How is Teal Teal? When is Simplicity Dangerous?

By Lia Aurami for Enlivening Edge Magazine

Everyone’s talking about the value of the 3 “breakthroughs” of Teal consciousness as manifested/reflected in the way people engage in their organizations. I hear hardly anyone  recognizing what gets dropped if we reduce an entire worldview (identity and reality and relationships) to just three of its many characteristics, no matter how essential or foundational those characteristics are. That over-simplification of the complexity of a worldview (“weltanschauung”) is handicapping at best and dangerous at worst.

The handicap or limitation shows up when organizations seek to implement some limited understanding of what the 3 breakthroughs are, and yet nothing seems to gel, nothing seems to work that well; it’s all a struggle, and the people are left wondering “What are we missing?”

What’s missing is the picture, nay, the reality. What’s present is “cartoon of Teal.”

Cartoons can capture the essence, but implementing ONLY an essence, the lived experience is a cartoon-nightmare–the sense that there is awkwardness, incompleteness, a vague dissatisfaction about “this going Teal stuff.” This happens even with the best of intentions. It can show up bigtime if only a few of the people in the organization are actually personally living primarily at the Teal stage of consciousness development in a most-situations embodied way. If there are too few, then (barring some complexities beyond the scope of this article) the organization as a whole is not actually ready to mature into the fullness of the Teal stage.

The danger shows up when people, with the best of intentions, really try to implement the three Teal breakthroughs in their organization, and the results are not just limiting, but painful, disastrous, disruptive, unhealthy, and even fatal. “We tried ‘it’ and ‘it’ didn’t work.” So they reject the whole notion of Teal and its 3 “breakthroughs” and go back, if they can, to the way they operated before the failed experiment. They feel they are failures, and that Teal is a bunch of nonsense. This actually impedes their willingness to grow!

So what’s going on here?

Teal is an entire worldview or we could more complexly say Teal is a stage of developing worldview consciousness. So neither in part (essential characteristics, or lines of development) nor in whole, can we truly and successfully jump into it (individually or organizationally) until we are developmentally ready. Lipstick and high heels on a 10-year old do not make her 18.

Attempting to adopt Teal values, or practices, because they seem like the solution to a felt problem, is happening on the conceptual level, not the embodied-stage-of-consciousness level. More often than not, the true solution to the problems is something else.

For example, the true solution to most of the felt-limitations of the characteristics of Orange consciousness in organizations is Green, not Teal.

And the true solution to the manifestations of unhealthy Orange shadow in organizations is healthy Orange, not Teal. Seeking the specific characteristics of self-management, wholeness, or evolutionary purpose, dooms to painful failure, all attempts to solve problems with the wrong solutions.

What’s going on here is over-simplification. To look at that, consider the matter of cartooning, again. A Teal organization would be a whole. Complex, messy, detailed, inconsistent, just like life and individuals. When Frederic Laloux was searching for what various actual living organizations had in common, he arrived at 3 commonalities, which he labeled the “three Teal breakthroughs.” He was able to say how those addressed the limitation of Green ways of organizing, so it all made sense.

But do those 3 breakthroughs actually show the whole picture of what the living embodied experience and reality of a “Teal” organization is? No. They are a caricature. Maybe in full color, and maybe even in Pixar. But not living and breathing here and now in skin-life.

On the other hand, having pointed out the challenges in using a simplifying framework, I say that picking out “essential characteristics” to make complexity more manageable is certainly not only common and even unavoidable, but can also be useful!!

How can it be useful?

Let me riff for a few moments on how usefully full a description of the entire “Teal-worldview stage” elephant those three “essential characteristics” can be.

That description can show what might be gained by a deeper, wider study around stages of consciousness, and Teal in particular, for those who are attracted to it (ready or not!)

In the original Spiral Dynamics simplified framework around stages of development of worldviews, Teal (called Yellow there) represents not just a new worldview but a radical evolutionary/maturational “tier leap” transcending and including all the previous worldview stages.

That leap can be captured (in one simple snapshot) as going from right-wrong as a foundation of one’s worldview, to being able to not only take almost any other perspective on anything (a Green capacity) but to actually

  • see the partial truth and value in it, and to
  • arrange/design​ systems/organizations/groups in way that
  • captures and makes available all that truth and that value to
  • accomplish a shared purpose that represents a
  • very wide (planetary) scale of caring and concern.

That multi-perspective, multi-value design capacity works from the level of friendship and marriage up to as big a social or planetary scale as you can imagine.

So perhaps we might say there is Evolutionary Purpose in the leap from Green “only those who share my planetary scale of caring are right, and others are wrong/bad” to “everyone has a piece of the truth, and has some value, to my purpose of caring for the planet.”

“Wholeness” shows up in being able to not only (Green) “tolerate or embrace diversity” to actually doing that 100% consistently, by enabling systems which can ongoingly use that diversity for the good of the shared purpose, whenever and wherever it shows up in our group functioning.

For example, Teal can design a system that builds on a value inherent in healthy Purple, perhaps via shared meals or shared recreation, as instances of Wholeness. Wholeness also essentially involves a value inherent in healthy Beige, which requires safety to express one’s truth and views (healthy Red.)

“Self-management” shows up because the Teal worldview actually operationalizes the value of diversity in service to a shared Evolutionary Purpose. It enables creating a system that is designed to use the wholeness.

These riffs on complexity and simplicity of Teal as a complex worldview beyond the 3 simple breakthroughs merely scratch the surface. Please comment with your own reflections, and tell us about resources you’ve found useful in exploring this territory yourself. And contact me if you’d like to continue or expand the conversation! The EE Community Conversations would be a great place to continue.

Please do read this related article here in EE Magazine by Jon Freeman that makes the same point as this one.

cropped me at IEC 2016-05-13 at 17.19.30 copy

Lia Aurami: I came across Spiral Dynamics Integral in 2006, and immediately absorbed it as a terrifically useful perspective on the development of consciousness in individuals and groups. It also facilitates expression of my sacred life mission: to amplify our human capacity for living, working, and relating within shared higher consciousness. This article emerged from my passion for optimizing the chances of success of transformative changes.