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Spiral Dynamics is a data-based, psychological approach to understanding worldviews or systems of thinking held by individuals, organisations and societies. It is concerned with:
• how people respond to the world around them in given circumstances and with their particular coping abilities (rather than categorising people as ‘types’)
• how people think about things (conceptualisation), rather than what they think about (concepts) – for example, is their thinking binary and absolutist (‘if it’s not black, then it must be white’), or do they acknowledge and seem comfortable with ambiguity and uncertainty?
Spiral Dynamics builds on the research undertaken in the 1950s and 60s by US psychologist Dr Clare W Graves of Union College, New York. Graves was seeking to understand human nature, and questions like:
• why are people different?
• why do some people change but others do not?
• how does the mind respond to a world that becomes increasingly complex?
Graves identified what people seek out in life at each level of psychological existence as follows:
Level 1 BEIGE (A-N) existential: survival, biogenic needs satisfaction, reproduction, satisfy instinctive urges
Reactive, biologically driven, living in a state of nature, limited sense of cause and effect; there is very little of this level remaining, although people can regress into it (eg. Alzheimers).
Level 2 PURPLE (B-O) animistic: placate spirit realm; honour ancestors; protection from harm; family bonds
Subsumed in the group, no separate identity of ‘I’ – the focus is on co-operation, sharing, ritual; conflict will endanger the tribe, who have the forces of nature to contend with.
Level 3 RED (C-P) egocentric: power/action, asserting self to dominate others, control, sensory pleasure
Breaking away from the tribe, impulsive, seeking respect, honour and avoiding shame and establishing the self, might is right; the world is adversarial, uncaring, only raw power will let me prevail.
Level 4 BLUE (D-Q) absolutistic: stability/order, obedience to earn reward later, meaning, purpose, certainty
Emerges from the chaos of C-P – obedience to rightful authority, binary thinking, categorising, deny self for ‘the one right way’, stability and security is achieved through sacrifice and submission, doing things by the book/manual; bringing in new norms undermines control/authority.
Level 5 ORANGE (E-R) multiplistic: opportunity/success, competing to achieve results, influence, autonomy
Emerges from the rigidity of D-Q, how to manouver rather than comply, many ways and criteria rather than one right way or set of standards, goal directed, independent, self-sufficient, confident, experiment to find the best among many possible choices, future oriented and competitive; work for the good life and abundance, the winners deserve their rewards.
Level 6 GREEN (F-S) relativistic: harmony/love, joining together for mutual growth, awareness, belonging
Emerges in response to the excesses of E-R, can’t do it on my own and need to collaborate with others, group membership highly valued, tolerates ambiguity through encountering diverse perspectives, requires trust, doesn’t want to hurt others; high empathy and sensitivity to others – everybody counts.
Level 7 YELLOW (G-T) systemic: independence/self-worth, fitting a living system, knowing, good questions
Demands flexibility, autonomy, accepts paradoxes and uncertainties, self interest without harm to others, curiosity, learns from a variety of sources, contextual thinkers, can see things but not always be able to explain them, great awareness of what they do and don’t understand, punished by conventional education and corporate structures; not motivated by fear of survival, God or social approval, guilt and reward motivators don’t work – seeks to do well without compulsive drives and ambitiousness.
Level 8 TURQUOISE (H-U) still developing global community/life force; survival of life on a fragile Earth; consciousness