Act Theme is Awesometacular!
Free Pack
Buy Now

Spiral Dynamics

by Daniel Eppling, on Aug 17, 2020 10:37:19 AM

MK Publications 180424 Spiral dynamics

Daniel Eppling introduces the model of Spiral Dynamics and his interpretation of the different stages of development. The model can help clarify why people think and act the way they do, and can also be applied to overcome tensions in organisations.

Organisations are looking for new models of governance and team commitment, and people are looking for something different without losing sight of the need to maintain certain codes and economic imperatives. What do we need to enable us to see, understand and act in a better way in such turbulent times?

Spiral Dynamics1 gives us a dual viewpoint: the sociological view (the context) precedes the psychological aspect (the person). By studying both parameters, the conditions of life and the mental capacity to deal with them, Graves2 identified eight ‘levels of existence'. This approach came to fame later when disciples of Graves, such as Don Beck, used it to advise politicians such as Mandela and Blair to help them understand the issues facing them.

Spiral Dynamics works in stages, alternating levels of existence with a very individualist expression of the 'I' and a 'we' orientation. It is not so much a typology because the levels of existence are organised in sequence with each of them transcending and including the previous one.

What are the different stages of spiral dynamics?

1-‘Beige’ Everything starts with the dawn of humanity. Level 1 (beige) finds homo sapiens living in a natural and hostile world where it is necessary to follow instincts and physiological imperatives to survive. This level has now disappeared from our civilisations; only natural disasters such as a tsunami produce circumstances conducive to its manifestation.
2-‘Purple’ This is a stage where humanity passes from 'I' to 'we'. The dominant perception is of a frightening world filled with mysterious powers and spirits. This prompts people to seek security and call on elders, chiefs and witchdoctors in order to live in harmony with the magic powers of nature. When we fall back on customs and traditions, when elders are consulted for their wisdom, as in Asia, we revert to this level of existence.
3-‘Red’ The 'ego' becomes more important than the 'group'. The more egocentric individual seeks to satisfy impulses without guilt, perceiving the world as a jungle where nature must be conquered. The key issues are domination and power. Gaining respect and avoiding shame. Excessive acts of heroism are symbolised by the law of the strongest and immediate punishment. Corruption is a modern manifestation of this stage.
4-‘Blue’ This period started several thousand years before Christ with the belief in a world controlled by an ultimate truth that punishes and rewards. The 'ego' is once again sacrificed in return for later reward; impulses are controlled to live according to 'the Book' with its accompanying laws, rules and figures of authority. This is the context that gives rise first to religious and then to political 'isms'. This stage brings stability, loyalty and the need for a sense of human existence and still represents around 30% of the population and power in western countries. In these organisations the leader is irreplaceable and the hierarchy well organised, with procedures that govern everything.
5-‘Orange’ We return to the 'I' mode where individuals seek success, influence and status. This is typical of a world full of resources and opportunities to create a more prosperous life. The ego takes a more individualist and calculated form to avoid triggering aggression by others. Quest for autonomy, independence, abundance, understanding the rational world, change and progress through technology, striving to be the best. In the ‘orange’ stage everything is negotiable. 30% of the population and 50% of the power is focused on this level.
6-‘Green’ When individualist hyper-consumers of the orange stage become sated they reinvest in emotions, humanity and spirituality. The world is then perceived as the shared habitat of humanity. This involves seeking links, putting the 'ego' to one side and living in equality and harmony with others. The release from greed and exploitation leads to interior exploration - a quest for global benefits for the community, a call for collective thinking and greater sharing of leadership are typical of this stage. The difficulty with the 'green' level may lie in its inability to sustain itself without being labelled as naive or torpedoed by 'oranges' greedy to profit from it. Even though the population in this paradigm is increasing, its power represents only 15%.
7- ‘Yellow’ Level 7 (yellow) is less than 30 years old and already accounts for 5% of the population and power. It emerged with the systemic theories in the 1970s. According to Graves, this level marks a break because it incorporates all the previous stages. The world is perceived as a set of complex systems beset with uncertainty whose viability must be ensured. Because the emotions of the 'green' group have become too onerous, they are substituted by knowledge and the need to obtain tangible results. Thinking becomes truly systemic and natural laws are seen as inevitable. This stage gives priority to flexibility and open systems, accepting paradoxes and complexity within a holistic view of the world.
8-‘Turquoise’ The last level identified is still at an embryonic stage. The world appears as a network of interdependent components forming a single large organism. At this level the quest is for global harmony. Since it has not yet penetrated organisations, we shall go no further at this stage...
What are the potential business applications of Spiral Dynamics?

First, it provides keys to understanding shifting values within an organisation. It is by no means rare to find three or more levels cohabiting. Which is dominant? What are the consequences for organisational modes and the perception of the role of a leader? What style of communication is used in dealings with customers or when promoting products? How can we best understand traditional multicultural dimensions through this prism (hierarchical distance, individualism, etc.)? How does this shed light on the ongoing debate concerning generation Y?

If you wish to dig deeper into the issues relating to this tool, contact or click here to read the long version of the article (only available in French).

1Spiral dynamics, Mastering Values, Leadership, and Change, Don Edward Beck and Christopher C. Cowan. Edition Wiley-Blackwell © 2005
2'Spiral dynamics' was based on the 1970s theories of psychologist Clare W. Graves.

  • Spiral dynamics, Mastering Values, Leadership, and Change, Don Edward Beck and Christopher C. Cowan. Published by Wiley-Blackwell © 2005
  • Spirale dynamique - Comprendre comment les hommes s'organisent et pourquoi ils changent, Fabien et Patricia Chabreuil, Inter-éditions 2012
Topics:Leadership & Management articles