#Stoos, the Yellow vMeme, and the Coming Management Evolution

Posted on 11. Jan, 2012 by in Agile, Culture & Change, Edge, Leadership

Last weekend I had the good fortune of joining twenty other forward thinking souls in #Stoos, Switzerland, to put our heads and hearts together. Our focus: accelerating the transformation of organizations—and especially management—in the 21st century. The problem might be summed up as mechanistic, monetized thinking which values money per se and control at the expense of people, planet and net value creation (see the summary mind map of the ‘mess we’re in). Those in the Agile world will recognize this as the thinking that on the one hand loves agile results (faster, cheaper, higher customer satisfaction), but on the other is less than thrilled to implement agile philosophy, especially when applied to organizational and management topics. The overall summary of our gathering was written up in a short communique, or see the YouTube highlights reel.

#Stoos got me to reflect, both before and after the weekend, about why the long awaited transformation of management has not yet come to pass. Surely the complexity of issues facing companies (not to mention societies) is great enough to warrant a different, more networked, more values-oriented management paradigm to emerge. As the #Stoos communique opines, leadership should include “the stewardship of the living”. Yet, clearly that is SO not happening.

As Sumantra Ghoshal wrote in 2005, bad management thinking is destroying good management practices. Viewing things as I do from a developmental perspective, I don’t think the majority of the leaders in our world have developed themselves enough to lead from these new models; nor do our organizational cultures support these new ways, even when a given individual ‘sees’ the need.

How do we understand this gap?

Let’s begin with a research-based development model that encompasses people, organizations and even whole societies. Based on the work of Clare Graves and developed by Don Beck and Chris Cowan, Spiral Dynamics reveals eight value memes (vMemes) that encapsulate world and human development all the way back to prehistoric times. Each stage (or wave) represents more complex thinking (and behaving) than the one before. Movement between stages is ‘forced’ by life circumstances, when a given set of problems is no longer solved satisfactorily by the previous collection of values and ways of thinking. A listing of the five most relevant vMemes, with their mottoes (from John Marshall Roberts’ Igniting Inspiration) is:

  • Heroic Thinking (Red) – “Express one’s self, to hell with the consequences, lest one suffer the torment of shame.” Red is like Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.
  • Absolutist Thinking (Blue) – “Sacrifice self now to receive later reward.” Blue is absolutism of any kind, where there in only one right way and immutable laws (e.g., fundamentalist Christianity, Islam, etc.)
  • Individualistic Thinking (Orange) – “Express self for what self desires, but in a calculated fashion so as to avoid bringing down the wrath of important others.” Orange is the core of capitalism or corporatism, but also individual freedoms (US Declaration of Independence).
  • Humanistic Thinking (Green) – “Sacrifice self now in order to gain acceptance now.” Green is relativism (as opposed to Blue absolutism) and holds views such as mankind is a family and all are equal. Green thinking developed the idea of consensus and holds it to a fault. It is an underlying part of much of Agile.
  • Systemic Thinking (Yellow) – “Express self for what self desires and other need, but never at the expense of others, and in a way that all life can continue to exist.” Yellow is found in environmental sustainability, quantum theory, integral psychology, and other innovative technologies (including some aspects or manifestations of Agile).

The kind of management transformation many of us want comes out of the Yellow vMeme, yet the heart of the corporate world is thoroughly Orange, with hints of Green that show up in some HR practices, consensus and collaboration oriented teams and cultures, and generally more enlightened organizations. People don’t (and especially organizations) don’t develop from one level to the next overnight. We develop when our value and thinking system begin failing us in dealing with our life circumstances. The fascination with materialistic gains and outward success (Orange) gives way to dissatisfaction and ‘wanting something more (often in mid-life) to move people from Orange to Green. The inefficiency of consensus oriented decision-making and wanting more creative expression for oneself drives Green into Yellow.

We as coaches can facilitate people’s development, but we cannot drive it. And talking more persuasive, or louder, will not move anyone along the path. Communicating with someone within their own values scheme, not wanting them to be different, is a good place to start.

To learn about the use of Spiral Dynamics in a business context (specifically applied to the food industry), read John Mackey’s blog of his keynote given to his Whole Foods tribe. If you are interested in joining in the ensuing conversation from #Stoos, please join the Stoos Network on LinkedIn.

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2 Responses to “#Stoos, the Yellow vMeme, and the Coming Management Evolution”

  1. BachanNo Gravatar

    24. Jan, 2012


  2. BachanNo Gravatar

    24. Jan, 2012

    Thanks for sharing .
    I think for taking management to the next level we need to create working system that have managers appointed by the team for a short period of time for a specific purpose. That will lead to managers being servant leaders and give everyone a chance to manage and be compassionate about what is involved in management or may I say leadership .

    I also believe that the current corporate structure has too many messes to make the transformation to YELLOW , maybe we need to new system where people come together and form working groups to work in a inter dependent & collaborative to create something they cannot do by themselves and shares the benefits amongst themselves . It is time we call for ownership of the team just in doing work with no real ownership in the results .

    Great article !

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