or culture. These theories by Corlett & Person are consistent with Schein’s views of organizational culture.

At the root of the organizational unconscious, Corlett & Pearson identify the organizational archetypes. These authors state that along with several other scholars, they view “that the human inclination to create organizations is the expression of an archetype” (Corlett & Pearson, 2003, p.18). They further explain that archetypes are the templates of organizations and that they are the primary vehicles through which the unconscious speaks to an organization to develop toward wholeness. Corlett & Person introduce twelve organizational archetypes arranged in four Life Forces. The first life force focuses on the development of people through relatedness, how the organization relates to employees and how they relate to each other. The second life force provides the template and psychic energy for obtaining resultsLearning is the third life force containing the archetypes on how the organization learns, takes risks, and goes about the creative process. This life force is balanced by a fourth, stabilizing. This latter life force brings the structures, processes and systems into the organization to pattern its efficiencies, manifest its creativity and provide for the needs of its people.

This essay aims to establish a correspondence of the organizational archetypes and the ECLET value systems. Based on the theories of organizational culture of Schein, Graves, and Corlett & Pearson, the unconscious, and thus archetypes, are intricately involved in defining the value systems of an organization that are the foundation for the underlying assumptions: the set of problems and the set of known and valued responses in each organization. A case study is utilized to illustrate how the correspondence of organizational archetypes with the ECLET value systems provides a richer and more actionable understanding of an organization’s culture.

Based on his research on organizational culture, the author believes that much of an organization’s operation is tied to its unconscious and the layer of underlying assumptions. These two important components of the organizational psyche deeply affect the successes and failures of an organization. They also provide the bio-psycho-social container for individuals in organizations and affect their own personal development and happiness. If wholeness is the ultimate goal for individuals and by extension organizations, then a deeper understanding about how organizational archetypes and value systems interplay is warranted. This essay is meant to provide a survey of these topics and open up possibilities for further research.

Corlett and Pearson’s Organizational Archetypes

Organizational Psyche

Corlett & Pearson (2003) model the organizational psyche in two layers: conscious and unconscious. In their conception, the conscious layer is where the ego-driven actions and behaviors of those leading the organization manifest activity and shape its culture. The conscious layer is the world of Schein’s artifacts. The unconscious layer, at the heart of psychologist Carl Jung’s analytical psychology, provides the psychic energy necessary for conscious actions. Figure 1 shows the structures of the organizational conscious and unconscious which parallel what Jung conceived as the architecture of the individual psyche. Corlett & Pearson adapted this model and introduced constructs unique to the psychology of organizations.


Figure 1. Map of the organizational psyche. This picture is an adaptation of the organizational psyche by Corlett & Pearson (2003).

Conscious Organization

Figure 1 shows that the conscious portion of the organization is composed on the Center of Consciousness and the Public Face. The center of consciousness is “analogous to Jung’s concept of the ego” (Corlett & Pearson, 2003, p. 27). It comprises all of the conscious activities performed in an organization, such as planning, managing, coordinating, developing, marketing, testing, implementing and reflecting. The center of consciousness is composed of the collective egos in the organization arranged and empowered by the structures instituted by its leadership. This component of the organizational psyche is intricately connected to the organizational archetypes manifesting its activities in accordance with the archetypes that are active in organization and in their level of maturity.

The center of consciousness also has a predominately masculine or feminine character. This is driven not only by the gender of the constituency inside an organization but by the manifestation of the anima and animus archetypes. Certain organizations, like the army, would operate in an animus (masculine) set of characteristics because of the nature of their mission, regardless of how many females it has enlisted in its ranks. In contrast, most healthcare provider organizations and schools exhibit anima (female) characteristics given its care and nurturing missions. This is also irrespective of employee gender, although actual gender membership significantly influences the masculine vs. feminine attributes of an organization. Corlett & Person (2003) define three signs of masculine/feminine balance in an organization: a) balanced gender by relatively equal numbers, b) level of comfortableness by each gender inside the organization, and c) both females and males are part of the decision-making process.

The public face of the organizational psyche corresponds to Jung’s concept of the persona. The persona is how individuals present themselves to the world and is driven by two sources: “the expectations and demands of society and the social aims and aspirations of individuals” (Stein, 1998, p. 115). The organizational analog provides a filter through which energy flows in and out of the organizational psyche in its connection with the outside world. It is where the brand identity of the organization lives. It transmits the ideal images of itself to the outside world hiding aspects which are deemed “internal” by the organization’s leadership. In the end, the public face of an organization is a set of tradeoffs between what the organization is willing to share and what the world expects from it. Not conscious but still present in the organization’s public face will be artifacts that capture unconscious activity that is not congruent with the public image. For instance, an organization in healthcare may portray itself as caring for the wellbeing of all customers through its products and services yet may have an inadequate medical insurance program for its employees driven by their desire to save money.  In this example, the artifact, the medical insurance program, is incongruent with the desired external image.

Organizational Unconscious

Corlett & Pearson (2003) begin the definition of the unconscious with the collective unconscious. They state that the collective unconscious serves as the foundation for the entire psyche of the organization as it does for its individual analog. It is the container for the neurology that defines us as human beings and “resides in the inherited structure of the brain” (Corlett & Pearson, 2003, p. 14). It contains two types of structures: instincts and archetypes. Instincts are the consistent modes of action common to all humans that do not require cognitive engagement. Instinctual actions just happen without ever being taught (Stein, 1998). Archetypes are psychic patterns that shape human behavior. They can be understood as the controlling patterns in the mind that regulate how we experience life. Archetypes represent our basic responses to organizational life. Quoting Morley Segal, Corlett and & Pearson (2003) state that archetypes are “key contributors to organizational culture, many of them representing the forms or outlines of the basic responses to organizational life” (p. 15). From these definitions, we can see that archetypes are the seed to the responses (mental capacities) to the problems in organizational life (the life conditions).

The organizational unconscious is the unique array of “energies, contents and truths” (Corlette & Pearson, 2003, p. 15) that operate beyond the conscious control of the organization. It is the bridge between the conscious organization and the collective unconscious. It provides the psychodynamic environment for these two forces to interplay. It is composed of the shadow, the participation mystique, the complexes and the organizational archetype.

The shadow comprises the collection of what has been repressed because the organization does not allow it by its rules, procedures or values. Commonly repressed elements of organizational life include feminine characteristics in an animus (male) dominated environment, feeling and intuitive preferences in a rationally dominated institution, and freedom of expression in a tightly controlled hierarchical institution. The shadow of an organization, like its individual counterpart, is its alter ego. It contains both positive and negative energies and subtly affects how the conscious organization goes about its business. The shadow contains features that are contrary to customs and group moral conventions. Stein (1998) states that the shadow contains features that are contrary to customs and moral conventions and that everyone has one. He also posits that the shadow is not experienced directly by the ego because it is part of the unconscious, and that instead, it is projected onto others. In the context of organizations, the shadow’s projections would go to outside entities, like the competition, or would be channeled as projections between internal functions.

The participation mystique is the part of the organizational unconscious that links individual egos to the organization. It provides the attractor that makes an individual want to be part of a given organization. It is the conduit for the organizational archetypes to be expressed by each person in the organization. The participation mystique is a term coined by Jung. Corlett & Pearson use it to describe how an organizational archetype connects to each individual.  In this model of the organizational psyche, multiple archetypes would find expression through a single person.

Organizational complexes are containers of memories, thoughts and feelings experienced as work progresses through the activation of a given archetype. They are in essence the underlying assumptions that form at the unconscious level in the act of doing business. Over time, these complexes uniquely identify an organization and provide the basis for its culture. Values and beliefs are built upon complexes and change over time as the environment (life conditions) provides opportunities to solve new problems (mind capacities). For instance, teamwork and collaboration has evolved to a much higher degree in the last 30 years. This aspect of work life is driven by the Lover archetype that regulates how people work and relate to one another. The degree of collaboration has a lot to do with this archetype. In the last three decades, the teamwork and collaboration complex has evolved across most organizations. With this evolution, the value of collaboration has changed. Teams have evolved from simple work containers to social structures with democratic, dynamic empowerment and demonstrable higher performance.

The organizational archetype roughly corresponds to the archetypal self in individuals. It serves as a significant source of energy for the organization and provides the pattern for how it operates. Individual aspects of the organizational archetype connect to the universal collective unconscious archetypes from which they draw their patterns. Corlett & Pearson (2003) define the organizational archetype as having four dimensions or Life Forces. Each life force contains elemental archetypal energies aligned with a particular aspect of work life.

The life forces are arranged in two pairs of complementary forces that seek balance with one another. The first pair is focused on people and results. The people life force is how an organization relates to its employees and how they relate to each other. The results part of the archetype encompasses how the organization gets things done. The second pair of the life forces is learning and stabilizing. Learning is how an organization gains knowledge, takes risks and moves through the creative process. In turn, stabilizing is concerned with how an organization manages itself in terms of what it provides to its employees and the processes and controls it has in place. In a healthy organization, both life force pairs should be balanced. Figure 2 shows the arrangement of the organizational archetype, the life forces and the individual human faces of the organizational archetypes in each life force.


Figure 2. The organizational archetype and its components. This mandala-like arrangement was adapted from a similar drawing in Corlett & Pearson (2003, p. 18)

Life Forces and the Twelve Human Faces of the Organizational Archetypes

Figure 2 depicts twelve human faces of the organizational archetype. These are individual archetypal energies that produce specific psychic patterns in the organizational unconscious leading to the formation of complexes that ultimately define the organization’s culture. The genesis of these archetypes is the work of Carol Pearson who has performed considerable research in Jungian depth psychology and has been able to synthesize a large collection of archetypal definitions into twelve faces. Her work is documented in a number of her books and articles. In her partnership with John Corlette, Ms. Pearson expanded her twelve archetypes into the faces of the one organizational archetype. These authors jointly introduced the concept of the life forces that was described in the previous section. Table 1 summarizes the characteristics of each human face of the organizational archetype.

Table 1. The twelve faces of the organizational archetype. The definitions for this table come from Corlett & Pearson (2003), and Pearson (1991, 1997).

Human Face Positive Pattern Negative Pattern
Every person (Orphan) Pearson originally called this archetype the Orphan to denote its inherent dependency psychology. The every person version denotes the individual who is part of an organization needing considerable support. Organizations with this archetype have a strong belief in the importance of each individual and tend to single out those who distinguish themselves with their performance and accomplishments. The Orphan has a strong sense of being abandoned. This translates into employees not trusting their leaders and in feeling that everyone is out to get them. Scapegoating is a characteristic of the Orphan.
Lover This archetype is manifested in the level of respect between the company and its employees. It is also established in how people communicate. The Lover archetype is positively expressed through direct communication and emotional honesty. Consensus is a characteristic of the Lover as is passion and engagement. Collaboration and support are found in organizations with a strong Lover archetype. Closeness is another attribute of this archetype. The negative side of the Lover translates into a large number of emotional dramas, over-emphasis on consensus, group-think, and cliquishness.
Jester The Jester archetype brings enjoyment and fun to the work environment. It is manifested in “lightness” in the interaction within the company and its stakeholders. Jester organizations have a good work-life balance, enabling employees to work from home and have flexible time. Also, the Jester brings celebration to the workplace for milestones, personal events and holidays. The negative Jester gives way to dark humor, con artistry, low ethics, and a total disregard for rules, procedures and standards.
Hero This is the most common archetype in western organizations. It brings the energy of working hard to make the world a better place. The Hero translates into vitality, competition, discipline, focus and determination. There is a fair amount of self-sacrifice in the Hero for the betterment of the larger whole. Hero organizations usually have a cause and are able to enlist employees in working for it. These organizations value the actions of the Hero and recognize them with a number of rewards. The negative Hero creates the need for an enemy. This type of Hero can be arrogant, impulsive, obsessive and ruthless. Negative Hero organizations tend to overwork their people and expect ongoing sacrifices. These organizations also tend to be lower in their financial compensation than most.
Revolutionary This archetype provides the counter story to the typically linear direction of the organization. Revolutionaries are troubleshooters and tangential thinkers. They look for the reasons why the glass is half empty. They are change agents looking for continuous improvements. Revolutionary organizations are able to make tough calls such as dealing with non-performers. Negative Revolutionary organizations can be dark places where fear is a regular characteristic. In these organizations people get fired for no apparent reason and employees are also afraid of what may happen to them. Also, the permeating attitude is one of “nothing is good enough.” Change for change sake is another of the negative characteristics of the Revolutionary archetype.
Magician This is the transformative energy inside any enterprise. It is responsible for the “level 2” changes. Innovation, high energy, and flexibility are characteristics of the Magician. Organizations with a highly developed Magician archetype are extremely adaptive and respond easily to changing markets and world conditions. Magicians are systems thinkers and natural change agents The negative Magician archetype is manifested in manipulative energy, lack of follow-through, and working on seemingly innovative tasks that have no purpose. Organizations with a negative Magician archetype start a lot more projects than they finish.
Innocent An organization expressing the Innocent archetype is typically highly hierarchical with centralized power at the top. Management’s role is that of a guardian and the company is seen as the provider of the employees’ wellbeing. Employees trust management and seek guidance in their development. Learning is passive and directed by management. Innocent organizations lack innovation and tend to be involved in simplistic work. The negative side of the Innocent archetype translates into victimization, denial, and resistance to change. The Innocent organization prefers maintaining the status quo.
Explorer (Seeker) Pearson used “Seeker” as the original name of this archetype. It brings the sense of individuality, exploration, risk taking and self-discovery. This archetype is essential to the emancipation of the employees. Without it, growth inside the workplace would be limited. The Seeker takes responsibility for his/her own learning and channels new knowledge into worthwhile endeavors at work. Explorer organizations tend to be flat and democratic, allowing individuals to work at their own rhythm and time. Negative Explorer organizations will conduct activities that are uncoordinated and with little accountability. Minimal to no planning is practiced by these organizations. Also, inadequate records are maintained. These organizations do not pay proper attention to their employees, their needs and problems. Given their loose management structure, there is potential for chaos.
Sage The Sage archetype correlates to Senge’s (2006) learning organization. As learning grows from the Innocent to the Explorer and then the Sage, the organization is accumulating knowledge that is leveraged in practical ways through achieving and demonstrating mastery. Sage organizations establish centers of competency in true practice and not in name only. Systems thinking is a hallmark of Sage organizations. Ongoing reflection, action learning teams and transformative learning practices are also characteristics of Sage organizations. Learning is an integral part of daily work life. The negative Sage organization can be emotionally detached appearing uncaring and inhumane. It may also be disconnected from the needs of the market and work on the wrong things. Over analysis is another strong potential of the negative Sage individual or organization. Ivory towers and intellectual elite can emerge in these organizations. This would limit those who can learn and who can express their ideas freely.
Caregiver The Caregiver is the necessary archetype for an organization to provide for the wellbeing of its employees. This care ranges from basic benefits to personal development. The Caregiver is also manifested by the care of the organization for the community and the social system in which it operates. Harmony, cooperation, and support for each other are characteristics experienced by the employees in Caregiver organizations. Negative Caregiver organizations tend to over work its people, experience burn out, have low mutual respect, and experience high turnover. Compensation is low and people are expected to work long hours. These organizations typically avoid confrontation being overly passive. Delegation is not actively practiced by management.
Creator The Creator archetype expresses innovation and the creative processes in an organization. This archetype provides the counterbalance to the Explorer. It provides the vehicle for the Explorer’s knowledge to turn into something tangible. In the Creator, there are elements of imagination, artistry, and vision. The challenge for this archetype is its disdain for formality, bureaucracy (either real or perceived) and the potential of applying creative energy to non-necessary endeavors. Negative Creator organizations do not adequately support employee creativity. They also have the attitude that nothing is good enough. A natural inattention and frustration with routine and rules exists. In addition, there is almost paranoia about “selling out” to the demands of the market.
Ruler This archetype is about maintaining order and creating harmony out of chaos. It implies a sense of responsibility, balancing and allocation of resources. Either as individuals or organizations, it is manifested as decisions, authority, process, systems, goals, and strategies. The challenge for the Ruler is being fair and non-tyrannical. Decisiveness and direction need balance with methods and unique situations of others. Negative Ruler organizations are hierarchical and bureaucratic. In addition, they tend to be less tolerant of diversity and appreciate people that do as they are told. Power is centered at the top of the organization and lower levels are viewed as lesser. Image is more important than actions. In extreme cases, negative Ruler organizations oppress, cut ethical corners, and are inflexible to change.


The twelve faces of the organizational archetype defined above do not explicitly correlate to gender in form or psychic energy. They can all be manifested in masculine or feminine organizations and in male and female individuals. However, the psychic energy of these archetypes can be colored by the Jung’s anima (female) and animus (male) archetypes. The workplace has been evolving and becoming more gender neutral. However, there are some of the faces of the organizational archetype that would have more of a bias toward one gender than the other. The Caregiver archetype would have an anima/feminine inclination. As an example, there is a higher presence of females in Human Resource department where decisions are made on how employees will be cared for. In contrast, there is a higher male population in management and the Ruler archetype would have an animus/masculine bias.

This essay will continue to examine the twelve faces of the organizational archetype in their correspondence to the ECLET value system (to be introduced in the next section) and in its application as represented in the case study. For the rest of this essay these twelve faces will be referred to as organizational archetypes for simplicity.

The Emergent Cyclical Levels of Existence Theory (ECLET)

Gravesian Theory

Dr. Clare Graves developed the Emergent Cyclical Levels of Existence Theory (ECLET) from the data he collected from 1952 to 1959 regarding the personality of the mature adult in operation (Lee, 2009). Graves did not have a theory in mind when he started his research. He simply wanted to understand the differences in personalities of mature adults as they relate to their human experience. This inquiry started as a response to questions from his students as they pondered which theory of human psychology was correct (Cowan & Todorovic, 2008). His research was simple in structure as it involved having his students write an essay describing the personality of a mature adult in operation. The data collected in the 1950’s included over a thousand essays from students raging 18-61 in age (Lee, 2009, 8).

Dr. Graves used a trained panel to classify the data as it was being collected over the seven-year span. The initial classification yielded two groups: one for individuals whose concept of the mature adult was denying/sacrificing self and the other about expressing self (Cowan & Todorovic, 2008). Upon further analysis, the sacrifice-self group was determined to have an external locus of control and aimed to make meaning of life through input from the world, resulting in actions to modify or improve self. In contrast, the express-self group was found to have an internal locus of control, that is, getting direction exclusively from within and focusing actions on changing the world.

As Graves’ research continued, the panel involved in the classification further separated each group into two subgroups yielding four classifications. They determined that the sacrifice-self individuals could a) “deny/sacrifice self for reward later” or b) “deny/sacrifice self now for getting acceptance now” (Lee, 2009, 19). The subgroups associated with the express-self subjects could a) “express self in calculating fashion and at the expense of others,” or b) “express-self as self desires but not at the expense of others” (Lee, 2009, 20). A fifth group emerged later as Graves continued his research belonging to the express-self category. This newly found group also shared an internal locus of control but it focused on expressing self impulsively at any cost. This last group was found in the early 1960s (Lee, 2009, 28).

Through his continued research, Graves realized that the classification of his subjects did not remain static. He followed up with the lives of many of the individuals who participated in the research while at the same time adding more data points (Cowan & Todorovic, 2008). Graves determined that individuals changed their idea about what a mature adult should be like. That is when he conceptualized an evolutionary cycle that alternated between expressing self and denying/sacrificing self. He documented this evolutionary pattern as follows:

  • Expressing self impulsively at any cost—changing to
  • Denying/sacrificing self for reward later—changing to
  • Expressing self in calculating fashion and at the expense of others—changing to
  • Denying/sacrificing self now for getting acceptance now—changing to
  • Expressing self as self desires but not at the expense of others

There was a sixth classification that was noted in the transitions as individuals evolved. This group was another deny/sacrifice self that evolved from the last express-self group that focused entirely on existential realities. It is at this point and throughout the 1960’s that Graves developed and matured ECLET. His conclusion was that his classifications represented the amalgamation of unique life conditions and mind capacities that form part of human evolution. The life conditions present the collection of problems that individuals need to solve, while the mind conditions correspond to the problem-solving neurology currently active in each individual. The recorded evolution from one group to the next had to do not only with a change in life conditions (new problems) but a neurological transformation that readied the individual to operate at the new level.

As Graves prepared his first set of essays on ECLET, he added two entry level classifications which preceded the one on express self impulsively. In ECLET Graves theorized that humans evolved from primitive man to contemporary beings not just physically but socially and psychologically through what he ended up with: eight levels of human existence combining life conditions with mind capacities. His first level places early humans in clans dealing with the problems of survival of food and shelter. His eight-value system, albeit embryonic, has humans focused on existential problems since subsistence problems would be fully solved for people at this level. In his theories, Graves posits that the first six levels of human evolution are fixated on issues of subsistence ranging from physiological survival to mastery of materialism. The last two systems, he viewed, function at a higher octave repeating the basic patterns of the first six but operating at a level of beingness no longer preoccupied with subsistence but rather focused on the higher purposes of being human.

Graves utilized a simple notation to refer to the eight value systems in ECLET. He used the letters A – H to represent the life conditions and N – U to denote mind capacities. The pairing of the two letter sequences identifies each of the eight value systems. These are: A-N, B-O, C-P, D-Q, E-R, F-S, G-T and H-U. Using D-Q as an example, this is the sacrifice self for reward later level which has “D” life conditions or problems and “Q” mind capacities to solve them.

Graves conceived that humans evolve from A-N to H-U and beyond. However, he also found in his research that given harsh life condition changes, humans could regress to a lower level. Additionally, humans could enter or exist in an environment that is different from their mind capacities. For instance, humans with “R” mind capacities could be in a system with “D” life conditions. ECLET conceives mind conditions to be nested or accumulative. A person with “R” mind capacities has the neurology to understand and operate in any system raging from A through E. Graves theorized that most humans operate in a combination of a sacrifice and express-self mind conditions. His research showed that a small number of people operate in a single mind condition system. He termed this rare mature adult in operation “nodal.”

According to ECLET, human beings transition from one system to the next when a number of conditions are met which result in a “higher level of neurological direction of behavior” (Cowan & Todorovic, 2008). Graves identified six conditions necessary for the transition. The first is the potential in the brain. Unless impaired, the potential for all system exists in the human brain.Second, the individual should have resolved the existential problems in the current system. According to Graves, this resolution releases the psychic energy needed for advancement.Thirdly, a dissonance associated with the breakdown in the solutions at the current level must occur. Graves found that all individuals making a system transition do so after a period of crisis and actual regression. The experienced dissonance results in the biochemical transmutation necessary to alter the neurology needed to solve problems at the next level. It is at this stage of regression where the individual prepares to move forward but could also arrest development or actually regress to a previous level. The fourth condition and the one responsible for stopping the regressive process is insight. This condition involves having insight into the new ways of solving problems. The next condition, the fifth, is overcoming barriers. Relationships and other constraints from the previous system must be overcome. Most relationships ground humans in one system and provide resistance for an individual to move on (Cowan & Todorovic, 2008). Consolidation is the sixth and final condition. It involves the practice and affirmation of the new way of solving problems.

Don Beck and Chris Cowan, the authors of Spiral dynamics: Mastering values, leadership, and change (1996) worked with Dr. Graves for a period of 10 years prior to his death in 1986. Both of these social scientists saw the applications of ECLET as a lens to understand and work with organizations. Their book positioned ECLET as a management set of principles and tools. To make Graves’ levels of evolution more accessible to the general public, Cowan devised a color scheme to replace the A-H and N-U letter nomenclature. The colors denote only the “nodal” state of a system and not its life condition/mind capacity pairing. Table 2 provides the key attributes of the eight value system in ECLET.

Table 2. The eight value systems in ECLET. This table adds the color correspondence introduced by Cowan in spiral dynamics. The contents of this table are based on the article “Human nature prepares for a momentous leap” published by The Futurist in 1974 (p. 72-87) and reprinted on Cowan &Todorovic (2008). 

Value System

Spiral Dynamics Thinking Motivation Means/End Values Problem of Existence


  1. Beige
Automatic Physiological Purely reactive Maintaining physical stability


Purple Autistic Assurance Traditionalism/safety Achievement of relative safety


Red Egocentric Independence Exploitation/power Living with self-awareness


Blue Absolutistic Peace of mind Sacrifice/salvation Achieving ever-lasting peace of mind


Orange Multiplistic Competency Scientific/materialism Conquering the physical universe


Green Relativistic Affiliation Sociocentry/community Living with all humans


Yellow Systemic Existence Accepting/existence Instilling sustainability in the planet


Turquoise Differential Experience Experiencing/communion

Accepting existential dichotomies

Today, spiral dynamics is highly regarded by organizational development professionals and managers in all types of industries. Dr. Beck has applied the principles of ECLET to a large number of organizations ranging from the Dallas Cowboys to the country of South Africa. Chris Cowan made his life mission to preserve the theories of Dr. Graves through his books, articles and seminars. Although much of the original research has been lost by practitioners (Cowan & Todorovic, 2008), the principles of ECLET as reflected in spiral dynamics are in use today to aid in the problem solving at every level of the human evolution.

The Eight Value Systems

This section describes the core attributes of each of the eight ECLET value systems. Table 3 provides a summary of the life conditions and mind capacities associated with each. Through this table the evolution of human life conditions can be appreciated along with each human response to deal with their related complexities. Mind conditions need to solve the problems at each level of the ECLET framework in order to fully evolve (Beck & Cowan, 1996).

Table 3. Life conditions and mind capacities for the ECELT value systems. The contents of this table are adapted from Cowan & Todorovic (2008) and A mini-course in spiral dynamics (2001).

Value System Life Conditions Mind Capacities
Beige (A-N)
  • Natural state
  • Environment provides for all needs
  • Instinctual nature
  • Environment provides for all needs
Purple (B-O)
  • Survival requires others
  • Reciprocity is established
  • Spirits are unexplained phenomena
  • Myths and traditions frame life meaning
  • Curiosity about forces of nature
  • Reliance on wisdom of elders
  • Awareness of causality
  • Denial of self-identify for tribe
  • Fear of spirits and find safety in group
Red (C-P)
  • Hostile and predatory world
  • Survival is uncertain
  • Power and domination are necessary
  • Deceitfulness is needed
  • Extreme emotions are the norm
  • Self fully identified and distinct
  • Polarized allegiances
  • No sense of guilt present but capable of feeling shame
  • Motivated by rewards
  • No fear of death or punishment
  • Capable of pity for others
Blue (D-Q)
  • Ethnocentric world
  • Good vs. evil
  • World of polarities and contrasts
  • Living under a higher power
  • Life as a series of endless struggles
  • Hierarchy based on class
  • Self-control
  • Polarity thinking
  • Capable of abstract thinking
  • Live life linearly and orderly
  • Follow external standards
  • Strong sense of guilt
  • Capable for compassion for others
Orange (E-R)
  • Multiplistic reality (options)
  • Potential to make things better
  • World understood by science
  • Age of interconnectedness through information, networking and social media
  • Hierarchy based on success
  • Belief in own capabilities
  • Ability to follow own desires and goals
  • Work with many options to determine the best one
  • Competitive
  • Measured and quantified reality
  • Entrepreneurship and risk taking
Green (F-S)
  • Mission to undo the results of greed, excess and unmeasured consumption
  • Awareness of diversity
  • Recognize material sufficiency
  • Open and sharing community
  • Resurgence of spiritual and metaphysical realities
  • Empathy for others
  • Relativistic thinking
  • Acceptance and care for others
  • Avoidance of judgment
  • Tolerance for ambiguity
  • Seek peace and harmony
  • Socially and emotionally impactful
Yellow (G-T)
  • Planetary limitations and risk of world collapse due to unaware business and social practices
  • Potential for balanced living through harmonious interplay of all beings
  • Complexity of interconnected parts
  • Long term orientation
  • Ability to deal with paradox, ambiguity and uncertainty
  • Learns equally from information and emotion
  • Free from fear and compulsivity
  • Systems thinking
  • Contextual thinking
Turquoise (H-U)
  • Problems of existence are solved
  • No meaning in hierarchy, success, and conflict
  • Return to natural living where science is in harmony with nature
  • Reverence, humility and fusion with all of life
  • Honor and respect for different levels of human beings
  • Enjoyment of world of context
  • Unconditional cooperation and trust
  • Work to stabilize life preventing any future out of balance states

Beige (A-N)

This is the most fundamental and original system of human existence which dates to the early stages of human evolution (100,000 ago). Beige no longer exists in pure form (Cowan & Todorovic, 2008). Even the most basic of clans or tribes have been affected by external civilizations and have evolved to the next levels of existence. A-N is an express-self system although the concept of self is not fully developed. People in the beige system did not have a fully awaken self-identity. Their main focus was survival, motivated by hunger, sleep and other physical needs. These beings did not possess a sense of time, distance, or causality (Cowan & Todorovic, 2008). Modern humans can temporarily regress to the beige system during intensely traumatic situations.

Purple (B-O)

The next step in evolution is the purple (B-O) existence level which took place around 50,000 years ago (Beck & Cowan, 1996). This is a sacrifice self-value system. The sacrifice is for the way of the collective as established by its elders. The identity of the individual is purely based on belonging to the tribe. Myths, traditions and customs create meaning for purple. All unexplained phenomena are regarded as part of the spiritual realm. Wisdom and direction come from the elders of the tribe. Members seek protection from this collective. Causality is not yet discovered and sense of time is based on the seasons and their natural markers. This value system introduces dichotomy into the human psyche. With this, the sense of right and wrong arises along with what is taboo and superstition. Purple individuals are animistic assuming the presence of a life force in everything. At the core of all family life the essence the B-O system is still active. “Family oriented” organizations also exhibit B-O characteristics and in some cases expect a purple-type relationship, including the dependence on each other and the leadership. Sports teams, military platoons, survival groups and close-knit families represent this type of ECLET existence level outside actual tribes.

Red (C-P)

This value system is the first to express complete self-identity. The group identity of purple is shed in favor of an egocentric conceptualization. Instant gratification and personal power are the centerpieces of the Red (C-P) system. It first appeared on the planet about 10,000 years ago. C-P individuals have a spontaneous and impulsive expression. They have a sense of being threatened by the environment and others. Consequently, they seek domination as a way to cope with this threat. People in the red system do not feel any guilt in their actions but they experience shame (Cowan & Todorovic, 2008). They can be proud, lustful and violent. Might is right and their world is one of the “haves” and “have-nots.” This system is widely present in our planet today even in forms of government where an individual controls power using force to maintain it. It is also a system that all humans go through growing up during the years of teenage independence. As humans mature, the effects of red system are reduced or shut down for the most part. Gangs, sports teams, people at war, and anyone in physical danger can experience the C-P value system in full force.

Blue (D-Q)

This is a sacrifice system for the benefit of some reward in the future. Blue is absolutistic with the conception that there is only one truth. The values in blue result in an ethnocentric worldview. There is a strong sense that those that are different are not living correctly. All of the organized forms of governments and religions are blue systems (Beck & Cowan, 1996). They provide order, operate in a hierarchy and expect members to comply.  The blue system started about 5,000 years ago (Beck & Cowan, 1996). The view of the world in D-Q system is that it is “orderly, predictable and unchanging” (Cowan & Todorovic, 2008). There is a sense that what takes place is predestined by some higher power that more often than not is conceived as God. Security in the blue system comes from accepting this faith and direction. Guilt is a primary feeling in D-Q which comes from evolving out of the guiltless red system. Blue is also referred as the “saintly” value system (Cowan & Todorovic, 2005).

Orange (E-R)

The orange system is multiplistic and as such operates under the assumption that there are always options. This is the system that returned Apollo 13 back to Earth safely. Orange dares to ask questions not as defiance but as a way to find the best possible path of many (Cowan & Todorovic, 2005). There is no single truth in orange, just a more correct path. This system is about having the freedom to choose. It favors change and improvement. People in the E-R system do not seek to be right just to be “best in class” at what they do (Cowan & Todorovic, 2008). Competition, winning and risk taking are some of the key attributes of orange. The driving force for this system is to control one’s world for personal ends. Orange is the world of science, rational thinking, and efficiencies. Its aim is to master the material world. Success in this system may include manipulation, which is justified as a mechanism for achieving results. In orange, all things are tied to an economic value. Consequently, this system can easily generate ambition, greed and lust. Orange individuals prefer autonomy and independence, and as portrayed in today’s media, pursue abundance and a good life. Most of the innovation of the world has come up from the E-R system that started 1,000 years ago but intensified with the industrial revolution (beck & Cowan, 1996).

Green (F-S)

Like blue, F-S is a sacrifice-self system. However, in this case the sacrifice is for the benefit of being accepted now. Green is a relativistic system with no absolute truth. All humans have their place and diversity is revered. Emotions in green are respected and form the basis for true affection. Empathy is how others are accepted in contrast to red’s pity, blue’s compassion, and orange’s consideration (Cowan & Todorovic, 2005). Empathy in this system is of greater value than logic. People in the green value system can tolerate doubt and ambiguity, and can exhibit a larger sense of curiosity than the others. Social and environmental sustainability are the hallmarks of green. From this notion, green individuals see each other as equals and pursue social and economic justice. Community and unity are pursued in green. Relationships and being liked is more important than compensation and power for these individuals. There is a strong need to be accepted and to do what the group needs and wants. The F-S system has been available for about 150 years (Beck & Cowan, 1996).

Yellow (G-T)

Yellow is a system of self-expression. It is the first system operating in the second tier of existence according to Dr. Graves (Cowan & Todorovic, 2005). Like green, it is relativistic and contextual. Its core relational value is empathy. The yellow system adds the systemic mind capacity to green. Thus, system thinking is a core capability of G-T. Yellow individuals unlike their counterparts in all other systems are not impulsive and have left behind the fear of existence. Both of these attributes make them operate in a truly collaborative manner. They have the certainty that their needs will be met in some form and do not feel the need to compete (Cowan & Todorovic, 2008).

Even though yellow is a self-expression system, it has a considerable amount of affect. The people in this system are warm and approachable. Their self-interest pursuits are bound to not cause any harm to anyone. Yellow individuals require flexibility and operate best in open systems. They profess a deep humility and a reverence for all of life. People in the G-T system do not have fixed values. These emerge from current understanding of their condition. Motivation in yellow is self-generated and learning is mostly through observation and participation is a variety of situations. Leadership in the G-T system applies a similar leadership style to beige where the best fisherman should be the one fishing but at a higher octave. In the yellow system, the leader is the best person to guide others while the conditions and the individual’s situation are aligned. This system first appeared about 60 years ago (Beck & Cowan, 1996).

Turquoise (H-U)

Not much is known about the turquoise value system. In his entire research, Dr. Graves only found 6 individuals that exhibited a different conceptualization of the mature adult in operation than the previous seven systems (Lee, 2009). His turquoise (H-U) system definition evolved from this limited sample. In this value system our current problems of existence are solved and give way to another set of challenges on how humans continue to evolve. There is no timeline on when H-U could be present and its impact felt on our planet. Its availability is predicated on the problems that yellow would create (the new life conditions) to give way to the emergence of the turquoise mind capacities needed to solve these problems. Graves and the students of spiral dynamics speculate that the yellow system would solve the basic problems of existence, a preoccupation with all the other systems prior to yellow. Given life conditions where basic living is no longer an issue, what would the mind capacities need to be? In a simplified way, this would be equivalent to retirement with all needs met, including physical, mental and emotional. In our current conception of life, retired individuals with monetary security do not necessarily have the confidence that their other living needs will be met such as emotional support. H-U makes that possible.

The Modernistic and Post Modernistic Organizational Value Systems

The value systems of organizations are the amalgamation of the value systems of the people in the organization (Beck & Cowan, 1996). Schein (2010) states that culture is set by the leader or the leadership of the organization. In the same vein, organizational value systems are established by their leadership with reinforcing contribution by all members.

Contemporary organizations are mostly D-Q and E-R with some F-S in the mix (Lee, 2009). Traditional and hierarchical organizations would tend to mostly exist in the D-Q system while highly entrepreneurial and democratic organizations like Google would gravitate toward the E-R system. As it will become evident later in this essay by the attributes of F-S, there are not many pure organizations in this system (van Marrewijk, 2004). Organizations like Ikea and Interface Flor operate in an E-R world but bring a lot of F-S through their social and environmental sustainability programs. Their leaders demonstrate solid F-S characteristics and drive the culture of their companies with aspects of this value system. However, they are not pure F-S organizations.

G-T (yellow) organizations do not yet exist in any documented form (van Marrewijk, 2004). However, Lee (2009) forecasted a sizable percentage of individuals having G-T characteristics now forming part of modern organizations. In an interview with Dr. Beck he posits that yellow and turquoise value systems will come together a later time when problems created by the F-S system are fully apparent and require the full thrust of the yellow mind capacities (Roemischer, 2002).

The descriptions in Table 4 correspond to the value systems most applicable to today’s business organizations. Systems that precede D-Q are present in these organizations but are not the dominant value system. For instance, Red (C-P) exists in all organizations but in its pure form would exist in more power-based organizations such as gangs and organized crime.

Table 4. Attributes of the D-Q, E-R and F-S value systems along archetypal life forces. This table uses the Corlett & Pearson (2003) life forces to organize the key attributes of organizations in the blue, orange and green systems. Material for this table comprises of summaries and abstractions from text in Cowan & Todorovic (2005) and Beck & Cowan (1996).

Life Force Blue (D-Q) Orange (E-R) Green (F-S)
People (Organization Structure)
  • Hierarchical org structure
  • Top down leadership
  • Organization is viewed as provider
  • Status/title viewed as very important
  • D-Q employees need strong direction or will act out
  • Networked org structure
  • Strong functional leadership
  • Organization exchanges values with employees
  • Influence/leverage is very important
  • E-R employees need opportunities to demonstrate capabilities
  • Peer org structure
  • Leadership shared
  • Organization viewed as a community
  • Being liked is very important
  • F-S employees need to be part of decision making process
  • Drive for stability
  • Results come from sacrifice and hard work
  • Results benefit the organization
  • Mission, strategies and goals are nested to drive results
  • Drive for change
  • Results come from innovation, risk taking and best choices
  • Results benefit stakeholders, primarily shareholders
  • Mission, strategies, functional goals, MBOs and personal goals are nested to drive results
  • Drive for social justice
  • Results come from group creativity and collective action
  • Results provide social benefits and aim for sustainability
  • Organization’s purpose drives strategies and group goals are nested to achieve socially impactful results
  • Directed by management
  • Incented by some form of consequence
  • Learn from individuals with strong qualifications
  • Risk avoidance
  • Innovation is to be approached with caution
  • Higher knowledge reserved for elite
  • Self-initiated learning
  • Learn best through experimentation (trial and error, and risk taking)
  • Learn from experts
  • Risk taking is encouraged
  • Innovation encouraged and rewarded
  • Knowledge and expertise results in high status
  • Constantly in learning mode (curious mind)
  • Best learn through observation
  • Learn from individuals who demonstrate their understanding of the group’s cause
  • Risks must be accepted by the group
  • Innovation is expected
  • Learning organization
Stabilizing (Managing)
  • Controls and standards in place
  • Strong bureaucracy
  • Repeatable tasks with low creativity
  • Fixed compensation at or below market
  • Decisions made by leaders
  • Room for highly creative work
  • Measurements in place to determine performance
  • Standards and controls to support process efficiency
  • MBO programs
  • Pay for performance at or above market
  • Decisions made by experts supported by leaders
  • Creative process applied to all activities
  • Group dynamically decides what rules and controls to use
  • Compensation is egalitarian and based on what is needed
  • Decisions are made by the group

Analysis of the Organizational Archetypes in Each Value System

This section establishes a correlation of the ECLET value systems with the twelve organizational archetypes. Only the modernistic and post-modernistic value systems are considered (D-Q, E-R and F-S). Each correlation appears in the form of a table showing the behaviors for employees and then the organization as a whole for each individual archetype in the three values systems considered in this study. The correlations in this section come from the author’s own findings on the work of Dr. Graves on ECLET and Dr. Pearson’s organizational archetypes. A part of this research comes from the Spiral Dynamics course offered by Chris Cowan and NatashaTodorovic taken by the author in May of 2011.


In general, the Innocent archetype influences individuals and organizations that are benevolent and operate in a highly hierarchical and centralized structure. An Innocent organization acts as the caring parent and the employees as the well-behaved children. This archetype is more prevalent in the blue value system (D-Q) than orange (E-R) or green (F-S). D-Q lends itself to the organizational parent/child relationship, given that this coping system is based on denying self for a reward later and to obey proper authority (Cowan & Todorovic, 2008). This system also seeks to create comfortable spaces and rightful living. The other value systems tend to have more dynamic environments and thus may challenge the Innocent archetype. Table 5 relates the characteristics of the Innocent archetype to each of the value systems being analyzed in this essay.

Table 5. Correlation of the Innocent archetype to the organizational value systems.

Value System Employees Organization
Blue (D-Q)
  • Highly dependent on the benevolence of the employer
  • Management viewed as higher power
  • Employees seek job stability and security
  • Follow the rules and ask for guidance
  • Almost blind obedience
  • Acceptance of limits and convention
  • Repetitive work
  • Highly structured hierarchical organization
  • Steeped in tradition and convention
  • Hard to change
  • “Don’t fix what ain’t broken” mentality
Orange (E-R)
  • Work hard and do what is expected
  • Lead through “tried and true” paths
  • May follow unrealistic and utopian vision
  • Displays positive and optimistic energy
  • Comfortable place to be
  • Environment is full of hope and optimism
  • Barriers common to organizations are bypassed through positive outlook
  • Stability as route to progress
Green (F-S)
  • Treasures values of organization
  • Teams and company are perceived as nurturing
  • Work in teams which are viewed as extended family
  • Community providing and caring for its members
  • High appreciation for employees
  • Strong sense of harmony and cooperation


Everyday Person (Orphan)

Like the Innocent, the Orphan archetype drives individuals to seek safe organizations that can provide for them. Unlike the Innocent, the Orphan does not believe that the world is safe. Consequently, orphans feel betrayal at every corner, self-sabotage, and ultimately feel powerless. Orphan organizations are those that have experienced what is perceived as some form of betrayal or abandonment. Examples include takeovers, changing market conditions and poor leadership (Pearson, 1997). Unlike the Innocent archetype, the Orphan can easily live in the three value systems being analyzed. The structure and characteristics of D-Q can simply provide the life conditions for both Orphan organizations and individuals to exist. E-R is also a good candidate because of its competitive nature. In the E-R world there are winners and losers.  The losers could feel that the larger E-R system did them wrong and feel victimized. F-S is also capable of experiencing the Orphan. Fighting for a cause for social and environmental integrity could be rejected by the public, authorities and businesses. Lack of vertical system integration (seeing how other value systems see the world) could make an F-S organization or a set of individuals embody the Orphan archetype. Table 6 shows the characteristics of the Orphan archetype in its relationship to the Spiral Dynamics systems.

Table 6. Correlation of the Everyday Person archetype to the organizational value systems.

Value System Employees Organization
Blue (D-Q)
  • Able to articulate fears and constraints
  • Show compassion for vulnerabilities in others
  • Distrust for management
  • Complaining about standards and rules
  • Linear thinking
  • Organization’s philosophy is a “dog-eat-dog-world”
  • Hierarchical organizational structure
  • Mistrust between management and employees
  • People not sharing in the misery are generally attacked
  • Emphasis on survival
  • Us against them thinking
Orange (E-R)
  • Anticipate problems
  • Act as the “squeaky wheel”
  • Realism and common sense about organization realities
  • Winning in a scarce world
  • Motivated to have financial security
  • Power struggles and turf fights
  • Political structures and gossiping
  • Information is centralized and on “as need to know basis”
  • Emphasis on bottom line
Green (F-S)
  • Empathy for individuals experiencing similar situations
  • Healers of social and economic injustice
  • Disdain for judgment and harming people
  • Organization is self-aware of wounds and acts as “wounded healer” for others
  • Employees encouraged to heal their own wounds
  • Organization acts as teacher of hard lessons on how to survive together
  • Teams empowered to support each other
  • Emphasis on interdependence


The Hero archetype is well entrenched in the workplace culture. Modern organizations have reward and recognition systems that perpetuate the state of employees sacrificing themselves for their benefit. This self-sacrifice is supported by general business culture, the media and our upbringing.  Heroes are disciplined and fight for a just cause (D-Q). They are competitive and strive for victory (E-R). Their plight is for the benefit of the whole. The ideal Hero is selfless and aims to build a better world (F-S).  Table 7 shows the characteristics of the Hero archetype across the value systems.

Table 7. Correlation of the Hero archetype to the organizational value systems.

Value System Employees Organization
Blue (D-Q)
  • Good soldier
  • Dualistic with an either/or approach to problem solving
  • Identification and elimination of problems
  • Show strong company loyalty
  • Ideological about role in the organization
  • See sacrifice as the price for security and lasting employment
  • Hardworking organization
  • Disciplined
  • Stress loyalty as a cornerstone
  • Value team players
  • Problems treated as obstacles to overcome
  • Competitive drive focused inside
  • Could have silos competing with one another, each with their own heroes
  • Little tolerance for diversity-value sameness
  • Could be limited by inflexibility
Orange (E-R)
  • Courageous, confronting challenges head on
  • Focused and assertive
  • Fight for change questioning status quo
  • Goal is to be the best
  • Risk taking
  • Belief in own competence
  • Focus on winning for self-promotion and benefit of the organization
  • Goal and results oriented
  • Externally competitive
  • Winning tied to financial performance
  • Expects employees to act as a winning team
  • Management model is coaching
  • Rewards correlated to financial results
  • Pride in belonging to organization
  • Strive for best in class products and services
Green (F-S)
  • Search for peace and harmony
  • Represent the organization and for what it stands
  • Strong willingness to act
  • See sacrifice now to obtain benefits for self and others
  • Highly relational organization
  • Shared vision/shared purpose
  • Long decision making process to build consensus
  • Organization focused on undoing the wrongs of greed and selfish consumption
  • Highly accepting or diversity


This archetype brings the characteristics of selflessness and sacrifice for the benefit of others. On the surface it is most aligned with the F-S value system. However, it can be found in Blue (D-Q) and Orange (E-R) as well. The motivation of selflessness is different in each system. In D-Q, the motivator for the Caregiver is to provide for the needs of others in the social system because that is what a benevolent person or organization does. The sacrifice for D-Q is aimed at the longer term. The concept of “reap what you sow” is at play for the D-Q Caregiver. For E-R, the motivation is to empower and to provide what others need to compete and win. The E-R Caregiver understands that without some level of care and encouragement an organization would fail. Caregivers act from their own sense of competitiveness but could be quite generous as long as those receiving benefits are contributing commensurably. In the F-S system, the Caregiver embraces the concept of service. These individuals and organizations provide for the needs of others purely because of their sense of community. Their understanding is that all should have what they need. The F-S Caregiver views that giving is its own reward. All caregivers in the three value systems are subject to being manipulated and “guilted” into giving. Table 8 shows the correspondence between the characteristics of employees and organizations expressing the Caregiver archetype and the value systems.

Table 8. Correlation of the Caregiver archetype to the organizational value systems.

Value System Employees Organization
Blue (D-Q)
  • Do what needs to be done
  • Clear sense of duty and responsibility
  • Exhibit caring and compassion
  • Show dedication through long hours
  • Loyal to management
  • Managers could be too passive and fail to delegate
  • Propensity to experience burnouts
  • Harmony, cooperation and caring are part of organizational values
  • Employees are expected to sacrifice along with the company for the long term benefits
  • Organization may experience workaholic behaviors, burnout, and high turnover
  • Tendency to low financial compensation and expectation for long work hours-counter to stated values
Orange (E-R)
  • High engagement levels replace sacrifice
  • Expectation for rewards and recognitions correspond to the level of effort applied
  • Management appreciation for contributions
  • Cooperation is a strategy to win
  • High expected level of work resulting in excellent products and services
  • Competitive pay viewed as necessary and fair for expected contribution
  • Management views their role and enablers for their teams
  • Investments in tools and processes are justified to make the work easier
Green (F-S)
  • High degree of collaboration
  • Strong sense of social responsibility
  • Caring extended to inside and outside (world) the organization
  • Care for team members as family
  • Strong empathy for others
  • Could avoid confrontation and end up with “group-think”
  • Camaraderie and mutual respect is high
  • Employees are well taken care of as they are viewed as an integral part of “the family”
  • Organization see its role and contributions in the broader social system


The Explorer archetypes corresponds to what Pearson calls the journey in the development of an individual or organization (Person, 1997). The Explorer’s quest is about identity and purpose. It is through this archetype that individuals connect with their sense of vocation and organizations translate high level vision statements into a sense of purpose in the social systems in which they operate. The Explorer is a journey of discovery primarily involving learning, taking risks, and testing what works. The Explorer is what takes the Innocent to the next level in the Learning life force. The Innocent is content with being directed by the organization while the Explorer needs to find his/her own path. Explorer organizations are not content with just being in business. They must find its purpose and justify who they are to their social system. Apple, Inc. explored its entry into the entertainment market with several products to ultimately come up with the iTunes/iPod/iPhone combination that established a strong purpose for this organization.

The Explorer archetype is stronger in the E-R and F-S systems. Both of these systems leave authority behind and want to explore multiple alternatives. E-R is the multiplistic system and a natural to explore many paths to discover the “right one.” E-R learns by experimentation. Similarly F-S conceptualizes many paths buts its relativistic nature establishes that all paths are relevant. F-S learns vicariously by observation (Cowan & Todorovic, 2005). It observes what works and what does not and it embraces the path that the group prefers without judgment. The Explorer archetype has difficulties in the D-Q system. Learning in D-Q is driven by consequences and even punishment. There has to be a consequence in place for D-Q to learn (Cowan & Todorovic, 2005). For example, all employees need to have 40 hours of annual training or they will lose points in their annual review and get a lesser raise. The D-Q type of self-development borders with how the Innocent archetype learns. Table 9 establishes the correlation between the Explorer archetype and the value systems.

Table 9. Correlation of the Explorer archetype to the organizational value systems.

Value System Employees Organization
Blue (D-Q)
  • New and improved products
  • Changes to processes and tools
  • Development of new standards
  • Need to be challenged to remain involved
  • Want vocational guidance and career development
  • By definition D-Q organizations need structure and are typically hierarchical. They can have Explorer employees but a pure Explorer organization in the D-Q value system could not be sustainable. It would be a store-front with no real substance behind it.
  • Little planning resulting in uncoordinated efforts
  • Potential for chaos due to minimal systems and inattention to employee needs
Orange (E-R)
  • Achieve independence in thinking outside of “group-think”
  • Integrity even under group pressure
  • Divergent thinking
  • Challenge rules
  • Need feedback on how they are doing in their job
  • Learning through experimentation
  • Organization may be highly decentralized
  • Loose association of equals (e.g. consulting partnership or law firm)
  • Autonomy is a core value
  • Management allows great freedom to employees to explore the individual goals
  • Minimal administrative burdens
  • Flexibility to employees to set their own work schedule and work remotely
Green (F-S)
  • Concerned with issues of meaning
  • Development of team capabilities
  • Establishing relationship of self with the whole
  • Need recognition of uniqueness
  • Learning through acute observation
  • Informal evaluations, typically peer reviews
  • Administrative, managerial and leadership workload is shared or responsibility rotated
  • Egalitarian, allowing all to be equal
  • High organizational cohesion
  • High acceptance of diversity
  • Group oriented problem solving with complete support for appointed lead


The Lover archetype is about how organizations relate to their employees and how employees relate to one another. This is the next level of the People Life Force in the Corlett & Pearson (2003) archetypal model following the Orphan. The Orphan archetype needs to belong to an organization but has this natural sense of abandonment and betrayal. The Lover represents a mature level of relatedness that goes beyond “I-It” in Buber’s (1970) relatedness conceptualization. Instead, it embraces an “I-You” type relationship. Additionally, the Lover archetype provide a level of passion and commitment that brings energy to the organization awakening what Peppers & Briskin (2000) call ‘soul.” It is through this soul that employees find meaning in their work lives and where they honor their relationships. The Lover along with the Explorer archetype provides the emancipatory energies for individuals to find at least part of their personal realization though their work.

The Lover archetype is a natural in the F-S system that is socio-centric (Cowan & Todorovic, 2008). Relationships are at the center of F-S and given its life conditions and mental capacities, the Lover archetype should be highly developed in this system. The E-R system presents a challenge for the Lover archetype. E-R is an individualistic system where relationships are the means to an end. Teams and other structures in E-R are needed by individuals and organizations to compete, deliver products and services, and meet financial objectives. However, E-R organizations can have a high degree of passion and employee commitment. These attributes also come from the Lover archetype. In the D-Q system, which like F-S has an external (social) locus of control (Cowan & Todorovic, 2008), relationships are an important part of the system. D-Q would have more of the “I-It” type of relationships than “I-You” but respect could lay a fundamental layer of relatedness that makes the organization operate cohesively. In D-Q and E-R, norms of conduct and what are acceptable behaviors between employees is necessary to provide guidance and establish punishments (D-Q) and feedback loops (E-R).  Table 10 shows the correlation between the lower archetype and the value systems.

Table 10. Correlation of the Lover archetype to the organizational value systems.

Value System Employees Organization
Blue (D-Q)
  • Commitment to organization
  • Need guidelines of conduct and employee relations
  • Value quality of relationships
  • Appreciate respect
  • Caring and warm environment
  • Could have silos and turf conflicts
  • People may also avoid confrontation
  • Danger of “group-think”
  • Feelings not expressed or handled could result in gossip
  • Employees are superficially friendly
  • Emphasis on process
Orange (E-R)
  • Passion for job or assignment
  • Interdependent teamwork with defined roles and responsibilities
  • Rules of engagement
  • Engagement contracts for large projects
  • Appreciate diversity in skillsets and contributions
  • Highly energetic environment
  • High rewards for employee passion and commitment
  • Share passion for organizational mission
  • Assertive and honest communication
  • Conflict resolution practiced
  • Consensus is aimed as a way to make decisions but not relied if not reached
  • People/skills development is a priority
Green (F-S)
  • Passion and commitment to group cause or direction
  • Strong connection with team members
  • Importance in relationships and with everyone getting along
  • Expectation that all are committed
  • Emotional engagement
  • High degree of empathy and appreciation of diversity
  • Highly social environment
  • Power-sharing mode of operation
  • Strong consensus decision-making model
  • Honest sharing of feelings as the norm
  • Feelings are valued and shared


The Revolutionary archetype follows the Hero in the Results Life Force. The Hero in an organization is in tune with its needs and sacrifices self to address them. In contrast, the Revolutionary provides the counter story. It brings awareness on what needs to change and applies energy to its discovery and ultimate implementation. In its truest essence, the Revolutionary archetype correlates to change agents. Organizations that embody the Revolutionary archetype are not afraid of making hard calls and have an aggressive stance on non-performing personnel. Also, they are able to deal with non-performing products and services. A negatively inclined Revolutionary organization is a dark place to work where people are afraid of being terminated at a moment’s notice.

Both the D-Q and the E-R systems lend themselves well to house the Revolutionary archetype. A structured D-Q organization can use this archetype to clean house and remain vigilant on what is and what is not working. E-R organizations need the Revolutionary archetype to question their products and services, and their internal processes. The E-R organization actively seeks revolutionaries and encourages them to speak up. The challenge for this archetype is the F-S system. In a system that seeks harmony between its constituents individual revolutionaries would not have a place. However, F-S organizations would have complete groups acting as revolutionaries for internal change or for change in society. In this larger context, F-S organizations are the ones pointing out what is wrong in the world and how to fix it. Table 11 shows the correlation of the Revolutionary archetype with the ECLET value systems.

Table 11. Correlation of the Revolutionary archetype to the organizational value systems.

Value System Employees Organization
Blue (D-Q)
  • Understand commitment to standards and quality
  • Identify and eliminate waste and unnecessary costs
  • Stoic attitude to do what needs to get done
  • “Lean and mean” organization
  • Eliminates problem employees
  • Strong budget controls and money saving policies
  • Eliminates programs that are not working or meeting expectations
  • Not afraid of making tough calls
  • Ensure standards are clear and expectations are understood
  • May be in a business with little margin for error (e.g. healthcare)
Orange (E-R)
  • Understands commitment to excellence
  • Identify and eliminate barriers and non-performing areas
  • Unwillingness to tolerate inefficiencies
  • Troubleshooting capabilities
  • Tunes team performance
  • Organized around current business model ready to change as model evolves
  • Management encourages employees to speak their minds
  • Frequent and thorough performance reviews for internal programs
Green (F-S)
  • Confidence in speaking up inside the group but never complaining about the group
  • Change viewed as a relative state where emphasis needs to be switched to another state
  • Socially and environmentally aware in terms of what is broken and needs to be addressed in society
  • Consensus-driven change model
  • Some have the mission of undoing the residues of greed and selfish consumption


The Creator archetype resides at the second level of the Stabilizing Life Force. This archetype brings the creative force into action manifesting it into new products and services, and internal improvements. The output of this archetype ranges from creations without much value for the most brilliant and purposeful. The Creator archetype works in tandem with the Explorer. It is the manifested counterpoint to the Explorer’s learning and developmental impetus. Organizations with a significantly active Creator archetype would produce the most innovative and life-changing products and services. Apple and Google are two examples of organizations that have changed the social landscape of information with their creativity.

The Creator archetype lives equally well across the D-Q, E-R and F-S systems. The motivation in each system is what differs. The Creator archetype in D-Q is focused on expanding and improving the products, services and internal systems already in place. There is strong sense of ownership present in the D-Q Creator archetype. The challenge for most D-Q organizations is the creativity applied to sales and marketing. Often these organizations do not achieve maximum potential because they fall short on the creative side of these functions. In contrast, E-R organizations understand sales and marketing and can support their creative archetype better. This archetype is the centerpiece of modern organizations in the E-R system. Most E-R organizations see their “secret sauce,” their creative secret formula as how they win in the marketplace. In the F-S system, organizations and individuals see the process of creation as the reward. Their motivation is to create solutions for others whether their business structure is commercial or non-profit. F-S creativity is viewed as a service for society and not just the organization. Table 12 correlates the Creator archetype and its characteristics to the D-Q, E-R and F-S systems.

Table 12. Correlation of the Creator archetype to the organizational value systems.

Value System Employees Organization
Blue (D-Q)
  • Require input on value creation to focus creative energy
  • Development of new products and services
  • Enjoyment of work processes
  • Provide equipment and facilities for research and development activities
  • Provide organizational/title distinction for Creators (e.g. CTO, principal engineer)
Orange (E-R)
  • Need creative environment
  • Need freedom and autonomy in the creative process
  • Development of new (and potentially Revolutionary) products and services
  • Enjoy creative corporate culture
  • Strong sales and marketing engagement to match desired creative levels
  • Provide tools and facilities to enable the creative process
  • Provide incentives for the creative process such as rewards for patent filing
  • Class recognition for inventors (e.g. architects)
Green (F-S)
  • See creativity as a group process
  • Creative process has artistic overtones regardless of field
  • Even practical matters require creative energy to be fulfilling
  • Creativity connected to higher purpose
  • Environment / architecture is fundamental to the creative process
  • Connected Interdependence provides the flow for creativity
  • Provides environment conducive to creativity (placed-based leadership principles)
  • Creates the “space” to allow for creativity to emerge
  • Use of dialogue and group design principles to co-create and think together – this is much different than group-think
  • Management is integrated into the creative process


The Sage archetype is the third level of the Learning Life Force. It represents the realization of learning after the journey of the Explorer archetype has been completed. In the organizational context, the Sage archetype translates into global perspectives, objectivity, deep analysis, rationality, planning, and detachment to outcome. The challenge of the Sage archetype is connecting its “wisdom” to the people in the organization. The Sage believes in humanity but may not be in touch with it. Academic organizations are expected to embody the Sage archetype along with any organizations deeply dedicated to learning, particularly deeper subject matters.

The Sage archetype has a home in all three values systems, D-Q, E-R and F-S. The level of humanity will vary, with F-S being the system with the most “heart” from the Sage archetype. The D-Q system Sage would be extremely rational and focused on the knowledge that would make the entire enterprise work well. This would be a highly mechanistic view of applied wisdom. In E-R, wisdom would be highly evolutionary constantly seeking the most advantageous approaches to make the organization perform. D-Q would distinguish their sages by title and position. In E-R, the title would be less important. However, Sages would be well identified and have exclusive power. The F-S value system would relate differently with respect to the Sage archetype. F-S would expect Sages to be integrated into the group and not have any special power. However, they would be highly respected and valued. The Sage archetype in F-S would inherently be humanistic, not just in concept but application. Table 13 shows the correlation of the Sage archetype with the value systems.

Table 13. Correlation of the Sage archetype to the organizational value systems.

Value System Employees Organization
Blue (D-Q)
  • Analyze situations, problems and results
  • Long range planning with structured strategy nesting
  • Leverage metrics to make sound decisions
  • Provide thoughtful critique
  • Engage in intellectual debates
  • Manage crisis
  • Fair leadership
  • Learning organization in concept and structure – those that want to learn do and the others do not
  • Organization values excellence
  • Planning is a core practice
  • Invested in the development of personnel
  • People are given sufficient time and quiet to do their work
  • Risk of being too analytical and detached
  • Potentially not being in touch with the world and its needs
  • Could over analyze situations
  • Potential for ivory tower
  • Submit employees to constant evaluations
  • Learning may be targeted to the elite
Orange (E-R)
  • Focused on the big picture and on what it would take to win
  • Mid-range planning with a short term performance mindset (e.g. “how we make the quarterly numbers”)
  • Use metrics dashboard to measure operational performance
  • Establish feedback loops
  • Handle complex situations
  • Consider human implications during decision making
  • Learning organization as a means to an end – organization must learn to be competitive
  • Organization values competence and competiveness
  • Planning is a tool and is integrated with the operations
  • Organizational structure follows the business model
  • Career development is part of the culture
  • Use performance measures to drive behavior without human consideration
  • Potential for selected classes as being more important (e.g. Engineering)
  • Comprehensive and well-orchestrated evaluations
Green (F-S)
  • Bring macro perspective (beyond the organization)
  • Apply systems thinking to problem solving
  • Deal/manage complexity
  • Decision making is balanced between rationality and humanism
  • Learning has been integrated into the organization’s DNA
  • Planning is synchronized with the organization’s purpose
  • Organizational structure is congruent with purpose and the “natural” flow of responsibilities
  • Equality is paramount and knowledge is viewed as something that all can attain
  • Continuous learning is practiced at all levels of the organization


The Jester archetype corresponds to the third level of the Relatedness Life Force. Even though it symbolizes lightness and lack of structure, its directive is to seek wholeness by breaking through all restrictions and by dealing with matters that might have been previously ignored or blocked (Pearson, 1997). The Jester is linked with flexibility and being free to connect with a number of options. In an organization, the energy of the Jester brings lightness and fun to the work environment. Organizations like Southwest Airlines bring a sense of fun and joy to their daily activities, not just for the employees but those who come in contact with them. Jester organizations find imaginative ways to solve problems. They are unconventional and creative. Employees embodying the Jester archetype bring a sense of joviality to their activities. The challenge with the Jester is staying centered and focused. There is the possibility of getting carried away by the fun and not accomplish much or not knowing when to tune into a more serious demeanor.

It would be counter for an organization in the D-Q system to have the fully developed Jester characteristics since organizations in this value system seek order and structure and would frown upon individuals stepping out of this norm. E-R is a far more logical system to release the Jester archetype. The competiveness of E-R could be accompanied with the fun and lightness of the Jester. The period of the Internet bubble saw many E-R organizations providing many forms of entertainment and fun environments for their employees. The level of creativity achieved during that time was quite significant. The Internet companies attracted all kinds of individuals, even those that never saw themselves work in high tech organizations. The Jester and the high E-R energy was a powerful combination. With respect to F-S organizations, it is expected that they would be highly receptive of the Jester archetype. Community, love and appreciation are the cornerstones of F-S. Fun and enjoyment could easily complement these attributes. In fact, it would be counterintuitive to find an F-S organization devoid of the Jester archetype. They go hand in hand. Table 14 holds the characteristics of the Jester archetype in the context of the organizational value systems being analyzed in this essay.

Table 14. Correlation of the Jester archetype to the organizational value systems.

Value System Employees Organization
Blue (D-Q)
  • Brainstorming sessions
  • Scheduled events for employee enjoyment
  • See Jester behavior as disruptive
  • Could express a fake sense of enjoyment
  • Organizations that take shortcuts
  • Work is never completed by deadlines
  • Organizations that willingly provide substandard products and services
Orange (E-R)
  • Find creative ways of solving problems
  • View work as play
  • Celebrations of milestones and accomplishments
  • High energy teamwork
  • Act free from convention and tradition
  • Have fun, be creative, and be independent
  • Entrepreneurial workgroups
  • Flexible work schedules
  • Fun and energizing workspaces
  • Management brings high energy and provides unconventional leadership
  • Highly creative organization
  • Values innovation and spontaneity
  • No tolerance for bureaucracy
  • Natural affinity for change
  • Fun place to work
  • May lack documentation and some processes
  • May get lost in the fun
Green (F-S)
  • “Thinking together” activities
  • Fun integrated into everyday work life
  • See matters in new and unconventional ways
  • Break away from limiting rules
  • Family life integrated with work life
  • Fun and joyful integration of space into the work activities
  • Change culture
  • Loose organizational structure
  • Rules are constantly changing to adapt to new conditions
  • Externally, organization appears irreverent and to some degree eccentric
  • May lack accountability


The Magician archetype comes after the Hero and Revolutionary archetypes in the Results Life Force. Its focus is change, in particular, second order change. The Magician is the quintessential change agent. It brings the transformative learning and change to an organization. Large changes would be impossible without the Magician archetype. Organizations that struggle with change by experiencing large costs, delays and failures in their change initiatives have immature Magician archetypes. This archetype provides a multiplicity of options, can easily name the problem, define it and manage its complexity. Individuals expressing the Magician archetype are effective communicators, respectful of others and quite capable of conflict resolution. The downside of the Magician is translated into changes that are not necessary, working employees to exhaustion, manipulation, insisting to be cutting edge, and intolerant of non-intellectuals.

The Magician archetype finds expressions in all three systems, D-Q, E-R and F-S. It expresses creativity and change across all systems but at different degrees. In D-Q, the Magician archetype leverages the existing structures to mediate conflict, create win-win scenarios, inspire others, and assist with transitions. D-Q organizations, even in their rigidity, would outpace their counterparts because of the level of flexibility inherent in the Magician. This archetype is the life force behind E-R and F-S. By definition, E-R is all about the change and transformation needed to compete and win. Adaptability is essential to E-R and the Magician archetype provides the energy for this. F-S is about community and social transformation. The F-S system is in a constant state of change and requires significant flexibility to maintain group cohesion. This would not be possible without the Magician being present. Table 15 shows the attributes of the Magician archetype in each of the three values systems: D-Q, E-R and F-S.

Table 15. Correlation of the Magician archetype to the organizational value systems.

Value System Employees Organization
Blue (D-Q)
  • Direct communication
  • Respectful of others
  • Work as a vocation
  • Inspiration to others
  • Evolutionary change agent (first order)
  • Charismatic leader
  • Task-specific workgroups
  • Clear mission and goals
  • Management focus
  • May push too hard on a given direction
  • Potential to exhaust employees
  • Creativity may be impractical to society
  • Efficient organization
  • High integrity and respectful of others
Orange (E-R)
  • Win-win problem solving
  • Define multiplicity of options
  • Build and develop teams
  • Work as opportunity to prove and develop self
  • Flexible and adaptable
  • Cope with transitions
  • Revolutionary change agent (second order)
  • Flexible and adaptable
  • Creative
  • Quick to respond to change
  • Share power and responsibilities
  • Clear strategies to win
  • May tend to change for change sake
  • Effective and efficient
  • Rewards innovation
Green (F-S)
  • Involves all in problem solving
  • Brings transformative energy
  • Build and develop workgroups with internal and external constituencies
  • Work as opportunity to transcend self
  • Cope with complex social transitions
  • Transformational change agent
  • Handle great complexity
  • Share leadership and responsibilities
  • Clear purpose
  • Continuously adapted strategies
  • Rewards social creativity
  • Respectful of all facets of life


The Ruler archetype is responsible for the overall oversight in an organization. It corresponds to the third level of the Stabilizing Life Force. One of its main functions is to ensure all members of the organization are utilized to their fullest. The Ruler energy could be benevolent or authoritarian. It could be flexible and enabling or it could be quite controlling. Individuals expressing this archetype would most likely be in management positions all the way to the CEO. This latter individual would be absolute ruler and his/her power be shared in the manner that he/she conceives it would be best to serve the organization. The Ruler archetype provides the stable force in the company and the level of fairness.

The D-Q system is a natural for the Ruler archetype. In fact, D-Q organizations would not operate without this archetype being in place. The flavor of the Ruler archetype in D-Q would be of the authoritarian kind, ranging from controlling to extremely bureaucratic. In the E-R system, the Ruler archetype would translate into the organization’s leadership model. This archetype would not be authoritarian but would be directive. Power in E-R would be shared among the management team and key individual contributors. E-R organizations getting closer to the F-S range would display more egalitarian characteristics and have a higher degree of inclusivity in the decision making process. Fully developed F-S organizations would have a distributed Ruler archetype. It would be anti-F-S to have centralized power of any kind and this archetype would need to be shared among organizations and individuals. In F-S, leadership and the ruler type of responsibilities would be rotated among individuals in the group. The challenge for F-S organizations is that they do not function well in traditional, highly competitive settings where strong Ruler presence is required. Table 16 shows the correspondence of the Ruler archetype characteristics in relation to the organizational value systems.

Table 16. Correlation of the Ruler archetype to the organizational value systems.

Value System Employees Organization
Blue (D-Q)
  • Authoritative force
  • Instill confidence
  • Oversee task completion
  • Keep balance
  • Watch over goals and strategies
  • Set boundaries and standards
  • Drive processes
  • Follow directives
  • Highly structured
  • Hierarchical
  • Power distribution from the top with minimal to no power at the lower levels
  • Leadership goal is efficiency
  • Processes meant to drive efficiencies and reduce costs
Orange (E-R)
  • Set up strategies
  • Drive programs
  • Set benchmarks and targets
  • Oversee strategies
  • Measure performance and drive improvements
  • Oversee changes
  • Ensure resources are available
  • Engage with stated goals and be accountable
  • Less structured
  • Matrix organization with top down structure and cross-functional teams
  • Power is distributed across functions all the way to individual contributors
  • Leadership goal is performance
  • Processes meant to drive performance and help win
Green (F-S)
  • Think of the entire group
  • Collectively provide leadership
  • Rotate oversight responsibilities
  • Adapt to new conditions
  • Flat organization with rotating responsibilities
  • Power distributed among all
  • Leadership goal is service and community wellbeing
  • Processes meant to interconnect and provide a value network

The Twelve Archetypes in the Yellow/G-T Value System

As previously stated, there are no documented organizations that have an established G-T (Yellow) value system. Consequently, an analysis of a G-T organization in reference to its archetypes would be purely theoretical. On the other hand, there is a growing population of individuals that are developing and have developed the G-T value system mind capacities and are working in organizations that have to a certain degree G-T type problems (Beck & Cowan, 1996). However, the most likely scenario is for a G-T individual to be working in D-Q, E-R or F-S organizations where they bring their “T” mind capacities to address challenges (life conditions) of the other systems. A G-T individual has the ability to “pose” as a member of the other system and is able to perform quite well in that environment and solve problems in a “yellow” manner. A challenge for G-T individuals would be to be in value systems where they do not have the ability to operate at the full use of their capacities. G-T individuals would find this situation unattainable and most likely leave. People from the G-T value system are at their best in networked environments that have a strong sense of direction (van Marrewijk, 2004).

In terms of archetypal mapping, a correspondence of the twelve organizational archetypes can be drawn with the G-T value system. Table 17 documents this correspondence.

Table 17. Correlation of the twelve archetypes with the G-T value system.

Archetype G-T Value System Characteristics
Innocent G-T individuals would have matured past the Innocent archetype. People in this value system do not feel dependent from anyone or need anyone’s approval to operate. The need to be protected does not exist in G-T. This is the value system level where fear disappears (Cowan & Todorovic, 2008).
Orphan This is another archetype not in the G-T repertoire. G-T individuals feel connected to everything and part of everything. The Orphan feels disconnected and abandoned. This is opposite to how G-T people feel.
Hero The Hero in G-T is present but it is not self-sacrificing. The G-T yellow acts for the greater good and in doing so is extremely careful in not adversely affecting anyone or anything. The Hero in the G-T system acts swiftly but carefully. He or she is only interested in win-win options.
Caregiver G-T is an internal locus system and thus is self-centered. The Caregiver archetype is not manifested in G-T in the traditional sense. G-T individuals care about others but they have to establish a personal connection. Their care is about working for the entire system and not necessarily anyone individually.
Explorer G-T value system people are natural learners. In fact, they are in a state of constant learning. They learn from anything and everyone (Cowan & Todorovic, 2005). They see their path as one of learning. G-T people are risk takers, innovators, and systemic problem solvers. The Explorer/Seeker is one of the strongest archetypes in the G-T system.
Lover G-T values relationships and people in this value system are very warm individuals. They have a deep understanding of the other colors (systems) and as such, their empathy is genuine. Like F-S, G-T appreciates diversity and aims to have “I-You” relationships with everyone. G-T does not distinguish between titles and roles. To G-T, everyone is important and necessary.
Revolutionary A G-T person knows when to speak up and provide the counter story. However, like their F-S counterparts, they are relativistic and see things in context. This means that something  that may be objectionable to many people, would simply be another possible path or meaning for a G-T Revolutionary archetype. People in this value system understand from the perspective of the whole and would have fewer objections than most. The Revolutionary archetype in G-T takes more the meaning of managing or filling in the white spaces in contrast to just pointing out that there are white spaces.
Creator The creative energy in G-T is strong. Systems thinking is a natural ability of G-T. A group of G-T individuals would solve problems in a fraction of the time compared to the other systems. G-T people feel comfortable tackling problems for which they are not experts. This comes from their systemic perspective and approach. Any type of situation is approached in the same manner by G-T individuals, allowing them to be involved with many situations.
Sage G-T individuals amass knowledge to be applied somewhere. Ivory towers are not their preferred pulpit. G-T people need to be in the middle of the action, preferably hands-on. They are not CEOs but could be behind them providing the roadmap. They are visionaries and they embody what van Marrewijk calls the “Connected Leader” (2004). This type of leader can link various qualities and theories into a coherent approach. To G-T, leadership is no longer about what people do but who people are. This version of the Sage archetype is in line with Bohm’s (2004) and Jaworski’s (1998) view of a leader that has moved into a state of beingness, past the consideration of doing and acting. G-T individuals are completely existential.
Jester Given that G-T people are past the point of fear, they do not take themselves seriously or get entangled in worldly matters. They engage and are passionate about what they do, but are detached of the outcome. Their lifestyle is aligned with the archetype of the Jester. G-T individuals have what they need and maintain their focus on the discovery of their inner self and their path to wholeness.
Magician Along with the Seeker archetype, the Magician runs strong in G-T. These individuals are transformative agents in any environment. The leadership style described in the Sage archetype above allows G-Ts to bring a whole “system” into conversations, problem solving, and value creation. These individuals are natural change leaders and seek the higher purpose of everything the engage in.
Ruler The Ruler archetype is not preferred by G-T. Individuals in this value system recognize the need for all of the positive characteristics of the Ruler archetype. However, their preferred mode of operation is in applied knowledge. They are most at home with the Seeker, Creator, Sage and Magician archetypes. Like in the case of the Hero, the G-T individuals would embody the Ruler archetype only if it allows them to work for the greater good. They do not enjoy the aspect of “ruling.” Hierarchy, titles and roles do not hold intrinsic value for G-Ts. They see these organizational structures simply as containers of energy that may be necessary to achieve a given set of goals. Ruling is seen as a means to an end. This is a key difference between G-T and F-S. The latter value system would very much want to do away with the Ruler archetype. G-Ts sees it as necessary and would aim to optimize it and make benevolent.
Creator The creative energy in G-T is strong. Systems thinking is a natural ability of G-T. A group of G-T individuals would solve problems in a fraction of the time compared to the other systems. G-T people feel comfortable tackling problems for which they are not experts. This comes from their systemic perspective and approach. Any type of situation is approached in the same manner by G-T individuals, allowing them to be involved with many situations.
Sage G-T individuals amass knowledge to be applied somewhere. Ivory towers are not their preferred pulpit. G-T people need to be in the middle of the action, preferably hands-on. They are not CEOs but could be behind them providing the roadmap. They are visionaries and they embody what van Marrewijk calls the “Connected Leader” (2004). This type of leader can link various qualities and theories into a coherent approach. To G-T, leadership is no longer about what people do but who people are. This version of the Sage archetype is in line with Bohm’s (2004) and Jaworski’s (1998) view of a leader that has moved into a state of beingness, past the consideration of doing and acting. G-T individuals are completely existential.
Jester Given that G-T people are past the point of fear, they do not take themselves seriously or get entangled in worldly matters. They engage and are passionate about what they do, but are detached of the outcome. Their lifestyle is aligned with the archetype of the Jester. G-T individuals have what they need and maintain their focus on the discovery of their inner self and their path to wholeness.
Magician Along with the Seeker archetype, the Magician runs strong in G-T. These individuals are transformative agents in any environment. The leadership style described in the Sage archetype above allows G-Ts to bring a whole “system” into conversations, problem solving, and value creation. These individuals are natural change leaders and seek the higher purpose of everything the engage in.
Ruler The Ruler archetype is not preferred by G-T. Individuals in this value system recognize the need for all of the positive characteristics of the Ruler archetype. However, their preferred mode of operation is in applied knowledge. They are most at home with the Seeker, Creator, Sage and Magician archetypes. Like in the case of the Hero, the G-T individuals would embody the Ruler archetype only if it allows them to work for the greater good. They do not enjoy the aspect of “ruling.” Hierarchy, titles and roles do not hold intrinsic value for G-Ts. They see these organizational structures simply as containers of energy that may be necessary to achieve a given set of goals. Ruling is seen as a means to an end. This is a key difference between G-T and F-S. The latter value system would very much want to do away with the Ruler archetype. G-Ts sees it as necessary and would aim to optimize it and make benevolent.


WayThink: a Short Case Study


The author conducted a case study to investigate the organizational archetypes present in an organization and to correlate them to the spiral dynamics value systems. This study was conducted in April of 2011 using a set of questions designed to perform an organizational cultural assessment through individual interviews. A small company in the San Francisco Bay Area volunteered to be the subject of the case study. Eight individuals from this company participated in the interviews, including the CEO.

WayThink, Inc. (not their real name) is a Microsoft technology-focused consulting company that leverages local presence with offshore delivery to provide cost effective solutions. These solution offerings include portals and collaboration, business intelligence (BI), and Web-based and customized application development. The company works with various customers across multiple industries.

At the time of the case study, WayThink had 150 employees. The company was founded in 2007. It is headquartered in the San Francisco Bay Area with development centers in Hyderabad and Bangalore, India. The majority of the employees are in the India locations, but the larger portion of WayThink’s clients are in the US. The personnel located in the United States include the CEO and the senior management team. The staff in India are the development arm and for the most part includes software engineers and project managers. A small number of consultants are also in the US and engaged at various client sites. Their goal is to provide staff augmentation services and bring additional revenue to WayThink along with a relationship that could expand into the company’s core business.

Appendix A shows the questions that were used in each one-hour interview with a cross section of the organizations at WayThink. Eight individuals participated in the interviews. Their roles appear in Appendix B. The interview questions were open-ended and allowed each participant to provide the level of detail they were comfortable with. The author noted that after the 4thinterview, the answers about the company’s archetypes started to converge. WayThink’s stated values were utilized during the interviews as a way to draw out the Gravesian value systems inherent in the various subcultures. Given the company’s locations and focus, it became clear that several subcultures were present, not just across role boundaries but also geo-cultural.


There are three stated values at WayThink: a) people first, b) technology leadership, c) execution excellence. To WayThink, people first means that customers are successful because of the talent and creativity of their people. They value each individual for their unique abilities and provide them an environment to excel. On the other hand, technology leadership means that WayThink is dedicated to growing superior talent in the Microsoft technology. They believe this is imperative for their customer’s success and the company’s growth. Last, execution excellence translates into WayThink delivering value through a set of tools, processes and templates that result in predictable and repeatable global delivery of solutions for their customers.

Analysis of WayThink’s Values through the Archetype Lens

The questions used in the interviews explored each of the twelve organizational archetypes. The analysis that follows is grouped using the Corlett & Pearson Life Forces.

People Life Force

All interviewees used the “family” metaphor to describe the company. This “family” is caring and supportive and provides a home and the security all employees need. Generally, people are treated with respect and respect each other. Conversations are open and frank but not contentious. Ideas are respected regardless of situation and hierarchy in the organization. At WayThink, consensus is the decision-making norm. There is both informal and formal recognition in place via their “Value Awards.” The work environment is positive and supportive. Flexibility to work from home is available and fully exercised. Life-work balance is a key practice at WayThink. This is particularly important since India-based employees need to work late night with their US counterparts and customers encroaching into their personal time. Workmates have fun together and celebrate birthdays and holidays. This is principally true at the Bangalore site. There is a fundamental trust in management. What the author found is limited personal responsibility and accountability for the company results and its development. Also, conflict resolution seems to be lacking. People have difficulty confronting each other. Given WayThink’s great desire to reach consensus, this often times results in “group think.”

From a People Life Force perspective, WayThink has a positive Everyday person (Orphan) archetype. Employees have healthy expectations of what the company should provide. There are no distracting or limiting orphan behaviors. Although some employees translate the “people first” value into an excuse to have more personal time and have expectations for greater salaries and promotions, there is a general appreciation for what the company is providing. The Lover archetype is partially developed in terms of the respect between the company and employees and between each other. Also, there is exploration of each other’s ideas. Mentoring is a strong practice at WayThink, which indicates strong relating between experienced and less experienced employees. The author was able to pick up a fair amount of passion from all interviewees, which is a Lover archetype attribute. What is missing from this archetype is conflict resolution. WayThink does not seem to be able to handle interaction when deep conflict exists and lets senior management deal with the problem. Regarding the Jester archetype, the company appears to be a fun workplace. Employees celebrate all holidays and personal events. The Bangalore office seems to be one with the most Jester-like energy. The author visited this location and was able to evidence this light heartedness in place. Also, the work-life balance practice by the company, including the ability to work from home, indicates a well-developed Jester archetype.

Results Life Force

The Hero is the archetypal model for the best-performing employees. Reward systems are based on the effort aligned with company values. Most projects require heroics to complete—more than anyone would like. The CTO is the model Hero; he saves the day for everyone and he is highly regarded for this. There is no counter culture established although everyone believes that “speaking your mind” is allowed. People can provide opinions, but “group-think” typically sets in. Staffing changes are hard to make, particularly with the established personnel—no hard calls are made. The WayThink CEO would like to have more counter-ideas to increase performance in contrast to the politeness, which is normal to the culture. In addition, everyone would like to have more “magicians,” but there is only one recognized Magician present, the CTO. Efforts have been made to grow the Magician archetype population and its capabilities. However, no Magician archetype is fully present at this company yet. Transformation activities are mainly focused on customer engagement but none internally.

Learning Life Force

At WayThink, people are content and enjoy being part of the company. The work environment is positive, optimistic and supportive. Employees are expected to learn and in turn they expect the company to provide tools and opportunities. There are no set learning requirements, but learning is included in employees’ development plan. This plan calls for each individual to be at least 50% responsible for their own learning activities. However, there is no evidence that strong independent learning is taking place. This is consistent with the Innocent archetype where employees expect to be directed on what to learn and when.

All interviewees stated that the reason for not learning as much at WayThink is the workload. All non-administrative personnel are engaged in customer activities, leaving no room for learning. Again, this is consistent with the Innocent archetype where employees do as they are told. Some individuals have been encouraged to pursue independent development initiatives. This provides a sign of the Explorer archetype, at least in concept. The heavy work schedule and the desire for the company to optimize every resource for revenue generation, leaves little or no time for exploration (Seeker archetype behavior). Paradoxically, this goes against the company value of technical leadership.

At the Sage level of the learning life force, the author found the CEO and CTO displaying attributes of this archetype. These individuals are constantly learning, appear to be systems thinkers, and have strong analytical abilities. The challenge they face is finding the balance between revenue and learning. At present, they are engaged in maximizing dollars per employee. The conundrum the CEO and CTO face is how much more revenue they would be able to make if they were to develop the Explorer archetype and increase the overall initiative and innovation in the company.

Stabilizing Life Force

WayThink provides for the wellbeing of its employees. The company delivers a competitive salary and health benefits, and comfortable workplaces at all of its sites. The workspace is practical and conducive to productivity. Employees see WayThink as a good and generous Caregiver. At this company, people are free to express their individuality and personal values. The view of the company by all interviewees is that WayThink is a caring family. This is demonstrated by care and support for each other. Interviewees provided ample examples demonstrating care between the company and its employees and for each other.

The creative process at WayThink has been evolving from simple staff augmentation engagements to developing their own intellectual property. As their engagements became more complex, the company was able to capitalize and create reusable applications. This creative transition is embryonic but has solid potential. Through it, WayThink is demonstrating growth in the Creator archetype. Ultimately, this type of innovation would create more leveraged revenue streams perhaps allowing the company to make the time for learning.

From a Ruler archetype perspective, WayThink has very few repeatable processes and almost no internal systems. It is operating as a startup even though it has three sites and over 150 employees. Their execution excellence value is at odds with how the company behaves internally.  Although the developers provide creative solutions for their customers, they do so with minimal documentation and very little knowledge sharing. This significantly affects WayThink’s sustainability by making “tribal” knowledge the means for how information is accumulated and used in the organization.

The WayThink Sub-cultures and Their Value Systems

This subsection explores the value systems present at WayThink as expressed by its different subcultures. Schein (2010) states that subcultures emerge as a company matures and establishes differentiation in values. This differentiation can be functional or occupational, geographic, technological, divisional and hierarchical. Through the interviews, the author was able to distinguish value system difference at the geographical and hierarchical subcultures.  Table 18 provides the definition of each of the identified subcultures at WayThink.

Table 18. Definition of the subcultures at WayThink. These subcultures span geographies (US and India, and within India), and hierarchical boundaries (levels of management and employee classification).

Subculture Location Description
Founders US – Bay Area Two of the 4 original founders remain with the company (CEO and CTO). This subculture is the ultimate decision maker. It sets direction for the company and acts as the father figure.
Management US – Bay Area, Hyderabad, Bangalore Leadership subculture. Collaborates well with individual contributors. Viewed as accessible and supportive.
US-based personnel US – Bay Area Smaller team. Not socially connected. This is a task oriented team. They feel responsible for the wellbeing of the rest of the company. This is the face to the customer and where the engagements are generated.
US-employees in staff augmentation roles US – Spread across multiple states Small group of individuals that are assigned to customers but are not integrated into project teams. This is the “outsider” subculture because their focus is to augment customer staff and not practice WayThink’s core mission.
Hyderabad site Hyderabad, India Delivery team. Subculture aligned with local cultural values and modalities. Conservative, collective-oriented, and quiet.
Bangalore site Bangalore, India Delivery team. Subculture aligned with budding metropolitan culture in Bangalore.  Entrepreneurial, more individualistic, more open to outsiders, and livelier.


The author analyzed the value systems of the WayThink subcultures. This analysis is based on the answers provided by the interviewees directly regarding the company values of people first, technology leadership and execution excellence. The provided answers during the interviews stated value coherence (values are practiced as intended) and non-coherence (espoused values are not practiced or they are negatively constellated). From an organizational psyche perspective, the author was looking for the “complexes.” The language of ECLET was used to express them.

Table 19 shows the primary and secondary ECLET value systems for WayThink. Graves (Lee, 2009) posited that most people and organizations straddle two value systems, one with a social center of locus and the other with an individual one. In his research he found very few exceptions of individuals centered on a single value system. Graves named this centered state “nodal.” The primary system for a subculture corresponds to its dominant set of life conditions and life capacities. This value system is for the entire subculture and does not differentiate the mind capacities of each individual. The secondary system is subservient to the first but shows a different set of coping capabilities when life conditions requires them.

Table 19. Mapping of the WayThink subcultures to their primary and secondary ECLET value systems



ECLET Value System


ECLET Value System



Orange (E-R)

Green (F-S)

Founders are completely entrepreneurial with a strong sense of community, teamwork, unity and global success.

Orange (E-R)

Blue (D-Q)

Management team follows US organizational values and has the typical Orange stage values. India management team has a more traditional perspective and a stronger sense of hierarchy.
US-based personnel

Orange (E-R)

Blue (D-Q)

All US-based personnel is consistent with the US model of values and meaning making of typical hi-tech US companies (E-R/D-Q)
US-employees in staff augmentation roles

Blue (D-Q)

Blue (D-Q)

This group is primarily under the direction of the customer and does not have the opportunity to express E-R values. This would be the one “nodal” subculture centered on the D-Q value system.
Hyderabad site

Blue (D-Q)

Orange (E-R)

More traditional site based on local social values (purple-blue stage). Less exposure to orange value system.
Bangalore site

Orange (E-R)

Blue (D-Q)

Subculture based on the emerging value system in this now metropolitan city. Traditions are observed but less than the orange success-driven values.


The Correlation of the Value Systems to the Archetypes

A correlation of the value systems to the twelve archetypes is provided in this section. The identified subcultures are mapped to each archetype and grouped by the life forces defined by Corlett & Pearson (2003).

People Life Force

As previously described, WayThink has a mature Everyday Person archetype, a developing Lover archetype and a strong Jester one. The people life force is the company’s strength. This can be attributed to an influx of mind capacities from the founders who operate in an E-R-F-S capacity. Their entrepreneurship and drive is balanced by a strong sense of community and people wellbeing. They have established complexes (basic assumptions) that give way to respect, integrity, work-life balance, flexibility and collaboration. Table 20 shows the correspondence of the people life force archetypes with each of the subcultures at WayThink connected to their value systems.

Table 20. Correspondence of the WayThink subcultural value systems to the people life force archetypes.

Subculture ECLET Value System Pair Everyday Person (Orphan) Lover Jester

Orange-Green (E-R – F-S)

Founders act as the company community caretakers with a clear entrepreneurial mission. The company has a strong sense of family unity. They model respect for all employees, customers and partners. Form strong bonds with all employees. Open to flexible workplace. Allow people to work at their own pace. Do not actively promote fun in the workplace.

Orange-Blue (E-R – D-Q)

Older siblings following parent’s direction and leading by example. Same level of respect as founders. Less relational. Drive “group-think.” Exhibit high degree of passion. Receptive to flexibility. India management support fun and enjoyment at work.
US-based personnel

Orange-Blue (E-R – D-Q)

Same as above Same as above Accept flexibility but not enough social integration for fun/enjoyable activities.
US-employees in staff augmentation roles

Blue-Blue (D-Q – D-Q)

Community members seeking Everyday Person (Orphan) structure Less integrated into culture. Need to adapt to customer’s culture and values. Disconnected from daily activities of the company and thus not connected to this archetype.
Hyderabad site

Blue-Orange (D-Q – E-R)

Same as above with a shade of independence Respectful members of community. Strong bonds along local cultural lines. Work within flexibility parameters. Some level of fun and enjoyment but within local community.
Bangalore site

Orange-Blue (E-R – D-Q)

Seeking independence from parental controls but work well within boundaries Strong bonds with all members. Open to external cultures. Friendly and warm toward others. Well adapted to flexibility. Most active sub-culture in having fun and enjoying others. Open to outsiders and have them join in.


Results Life Force

WayThink has been in operation for four years. It has experienced growth year to year, accumulating repeat customers and larger and more important ones. Personnel have grown from a few to over 150. WayThink’s ability to achieve results is clear. Their results model has been structured around the Hero archetype. Each person in the company is expected to sacrifice self to keep the company going. The formula has been to get customers, work hard, earn money through engagements and hope for repeat business.

The CEO in particular is worried about the simple revenue formula used by the company as their market differentiation is solely based on their reputation of working hard. He and a few of the WayThink leaders sense that they have to provide more transformative and purposeful solutions and for that they need to transform themselves. The challenge for the company is the underdeveloped Revolutionary and Magician archetypes. All interviewees in the case study acknowledged the lack of counter ideas (Revolutionary) and a slim number of magicians (primarily just the CTO) to work on highly complex problems requiring more developed life conditions.

Most of the subcultures at WayThink exhibit strong E-R values. Only the staff augmentation personnel and the Hyderabad site show a stronger D-Q than E-R. This makes the company competitive in their field but limited by the lack of the Revolutionary and Magician archetypes. Table 21 describes the state of each archetype in the results life forces for the subcultures identified at WayThink.

Table 21. Correspondence of the WayThink subcultural value systems to the results life force archetypes.

Subculture ECLET Value System Pair Hero Revolutionary Magician

Orange-Green (E-R – F-S)

Archetype well developed and consistent with both ECLET pairs This subculture embodies the only fully manifested Revolutionary archetype The Magician archetype is only manifested with this subculture.

Orange-Blue (E-R – D-Q)

Archetype well developed and consistent with both ECLET stages Mostly blue Revolutionary archetype Concept of archetype exists with a few individuals developing it
US-based personnel

Orange-Blue (E-R – D-Q)

E-R value system is less developed than above subcultures Archetype is mostly D-Q but to a lesser degree than management Stronger sense for archetype but not developed
US-employees in staff augmentation roles

Blue-Blue (D-Q – D-Q)

Archetype consistent with nodal D-Q value system No signs of this archetype No signs of this archetype
Hyderabad site

Blue-Orange (D-Q – E-R)

Archetype mostly D-Q with emerging E-R Archetype not detected Concept of archetype exists but no one is developing it
Bangalore site

Orange-Blue (E-R – D-Q)

Developing E-R archetype from mostly D-Q values Emerging archetype but not strong enough to make significant difference Concept of archetype exists with a few individuals developing it


Learning Life Force

As previously analyzed for the archetypes in the learning life force, WayThink is concentrated on the Innocent archetype. Its main underlying assumption that the “company is still a startup and must work hard to stay in business” limits it from taking steps to allow the Explorer archetype develop. The absence of opportunities in becoming a learning organization goes against one of the company goals: technology leadership.

In looking at the value systems for each subculture, the D-Q presence in most groups presents the life conditions that the company must be the one presenting the opportunities for learning. Even though the practice of including learning as part of development plan is present, its reality is shadowed by the need to keep everyone engaged. At present, WayThink learns from its engagements but does not take further steps to accumulate and leverage this knowledge in a systemic way. The company’s Explorer and Sage archetypes are immature. An option they have is to increase the E-R value system in their management team and in the technical leadership of the company. This would potentially create energy about self-learning and exploration. Table 22 shows the correlation of the learning archetypes to the subculture value systems.

Table 22. Correspondence of the WayThink subcultural value systems to the learning life force archetypes.

Subculture ECLET Value System Pair Innocent Explorer (Seeker) Sage

Orange-Green (E-R – F-S)

Archetype consistent with entrepreneurial E-R and egalitarian F-S Fully manifested to seek specialization, market opportunities and recognition Well developed within this subculture. Wisdom focused on benefit of the whole.

Orange-Blue (E-R – D-Q)

Balanced expectations between company and individual Subculture with greatest desire to develop deep expertise Individual wisdom not integrated into the company yet
US-based personnel

Orange-Blue (E-R – D-Q)

Accepting of company’s limitations and grateful for what is provided Same as above Same as above but to a lesser degree
US-employees in staff augmentation roles

Blue-Blue (D-Q – D-Q)

Deeply rely on company support. Do not enjoy benefits of being “inside.” Archetype development limited to challenges provided by customer Archetype not required for job function
Hyderabad site

Blue-Orange (D-Q – E-R)

Higher reliance on company for wellbeing and direction. Archetype development constrained by job assignments Technical wisdom as an objective but systems not in place
Bangalore site

Orange-Blue (E-R – D-Q)

Reliance on company but higher entrepreneurial spirit Greater desire to gain deeper expertise. Need time and management support to develop. Same as above


Stabilizing Life Force

WayThink has a strong Caregiver archetype and limited development in its Creator and Ruler archetypes. These limitations present a challenge in this organization primarily around creativity. The creativity archetype complements exploration, and as noted in the previous section, that is also an archetype that is underdeveloped.

The author theorizes that a driver for this limited Explorer/Creator archetype is the lack of a company purpose. As stated in the summary about WayThink, this company has well-articulated values and a caring culture. However, its current purpose is to stay in business and do well for their customers. This is not a purpose that is of primary importance to the social system they operate in. Long term success and longevity seem to be associated with purpose that is intrinsic to the wellbeing of a social system. For example, IBM started with the purpose of automating computational tasks that would enable humans do what they could not do before. This overarching purpose has made IBM a household name and a revered worldwide business. WayThink does not have a purpose that goes beyond staying in business by “doing a job.”

There is nothing inherently limiting about WayThink’s value systems as it relates to purpose. There is enough E-R in the management team that would allow them to respond to any purpose set by the CEO and his trusted leaders. He and the CTO have F-S mind capacities that would allow them to connect to the needs of the social system they operate in and translate them into a strong and overarching purpose. The WayThink CEO engaged the author after an initial report of the case study was provided to him. His first question to the author about the case study findings was the company’s lack of socially impactful purpose. This reflective question shows that the CEO is able to connect with this concept and may result in a positive change.

As noted, the Ruler archetype at WayThink is limited. The processes of the company are embryonic and there is not enough energy behind institutionalizing them. Consequently, the company has limited systems and metrics. This situation is counter to the E-R energy where systems and measurements are the norm. However, as expressed earlier in this document, the immature Creator archetype in the E-R system would avoid processes and focus on just doing the work. This behavior is further cemented by the strong D-Q value system of the delivery team in India which unless directed would not naturally embark on systemic behavior. Incidentally, WayThink’s third value, execution excellence, is predicated in a strong Ruler archetype of the E-R kind. The E-R value system is present in the company but the archetype is underdeveloped. Table 23 shows the correspondence of the stabilizing life force archetypes with the value systems for each subculture at WayThink.

Table 23. Correspondence of the WayThink subcultural value systems to the stabilizing life force archetypes.

Subculture ECLET Value System Pair Caregiver Creator Ruler

Orange-Green (E-R – F-S)

Role of main provider and Caregiver. Believe in community and team. Drive market specialization in alignment with E-R values. No view into social system. Desire and drive for processes and systems. Actions have not caught up with desires yet. Lack process roadmap.

Orange-Blue (E-R – D-Q)

Next in the chain of provider. Caregiver role is more structured. Focused on solution delivery. Less time for entrepreneurial and creative activities. Main control figure in company. Struggle with lack of processes and systems.
US-based personnel

Orange-Blue (E-R – D-Q)

Balance expectation of needs vs. what company can afford. Emerging creative force for company. Expose to customer & market needs. Recognize need for processes and systems. Improvise some to get by.
US-employees in staff augmentation roles

Blue-Blue (D-Q – D-Q)

Need company to provide every necessity. Exposed to effects from customer company. Task level creativity under direction of customer project / IT need Subject to controls from customer company
Hyderabad site

Blue-Orange (D-Q – E-R)

Expect needs provided by company. Content with what is available. Creative activities limited to technical and project contribution. Follow rules and expectations from management. Cannot address process needs alone.
Bangalore site

Orange-Blue (E-R – D-Q)

Same as above Same as above with larger entrepreneurial influence due to local culture Same as above


Conclusions and Further Research

Organizations like WayThink have a degree of awareness about what makes them successful and what limits them. No organization wants to fail, yet many of the behaviors in a company go unexamined because they are taken for granted as part of the culture. Schein (2010) states that these underlying assumptions are responsible for the fabric of culture and comprise the shared experiences as organizations learn how to deal with problems.

Carl Jung spent most of his life researching and mapping the human psyche. He believed that most of the responses to life conditions came from the depths of the unconscious (Stein, 1998). Until recently, the organizational unconscious was not explored. From all of the available literature, Corlett & Pearson (2003) take on a depth psychology approach to the organizational psyche and postulate a model, based on Jung’s, that explains how an organization behaves and deals with problems. However, these authors do not look deeper into the formation of underlying assumptions or as they referred in their mapping of the organizational psyche: complexes.

This research connects the work from Dr. Graves on the Emergent Cyclical Levels of Existence Theory (ECLET) with the organizational unconscious. ECLET provides a framework for contextualizing human behavior, and as applied here, inside organizations. This framework stratifies values systems that connect life conditions with mind capacities. Organizations by the nature of their business have a given set of life conditions that are global for all organizations in a given social system. The mind capacities are the values that each individual “brings to the table” and by association with others form the collective mind capacities for the organization.

Graves defined ECLET as a bio-psycho-social framework. The value systems in this framework are the equivalent of Schein’s underlying assumptions and Corlette & Pearson’s organizational complexes. Beck & Cowan (1996) refer to these value systems as the fabric of culture and organizational life.

Understanding the organizational unconscious and in particular the operation of archetypes partially solves the unknowns of the source of culture inside an organization. The contextualization of the ECLET framework further clarifies how archetype-driven complexes form in different value systems. The Hero in the blue (D-Q) system acts differently than the Hero in the orange (E-R) system. They both originate from the psychic energy of the Hero archetype yet they constellate differently based on the life conditions present and the mind capacities of individuals.

This essay provides an introduction to organizational depth psychology and spiral dynamics as a means to understand how culture is formed and how it unconsciously affects the behaviors of an organization. The WayThink case study gives a glimpse of what is possible to uncover using these theories. Much has not been addressed and can be the source for ongoing research. For one, there are no extensive case studies related to organizational archetypes. In contrast, spiral dynamics, because of its popularity, has wide-ranging fieldwork, a practice community, training and ongoing research. However, spiral dynamics does not focus on the sources of behavior as organizational depth psychology does.

The author considers that further research is warranted to validate the integration of organizational depth psychology with ECLET in order to yield assessment and intervention methods that can be replicated and useful in the understanding of organizational culture and its change. The objective of the research should be to device assessments and interventions that go at the heart of organizational culture to help with its evolution from limiting behaviors to ones that serve the organization’s purpose.


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Appendix A

The following are the questions used during the WayThink case study interviews. Not all questions were asked to all participants. About half of the interviewees were asked the questions related to purpose and values and the other half were asked the ones on organizational archetypes.


  1. Please state your relationship with the company. How long have you been with WayThink and in what roles?
  2. What is the scope of your current role


  1. What is the purpose of WayThink?
  2. How does this purpose fit in the broader context of the industry? How about in the broader context of society?
  3. How are employees aligned with this purpose? What efforts are made to bring awareness to this purpose for all employees?


  1. Define the people first company value. How is this value practiced? What practices and behaviors counter this value? What do employees understand or not understand about this value?
  2. Define the technology leadership company value. How is this value practiced? What practices and behaviors counter this value? What do employees understand or not understand about this value?
  3. Define the execution excellence company value. How is this value practiced? What practices and behaviors counter this value? What do employees understand or not understand about this value?
  4. Are any of these values not congruent with the company’s purpose?
  5. Are the company values communicated and practiced? Are there any that are not and why not?
  6. What are the underlying assumptions at WayThink? Underlying assumptions are the unspoken and unquestioned values that drive behavior and are passed along to all new members.

Organizational Archetypes – People

  1. What metaphor would you use to describe the relationship between the company and its employees?
  2. How does management relate to its stakeholders: customers, employees and partners?
  3. Using a metaphor again, please describe the relationship between employees. Are there differences between the US and India, and between the sites in India?
  4. Does a sense of community exist in this organization? What actions support that community nature? What actions inhibit it?
  5. If the company was giving out academy awards for teamwork, what would the top 3 categories be? Would you have an easy time finding nominees?

Organizational Archetypes – Results

  1. In the context of WayThink, what does “winning the game” mean?
  2. Is the word “sacrifice” in your corporate lexicon and if so, what does it mean?
  3. Are counterculture actions allowed at WayThink and if so, why and when are they appropriate?
  4. Is there a hero at WayThink? Please describe this person. Is there an anti-hero that could also be effective?
  5. When you think of individuals in your organization that can transform what you do, do you think of them as magicians? What “powers” do they possess that make them magicians?

Organizational Archetypes – Learning

  1. How does the company as a whole learn?
  2. Are employees responsible for their own learning? Are they aware of this? How is this awareness instilled?
  3. Are employees encouraged to take risks? Are they rewarded for this? Has anyone been punished for having taken a big risk?
  4. Do you have one or more “sage” in your organization? What would make a person a sage? How is this person regarded?
  5. Is wisdom a goal for anyone or any one organization?

Organizational Archetypes – Stabilizing

  1. What does the company provide for the wellbeing of the employees? Is this enough? Is there something missing?
  2. What gets measured at WayThink? What is not measured that you believe should be measured?
  3. What systems are in place that work well? What systems are missing?
  4. Would you describe the organizational structure as hierarchical, divisional, cross-functional, or something else?
  5. What would be the ideal organizational structure for WayThink and why?

Appendix B

The following table shows the roles of the individuals that participated in the WayThink case study along with their location and value system subculture. Names are not provided for anonymity. The order of the roles in the table reflects the sequence of the interviews. Interview duration ranged from 1-2 hours. India interviews were conducted over the telephone and the ones in San Francisco Bay Area took place in person


About the Author


Jorge Taborga

Jorge Taborga  is the Vice President of Manufacturing, Quality and IT at Omnicell, Inc.  He has an extensive background in change leadership, product development, management consulting, process reengineering and information technology.  His 29 year work experience includes companies like ROLM Systems, IBM, Quantum, Bay Networks, 3Com, and UTStarcom.  Jorge also delivered organizational development and management consulting services to a number of companies in the San Francisco Bay Area and China.  He is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Organizational Systems at Saybrook University.

Link: http://integralleadershipreview.com

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