Teal Is The New Black

By Susanna Carman for Enlivening Edge Magazine

Since its stratospheric launch in 2014, Frederic Laloux’s book, Reinventing Organizations, has transitioned from theory to global brand in the leadership and organisational design orbit. From health care to shoe manufacturing, executives and workers in what Laloux calls Teal or Next-Stage Organisations (NSO’s) are experimenting with new structures, practices, processes, and cultures in order to suffer less and discover more about how to design powerful, soulful, and meaningful ways of working together.

Many writers, consultants, researchers, and practitioners are 100% devoted to building a body of evidence in support of NSO mindsets, cultures, practices, and systems. Their work can be sourced via the online magazine, Enlivening Edge https://enliveningedge.org, or through the direct research of PhD candidates like Eric Reynolds[i], who is currently studying the why, what and how of NSO’s at Saybrook University.

Distributed-leadership, holacractic-governance, emerging-self-organising-autopoietic-structures, complex-open-systems… the list of Teal vernacular goes on and on, particularly when describing ideal systems, processes, and structures.

I am fully aware of language’s imperative to signal subtle and emphatic distinctions in both being and action. However, as a strategic designer, my interest lies at the intersection between concept and application. I am keen to learn more about how boutique consultancies that are introducing Next-Stage pathways to larger organisations are themselves responding to some of the same design challenges in their own, albeit smaller enterprises.

Both Victoria (Australia)-based social innovation consultancy, Foresight Lane, and US trans-disciplinary design firm, MetaIntegral, are exploring an especially timely and strategic Next-Stage design challenge:

How might Next-Stage business models leverage their own intellectual property AND provide content for and participation in the growing open-sourced commons economy?

For a bit of background on ‘the commons’, the term originated in medieval England to describe estate land over which particular tenants had rights or agricultural access. The commons is famously paired with William Forster’s theory, ‘the tragedy of the commons’, which outlined individual overuse of shared land as the catalyst for the shift away from feudalism toward private property development and proprietary ownership laws that emerged in the mid-19th century.

More recently, the term ‘the commons’ has re-emerged referring to a series of cultural platforms upon which knowledge and information is exchanged across both intellectual and digital spheres. It has become the place where all individuals have equal and open-sourced access to shared resources.

The most obvious Next-Stage design challenge in this environment is grounded in an organic impulse to share and access knowledge freely within the constraints of an economic structure that considers knowledge itself an asset class. That is, the late-20th-century specification of intellectual property (IP) as an income-generating asset (along with real estate, infrastructure, commodities, and manufactured products) makes sharing it freely a threat to current business model design.

What can be learned from tested and emergent business models already in play in other industries? Let’s look at the music industry. For well over a decade, Independent musos/musicians have been trading their IP (music in the form of single tracks, video clips, EP’s) in exchange for social media ‘likes’, investing heavily in building audiences rather than in producing, manufacturing, and selling long-play albums. Those who jumped on this band-wagon freely shared their creative genius in the ‘social media commons’ in order to grow their reputations, generate brand equity, and trade these assets for financial income by way of co-branding, advertising, brand licensing, merchandising, and live-streaming performance fees.

In the emergent design space, peer-to-peer expert, Michel Bauwens, has been advocating for the Peer Production License (co-authored by Dmytri Kleiner and barrister John Magyar) as a potential solution for consultancies who participate in ‘the commons’ but service the corporate sector:

“The peer production license is an example of the Copyfair type of license, in which only other commoners, cooperatives, and nonprofits can share and re-use the material, but not commercial entities intent on making profit through the commons without explicit reciprocity.”  http://wiki.p2pfoundation.net/Peer_Production_License

In this scenario, The Peer Production License offers boutique consultancies who are building their own IP an opportunity to share their freshest thinking with collaborators in ‘the commons’ and synchronously sell their services in corporate markets to companies who have traditionally been accused of ‘over grazing’.

Ownership of the IP is in the hands of the collective that contributed to its creation. It can be licensed to external users and any surplus profits gleaned are to be distributed equally among its co-creators (check out https://www.comakery.com to see how technology is helping businesses collaborate on products AND share the revenue).

These examples of tested and emergent models are enabling individuals and organisations to think differently about how they contribute, share, and exchange value. To do so in a way that is both contributory AND profitable is one of today’s most pressing AND exciting design challenges.

The times they are a-changing, and so too are business models. For those boutique consultancies working with Next-Stage organisations and are also reviewing their own systems, processes, and structures, feel free to get in touch to learn more about how you can apply Next-Stage thinking to your business, www.susannacarman.com or [email protected]


Susanna Carman is a strategic designer, researcher,  facilitator, and writer specialising in Design Leadership and Creative Intelligence. With backgrounds in adult development, design, brand, business strategy, and the arts, Susanna works with leaders of enterprise and organisations to embed Design Thinking into the cultural fabric of human systems. For more information about how the best of design processes and the best of strategic frameworks can help you solve complex problems, contact SC Design or email [email protected]. Please visit www.susannacarman.com.