Existential Universe Mapper (EUM) Overview

Jul 10, 2018

The following is a guest article by Ashok Malhotra, creator of EUM. Ashok also presented an overview of EUM in a Coacharya webinar recently. You can see the recording of that session on the bottom of this article, or you can watch it directly on YouTube.

The Existential Universe Mapper (EUM©) suite belongs to the category of tools developed to understand individuals and organisations from a holonic perspective, i.e., each human being is both whole in himself/herself, and is also a part of a larger whole. The interplay between wholeness and part-hood forms a key part of the framework.

The framework has been inspired by Clare Graves’ framework of evolution, which postulates that human beings operate at different existential levels wherein each level is a composite value system of needs, wants, attitudes, beliefs, values, and proclivities that are specific and consistent with internal and external conditions corresponding to that level. Graves posits these levels as an evolutionary hierarchy wherein the individual moves from one level to another, somewhat akin to Maslow’s hierarchy.

EUM looks at these levels as simultaneous Universes operating within each individual. The configuration of the Universes is what makes each person unique. This configuration is not static, because human beings are naturally dynamic: there are constant transitions and transformations taking place that are both continuous and discontinuous. With each transition/transformation, the whole reconfigures itself into a reasonably coherent system of values, beliefs, attitudes, etc.

The EUM framework assumes that, like individuals, organisations too are a unique and dynamic configuration of similarities and differences, and that their evolution can be studied and understood in a manner similar to that of human beings. In organisations, the configuration expresses itself through the organisational culture.

The EUM suite of tools has the scope to capture clear snapshots of the current reality, possible future movements, dilemmas, potential, action choices, and challenges for both the individual(s) as well as the organisation that they are a part of.

The EUM Universes

The EUM Universes are reasonably distinct and each Universe is coherent in itself, but all the Universes exist in simultaneity: the interplay between them is critical to understanding the uniqueness of the organism and its stresses, dilemmas, and potential, among other things.

The description of the universes for the individual and the organisation is given in the table below.

Organisational and Individual Universes



The Clan

In this universe, the organisation culture is focused primarily towards security, safety and a strong sense of belonging to the organisation. While this has the benefit of a close-knit familial culture, it creates difficulty in taking risks for progress, working towards change and developing meritocratic leadership orientation.

Universe of Belonging and Protection

The individual whose dominant location is in this universe is primarily driven by his need for safety and security. He has a high level of comfort with the familiar and the known and prefers to operate from defined patterns and precedents. A preserver of tradition, he is very good at maintaining continuity and anchorage. As a leader, he is dependable and protective but at the same time may expect obedience and loyalty. He is unlikely to be very comfortable with change and people working with him may feel cut off and obsolete in an ever- changing ‘present’ context.

The Arena

In this universe, the members of the organisation have the propensity to be energetic, competitive and expansive. On one hand this creates an appetite for risk taking and adventure, and on the other, may reduce scope of collaboration and cooperation within the organisation as also making the members overtly vigilant towards protecting turf, and personal rewards and punishment. The organisation culture is more towards win at any cost rather than a thought through and goal directed strategic objective.

Universe of Strength & Desire

The individual in this universe brings with him all that denotes individualism – creativity, adventure, fun, energy, bravado and heroism. The world is quite polarized and is often labeled as one with haves and have-nots, winners and losers, predators and victims. The individual has a high need for challenges and a burning desire to surmount all odds. There is a difficulty in trusting especially role related authority. Dependency, obedience, submission, etc., are looked down upon. As a leader, he is likely to be aggressive – protecting and expanding his turf and sometimes ruthless in the process. He has high demands from himself and others and not overly concerned about authority figures. People who work with him, will feel the rush and excitement of pursuit but also will be prone to burn out and exploitation.

The Clockwork

This is a universe in which the members of the organisation seek order and stability and wish to maintain it through rules, policies and structure. The organisation is high on efficiency and discipline and low on vibrancy and innovation. While it provides stability, role clarity and clear goals, it expects adherence to discipline, duty and  norms from its members in return. This organisation is diligent and demanding, yet benevolent and protective. It would have conventional systems and a hierarchical workplace. This organisation will find it difficult to change unless heralded by extreme situations.

Universe of Roles & Boundaries

The individual in this universe seeks a world of order, responsibility and stability. He recognizes opposing forces especially between the self and others and believes in resolution through balance. The individual has a high regard for discipline, duty, norms and rules and believes in the rightful exercise of just authority.

As a leader, he takes it upon himself to uphold the sanctity of the system and may be punitive towards deviants. He is encouraging of efficient, orderly execution of role responsibilities but at the same time may appear as authoritarian, rigid, dogmatic and absolutistic. People working with him will experience order and stability but may be prone to suppression of creativity and personal ambition.

The Network

In this universe the members are motivated by need for success and achievement. In order to achieve, the members simultaneously compete and collaborate and create relationships that are based on task, link and mutual aspirations. In this organisation task defines power, authority and information requirements. The culture is geared towards meritocracy, continuous learning and a strong bias for action and speed. The organisation is aware of business environments and works with strategy driven goals. This organisation is also prone to create burnouts in people and values people only on the basis of their contribution.

Universe of Aspirations & Achievement

In this universe, the individual is practical, with a sense of purpose that is based on reality rather than wishful thinking. This individual often sees the world as a marketplace where he stakes his competence in return for a price. As a leader, there is emphasis on merit, excellence, learning and a need for mutually beneficial relationships. This individual strongly believes in individual contribution and shared responsibility. There does exist, however, a sense of island-hood discomfort with intangibles and a fear of vulnerabilities. A high sense of performance orientation, task focus and standard of excellence may result in a burn out for himself as well as for others.

The Ecology

In this universe the members of the organisation value democracy, inclusiveness and relationships among all ‘stakeholders”. This organisation works towards inclusivity, listening to all including the marginalized and mentoring individuals. This organisation believes that quality of life is more important than career success as an absolute value. The organisation has a concern for environmental consequences of systemic actions. Members of the organisation are valued both for their managerial abilities as well as for their individual uniqueness and human qualities. On the other hand, absoluteness about need for inclusivity and democracy can bring in loss in task focus and can create superficial bonhomie, public agreements and private disagreements leading to visible and invisible waste.

Universe of Meaningfulness & Intimacy

At the threshold of this Universe, the individual’s prime need is to give, to connect with others for the sake of relating rather than for a functional, purpose-loaded personal agenda. There is a greater valuing of acceptance and respect for people than merely for achieving success. As a leader he places emphasis on inclusive processes, egalitarian/ democratic values and has a belief in the good of the greater collective. With his participative style of leadership, the individual will seek consensus and is likely to be uncomfortable with unpleasant realities/ tough stances. He may suffer from a possible loss of pragmatism and a loss of task focus.

The Holon

In this universe the members learn to value and accept duality. While there is a sanctity of systems and structures, there is a recognition that they cannot be adhered to in an absolute manner in all situations and have to be seen in a context. People in this organisation are valued for their competence/contribution as also for who they are. Customers are partners with this organisation, sharing a stake in the well being of the organisation. This organisation values both objective analysis and subjective wisdom. The organisation values measurement for learning and not for control. In this universe, the members honours heritage and yet remain open to new influences.

Universe of Duality and Simultaneity

In this Universe, the commitment of the individual is to live in the here and now. There is implicit acceptance that people are different in many ways and are likely to have different values. There is neither disapproval nor condemnation; instead, there is a fostering of differences, sharing, and an emphasis on dialogue. In the leader’s position, the individual comes across as a visionary, propounding the importance on values. He chooses an inspirational style of leadership. However, his belief in subjective wisdom may make him appear to be unpredictable, difficult to understand and he stands to come across as complex and fuzzy.

How EUM Works

It is important to remember that although the universes are explained as distinct and disparate states, they are not mutually exclusive: the EUM considers all the individual Universes to be present in each individual, and all the organisational Universes to be present in each organisation. However, most individuals and organisations are likely to identify with one or two Universes, as also to suppress or deny some of the other Universes. The extent to which each of them are present poses unique challenges as well as opportunities. While it seems most desirable to be at a ‘higher’ Universe, attaining that is not an end in itself. What is important is that movement occurs and it is quite natural to progress or regress. As movements happen over a period of time, it is likely to reflect in changes in the individual’s and organization’s EUM profiles: these are not, therefore, static profiles that hold good in perpetuity, but are a map of how things are configured within individuals/organisations at a given point in time.

The framework sees movement across the Universes as an expression of continuing evolution. Evolution is a phenomenon, not a normative teleology: there is no hierarchy in the stages of evolution. Evolution simply means that A precedes B and that A lays down the conditions under with B will emerge; however, once B has emerged, it takes on a life of its own and, in its turn, impacts A.

Following the holonic basis of the tool, the Universes are arranged in a order that moves between the organism seeing itself a “part of a larger whole” and the organism seeing itself as “whole”. The six Universes, thus, move in a spiral of part–>whole–>part–>whole–>part–>whole.

Another significant aspect of EUM that it looks at human behaviour as a function of both self and system (following Kurt Lewin). If follows, therefore, that one cannot understand the individual in isolation. We can thus look at the individual in four basic ways arising from a simple 2×2 matrix (Figure 1) that looks at WHAT is seen, and the LOCATION from which it is seen.

EUMFigure 1: The Object-Location Matrix

As this matrix is mapped for each individual, we find both consonances and dissonances across the four quadrants. Thus, the individual’s self-concept and world-view may be congruous with eath other, or may clash with each other. Both consonances and dissonances are critical to understanding the uniqueness of the individual. For example, a warrior identity will be consonant with a world being seen as a hostile place, whereas it will be dissonant with a peaceful, benevolent perception of the world – each tells a story in its own right and neither is healthy or unhealthy by itself. Indeed, complete alignment across all four quadrants can lead to entrenchment, while dissonances can produce the energy for movement.

Thus, health and pathology in this framework are not black and while. Indeed, the framework posits that people/organisations need to move through and across all the Universes if they are to be fully healthy and effective. Movement between the Universes can be through evocation and through provocation; the former is likely to be healthier, since the inner motivation assumes that the organism is ready for the movement.

In sum: the EUM does not categorize an individual/organisation in an N x N matrix neither does it ‘tag’ for life. EUM focuses on understanding the uniqueness of an individual/organisation without classifying ‘strengths’ and ‘weakness’ which need to be leveraged or tackled. It sees individuals/organisations as dynamic and with an inherent capacity for change. The EUM examines the current location of an individual/organisation; the possible causes for this, direction/ choices for the future as well as anticipated blocks and impediments. Thus, the individual/organisation is sought to be understood in a continuum rather than in a ‘freeze-frame’ stagnant observation.


In its design, the EUM is constructed on the fundamental premise that words have a universe of meanings rather than unique meanings. Depending on the individual/organization’s dominant universe or combination of universes, it is likely that there will be association and assignment of certain meanings to words rather than certain others.

EUM (Individual)

Simply described, the EUM (I) asks an individual to rank order 15 adjectives, three times – the test taker’s responses (ranks from 1-15, 1 being most descriptive and 15 being least descriptive). These rankings produce a picture in three parts:

  1. One’s perception of how the self is currently configured [Self-Current or SC]
  2. One’s idea of the ‘ideal’ self [Self-Ideal or SI]
  3. One’s perception of people in the world at large [Other People or OP]

From a holonic standpoint, the “Self – Current” in the EUM is the Self Concept, the “Other People” is indicative of the individual’s world view, the movements sought in the “Self – Ideal” relative to the “Self –Current” is suggestive of the patterns of relatedness (prompting the shifts). The EUM profile of the population whose norms are an input to interpreting an individual’s EUM is part of the individual’s objective context.

EUM (Organisation)

The EUM(O) is based on the premise that each organisation operates from a unique combination of these existential universes. This combination gives insights into the proclivities, entrenchments and issues of the organisation.

There are four primary interfaces that impact an organisation, namely, its customer, its employee, the technology and money. Its overall existential universe determines the nature of these interfaces. For instance, while a Clan universe organisation looks at technology as a threat to the status quo, a Ecological universe organisation looks at technology as a facilitator of growth (of business as well as employees). Again, while the Arena universe organisation looks at money as a thing for consumption, the Holistic universe organisation looks at it as having potentiality to generate more.

How the EUM(O) works

The instrument is based on the premise that each organisation exists at a combination of the above-mentioned universes. It has elements of all, but it might tend towards a particular existential universe. Each universe of existence is manifested in a particular style of functioning.

The instrument requires the participant to simply rank order some adjectives that are representative of the style of functioning of an organisation. The participant must do this rank ordering thrice, so as to reflect the following:

  • A perception of the current organisational stance [Organisation-Current or OC]
  • An opinion of the ‘ideal’ organisational stance [Organisation-Ideal or OI]

A perception of ‘most other organisations’ [Most Other Organisation or MOO]

Each existential universe is represented by a basket of these adjectives, and each of the adjectives fits into multiple universes. Thus, in totality, the rankings represent a particular perceived stance of the organisation and may be interpreted to tell a variety of organisational realities.

Watch an Overview of EUM

Smita Raghum
Smita Raghum


Read Next