Teal turmoil: Seven hurdles on my personal journey to Teal

By: Brent Lowe for Enlivening Edge Magazine

I desperately want to be Teal. To radiate an aura of Teal. To have Teal blood running through my veins.

And yet here I am, as Orange as cheese-covered nachos and Fanta soda.

Lost already? I recommend reading The Future of Management Is Teal by Frederic Laloux—what follows will otherwise be 100% confusing.

A bit about me. I’m a recovering human resources leader turned coach and consultant. I was raised by two wonderful parents who worked in Orange government buildings. My MBA is from a leading institution that produces thousands of Orange grads every year. My real world HR training came from a cutting-edge, Orange-trying-to-be-Green high-tech company.  Orange, Orange, everywhere Orange.

Life moved on. Eventually and awkwardly I tried to be Green. I’m not a good actor.

Orange was comfortable. I’m a perfectionist by nature. Policy, process, and structure work for me. I prefer knowing how things are supposed to roll. I like predicting the future and being right. Give me a well-formed box and I’m good to go! I am an expert policy writer. I can articulate a process to the finest detail. This was my world for almost 40 years.

And then one day I had breakfast with my good friend Edwin Jansen. He introduced me to the book Reinventing Organizations by Frederic Laloux. He offered a simple warning, “This book is going to rock your world.” And he sent me on my way.  I’ve been in turmoil ever since.

Seven Confessions

mixed oil paint with paintbrushHave you been to a paint store? Have you had a custom paint colour mixed for you? They start with white, then they add a bit of this and a bit of that. They close the can and shake it long and hard. And the end result is the desired colour. What happens if you want a can of Teal paint… and rather than starting with a can of white, you start with a can of Orange? Tricky! This is where I’m at. I want a can of Teal paint!

Here are the thoughts and feelings that are already in that can. These are the well-worn mental maps that I am working on reinventing.

Piecing together wholeness from many separate parts.  I felt a need to write these confessions after reading a blog by Pim de Morree. In the blog Pim shares a story of his dinner at the home of Frederic Laloux. For me, the story captured the essence of wholeness. Pim describes the experience of being with Frederic and his wife. This is how I want people to describe me, my home, my family. This is how I envision wholeness. A sense of knowing and expressing myself.

My current reality is a bit different. It is perhaps best described by the story of the crow from the book Zorba the Greek.

“What happened to the crow, Zorba?”

“Well, you see, he used to walk respectably, properly—well, like a crow. But one day he got it into his head to try and strut about like a pigeon. And from that time on the poor fellow couldn’t for the life of him recall his own way of walking. He was all mixed up, don’t you see? He hobbled about.”

I hobble about trying to be this person in one environment and that person in another, no longer sure of who I am. And yet, deep down, I know the wholeness that I seek. I can see it in the mirror of others from time to time.

Lost in the search for purpose. A few years ago I asked a friend about her life purpose. Surely she must have a grand life goal in mind. Her response: “I’m just trying to make it through the day.” How depressing, I thought!

And yet, over time, I’ve found that I’m often just trying to make it through the day too. I want to immerse myself in my life purpose. Something so inspiring that I can’t wait to jump out of bed every morning. Something so evolutionary that it changes the world and leaves a legacy.

And yet I get distracted by anxieties: I’m not good enough, I don’t make enough money, I don’t have enough friends, I don’t belong. I get wrapped up in the fear of losing what I already have at the expense of my purpose.

I’ve known my life purpose from a young age. Unfortunately, it too often takes a backseat when I want it to be the driver.

Torn between the greater good and the comfortable me. I’m part of the 1%. Most of my friends are too. I’m writing this blog from the cafe of the Grand Pacific Hotel… and it is grand! I’m drinking my $3 cup of tea. I’m writing on my MacBook Air. I just finished a ski trip in a beautiful mountain resort. Soon I’ll return home to my big house, pool and hot tub.

I’m addicted to the benefits that come with Orange wealth. And yet I detest the dependence. I desperately want to work for the good of the planet, and I know that my lifestyle is often in conflict with that greater good.

The comfortable illusion of control. No targets? No control? Blasphemy! These have been my best friends for longer than I can remember. Granted, they have failed me more often than not. It’s a case of the devil you know being more comfortable than the devil you don’t. How hard it is to give up the illusion of control. I’ve built my career on helping people and companies plan for the future. Anything else would be chaos. And yet, I know that it doesn’t work. Too often plans and budgets become distractions that create anxiety and destroy creativity.

The fear of self-management. I am the ultimate self-manager. I run my own company of one. I call all the shots. I make all the decisions. And many days I miss having a boss. Not because I want someone to tell me what to do. There is nothing appealing to me there.

Instead, I miss the recognition. In the corporate world I was a bit of a super star. I ranked as “Top Talent” in the Orange succession planning process. From the youngest age I gravitated to areas where I could be the best, and avoided the rest. And I received lots of praise, awards, promotions, raises. I loved it. I thrived on it. Extrinsic motivation… bring it on!

So what do I do now? How do I shift to a Teal world of self-management without a boss to tell me how great I am? Without a big title to boost my ego?

The pain of seeking advice. The Teal advice process is elegant. It makes so much sense. Of course I want the opportunity to provide advice in areas where I have knowledge or concern. So if you are making a decision that impacts me, please do ask for my advice.

But I am also competitive and opinionated and like to be right. So when decisions need made on my end, I’d prefer to make them myself, thank you very much. It’s faster. It’s easier. And I don’t need to exhibit any signs of weakness. That’s my fear speaking.

Trapped by my vocabulary. My biggest struggle on the shift to Teal is vocabulary.  Love, sensing, soulful, waiting for ideas to emerge, holding space. These are not words spoken freely in an Orange world. I’m an expert at suppressing emotions.

The language of Teal often makes me quietly wince. It’s too personal… too out there!  And yet, those words describe exactly what I am feeling.

How nice it would be for my feelings and language to align.  Speaking without a covering of hesitation and embarrassment would be nice!

So there you have it. The confessions of an Orange thinker who is clawing his way to a Teal existence. My desire is to think… feel… live… and be Teal.  Here’s how I’m doing it.

Self exploration – I few years ago when my daughter was five or six, my wife and I signed her up for karate. The Sensei leading the class was wonderful. After a while we pulled her out because she was having a miserable time in every class. A few months later I had the following conversation with her:

Me: Abby, why don’t you try karate again?

Abby: Because the Sensei’s are very mean.

Me: Who told you that?

Abby: My mind did.

It’s amazing what our minds can tell us. I’ve invested a lot of time over the last two years in discovering what my mind has been telling me. I meditate. I seek counseling and coaching. I read. I write. I practice gratitude. In the process, I can now recognize the Orange in me. I better understand my starting point on the journey to Teal.

Learning from others – I had lunch with a friend yesterday. In our younger years we were like brothers. Then he moved away. This was one of the rare occasions when we could catch up and revisit the past. He made an interesting observation.

He said, “When you spend years with the same people, it becomes hard to change and grow as a person. People expect us to be a certain way and so we fill that role. Right now I can feel myself slipping back into the role I had eight years ago because I’m with you.”

I’m doing my best to break free of that mold. I am building a new community of people who share the thoughts and beliefs that I want to embody. My reading is changing. I am laying down a new mental map. I am learning a new language. I am experimenting with new ways of being.

Holding space for purpose to emerge – I recently read a helpful article by Anne Loehr.  In it, Anne outlines three components of purpose:

  • Creating a positive impactMaking a concrete near- and long-term impact on the world
  • Connecting with other people by building meaningful relationshipsWorking with and helping others who appreciate you
  • Achieving continued personal growthGetting support toward exploring your personal interest and goals

I already have a good sense of my purpose. I am now holding space for these three elements to emerge more clearly. Having spent so much time trying force my purpose (Orange planning!) I am giving it time to show me the way.

Learning to experiment – Experimentation and perfectionism are like oil and water. How can I experiment when I already have a well-defined set of rules in my head? This is the challenge. I have a desire for everything to be right the first time. Taking risks and being open to new ideas run counter to my DNA. And yet so much of what I know—the Orange thinking—doesn’t work for me anymore.

So now I focus on experimenting with new options. I challenge thinking rooted in the past. If it doesn’t feel right, that’s probably a good thing!

Pushing through the discomfort – On my journey to Teal there is a lot of discomfort. I struggle between accepting what is and moving toward what can be. So I practice. I practice being vulnerable and being patient.

The end result? I am a much better coach and advisor today than I was yesterday. And I will be even better tomorrow. My purpose of being a guide for personal and organizational transformation continues to unfold.

I am grateful to Frederic Laloux for writing Reinventing Organizations; to everyone who has devoted time and effort to bringing the book to life; and to Pim and his colleague Joost for sharing the story of dinner with the Laloux’s and for inspiring this article.

8 - Small CroppedBrent Lowe: A bit about me: I’m the trusted business and psychology expert that entrepreneurs, CEOs, and business leaders call when they need to add fuel to their personal performance and that of their teams. My job is to help my clients—people just like you—be the leaders they want to be. I work with clients globally in-person, by phone, and by video. To learn more about my work and book a free consultation, visit www.brentlowe.com

 

  1. Oh thank you, I love this blog post it is one of the most honest things Ive read in a long time. I think there are many who feel this way but its kinda taboo to speak it so clearly – great stuff, really brave xxx

  2. You’ve read my mind! I’ve been glowing ever since reading Laloux’s book, with a lovely warm feeling about the world my daughter is going to grow up in and the kind of workplace she’ll be able to find. And I’ve had a low level anxiety about what it means for me. I coach leaders. I write about leadership. I speak about leadership. And, if I really believe in Teal then everything I “know” about is going to be called in to question. Of course, the Teal in me says “you are conscious and therefore you are asking the right questions”. Laloux himself talks about how much time people in Teal organisations spend talking about their struggles with Teal. But, as with any change, it’s so much easier to advocate than to undergo yourself. Best of luck with your journey. Glad to know we’re all on it together!

    1. Hey Blaire – Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I often describe my experience after reading the book like this: I’ve been told that when you learn a new language a sign of mastery is thinking in that language. I’m still in the think Orange, translate, speak Teal phase… but Teal-speak is becoming more natural every day.

      I share your positive view of the future!

      Brent

  3. Brent, what inspiring courage you have, to not only engage in uncomfortable growth toward your authentic self, but to also share that discomfort and growth so openly! So many of us will resonate with you!

    You, Chris Clark, Ken Kopelson, and George Por, are really helping us all toward the foundational INDIVIDUAL growth into the Teal worldview, so that organizations can be more easily and comfortably shifted, also. And thus, the world.

    I can’t help but wonder how you four might synergize, not to mention enjoy the heck out of one another!

    https://www.enliveningedge.org/features/the-first-step-towards-teal-is-grief/ is Chris’s article.
    https://www.enliveningedge.org/views/overcoming-the-fear-of-teal/ is Ken’s article
    and here is George Por’s article about the relationship of individual to organizational development, called Reinventing Yourself, the theme of EE’s Second Issue, September 2015: https://www.enliveningedge.org/columns/our-individual-journey-to-teal/

  4. Brent, I am amazed by your courage to confess the things you label as ‘weaknesses’. We need more ‘orange’ people like this. The article also reminds me how far we really are in reality from being teal. I love the concept myself and am convinced that going Teal would change so many things but catch myself again and again ‘trapped’ in the orange thinking. Sure – we have been socialized that way. Changing these deep laying mental structures is a life’s work. The point is to realize it and try, doing our best with a good intention and go on.
    The other thing – shall we really go 100% Teal? I am not sure – if you feel better with some structures, why not to have them? For me, the most important idea of Teal is asking the big ‘WHY’ question and do things that you are doing with the intention of serving the world. If this would be the only thing we do, it would already make a huge difference.

    1. Julia! Thanks for your thoughts. For me, I am not trying to run from structure but rather find more human-friendly structures. That’s what I like about Frederic’s work. There is still lots of structure and process, and it’s fundamentally different!

  5. Thanks for your honesty, Brent.

    Your comments about language made me smile.
    I don’t think we talk like that @fitzii (Teal org) but now I’m gonna try 🙂

    Peace!
    Luz

  6. When I recommended the R.O. book to you that morning over breakfast I did predict that it would affect you – but not to this degree!

    Kudos Brent on your courage and vulnerability to fully embrace this path with both your eyes and your heart wide open (like that use of Teal language there?).

    1. You changed my world! I’m forever grateful for your sensing that I was ready for something new to emerge (like that use of Teal language there?).

  7. Brilliant! I just finished reading the book a few days ago and am so excited about it. I hope someday i’ll be as clear regarding my own challenges in shifting from Green to Teal as you are now from Orange. Bravo!

    One project i’ve thrown my life into thus far has been the co-creation of the deck Group Works: A Pattern Language for Bringing Life to Meetings and Other Gatherings (www.groupworksdeck.org). One surprise since publishing it has been how people in Orange organizations tell us it provides them the vocabulary currently lacking in their organizational context to describe experiences tending toward the personal/subjective/emotional/spiritual. So you might consider checking out that resource as a bridge–it’s available for free download.

    1. Hey Tree – Thanks for sharing. I just checked out the cards. What a great concept! I’ve downloaded them and will put them to good use. Love it!

  8. Teal has “transcended and included” Orange, and Green, and all the earlier stages. So those “colors” of consciousness CAN be found in Teal, because they contribute to our capacities as humans maturing through the stages. Teal is not OTHER than those ways of thinking/being. It is MORE than them.

    Too many try to skip Green in going from Orange to Teal, and that can cause suffering and unhealthiness (not to mention feeling like a failure at “being Teal”) so “that language” which is uncomfortable to Orange, is necessary Green, absolutely necessary. Edwin can call it “Teal” language but it is present in Teal only because it is from the earlier stage of Green.

    Reading the comments above, brought those thoughts to mind, and it’s a bit of an ongoing rant for me, around skipping Green, thanks for the chance to rant! Hope helpful.

  9. You mentioned several words that reminded me of a book that approaches a lot of the Teal concepts from a completely different angle. It is a book about vulnerability, and becoming whole-hearted, and being okay with discomfort as we learn. I am amazed, actually, at how the findings match up so closely to the Teal way of living. The book is Daring Greatly, by Brené Brown.

  10. Hi Brent

    Loved your blog. I work at Ian Martin – the parent company of Fitzii – where Edwin works. We are green with teal stripes – not quite teal but making our way there. I – like yourself – have driven certain words out of my vernacular since they were not appropriate for the corporate world. I have now embraced the language of teal and I use it absolutely every day! Expressing oneself honestly is the greatest gift there is. I do not believe I could ever work in an orange company again!

    1. Hey Katherine – I’ve been following the Ian Martin evolution with interest over the last few years. It’s neat to see an organization with deep history evolving so quickly!

  11. Hi Brent, I was quickly reading your text and it touched me. I love your longing to be teal!
    As a coach and facilitator I work with pictures that come up in me. And the picture I just got was: Let it flow, there is too much pressure in it. Too be more playful, why not trying to work with the I Ging, and old Chinese tradition of getting help for the future or maybe Tarot cards? I send you good energy and patience for your journey, Beate
    P.S. Are you coming to the Integral European Conference in Hungarian, May 5th to 8th?

  12. Hi Beate – Yes, patience is something I’m working on and getting much, much better. It’s part of the Teal journey to trust in the process. Unfortunately I am not coming to the IEC. I’m very sad about that! I am participating in the Unleash conference in Toronto that is happening at the same time.

    1. Dear Brent, after sending my message I regretted I did not explain my suggestion (I Ging etc.). Although it may have sounded silly it was meant to move towards the things beyond science and “knowing”, towards subtle objects and all between earth and heaven that we cannot explain (yet).
      Enjoy your conference in Toronto! Best wishes, Beate

  13. My almost- son Nathan, husband of my daughter Sarah has been delving into being Teal for some time. They and their 5 children + exchange student, ages 6 – 14 + 17, are participating as individuals within a family unit, and I have been astonished at their lightness and growth. Nathan and Sarah have told me as m much as I was interested in but I’ve been immersed in trying to grow and heal in my own ( not working well enough) ways. Nathan has given the book R( “REINVENTING……”) and other information to the CEO of the company he works for, and is now planning to find a TEAL place to work. TODAY I BROKE…I ALLOWED MYSELF TO BE CRUSHED UNTIL ALL THAT WAS LEFT WAS A KNOWLEDGE THAT I MUST CHANGE OR DIE. I KNEW I was deserving of a creative, joy-filled life where I am loved and accepted, uplifted taught and able to teach others with respect and awe….just the way I deserve to be taught. I’m 62…. with a LIFETIME OF 42 years of therapy, self-help, diet, exercise, alcohol, meds etc. SPIRITUALITY has led me to most of the right places, yet…still I CAN BE CRUSHED ALMOST INTO LEAVING FOR HEAVEN IN DESPERATION. SO,…today I confronted the beast, then went to GOD. I Was prompted to look online for a tow-behind tiny house escape to purchase for my plan. Once online e I was led to an email from my daughter , then re-read a message from N
    Nathan regarding TEAL. I was again directed to your website and to read your messages. ALL your messages resonated within me. I KNOW I’ve found my next path and that this path leads to the destination of self- ness, wholeness, healing and growth us a return to my TEAL SELF….the way my CREATOR intended for my life. I just almost apologized for writing so much. BAH!! Thank you so very much for the important self-sharing you have written and thus taught me with. THIS AND YOU ARE ASTONISHING. CYNTHIA TARDIFF

  14. Hi Brent, This really makes sense and echoes a lot of my experiences and current exploration. What I am still thinking about is something you wrote about here in terms of learning the new language. Part of me is concerned that this language is like other languages I have experienced in my life journey. A special language for those that are part of the group, creating a belonging and perhaps also a way of excluding others. Does Teal really want to replicate this? I’ve heard it said that you dont have to be Teal to work in a Teal organisation and I’m also thinking there must be many paths to Teal journeyed by many people speaking many different languages. I’m thinking about how we can ” hold the space” open for anyone who wants to hear or be heard and how we can help translate between colours and even different rainbows?

    1. Hi Jane – What a great question! I will ponder this for a while. My first thought is that it’s the language that helps hold space for others. I find myself being drawn to a new way of communicating that provides more opportunity for others to participate. Going forward I am going to pay a bit more attention and watch for the risk of exclusion. Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts.

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