Mapmakers, Toolmakers and Complex Developmental Systems

My belief in the power of complex developmental systems as one of the most accurate lens to view reality continues to intensify. The shift to this worldview, (in combination with an upshift from egocentrism to kosmocentrism), is truly transformational and guides nearly every (fully) conscious moment of my life (as most people’s worldviews do, they just aren’t aware of it). A natural consequence of this worldview is a gift of clarity, a sense of purpose and dissolution of the egocentric torments that so many individuals in the western world spend most of their life fighting. But this worldview also comes with a striking moral obligation to get off your ass and do something important rather than wandering to a distant mountaintop in an enlightened, ecstatic bliss.

The question then becomes what is important? What is worth thinking about? What is worth building? What is not just “worth it” but the highest leverage, most important thing that can be done to unlock greater systemic potential in order to evolve life itself at an ever faster rate?

At this point in universal history most of evolution roughly falls into two groups: Better Maps and Better Tools. (Another core group not discussed here is Deliberate Practice, of both the interior and the exterior. This is what creates movement along developmental maps).

Better Maps

1) We can gain a better understanding of the principles how complex developmental systems work. This will have cascading effects on all areas of knowledge.

2) We can apply the abstract framework of complex developmental systems to more tangible areas of knowledge such as Politics, Psychology, Innovation, Spirituality etc. This will increase the precision of each of these areas of knowledge and guide the direction they should evolve in. Integral Theory has tried to do this with adaptations like Integral Psychology, Integral Politics and Integral Spirituality.

3) We can create ever more integrated theories of knowledge, that sparkle with increasing fluidity, beauty and symmetry. One of the defining properties of complex developmental systems is emergence.  Emergence continues to spiral upwardly, inexhaustibly, indefatigably, with accelerating momentum due to a powerful self-propagating, auto-poetic force that synthesizes parts into greater wholes and then proceeds to use those new wholes as a platform for an expanding set of ever more complex parts.

In the realm of map making I’ve been recently enamored with the expansive breath and depth of Ken Wilber’s Integral theory. While Integral Theory’s professed goal is to do something similar to what I describe above, and increasingly encompass and weave together all of reality, Integral theory is an evolving “whole” that is itself not complete; and needs to “integrate” many new “parts” to reach its next developmental stage of “wholeness”.

Recently, I’ve felt a growing intuition towards what this next stage of wholeness would look like. Since greater wholes, emerge from newly available, innovative parts, I’ve been trying to catalogue the new parts that seem to describe a part of reality more accurately than anything else, and thus need to be integrated into the next level of wholeness. I call these “frameworks” and have been listing the parts I discover here.

I’m still in the information intake phase of this process so I’m very far away from the destination. But I’m happy to have at least recently found some clarity on what the destination is. I also will personally be working towards this destination very slowly because I believe given the stage of societal and universal evolution that we are currently in, better tools are more important for forward progress than better maps.

Why do I believe tools are more important than maps right now?

Too much important research (i.e. map making) is not being funded and the mapmakers lack many of the resources they need to progress rapidly. Therefore the people with resources in the world today, must not value the creation of these maps. Since resources centralize around the people with the best tools, rather than begging rich people to fund maps they don’t understand, we just need to create better tools and get the resources ourselves. Remember the scene from 2001 A Space Odyssey where the apes figured out how to use tools, and then used that advantage to kill large beasts and take back their drinking well? We need to develop better tools, ideally inspired by our cutting edge maps, so that the toolmakers can create a new gravity-well for the world’s resource to centralize around. Then a new generation of mapmakers turned toolmakers can fund the next generation of maps with their new found wealth, perpetuating the cycle.

This is my intention with the Startup Genome, the company I have been working on for the last year. At the Startup Genome we are building predictive models of how businesses evolve (i.e. making maps of complex developmental systems) in order to help businesses make better decisions. We package the map in a Software as a Service, business analytics tool. What is beautiful about this marriage between mapmaking and toolmaking is it can leverage the enormously powerful economic engine of capitalism and the business world to advance the breadth and depth of the map, as long as advances in the map continues to produce incremental value to the tool’s customers. Many mapmaking endeavors stall out once they reach a certain level of complexity because they can’t figure out the right economic or social engine to centralize the resources necessary to continue to advance the complexity and precision of their map.

As I thought about this, I realized only recently has technology progressed to a point where the creation of tools and maps can be pursued somewhat simultaneously, because now almost any developmental map worth creating can be packaged as a predictive model delivered as a software as a service tool that can deliver automatic assessment and orientation value to some potential customer.  If there are no customers interested, it is likely the map is not worth creating or at least the timing is not right. Models often require a lot of data to work properly so another enabling factor is the abundance of data we are all now swimming in.

This synergy will propel maps to progress even further. Due the grandeur of the theoretical landscape mapmakers are exploring they can often get lost in obscurity and irrelevance. The marriage of maps to tools makes sure maps stay practical and gives them the resources and energy to continue to progress.

This also gets us over the hurdle of trying to get most of the world to see the world the way we do. I’ve recently been studying Spiral Dynamics and think it is one of the best lenses to interpret questions such as, “How do we get people to care about the things we care about? “Why don’t people value the things we are talking about? Do they just not understand it? Are we off base? Are we crazy? Or do they have other issues they have to deal with first before they can even begin to be receptive to this type of thinking? In the language of Spiral Dynamics these are fundamentally vMeme (value meme) questions. The holistic, system, universal worldview implicitly being articulated here, is considered level 8 Turquoise on the Spiral Dynamic spectrum. The world’s current center of gravity is stuck around Orange (level 5), with Blue (level 4) slowly fading and Green(level 6) slowly emerging. People can’t be expected to just immediately jump to level 8. Once people adapt to a certain worldview and get complacent it takes a lot of energy to break free.

In terms of integrating theoretical “parts” into greater “wholes”, I believe Spiral Dynamics sits inside the larger Evo Compu Devo Telos, inheriting many parent properties and pertaining only to Upper Left Quadrant (Integral theory) at the time when consciousness emerges in universal history.

In Spiral Dynamics, Turquoise is the most advanced and complex value system that has evolved to date. Level 9 is called Coral and I’ve only seen very vague hypotheses about what it actually represents. I believe this synthesis of mapmaking and toolmaking is a major part of Coral, the next level on the Spiral.

Coral is an odd number and the odd numbers in the Spiral Dynamics model are “individual” levels, that centralize resources. Between the odd and even levels there is an oscillating “i/we” force and an oscillating “individual/community” force. The collective levels usually promote new insight and understanding, while the individual levels promote action. So there’s an “action/understanding” oscillation, as well.

One time I quipped that “Coral = Turquoise + Money”. I don’t think that’s technically accurate but it points in the right direction. Right now there are a number of turquoise thinkers sitting on the edge of society, but are largely irrelevant. They have world changing ideas but have been unable to impact world affairs with them. It’s very difficult to identify any Turquoise thinkers who are in prominent positions of power. Name one billionaire or political leader who is a Turquoise thinker? Of the world’s most powerful people, I think the most Spiral Dynamically evolved people appear to be entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs, Peter Thiel and Jeff Bezos. There’s a lot of yellow systemic flow in what they do and how they work.

I think it’s generally pretty futile to try to convince more people to think like you and care about the things you do. At least it’s a very slow process that is usually not the best option to achieve the desired objective. It’s better to try to find and gather all the people who already have a similar value system to you. Rather than trying to convince people to start thinking holistically in systems, Turquoise mapmakers need to take the world’s fate into their own hands, build a team with a number of toolmakers and start creating the future they are spending all their time thinking about. At least that’s what I’m doing and what I concluded makes sense after studying enough maps.

For the world to continue to evolve we need entrepreneurs to build companies founded on Turquoise ideals. As those companies succeed and accumulate more power and resources the Coral vMeme will emerge. Put another way, Coral emerges, when Turquoise ideals leave the theoretical plane and become embodied in tools that achieve societal ubiquity. I am doing everything in my power to make that happen with the Startup Genome in order to set an example that evolutionarily inspired mapmakers and toolmakers can follow.

This post is in written in a dense systematic language that won’t resonate with many. But one purpose of my blog is to send a signal out into the world in hopes of attracting like minds. I write this in ‘untranslated’ form to find people who can speak similar tongues. My thoughts increasingly only occur in mind in the language of systems and “normal conversations” require an act of translation of these concepts into terms other people can understand.


  • John Smart
    December 19, 2011

    Great post Max. Useful distinction between maps and tools. I’d suggest tweaking the spiral dynamics language further. No one I know likes the phrase “vMeme”. It seems to me that “values” works just as well, so perhaps you could use that or whatever else seems appropriate, to increase accessibility, and bring the theory more mainstream. 

    I’m also curious if anyone (Don Beck?) has come up with two or three word phrases to capture meaning of each of the proposed levels. I think that would work a lot better than colors, which seem arbitrary and yet more specialist’s language. If no one has come up with phrases perhaps you can be the first, and post on it here! I think spiral dynamics is quite interesting as a model of values (evolutionary) development but I think it needs more empirical attention and further refinement, including removing the code language.

    • Warren Kinston
      December 23, 2011

      Hi John.  You have hit the nail on the head. Congratulations. Using colours as names is fundamentally flawed.  So I have come up with names and once you use these, you can create many tools.  You can see these names here:    You can then see the many tools: for careers, for business, for motivation, for marketing, for government interventions etc that develop once you get the names right.     There is also a page that compares what I have done to Beck’s work.

      The Spiral framework, properly named, is one tiny part of a Taxonomy that covers all human functioning.  Not all of it is worked out yet….but it can be.

  • Warren Kinston
    December 23, 2011

    Max, In the human world a good map is a good tool. Even more importantly, if they are any good, they are tools that can make tools. I am not sure that Integral has done this very well: see my comment below where John has captured the key flaw. You might like to check out:  That’s an example of a map, many parts of which that has stood the test of time (decades). The toughest thing about being 21 is that it takes many many years to come across all the things that you need to include in any particular map. But you have to start somewhere. Congratulations and just keep at it.

  • Geoff Roberts
    December 26, 2011

    It seems to me that the question is not “Maps or Tools?” but how to get the current balance between the two ‘right’.
    If we take ‘better maps’ to the limit, we end up KNOWING everything but not being able to DO anything (through lack of tools). It is only through tolls that progress towards different destinations on the map can be made. The converse also seems to apply – without a map, where do we go?

    • Warren Kinston
      December 26, 2011

      In relation to human functioning that is (often) not the case. When you know, then you do. If you don’t know, you look around for a tool that is a substitute.  Often the tool is based on flawed knowing, but if it gives you a comfortable feeling and lets you get on with things, then you are happy. And perhaps that is all that matters.

    • Max Marmer
      December 26, 2011

      Definitely it’s about balance and combination. This synthesis I tried to argue in this post was a completely new level. As new levels are often a recombination of previously existing parts. 

      Lack of action and lack of direction are the problems this new level tries to solve.