Tribal Leadership Stage One: From an Integral Theory & Spiral Dynamics Perspective is Beige

I recently returned from working with the executive team of a not for profit organization in Brazil, called Reviravolta, (which means “turnaround” when translated to English). This program works with homeless people of Sao Paulo to re-integrate them back into society or to help them turn around their lives. Homelessness is a problem because this is a part of society that becomes invisible and we tend to forget or ignore their situation.

In 2008, my colleagues, Dave Logan, John King, and Halee Fischer-Wright completed a 12 year study of over 24,000 people and published the study as the book, Tribal Leadership: Leveraging Natural Groups to Build a Thriving Organization. They came up with a simple way to measure the cultural stage of a group, or what we call a tribe. Tribes and people go through stages of development, and according to their research, tribes operate at five different cultural stages, with Stage One at the bottom and Stage Five at the top.

The general description of Stage One is that the language used is “life sucks,” and people act out in despairingly hostile ways. Most of the time, when I hear others talking about Stage One, I hear about street gangs and prisons. In the context of the work force, it is violence and accounting scandals.

“All of this leads to a mood of despairing hostility. People give in to their desires. They act against their values, and everything is permissible: violence, suicide, drugs, any kind of sex. If indulged long enough, these appetites turn into addictions, reinforcing the person’s view that life sucks.” (Tribal Leadership, p. 46)

Through my work with this executive team, I have another perspective of Stage One. The homeless people at Reviravolta are not violent and are not hostile; yet clearly, for them, “life sucks” as would for any of us in their situation.

According to the philosopher Ken Wilber and the authors of the book, Spiral Dynamics, Don Beck and Chris Cowan, “All stages co-exist in both healthy and unhealthy states, whereby any stage of development can lead to undesirable outcomes with respect to the health of the human and social environment.” In their human development model, beige is the lowest stage and is described as a worldview, culture, and mental attitude of basic survival; food, water, warmth, sex, and safety have priority. This is also consistent with the bottom stage in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

I believe that the violent and hostile nature of Stage One is the unhealthy state of Stage One and not its sole nature. The other side, which isn’t healthy, but perhaps less unhealthy is simply despair. This is a group of people who are homeless and hopeless. What the work of Reviravolta does is provide hope that life can be different. By providing a place of the homeless to work, earn some money, wear clean clothes, get a shower and a meal, they are creating a Stage Two culture that gives these people a new possibility.

It was inspirational to work with this executive team that is making a difference towards eliminating homelessness in Sao Paulo and providing a model for the rest of the world. If you would like to contribute to their cause, please contact Vivian: (11) 3311-9928 e (11) 3311-9961 or email: