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A Model for Spiritual Entrepreneurship: Navigating Work's Evolution with Vertical Development Theory

In the ever-evolving landscape of work, the concept of vertical development theory emerges as a guiding light, illuminating the path towards a transformative future. This theory has the potential to lead companies into the paradigm of spiritual entrepreneurship, one characterized by a "teal" organizational structure that values self-management, wholeness, and an evolutionary sense of purpose. As we delve into the depths of vertical development theory, we uncover its profound implications for reshaping the very essence of how companies operate and interact within a world of constant change.

Thought leaders have been exploring the role of the business entity in shifting human consciousness for decades. As a result, there are several emerging models for evolved company management. Well-known models for organizational development are Ken Wilbur’s integral theory and Don Beck’s spiral dynamics.[1] From a business perspective, I find vertical development to be a useful model to translate those ideas into workplace behaviors.[2] The following chart, created by Frederic Laloux, describes each of the stages of development and what they mean in terms of human collaboration.

Today, the organizations where we have the greatest labor shortages tend to be the ones where there are a lot of Amber/Army attributes, as described in the second row in the chart above. This approach to life does not work well with most people anymore, and it disempowers people who want to make a difference and drive innovation.

For example, a significant number of purpose-driven educators I’ve known over the past ten years have left education because they feel the school system has killed their soul in a way that leaves them feeling hopeless and powerless. The same is true for many people in the healthcare system, who want to heal people but become trapped in a system that dehumanizes them and destroys their spirit. People who operate at the Green and Teal levels of consciousness in the chart find it excruciating to work in Amber organizations.

Because Amber organizations think about human capital in outdated ways, the salaries they offer are not high enough to attract and retain top talent. The fact that as teachers grow in seniority they will never make as much as administrators, despite having the more impactful and challenging jobs, demonstrates this unfortunate side effect of Amber thinking.

Most of our modern, commercial companies are still in the Orange/Machine stage of development. These companies are still able to attract talent due to their profit and innovation focus. However, many employees of these companies also end up feeling disengaged and disillusioned due to feeling a lack of connection and value as an individual. The pandemic accelerated these feelings of unrest as people took time to examine the level of meaning in their lives.

Green/Family companies tend to have an easier time attracting and retaining top talent because their human collaboration practices are more aligned with our current collective level of consciousness. Supporting companies in shifting into a Green way of being will result in a more productive workforce and an overall healthier population.

Teal/Living Organism organizations are beginning to emerge. While I would like to run Indigo as a Teal company, it is challenging because, as a society, we are not yet at this stage of human consciousness. The concept of a Teal organization can be a useful roadmap for how a spiritual entrepreneur aims to run their business. Laloux describes Teal companies as possessing the following characteristics:[3]

  • Self-management: Peer relationships replace rigid hierarchical management structures. Individuals have high autonomy in their domain.

  • Wholeness: Individuals bring their whole selves to work, not just the characteristics deemed to be professional.

  • Evolutionary purpose: The organization has a purpose of its own and attempts to sense what the world wants. As a result, organization members are more agile, creating from circumstances rather than trying to control them.

The concept of evolutionary purpose in Teal organizations very much aligns with the spiritual entrepreneurship dimension of businesses having their own purpose. James Fischer, another thought leader in this field, would take this a step further, describing organizations as living organisms, each with its own unique growth path: “Every living thing has an ideal path of growth, including business enterprises.”[4] In his book Navigating the Growth Curve, Fischer describes a business’s stages of growth not by revenue but by the number of people an organization has. This is another example of refocusing the business conversation on the people rather than money or the product.

From within the framework of Teal, leadership must be committed to the personal growth of themselves as well as each member. Leadership consultant Dr. Cybelle Lyon states that “an organization reflects the developmental stage of the majority of its leaders,” and after more than two decades work in this field, she notices an encouraging shift:

I see more and more leaders with both the desire and capability to not just lead the business, but to lead humanity in a noble direction. This gives me hope that it could be our business leaders who, replacing greed and ego with altruistic motives, will take our society in a better, more evolved direction. What will it look like if we continue this trend of more frequently demanding our business leaders show characteristics such as integrity, empathy, and purpose instead of bravado and ‘strength’? [5]

If we embrace workforce goals that embody the Teal level of human collaboration, it will produce the best outcome for our employers, citizens, and communities. Approaching the future of work with a Teal lens puts the labor shortage problem into a holistic and restorative perspective. It requires retraining our own hearts and minds, which is none other than the goal of life itself.

These emerging models of organizational development hold much promise for helping spiritual entrepreneurs define their business practices and leverage research on their own paths.



[1] For more information, see Frederic Laloux, Reinventing Organizations: A Guide to Creating Organizations Inspired by the Next Stage in Human Consciousness, Foreword by Ken Wilber, (Nelson Parker, 2014),

[2] “Integral theory (Ken Wilber),” Wikipedia, last modified November 22, 2022,

[3] “Spiral Dynamics,” Wikipedia, last modified June 16, 2022, 16:30,

[4] Dede Henley, “Research Says Vertical Development Can Make You a Better Leader,” Forbes, January 31, 2020,

[5] “Developing Talent? You’re probably Missing Vertical Development,” Leading Effectively Article, Center for Creative Leadership,


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