“It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future”
Yogi Berra, American baseball philosopher
Welcome to the Age of Disruption
Over the last few years, I have been obsessed with finding answers to the myriad of questions that address the nature of change. More specifically, I’ve wanted to know why so many futurists and management gurus got so many things wrong about the future in such a short period of time. It is the Age of Disruption they say and if you’re over the age of 45, you must unlearn everything you know about change. Taking that advice with a grain of salt, I studied tens of statements from the world’s leading futurists caught with egg on their faces explaining why their predictions haven’t come to fruition. Some say we are in the throes of a paradigm shift that is moving faster than the speed of light. Others confirm that change is happening at an exponential pace that has never been seen before and it waits for no one. Yet others my age who are entrenched in modern and post-modern management theory have bought into the idea that our predictive models might be a bit linear and out of date, but far from being obsolete.
It was that paradox that held that everything we’ve known to be simultaneously true and false that motivated me to organize the Spiral Dynamics Summit on the Future. This gathering of some of the best global practitioners of the Gravesian framework was intended to shed light on the subject of how to make sense of the current chaos. If the Summit confirmed anything in a definitive way, it was that change is definitely afoot, and it is, what we in the Spiral Dynamics community call Second Order Change. This is the type of societal transformation that is deep and structural, and has 3 degrees of severity. I had hoped that by the time the Summit was over, I would have gotten clarity on which of the 3 types of change we were experiencing. Was it a revolutionary change that was looking to weaken and replace the status quo? Yes. Was it also a systemic change taking us to the next level of complexity that transcends, but includes all past levels of development? Yes. Was it the most severe, the Quantum change of epochal proportions with massive upheaval and multiple change dynamics where everything is on the table and up for grabs? A definite Yes!
My journey to examine the nature of change came just two years after the release of my book MEMEnomics, the Next Generation Economic System (Select Books, 2013). After touring the world promoting the book’s Platform for Functional Capitalism, which is a set of macromemetic integral principles on how to bring sustainable change to the world, I found myself having to re-examine the power of non-integral, first tier forces that were preventing the onset of sustainability practices in a systemic way. Although concepts like sustainability and thrive-ability have certain resonance with highly conscious people and entrepreneurs, I discovered that even the most conscious business concepts, must still exist within a first tier ecosystem that is, of course beholden to first tier values that don’t always serve an integral platform.
So, it is in the throes of all that chaos and disruption of the Digital Age, and all three variations of Second Order change moving simultaneously under our feet that I submit this update to parts of my book about the trials and tribulations of our journey to second tier values and the corrective actions that must be taken to ensure their survival and eventual blossoming into a second tier ecosystem.
Second Tier Memes Swimming in an Ecology of First Tier Institutions
Many areas of my work focus on the subsequent effects of the 2008 financial crisis and the bailout of banks. I have argued that if the failure of insolvent institutions was allowed to take place, the US economy would have realigned itself away from the corrosive values of financial capitalism and began a slow but systemic rebirth towards an economy empowered by a distributed model for prosperity. With the help of the Digital Age the new budding economy would have had all the markings and the resilience of a second tier economic system we so desperately need as we begin to address serious existential issues on our planet.
Unfortunately since the financial crisis the same institutions responsible for shaping the bailout have extended the rein of first tier economic models driven by a dangerously dominant narrative for financial capitalism. Since 2008 the US Federal Reserve has increased the money supply by an astronomical 6 times. This drastic measure has never been undertaken by a major economic power in centuries, and the effects of which remain greatly unknown. One would think that type of unprecedented action would correspond to a robust measure of growth in our economy, but average annual growth for that same period was under 2.5%. It doesn’t take someone with a PhD in economics to figure out that the Trillions in excess capital has gone to prop up assets bubbles of all kinds all over the world, from housing, to equities, and from global bond markets to commodities markets.
Capital and the Rise of Green Tech
Before we go into the analysis of how money affected the trajectory of second tier enterprise, it is important to mention that not all capital that was injected into the US economy since 2008 served to prop up a dying system. Prior to the financial crisis, we were going through the introductory phase of the Green MEMEnomic Cycle, which championed the values that seek the democratization of information and resources. While the historically high levels of capital seem to prolong the life of an Orange system in decline, it also placed the Green value system in economics on a record pace to enter the Growth phase of the cycle. Along with the digital age that is playing a critical role in moving us into the Green value system, much of the non-digital technology such as renewable energy falls into the Green-to-Second Tier values classification. These are the good viruses that have developed resilience and immunity in a world dominated by first tier institutions
Between 2008 and 2017 US electric power generated by wind has increased 5 folds, while during the same period solar power production has gone up an astronomical 61 times. Many environmentalists argue that the overall generation of renewable energy is still far lower than the desired levels to stave off climate change and production technology needs to be cleaner, but in a historical context renewable energy has made record breaking advances in these 10 years. Much of that can be attributed to the availability of cheap capital and government incentives. Yes, the excessive printing of money out of thin air benefits all the value systems on the Spiral healthy and unhealthy, and some more than others depending on which phase of a MEMEnomic cycle we’re going through.
When viewed from a macromemetic, whole systems perspective, the values of the emerging system are getting stronger and more universal, while the voices and the values of the old, carbon-based economy continue to become weaker. The embrace of the values of renewable energy, which has become a global meme among consumers and auto producers alike, evidences this. Between 2008 and 2017 sales of electrical vehicles in the US has gone up by 50 times, and by the year 2022, every mass auto manufacturer around the world will join the competition. As further proof that the world is exiting the old Orange system and embracing a Green-Yellow sustainable future, research and development in the area of renewable energy is no longer being challenged or subverted by old Orange monopolies with political ties that have derailed progress in the past. A large number of these companies, who engage in strategic planning towards the future, have joined the movement out of necessity for Beige survival. This transition is evidenced by the high level of support that government agencies like The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) receive from so many different stakeholders including some of the biggest utility companies in the US. The NREL proclaims that current renewable energy technologies can place the US on an 80% renewable energy source by 2050. In predicting the unpredictable, imagine how that trajectory might change as we continue with exponential breakthroughs in renewal technologies and our proven ability to scale inexpensive global production.
While clean energy only represents part of the solution towards systemic global sustainability, it provides for the leadership needed to awaken other enterprise into acting in a globally responsible manner. Other ecological Yellow system issues such as the extinction of mass biodiversity, deforestation and ocean acidification are moving closer to the center of the debate as natural disasters increase in intensity and unpredictability and force global leaders into adopting new, urgent, and more integrative ways of thinking.
Second Tier Potential Muted by the End-Phase of “Only Money Matters”
The Only Money Matters cycle is the label I give the long wave economic cycle that sought to define capitalism primarily through finance. This fallacy is at the core of the collective anger the world has towards global corporate dominance. While many wish to exclude corporations and the profit motive in defining a sustainable future, I believe that any new thinking has to be a collaborative effort among a diverse group of global stakeholders including corporations that identify with the transitional Green cycle as we move towards a second tier economy.
Defining second tier corporate leadership through sustainability practices has been a part of my Platform for Functional Capitalism for which I have dedicated much time research and effort. Many of the basic assumptions about the virtues that underlie second tier enterprise haven’t changed from the analysis I gave in 2013. However some of the examples that I used were of second tier enterprise that were in their embryonic stages of development whose trajectory was temporarily altered due to a system that placed so much financial capital in the hands of an unwitting first tier banking system. While that same capital fed the Green cycle and moved it closer to the growth phase, it also caused the acceleration of the decline and entropy phase of the Only Money Matters cycle. The result was a movement towards what some economists call mono-capitalism or late-stage capitalism that is worthy of examination.
Alphabet Is Not Google
In my work, I divide enterprise with second tier potential into two categories, the digital and the non-digital. In 2013, the time I profiled Google, it stood out as a leading digital company with second tier potential. The motto of its founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin of don’t be evil was a refreshing commitment for a company born into the Green values of the Digital Age. Almost everything about Google at the time was disruptive, and disrupting a vastly toxic Orange system was a first step towards freeing capitalism from its first tier pathologies. Google did everything better. From the way it integrated its Blue, Orange and Green work environments onto a high efficiency platform with a superordinate goal of not being evil, all the way down to how it issued it’s initial public offering.
When it comes to Second Tier finance, Google’s use of the Dutch Auction to go public had all the brave markings of a Green to Yellow enterprise of the future that skipped some of the trappings of Wall Street and investment bankers and focused on what individual investors like you and me were willing to bid for it’s stock. Absent the influence of Wall Street a Google share in 2004 would have been acquired directly by individual investors for $85. This would have been the example of distributed prosperity that placed the individual who shared the values of Google’s potential ahead of institutional interest that only sought to make money.
Another earlier characteristic that defined Google’s Second Tier values was its investment arm Google Ventures that made capital available to start-up companies that had a healthy disregard for the impossible. This was a clear recognition of the diversity needed to cause systemic disruption of the Orange, business as usual model. In those days there was a certain level of respect for healthy competition that sought to contend with, or even displaced companies like Google. There was plenty of room for disruptors in every segment of the economy from healthcare to renewable energy, and Google Ventures provided funding without much intrusion into their management or proprietary technologies. This was the essence of a Yellow ecosystem in the making that provided for diversity in leadership and area functionality. Should one venture fail, it wouldn’t affect the overall health of the emerging ecosystem.
But much of that would change as the Digital Economy began to mature and opportunist investment bankers discovered the untapped potential of Google and other digital companies. With so much excess capital at hand and so few global opportunities, bankers began to focus on what they termed the darlings of the future. Wall Street began to intensely quantify Google and to a greater extend the Digital Economy through their narrow Orange metrics. Speculative future performance of companies like Google, Facebook and Tesla was manipulated and packaged in Orange investment terms familiar to the average investor. This resulted a meteoric rise in stocks of many digital age companies including Google. Between January 2012 and May 2018, Google’s market valuation increased 3.5 times from $212 Billion to $753 Billion.
Along with high valuations came growing pains that are, by default forcing Google (now Alphabet) to delay its second tier potential. This is evidenced by the shift in the environment in which the new company does business. In 2013 the pioneering ethos of Silicon Valley start-ups were “disrupt and replace.” Today they are being traded for the values of “surrender and be rich.” This shift changed the very nature of the start-up ecosystem from having the potential for second tier resilience with prospects for distributed organic growth to a reductionist Orange system that cares primarily about acquisitions of innovative companies but restricts their movement to grow organically.
Today, Wall Street’s patience with Alphabet is running out due to the billions in acquisitions that haven’t generated profit. According to the company’s latest financial data, close to 90% of Alphabet’s revenues still come from Google’s advertising platform. The pressure from investors to enforce financial accountability on every division in the company has forced many of its top executives to leave, a sign that Orange conformity hinders the very nature of creativity needed to generate alternative models. The biggest challenge for Alphabet’s leadership moving forward is how to balance giving it’s entrepreneurs the autonomy of a startup, while enforcing a traditional Orange corporate structure that Wall Street investors are now dictating.
All is not bad with Alphabet. With its increased financial clout in addition to its acquisitions, it has continued its earlier Google Ventures funding model on a much larger scale. This ecosystem of startups is placing us closer to many innovations that old Orange models are not capable of producing. One can only hope that these innovations lead to major breakthroughs and their production becomes scalable before the next financial crisis materializes.
The Algorithm That Swallowed Whole Foods Whole
The second category of enterprise that holds potential for second tier corporate practices comes from the non-digital realm. In 2013, it was natural for me to profile Whole Foods Market, a company synonymous with the phrase conscious capitalism. John Mackey, the cofounder of Whole Foods, has a long history with Spiral Dynamics and the integral movement. Over the years, both Don Beck and Ken Wilber have influenced Mackey’s thinking in shaping what Whole Foods had become: an interdependent, multi-stakeholder enterprise that places the well-being of the planet on equal footing with the customer and the investor. Like Google, Whole Foods was the darling of many admirers across the spectrum of values. Under Mackey it had successfully weaved the values of the Green and the Orange system onto a second tier platform that addressed many hot button issues such as transparency, employee happiness, executive pay, fair trade, and corporate governance. For years publications like Forbes Magazine picked Whole Foods as one of the best places to work. But all that began to change after 2013.
Being a publically held corporation, Whole Foods never escaped the watchful eyes of Wall Street. Second tier or not, as long as the company stock outperformed the S&P 500 Index, no investment banker ever meddled in the company’s corporate culture. Beginning in 2013 the long-term outlook for second tier thinking at Whole Foods began to crash head-on with Wall Street’s short-term quarterly expectations. Competition for natural and organic foods had been ramping up for years and beginning that year it hit Whole Foods in areas that mattered most to Wall Street. Over the next few quarters the company’s stock price dropped from $65.24 in October 2013 to an average of $30 in 2015.
If competition had surfaced, its primary driver was an efficiency model with lower costs that saw Mackey’s stakeholder model for interdependence as an Orange opportunity. All it would take is for the existing infrastructure of traditional grocers to produce competing products without regard to matters such as the sustainability of the food system, the well being of local growers, and the long-term health of the planet. This real Orange threat forced Mackey to start thinking differently. Based on many interviews and official company statements made between 2015 and 2017 one can see the shift in his thinking from long-term second tier awareness, to first tier survival tactics for which Mackey and his leadership team simply weren’t ready. Wall Street became increasingly impatient with declining sales and lower growth projections as Mackey’s plans to restructure management and introduce other store formats did little to turn share prices around.
Opportunist hedge funds were some of the most toxic outcroppings of the financial bailout, and it was such fund that forced Whole Foods away from second tier pursuits in order to focus on survival. On April 10, 2017 Janus Partners, a New York based hedge fund purchased close to 9% of Whole Foods stock with the intent of pressuring the company to undertake drastic changes in leadership or force it to sell itself. Of the potential buyers, Amazon the giant online retailer was the only suitor that would guarantee Mackey stay on as Whole Foods’ CEO.
Of the stakeholder model that Mackey pioneered Amazon’s practices seem to most identify with the two closest to the Orange system; stock value and customer satisfaction. While Mackey might have survived the toxic Only Money Matters wave to oust him from the company he founded, his long-term prospects of continuing a culture of Conscious Capitalism at Amazon are highly unlikely. In a Harvard Business School case study concluded recently, the authors acknowledge that Amazon’s acquisition resulted in a classic case of culture clash. They conclude that Amazon’s philosophy of an intense, data-driven culture of efficiency being forced on Whole Foods’ team members, who have historically identified with autonomy and employee-empowerment, is forcing them and many in management to leave Whole Foods.
Although Amazon’s corporate culture is beyond the scope of this piece, the company is not known for fostering second tier practices. Born into the Age of Disruption, it is most valued for the proprietary technology it has created known as Amazon Web Services. Many business analysts agree that this is far more valuable for the future of online retail than the actual presence of brick and mortar stores such as Whole Foods. What makes this merger more punishing than a traditional Orange merger is the fact that far more weight is given to preserve the Amazon algorithms for efficiency than to the network of people who represented the distributed model for prosperity and the holistic interdependence that Whole Foods stood for.
This is an absolute form of Orange efficiency running on steroids that is now defining companies born into the Digital Age. Those are the new darlings of Wall Street who are nourished by an unlimited source of capital and view human input as an inefficiency to be replaced by an algorithm. This is late stage capitalism that continues to sew the seeds of its own destruction moving at the speed of light towards a devastating end.
Funding Models With Second Tier Potential
By having our hapless leaders extend the life of financial capitalism through bailouts and continuous flows of liquidity, we’ve enabled the most dangerous actors in the Orange system to continue their destructive drive towards permanent economic damage. Second tier potential has been hijacked or temporarily delayed by the inevitable attraction to personal wealth. But business leaders with second tier planetary thinking can avoid these pitfalls and hold on to their conscious vision with a better understanding of the current toxicity of capital markets. While the majority of corporations that provide employment and economic sustenance are privately held, companies that need to raise capital should have an alternative to Wall Street. The following choices, along with the continued rise in second tier consciousness have the potential to transform businesses into healthy elements of a globally sustainable ecosystem.
1. Reversing the Wall Street model by going private. A common characteristic among founder CEOs who exhibit Yellow thinking is their love for their business creations. Nowhere is this more apparent that with John Mackey who considers Whole Foods his baby and his employees his children. These types of convictions cause business owners to think long-term, and often times in direct conflict with Wall Street values. To avoid the pitfalls of being enslaved by short-term demands made by bankers on publically held corporations, a business can remain privately held, or revert to being privately held after its stock became public. This is the case with the highly successful grocery chain Trader Joe’s, which has always been privately owned, employs over 40,000 people and has over $13 Billion in annual revenues. It’s former CEO Doug Rauch is the current co-CEO of Conscious Capitalism that thrives on Mackey’s original vision of the holistically interdependent stakeholder model.
There are several examples of corporations taken into private ownership after being publically held. Dell Computers was taken private by its founder who changed its business model and focused it on niche areas in computing away from Wall Street’s quarterly scrutiny.
Founder CEOs may not always have the resources or the connections for the private buyback of their companies’ stock, which should be an incentive to seek funding alternatives in place of going public. Among these alternatives are millennial entrepreneurs and angel investors born into the digital age who benefitted tremendously from Wall Street. To many of them money is viewed through the prism of the Orange-Green systems with little or no connection to the old Orange carbon-based economy. This class of investors is an open system and can easily be educated on the challenges the Yellow system faces from climate change to loss of biodiversity. With 100s of Billions at their disposal the scales can be tipped in favor of this source of second tier funding with the persistent message on sustainability practices and the survival of the planet.
2. Empowering mutual stock companies. In what is believed to be the most successful Green model for business ownership, mutual stock companies represent an attractive alternative to the centralized Orange corporate structure that dominates the economic landscape. This type of company is often highly specialized, single purpose enterprise that is owned by its local members. Currently, there is no better proven model for distributed prosperity and local control. When we speak of Holocracy as a Utopian second tier place to get to in the future, locally owed enterprise fashioned after the mutual stock company will be the catalyst that gets us there. While possessing all the elements needed for sustainability practices such as local sourcing and employment, the model allows its members to tap into the global knowledge network and bring forth the latest in best practices. If the future is decentralized, as the evolutionary trajectory suggest, then mutually owned enterprise that informs itself globally and acts locally is a key element that transitions us to a second tier economic system.
3. Going public with a “Benefit” Corporation. According to it’s online portal, a Benefit Corporation is described as follows:
A new legal tool to create a solid foundation for long-term mission alignment and value creation. It protects mission through capital raises and leadership changes, creates more flexibility when evaluating potential sale and liquidity options, and prepares businesses to lead a mission-driven life post-IPO.
In short, this type of corporation has taken the aspirations of the Conscious Capitalism movement and formalized them to the next level for national and global reach. It makes the multi-stakeholder model the new standard for corporations that take their general public benefit seriously, while still having access to capital markets. The only exception is that this model forces capital markets to adopt second tier standards that have the potential to disrupt current short- term practices. By requiring its officers and directors to consider the impact of their decisions on society and the environment, in addition to the shareholder, a “B” corp. can begin to address many of the shortcomings of past corporate models. The lack of transparency that has been the source of so much popular anger towards the old corporate model will disappear under a B corp. as the law requires it to publish annual benefit reports of its social and environmental performance.
While this form of corporate ownership is new, the majority of states in the US have adopted it just in the last 10 years. As a sign of it’s global appeal, Italy was the first country to adopt a similar format in 2015. Today, many other countries are considering its adoption as an instrument to reverse the damage caused by old corporate models that primarly cared about financial returns. The success of this type of ownership would of course require a different type of shareholder. One who values return on second tier values as much as the return on capital investment. The former becoming more important that the latter as overall values shifts to Green and second tier consciousness.
As we inch closer to the Momentous Leap, history will remember the critical role the Age of Disruption played in getting there. Technology is forcing the acceleration of the evolutionary process and the mess that comes with it. It’s exposing the shortcomings of humanity in successive, rapid-fire bursts that require urgent and collective actions. We are witnessing 8,000 years of history pass us by in a flash. It is messy and chaotic. It is often filled with unpredictability, false starts and regressions, but like any evolutionary process it also shows us a glimpse of the future.
The Age of Disruption has coincided with the existential threat of climate change, which is subjecting this era of human existence to the multitude of Second Order changes all at once. In this hot mess, we are rapidly abandoning the values of scarcity, the institutions and the organizational structure we created around them. Financial capital is being replaced by human and societal capital. At the same time we are participating in the creation of a new world guided by abundance and surrounded by beauty. While old paradigms disappear, new ones are competing vigorously to define our future. We are being forced to adopt second tier values more out of necessity than conscious evolution and it’s happening at the speed of light. We have exponentially increased the capacities of the Yellow system. What is good, true and beautiful today may not be so tomorrow. What is being born is a new system that is empowered by the human spirit that sees beyond division and discord and is inspired by radical inclusion and co-creation. All this splendor and darkness is playing out simultaneously on a human journey driven by a never-ending quest.
Beck, Don E. “The Many Dimensions of Change.” Kosmos Journal, Spring/Summer 2009. https://www.kosmosjournal.org/article/the-many-dimensions-of-change/ Retrieved May 2, 2018.
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Dawlabani, Said E. MEMEnomics, the Next Generation Economic System, Select Books, Inc., NY, 2013 p. 158-164.
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Nick Turner, Selina Wang, and Spencer Soper, “Amazon to Acquire Whole Foods for $13.7 Billion”, Bloomberg, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-06-16/amazon-to-acquire-whole-foods-in-13-7-billion-bet-on-groceries Retrieved March 23, 2018.
Michael Blanding, “Amazon vs Whole Foods: When Cultures Collide”, Harvard Business School Working Knowledge, https://hbswk.hbs.edu/item/amazon-vs-whole-foods-when-cultures-collide?cid=spmailing-20188797-WK%20Newsletter%2005-16-2018%20(1)-May%2016,%202018 Retrieved May 23, 2018.
Benefit Corporation, “What is a Benefit Corporation?”, http://benefitcorp.net Retrieved May 23, 2018.
About The Author
Said E. Dawlabani is a cultural economist, consultant, and public speaker specializing in the Gravesian approach to value systems and cultural change. He is the author of the 2013 book MEMEnomics; The Next-Generation Economic System. His writings have been compared to those of Peter Lynch, Charlie Munger and Warren Buffet. The book has been translated to several languages and was a 2014 finalist for the prestigious Eric Hoffer Award. Dawlabani is the founder of The Memenomics Group, a consultancy that frames organizational management issues through the Gravesian model on sustainability. He works closely with renowned geopolitical adviser, Dr. Don E. Beck, one of the architects behind South Africa’s transition from Apartheid and co-author of Spiral Dynamics, the most authoritative theory on value systems. Prior to his current career Dawlabani had a prominent 25-year career in the brokerage, development and investment counseling sectors of the real estate industry. He is an active contributor to The Huffington Post, Kosmos Journal, and The Integral Leadership Review. His work was featured in the prestigious Leader to Leader Journal. He is a prolific blogger and author of several papers on the value systems approach to economic policy and geopolitical strategy. He has been a guest on several radio programs on NPR, PRN, and Voice of America offering his perspective on economics, politics and value systems. He has been quoted by prominent print media like Newsweek, The Christian Science Monitor and others on his views on values systems and the economy including economic systems in China, Japan and the Middle East. Dawlabani is also the COO and member of the Board of Directors of The Center for Human Emergence Middle East, a think tank that frames political and economic issues facing the region through the prism of value systems. He is a guest lecturer on the topic of transformational leadership at the Adizes Graduate Institute in Santa Barbara, and the University of Virginia. He can be reached by email at: email@example.com