08/29 – Interstate Bus Lines:  A Tribal Centre of Gravity in Need of Functioning Blue

Rica Viljoen

Rica Viljoen

Rica Viljoen


In his 2006 book, The Crucible – Forging South Africa’s Future, Don Beck[1] described that thinking systems are deep-core intelligences that form as a coping response to changing life conditions. He promised Clare Graves[2] that he would always work theoretically purely, and over the years highlighted the following assumptions:




  • Human nature is not static; it changes as it adapts to new systems. Yet, the old systems must be integrated and transcended, or the benefits of this thinking system will not serve us.
  • When a new system is activated, our rules for living change to adapt to the new conditions.
  • We live in an open system of values where an infinite number of ways of living are available – there is no final state to which we all must aspire.
  • An individual, organisation and/or society can respond positively only to the memes with which they relate.

Gravesian Principles that Underpin Human Niches

Spiral dynamics is thus a coiled spring of value systems, worldviews and mind-sets, each the product of its times and conditions.[3] In Table 1 below, the 12 Gravesian principles are described.

Table 1:  Twelve Gravesian principles applied

Questions of existence of human niches

A human niche, Laubscher[4] explained, is something at which humans excel. In answer to the question of existence that people and groups of people unconsciously ask, a specific human niche or way of being crystallises. The human niches are described and integrated with spiral dynamics as follows:Questions of Existence of Human Niches

Turquoise:                   How can the galaxy be sustained?

Yellow:                         How can you and I survive?

Green:                         How can we sacrifice for the benefit of the world and peace?

Orange:                       How can I conquer the material world and take calculated risks?

Blue:                            How can we sacrifice to prepare for the future?

Red:                            How can I get power?

Purple:                         How can we sacrifice for the benefit of the community, family or elders?

Beige:                          How do I survive?

Various systems all bring unique gifts according to their different niches. Theoretically, each shift from system to system allows individuals and society to transcend and include the gift offered by the previous system. However, owing to the tension that must be built up to let go of a specific thinking structure and embody a new niche, the previous system is often rejected. While we as social systems continue to reject previous niches, we will never be integral as a collective whole.

Organising Archetypes of Human Niches

In Figure 1 below the archetypes of different thinking systems are presented.

Figure 1: Archetypes of different thinking systems (adapted from Laubscher, 2013)(5)

The different colours that are used to distinguish the various thinking systems are indicated in the first line of Figure 1 above. In the second line, the oscillating nature of the spiral is indicated with a rhythm of expressive (idealistic) to sacrificial (collective) and back again to a different organising capability as individualistic. This nature occurs for all the thinking systems. The first six systems function on fear; BEIGE fears not being able to survive, PURPLE is fearful of being excluded from the community, RED is fearful of losing power, BLUE is concerned about moral decay and that rules are broken, ORANGE is driven by not achieving, and GREEN is preoccupied with the survival of the planet. A huge chasm occurs after GREEN, when YELLOW emerges from the egoless GREEN pattern. YELLOW is driven by hope – hope for self and hope for the collective. This continues in emerging systems. If we design strategy or models we must design them from a place of hope.

In order to weave together a collective tapestry of being and inclusivity in an organisation, all the different human niches should be respected and valued, but must be kept responsible for collective goals. BEIGE must be sustained; PURPLE must be able to bring its soulful nature, insight of humanity and self-organising humane rhythm to the table; RED has to bring energy and daily rejuvenation of willingness to make things happen; BLUE’s structure and compliance are needed; ORANGE’s calculated risk and enterprising ability have to be utilised; and GREEN has to bring inclusivity and participation. YELLOW leadership has the capacity to wire together the various gifts in an integral approach towards systemic healing, enabling a sustained transformation.

A description of each human niche that explains the nature of the system follows, after which the archetype is presented. The archetype is a symbol of the organising pattern that describes the underlying thinking in a system. In the bottom line of Figure 3.1 above, the various motives or drivers of the systems are described. Laubscher[6], in her 50-year immersion in spiral dynamics theory and even longer study of African and Eastern philosophies, determined the percentages of occurrence of a specific human niche in South African societies in her PhD thesis. Listed in the blocks below are descriptions of the respective niches.

More emphasis is placed on the systems that typically play out in business. Further knowledge of spiral dynamics can be accessed by reading Inclusive Organisational Transformation through Inclusivity, Organisational Change and Development[7] (2015). It is not the purpose of this chapter to provide a complete account of the various systems – rather, an overview is presented. The parts that are presented here are the parts that we carefully selected to prove context for the drama that is playing out.

The various human niches are summarised below.


Beck and Cowan (1996, p. 196) described BEIGE as automatic, autistic and reflective. They say that this thinking system centres on the satisfaction of the very basic human biological needs, and that it is driven by deep brain programmes, instincts and genetics. According to them, BEIGE shows little awareness of self as an undifferentiated being. As people with Beige codes survive at the most basic level, the key focus of this question of existence is to satisfy physiological needs; to sometimes form protective, supportive bands; to exist as biological units; and to simply to make it through the night or day.

BEIGE is based on the primal desire to survive; its key traits are therefore involved with self-preservation. Laubscher (2013) noted that BEIGE’s outlook is survival at every level of being, while Beecroft (2014, p. 29) explained that with BEIGE thinking, the mind, spirit and body are fully focused on survival. BEIGE is highly instinctive and those tribal people who remain untouched by the complexities of higher levels are often able to see, hear and smell better, and can, for example, sense changes in the weather (Laubscher, 2013). Laubscher reported that BEIGE people have 26 senses; they can even smell water. She passionately asked who can still today smell water, or know which leaves to suck on to survive alone in the desert.

BEIGE people act immediately in the interests of their survival (Beecraft, 2014, p. 29) which is a pressing daily issue, hence BEIGE people must be totally in touch with what it takes to survive otherwise they will not. Laubscher (2013) warned that if our society fails to heed the warnings of climate change and there is catastrophic collapse, it is possible that the survivors will be those who are best able to remember and access their BEIGE instincts. Current statistics indicate that 1 out of 127 people are dislocated or refugees[i], with merely a backpack, children that cannot be fed, and nowhere to go. These external conditions ask for BEIGE thinking to deal with the contextual dynamics. Loraine Laubscher and Rica Viljoen are currently busy with a study to ensure that the description of BEIGE is rich and populated in theory.

Low BEIGE people function like drug addicts, with only the next fix in mind; they will use the last money that is intended for food for their mothers to buy alcohol. BEIGE people who have been arrested have ways of surviving in the concrete juggle. Recently one of the four largest mining houses in the world launched a project to take beggars off the street. It failed because within weeks the beggars indicated that they would much rather take control into their own hands as to where they slept and found food and drink. High-functioning BEIGE people cope relatively well in society under strict conditions that may seem peculiar to others. One business leader was doing quite well in her IT job when one day management decided to change the kettle to an urn, which caused her to have a break-down. A kettle had to be bought for her so that the water would be the correct heat, otherwise things would fall apart.

The observant reader may become aware that more references are used for the description of BEIGE in this text – more so than for other thinking systems. A large scale effort is being made to populate BEIGE with deeper, richer and more recent evidence – just as was the case with PURPLE five years ago. Most of the text available on BEIGE, describe it from another thinking system.  Effort is now made internationally to immerge into BEIGE and describe the phenomenon in an ethnographic way. The research process is almost complete and will be published in a book called, Spiral Dynamics in Action: Humanity’s Master Code.[8]

Companies cannot deny that some members of their workforce are BEIGE. In a more idealistic interpretation of the theory, claims are made that if we heal poverty, we will transcend BEIGE. All current research shows that to a degree some people will move, but a great percentage of BEIGE will remain BEIGE. We must also remember that one thinking system is not better than another – it just has different gifts to offer the world.  The question to be asked is whether you would still have the intelligence to survive if you were dropped in a desert today, whether it is the Sahara or a concrete desert?

In Figure 2, the dynamics of BEIGE are visually displayed.

Functioning Blue

Figure 2: The dynamics of Beige

From the figure 2 above it is clear that life conditions are viewed as a wild, almost physical or concrete jungle, where everyone is for their own.  It is a world full of drama, emotional eruptions, one-sided relationships, up and downs, and inconsistencies. Boundaries are haphazard – much is expected, but on the other hand, much is given away. From a psychological point of view, loyalty is eroded and a lot of blaming takes place. There is no interest in making things better, for example a sick person has an operation but is told that nothing will ever be better again. Money, presents, clothes and physical goods are given away without any money motive, only to look for the same objects the next day.

BEIGE are suspicious, even of their own children or parents; they often use their children as scapegoats. One child may support their father daily, while another sees their father once a year, however the first child must hear the whole time how good the other child is. They play people off each other for money or to meet other basic needs; their ability to manipulate people is impressive.

Strict conditions around them are allowed, which have to do with what they eat, what can be in their house, and who they allow close to them. As there is of sense of money, no sense of shame or guilt they often lash out with hurtful behaviour that becomes impossible for those who love them.

As building blocks people with an active BEIGE code acknowledge the church, society and family, but all these entities only have to fulfil basic roles, which is to fulfil basic needs and deal with the essential question of existence, namely survival.

Often their identity is disturbed; there are public display of distress, which often lead to incidents with authority. They can survive without working for money – a real superpower in a capitalist system. I like to call them the invisible ones.

They require specific items to feel a sense of worth; this may the next meal, the next sleeping tablet that makes them feel in control for a few hours, other substances or alcohol. Where they stay is important – hopefully in the Southern continent they must have a place that is north. They are suspicious of food – this may be because it may be old, poisoned or have garlic in it. Physical touch is also an issue here. They avoid it, are scared of it, feel claustrophobic, and have a sense of shame for smelling and being dirty. Eye contact is thus illusive; they do not want to see judgement in the eyes of others. It is important to remember that we are not dealing with intelligence but with thinking systems.

Lastly, as per Figure 3.2 above, society’s boundaries do not apply to them – they are fluid and move to where they can be left alone and construct a lifestyle that serves them – invisibly. In the textbox below, the percentage of people with Beige centres of gravity found in South Africa, is indicated (Viljoen, 2015: 58).


Although most descriptions of PURPLE portray it as animalistic, traditional and tribal, the contribution of Loraine Laubscher, and later Rica Viljoen and Loraine Laubscher, to position PURPLE as a rich, narrative, story-telling and wise system illustrates the deep relatedness that PURPLE brings to the kaleidoscope of differences.

In Figure 3 below, the inter-subjective interrelatedness of African PURPLE is presented.

Figure 3: The dynamics of PURPLE

Figure 3 above illustrates that PURPLE are the keepers of family relations and traditional ceremonies; they are the protectors of the old ways who honour individual and collective rituals. Consultation and harmony are important, and they express a sense of enchantment and magic in life’s mysteries. Animals are interwoven in the ecology of day-to-day human life; a tribe or clan often has a totem animal with characteristics that describe people who belong to the collective. This is sometimes helpful for the individual as collective traits are ascribed to them.

Children are also incorporated, and elders play an important role in family relations and society. PURPLE people are deeply bound to the positionality of their place in history, land and ancestry. They are aligned with the forces of nature, the sky and other natural occurrences; their souls belong to the land where they were born. PURPLE celebrates rituals, traditions and the community. Identity resides in being part of the collective, while music, like drumming and dancing, forms an integral part of celebrating and interacting with each other.

PURPLE people speak in stories, metaphors and examples. They do not like to expose the impact of leadership publicly, i.e. they save face and leaders are supported and respected publicly. In the same way, other team members must not be publicly disciplined or ridiculed – or even rewarded. A collective regulating mechanism is inherently present, which can be seen when PURPLE groups collectively engage without rules and regulations. A toyi-toyi[ii] march is an example of this; intuitively PURPLE people attract each other like mercury – there are collective struggle songs that were orally passed on by previous generations, and a very clear organising pattern is perceived. This self-organising can also be seen when the traffic in Dar es Salaam, Cairo, Mumbai and Rio de Janeiro is studied – the whole system acts with relatively few incidents and accidents, and without any traffic police or compliance processes.

Traditions, especially human traditions such as funerals, are celebrated. Often the ancestors or forefathers are consulted and acknowledged. Specific rituals celebrate the passing of a soul to a different plane, and there is a particular way of facilitating this movement to the spiritual realm. These traditions are also oral. Often, first-born children must go and find an uncle or relative to explain the ways of the collective if their father has passed on.

Children are very important in PURPLE, partly because they must later provide for the elders. Further, it is critical for PURPLE that children have better lives than they did, thus a good education is key. Good shoes are also a prerequisite, as PURPLE people must often walk long distances. The way in which PURPLE children are disciplined is humane, yet definite. The whole is always kept in mind.

For people with PUPRLE codes as centre of gravity, doing business entails a focus on relatedness, respect and a sense of dignity and belonging. They consult often with all relevant parties. PURPLE people greet others every time they see them as an acknowledgement of the awareness of membership of the whole. It is important to them to interact with their chiefs, elders, nanas, fathers or top managers. One should not make the mistake of thinking that PURPLE people are backwards or lazy, or that human niches correlate with intelligence. In fact, highly intelligent PURPLE leaders are often very successful in organisations due to their relational ability and their ability to resonate with others. What should be considered is that the ontology (how the world is perceived), the epistemology (how the individual relates to the world), and the organising capability (the archetypes in Figure 3.1 above) differ significantly between human niches. PURPLE people just want to organise in a PURPLE way and find the BLUE way of governance, structure, policy and standard operating procedures quite mechanistic, lifeless, and, in fact, boring and reductionist.

Low PUPRLE presents a thinking system that is darker in terms of magic and superstition. PURPLE people here are submissive, act collectively, and withdraw into an alternative conceptualisation of reality that is based on ecological constructs. The old ways are respected and lived by. Arrested PURPLE people exhibit good relations. There is a social structure that is kept, and over time the roles of the society often overwrite rules of organisations. Sometimes social pandemics such as xenophobia or tribalism can manifest in a protection to secure the future of the collective.  High PURPLE is royal, wise, deep and has a story-telling ability. They are relational and represent all the gifts that PURPLE can offer.

Vusi Vilikati[10]  warned that we should consider the way in which PURPLE identity is constructed, so that we do not attempt to use BLUE and ORANGE ways to try and develop PURPLE thinking – it will just slide off. One must intervene with organisational effectiveness or strategic HR interventions from within a system should we try to influence it, and not patronisingly from another system.

Companies with populations that can be described by PURPLE dynamics should strategise, translate and manoeuvre ways of taking the workforce with them in an effort to optimise the human energy in the system to perform. In the textbox below, the percentage of people with Purple centres of gravity found in South Africa, is indicated (Viljoen, 2015: 58).

Most organisational development initiatives in South Africa fail because strategists and business leaders do not consider that their workers are predominantly PURPLE. Ignoring this very important fact is an indicator that a good shareholder analysis was not done, that the socio-economic factors were not considered, or the assumption that others are like us, is alive and well in that system. Companies may just be surprised at the rich insights and soul that are unleashed when PURPLE ways are adopted. The fear that things will not happen, or that leadership will not make money or will lose control, is a stereotypical view, as within the very nature of PURPLE these aspects are evident; the way to release it in a system is just a different way.

By superimposing BLUE thinking, governance, organising and rules on PURPLE people, there will be a huge loss, as digital rules and regulations reduce the complexity and gifts of PURPLE wisdom and organising capability. The picture below portrays the impossibility of enforcing BLUE standard operating procedures, issues of discipline and rank, as well as activating in relation to the PURPLE self-organising structure. Relationships come first in PURPLE. Through solid relationships we can all play our own part in the human ecology. In Figure 4, the organising archetypes of PURPLE and BLUE are compared.

Functioning Blue

Figure 4: Organising archetypes of PURPLE and BLUE


It can be seen in Figure 4 above that the way in which PURPLE and BLUE organise are radically different.  In the words of Laubscher (2013), “BLUE rules glide off PURPLE beingness”.

Spiral Dynamics in Interstate Bus Line

Henk van Zyl insisted that a scientific cultural-sensitive culture study be done. The Benchmark of Engagement (BeQ) was used as a diagnostic tool, which indicated that most workers (90%) were PURPLE, yet 94% of management were BLUE. The climate study also showed high levels of risk-taking and low levels of rule following. These are aspects that are very important for quality behaviour.

The clash in thinking systems was clear; PURPLE people do not ask commercial questions. Laubscher (2013) explained that PURPLE is concerned with their elders, relationships and the old ways. They are close to nature, often worship their ancestors, and define ‘self’ differently than most academic books do. PURPLE has an analogue thinking system; PURPLE people think in metaphors and stories, not in bullet points and slide shows. Management at IBL (both ORANGE and BLUE), however, have digital thinking systems; they think linearly and point by point. Rules are important, and they conserve today for the future. Unlike PURPLE, they are on time; PURPLE could potentially pose a big problem for a bus company, since being on time is one of the drivers of success in this word. Another issue in terms of time was discipline. Due to the collective nature of PURPLE, strict and direct enforcement of rules and discipline is frowned upon by them. A way had to be found where PURPLE felt that they belonged, and that they were consulted on issues regarding production and discipline. Over the years a lot has been done in this organisation to build trust, thus co-determination became the logical next step.

As indicated before, more than 90% of the workers were PURPLE, while 3% RED was visible in the system. In effect, IBL is a PURPLE company. The leaders had to move through their own thinking structures to a place where they were unseen in order to see the social system of IBL as a whole. BLUE management and BLUE compliant systems did not value the PURPLE thinking system. A BLUE CEO was appointed with strong PURPLE residue, and an ORANGE CEO supported the CEO. A YELLOW. BLUE compliance structures were implemented.  The HR person assisted with the translation of different thinking structures to perform a BLUE system function. In effect, a way to align PURPLE’s energy around BLUE practices was required. As can be seen in the organising archetypes in Figure 3.4, BLUE thinking is autocratic, digital and linear, while PURPLE thinking is inclusive and circular. A PURPLE way of doing was needed.

This paper is a tribute to the lived history of Henk van Zyl, who through his visionary leadership, ability to speak PURPLE (amongst other colours), unwavering belief and ethical considerations created the catalytic transformation at IBL. This is a change that will be sustainable for years to come. If companies that function in collective societies adopt this progressive approach of van Zyl, it will enthuse the human dynamics and performance of all social systems that are willing to do what they must do more inclusively. This, in turn, could lead to doing humanity differently.[iii]


A huge amount of energy is needed to break away from the collective of PURPLE to become RED – a thinking structure that is not concerned with what has been, or with whom people are in relation to their families. Rather, the question emerges of WHO AM I? RED energy is needed to let go of the seduction of returning to the traditional ways, to be pulled back into the ways society wants things to be done, and for the individual voice to emerge. As Laubscher (2013) explained, RED people want to understand who they are – they want to be acknowledged for their unique contribution, and really have a need to be powerful. As can be seen in Figure 5, to let go of the South African PURPLE sense of nature and community and to become more integral, RED is needed. This thinking system allows individuals to individualise – to know who they are if they are not the tribe.

In low RED, behaviour easily becomes bullying, gas-lighting, persistence and even entitlement. This may even manifest in violence. Arrested RED is a place where people found the worth of RED, and how to use or misuse its power. They will probably not adopt another thinking system as the RED power-driven system gives them the power that they thrive on. They forever embody the worth of asking questions about self and obtaining power and acknowledgement instantly. High RED becomes hero- or warrior-like. They can jump in to save others but do it to feel more powerful.

In Figure 5 below, it can be seen that different thinking systems should come together around a superordinate goal. This means that people who are BEIGE, YELLOW, PURPLE, RED, BLUE or GREEN all have a gift to offer to the whole.

Functioning Blue

Figure 5: The role of RED in individualisation[11]

RED acts as a spark plug to the rest of the system. Here consciousness begins to reside at an individual level and the enmeshment with the culture is broken in Jungian terms; RED is needed to start the effort of self-individuation. Without moving through RED, BLUE, ORANGE and GREEN will never be embodied.

Sometimes in organisations, RED people appear to be troublemakers and agitators; they seem to be against authority and concerned with self-interest, yet leadership can utilise RED thinking to enable others to progress and move forward. By learning how to deal with the 15% of RED in South Africa as a country, one can ensure that leaders have the power and that they can control the powerful passion energy of RED. Without RED energy, PURPLE may seem very down and slow. RED employees love being the employee of the month and getting individual attention. RED often rejects things that PURPLE built as they are viewed as being backwards and old school.

RED union members may be very scared that co-determination may erode their influence on PURPLE people, or that the other members will trust management to such a degree that they will lose power. RED has the capacity, the energy and the followership to create strikes, uprisings and uncontrollable managerial realities. RED is able to keep a system hostage, and instead of managing the minority group, a small percentage of RED can keep a whole system captive owing to the power dynamic. In the true fashion of Loraine Laubscher, this is the part that facilitates her. If RED can be rewired into a positive system, it may lead the system to a more functional place. Laubscher, in the case studies shared in Organisational Change and Development[12], explained that if RED is given formal power positions and trained properly, their energy may sometimes be utilised positively. Jung[13] warned, however, “Do not give a man a sword that cannot dance”. Basic planning, organising, leading and control skills can assist.

In IBL, over a period of 30 years Henk van Zyl went so far as to train each worker to understand not[14] only their own personality types, but also those of their loved ones. It must be added here that the rest of the industry frowned on this, as if the theory was too advanced for bus drivers. Further, all the workers participated in various forms of soft skills development, and even supported a large-scale emotional intelligence drive. PURPLE workers were also taught how to function in a BLUE system. Special attention was given to assisting individuals to act in teams. IBL has an interesting team-based operating model that will be published in a book on new organisational design principles for the new world of work. Business acumen skills also assisted RED people to understand BLUE and even ORANGE systems. Understanding the importance of bringing energy to the PURPLE grouping, and being acknowledged for this, would help greatly. Henk’s own ability to effortlessly translate between thinking systems, and to ensure understanding of the larger reality, helped greatly in facilitating trust and inclusivity, which prepared the system for progressive models and strategies to follow. RED workers were deliberately involved and trained. The involvement was seen as meaningful, and the workers became supportive towards management.

Low RED may be impulsive, entitled and even aggressive.  Arrested RED people are cemented in the power that a position of authority gives them, and feel that they are deserving of that power. It is their time now.  High RED people are warrior-like and hero-like and are often the energetic battery of a team. In the textbox below, the percentage of people with Red centres of gravity found in South Africa, is indicated (Viljoen, 2015: 58).


BLUE is a system that is firstly collective and asks how the individual can sacrifice for the benefit of the future for all. They want to save today to use later, and they want to sacrifice for the whole. They follow the rules and are reliable; they want to help PURPLE people be more structured, early- starting and role following. They are pre-occupied with the idea of ensuring that moving forward, if we follow rules and structures today, there will be a future for all. They are very happy to start at a lower level in the organisation, but believe that through rules and regulations, personal development programmes and performance appraisals, they can climb the corporate ladder. Rules and the application thereof should apply to all and fairness is valued in the system. BLUE are loyal but expect loyalty in return. They often rely on the job descriptions provided by the organisation to fulfil their duties; things that fall outside the official job description are ignored. BLUE is typically hyper polite in meetings, and they are very proper. Direct conflict does not surface, and family secrets are swept under the rug. Sometimes gossip happens outside official forums, but in these forums, they are polite and politically correct. Here the individual voice is replaced by a collective forum or the actual collected. If you do not fit in, you fit out.

Some of the PURPLE residue remains in the BLUE code. People with BLUE as the centre of gravity also acknowledge their forefathers. They stoically hang pictures in oval frames on dining room walls, and often the things from one generation are saved for the next. For BLUE, it is important what the neighbours will say, and keeping up with the Jones applies; everyone wants to be better than his or her neighbours. They ask: “What will happen if you have an accident and your kitchen is dirty?”

BLUE brings roles and regulations to organisations. They believe in a proven structure, i.e. while you do what you are supposed to do, everything will go well! They ask organisational questions and attempt to bring the whole together. They dress the part and speak the part. The tribe in PURPLE and the gang in RED become the BLUE corporate. Standard operating procedures, good governance and rule-following are at the order of the day. They are truly “Corporate Johnnies”[iv]. Males often hunt or camp together; one must walk, talk and act the part. Suits are important, and a clean-cut professional look is critical while they uphold a corporate manoeuvre. A woman, for example, may either wear a necklace or earrings, but not both.

It must be stated that BLUE is good for companies that must comply with corporate governance.  In the case of IBL, standard operating procedures are critical. Rules and regulations are more than guidelines; it is important to keep to the norms of the industry, and to ensure that there is a licence to operate. In effect, it is a BLUE world.

A radical new way of operating and dealing with decisions and ownership may be challenging to all the different thinking systems. In fact, BLUE may feel that they are losing control and that their efforts to comply are failing miserably. BLUE thinks digitally, while PURPLE thinks in analogue or pictures. Translation between the niches is needed for the different sides to understand each other.

BLUE thinking creates behaviour that can be described as decent, reliable well-structured and consistent. As it is constructed around the task at hand or functional activities, personal relationships are typically not viewed as important.  If we work hard together we may have a relationship, which may end abruptly if someone changes companies. For PURPLE, relationships come first.

A large percentage of well-functioning organisations are BLUE (Viljoen, 2008). Rules are followed, compliance is optimal, and everyone knows what is expected of the whole. In these organisations there are rules and responsibilities, i.e. one needs to follow standard operating procedures and comply with them. Risks are isolated, and the rules ultimately apply. The organisation is there to provide a return on investment for its stakeholders, and a hierarchical operating structure exists. There are various levels of supervision and management, and a bus company must act according to BLUE, e.g. employees must be on time and there cannot be breakdowns. Rule following is critical. To manage routes, ticket machines and cash, BLUE digital logic is needed, yet the question may be asked whether there is no other way of organising that will fit the thinking system and questions regarding the existence of the employees more closely. In the textbox below, the percentage of people with Blue centres of gravity found in South Africa, is indicated (Viljoen, 2015: 58).

Most leadership in South Africa is BLUE. In a study of 195,004 management members across industry boundaries, 94.3% indicated that they were BLUE. It seems that BLUE workers follow BLUE rules, which is viewed as compliant with BLUE processes, and these people are therefore promoted. In this way, the cycle of BLUE leadership is enforced.


ORANGE is a thinking structure that is invoked when the risk-adverse nature of BLUE turns into a   risk-taking space. ORANGE is commercial, deal making and entrepreneurial. Although they deeply value the risk-adverse nature of BLUE, they cannot help but see how to grow a business, make more money or succeed. If the rest of the system understands them and allows them to be enterprising on the organisation’s behalf, they can be of great benefit to a system as they are not stuck with what has happened in the past but are risk-taking enough to diversify income streams. ORANGE leaders often breathe new life into systems that have become stagnant. Hopefully, they find themselves high enough in the organisation to enable new ways of doing. They are often willing to implement spiral dynamics as they can see the economic value-add thereof. People at an ORANGE centre of gravity are not too rigid in clinging to organisational hierarchy – they are willing to use other structures in their endeavours to succeed. ORANGE is needed to diversify income streams to pro-actively identify other streams of revenue, as well as to change strategies continuously so as to not be caught in what cannot be.

The risk of BLUE, as with PURPLE, is the unwillingness to consider new ways of thinking, as only ways   that have worked for generations before seem to be valued.  Moving from organisational patterns that have worked for one’s forefathers to something unknown is indeed difficult, and the same applies to a business that is working and making money. Why do things differently when they work, and why give power away? The visible risk-taking of RED and the calculated risk-taking of ORANGE are also contradictory to the risk-averse natures of PURPLE and BLUE. It is not that easy to overcome resistance, however if the internal rule-following structure can be overcome, a more entrepreneurial, innovative and free-thinking system may lead to alternative ways of doing things differently, while being sustainably and materialistically successful.

The complexity of diversity of thought occurs when different systems occur in the same system. In 2012 at IBL, more than 90% of workers belonged to a PURPLE system, while only two people in top management belonged to an ORANGE system. That means that only 002% of the population was at ORANGE. ORANGE is needed, however, as it is the way to innovation, building enterprises and ensuring success for all.  As explained earlier, every system has a gift. The gift of PURPLE is being relational and loyal; the gift of ORANGE is to make money and be enterprising; and the gift of BLUE is to comply. We need all the different thinking structures to build a sustainable organisation, however, we must also make sure that the systems, structures and practices we build are congruent with the thinking of the people who must implement them. In the case of IBL, this thinking was largely PURPLE. The COO of IBL is a healthy ORANGE.

In the textbox below, the percentage of people with Orange centres of gravity found in South Africa, is indicated (Viljoen, 2015: 58).


GREEN is a collective thinking system that is pre-occupied with nature, the earth and humanity at large.  If you would like to determine whether you are mostly GREEN, ask yourself the following:

The earth feels:

  • so proud about the innovation over the last 100 years;
  • so sad, as one out of 127 of my children is a refugee; and
  • so scared, as humanity is killing me and stripping me of my resources.

If you have a GREEN thinking system, 80% to 90% of your day is pre-occupied with thoughts like the above, i.e. GREEN is deeply concerned with the survival of the earth and humanity at large.

Green avoids conflict and wants all to be equal and to consult all. However, in business, GREEN is often seen as slow in terms of decision-making. Often GREEN hears all sides of the arguments and then gets a bit stuck as they understand the different perspectives. This again strengthens the perception that GREEN may change direction as they hear different voices. The gift of GREEN is best explained by the African saying: “If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together”.

Viljoen (2015) argued that a GREEN expatriate who wants to give back to society often works best in PURPLE systems. The circular structure of PURPLE and GREEN in Figure x above can be compared to see the similarity. In PURPLE there is a chief in the middle, while in GREEN there is no leader in the middle as leadership is shared. Beck (2016) once said in an interview that when assisting South Africa to form the new democracy, the only mistake made by him and the design team of the constitution was that different role players attempted to solve the South African conditions through a GREEN philosophy. However, GREEN does not have enough teeth to manage aggression, especially that of RED. His insight was that leaders should design business solutions from YELLOW, disregarding their own human niche. The YELLOW niche is described next.

In the textbox below, the percentage of people with Green centres of gravity found in South Africa, is indicated (Viljoen, 2015: 58).

When Henk van Zyl measured his psychological map[v], [15] the first time in 2002, he indicated a GREEN thinking system. The instrument also showed an emerging YELLOW thinking structure. This transition happened in 2006; where Henk had been inclusive and participative, he became functional, systemic, organic and integral.


A new thinking structure emerges from the old GREEN. Where all the previous systems function on fear, YELLOW people are hopeful. The codes in the first tier are all fear-driven. BEIGE is fearful that it will not survive, PURPLE that it loses connectivity to the tribe, RED that it may lose power, BLUE that there is decline in the fabric of society, ORANGE that it may not succeed and GREEN that it will not be included, or that there will not be peace.

YELLOW is hopeful as it sees the beauty in all the different codes. BEIGE can survive, PURPLE automatically cares, RED provides energy, BLUE is rule- following and compliant ORANGE is enterprising, and GREEN wants everyone to be included.  To weave this tapestry of differences together, YELLOW leadership or YELLOW thinking becomes important. YELLOW also asks the question of what to do to put life into part of the system that is not breathing, so that the whole can become functional and integral.

An organisation has no choice but to strategise from second tier YELLOW, because doing it from BLUE and/or ORANGE fails from a sustainability perspective. Without YELLOW thinking, companies will continue to create the same level of problems with the same level of thinking. YELLOW is prepared to let go of preconceived ways of organising to obtain worth. YELLOW leadership is characterised by trust, integrity, friendliness and fairness; they are value driven and one of their values is people. They also want to assist people to reach their full potential.

From the YELLOW thinking of Henk van Zyl, a model of sharing ownership, decisions, discipline and control materialised in a way that served each stakeholder’s best interests.

In the textbox below, the percentage of people with Yellow centres of gravity found in South Africa, is indicated (Viljoen, 2015: 58).


Loraine Laubscher echoed Don Beck by saying that life conditions in the outer world stimulate the adaptive intelligence to deal with changing conditions. Both believe that we should work with what the world needs, rather than focus too much on systems that are not yet manifesting in the outer world.  Beck explained that morphing occurs on an on-going basis for TURQUOISE; this thinking system is adapting all the time. They can find the systems that they need, and the whole is seen as interconnected and even interplanetary.

In the textbox below, the percentage of people with Turquoise centres of gravity found in South Africa, is indicated (Viljoen, 2015: 58).

Meshwork, inclusivity in practice

Beck[16] described the process of integration of different thinking systems around a systemic problem as a meshwork. A meshwork is a process through which the thinking and behaviour of different codes are wired together into an inclusive, aligned force of energy in a system. The BEIGE, PURPLE, RED, BLUE, ORANGE, GREEN and YELLOW people all find themselves in a space where they can contribute not only insight, but can leverage the system in a collective whole through leadership. The question to be asked is how to weave the various strings of gifts together into an inclusive, integrated and coherent whole. Co-determination is an example of such a meshworking process.


It is crucial for employers to take the bio-psycho-social makeup of their workers into account in the design and translation of strategy, design and delivery of organisational development initiatives and design and implementation other organisational interventions accordingly. By understanding the social fabric created by the different human niches inside the organisation, the way to connect, to engage, and ultimately to ensure that everyone is on the same page, is enabled. The psychological map is available to determine different human niches on an individual level, while the BeQ is available to determine the organisational levels of spiral dynamics. Graves[17] said that at each stage of human existence, the adult man is off on his quest for this Holy Grail, i.e. the way of life by which he believes men should live. The Human Niche Theory may offer insight into the rich tapestry of organisational BEING, and by following an inclusive process such as co-determination, organisational DOING can also be optimised and improved.


Beck, DE., & Linscott, G (2006). The crucible:  Forging South Africa’s future: In search of a template for the world. Columbia, MD:  Cherie Beck. Center of.  Human Emergence.

Beck,  DE., Larsen, TH., Solonin, S., Viljoen, RC., & Johns, TQ. (2018). Spiral. Dynamics in Action:  Humanity’s Master Code. Chichester, West Sussex:  John Wiley & Sons.

Graves, C. (1974): Human nature prepares for a momentous leap. The Futurist, April. p.72-87.

Jung, CG. (1954) On the Nature of the Psyche. 1988 edition. In H. Read, et al. (eds.). The Collected Works of C.G. Jung (vol. 8). Princeton: Princeton University Press (original work published 1948).

Laubscher, LI. (2013). Human Niches: Spiral Dynamics for Africa. Ph.D dissertation. Modderfontein: Da Vinci Institute. Available at…/Thesis%20%20Loraine%20 Laubscher.pdf. p. 10-17.

van Zyl, H & Viljoen, R. (2018).

Vilikati, M. V., Schurink, W., & Viljoen, R. (2013). Exploring the concept of African Spiritual Consciousness. Academy of Management Proceedings, 2013, Orlando. Retrieved from:

Viljoen RC. (2014).  Inclusive Organisational Transformation: An African Perspective on Human Niches and Diversity of Thought. Gower. Farnham, UK. ISBN: 978-1-86922-540-7

Viljoen, RC. (2015). Organisational Change and Development: – an African perspective. Bryanston: KR Publishing.

Viljoen, RC., van Zyl H., Toendepi, J., Viljoen,  SC. (2018). Employee Relations -from conflict to co-determination. Bryanston: KR Publishing.


[i] Source

[ii] Another word for a protest march

[iii] Dr Nceba Ndzwayiba wrote a masterful PhD thesis on ‘Doing Human Differently’. The words above were inspired by his meaningful thesis.

[iv] A popular term to refer to employees who belong in corporates and act in a BLUE way.

[v] An instrument from Clare Graves that measures thinking systems

[1] Beck, DE. & Linscott, 2006.

[2] Graves, 1974.

[3] Graves, 1974.

[4] Laubscher, 2013.

[5] Laubscher, 2013.

[6] Laubscher, 2013.

[7] Viljoen, R. 2015.

[8] Beck, DE.,  Larsen, TH., Solonin, S., Viljoen, RC., Johns, TQ (2018).

[9] Laubscher, 2013.

[10] Vilikati (2013)

[11] Viljoen RC. (2014).

[12] Viljoen, 2015.

[13] Jung (1953, np)

[14] Viljoen, Van Zyl, Toendepi,  Viljoen (2018)

[15] Graves, 1974.

[16] Beck, Linscott, 2006.

[17] Graves, 1971.

About the Author

Dr. Rica Viljoen is a master organisational practitioner, author and storyteller. She has authored two academic textbooks, edited 3 academic text books and further authored various other academic chapters on the topics of inclusivity, African spiritual consciousness, spiral dynamics and diversity of thought. She has been involved with spiral dynamics for the last 18 years. Her interest took her to 42 different countries where she studied spiral dynamics applied across diversity boundaries. She has been working closely with Dr Loraine Laubscher on adaptive intelligence in emerging economies for the last 10 years. Further, she worked closely with Dr Don Beck and recently co-authored and edited the book Spiral Dynamics in Action: Humanity’s Master Code. Rica is the managing director of Mandala Consulting, leads the Centre of Human Emergence in Africa and is adjunct faculty to the Reading University’s Henley Business School in South Africa. Rica sees her life purpose as to tell untold stories, especially those in countries where oral history are the main way of transferring knowledge.

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