Robin Lincoln Wood
During the 1960’s and 1970’s there was a growing awareness amongst political, cultural, business and scientific leaders around the globe that the spread of nuclear weapons and our excessive exploitation of the earth’s precious resources might spell the end of humanity as we know it. As Albert Einstein had put it a few decades earlier:
“The world we have made, as a result of the level of thinking we have done thus far, creates problems we cannot solve at the same level of thinking at which we created them.”
In 1974, the American psychologist Clare Graves published a paper entitled ‘Human Nature Prepares for a Momentous Leap’ in which he argued that human society is facing a period of fundamental change, “the most difficult, but at the same time the most exciting transition the human race has faced to date.” Graves believed that humanity was at the beginning of “not merely a transition to a new level of existence, but the start of a new movement in the symphony of human history”.
According to Graves’ predictions, humanity had to collectively make a conscious choice between three distinct possibilities for the future of human society:
- A massive regression back to Stone Age beginnings if we fail to stabilize our world’s weapons and endangered resources.
- A version of George Orwell’s 1984, embodied in forms of tyrannical, manipulative governments with glossed over communitarian overtones.
- The emergence of a Second-Tier approach to business and society which would be fundamentally different from the one we know today, equipped to act locally and plan globally while acting globally and planning locally at the same time.
After more than a quarter century of research into how humans live, act, engage in decision- making processes, and change as participants of complex systems, Graves provided a dynamic map of the developmental stages of human consciousness, value systems and worldviews. He described a number of behavioural systems, based on the biological, psychological and social way of relating to the wider world — the whole — that these “biopsychosocial systems” result in, a legacy preserved and popularised by Dr Don Beck.
Graves described this leap as follows in this article for the Futurist magazine in 1974:
“As man moves from the sixth or personalistic level, the level of being with self and other men, the seventh level, the cognitive level of existence, a chasm of unbelievable depth of meaning is crossed. The gap between the sixth level and the seventh level is the gap between getting and giving, taking and contributing, destroying and constructing. It is the gap between deficiency or deficit motivation and growth or abundance motivation. It is the gap between similarity to animals and dissimilarity to animals, because only man is possessed of a future orientation.”
This momentous leap matters because the survival of humankind and much of the biosphere depends on it. World leaders agree that we need to make fundamental shifts in every aspect of our existence in the next decade or so, which requires a fundamental shift in the consciousness of our leaders, ourselves and the cultures we currently operate from and in.
Closing the Momentous Gap with a Momentous Leap
“What would it take for our planet to thrive?”, Said Dawlabani asked me early in 2018 when inviting me to give a speech to the Spiral Dynamics Summit on the Future. It’s a great question, and indeed it provoked me to dig deep into my own thinking, experiences and resources to come up with an answer in the 50 minutes allotted to me. I was also fortunate to have fifteen other gifted speakers plus an audience of some seventy experienced practitioners to put some flesh on the bones of an answer to that momentous question.
My short answer to Said’s question would be:
“In order for our planet to thrive, we need to close the momentous environmental and social gaps we face, through a momentous leap. This momentous leap involves a global shift in mindsets amongst those that are shaping the future of our planet, in ways that drive worldshifts capable of closing the momentous gap, leading us to a thriving future where all life on earth can flourish. Those mindshifts, however, must also be accompanied by capability and culture shifts if they are to scale and engage those key decision makers and their stakeholders effectively. Finally, we need to encourage the emergence of more effective global governance systems that support thriveable transformation.”
If we wish to shape thriveable futures, rather than simply react or adapt to what life conditions impose on us, we must master values and complexity. We have seen that chaos and confusion are always relative to the perspective we apply to a situation. Those with more complex worldviews are able to recognise patterns in apparently random, unpredictable situations, and use those patterns to help shape more thriveable outcomes.
The Momentous Leap Professor Clare Graves described in his 1974 paper to the American Psychological Association, involved the ability to cross a chasm of unbelievable depth of meaning in his research subjects. What exactly did he mean by that mysterious phrase? Graves estimated in 1974 that 1 in 10,000 brains had developed different biological features and frequencies: that these people didn’t conform to the norms of society because their minds were wired for a different paradigm.
Following his discovery of the six value systems that evolved through Eras 1 (traditional and agricultural), 2 (modern and industrial) and 3 (post-modern and global), Graves had stumbled upon human minds that would come to characterise Era 4 thinking and action, which he called “Second Tier” to distinguish it from the “First Tier” or the first six value systems in Eras 1-3. Such “Second Tier” thinking is characterised by an integrative capability: to understand the bigger picture and recognize that the six value systems in Eras 1-3 are crucially important to the whole and to the evolutionary process.
This seventh level integrative capability is then followed by an eighth level holistic thinking capability which not only understands the bigger picture but is also able to incorporate all of the previous value systems and ways of being and doing, along with the multiple levels of interaction, harmonics and energetic dynamics that are going on below the surface.
Roughly 90% of Earth’s population is still operating in First-Tier Thinking in Eras 1-3, where each level and Era is busy trying to convince the others that they are wrong, that they can’t see what is happening right in front of their eyes. This is one of the main reasons that we see so much apparent chaos and confusion as these three Eras and six value systems have all been mashed together by globalisation, leading to inevitable conflicts and misunderstandings around the world. This is one of the many reasons we must accelerate the momentous leap to integrated, second-tier thinking and action if we are to co-create the foundations for a thriving global civilisation by 2050.
What Exactly do we mean by “The Momentous Leap”?
The momentous leap takes many forms and can be observed shape-shifting as it emerges and evolves in various parts of the world. The scientists, mystics and philosophers appear to have begun articulating more complex, integrative, evolutionary and realistic ways of thinking and being more than a century ago, and this has indeed strongly shaped the emergence of modernism and post-modernism and our globalized modern world as we know it.
By the turn of the 21st century, what pre-eminent management guru Peter Drucker called: “Getting into our strategic psychological helicopter and transcending the problem” became more in evidence in executive and political corridors of power. This enabled challenges to be viewed from multiple perspectives, producing solutions at emergent levels of thinking that had never been tried before.
There are slightly over one million people who run the global political economy, as documented in global networks such as Boardex. These are among the 1.5 million readers of the Economist magazine, and also the millions of leaders who actively own and manage most of the world’s financial, infrastructure and manufactured capital. Some of these leaders are part of the leap, remaining largely “undercover” as they shift their policies, businesses and investments toward renewable energy, resilient cities, circular economies and conscious leadership – although more are now coming out into the open as this way of doing things becomes more mainstream. These are the enlightened mainstream leaders.
Those making the leap from the cultural creative world also number in the many millions, especially the activists, organisers and civil society leaders. Together with artistic, cultural, design and social leaders, we see a tsunami of talent bent on doing well by doing good, dedicated to making a better world and a positive difference. The Millennials are just the latest wave of the generations now surfing this big wave, which embraces a broad diversity of often visionary and long-sighted actors of all ages that are reshaping whole social, economic, cultural and educational systems in more holistic, joined up ways.
The historical roots of the leap straddle West and East, North and South. In particular, the synthesis in the past century between eastern mystical and western rational traditions has enriched both sides of the debate, and given rise to much that is now taken for granted in helping accelerate the momentous leap, whether it be depth psychology, meditation, mindfulness, various forms of yoga, together with other practices that have become an essential part of what is now often called “integral” or “second-tier” ways of thinking, being and doing.
While several hundred million cultural creatives and the tens of millions of enlightened mainstream leaders in science, business, politics and civil society are making the leap now and in the next few decades, we are seeing a great shift in what is considered to be acceptable and desirable in our collective evolution, and a deepening of our ability to make good happen along clearly defined pathways to a thriving future. Slowly, but surely, we are able to take more seriously our emerging ability to transform what is not working and to renew and cherish what is, so that we can manage the massive challenges and opportunities posed by this new movement in the symphony of human history.
What does this Momentous Leap mean for our Future?
Most people are struggling to make sense of the rapid unfolding of events and shifts that have taken place in the first few decades of the 21st century. A few billion employed people, investors, politicians and business owners are experiencing unprecedented comfort, security and convenience. Meanwhile, a few billion of us are struggling to make ends meet and survive, and another few billion are suffering in various ways from hunger, poverty, lack of water and few prospects of things getting any better.
A century ago, almost the entire planet was ruled by colonial Empires, and their Emperors, Kings and Queens. There were a few exceptions, ruled by elected Presidents, including America. People “knew their place”, and it was more or less accepted that the rich would get richer and the poor would have children. Then, in less than a century, all that changed. 76 countries are now full or slightly flawed democracies (North and Latin America plus Western Europe), while 40 are hybrid regimes (in Asia, Central/Eastern Europe and Sub-Saharan Africa) and 51 are authoritarian regimes (most in the Middle East and Northern Africa).
The 20th century saw almost half the world shift from autocratic to democratic systems of governance, while also seeing average incomes per person rise five times in developed countries and 2.5 times in developing countries. It seemed that the magic combination of a mixed economy and democracy plus rising levels of education were delivering prosperity for all. Until the dotcom bubble burst in 2000, it seemed that progress was inevitable everywhere.
During the first two decades of the 21st century, however, things started going backwards. In this time there has been a failure of democracy in 25 countries, together with subtle degradations in democratic rights in a number of western democracies. At the same time, The Gini coefficient, a standard measure of income inequality, increased by almost 10% between 1980 to 2010.
While the incomes of the world’s poorest have risen substantially in countries like China and India in the past fifty years, the middle classes have seen their incomes and wealth decline sharply in the last few decades in developed economies, causing the rise of populism and general dissatisfaction with the “system”, as the wealth of the richest ten percent has grown by leaps and bounds.
The clashes between the rising tide of liberal/socialist cultural creative values, neo-liberal/ conservative modernist values and the backlash of traditional values segments of populations everywhere, combined with rising inequality and uncertainty, has led to a potentially explosive situation where everyone is unhappy with the direction things are going in, with only the top 10% laughing uneasily all the way to the bank. But even the levels of happiness in this segment are not rising, as a great deal of pressure is now on the richest 10% to help improve the overall situation and also pay their fair share of taxes.
On top of all this, we find the lowest levels of trust in politics, business and the establishment in general, ever, and rising threats from climate change and over-consumption of the earth’s precious resources driving unprecedented suffering due to heat waves, droughts, wildfires, floods, extreme storms, rising sea levels and the exhaustion of our food supplies, soil and oceans looming. No wonder life seems to be more confusing and harder than ever for so many of us. Where is this all going, and what can we possibly do to make things better, we ask ourselves? Let’s begin by developing a more powerful model that can helps us understand the major shifts that are driving the momentous leap right now around the planet.
Leaps Happen Between Layers in Stratified Systems
The history of humankind comprises a series of momentous leaps between successive layers of increasingly complex ways of being. Right now, we are at one of the major turning points for our species. The decisions we make going forward, especially in the next decade, will shape the future of homo sapiens and life on earth for many centuries, if not millennia, to come.
Geology, evolution, cultures and progress all have one thing in common: they are laid down one layer at a time, so that it is possible to see the different layers from the oldest to the newest, the oldest at the bottom and the newest at the top, if we dig deep enough. These layers, or “strata”, give rise to the name we give these systems: “Stratified systems”.
Each time a new layer is added to a stratified system, new materials and a large amount of energy are mixed into a solution that eventually solidifies under pressure to become the next layer in the system. Take a look at what we call the geological record, or the fossil record to see these different layers, graphically arranged before your eyes. Gravity compresses them together over time.
In human stratified systems we can most easily see the layers of civilisation through ancient archaeological sites, whether ancient Greek temples in the Mediterranean, or the Roman walls emerging in parts of the City of London. Within several vertical metres one can see thousands of years of history piled on top of each other, layer by layer. Each layer represents a hundred or so years of human events, from the first marble stones laid for the first temple, to the ruins left by fires and conquests, to the next layer of wooden houses in Shakespeare’s time, until we find the red bricks of Victorian days and then the concrete and steel of modern times.
Stratified systems that are invisible to the naked eye are, however, much harder for the layperson to see or understand, much as the workings of the human body were a mystery until the practice of anatomy and dissection revealed the many systems comprising the living human organism. When we attempt to understand the needs, values, priorities and intentions of living systems and how they interact and co-evolve with the other stratified systems that constitute their life conditions, we must resort to maps and models with sufficient dimensionality to represent such interactions and their outcomes.
We must not only scale up the technological and scientific solutions needed to avert a global catastrophe- we must go deeper to redesign and shift our psychological, organisational and social habits as part of the next momentous leap. The significant breakthroughs in biology, psychology, neurology, cognitive science and sociology in the past century, enable us to better map and model the interactions between living and stratified systems of all kinds. This has given us deep insights into the evolution of life, civilisation and our species, together with some predictive powers that have helped us design better life conditions and interactions that are conducive to thriving rather than struggling and suffering.
Our beautiful blue pearl of spaceship earth is host to 7.6 billion earthlings, in the midst of at least eight major transitions through four eras. The “Momentous Leap” describes the leap into Era 4 – the post-global, post-modern leap to a distributed network of globally interconnected but autonomous projects and programs that not only knit together the best of diverse eras and cultures, but at the same time ensure this is done so as to enhance the ability of each autonomous unit to thrive in its own unique way. In other words: “Think global, act local and synergise the interactions of diverse eras and cultures to produce beneficial, thriveable outcomes locally and globally”.
Momentous Leap Transcends & Includes 3 Eras
The momentous leap taking place right now across our globe is being driven by the rising tide of cultural creative values and liberal/socialist tendencies in the younger generations, comprising somewhere in the order of a billion people. Those in the mainstream with progressive modernist values are also shifting toward complex, integrative, realistic ways of thinking and doing, while there is a predictable backlash of traditional values segments of populations everywhere who feel left behind and ignored by both the cultural creatives and the progressive modernists.
The key feature of the momentous leap we are now in is the joined-up nature of complex, integrative, realistic ways of thinking and doing. This co-creative, networked way of generating distributed power amongst globally interconnected but autonomous projects and programs knits together the best of diverse eras and cultures to create beneficial outcomes. What is often called an “integral approach” integrates the best of human capabilities that we have developed over the past 20 000 years of our evolution. We humans possess tremendous adaptive capacities, grounded in our having already transitioned through three major evolutionary eras:
Era 1 – Tribal/Traditional – We must build on our ability to forge strong bonds to ensure our local survival and thriving. These ethnocentric bonds and expressive talents are native to all of us, enabling us to take care of each other and the places we care for and hold sacred, while also exploring and connecting with nature and each other at a local level.
Era 2 – Modern/City-Nation States – We can build on our ability to manage cities, regions and nation states in more thriveable ways, respecting the rule of law and building intelligent infrastructures and systems fit for the future, based on enlightened entrepreneurship, conscious business sense and innovation. These civic-centric and enterprise-centric talents are increasingly evident around the world, from the developed nations to what were previously termed “developing countries”.
Era 3 – Post-Modern/Global – Finally, we can build on our ability to evolve our global systems embodied in our global treaties, international institutions, corporations, markets and flows of people, goods, information and goodwill, so that our global systems also become a driver of a thriveable future for us all. These world-centric talents are now evident in nearly one billion global citizens, who are sufficiently educated and travelled that they can appreciate the glorious diversity of our species and other species.
As we enter Era 4, we now have the capacity to rapidly accelerate the evolution of our species, based on thriveable cultures, mindsets, principles and metrics. The forces and trends shaping our world and us are creating crises that demand a momentous leap from our previously lose-lose/win-lose “us versus them” mentality, to a co-creative, collaborative win/win/win approach.
This “triple win” is fundamental to aligning the interests and mindsets of all people on the planet, whatever kind of transition they are in and whatever their era: a win for each of us as individuals and for our communities, a win for the cities/towns/nations we live in, and a win for the planet as a whole. That is the whole point of the synergistic innovation driving integral approaches: co-creating triple wins that generate thriveable futures and ensure a viable biosphere and life conditions for us all by 2050. On the way to this co-creative triple-win Era 4, however, we must navigate the chaordic zone.
Transcending the Chaordic Zone Toward a Flourishing Future
Dee Hock, the founder of VISA, coined the term “chaordic”. Hock argues that traditional organizational forms can no longer work because organizations have become too complex, advocating a new organizational form that he calls “chaordic”, or simultaneously chaotic and orderly. He credits the worldwide success of VISA with its chaordic structure – it is owned by its member banks that both compete with each other for customers and must cooperate by honouring one another’s transactions across borders and currencies.
In the chaordic zone we can see the transition from order to chaos, and also the emergence of order out of chaos. This is the “edge of chaos” where new complex systems emerge, whether they are biological, cultural or economic systems. This is also where disruptive and breakthrough innovations and transformations happen, as old institutions and organisations are no longer able to address the existential problems generated by the emerging levels of complexity in the dominant socio-economic design and its unintended side-effects.
Each Era is driven by a dominant socio-economic design that defines the taken for granted assumptions about “the way things are” and “the way things are done around here”. For example, in traditional Era 1, it is assumed that one’s primary loyalty is to the extended family and local “tribe” in a community, and ways of making a living are closer to nature with farming, fishing and forestry, or a dominant industry in the local community such as mining or raw material processing. Small to medium sized towns and rural areas generally retain this dominant socio-economic design even if they are linked into a larger Era 2 or 3 system, through a mall, warehouses or a light industrial zone.
In modern city/nation centric Era 2 the dominant socio-economic design is shaped by the organs of the city and the nation state, with local and national small and medium sized enterprises in the majority, while in Era 3 global corporations, digital platforms and regional/global governance and civil society shape the dominant design that makes this system viable.
The dominant design of Era 3 post-modern global capitalism peaked in the 1990’s and is increasingly showing its age. The wealthiest 10% in the Era 3 system are now mainly focused on accumulating and conserving their capital, at the cost of decreasing the system’s resilience to disruptions. While the wealth of the top 10% may have enabled them to capture entire states and systems of governance even in “democratic systems”, it is evident that this is failing to prevent a period of creative destruction whereby previously accumulated capital is released for new purposes.
We are now in this “chaordic zone” in the final stages of Era 3, where a new order (Era 4) is slowly emerging out of the chaos of the collapse of the old. This is a time of innovation and reorganisation, which loosens the rigidity of the dominant institutions such as giant financial institutions, corporations and governance Empires and creates spaces for the new to emerge.
We are at a unique historical moment where globally interconnected collaborative and social media platforms are energising the momentous leap, which is made possible by the new connections emerging from the interactions on such platforms. Such interactions are also driving accelerated learning and innovations so that this will be the fastest leap in history. It could also be the most dangerous.
Given the global and local challenges we face, including climate change, mass migrations, pandemics and economic collapse, we must make every effort to enhance our ability to collaborate for thriveable outcomes for ourselves and our planet.
The question of ultimate concern is: will Era 4 engage and scale fast enough to ensure we make it through into the 22nd century as a species?
You will find the answers to this question in my new book:
“The Momentous Leap – Thriveable Transformation in the 21st Century”.
- The Momentous Leap – Thriveable Transformation in the 21st Dr Robin Lincoln Wood. 2018
- Making Good Happen- Pathways to a Thriving Future. Dr Robin Lincoln Wood. 2017
- Synergise! 21st Century Leadership. Dr Robin Lincoln Wood. 2017
- A Leaders Guide to ThriveAbility. Dr Robin Lincoln Wood. 2015
- The Trouble with Paradise: A Humorous Enquiry into the Puzzling Human Condition in the 21st Century. Dr Robin Lincoln Wood. 2014
- LifeShift 2020 – A Companion Guide to the Great Shift. Dr Robin Lincoln Wood. 2009
- The Great Shift: Catalysing the Second Renaissance. Dr Robin Lincoln Wood. 2009
- Managing Complexity: How Businesses can Adapt and Prosper in the Connected Economy. Dr Robin Lincoln Wood. 2000
- Spiral Dynamics- Mastering Values, Leadership and Change. Don Edward Beck and Christopher C. Cowan. Blackwell Publishing. 2005
 The Gini coefficient is a standard measure of income inequality that ranges from 0 (when everybody has identical incomes) to 1 (when all income goes to only one person).
 From the first chapter of which this short article was extracted and tailored for this Integral Leadership Review Special Edition.
About The Author
Dr Robin Wood advises leaders and organisations world-wide on designing and delivering thriveable strategies. Over 4 decades he has worked with hundreds of Global 1000 clients and also created several commercial and socially innovative startups. He advises the Thriveable Investment Fund and focuses on developing leaders and boards capable of delivering thriving futures. He is the author of eight books, dozens of articles, and has won many awards for his writing and speaking.
Fabulous! Thank you for this deeply resonant depiction of the momentous leap. I stumbled across this article while also in the midst of revamping my website and writing about very similar themes.