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Trusting the Universe

The Gibb Legacy

By Judi Neal

I remember walking down the classroom corridor at Quinnipiac College one afternoon in the mid-1970s. 10 years earlier I had dropped out of college after my freshman year due to lack of money. Now, after a divorce and much hardship, I was so grateful to be back in school.

This particular day I was on my way to my accounting class, when I saw some acquaintances huddled outside the classroom door looking over the schedule for the next semester. I joined them and we talked about the pros and cons of taking the different courses and various professors. One woman strongly suggested that we take the organizational behavior course as a management elective rather than one of the other management courses. The management course was taught by the most boring professor in the school. And besides, she said, you get to be in groups in the organizational behavior course, and you actually get to know some of your fellow students in the class. I decided to follow her advice, but little did I know how much that course would change the way I perceive the world. It was to have a profound impact on my life and work.

Our professor was Robert Halliday, and he introduced us to the work of Jack Gibb. He began by teaching us about Gibb’s TORI Theory (also known as Trust-Level Theory) and said that this would be the foundation for the way he ran the course. TORI is an acronym that stands for: Trust, Openness, Realization and Interdependence. See Figure (1) for descriptions of these processes.

Figure 1. A Description of TORI Theory

To trust with fullness means the I discover and create my own life. The trusting life is an inter-flowing and interweaving of the processes of discovery and creation. These processes have four primary and highly-interrelated elements:

  1. Trusting: Discovering who I am, tuning into my own uniqueness, being aware of my own essence, trusting me – being who I am. Proactive energy is focused on accepting self and others. A trusting person wants to give and receive love.
  2. Opening: Discovering and creating ways of opening and revealing myself to myself and to others, disclosing my essence, discovering yours, communing with you – showing me. Proactive energy is focused on spontaneity. An opening person wants to give and receive intimacy and communication in depth.
  3. Realizing: Discovering and creating my own paths, flows, and rhythms, creating my emerging and organic nature, and becoming, actualizing, or realizing this nature – doing what I want. Proactive energy is focused on searching for fulfillment, life enrichment, allowing, and achievement. A realizing person wants to give and receive personal fulfillment.
  4. Interdepending: Discovering and creating with you our interbeing, the ways we can live together in interdepending community, in freedom and intimacy –being with you. Proactive energy is focused on interacting, participating, and cooperating. An interdepending person wants to give and receive freedom.

Adapted from Gibb, 1997, 20-21. Emphasis unchanged from original.

This organizational behavior class was unlike any I had ever known. The professor seldom lectured. Instead we were put into groups and guided through experiential exercises that focused on self- and group-awareness. Much of the focus was on being trusting and open, and I felt like a parched flower that was being given water, sunlight and nutrients.

Perhaps the reason this class affected me so deeply was that I was ending a painful marriage and just beginning to discover myself. I had grown up with two alcoholic parents and then left home to marry someone who turned out to be an abusive alcoholic. I knew very little in my life about trust, openness, realization, or interdependence. Up until that point, my life had been about survival. Survival meant keeping quiet. It meant never showing vulnerability. It meant being invisible. And it most certainly meant never trusting anyone.

Halliday discussed TORI Theory, gave us Gibb’s articles to read, and asked us to practice trust in the classroom, which he worked hard to model. He was personal with us, warm, and open. A whole new way of being in the world began to seem possible, and I found my perceptions changing dramatically.

One week Halliday mentioned that there was going to be a “Trust Community Weekend” coming up soon. He explained that Gibb designed these weekends so that people could experience a high-trust environment. The goal is to learn what that is like and then apply the learnings in your own life and work. The year before, Halliday had attended one of these weekends and met Jack Gibb in person. He told us that it had changed his life. He was planning to attend the upcoming “Trust Community Weekend” and he urged us to go if we could. Gibb would not be at this particular weekend, but it would be facilitated by Art and Marie Kirn who had studied with him intensively.

I was terrified of going to something that sounded like it might be similar to encounter groups that I had read about in magazines. I felt far too vulnerable to attend something like that. But since Professor Halliday was going, I felt safe to go. I also felt quite drawn to go. This idea of living in the world in a high-trust way was so appealing to me, and I wanted to learn as much about it as I could. I was hungry to experience being in a high-trust environment.

On the day the retreat was to start, I received a call from Professor Halliday telling me that he had to cancel out of the weekend due to a family emergency. I panicked! My car was packed and ready to go, but I didn’t want to go alone. He encouraged me to go anyway, and with a gulp, I agreed to give it a try.

When people arrived at the retreat center we were greeted at a registration desk and handed a slip of paper telling us that the evening would be without words. Prior to arriving, each of us had been sent a letter telling us a little about the weekend and explaining that the goal was to create a trusting community, and to learn how to be more trusting in the world. The letter invited us to bring toys, instruments, and creative materials to share with the group. Now we were being turned loose in a large carpeted room with no furniture and no words. I was in shock! How do you interact with people when you cannot talk?

The toys and creative material provided the answer. People were being very playful, and soon I was included in the games. We were playing ball, jumping rope, bouncing balloons, playing drums, coloring on large sheets of butcher paper, and in general acting like innocent young children. At first it was very awkward. I came face to face with my normal way of operating in the world, which is to present my credentials and try to impress people with how smart I am. In some bizarre sort of way I must have thought it would get me love. But I couldn’t play those kinds of “games” here. Without words, all I had was myself.

After all those years of being in an abusive family, and then in a painful marriage, I had forgotten how to play. Or perhaps I had never learned. But in this night of silent, trusting play, I discovered a whole new joyful part of myself. It was like waking up and falling in love with who I am at my essence. I also discovered that I could learn a tremendous amount about other people from their non-verbal behavior – things I would probably never know if I only listened to the words.

At the end of the evening, the facilitators brought us into a circle and asked us to share our experiences. The depth of personal sharing and vulnerability in the group was amazing to me. I had learned in my life that the only way to be safe was to never expose one’s feelings or vulnerabilities. In this place, the opposite was occurring and it was creating an incredible sense of connection between people.

By the end of the next day, I could feel my heart open wide, and I felt a strong sense of love and trust for everyone there. That evening, a group of about 10 of us spontaneously formed a group exercise that we seemed to create without words. One person would lay on the ground in the center of our circle, and we would all meditate and send loving energy to that person. Then we would gently massage the person and then lift them up above our heads and rock them. Finally we would lower the person to the ground and sit quietly in the circle, again sending him or her loving energy.

I was one of the last people to go. As I lay on the ground with nine pairs of hands gently touching me and sending me love, I found it harder and harder to contain the ecstasy in my body. I had never experienced that much love, and I didn’t know how to handle it. As they lifted me up, I felt my body continue to rise up out of their arms, through the roof of the building and into a bright blue sky. Then I saw my body begin to glow and become translucent. All I could see was my skeleton which was a beautiful, pure whiteness. My bones began to glow brighter and brighter until the light from them blended into the pure white light that I was floating in. I disappeared into the Allness, and was no longer separate from anything. I felt as if I knew the essence of the Universe and that all the energy in everything that exists is at its base the purest Love. I became Love. There was no space, no time, no form. Everything was just Love.

After awhile I found myself back in my body on the ground with the group around me, many people touching me and smiling. There was such light in their eyes. They said to me, “Something happened to you. Can you tell us about it?” But I had no words or ability to explain. How do you tell people what it feels like to be One with the Universe?

I floated through the rest of the weekend. I found myself extremely intuitive and compassionate. People would come up to me and just want to touch me, as if doing so would somehow heal something in them. Colors were brighter, everything and everyone appeared beautiful to me. I would never be the same again.

When I returned home, I became obsessed with trying to understand what had happened to me and to learn as much as I could about transcendent experiences. I saw the change in me and began to wonder what the world would be like if more people could have these kinds of experiences. I knew that trust was a key factor in this “awakening” and I started going to TORI weekends whenever they were held in my area. Jack Gibb was at most of these, and I learned a tremendous amount from watching him with the group.

There were several things that struck me about his interactions with people in these weekends. He was always very personal and revealing with people. He would express his feelings and his impressions very articulately. He did not try to “look good,” and was impeccable about being honest and vulnerable. He never blamed or praised anyone. In his articles he writes about this behavior as a way to control others, which is a barrier to trust and openness. He also assiduously avoided being a leader, and instead worked hard to ascertain the needs of the community as a whole. He was always loving.

Sometimes he would give talks about TORI Theory at our request. One of the key things that I remember him emphasizing was that trust is the key variable in every system. It doesn’t matter whether it is an individual person who is learning to trust himself, a couple who are learning to trust each other, a group that is working at becoming more trusting, or an organization that is trying to create a culture of trust. He strongly believed that each of these systems needs to be high trust in order to be healthy and effective. He would tell us stories from his life, from his family, and from his consulting in order to give us concrete examples.

He also emphasized that trust is very similar to love, and that the opposite of trust and love is fear. He said that almost everything that is wrong in the world is because someone is acting out of fear instead of love. We were encouraged to be as trusting as we could be, and to chose to love rather than fear. No matter what the circumstances, he said, when in doubt – choose to be trusting.

By the time I got into graduate school, Jack was beginning to create the Astron Corporation. This for-profit organization had two goals, as I remember. The first was to create profitable demonstration projects of Trust Theory in action in organizations. The second was to create an alternative doctoral program for those people who wanted to study more deeply with Jack and who wanted to do empirical research on Trust Theory. There were four groups of about 30 people each located in different geographic regions of the U.S. I joined the mid-west group so that I could be a part of this three year program, even though I was getting my doctorate somewhere else. I wanted to learn and apply everything I could about Trust Theory. It was having such a positive impact on my relationships and my life. And Jack was such a wonderful model for behaviors I hoped to emulate someday.

The Astron group meetings were different from the TORI weekend gatherings in several ways. First of all, we made a commitment to attend four extended meetings a year for three years, so there was a much stronger sense of ongoing relationships and community. One of our meetings each year was for ten days, and this intense amount of time together deepened our bonds and our commitment to making a difference in the world. As a result, we stayed connected between meetings, and many of us are still friends almost 20 years later.

The groups were smaller than the TORI Community Weekend groups, so we each got to have a much closer relationship with Jack, and to be mentored by him. He was moving into a much more spiritual phase in his life, and he would talk openly about his spiritual experiences, and how they were impacting his theory. During this time he was writing three new books. I can only remember the titles of two of them. One was called “Discovering Your Passionate Path,” and it was about finding one’s calling. It was deeply spiritual in the sense that Jack taught us that each of us was put on this Earth for a reason, and that we each have been given special gifts. He said that the way to find out what our calling is was to discover what we were passionate about and what gave us joy. It was such a different model from everything I had been taught about trying to make more money, or working hard to climb the corporate ladder. He would tell us stories about people who had found their passionate path, such as the man he took his broken typewriter to who absolutely loved working on typewriters. He would describe the gentle way the man would touch the keys and the way his eyes would light up when he could fix a damaged part.

As a result today, I advise students who come to me very differently from most of my colleagues. I want to learn about them as human beings. I ask them about what brings them joy, and what their dreams are. I ask them what their favorite classes were in high school. I watch for when their eyes light up and they lean forward in the chair. I hold telepathic conversations with their Higher Self so that I can guide them towards their passionate path.

I have also dabbled in what I call “Right Livelihood” coaching, but have found that most people get clear direction on what they need to do in my free, introductory session. There is no need for them to come back, so I never have any clients. I find myself reminded of Jack’s focus on “Passionate Path” when I read current books such as “FindingYour Calling: LovingYour Life” (Finney & Dasch 1998) and “Callings” (Levoy 1997). Jack was way ahead of his time in anticipating that people would want meaningful work that would fully utilize their gifts and make them feel like they made a difference in the world.

The other book that I remember Jack writing was one called “The Universe is My Friend.” This was his most explicitly spiritual work. According to Jack, the ultimate in trust is trusting that the Universe is a friendly place that cares for us. He had developed a personal relationship with the Universe, and would tell us stories about how he received guidance and help from his friend, the Universe. Most of this came on the long walks that he took daily, and the wisdom that he shared with us was very profound. It inspired many of us to explore our own spirituality more deeply and to find ways to develop our own relationship with the Universe.

At the time, this was mostly an abstract idea to me. But that all changed a few years later when I became a whistle-blower while working for a Honeywell Defense Systems plant in Illinois. After discovering that my division was making faulty ammunition and knowingly selling it to the government, I reported the problem to the top people in the division. My anonymity was not protected, and I was threatened, harassed, and eventually pushed out of my job. Although that time was incredibly difficult, frightening and painful, I held on to what Jack had said about “Trusting the Universe,” and I believed that these things were all happening for a reason.

My second husband and I moved back to Connecticut after I left Honeywell and I was unemployed for almost a year. I kept saying to myself, this is part of a greater plan, and I just have to trust the Universe and see what happens. At first, everything seemed to go wrong. My son was on drugs, my marriage was having problems, my cat got hit by a car, I had a miscarriage, and my mother died. Yet through this all, I still felt certain that something better was unfolding.

Then one day I was asked to teach a course as an adjunct at the University of Connecticut, and everything fell into place. I became absolutely passionate about teaching that course. I knew I could make a difference in those students’ lives. My corporate experience had taught me about the best and the worst of what can happen in corporations, and my study of Trust Theory had given me some ideas about what makes the difference between healthy and unhealthy organizations. Before the course was over, the University of Connecticut asked me to apply for a full-time position that they had open, and I decided to apply for positions at other universities at the same time. I found the perfect position at the University of New Haven, and have been teaching there for eleven years. It is an organization that allows me to be myself, and to pursue my passion, which is the understanding of spirituality in the workplace.

Another major impact that Jack Gibb has had on my thinking and my work is with his concept of Environmental Quality (EQ) levels. In school I had become familiar with theories of organizational evolution such as that of Rensis Likert (Likert 1961) and his System 4. Later we used System 4 as a diagnostic model when I was an internal OD consultant at Honeywell’s Large Computer Products Division in Phoenix, Arizona. But Gibb’s model extends Likert’s System 4 to a model that has 10 developmental phases to it, as described in Figure 2.

Environmental Quality levels can be applied to all systems, from individual, dyad, group, organization, or society. They are synonymous with levels of trust. The more trust that there is in a system, the higher the system is on the EQ scale.

Figure 2. Gibb’s Environmental Quality Levels

Environmental Phase Primary Energy Released
in Force
Secondary energies released with Special Force and Intensity
O. Chaos


Anger, dread, primitive emotions, flight
I. Punitive


Retaliation, jealousy, guilt, need to punish and be punished, moralizing, rebellion

II. Autocratic Power

Obedience, sense of responsibility, status, sense of authority, need for order

III. Benevolent Nurturing

Nurturing Love, warmth, caring, parental feelings, obligation

IV. Advisory Perspective Vision, sense of relationship, cognitive focus, scientific views
V. Participative Consensuality

Loyalty, collaboration, persuasion, need to influence, belonging, membership feelings

VI. Emergent Involvement Feeling of freedom, cooperation,community sharing, broader base of perception and emotionality
VII. Organic Intuition

Empathy, heightened awareness, impulsivity, spontaneity, sense of selfness

VIII. Holistic Unconscious and foreconscious Creativity, primitive fears, rootedness, expansion of self
IX. Transcendental Altered states Egolessness, unity of self, freedom from needs, non-sensory sources
X. Cosmic Universal and nirvanic

Ecstasy, out-of-body perspective, freedom from wants, transcendence of self, entry into infinite

Adapted from Gibb, 1977, p. 68.

In my consulting work, I have been involved in helping to implement Quality Circles, Employee Involvement Teams, Socio-Technical Systems and Self-Managing Teams, Total Quality Management, and a number of other organizational development approaches. It was painful to see, over time, that none of these interventions lasted and had much of an impact on the organization. I kept wondering what was wrong, and began examining the history of management theory for clues.

I concluded that the earliest theories view of the worker was one that focused on physical efficiency, and saw the worker’s body as an extension of the machine. The Hawthorne studies taught us that workers are also emotional beings, and that the social systems in the work place can have an impact on organizational outcomes. In more recent times, the types of organizational development practices I was involved with were based on the premise that we had been asking workers to check their brains in at the door, and therefore were losing a great untapped resource. The teamwork and problem-solving approaches that I helped to implement were designed to tap into the minds and the intelligence of workers. Bill Van Horn, my first boss at Honeywell, used to say, “Every worker is THE expert at his or her job. Listen to them!”

Many popular writers on spirituality describe the human being as made up of body, mind, emotion, and spirit (c.f. Chopra, 1994, Gawain, 1993). If that is so, then our management approaches have tapped into the body, mind, and emotions of employees, but have ignored the spirit. And what if we extrapolate this theory to the organizational level; what of the body, mind, emotions, and spirit of the organization; particularly the spirit? Gibb’s EQ levels are an attempt to say that the organization has levels of consciousness and that there is the possibility of creating organizations with a transcendent or cosmic quality. In his book he provides examples of organizations up through EQ level 7, the Organic Organization, but says that he can only conjecture about the Holistic Organization, the Transcendental Organization, and the Cosmic Organization.

I am forever drawn to what is possible in the potential of human beings and the organizations that we create, and I believe that Jack’s theories of Environmental Quality levels provide a map for us to explore. What we can conceive, we can create. If we can conceive of organizations that are holistic, transcendent, and cosmic, we can begin to create them. That was Jack’s fondest dream.

When Jack first wrote his book titled “Trust: A new view of personal and organizational development,” (1977) no one wanted to publish it because the idea of trust in organizations was just too radical and impractical. He ended up publishing with a small company that went out of business shortly after the book came out.

Since that time the corporate world has begun to learn that it has paid a price for ignoring trust in organizations. The most glaring example is of the productivity and morale declines in organizations that have done repeated downsizings, and the high and costly turnover of talented people in organizations that are dominated by fear. If Jack were alive today, he would be heartened to see that McGraw-Hill has published a book called “The Trust Factor: Liberating Profits and Restoring Corporate Vitality” (Whitney 1994) and Jossey-Bass has published a book titled “Trust in the Balance: Building Successful Organizations on Results, Integrity, and Concern (Shaw 1997).”

He would also be delighted at the Spirituality in the Workplace movement and would take great joy in Richard Barrett’s Seven Levels of Corporate Consciousness described in his book “Liberating the Corporate Soul” (Barrett, 1998), and Peter Vaill’s work on “beingness” in “Learning as a Way of Being” (Vaill 1997) and “Spirited Leading and Learning: Process wisdom for a new age” (Vaill 1998).

His greatest passion, however, was to see concrete demonstration projects of high trust organizations, beyond what we already have. We are beginning to see some examples that might fit his description of emergent organizations, such as Tom’s of Maine, Rockport Shoes International, and Malden Mills. There are pockets of high-trust systems in some large organizations such as Boeing, AT&T, and Proctor & Gamble. The majority of organizations that are effective at high-trust cultures, however, tend to be small, entrepreneurial firms.

Tom Petzinger (1999) writes brilliantly about these new emerging organizational forms based on his visits to hundreds of organizations. In concert with Wheatley (1992), he finds that the new sciences -- such as chaos theory and complexity theory -- are providing models for post-industrial, post-capitalistic organizations that are in harmony with the laws of nature. Or as Gibb might say, “In harmony with the laws of the Universe.” Petzinger provides numerous detailed examples of high-trust organizations, describing managerial behavior that is often counter-intuitive to those raised upon the command and control model of organizational design.

I have been re-reading Gibb’s book as I write this chapter, and have been reading Petzinger’s book at that same time. I consider Petzinger, a Wall Street Journal columnist, to be one of the most innovative and forward thinking writers about organizations today. As I read his stories of organizations that operate on principles of trust, emergence, openness, holism, and self-organization, I am struck over and over again at how Gibb taught and wrote about these principles. I realize that everything that I identify as “leading edge” and “radical” organizational theory, were all concepts I had first learned at Jack’s feet. He truly was a visionary.

I continue to be inspired by Jack Gibb’s work both in my personal life and in my work. I strive to be as trusting as I can be; of myself and others. I constantly remind myself that I live in a loving, abundant and wise Universe, and that I can trust the Universe to guide me. I believe in his vision of the possibility of high-trust organizations and I am committed to do whatever I can to find these examples and to communicate about them. And perhaps, in some small way, my writing, speaking and consulting will inspire others to create higher-trust organizations; those that nourish human beings, all living things, and that bring a sense of Divine Purpose to the work that we do in the world.


Chopra, Deepak. 1994. The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success, San Rafael, CA: New World Library.

Finney, Martha and Deborah Dasch. 1998. Finding your calling, loving your life. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Gawain, Shakti (with Laurel King). 1993. Living in the light: A guide to personal and planetary transformation, Mill Valley, CA: Nataraj.

Gibb, J. 1977. Trust: A new view of personal and organizational development. Los Angeles: Guild of Tutors Press.

Likert, R. 1961. New patterns of management. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Levoy, Gregg. 1997. Callings: Finding and following an authentic life. New York: Harmony Books.

Petzinger, T. 1999. The new pioneers: The men and women who are transforming the workplace and marketplace. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Shaw, R. 1997. Trust in the balance: Building successful organizations on results, integrity, and concern. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Wheatley, Margaret. 1992. Leadership and the new science: Learning about organization from an orderly Universe, San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler.

Whitney, J. 1994. The trust factor: Liberating profits and restoring corporate vitality. New York: McGraw-Hill.


Judith Neal, Copyright © All Rights reserved