The Upward Flow of Human Development

What follows is a modified version of John Mackey's Keynote Speech at the March, 2006, Tribal Gathering of Whole Foods Market in Austin, Texas. Every few years, approximately 600 members of Whole Foods Market leadership come together for a long weekend dedicated to networking, education and inspiration. This speech was delivered on the final day of the gathering.

Much loud and sustained applause

Let's hope you feel the same after hearing this speech. I went back and forth over whether to play it safe and give a typical keynote speech, but I decided to go for it and see if we can take Whole Foods Market to the next level—on our growing edge.


Today I'm going to paint a really big picture, a picture of "everything," of how I think the world really works, and where Whole Foods Market and Grameen Bank fit into it. [Muhammad Yunus of Grameen Bank spoke immediately following this speech.] If I communicate this information in the way that I hope to, I guarantee you will never look at the world in the same way again. You won't look at Whole Foods Market in quite the same way, either. So that is my goal.


My philosophy is that life is all about learning and growing, and that life can be a real adventure of learning, growing, compassion, and joyfulness. We all have the capability to grow all our lives—if we don't get stuck—in emotional intelligence, wisdom, consciousness, ethical development, and love. And not only individuals are capable of growth. So are organizations such as Whole Foods Market and Grameen Bank, as well as larger collective societies, such as the United States.


One way to view human development is to see a decline in egocentrism. As Henry Gardner said, "The whole history of human development can be viewed as a progressive decline in egocentrism." Consciousness development engenders a decrease in narcissism and an increase in caring and consciousness. Humans move from ego-centric to ethno-centric to world-centric as they develop in consciousness. The upward spiral of development is at the same time a spiral of compassion—from me to us to all of us.


Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

How many people here today heard my talk two years ago in Seattle on self-actualization? [light applause] Well, I'm not giving that talk today. [light laughter from audience] However, it does serve as a springboard for what I want to talk about.


You may recall that I introduced Maslow's Hierarchy during that talk. Maslow identified a hierarchy of needs [see chart], which is one way to think about the upward flow of human consciousness. As we evolve upward we pass through levels of needs, from our physiological needs to our safety needs, next to our belongingness needs, then to our self-esteem needs, then to our needs for the good, the true and the beautiful, and finally to our self actualization needs at the very apex of the hierarchy.



Maslow's hierarchy is a good reference point for the information that follows.


I now want to introduce another system from a man who was a peer and friend of Maslow's and who influenced, and was influenced by, Maslow. This man, Clare Graves, created another system for understanding the way the world works. Graves developed models in "emergent deep value systems" that have been built upon by others, and we now call this model Spiral Dynamics.


Spiral Dynamics is a bio-psycho-social-spiritual framework (I love this word) for understanding core human thought processes. Spiral Dynamics helps identify how people change, organize, develop consciousness, make choices, create strategies, and communicate. This system helps to reveal the hidden codes that shape human nature, liberate global diversity, and drive or hinder social and organizational transformation.


Graves' work was built upon by a student named Don Beck and his student, in turn, Christopher Cowan. They wrote a book called Spiral Dynamics. Ken Wilber of the Integral Institute has taken the Spiral Dynamics model and incorporated it into his Integral models as a next step. Both of these are the basis for the information I'll be presenting today.


Spiral Dynamics Overview

Now I want to present a quick overview of Spiral Dynamics. Human consciousness evolves over time, both for individuals and for the larger society. This evolution of consciousness can be understood as a hierarchical spiral that evolves to greater levels of complexity. This hierarchical spiral doesn't consist of rigid levels but can be rather likened to flowing waves, with much overlap and interweaving. We are not monolithic as we move through these levels.


Within this system model, different colors represent different levels or waves of development, each offering a viewing point for the "real world" according to unique perceptual filters. The colors, which have no significance in and of themselves, are a useful abbreviated tool, to help us quickly grasp the level of consciousness we are discussing.


I want to provide some additional background information to help us gain a common language. Spiral Dynamics uses the word "vMEME" with each color. The word MEME was invented by Richard Dawkins when he wrote The Selfish Gene. The little 'v' means "value MEME" to indicate that we are referencing value systems. The Spiral Dynamics model currently has defined eight levels of consciousness, but allows for the potential of new, more complex levels emerging. Ken Wilber's Integral models address this in more detail.

A graphic depicting the levels of the spiral is shown below.



The vMEMEs are like invisible core intelligences. They are broad orienting paradigms that we use to interpret the world. They are structures of thinking in that you can't see them.. Life conditions awaken vMEMEs which may emerge, surge, regress, or fade in response to those events that trigger change. No one vMEME is better or worse than another, they are simply less complex and more complex. As I mentioned earlier, the levels are not rigid.


All vMEMEs are good and necessary. To evolve to more complex vMEMEs requires experiencing/living the less complex vMEMEs first. The vMEMEs are not rigid levels but flowing waves, with much overlap and interweaving, resulting in a dynamic spiral of consciousness unfolding. The vMEMEs can express both healthy (for-better) and unhealthy (for-worse) qualities; sometimes it is more beneficial to the individual to be healthy at a lower vMEME than to be unhealthy at a higher vMEME. An individual's vMEME can brighten and dim as life conditions change; each one of us experiences different things that set us off to the next evolution.


In general vMEMEs follow several trajectories as they evolve. They go from less complex natural, technological, and human environments to more complex. They likewise go from surviving in the bush through the awakening of new consciousness levels to surfing beyond the Internet to even higher levels of complexity, to understanding the entire global ecosphere. Finally, they go from a small piece of land via migrations across land and information terrains to the global village and cyberspace, where a complexity of development through shared information becomes possible.


The First Tier vMEMEs

Now I want to introduce the eight core vMEMEs. The first six are called First Tier vMEMEs, as opposed to the Second Tier vMEMEs, which I will explain later.


 Beige "Instinctive/Survivalistic" vMEME

The first is the Beige "Instinctive/Survivalistic" vMEME. This first arrived on the scene, or "awakened," 100,000+ years ago. Its basic premise is: Do what you must to stay alive. The characteristic beliefs and actions of the Beige vMEME are:

  • An individual uses instincts and habits just to survive
  • The distinct self is barely awakened or sustained
  • Food, water, warmth, sex, and safety have priority over anything else
  • Beige individuals form into family survival bands to perpetuate life

Where do you find the Beige vMEME expressed? Here is a representative list: The first peoples, newborn infants, senile elderly, late-stage Alzheimer's victims, mentally ill street people, starving masses, bad drug trips (if any of you ever had bad LSD trips, you were probably back in a Beige vMEME), and "shell shock." This vMEME is well described in anthropological fiction like Jean Auel's Clan of the Cave Bear.

The Beige vMEME includes approximately 1/10 percent of the world's adult population and zero percent of the power.


 Purple "Magical/Animistic" vMEME

As human consciousness evolves, it next goes into the Purple "Magical/Animistic" vMEME. This second "awakening" occurred approximately 50,000 years ago. We're tapping into this vMEME this weekend at the tribal gathering, because we're tapping into the power of the tribe. The basic theme for the Purple vMEME is: Keep the spirits happy and the tribe's nest warm and safe. The Characteristic beliefs and actions of the Purple vMEME are:

  • Thinking is animistic; magical spirits—both good and bad
  • Obeying the desires of spirit beings and mystical signs
  • Showing allegiance to chief, elders, ancestors, and the clan
  • Preserving sacred objects, places, events, and memories
  • Observing rites of passage, seasonal cycles, and tribal customs

Although some of this sounds benign, it wasn't all good, because this was where slavery and human sacrifice came into the picture.

Where do you find the Purple vMEME expressed? Here is a sampling: belief in guardian angels and Voodoo-like curses, animism, blood oaths, Native American Indians were living primarily in the purple vMEME when the Western peoples arrived on the continent, chanting and trance dancing, good luck charms, mystical ethnic beliefs and superstitions, New Age beliefs—crystals, tarot, astrology, and Harry Potter's magical world.

The Purple vMEME includes 10% of the world population, and only 1% of the power. The following provides more detail about the typical qualities seen in the Purple "Magical/Animistic" vMEME:

  • Characteristics
    • Mystical spirits, signs
    • Safe clans and nests
    • Powerful elders
    • Our people vs. "them" [Whole Foods Market against Wild Oats and Trader Joe's]
  • Decision making
    • Custom and tradition
    • Elders' counsel
    • Signs or the shaman
    • Clan gets the spoils
  • Education
    • Paternalistic teachers
    • Rituals and routines
    • Passive learners
    • Family-like learning; oral history to pass down the stories
  • Family
    • Extended kinships
    • Rites of passage
    • Strict role relations
    • Protects bloodline
  • Community
    • Respects folk ways
    • Honors ethnicity
    • Lets group be itself
    • Guards magic places
  • Life space
    • Old country ways
    • Focus on subsistence
    • Fearful, mystical, superstitious
    • Full of spirit beings

Just to explain the rhythm, the vMEMEs tend to alternate between individualistic and community-focused. The Purple vMEME was community focused. The next level is individualistic.


 Red "Egocentric/Narcissistic" vMEME

The Red "Egocentric/Narcissistic" vMEME, the third "awakening," occurred about 10,000 years ago. Its basic theme is: Be what you are and do what you want regardless—"Nobody tells me what to do."

Many teenagers are at the Red vMEME. Many of you in the audience probably remember going through this phase. The characteristic beliefs and actions of this vMEME are:

  • The world is seen as a jungle full of threats and predators
  • The individual breaks free from any constraints to please self as self desires
  • The individual stands tall, expects attention, demands respect, calls the shots
  • The individual enjoys himself to the fullest, right now without guilt or remorse
  • The individual conquers, out-foxes, and dominates other aggressive characters
  • An overly developed ethnic identity can lead to genocidal wars, slavery, and racism
  • The individual believes that: "I am special, I'll live forever, I am immortal, not like the others."

Where is the Red vMEME expressed? The following sample provides an overview: the "Terrible Twos," rebellious youth, frontier mentalities, feudal kingdoms, street gangs, James Bond villains—the guys that conquer the world (I always wondered what the big payoff was if you conquered the world. Well, in the red vMEME these guys get all the women, the fast cars, and the money), epic heroes, soldiers of fortune, wild rock stars, William Golding's Lord of the Flies, Sauron in Lord of the Rings, Voldemort in Harry Potter.

The red vMEME includes 15% to 20% of the world population, but only 5% of the power.

When adults are residing at the Red vMEME, we often think of them as "spoiled." But you need Red energy to overcome restrictions and boundaries put on you by other systems.

The following provides more detail about the typical qualities seen in the Red "Impulsive/Egocentric" vMEME.

  • Characteristics
    • Raw power displays
    • Immediate pleasure
    • Unrestrained by guilt
    • Colorful and creative
  • Decision making
    • Tough-one dictates
    • What gets respect
    • What feels good now
    • Powerful grab spoils
  • Education
    • Rewards for learning
    • Tough-love tactics
    • Work on respect
    • Controlled freedom
  • Family
    • Gang-like battles
    • Builds us vs. them walls
    • Tests of worthiness
    • Struggles with the system
  • Community
    • Predators in control
    • Danger to the outsiders
    • Forms fiefdoms
    • Turf wars and vendettas
  • Life space
    • Unconstrained
    • Might makes right
    • Winners and dead losers
    • Attention-seeking

 Blue "Purposeful/Authoritarian" vMEME

After the very individualistic Red vMEME, the next level goes back again to the more community-focused orientation. The Blue "Purposeful/Authoritarian" vMEME, as the fourth "awakening," began approximately 5,000 years ago. The basic rules for the Blue vMEME are: Life has meaning, direction and purpose with outcomes determined by an all-powerful Other or Order. This vMEME brings discipline to the spiral because you are now "following a higher order."

The characteristic beliefs and actions of the Blue vMEME include:

  • Sacrificing of the self to the transcendent Cause, Truth, or righteous Pathway.
  • Allowing the Order to enforce a code of conduct based on eternal, absolute unvarying principles of "right" and "wrong"—there is one right way to live and deviations punished from the path are punished.
  • Following the right path produces security now and guarantees future reward; if you don't follow the path, well, you've made your choices.
  • Displaying missionary zealotry, which can be short on evidence and long on belief and faith, as well as closed minds. When you run into people with very rigid thought structures, you are dealing with someone who is residing at the Blue vMEME.
  • Engaging in pleasurable acts is seen as frivolous; humor is rare; actions are based in judgment not compassion, although there is a lot of talk about compassion.
  • Operating from a fundamentalist, conventional, traditional, and conformist worldview.

Where do you find the Blue vMEME expressed? The following provides a sample:

Christian and Islamic fundamentalism, Puritan America, Dickensian England, Singapore's strict discipline, witch hunts, codes of chivalry and honor, the Spanish Inquisition, the caste system in India, Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life, Boy and Girl Scouts, and patriotism.

The Blue vMEME includes 35% to 40% of the world population, and 25% to 30% of the power. The figures are somewhat lower in the United States.

The following provides more detail about the typical qualities seen in the Blue "Purposeful/Authoritarian" vMEME.

  • Characteristics
    • Only one right way
    • Purpose in causes
    • Guilt in consequences
    • Sacrifice for honor
  • Decision making
    • Orders from authority
    • Do right, obey rules
    • Adhere to tradition
    • Righteous earn spoils
  • Education
    • Truth from authority
    • Traditional stair steps
    • Moralistic lessons
    • Punishment for errors
  • Family
    • Seat of truths and values
    • Proper places for all, respect for parents
    • Codes of conduct
    • Teaches moral ways
  • Community
    • Peace-and-quiet
    • Cautious and careful
    • Tidy, green, and neat
    • Born into society
  • Life space
    • Law abiding citizen (this was the bourgeoisie that drove Karl Marx crazy)
    • Places for everybody
    • Seeks peace of mind
    • Rewards to come

The Blue vMEME is one the core constituencies of the Republican Party and comprises the "moral majority" in the United States today.


 Orange "Scientific Modernism" vMEME

The Orange "Scientific Modernism" vMEME, the fifth "awakening" began only 300 years ago. Its tagline is: Act in your own self-interest by playing the game to win.

Some of the characteristic beliefs and actions of this vMEME include:

  • Strongly expressed individualism; Orange breaks away from the "herd" of the Blue vMEME.
  • Developed human rights, legal freedoms, free markets, capitalistic democracies
  • Strong faith in science and rationality, which eclipse superstition
  • Seeking to live the "good life" with material abundance
  • Believe that optimistic, risk-taking, and self-reliant people deserve their success
  • Play to win and enjoy competition; very success driven
  • Basing principles on ethics, not religion
  • Ignoring of inner spirituality to a high degree; the subsequent loss of the sacred

The Orange vMEME is expressed in ways such as the following: The Enlightenment, "success" ministries (such as Napoleon Hill and Tony Robbins), American "Founding Fathers," Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, Wall Street, Rodeo Drive, The Riviera, the cosmetics and fashion industries, breast implants, emerging middle classes around the world (in India and certain parts of China), Chambers of Commerce, corporate America, Forbes magazine, materialism, and the stereotypical yuppies.

The Orange vMEME includes approximately 25% to 30% of the world population. In the United States, the figure is closer to 50% of the population. Worldwide, this vMEME wields 45% to 50% of the power. Orange is the dominant vMEME in the U.S. today.

The following provides more detail on the typical qualities seen in the Orange "Achievist/Strategic" vMEME.

  • Characteristics
    • Competes for success
    • Goal-oriented drive
    • Change to progress
    • Material gain/perks
  • Decision making
    • Bottom-line results
    • Test options for best
    • Consult experts
    • Successful win spoils
  • Education
    • Experiments to win
    • High-tech, high status
    • How to win niches
    • Mentors and guides
  • Family
    • Upwardly mobile
    • Demands attention
    • High expectations
    • Image conscious
  • Community
    • Caters to prosperous
    • Displays affluence
    • Buys into society
    • Security for the elite
  • Life space
    • Wants to prosper now
    • Competition always
    • Leverages influence
    • Seeks material things

A few people in this audience may relate strongly to this vMEME. I know I do.


 Green "Communitarian/Egalitarian" vMEME

The response to the somewhat singularly driven Orange vMEME is found in the Green "Communitarian/Egalitarian" vMEME, the sixth "awakening," which first appeared nearly 150 years ago. The basic theme for the Green vMEME is: Seek peace within the inner self and explore, with others, the caring dimensions of community. Another way to think of this vMEME is as "The Sensitive Self."

Some of the characteristic beliefs and actions of the Green vMEME include:

  • Becomes more aware of the suffering of the world, of other sentient beings
  • The human spirit must be freed from greed, dogma, and divisiveness
  • Feelings, sensitivity, and caring supersede cold rationality
  • Share the Earth's resources and opportunities equally among all
  • Reach decisions through consensus processes
  • Anti-authoritarian and against hierarchy; establishes lateral bonding and linking
  • All values are pluralistic and relativistic; no one should be marginalized
  • Environmentalism becomes a socio-political movement
  • A fundamental belief is "All people are good; it's society that makes them bad." Highly idealistic.
  • Can create cults of victims and censorship through politically correct thinking; can also be politically dogmatic.

The Green vMEME is seen in the following: John Lennon's music, deep ecology, Greenpeace, animal rights, Woodstock, single payer health care, ACLU, humanistic psychology, diversity training, multiculturalism, Boulder, Colorado, Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream company (pre-merger—I have a feeling they are more orange vMEME after Unilever acquired them), The Body Shop, politically correct thinking, deconstructionism, postmodernism, The Utne Reader, Paul Ray's Cultural Creatives, and the natural/organic foods movement.

I believe that the essence of the culture wars in the U.S. is the differences between the Blue, Orange, and the Green vMEMEs.

The Green vMEME comprises 10% of the world population, and holds nearly 15% of the power; in the U.S. you can double these numbers. The Green vMEME now has more power in the U.S. than the Blue vMEME.

The following provides more information on the qualities inherent in the Green "Communitarian/Egalitarian" vMEME.

  • Characteristics
    • Seeks inner peace
    • Everybody is equal
    • Everything is relative
    • Harmony within the group
  • Decision making
    • Reach consensus
    • All must collaborate
    • Accept any input
    • Communal spoils
  • Education
    • To explore feelings
    • Shared experiences
    • Social development
    • Learn cooperation
  • Family
    • Grouping of equals
    • Participative activities
    • Highly accepting
    • All feelings processed
  • Community
    • Social safety-nets
    • "Politically correct"
    • Open for insiders
    • Invests in self
  • Life space
    • Thrives on belonging
    • Needs acceptance
    • Sacrifice feels good
    • Renews spirituality


The Second Tier vMEMEs

Consciousness continues its upward flow. There is a huge gap between what we have been talking about, and the next wave of consciousness. None of the First Tier vMEMEs can fully appreciate the value of the other vMEMEs. Each believes that its worldview is the only true perspective. However, a qualitative leap in consciousness occurs when a person moves past the Green vMEME into Second Tier, which is also termed "Integral."


Individuals who operate from the Second Tier are capable of fully appreciating the value and necessity of all the vMEMEs. They comprehend that the health of the entire spiral, or all vMEMEs, is essential. At the Integral level, fear and anxiety largely disappear from consciousness. At the Second Tier, systems thinking becomes the norm, and mental activity consists of joining, linking, and synthesizing in pluralistic systems. Individuals who have achieved the Second Tier find a greatly increased capacity for love and compassion. This is the "Self-Actualizing and Transpersonal" level in Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, as presented earlier.


I realize I'm giving you a lot of information. This is all background for what I really want to talk about. I want to provide you with an underlying structure for the discussion that follows. Bear with me, I have just a bit more background.


 Yellow "Autonomous/Integrative" vMEME

The first level within the Second Tier is the Yellow "Autonomous/Integrative" vMEME, which is the 7th "awakening," and it occurred approximately 50 years ago. The Yellow vMEME's basic tenet is: Live fully and responsibly with authenticity.

Some of the characteristic beliefs and actions of the Yellow vMEME are:

  • Pursuit of learning for its own sake.
  • Systems thinking.
  • Viewing life as a kaleidoscope of natural hierarchies, systems, and forms
  • Valuing the magnificence of existence over material possessions
  • Prioritizing flexibility, spontaneity, and functionality (Here at Whole Foods Market, you have long seen that I have a huge bias toward flexibility.)
  • Valuing knowledge and competency over rank, power, and status
  • Integrating complex systems with ease

The risk at this level of the wave is what Darth Vader from Star Wars or Sauruman from Lord of the Rings faced, which is the risk of the fall downward.


The Yellow vMEME is expressed in the following: Carl Sagan's astronomy, Peter Senge's learning organizations, Stephen Hawking's Brief History of Time, chaos theory, appropriate technology, eco-industrial parks (using each others' outflows as raw materials), Fred Alan Wolf's "new physics," Deepak Chopra's Ageless Body, the movie What the Bleep Do We Know?, Wired magazine, Gandalf the Grey from Lord of the Rings, and Dumbeldore from Harry Potter.


The only two companies I know that are operating frequently at the yellow level are Google and Whole Foods Market. There are probably many more, but those are the two that spring to mind. This is a recent vMEME, and only 1% of the population is found in the Yellow, but it holds 5% of the power world-wide.


The following qualities typify the Yellow "Integrative" vMEME.

  • Characteristics
    • Big picture views
    • Integrative structures
    • Naturalness of chaos
    • Inevitability of change
  • Decision making
    • Highly principled
    • Knowledge centered
    • Resolved paradoxes
    • Competent get spoils
  • Education
    • Becomes self-directed
    • Whole-day package
    • Tuned to interests
    • Non-rigid structure
  • Family
    • Shifting roles
    • Expects competence
    • Takes each as is
    • Information base
  • Community
    • Does more with less
    • Appropriate technologies
    • Power is dispersed
    • Integrated systems
  • Life space
    • Life is learning
    • Intrigued by process
    • Freedom to just be
    • Rarely fearful

 Turquoise "Holistic" vMEME

Beyond the largely individualistic Yellow vMEME, the Turquoise "Holistic" vMEME, as the 8th "awakening," began expressing about 30 years ago. This vMEME's basic premise is: Experience the wholeness of existence through mind and spirit.

Some of the characteristic beliefs and actions of the Turquoise vMEME include:

  • Experiencing the world as a single, dynamic organism with its own collective mind
  • Acknowledging the Self as both distinct and a blended part of a larger, compassionate whole
  • Viewing everything connected to everything else as incredibly beautiful ecological alignments
  • Experiencing energy and information as permeating the Earth's total environment
  • Thinking that is holistic and intuitive, with an expectation of cooperative actions
  • Synthesizing science and religion into a universal spirituality

The Turquoise vMEME is seen in: David Bohm's theories, McLuhan's "global village," Rupert Sheldrake and morphic fields, Gandhi's ideas of pluralistic harmony, Ken Wilber's "Spectrum of Consciousness," James Lovelock's "Gaia hypothesis," transpersonal psychology, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin's "noosphere," the White from Lord of the Rings, and Dumbledore from Harry Potter [if he isn't really dead-we are waiting to see what happens in book seven]. Whole Foods Market is evolving towards the Turquoise vMEME as an organization, working with Grameen Bank and our various foundations.


The Turquoise vMEME currently has around .01% of the population, but already holds approximately 1% of the power in the world.


Some of the differences to note are that the Yellow vMEME figures things out on an individual basis, and is very good at figuring out paradoxes on a one-up basis. The Turquoise vMEME goes back into the community orientation. It begins to connect on a global basis to other organizations and individuals that it harmonizes with to magnify the good we can do. With our partnerships with Earth University and Grameen, Whole Foods Market is recognizing that if we really want to help the world to evolve, we have to link up with other organizations with whom we harmonize to extend our influence.


The following qualities define the Turquoise "Holistic/Integral" vMEME.

  • Characteristics
    • Scans the macro
    • Synergy of all life
    • Safe, orderly world
    • Restore harmony
  • Decision making
    • Blend natural flows
    • Look up/downstream
    • Plan for long range
    • Life gets spoils
  • Education
    • Access to world
    • Blends feelings and technology
    • Bring past to life
    • Maximize the brain
  • Family
    • Global awareness
    • Grows consciousness
    • Broad interest ranges
    • Seeks outreach
  • Community
    • Interconnected
    • Highly diversified
    • Not isolationist
    • Information rich
  • Life space
    • Belong to universe
    • Fit into chain of being
    • Do something here
    • As one with life-force

Are there any vMEMEs beyond Turquoise?

New vMEMEs will continue to be created as the evolution of human consciousness so requires. Beck and Cowan claim that a new vMEME, Coral, exists but that it lacks a sufficient number of people to be statistically meaningful. Likewise, Ken Wilber believes that vMEMEs beyond Coral also exist. He calls this the "Third Tier" of consciousness. He states that fully realized beings such as the Buddha and Jesus evolved to this Third Tier. Non-dual consciousness and universal love and compassion characterize this level of consciousness.


Spiral Dynamics and Whole Foods Market

We needed to go through all that background information to acquire some basic language in common. Now, how is Spiral Dynamics relevant to Whole Foods Market? Spiral Dynamics is a useful model to understand one's personal values and one's current level/wave of consciousness. Spiral Dyamics is also a useful model to better understand what is happening in the world today. In addition, Spiral Dynamics is a useful model for understanding organizations and businesses. Why are we different than most other corporations in the world? Most corporations in the United States are rooted firmly in the Orange vMEME; a few are in the Green vMEME, as are many non-profits. There are very few Second Tier (Integral) corporations. I believe Whole Foods Market is a Yellow, Integral organization. Finally, Spiral Dynamics is a useful model to understand the evolution of our agricultural system over the past 100,000+ years and where it is headed.


What are the limitations of First Tier business models? Large corporations are solidly grounded in the Orange vMEME. Corporations are the most influential institutions in the world today and yet most people do not believe they are "good" or that they can be trusted. Corporations are widely perceived as greedy, selfish, exploitative, and uncaring; they are only interested in profits. Poor, and very public, examples of ethical lapses include Enron, Tyco, NYSE, WorldCom, Mutual Funds, AIG, and Martha Stewart. The Orange vMEME thinks in terms of machine or engineering metaphors; for example: labor, land, and capital are "factors of production," and are therefore merely means to the end of efficiency.


The Orange vMEME doesn't grasp systems interdependencies and therefore largely lacks ecological consciousness or a sense of responsibility for other stakeholders. The anti-globalization movement is primarily a Green vMEME anti-corporation movement. Many people are afraid that corporations want to "rule the world." Corporations and capitalism both have serious "branding" problems. These problems are inherent problems within the Orange vMEME, because it doesn't communicate well with other vMEMEs, especially Green. It is my opinion that large corporations need to evolve to Green vMEME, and then to the Second Tier (and become Integral). That is why it is so exciting to see Safeway and Wal-Mart becoming more sensitive to their stakeholders besides their investors. They are beginning to recognize that they need to evolve.


What are the limitations of First Tier non-profit organizations? Most American non-profit organizations are grounded within the Green vMEME, creating inefficiencies, waste, and stagnation. I would argue that most are ineffective. Nearly 99% of non-profit organizations are dependent upon donations from the business sector of society in order to exist-they aren't sustainable on their own. All institutions need inputs of resources, energy and money in order to fulfill their purpose. Ultimately all money is produced through business enterprise.


We need to be asking: "Are altruistic goals by themselves enough to make a non-profit organization "good" or "ethical?" Do these altruistic goals make them effective? Are non-profit organizations able to completely transcend self-interest simply because they have altruistic goals? I would argue they don't. It is my opinion that non-profit organizations need to evolve to the Second Tier (become Integral), just like business.


We see a basic conflict between the Orange and Green vMEMEs; a perceptual wall between the "good" non-profits and the "bad" corporations. The wall needs to be torn down and the polarities integrated at a higher level, the Second Tier (Integral). Business needs to become "good," with a deeper and more comprehensive purpose. Corporations must rethink why they exist. They must evolve past machine metaphors and learn how to think holistically. At the same time, non-profits must become economically sustainable and discover that money and profits are good, not evil, and part of the healthy holistic organization. Grameen Bank is a great example of an altruistic organization that has learned the importance of sustainable enterprise. We need to recognize the increasing importance of social entrepreneurship. This will continue to grow.


Once the perceptual wall is torn down, it becomes clear that business and non-profit organizations are much more alike than they are different. They both can become Integral. At the Second Tier, THEY AREN'T ANY DIFFERENT!!!!


Second Tier (Integral) holistic view of interdependence of all stakeholders



Second Tier (Integral) holistic view of interdependence of all stakeholders



When you fully understand the need to simultaneously satisfy the stakeholders, you'll see that business enterprise and non-profit enterprise are far more alike than different, and they have much to teach each other.


A Quick History of Food Production

I'm going to paint a big picture of the entire history of food in the next few minutes, using Spiral Dynamics to help illustrate the talk.


The following is an overview of the evolution of food and agriculture from a Spiral Dynamics perspective:

  • Beige vMEME Began 100,000+ years ago—hunting and gathering
  • Purple vMEME Began 50,000 years ago—hunting and gathering plus early horticulture
  • Red vMEME Began 10,000 years ago—transition to settled agriculture as main source of food
  • Blue vMEME Began 5,000 years ago—traditional agriculture established; authoritarian cultures built upon agricultural surpluses
  • Orange vMEME Began 300 years ago—industrial system gradually applied to agriculture; we began to apply science, technology, and industry to agriculture
  • Green vMEME Began 150 years ago—in response to the industrialization of food, the natural and organic movement began evolving over the past 50 years in response to the industrial model of the Orange vMEME
  • Yellow vMEME Began 50 years ago—"Deep Organic" and animal compassionate movements began about 20 to 30 years ago. These movements are still scattered and not well linked together. Part of the Whole Foods Market mission is to link these two together.
  • Turquoise vMEME Began 30 years ago—its effects on food production not known as yet

Industrialization of our Food

I would now like to discuss the industrialization of our food production, which began with the Orange vMEME. I want to give the Orange vMEME full credit for the benefits this mentality has brought to our food systems before I critique it.


Over the last 300 years the Orange vMEME has steadily replaced the Blue vMEME approach to agriculture. As a result, an industrial model of food production has spread throughout the world. World food supplies have tripled in the past 30 years. World grain production requires only one-third the amount of agricultural land that it required 50 years ago for the same level of production. These massive increases in productivity have greatly reduced the price of food. Cheaper food has enabled individual and societal resources to be spent in other ways to enhance our quality of life. Americans now spend less than 10% of their disposable income on food. In 1950 we spent over 20%.


That being said, there are a lot of negative effects from this industrialized model. The large increases of productivity are primarily the result of massive chemical inputs. Each year about 3 million tons of farm chemicals are applied to the surface of our planet where they escape into the global environment. This has resulted in the degradation of both soil and water. Nearly one-third of the original amount of U.S. topsoil is now gone. Agriculture uses two-thirds of the world's fresh water resources, and, in many cases, it is polluting and depleting groundwater supplies.


The creation of animal "factory farms" has greatly lowered the cost of all animal products, but it has come at tremendous cost in animal welfare. Most farm animals are now raised indoors in confined animal feeding operations, where almost all natural animal behaviors are denied. Over 12 billion farmed animals are now slaughtered every year in the United States.


Animal factory farms have huge negative effects on the environment. The volume of farm animal waste products is 130 times greater than human waste in the United States, and this material usually does not pass through sewage treatment plants. One big industrial hog operation produces more waste than the entire city of Los Angeles over a year.


Farm animals in the U.S. now consume 70% of all the grains we grow. Including the land used for grazing cows, this means that means that 80% of all agricultural land in the U.S. is used to raise animals for food. That is equal to almost one half of the total land mass of the continental U.S.


Our oceans suffer from the Orange vMEME approach, as well. Industrial pollution and over-fishing cause tremendous damage to our oceans. Coral reefs have declined by 30% in the last 30 years. It is estimated that the total number of whales in the world has declined 90% in the last 100 years. World supplies of cod, swordfish, marlin, halibut, skate, and flounder have been reduced by almost 50% in the last 50 years. We are fishing out the oceans, it is happening in our lifetimes.


Industrial mono-cultures are causing a loss of genetic diversity around the world. And the remaining genes in agricultural crops are being modified and introduced into the food supply chain at an alarming rate. Genetic engineering of our food crops has great potential and great risks. Unfortunately, it is currently being developed almost strictly from the consciousness of the Orange vMEME.


The current obesity epidemic is probably directly related to the industrialization of our food production system. The figures are staggering! Over 60% of Americans are classified as overweight and 26% are considered obese.


The success of Whole Foods Market in the last couple of years has extended beyond our core Green vMEME customer base and has attracted the Orange vMEME customer. This is certainly good in one sense, because it is extending our business mission further into the world. The success with this customer base is also now resulting in increased competition from Orange vMEME businesses—Wild Oats, Safeway, Super Value, Wal-Mart—who are chasing our customers. The integrity of our industry will be under increasing pressure. There will be a competitive pressure to "dumb down" the organic movement.


What are the causes of these negative effects from the industrialization of our food production? One effect is that the Orange vMEME lacks the perspective to think holistically or ecologically about agriculture. The environmental impacts of industrial agricultural production processes are not fully factored into cost models - the pollution of air and water and the degradation of soil. Next is the failure of the market to effectively communicate other values besides prices to consumers. Quality, nutritional value, and the environmental impact of products are not fully communicated to the consumer. The market system doesn't communicate any values other than cost.


Farm animal welfare is completely ignored because livestock animals are seen as merely a "factor of production" instead of as sentient beings to be cared for. Factory farms are, for most citizens and business owners, "out of sight, out of mind."


The negative effects of the Orange vMEME in agriculture are most clearly seen in our "Factory Farms." With this model, all that matters is minimizing costs and maximizing productivity. That, in a nutshell, is the logic of the Orange vMEME in agriculture today.


If Whole Foods Market doesn't work to correct the horrible abuses of farm animals, then who will? This is factory farming, so you can take a good look at it.


*[presentation of Meat Your Meat, a video prepared by PETA]*

click here to choose your player and download speed and watch the video

[The audience buzzes at the conclusion of the video.]

I hope I didn't mess up your lunch today!



Evolving Solutions for Agriculture

What are the solutions to the industrialization of agriculture? Agricultural needs to evolve from the Orange vMEME to the Green vMEME and then make the leap to the Second Tier (Integral). Food producers need to evolve to systems thinking—holistic and ecological—optimizing the entire system, not just one part. The U.S. needs to eliminate all agricultural subsidies to agribusiness. Farmers and producers need to internalize the costs of environmental impacts. We need to more fully adopt the tenets of the "Deep Organic" agricultural movement. As a society, we need to support local agriculture. We need to demand the compassionate treatment of farm animals and the integration of farm animals into ecological farm systems.


Organic Solutions

Organic agriculture is certainly one of the solutions. Organic agriculture produces food without synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. The organic agriculture movement was originally activated by the Green vMEME, but now the Orange vMEME is co-opting organic agriculture. As a society, we are better served by adopting Deep Organic (Second Tier-Integral) versus Shallow Organic (Orange vMEME) agriculture. An example of shallow organic agriculture would be the labeling of certain brands of milk as "organic." A factory farm can legally produce organic milk if it is feeding the cow organic feed, but otherwise maintaining factory conditions. By contrast, the Deep Organic world-view sees the farm not as a "food factory" but as a human-managed microcosm of the natural world. The Deep Organic world-view sees the soil as a living system to be nurtured and replenished instead of "mined" and exploited.


Whole Foods Market was instrumental in helping to develop the national organic standards into law. However, we have got to do a much better job of educating our customers and the media about the value of Deep Organic agriculture. We must not compromise our higher values, but maintain the very highest standards. We are going to have to stand strong and fight the corporate movement to dumb down organic agriculture.


Animal Welfare

Whole Foods Market Animal Compassionate Standards are a great leap forward over what exists now conventionally. But we have to do better. Our long-term goal is to develop compassionate standards for all meat, poultry, and fish species sold in Whole Foods Market stores. Duck, pig, beef, and sheep standards are completed and can be viewed on our website. Lobster, broiler chicken, laying hens and turkey standards are planned for 2006, and dairy cows, goats, and fish farms are slated for 2007. We are developing the standards as a multi-stakeholder process, involving major animal rights organizations: Animal Welfare Institute, Viva!USA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, Humane Society of the U.S., Animal Rights International, and Farm Sanctuary. We are producing a living document that is subject to revision. Any future product that adheres to these standards will be clearly marked with soon to be developed Animal Compassion logo.


I want to talk briefly about the Animal Compassion Foundation. Our intention with this foundation is to create a worldwide network of ranchers and farmers interested in improving humane treatment for farm animals. The foundation will search the planet for innovative methods to be studied and provide research money for scientific studies to improve the welfare of farm animals. The foundation will collect information for knowledge sharing on a worldwide basis. The foundation will be funded through a Whole Foods Market annual Global 5% Day.


Moving Forward

In conclusion, I want to say WAKE UP!!! Wake up! Learn and grow! Evolve your consciousness to a higher level. Open your heart wider and extend love, care and compassion further.


Fulfill the mission and core values of Whole Foods Market. Our company is making a real difference in the world. We are making it better. You are contributing to the evolution of the world, by fulfilling our mission.


Think in terms of creating value for all of our stakeholders simultaneously. All stakeholders are interdependent and connected together. When you do this, you are thinking with Second Tier (Integral) consciousness. As you practice this at Whole Foods Market, you are practicing Second Tier thinking. Sometimes it seems as if the Team Members are only thinking about the Team Member's interests, although many are paying attention to the Customers. It seems like the only ones paying attention to the investors are the Team Leaders. Maybe that's how they got to be Team Leaders. The trick is to think in terms of creating value for all stakeholders simultaneously.


The final message is Whole Foods Whole People Whole Planet. We are all connected together in an upward spiral flow toward greater health, happiness, peace, love, and ecological sustainability. That is our purpose, and that is what we are doing.


Here are a few resources if you'd like to learn more:

I'll entertain a few questions:


Q: You used several terms: arrested vs. activated. What do those terms mean, and are these the only states you can be in?

A: When a vMEME is activated, that means it is starting to "light up." If you are in a particular vMEME and it stops making sense to you, if something has happened in your life to make you question the values you hold, the next MEME will start to make sense, and will "light up."

If you are arrested in a certain level, your growth has stopped, you're not letting other input or information in, your thinking has become rigid.

Are there only two states? No, but can't think of anything else to tell you right now.


Q: You referenced "power" and the percentages each level held several times in your talk. How were you defining power?

A: They weren't my statistics (I got them from Don Beck's book Spiral Dynamics), but I define it as power in society, economic/political/social power. Orange is most powerful level today in the United States. Green growing in power, and Blue is still pretty powerful, but is in gradual decline. You have to view the statistics on a world-wide basis. The figures are different in the U.S., because we've got more Green activated.


Q: You identified the need for the entire food industry to move toward a more holistic manner of production; do you believe enough people will embrace having to pay for the additional costs?

A: Yes, I do. Look at how much the industry has changed in 20 years. Many more people are buying organic food, even though it costs more. Look at Wal-Mart, selling organic produce. Who'd have thought that would happen 20 years ago? Make no mistake, Whole Foods Market will be leading the way; especially if we become more conscious, we can then grow and evolve more quickly; as we network with evolving organizations around the world, such as Grameen Bank and Earth University, we'll be helping to speed up the evolution into the Second Tier. At Whole Foods Market, we have a great balance of Orange, Green, and Second Tier energy in an interesting mix. We have many challenges ahead, but let the fear go, people. WE ARE MAKING A DIFFERENCE.


Q: Is Whole Foods Market willing to address Population Control in its networking activities?

A: Maybe. I prepared this talk today because I wanted to challenge each level to understand the other. Some of the most important upward movements in the world today are in places like India and China, where people in the Blue vMEME are moving in great numbers into the Orange. As societies move into the Orange vMEME, populations tend to self-limit. I believe population will take care of itself. As economic power grows, the incentive to have many children lessens. I believe population will limit itself voluntarily, or internally by cultures, as a country's consciousness grows. I don't see a real need for external controls or programs. I think the answer is to make the whole world prosperous, fulfill Muhammad Yunnus' vision for empowering the poor, on a world-wide basis.


Q: You talked a lot about Genetic Engineering and how its name would need to change, and how it needed to change. What would you change the name to, and what would it look like at the Second Tier?

A: Genetic Engineering is caught in the crossfire of the Orange vMEME vs. Green vMEME thinking. At the Second Tier, it could potentially become of great benefit to the world, many beneficial things could come from it, but it probably wouldn't be called GE. If undertaken from a higher consciousness, and from a position of care, compassion and love, and an understanding of the complex systems involved, Genetic Engineering has the capacity to do great good. I reject the Green vMEME thinking that Genetic Engineering must be stopped at all costs. I think it needs to be implemented from a systems perspective, which isn't currently happening, but could in the future. I know I will be misquoted and misunderstood. I didn't SAY that I favored Genetic Engineering. Let's be clear about that.


Q: As the world goes through the evolutionary process, with half the world still in the beige/purple/red/blue vMEMEs, how much leap-frogging will take place? Must societies go thru each level?

A: Yes, but they may move through them more quickly. I wouldn't even be doing this talk, except that I'm hoping to accelerate Whole Food's evolution. If everyone here, if everyone in the company made a commitment toward growth, it could have an accelerating effect on our organization's influence at the next level. My generation, which includes the Boomers, was the first that activated the Green vMEME in large numbers. Unfortunately many of the Boomers got stuck there. They didn't go any higher. You see a lot of the negative parts of the Green vMEME now manifesting in society and this has fueled the culture wars. I'm most excited about the millennial generation, the young people born after about 1982. These kids are collectively very, very awake. Many of them are moving into the Second Tier already, and they are only 20 years old! The next generation will be moving into the Second Tier in significant numbers. I start to cry when I think about these young people, because they are so awesome and their potential for doing good is so great.


I think this is a good place to stop. Thank you.

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~C4Chaos says …

great post John. good to know that one of my favorite hangout places is in touch with the spiraling colors ;) very fluffy. ~C4無秩序

Srikumar S. Rao says …

Bravo! I would never have believed that the CEO of a food market chain would actually address head-on the issue of animal suffering or the environmental side-effects of factory farming. The model you have outlined is a neat way of framing the changes taking place all around us. However, there is much more turbulence than you acknowledge. There are entire societies sinking into blue and red - eg Iraq after our ill advised intervention - while many individuals in all countries are moving upwards. My hope, like yours, is that as things get 'worse' more persons will move up individually and this will create a collective move upwards. Keep spreading this message and more power to you. Srikumar Rao

Tom Harrison says …

Wow! This is quite a treatise. I have been shopping at my local Whole Foods market for years, and grousing about the prices but knowing I am doing the right thing. (Our local store was called Bread and Circus until Whole Foods acquired it -- we used to call it "Bread and Checkbook"). Recently I have become more aware, initially about energy and environmental issues, and as I become more aware I realize how important food is in the whole equation. I have been writing about my efforts to make a difference in my blog since last year, and am putting the pieces together. I can see that Whole Foods has got it right. This morning, my wife and I started participating in your Energy Credit partnership with, and as I was writing about it in my blog, I saw this post here. I read the whole article with rapt attention, and have to say it's one of the coolest things I have seen in a while. Maslow always struck me as simplistic ... not wrong, just not really enough to do much with. Spiral Dynamics seems like a fine and useful framework for business, politics and our daily lives. Thanks for introducing me and others to the idea, and of course to the authors who conceived it. As an Economics student in college, I struggled with the apparent conflict between greedy business and selfless but silly do-gooders. The Enrons, Exxons and Wal-Marts were equally as harmful as well-meaning charities like "Save the Children" whose incompetence and inefficiency only really made things worse. This seemed unnecessary to me, but I have continually faced irreconcilable conflicts between the two through my career in the last 20+ years since I graduated. The view of the world you paint here is the first cogent, sensible, realistic, viewpoint I have had the chance to see. I am now part of a small company and in some ways we are evolved and evolving, but we're still acting pretty "orange". I'll look to help us move to a secondary color. And I salute your leadership in a company that can truly make a difference in so many important ways. And, I'll stop grousing about the prices at the checkout counter :-)

Yvone says …

If the e-mail name doesn't show i have a sense of humor nothing does. You seem like a very interesting man.And if you write your own speeches you are funny and witty. Maybe I should have worked in your store for 10 years I might of learned a thing or two. GREAT SPEECH.

Dalva E. Yarrington says …

Bravo! Thinking out loud is good in good company. Reading and listening are fundamental from the cradle to the grave (said the librrrrarian) and knowing ones self is essential whether you are wandering through Maslow's pyramid or spiraling in vivid color. My contribution to the common good this year is "theFamilyReunionOnPaperJournal. It is my hope to help folks get the premise in "Love thy neighbor as thyself". This can help no matter where one may be in the process. Reconciling with ones self will pave the way for self love and the love of neighbors. Life, Meaning, Purpose-- you can find it when your mind and heart is available (reconciled). Again--Bravo!

Debra Myers says …

As a supplier to Whole Foods I continue to be awed by you, John. You make me and our company want to be better. Walking lightly on the planet is so important and treating animals in a humane way is part of this. Keep up the great work not only at WFM but on using your influence to educate other corporations on how to be good stewards of our fragile planet. Warmly, Debra Myers Founder, Enfusia organic body products

melanie mitzner says …

I was very moved by your Austin speech and connect with the spiral flow theory, particularly with the struggle to reach the second tier. My partner and I launched our online organic, Fair Trade store for many of the reasons you espouse in the interconnectedness and higher consciousness to which we all aspire. It is refreshing and supremely delightful to hear a man of your stature and influence sharing these thoughts with a genuine interest in moving our global society in a direction that will benefit us all.

Richard Cinta says …

VERY Shocked I Was! I first saw John on a TV interview tonight and really enjoyed it. So I browsed the website and found it very interesting that this speech, made in a closed door setting was made available to the public to view. THAT alone is very remarkable. Many educated authors like Deepak Chopra, Dr. David Hawkins, Donna Eden and many others, which John mentioned as well, are separately coming to the same conclusions. Which is really Amazing! Of Raising our awareness of who we are, how we impact those around us, and how to understand and evolve into something even better than before. Perhaps, One way that Whole Foods can help communities evolve to their next level, is to incorporate a classroom/cooking school space, into their layouts. A few other major stores, that have done this, have had great success. the topics however, are along the lines of traditional levels. Just imagine, if Whole Foods, could offer the Best Customer Service, in a Whole New Way, to educate their those that are yearning to evolve, but havent found a clear way yet. Just a thought I had of many. Great speech and article. Richard Cinta

Desmond Green says …

Thanks for an awesome world view which amplifies and values every individual and their potential to contribute to the common good. This view is certainly serving and will continue to honor the best interests of all. thanks again. Desmond Green (Author)Quantum Being,Living and loving.

Warren Love says …

The more I read the more I appreciated the synergy your views have with where we should take our lives. As a big believer in our abiltiy to live to a ripe (but not too ripe) old age of 120, the upward spiral of consciousness or "sensitivity" to our personal wake is key. Recognizing our own or collective "carbon footprint", garbage output or trans-emotional-ripple (my best shot at hyphenated word)empowers us to realize we do and, therefore, can make a difference. As one of my life mentors, Barry "Bears" Kaufman, would say "We are a force of nature". John, thank you for being the catalyst for this, my first, BLOG post. Sincerely, Warren Love

Perry Press Epstein says …

Dear John, Reading your keynote speech of March 2006 was very enlightening. It didn't cross my mind while entertaining a future at Whole Foods that your mind set would be as advanced as the ideas set forth in your keynote speech. Before giving my additional comments concerning your statements I would like to discuss one point of contention and a simple error. You have explained that power is defined as (economic, political, and social power) a measure of impact that each color will impart on the world seen. The color beige uses many of the worlds community resources and therefore secondarily controls more power then implied by your senario. If you check the Blue color you will notice that the word punish is used once to often. Your keynote speech was beautiful. If I'm correct you did say you relate very srongly to the Orange color. It almost seems necessary for a leader of a profit driven business entitiy to find themselves drawn to this arena. Your parallel between Jesus and Buddha and the third tier seems very accurate. It would be interesting to see Whole Foods reach the third teir. One example would be the joining of smaller based organic farms with their limited economic power and the Whole Foods Organization to ensure their viability and future. The message of Jesus and Buddha was one of unity. A second example would be the combining of competitors resources to better serve the world community as a whole. It would be wise for all of us to realize we are but one family traveling on a very small and fragile planet. I will be applying for a position at Whole Foods this week, wish me luck!!

Kulu Sadira says …

Bravo, John! As an Integral / Spiral Dynamics teacher and facilitator of several years, I commend you. Your presentation was clear, comprehensive and brave, given the current meme antagonisms. Thank you. That said, I have some concerns about the assumtion that both you and Ken voice about the benign or neutral quality of economic systems (like free-market capitalism - or communism, for that matter), or communication systems (like the internet). I referrence here your conversation on My opinion is that all societal structures, because they arise within a complex, interobjective human matrix, carry some degree of intrinsic baggage. To say that these systems are somehow neutral, and that all the problems that arise from them are simply a consequence of individuals or groups with either low moral development or ego/ethnocentric worldview (or both) using them recklessly is, I feel, unnuanced at best and at worst simplistic or dangerous. Because all social and economic systems, tools and structures are "products" of our human perspectives, none are neutral. They require constant assessment and critique from a deep and broad integral vantage point. I'd love to get your take on this issue. Thanks again for your strong and inspiring leadership. Kulu Sadira Durango, CO

Dorothy Wood says …

Thank you John: It is no surprise to me that we are one family from one ultimate source and that we will ultimately succeed in providing for our great family through this realization. Thank you for your inspiring address as well as its manifestation in your stores... An awesome beginning well done.

Laurence James Lucas says …

Hello John Mackey, I commend your company agenda... regarding your spiral dynamics overview, yes very good except, if I may suggest, the prevalent assumption reproduced here that Astrology and anything new age is purely B O (PURPLE VALUE MEME. The A'N' (YELLOW VALUE MEME) emergence means the environment of uncertainty increases, the advantage of that from an evolutionary point of view is that the coping method of questioning the assumptions that create the 'lower' value systems occurs. I have found the assumptions from even great intellects andin fact especially intellectuals is based on superficial understandings of 'alternative fields' regards Laurence James Lucas

ellisa frantz says …

I currently work at the Charlottesville, VA Whole Foods Market. I am so proud to work for this company. I love my job. I love knowing that even at the corporate level Whole Foods takes the world on with open arms, high expectations, and awe. Thank you, John, for setting an amazing example and continuing to challenge us all to a higher place through work, learning, and community. Peace. Ellisa Frantz Whole Body Charlottesville!

Todd LeVasseur says …

Nice to see this talk coming from a corporate CEO. Unfortunatley, I don't think JM has thoroughly looked at all the criticisms that are extant in regards to Wilber and the spiral dynamics model. Correct me if I am wrong and you have looked at these criticisms. If not, I encourage you to do so, as Wilber has a lot of characteristics of a brainwashing guru figure and there are serious flaws in his thinking and model that need to be addressed. Maybe next gathering you can give a talk about how WF is going to respond to climate change. Todd LeVasseur

Deborah Yost says …

It is inspiring to see a CEO talking about Spiral Dynamics. If you ever decide to bring a WF to Lincoln, NE I'm on board & will help you. The Omaha one is great but too far for prudent petroleum consumption... Namaste ~ D. Yost CalmEagle on

Vivienne Hunt says …

BRAVO John This was very enlightening and confirming of my decision to stop eating meat after working in the poultry industry in New Zealand and the pork and pigmeat industries in Europe. The environmental consequences of intensive meat production are horrendous! I believe too that Generation Y consumers will address some of the imbalances and think this is why it is important to give them choices to buy products that do not always support Multinational Enterprises getting richer. At Bravo Project we are trying to help consumers buy products that will support their own community groups. We would love to have access to enlightened organisations such as Whole Foods. Vivienne, Auckland New Zealand

Joel says …

Very moving. Mr. Mackey continually makes me proud to be a whole foods consumer. - Consciousness development engenders a decrease in narcissism and an increase in caring and consciousness. Humans move from ego-centric to ethno-centric to world-centric as they develop in consciousness. The upward spiral of development is at the same time a spiral of compassion—from me to us to all of us. - It is rare to see a businessman be a proponent of higher states of consciousness. Ever read "The Fourth Way," by Ouspensky?

ELizabeth Lower says …

Thank you for waking up . Thank you for your clear chat on 60 minutes. I am a community member of CWGOD reading and discussion group. We are one , there is enough , life is eternal. Also I enjoy sharing the life laws from Law of attraction, creating, allowing. I would love to be part of your expansion . peace always, elizabeth

John Copeland says …

Limitations of "First Tier" nonprofits and sustainability issues. Some nonprofits can provide sustainability to recipients even if they themselves are not internally sustainable. The main problem with most nonprofits is not just that they are not sustainable and do not provide sustainabilty, but that they only provide - THINGS! In addition to providing useful tools, Dollars for Water – Dollars for Life also provides a most important intangible commodity - TIME!

Patricia Scott says …

Mr. Mackey, I read your speech and was envigorated by the thinking that goes into what you do. Your "Spiral Dynamics Model" is interesting and in many ways does display what happens in the world order. I appreciate your conscientiousness. While I see the progressiveness of your model and the attention you ascribe to wanting to improve conditions for many, you on an individual level, seem to operate in a "blue" level. Is there not a need for a continuous flow through and not just a spiraling towards, seeing that this model shows the ability to control what is not always controllable, human behavior. I love the fact that you have given this forum for feedback. You are one of my business mentors. Just so you know and I think you do, "To whom much is given, much is required". God is in the details. Patricia Scott

Vjklander says …

As a Libertarian, I continue to enjoy John Mackey's writing and acting. As a pragmatist, I do believe he grossly overestimates the number of Oranges. While the number who CLAIM to be Orange may indeed be near 50%, I suspect the real number is more like 5%, or even lower. Hopefully, WFM will come to Fredericksburg soon.

Andrew Cavanagh says …

Hi John, I'm a health writer from Australia. I appear regularly on 40 radio stations across Australia talking about how to improve your health with natural diet and lifestyle changes. Just last week I was travelling through Texas to attend a seminar in Austin at the Crossings. We passed a Texan "dairy". In Australia most dairies consists of rolling green hills of grass, plenty of shade trees and the cows line up peacefully every day ready to be milked. They're quite pleasant places to visit. The dairies we passed in Texas you wouldn't want to visit without a gas mask and very heavy boots. The smell will haunt my memory forever. I lived for several years in Australia in one of the world's largest eco-villages and studied ecological farming, settlement design and permaculture. I would add to your list of recommended reading "Permaculture: A Designer's Manual" by Bill Mollison and "A Pattern Language" by Christopher Alexander. As you so eloquently pointed out in your talk it is simply impossible to create humane, sustainable agriculture without creating an integrated wholistic approach to every part of our lives...our philosophy, the homes we build, the way we design our properties and communities, the way we grow our food and raise our livestock, the way we design our businesses and earn our living. It's interesting to note that the population in Russia produces over 60% of it's food needs in small home gardens. What sort of an impact could "home agiculture" make if it spread through the western world. Growing some of your own food may not be quite as sexy but it's certainly no more difficult than maintaining a lawn. I first visited a Whole Foods store just 12 months ago on my first visit to the USA. After being stunned at the pitiful quality of food here in the USA Whole Foods was like an oasis. But I couldn't really believe what I was seeing. Was there really a large corporation in the world making exceptional progress by putting principles before profits? I've said for years that business's primary function is to serve people and the "the bottom line in business" mantra is fundamentally flawed. Among other things a business with a service ethic and a genuine purpose creates client loyalty. Just yesterday my girlfriend and I drove 15 minutes out of our way to shop at whole foods in Austin. On the way we joked that this might not be entirely environmentally sound behaviour but when we're in the USA if we can get to a Whole Foods we do. We're loyal without even trying. But I'm still a skeptic... At the checkout I was talking to the happy young man bagging our groceries. (That's another thing about Whole Foods. All the staff seem so much happier.) Anyway being a writer at heart I tried digging for some truth. I asked this young employee "What does Whole Foods mean to you?" "Do you think this whole philosophy is real or is it all just bull****?" Now I can tell you most of the large businesses I worked when I grew up just about every staff member would have gone for cow manure answer - myself included! This young man looked at me for a minute then said "I think Whole Foods is doing a lot of things right. Buying produce locally for example..." "It's insane to freight peaches from Chile!" After he listed several other wonderful ways Whole Foods was "getting it right" I asked him about his background. He was finishing a Masters in Business Administration. Now here's one of the most uplifting things I've heard in my recent years. When he finishes his MBA this young man plans on consulting with large corporations helping them run their businesses more ethically. "You don't have to chase the buck to make a profit," were the words he used. In many places a statement like this would be discarded as idealistic dreaming. But we were standing in a Whole Foods store - a living example that you can work for real, measurable principles and make exceptional profits while embracing and nurturing every person who comes in contact with you - clients, employees, stockholders - everyone. I can't say for certain that this young man got his advanced business philosophy from Whole Foods but I'd be pretty certain you had a huge influence. In my opinion Whole Foods has become the most important large corporation in the western world. It stands as an icon of new values that can endure and thrive in the marketplace. I applaud you and pray your vision of a better world lives and grows. I also look forward to the day when you come to Australia. If I can help you in any way it would truly be an honour. Kindest regards, Andrew Cavanagh

Alyoshevna says …

Mr. Mackey, It appears that I'm destined to be the first dissenter from your theory of the Upward Flow of Human Development. Please take my dissent as it is intended, that is, in the spirit of discussion. First, Maslow's Need Hierarchy was and remains theory. Its apex, Self-Actualization, has never been well defined, and I'd say that it is demonstrably not our highest need, or if it is, then our highest need is for unhappiness. Perhaps the likes of Machiavelli, Hitler, and Pol Pot were temporarily satisfied by seeking self-expression and self-fulfillment, but I don't think such pursuits provide long-term serenity. Self-fulfillment is an oxymoron. I don't believe anyone can be happy focusing only on their own "actualization." Second, Spiral Dynamics is and remains theory, and not very good theory at that. Neither Don Beck, Christopher Cowan, Ken Wilber, nor anyone else knows what "awakened" among humans "100,000+ years ago," or at any time before recorded history began some 5,000 years ago. Is there any evidence that 10,000 years ago, "the individual" began to "stand tall...enjoy himself to the fullest...conquers...other aggressive characters...believe that 'I am special...immortal, not like all the others,'" or that enjoyment and conquest didn't exist previously? None that I know of. Memes are also theory, with no demonstrable existence outside the minds of those who believe they exist. Dawkins defined a meme as "a unit of cultural transmission, or a unit of imitation" and likened memes to genes. The difference is that nobody has ever found a structural component in the brain corresponding to a meme, nor found any other bodily method of transferring these "units" from one generation to another. Unless memes have some independent existence from those who use the term, a meme is only that, a term. It also appears to me that Spiral Dynamics, like memes and other postmodern beliefs, largely flatter those who believe in them. I've never heard of anyone who claims that human beliefs and behavior are governed by abstractions like memes who simultaneously believes that he or she is witlessly governed by same. Is this not a contemporary version of "I -- and those who agree with me -- are special, not like all the others"? Mr. Mackey, is it not self-flattering to identify Whole Foods as "evolving toward" the top of the Spiral, the "Turquoise vMEME" -- where only one-tenth of 1% of the world's population reside? "We are special, not like 99.9% of the others." Unspoken is the belief that Turquoise-level people actually know how to "Restore harmony" ("restore"? when did this harmony previously exist?), "Maximize the brain," "Grow consciousness," "Belong to the universe," etc. It is all vague and unprovable, but it all sounds so darn good. "We" are special indeed. May I suggest that those who want to "Bring past to life" gain a better understanding of it? Read through the Tanak, also known as the Old Testament. It shows what people believed about themselves and their history during the so-callled Blue vMEME. It shows that they believed themselves to be enjoined to love their neighbors in general and specifically enjoined to be nonpartially just, to support "widows, orphans and foreigners" -- those most likely to be poor -- and to treat dependents well and to periodically forgive debts. It shows them engaging in what we still call pleasurable acts; the Song of Songs remains one of the most erotic love poems ever composed. It appears to me that the description of the Blue vMEME could be summarized as "Everything we Turquoise vMEME people don't like about other people whom we don't know personally, and whom we don't know much about historically, either, except that we know they hold traits we don't like." In any other context, wouldn't the description of Blue vMEMEs be called bigotry? Lest you wonder: I value both religion and science. They aren't necessarily antithetical. As far as I can see, those who buy into theoretical frameworks like Spiral Dynamics, presumably nominating themselves the most evolved human beings on the planet, by definition display precious little tolerance toward literally billions of others with whom they share it. I can't see how this belief system is consistent with stated goals and traits like "Restore harmony," "Seek outreach," and be "Not isolationist." Or, for that matter, why the Blue vMEME "Law abiding citizen" has no place in a Turquoise vMEME "Safe, orderly world." As I see it, Spiral Dynamics sets up a series of mutually exclusive groups who largely never existed. Those paragons of Orange vMEME values, America's Founding Fathers, never rejected Blue vMEME religion; they thought it essential to the republic they were creating and wrote the First Amendment to protect religious belief from state interference, not vice versa. Nor did people who pursue "Knowledge for its own sake," "Value knowledge and competency for its own sake," and "Integrate complex systems with ease" burst into human history with the Yellow vMEME 50 years ago. Nor is theirs the first generation to hold "Big picture views." I hazard that every human throughout history and prehistory has held big-picture views. The difference is their content, and perhaps the latterday tendency to admire only those who share one's big-picture view. But, no, that tendency has to be as old as humans. In keeping with that tradition, it is possible to see "The Upward Spiral of Human Development" as yet another method of dividing the world into (enlightened and admirable) People Like Us and (ignorant and/or despicable) Everybody Else outside the blessed circle. Dividing the world into PLU and EE is demonstrably a historic human trait. You'll find it in the Tanak as well. I think we'd all be better off to let others, past and present, be individuals in whom good and bad traits are mixed. The reason people still read Homer and the Tanak and Shakespeare is that the individuals described therein are recognizably human. We aren't all that different from our hunting and gathering ancestors. What we believe is different, but not persistent human tendencies like love and conquest. Finally, Mr. Mackey, I know you to be a very intelligent man, and I also know that you couldn't build a tiny Austin store into behemoth with (annualized) revenues of $12 billion without a sharper, more realistic view of society than the airy notions of "The Upward Flow of Human Development." It may heretical to wonder whether this Keynote Speech is a mere marketing ploy: cynical flattery of your employees, suppliers, partners and customers. But the possibility must be considered. You, Mr. Mackey, can value Turquoise global ties and effective use of technology as essential parts of business today. But I have a hard time reconciling the Turquoise belief that "Life gets spoils" with the stark fact that some Whole Foods employees get cash, others also get stock options, and shareholders get dividends. One can't be defined, let alone shown to occur. The other gets reported to the SEC every three months. With respect, A longtime observer

Stuart Jurs says …

I think Whole Foods is at the Orange level. This is simply due to the fact that Whole Foods is a public company. Therefore Whole Foods is accountable to its real owners, the stockholders. These stockholders own Whole Foods stock in order to make money. Period. They are playing the game to win. Whole Foods must satisfy its stockholders, therefore Whole Foods MUST function at the Orange level. The owners give Orange-level issues highest priority. Therefore Whole Foods must give those issues highest priority. The company does not have a choice. If it does not comply, those in authority will lose their jobs. If the company is to maintain and advance its idealism and move on to "higher levels of development", I believe it will need to find a way to get away from the corrosive influence of the Orange-level stockholders. These people do not believe in the company's mission or core values. They are data-crunchers who are only interested in Return On Investment. I think Whole Foods should return to a more "organic" style of growth, which would be more in line with what the company would like to be.

Dennis Phayre says …

John, I have recently read several pieces and listened to a couple more where you lay out the foundations of your belief system. I am delighted by what I now know about you and about the thinking that has gone into your personal growth and the success of Whole Foods. You are clearly dedicated to your personal growth and to increasing the potency of your participation in the evolution of life on this planet. It is a rare individual who achieves so much in their personal quest and who produces so much in the public realm. That is precisely what intrigues me most about you and about Whole Foods; that you have successfully created a business organization that is potent enough to replicate your highly evolved values on a global scale. It is awe inspiring. You have created an evolving and expanding system that is already greatly affecting the world for the better and which promises to do much more. Having shared some of your experiences as a former small-scale independent as well as being an active participant of the human potential movement, I appreciate the work it took you to arrive at where you are now. And while I have given up on the “Mom and Pop” business level, I have not given up on Mom or Pop or you or me or the generations of people and life in general yet to come. I am still value driven and committed to my mission in life. Perhaps it is now time for me to join your team and share my insights and experiences with you and with them. What most troubles me about your endeavors are, what I believe, the contradictions in your thinking and the likelihood that they are blocking your way to even greater success. For instance, I believe your justification of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are remnants of your own Red and Blue level analysis. It may be difficult for you to see this and even more difficult to accept it once you have seen it but, nonetheless, that is one more step you must take to free yourself from your personal constraints and to move yourself and the world forward. In my estimation Whole Foods as an organization will most likely move beyond such contradictions because of its collective management system, the corporate culture that allows it to remain flexible, and the advanced stage of its evolutionary growth. You however may still remain stuck and holding onto your beliefs despite being outdistanced by your creation. Keep an open mind John and continue to seek resolution. By becoming a more consistent thinker, leader and spokesperson you will add to the further success of your mission, rather than detract from it by becoming distracted in unnecessary, time consuming battles. In kind and in Peace, Dennis

mr. A . Lim says …

dear john., the difference between WFM a other food stores is the value of WFMs products. When WFM MAKEs A SALE it is sharing the value it produces. The purpose of a business is to produce & share. The social responsibility of a business is how it produces & shares its value.

Sakanta Running Wolf says …

WOW! Thank you! In my search for Great News Global News I click from one great site to another....this time,a Whole Foods link caught my eye. Shopped at the Berkeley location for many years before living in Peru,Mexico,and Brazil. When returning to the USA, I always enjoy walking into Whole Foods just for the aesthetic boost alone. In Portland, the fresh veggies are arranged with such loving care and precision that they literally glow. The entire store was immaculate. Now in Houston, I find the same. THEN, I read your blog above. Holy mackerel! How beautiful. Business and spirituality and consciuosness. Congrats!!!! Will feature you in Great News Global News. Sakanta Running Wolf and Azul. Our cat editor Azul is in the tree waiting to leap into your arms.

Caty Tota says …

You guys are the 40428 best, thanks so much for the help.

Cort Wrotnowski says …

The loss of egocentrism is premature. Moreover, the trend suggested here is far more complicated than some linear progression from "me-ism" to "us-ism". A book titled Person/Planet addressed this very point back in the 70s. In one sense, we're still waiting... While there is evidence this kind of progression may be true, you also have social scientists commenting on a general loss of "community" around the country. But you also have these high profile examples of community like Habitat for Humanity and Extreme Makeover (of homes). There are more examples of corporations and small businesses taking the lead in types of community activism. This might be an area where your perception is more accurate. These are, should I say, intermediate states of "us-ism" that cannot be absent, even though they are not global in scope. And, this point should not be passed over, it can be amazing the extent to which individuals (aka egos)are the ones that strike the spark that starts the fire that warms everyone to the larger sense of community. In fact, I suspect this whole idea of declining egocentrism fails when we think of the world in terms of "six degrees of separation" (which can actually be as many as 19 degrees)and all that implies.

John Schneider says …

Kudos to John Mackey for his insights he provided in this speeech. It should be required reading for those in business schools around the world. My fear is that American society (and business culture in particular)is stuck in an egocentric/narcissistic mode. While the growth of the socially responsible business phenomena is encouraging, there is still much work to be done to move us the current mindset of extreme self interest.

Charles Hamel says …

It is so refreshing that we have places like this to go to in America. I know it is easy to just go on doing it the way you have always done it, but it is much more difficult to change social programming and do the right things. Raising conciousness, environmental concerns, and love will take us much farther in life. Thank you so much for your article.

Ann Petrich Sloper says …

Dear John, Taking your company to new levels and impacting the world from your very thoughtful and considered position is just great! It is possible to make a tremendous difference and you are doing it from those two little stores in Austin to Lamar Ave to everywhere. I studied the Maslow work when I was in graduate school in Austin and afterwards, and learned about Sprial Dynamics a few years ago. What impresses me so much is the time and interest you have taken in growing your company to higher levels of consciousness and therefore one can hope to a better, more peaceful world. Grameen Bank has done some great work too which is so effective in creating prosperity one loan at a time. And I am now very curious as to how Google works. I'm so glad I came across the article from your Tribal meeting and again, applaud you for your vision, and your business strength and compassion. I kind of wish I'd taken one of those early jobs at Whole Foods, rather than that real estate job with Marsh and Box! Hope you are doing very well. Thanks for all you continue to do and all the best to you. Ann

Brett R. says …

I came to your site because I was puzzled that, on the day before Thanksgiving, the food police at Whole Foods had decided that they would no longer sell the duck that I have been buying from you in Cambridge, MA for 15 years. Add that to the live lobsters that we can no longer buy beacuse you say they are sentient beings that are mistreated. I guess that your stated mission to "satisfy and delight customers" means that you will decide what satisfies and delights them, not the marketplace. No wonder your stock price has been cut almost in half in the past year.

Ian says …

Dear John, I finally had a look at your essay The Upward Flow of Human Development. As you freely admit, your worldview (should that be vMeme?) has been greatly influenced by Ken Wilbur. Obviously Mr. Wilbur is a very clever man indeed. However, with respect, I get a very bad feeling about him. See for example his blog here: or a lecture he is giving here: Do you honestly think that 50 years from now any serious thinker will be classifying people and ideas according to his colour-coded system? Really John, this is just silly. I have personally never been involved with any kind of guru or personality cult, but I know one when I see one. Get out while you can! Best wishes (and I mean this), Ian

Jordan Bain says …

You are balancing many intense and important forces in your work on many levels, John. Thank you!!

David Licausi says …

While this issue can be very tough for most people, my opinion is that there has to be a middle or common ground that we all can find. I do appreciate that you've added relevant and rational commentary here though. Very much thanks to you!

John Peck says …

Fascinating overview of integral design in the food industry / Whole Foods. I would hypothisize that the Turquoise vMEME is reflected in The Ringing Cedar Series of books by Vladimir Megre. If Whole Foods is interested in researching the Israeli cuture and local, I would recommend looking at the Eden Market chain. Personally, I have a specific interest in Holocracy and would be happy to be of any assistance I can.

George Swan says …

Wow! All my favorite authors in one speech. Bingo! I'm in Abu Dhabi, "transforming healthcare for everyone", while my daughter, Tina, shops at 'Whole Wallet" in Denver, CO. I was throughly delighted by the 'whole food for the soul' here. I'm currently enrolled in a wonderful program by Dave Logan and John King, based on 'Tribal Leadership', at I will share this great talk with all of my TL colleagues, who are all living into turquoise and coral. Thank you, John!

estetik Cerrahi says …

If the e-mail name doesn’t show i have a sense of humor nothing does. You seem like a very interesting man.And if you write your own speeches you are funny and witty. Maybe I should have worked in your store for 10 years I might of learned a thing or two. GREAT SPEECH. tr

Dalva again says …

I am thinking out loud this time. Would you have a spot at your McKinney Ave store for my 21 year-old? He has mild to moderate disabilities --but is eager and presents well. Please see if you might fast-lane a consideration. Thank you.

says …

@DELVA - Our hiring is handled by each store locaiton directly. I would suggest calling the store directly to speak with store leadership to see what their process is in any type of fast track system.