Creating transformative culture and paradigm shifts

It is more difficult to change the culture of an existing organization than to create a culture in a brand-new organization or team. When an organizational culture is already established, people must unlearn the old values, assumptions, and behaviors before they can learn the new ones. According to The Conference Board’s C-Suite Challenge, for CEOs globally, the top strategy for building a high-performance culture is improving organizational agility. The survey also indicates a strong desire for a culture of innovation, which is the number one innovation strategy in every region (Asia the one exception, where it is third), every industry, every size company, and with CEOs and C-Suite executives alike. In this article, we will explore the characteristics of four cultural paradigms and how Pristine Creations’ Quantum Innovation Circles (QICs) can be used to achieve a transformative cultural paradigm shift.

The 4 Cultural Zones or Paradigms

At Pristine Creations, we characterize organizational culture in 4 Zones. For each of these Zones, we will identify the Leadership attributes, cultural and organizational characteristics, and typical business performance indicators. There is a unique type of listening that occurs in each of these Zones. We present an example for each Zone to enhance clarity.

Ask yourself:  Which cultural zone best reflects your organization today? Where would you as a leader ideally desire to operate your business? Once we understand the current reality, we can explore shifting that reality through our QIC experience. (For more information on QICs see our blog.)

Zone 1 – Blaming culture


A Zone 1 organizational culture includes leaders who are limited in their perspectives to what they know or believe to be true without much opening for the new. Status quo is acceptable. Leaders tend to be reactive and bounded by the consciousness of Separation and Fear. Such an organizational culture is home to silos and separation among groups, experiencing an addiction to scarcity of resources, and focusing on the concertation of power, control and dominance in the hands of few.

The culture in Zone 1 can be characterized by behaviors such as: being out of integrity to promises, time commitments and truth; misalignment between personal and organizational values; unresolved tensions and conflicts; being overreactive with the presence of debilitating fears.

Zone 1 culture is known for having limiting attachments to keep certain people in certain jobs, to ways of doing things, to ideas, beliefs or concepts. Blaming and complaining is common. Individual agendas take priority over collective ones.  There are no true team players and team agreements are often ignored or downplayed. There are too many biases leading to deceptive actions, limited narratives and resistance to natural evolution. In many cases, an inability to accept other perspectives and lacking openness.

Culture / Organization

In Zone 1 cultures there is lack of transparency and trust. Individuals are rewarded based on favoritism not on accomplishments. Political agendas, risk intolerance and process inflexibility are common in the leadership and staff. The emotional experience in a Zone 1 culture is filled with blame, fear, anxiety, anger, apathy, hopelessness, and disappointment which can lead to despair.

Business performance

Performance in Zone 1 culture is driven by financial outcomes. Strategic planning is largely an extrapolation from the past. Strategy is not in alignment with competencies and market conditions. Stagnation tends to be the norm. While it might be hard to imagine functioning in a Zone 1 culture, consider that some elements of this culture exist in most organizations, in pockets, in groups and with individuals. We are mostly familiar with Zone 2 cultures which are a lot more functional and fun.

Listening – Listening to only yourself

In working with a leadership team in an innovation circle, individuals were quick to point out what they believed was true. Conflict was in the room as people took sides, positions and started to argue why they were right. This kind of dynamics indicates a Zone 1 culture as the level of listening was nonexistent. People were not open to listen to other opinions, views or perspectives and were quick to defend their own. This style of listening appears to be very common in Congress, as we see in the media.

Zone 2 – Responsible mindset – Problem solving Culture


In a Zone 2 organizational culture, leaders and Individuals take responsibility for their actions and outcomes. They own their mistakes and acknowledge successes. The organization is divided into various groups and individuals who are experts at solving the problems the organization is facing. Processes and sometimes bureaucracy are set up to resolve past issues. A Zone 2 culture is identity based. This is my title, my job, my success matrix and what I am focusing on solving. Zone 2 culture is ego centric. It is all about me leading to ego-based leadership styles.

Culture / Organization

In Zone 2 cultures, people tend to work really hard. They operate at time capacity, often overworked, over stressed and with a low state of well-being. Performance values are based upon high achievement and results are which requires high engagement participation levels. The emotional experience in a Zone 2 culture is one of achievement, performance, exhaustion and burning the candle on both ends.


As a business, Zone 2 cultures focus on creating high performance, highly functional teams and results -thriving in a highly competitive environment.

Listening – Open Mind

In a Zone 2 company, we worked with a leadership team where people shared different and conflicting views. Clarifying questions and consideration of conflicting ideas were present in the room. A dialog was created with the intention of learning from each other and new ideas emerged. The willingness to listen with an open mind is a characteristic of Zone 2 culture.

Working with a large multinational organization’s leadership team, we facilitated group exercises to demonstrate a shift in listening from a Zone 1 culture to an open-minded Zone 2 culture. The leadership team had a positive experience of expansion and growth. A realization emerged from the experience to create a “Listening Group” focused on customers’ views and opinions, highlighting opinions different from the leadership’s perspective. The listening group grew exponentially as it provided new information that allowed the organization to better align with the market place.

Zone 3 – Leading from an Arising Future


The leadership in Zone 3 companies is mission driven and calls for the highest level of engagement from the entire organization. The culture is focused on an accelerated consciousness evolution, invoking synchronicities, meaningful coincidences, revealing hidden resources, untapped potential and is a highly intuitive culture.

Culture / Organization

In Zone 3 organizations you will find: self-managed teams, digitization at work with real time information and navigation systems, happiness as a focus, and extreme agility.  Open and transparent collaboration and aligned intentions are commonplace in this culture. People are caring and inclusive thriving on diversity of thought. The emotional experience in Zone 3 companies is fun, exciting, creative, innovative, curious and trusting.


A Zone 3 culture realizes high operational efficiencies, customers knocking on your door, business is coming to you, exponential growth, customers and suppliers are part of your team, and community asset and resource leverage.

Listening – Open heart

What would a Zone 3 level of listening entail? Listening with your heart. The ability to use empathy in your listening, to feel what others are feeling and to feel what it is like to be in their shoes. This level of listening requires the ability to put your own jacket away and to temporarily wear someone’s else to better feel their perspective. Such listening tends to lead to better connections and an experiential understanding of other perspectives. This kind of listening goes beyond the mind, beyond understanding and into knowing. Open heart listening tends to lead to even more creative ideas, solutions and the emergence of the new.

Edgar Schein, a former professor at MIT, has shaped the field of organizational culture, learning and leadership over the past 50 years. He created a process called Empathy Walk, a process that allows one to develop empathy for someone very different from yourself and develop the skills in establishing a relationship across a significant boundary. We have expanded this practice in our 360-degree assessment for organizations to tap into what is in people’s hearts. It is then included in strategic planning activities.

Another practice we use is “circling”. Circling is a transformational modality and practice that is growing around the world. It is a dynamic group process that is part art form, part skillful facilitation and part relational yoga that creates a deep heart to heart connection. In using circling practices with teams, we noticed that participants had the experience of being seen for who they are, revealing blind spots, a greater sense of presence, aliveness and flow, and the creation of deep and meaningful connections that often leads to profound transformation.

We have not seen wide spread evidence of open-heart cultures in large organizations we have worked with, but we have witnessed meetings and small group interactions where open-heart conversation emerged. While participating in a team meeting to review a competitive request for proposal response, I listened to the comments being made with my heart. What arose for me was the key to success which I shared from my heart. Clearly stating the response to the evaluation criteria at the front of the proposal would not only make the offering clearer to the reviewers, but it would help with the logical flow of the proposal. As a result, we were awarded the contract.

Zone 4 – Collaborative Innovative Culture


The leaders in a Zone 4 culture tend to focus on the big strategic picture. They are actively navigating the constellation of creative forces in the eco system. Relationships are viewed as symbiotic with significant investment and focus on all of the pieces. Diversity is a great asset that allows innovation to thrive. Multinational organizations are already set up to capitalize on the observations of the eco system and impact shifts at global levels, if they can establish a Zone 4 culture.

Culture/ organization

In Zone 4 organizations, people are curious to discover the unknown. They focus on human intelligence as well as Artificial Intelligence. Collaborative innovation is at the heart of the organization, reflected in the actions of the leadership as well as the employees. Collaborating in zone 4 is thrilling, energizing, purposeful and meaningful. In a Zone 4 culture everyone matters and has a voice to be included in the co-creation of the organization. Zone 4 culture includes system level designers, observers, strategists and include beyond thinking creative modalities leveraging the collective. One of the mysteries present in Zone 4 collective space is the ability to capture real creations in the moment by paying attention to dimensional shifts that occur with no action needed.


Business models expand beyond employees of one organization and consider the eco system as a whole. Collaboration across industries with diverse global stakeholders and shared intentions are common. Global conferences foster the environment for collaboration on collective agendas that serve humanity, the planet, the animals or any other major causes. Business models in this culture are designed to include a large number of stakeholders, diversity of cultures and more complex missions.

Often, global organizations are formed with a Zone 4 culture in mind. I participate in one group that demonstrates such collaboration: The Commons Cluster of the UN NGO Major Group. This group brings people together from around the world to collaborate on important projects such as developing an effective and coherent Global Pact for the Environment. Doctors Without Borders is another organization that operates on a global scale across cultures. With advancements in communication technology around the world and the growing awareness of urgent global issues facing humanity, we are coming together in Zone 4 collaborative cultures at an accelerated pace.

Listening – Open will

It is one thing to consider another view or perspective as we do in a Zone 2 culture. It is powerful to feel it through others in a Zone 3 culture. Even more challenging and rewarding is the ability to adopt a perspective of “open will” that until a short time ago was not even considered. This is the kind of transformational listening that leads to the best innovation possible.

Working with a commercial lighting company and connecting to the collective field a new listening emerged. It changed the business model of the company from selling commercial lighting products to offering customers the ability to design their own lighting spaces online. The customers could see the lighting effects on the screen and once their design was complete all they had to do was click a button and a kit with all of the needed components was shipped to the them.

Each person is the co-creator of the culture

Cultural change begins at the top with the leader. The leader cannot successfully change the culture unless the individuals in the organization are willing to shift. A culture is a collective experience that is created by individuals. This means that each individual is the creator of a culture. Success requires a top down and a bottom up approach to creating the culture shift. What is the culture that you want to realize? Are you living and leading by example of that culture yourself?

I greatly value integrity and appreciate when people are showing up on time. This is my internal culture. It is not as popular with many others and it is generally not a common value I have observed in organizations. By demonstrating my inner culture of integrity to time and sharing its significance with others, many people in my life have chosen to align with such integrity and joined the culture of integrity to time. We all make a difference with our own way of being, each day, each moment and we are the co-creators of the cultures in which we live.

While there are infinite methodologies to creating a transformation, culture shifts, and new ways of thinking, consider that the best ones have not yet been innovated and they are up to you, your team and your organization to be co-created. By embracing Quantum Innovation Circles in your organization, you can transform your culture from Zone 1 or 2 to Zone 3 or 4. Companies exhibiting the characteristics of a Zone 4 culture achieve excellent business results. Examples of such organizations include Amazon and Google. We invite you to create your own version of Quantum Innovation Circles to tap into the key levers that with little effort will create the biggest paradigm shift in your business.


Steven Ringelstein & Gail Taylor-Smith