Red organizations are molded on the Red stage of consciousness[1 1], which sees the world through a crude lens of power. Power is exercised constantly by ‘Chiefs’ to keep foot soldiers in line. Fear and unpredictability hold the organization together. Red organizations tend to be highly reactive with a short-term focus. This makes them well-suited to thrive in chaotic environments. Wolf packs are a good metaphor for Red organizations.
Historically, the Red stage consciousness seems to have emerged about 10,000 years ago, bringing forth the first chiefdoms and proto-empires. The first forms of organization emerged at this time.
People have a strong sense of self and see themselves entirely separate from others and from the world. This realization is frightening and death is real. If I’m just a small part, separate from the whole, I might suffer or die. The world is seen as a dangerous place where one’s needs being met depends on being strong and tough. The currency of the world is power. If I’m more powerful than you, I can demand that my needs are met; if you are more powerful than me, I’ll submit in the hope you will take care of me. The emotional spectrum is rather crude, and people often express their needs through tantrums and violence. Even if leaders are aware of other people’s feelings, they are not important . Orientation is mostly in the present―I want it, and I want it now―but this impulsiveness can extend into the future with the use of simple power, manipulation, or submission strategies. Simple causal relationships such as rewards and punishments are understood. Thinking is shaped by polar opposites, which makes for a black and white worldview―for example, strong/weak, my way/your way.
Role differentiation becomes viable― or in other words, there is a meaningful division of labor. There is a chief and there are foot soldiers. Slavery emerges on a large scale, now that tasks can be isolated and given to enemies from neighboring tribes that have been defeated and put into bondage. Historically, this has led to chiefdoms ruling hundreds and even thousands of people. Red functioning can still be found in adults in many tribal societies in the world today and in underprivileged areas amidst developed societies. Every paradigm has its sweet spot, a context in which it is most appropriate. Red is highly suitable for hostile environments: combat zones, civil wars, failed states, prisons, or violent inner-city neighborhoods.
Organizations molded in Red consciousness first appeared in the form of small conquering armies, when the more powerful chiefdoms grew into proto-empires. They can still be found today in the form of street gangs and mafias. Today’s Red Organizations borrow tools and ideas from modernity―think about organized crime’s use of weaponry and information technology. But their structures and practices are for the most part still molded in the Red paradigm.
Their ‘glue’ is the continuous exercise of power in interpersonal relationships. Wolf packs provide a good metaphor: rather like the “alpha wolf” uses power when needed to maintain his status within the pack,[2 2] the chief of a Red Organization must demonstrate overwhelming power and bend others to his will to stay in position. The minute his power is in doubt, someone else will attempt to topple him. To provide some stability, the chief surrounds himself with family members (who tend to be more loyal) and buys their allegiance by sharing the spoils. Each member of his close guard in turn looks after his own people and keeps them in line. Overall, there is no formal hierarchy and there are no job titles. Red Organizations don’t scale well for those reasons―they rarely manage to keep in line people who are separated from the chief by more than three or four degrees. While Red Organizations can be extremely powerful (especially in hostile environments where later stages of organizations tend to break down), they are inherently fragile, due to the impulsive nature of people’s way of operating (I want it so I take it). The chief must regularly resort to public displays of cruelty and punishment, as only fear and submission keep the organization from disintegrating. Mythical stories about his absolute power frequently make the rounds, to keep foot soldiers from vying for a higher prize.
Present-centeredness makes Red Organizations poor at planning and strategizing but highly reactive to new threats and opportunities that they can pursue ruthlessly. They are therefore well adapted to chaotic environments (in civil wars or in failed states) but are ill-suited to achieve complex outcomes in stable environments where planning and strategizing are possible.