“The veracity of (these claims) cannot of course be tested – but it conveniently allows for someone at the “highest” stage of consciousness to “understand” a lower level but not the other way around. (Or far worse, that anyone objecting to the theory is simply told they are operating from a lower level of consciousness, which is why they don’t get it.)”
“Paradoxically, given how the previous chapter ended (“…The culture of the organization should be shaped by the context and the purpose of the organization, not by the personal assumptions, norms, and concerns of the founders and leaders.”) the first condition required to be Teal seems to be not that different from “the personal assumptions, norms and concerns of the founders and leaders.”
The first “necessary condition” for creating a new Teal Organization is “Top Leadership” and the second is “Ownership” where “The founder or top leader (let’s call him the CEO for lack of a better term) must have integrated a worldview and psychological development consistent with the Teal development level.” And so on with owners and board members (let’s hope they’re not all male). In fact Laloux argues that, “these two conditions are the only make-or-break factors. No other parameter is critical to running organizations within the Evolutionary Teal paradigm….” (italics added).
The role however that “top leadership” plays (even though I thought there was no “top”?) is to “hold the space.” As a facilitator, I know something about what is required to “hold the space.” It requires putting one’s own beliefs about where a group goes almost entirely on the back-burner. This would mean that a “Teal-leader” leading a mostly “non-Teal” group would need to park their “Tealness”, which would mean the group probably operates from a non-Teal place.
Furthermore, Laloux recommends that for anyone wanting to grow a Teal Organization, “If possible they can strive to do without external investors, financing their growth through bank loans and their own cash flow, even if it means slower growth…or they need to carefully select equity investors who have integrated a Teal perspective.”
So what do I make of all this?
Unfortunately, this is a deeply problematic and flawed book.
The book is littered with instances where it contradicts itself, its contradictory stance on leadership being just one case. Take the metaphors used to describe each “stage of consciousness” – Red, with the example of the Mafia as Red organization, is “the wolf pack” and Green, with the example of Ben & Jerry’s is “the family.” It behooves me to point out that the Mafia is an organizational structure with family at its core, that wolf-packs are examples of a “self-organizing” “living system,” that are valorized in the book and that hierarchies exist in nature (ever heard the phrase “apex predator”?).
While these problems are tedious in the extreme, they are distractions from three more profound problems with the book, these are the problems of science, context and ethnocentricity.
As Laloux himself acknowledges (in one of his many contradictory positions), “If we were caught in a civil-war with thugs attacking our house, Impulsive-Red would be the most appropriate paradigm to think and act from in order to defend ourselves.”
The decision to join a tribal militia or Ben & Jerry’s is a decision made on the basis of context and not on biology. Does my “level of consciousness” really make me look at the two choices in front of me (corporate job at Unilever or tribal mafia?) and lead me to pick tribal mafia? Does the fact that I’m allergic to bureaucracy tell you something about what “stage of development” I’m at?
Behaviours are context-dependent, and not necessarily dependent on a state of consciousness rooted in biological realities (even as they may be a function of biological realities – for example unconscious epigenetic reactions).
A constant use of an evolutionary frame also provides the contentious impression that our “organizational” behaviours (how the Catholic Church is organized for example) are somehow linked to our biology. I mean, they might be, but once again the point is to say “how,” rather than simply make the claim as if this were an obvious, uncontested truth.
If the decision for what “paradigm” to operate from is therefore a contextual decision (and not a genetic predisposition), then it makes no sense to normalize Teal as a destination. If, for example, most businesses are operating from an “Orange” mindset, then does that not make the context for business “Orange”? What should one’s operating paradigm be when being “attacked” by the competition? Why should “Teal” behaviours be more “fit” for the context of business? Is the context in China or India the same as in Europe? What behaviours are more appropriate for operating in a Chinese or Indian context? Does it make sense to have a workplace that’s open to animals in the Middle East?
If Laloux is seeing “Teal” as some sort of meta-context for our times, then what can we actually say about it? The only thing we could legitimately say is that our times are getting more complex. Situations of high complexity are situations of great fluidity, the opposite of stable situations. And in situations of high-complexity we cannot cut-and-paste prescriptions across contexts. Laloux’s stance towards context is essentialist, that is, he treats it as a stable and non-complex thing that just is. There is no sense of how context changes or the processes by which different contexts come into being. Prescriptions offered without any contextual guidance is a glaring example of this essentialist stance.
Laloux seems to be saying, “we are all living in a Teal world and so we should aspire to Teal consciousness.” That way, we have the option of “drawing on” Red or Orange but not the other way around, so Teal is better. (I imagine an Incredible Hulk-like transformation taking place – where a Teal person turns Red and goes berserk). This harks back to the idea that each stage of development “transcends and includes” the one before.
The veracity of this claim cannot of course be tested – but it conveniently allows for someone at the “highest” stage of consciousness to “understand” a lower level but not the other way around. (Or far worse, that anyone objecting to the theory is simply told they are operating from a lower level of consciousness, which is why they don’t get it.)
This is where the plasticity of language aids the argument (or rather, betrays the argument). Part of the fuzziness of the argument comes because “consciousness,” “paradigm” and “worldviews” are all conflated with “behaviour.” If each “stage of development” is a “paradigm,” as Laloux indeed sometimes refers to them, then according to philosopher of science Thomas Kuhn (who coined the phrase “paradigm shift”) different paradigms are incommensurable ie it is impossible to “be” more than one “stage of development.” This would imply that “transcend and include” doesn’t make much sense when dealing with different paradigms. And if each stage of development is a “behaviour” then the question of what drives or generates that behaviour is far from simple.
In order to normalize the colour scheme, however, the basis for behaviours have to be framed as responses to our temporal milieu – that is, “Red organizations arises from Red behaviour, which reflects Red consciousness only fit for Red times and…we clearly don’t live in Red times.” Of-course, the boundaries between say an Orange and Green “age” is very hard to call especially in times of increasing complexity. This is especially hard to swallow as Laloux explains that there are plenty of examples of organisations out of time. The distinction between the environment versus biology as the driver for our behaviour is a debate as old as the idea of evolution itself – it’s called “nature versus nurture” and it’s not a trivial problem.
So while we may detect the emergence of a “Teal milieu” a genuine question is, “Is Teal as a milieu a desire or a reality?” and “For whom?” If it’s reality (or an emerging reality) then is it even possible for our Paleolithic minds to overcome our genetic hardwiring? Does “no status markers” in terms of interior design of an office overcome millions of years of status markers in the natural world?
Then if the behaviours outlined here are context-dependent, then what exactly is the invisible context that Teal behaviours arise in? The only hint comes towards the end of the book, when he writes that, “Some academics have devised methodologies to measure a person’s stage of development. Their samples indicate that the percentage of people relating to the world from an Evolutionary-Teal perspective is still rather small, at around five percent in Western societies.”
This snippet, coupled with the fact that all of Laloux’s case studies are all Western tell us that the invisible context that Laloux is operating in is Western (and white and male?).
The unconscious, un-remarked and un-noted ethnocentricity of Laloux’s ideas remind me his training is INSEAD and McKinsey & Co. His schooling means that Reinventing Organizations is coloured with (sorry) instances of “neutral, normative, and average and also ideal” injunctions that “will allow ‘them’ to be more like ‘us’.”
Despite all disclaimers, in this framing there are people who “have integrated a Teal perspective” and those who have not. Anyone who wants to lead or own a Teal organization has to meet some sort of “Teal-test” (What this Teal-test is we are not told). While Laloux is careful not to call those who have not “integrated” Teal primitives or savages, clearly your behaviour categorizes what “stage of consciousness” you have reached.
While biologists would agree that all of us have a Paleolithic mind, the argument being made is that some of us (5% in the West to be exact) have somehow, in the last 100,000 years evolved a whole different mind. At one point in the book Laloux describes the Herculean struggle required to shift one’s “consciousness” to a higher level. It sounds like a particularly buggy piece of software painfully upgrading itself. This book would be much more interesting if he took his argument to its logical conclusion and actually documented the stories of the 5% Übermensch who walk amoung us.
Teal is definitely not the new black, it’s the new white – or rather the journey to get the rest of us “colours” to Teal, the new white man’s burden. Imagine just for a moment what would happen if in the colour schema proposed here, Teal was actually called White? Ouch.
The boundaries between what constitutes individual behaviour, individual consciousness, worldviews, organizational culture, and a historical milieu all blend seamlessly into a chain of proximate causes – one directly causes the other. This intellectual sloppiness here is staggering. The linkages and relationships between these very different things represent, in many ways, the holy grail of understanding the human condition. Yet Laloux writes as if these relationships are well understood and uncontested. (Which, of course they are for some New Age philosophers.)
The ideas in this book represent what Laloux believes, they reflect his own cultural values and his own ethnocentric prescriptions for what it means to be a healthy organization. There would be absolutely nothing wrong with presenting the ideas as such, but unfortunately they are presented as a normative and neutral truth, as the rational-scientific product of human evolution aligned with the natural laws of “living systems.” That’s a pretty outrageous thing to do in this day and age. (By the way, there’s a word for normative preferences – it’s “ideology”)
Part of the appeal for this sort of argument is its simplicity. Laloux’s argument suffers from some of the same critiques applied to the wider field of Integral Theory, Argumentum ad Wilberiam, “spurious, or at least largely untested, truth claims” and “excessive overgeneralization.” By skipping the finer details, the book, “solves” some of the most complex questions scientists and philosophers of all stripes are grappling with. Despite the hundreds of pages, and tens of thousands of words, the core argument here is very simple to grasp. There are five stages of “cognitive, psychological and moral” development; Red, Amber, Orange, Green, and of-course, Teal. Each gives rise to a particular type of organization, suitable for its particular time. Teal is the newest and the best, here’s what Teal looks like. Go for it.
I suspect that the clean, uncomplicated notions put forward in the book will be undone by context, the actual details of implementation and to a large extent power-dynamics (for example, autocratic “Teal” leaders making “non-Teal” people do things they don’t want to do). In other words, I’m not sure I actually believe Teal even exists. I’m not sure I believe any of the “stages of development” actually exist.
I believe the colour schema is an instrument, a not very accurate map. And like all instruments it appeals to a certain instrumental logic, one that craves a simpler world and shies away from complexity. In my opinion, this cognitive style mostly serves to distract from the important questions of who we are and what type of organizations we want to be creating.
While there may or may not be merit in the many prescriptions that Laloux offers, it’s very hard to get to them. The intellectual trick at the heart of this book means the core of Laloux’s practice is buried under many layers of good intentions, New Age beliefs, and polemical spin. It’s all very unfortunate because the question at the heart of Laloux’s book is a timely one. Alas, we will have to look elsewhere for a convincing exploration.”