Levels

Contents of this Section

Different levels of consciousness in humans and the distinct types of social holons they tend to form.

Short Version

Human consciousness moves through a series of stages on a ladder or spiral. Individuals at these stages tend to form social holons in disctinct ways. Higher levels in organizational development are marked by an increase in trust and freedom for employees and a larger contribution to the development of the Kosmos.

Main Version

There are several developmental models which describe the progress of some aspect of human consciousness. We call these lines and we will look at them in the next section. Spiral Dynamics by Don Beck and Chris Cowan (based on the research of Clare W. Graves), Jean Piaget’s model of cognitive development, Lawrence Kohlberg’s stages of moral development, Robert Kegan’s orders of consciousness, Jane Loevinger’s stages of ego development, Susanne Cook-Greuters stages of ego development, Jean Gebser’s structures of consciousness, and others. They all lead us to the conclusion that consciousness does not evolve in a random fashion. Rather, there is a direction. Consciousness evolves to be able take more perspectives, to deal with increased complexity, to feel more love towards other beings.

Integral Theory posits that human consciousness evolves through a series of levels on a ladder which does not end. Each level transcends and includes the previous one.
Individual holons form social holons and we will look at the structures a certain stage of consciousness tends to implement when working with others at the same stage.

Infrared - Reactive
SDi: beige
Tribal Leadership: -
Formed: 100,000 to 50,000 years ago.
Individual: The ego is not yet fully formed.
Organization: No real organization to speak of; mostly family kinship.

Magenta - Magic
SDi: purple
Tribal Leadership: -
Formed: 15,000 years ago.
Individual: Differentiated self. Magical thinking.
Organization: Formation of first tribes. Elders hold some power.

Red - Impulsive
SDi: red
Tribal Leadership: Stage 1
Formed: 10,000 years ago.
Individual: Fully hatched ego. Quest for power. The world is seen as a dangerous place and individuals must fight for their needs.
Organization: Small armies, street gangs, the mafia. One strong leader whose position depends on power. No formal hierarchy, no job titles. First stage to use division of labor.

Amber - Conformist
SDi: blue
Tribal Leadership: Stage 2
Formed: 5,000 years ago.
Individual: Can take perspective of others. Can imagine how others see them. Conforms to rules and beliefs. From Red egocentrism to ethnocentrism. One right way of doing things. Authority is linked to a role, not just an individual.
Organization: Fixed Hierarchy. Long-term strategy possible for the first time. Stable processes to support the strategy. Strive for dominance and monopoly. Formal titles. Hardly any innovation. Critical thinking of self-expression. Problems and mistakes are blamed on others. Lots of silos and mistrust between them.

Orange - Achievement
SDi: orange
Tribal Leadership: Stage 3
Formed: 300 years ago.
Individual: Breaks free from rules. Goal is to get ahead and succeed. Can question authority, group norms, and the inherited status quo. Orange moves from Amber ethnocentrism to Orange worldcentrism.
Organization: Meritocracy. Individuals can climb the corporate ladder based on individual achievement. Management by objectives.

Green - Pluralistic
SDi: green
Tribal Leadership: Stage 4
Formed: 150 years ago.
Individual: All perspectives deserve equal respect. Relationships above outcomes.
Organization: Flat hierarchy, sometimes heterarchy. Organization driven by shared values. Responsibility to environment, investors, employee, society.

Teal - Integral
SDi: yellow
Tribal Leadership: Stage 5
Formed: 50 years ago
Individual: Become the truest expression of oneself, integration of all levels, acceptance of paradox, “both-and” instead of “either-or” thinking
Organization: Holarchic structure, meshed network or hierarchy of purpose. Organization as a living organism. Self-management instead of either hierarchy or consensus. Trust in responsible human beings. Decisions made by individuals consulting others in an advice process.


Each of these levels marks a shift in an organization’s ability to handle complexity and is generally characterized by an increase in freedom of the employees. The structures in these organizations allow for an increased amount of integrated perspectives. Teal structures, especially the advice process, allow for the currently known maximum amount of integrated perspectives.

We will later see how individuals, teams, and organizations move through these stages, what healthy and unhealthy expressions of these stages look like, and when to make use of this concept.

Please note: There is a prime directive when working with the concept of levels. Each level is desirable and none is ultimately better than the other. These stages build on each other and one wouldn’t exist without the other. If you find that this concept does not increase your ability to take other people’s perspective and feel a deeper connection toward them, drop the whole concept of levels immediately.


Next part: lines