A wiki to inspire next-
generation organizations
Orange Organizations

From Home

Orange organizations represent the advance of the scientific and industrial revolutions. The world is seen as a complex machine whose inner workings and natural laws can be investigated and understood. This view has profoundly transformed humanity in the last two centuries bringing unprecedented levels of prosperity and life expectancy. Current management thinking, which is focused on competition, innovation and performance. shape how Orange organizations operate. Leadership changes from command-and-control to predict-and-control (management by objectives). The Organization as a machines is the dominant metaphor for the Orange world view. Most large corporations operate from this paradigm today. 


Orange stage of consciousness

From an Orange perspective, the world is no longer seen as a fixed universe governed by immutable rules; instead it is seen as a complex machine, whose inner workings and natural laws can be investigated and understood.

If I am faster, smarter and more innovative than others in understanding and manipulating the world, then I will achieve more success, wealth, market share or whatever else I desire. .

Piaget, the child psychologist, gave us a defining experiment for Orange cognitive thinking:

  • A person is given three glasses of clear liquid and told that they can be mixed in a way that will produce a yellow color.
  • People, whose thinking hasn’t reached the Orange stage will simply start mixing the liquids together haphazardly.
  • Those with an Orange level cognition will first form a general picture of the fact that you have to try glass A with glass B, then A with C, then B with C and so on. They will  try all the various combinations one at a time.

It means people can begin to imagine different worlds. “What if” and “as if” can be grasped for the first time. All kinds of idealistic possibilities open up. With this cognitive capacity one can question authority, group norms, and the inherited status quo. Orange cognition has opened the floodgates of scientific investigation, innovation, and entrepreneurship.

The worldview at this stage is solidly materialistic―only what can be seen and touched is real. The Orange worldview is suspicious of any form of spirituality and transcendence because of the difficulty in believing something that cannot empirically be proven or observed. In this material world, more is generally considered better.

Shadows of the Orange stage of development

Every paradigm, seen from a more advanced stage, has its shadows. The dark side of the Orange paradigm is hard to ignore: corporate greed, political short-termism, over leverage, overconsumption, and the reckless exploitation of the planet’s resources and ecosystems.

Another  shadow is “innovation gone mad.” With most of our basic needs taken care of, businesses increasingly try to create needs, feeding the illusion that more stuff will make us happy and whole.

A further shadow appears when success is measured solely in terms of money and recognition. When growth and the bottom line are all that count, and when the only successful life is one that reaches the top, people often experience a sense of emptiness in their lives.

However, these shouldn’t eclipse the liberation this stage has brought. Making it OK to question authority has allowed us to engage, for the first time, in the pursuit of truth regardless of religious dogma or political authority. We have become capable of questioning and stepping out of the condition we were born into; we are capable of breaking free from the thoughts and behaviors that gender and our social class would have imposed upon us in earlier times.


Breakthroughs and characteristics of Orange organizations

Street gangs and mafias are contemporary examples of Red Organizations. The Catholic Church, the military, and the public school system are archetypes of Amber Organizations. Modern global corporations are the embodiment of Orange Organizations. In terms of outcome, Amber Organizations surpassed anything Red Organizations could even contemplate.

Orange Organizations ratcheted this up another level, achieving results on entirely new orders of magnitude, thanks to three additional breakthroughs: innovation, accountability, and meritocracy.


Orange breakthrough 1: Innovation

People operating from the Orange paradigm can live in a world of possibilities; what is not yet, could be one day. They can question the status quo and formulate ways to improve it. Unsurprisingly, leaders of Orange Organizations don’t tire of saying that change and innovation are not threats, but opportunities. Orange Organizations retain a hierarchical pyramid, but create departments such as R&D , Marketing and Product Management to foster and enable innovation. Project and cross–functional teams come together to look at problems and issues in new ways.


Orange breakthrough 2: Accountability

A subtle but profound change takes place in leadership and management style. Amber command and control becomes Orange predict and control. In order to innovate more often and faster than others, it becomes a competitive advantage to tap into the intelligence of many brains in the organization. More people in the organization are given room to maneuver and are empowered and trusted to think and make decisions.

Orange Organizations have invented a host of incentive processes to motivate employees to reach the targets that have been set, including performance appraisals, bonus schemes, quality awards, and stock options. To put it simply, where Amber relied on sticks, Orange came up with carrots.

The breakthrough in terms of freedom is real. Managers and employees are given room to exercise their creativity and talent and the latitude to figure out how they want to reach their objectives. In practice fear of failure often drives managers to keep control rather than delegating, thus losing the benefits of distributing responsibility.


Orange breakthrough 3: Meritocracy

Orange Organizations have adopted the radical idea of meritocracy. In principle, anybody can move up the ladder, and nobody has to be confined to their position. The mailroom boy can become the CEO―even if that boy happens to be a girl or has a minority background. Orange has given birth to modern human resources and a range of processes and practices, including performance appraisal, incentive systems, resource planning, talent management, leadership training, and succession planning.

It is hard to overstate the historical significance of the idea of meritocracy. People now take responsibility for managing their careers and expect to change positions every few years, either inside the organization, or outside if needed.

Identity is no longer fused with rank and title; instead it is synonymous  with our need to be seen as competent, successful and ready for the next promotion.


Orange metaphor: organizations as machines

Orange thinking sees organizations as machines. The engineering jargon we use to talk about organizations reveals how deeply we hold this metaphor. We talk about units and layers, inputs and outputs, efficiency and effectiveness, pulling the lever and moving the needle, accelerating and hitting the brakes, scoping problems and scaling solutions, information flows and bottlenecks, re-engineering and downsizing.

Leaders and consultants design organizations. Humans are resources that must be carefully aligned on the chart, rather like cogs in a machine. Changes must be planned and mapped out in blueprints, then carefully implemented according to plan. If some of the machinery functions below the expected rhythm, it’s probably time for a “soft” intervention―the occasional team-building―like injecting oil to grease the wheels.

The machine metaphor also reveals the dynamic nature of organizations in Orange (as compared to Amber, where we think of organizations as rigid, unchanging sets of rules and hierarchies). There is room for energy, creativity, and innovation. At the same time, the metaphor of the machine indicates that these organizations, however much they brim with activity, can still feel lifeless and soulless.


Notes and references

  1. [Orange_Organizations#cite_ref-1 Jump up↑] This stage corresponds to Gebser’s “Mental,” Loevinger’s and Cook-Greuter’s “Self-Aware” and “Conscientious,” Kegan’s “Institutional,” Torbert’s “Achiever,” Piaget’s “Formal Operational,” Graves’ “ER,” Wilber's and Spiral Dynamics’ “Orange,” and others; it is often simply referred to as modernity.
  2. [Orange_Organizations#cite_ref-2 Jump up↑] Wilber, A Brief History of Everything, 185-186.


  • Generously hosted by Buffer