Turquoise consciousness

What does turquoise consciousness mean? In this blog post I’m pushing the boundaries as a researcher here about what I can say with certainty. For natural reasons there is not that much data supporting any claim that can be made on this issue. This is also a short description and I am probably assuming one or two things about all theories that I don’t write out explicitly. So just let this speculation be a discussion opener and let’s stretch our imagination a bit. Anyway, let’s play with it!

Turquoise consciousness is often referred to as two closely related lines of thinking, Ken Wilber’s integral theory and Clare W. Graves’ Spiral dynamics model in Don Beck’s interpretation. They both use colors to label the stages in their respective developmental models. In Wilber’s case the stage following the teal stage and in Beck’s case the stage, or vMeme, following yellow. Both those cases show in my opinion pretty sweeping descriptions and are in neither case backed up with that much data.

In terms of Spiral dynamics, yellow (flex-flow) is the first vMeme that is not attached to any particular value system or vMeme. Rather, it can be said to be a synthesis between all previous vMemes, thus it can be referred to as a value metasystem. The yellow vMeme can see through any of the previous lenses or perspectives. Furthermore, as it is described, it arranges these vMemes in a developmental order. The following turquoise vMeme is described as a more complex and more integrated version of the more cognitively oriented yellow vMeme. It typically emphasizes a collectivism, global identification, spirituality and subtleties of reality.

Nevertheless, according to Wilber, teal and turquoise roughly correspond to the action-logics strategist and alchemist, respectively, in Bill Torbert’s version of Jane Loevinger’s stages of ego development. This is pretty well described by Susanne Cook-Greuter, who named them autonomous and construct-aware, respectively. She also elaborated the description of what an action-logic is, which in my interpretation is very close to the concept of meaning-making, which is how we construct and organize reality in our mind. Meaning-making is the story that we tell about who we are, about the nature of reality and how we should and do act. And as Robert Kegan shows us, this meaning-making can be more or less complex in its structure, hence different orders of consciousness or stages of ego development.

Nowadays, action-logics or stages of ego development according to Cook-Greuter are more often used since they are more thoroughly researched and described. She identified some themes of the test responses that were evaluated at the higher stages. She also ascribed an increasing ability of perspective-taking to each stage, but I find these not that stringently defined so I won’t go into those. Here, several models or theories are discussed and it’s good to keep in mind that they show different aspects, or perhaps developmental lines, of the psychological development. Wilber’s is in my view not that well defined but typically talks about perspective-taking, Spiral dynamics is about values (content), ego development is about complexity in meaning-making structure, perspective-taking, content in themes and so forth, Kegan’s is complexity in meaning-making structure and MHC is about structure in conceptualized information. So when I mean stage of development I’m probably closest to Cook-Greuter or Kegan’s descriptions, but it’s also interesting to see what content, values, that show up at the respective stages.

Anyway, here is my suggestion on the issue at hand:

The two stages or vMemes yellow and turquoise can be divided into two sub stages each. The first yellow stage, denoted yellow 1, mean that you can coordinate and shift between worldviews or identifications, but not order them in a developmental sequence. This is in accordance with Robert Kegan’s fifth order of consciousness (see this diagram) where he refers to subject as trans-system. In Kegan’s descriptions and examples of this order there is no developmental or hierarchical sequence between the systems. According to MHC a metasystematic coordination doesn’t necessarily need to be nested and hierarchical, it can consist of two or more systems being compared and put next to each other. An illustration of this is the value system model called Common cause, which is non-developmental and non-hierarchical although it evaluates multiple systems of values and coordinates them. Common themes in ego development test responses are balancing personal and social perspectives. This also shows up in Kohlberg’s descriptions of the corresponding stage 5.

The second yellow stage, yellow 2, is the one commonly described in Spiral dynamics, with an emphasis on and identification with a developmental process, where one vMeme is a step on a developmental or evolutionary ladder. This theme also shows up in ego development test results. I would say that this stage typically has its focus on the development upwards, but it’s of course a pretty extensive process that takes years. A possible difference between yellow 1 and 2 is the ability to take a vertical perspective.

The first turquoise stage I am proposing, turquoise 1, is based on another theme that Cook-Greuter refers to and places at the construct-aware stage. Compared to the previous stage, I’d say that this has integrated more shadows and is more coherent from bottom and up. Loevinger denoted this stage ”integrated”. A theme that Cook-Greuter describes here is an identification with a developmental or evolutionary process that coordinates the personal development with the cultural evolution, and seeing that one’s own development is an expression of a personal trajectory as well as a cultural, structural and behavioral. Cook-Greuter’s description resembles Wilber’s notion of a tetra-evolution in all quadrants. I’m proposing this to be a coordination at the paradigmatic order according to MHC. And why not a corresponding sixth order of consciousness according to Kegan’s subject-object theory?! (Remember where you read this description first!)

The second turquoise stage, turquoise 2, is based on the theme after which Cook-Greuter named this stage, construct-aware. At this stage it is realized that language, meaning and identity is something that is being constructed. The construct-aware person can take the entire meaning-making as an object and is not attached to and controlled by it. For instance, the previous identification with the evolutionary process is here released and the construct-aware realizes that stages of development are mere constructs, which can be quite provoking for the previous stages. For the second yellow stage and the first turquoise stage it is meaningful to advance to the next stage on the developmental ladder, but turquoise 2 has stepped off the ladder, it is in free fall and thus meaning-free. This is a huge paradox, yellow 2 and turquoise 1 will sacrifice anything to get to the next stage, but turquoise 2 realize that it’s not always worth it. It is after all pretty nice to have structures to which you can attach your ego and get direction in your life. Nevertheless, there are benefits of this increased sensitivity in the silence and the shadows, and the cognitive abilities such as perspective taking remains of course. From this stage it is obvious what Cook-Greuter says: ”higher is not better, not happier”.

For further descriptions I would recommend Susanne Cook-Greuter’s Nine levels of increasing embrace or any video series by her.

One remark from these four stages is that the first three, yellow 1, yellow 2 and turquoise 1, are sequential in that they are increasingly complex. The last stage here, turquoise 2, on the other hand could possibly occur earlier than that. It might be possible to take the entire meaning-making as an object and recognize it as a construct even before one has acquired a developmental meaning-making structure. Or at least in theory.

In the coming ESRAD conference in Freiburg May 31-June 2 we are considering a session where Spiral dynamics is discussed in relation to e.g. other theories of development. There are several aspects in this short analysis that could be further elaborated, but this will do as a discussion opener and thought experiment based on a comparisons with different theories and own experiences rather than on data from sentence completion tests or Spiral dynamics. Apparently Cook-Greuter has been discussing a split of the construct-aware stage into two, I don’t know the rationale or details. If someone knows it would be nice to hear…

Note that Cook-Greuter has also proposed a stage following the construct-aware, the unitive stage.


Beck & Cowan – Spiral dynamics

Commons et al – World future’s special issue on the model of hierarchical complexity (2008)

Cook-Greuter – Nine levels of increasing embrace, Postautonomous ego development (doctoral thesis)

Hy & Loevinger – Measuring ego development 2nd ed

Kegan – The evolving self, In over our heads

Torbert – Action inquiry

Wilber – Integral psychology, Integral Spirituality

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Turquoise consciousness

  1. Rodrigo says:

    “One remark from these four stages is that the first three, yellow 1, yellow 2 and turquoise 1, are sequential in that they are increasingly complex. The last stage here, turquoise 2, on the other hand could possibly occur earlier than that. It might be possible to take the entire meaning-making as an object and recognize it as a construct even before one has acquired a developmental meaning-making structure. Or at least in theory.”

    Why do you think turquoise 2 can come earlier? Isn’t that the differentiation Ken Wilber does between states and stages? In a witnessing state, for example, one could be aware of the meaning-making process. But since states are mainly temporary, once that person snaps out of it he will be back and immersed in the meaning-making process, unaware of it. In that sense, it could come earlier. While in a turquoise 2 it may be that the structure stage is developed enough to be aware of its own meaning-making process while still immersed in it.

  2. Kristian says:

    To put it briefly, I have met and interacted with people that do acknowledge the constructed nature of language and meaning-making that have not had any notion of stages of development as one has at yellow 2 and turquoise 1. In theory I think it’s possible too.

    And I’m not sure that this construct awareness equals witnessing the meaning-making process on a permanent basis. You could be right, it could be a temporary state.

  3. Jacques says:

    Very interesting paper about Integral levels…
    Maybe what you call ‘Turquoise 2’ is the next level, Coral or Indigo?? I would call this level the “free prophet” who sees more but is always badly understood…
    Not a “turquoise 2” but really a very new level where even Evolution is not considered as a “real thing” but as a construct… Quite hurting my views (I do believe in evolution) and it makes me meditate on my own constructs because I see the truth in it. Quite uneasy… Thanks for posting that!!

  4. Kristian says:

    Hi Jacques and thank you!

    I think that most that are dealing with ego development (according to the description by Cook-Greuter and Torbert) and Spiral dynamics would argue that SD’s Coral corresponds to the unitive stage of ego development that comes after the construct-aware.

    I understand the unease of questioning evolution, or the identification with that process. Although I think it can open up for more nuanced versions of what evolution is, how we have evolved to get here and where we are going next. These more nuanced version I think tend to be less idealistic than the previous.

  5. Mary Pat Jones says:

    Fascinating and very helpful. The comments reminded me of Korzybski’s “The Map is not the Territory” and Wilber’s comment “But a good map can help you break out of prison!”

    Intentionally daily searching for and “being” (the operative word) on the lookout out for the multi-perspectives revealed within the complexity of quadrant theory has helped afford me some of the space required to live into the prayer words “It is better to understand than it is to be understood” I can depend neither on approval nor agreement from others for my use of words and silence or for my inaction and actions, but in order to contribute with any semblance of wisdom I do really need to increasingly grow in awareness as to why I say what I say or don’t say and for my actions and inaction in order to take some responsibility for any impact I might have. Locating myself within my culture and my culture within other cultures within our shared world space within the Kosmos at large, requires having a clue of how this was all co-created and how we and it continues to be co-created through both evolution and involution.

    Maps of stages, lines, types and quadrants (no matter what great minds co-contributed them) that have stood the test of time help expose both my many blind spots, and projections. I’m immensely grateful for their pioneering minds (even though they often attempt to eat their young) and I couldn’t imagine the journey without them. Thank You for your contribution.