Vertical development

Much of what I'm about to write here is based on the work of Clare Graves, Chris Cowan and Natasha Todorovic on Spiral Dynamics, more specifically the foundation work of Clare Graves, that for some odd reason was never published properly in his lifetime. And later Chris Cowan and Natasha Todorovic, who refined it and called it Spiral Dynamics. Spiral Dynamics has been forked once or twice, for example leading to Spiral Dynamics Integral, this was not input to this page. An introduction to Spiral Dynamics can be found here as well as here This presentation can also be interesting to check, as well as this document

It may also be interesting to read what others have said about Spiral Dynamics, for example An article about Spiral leadership can be found here

If you have read the Vertical Development section that is about individuals, which I greatly recommend you do, you will find some parallels, but also some differences. While Ego development theory looks at meaning making, i.e. how people interpret their life, Spiral Dynamics looks at the complexity of interpretation and dealing with life conditions. One the one hand there are the life conditions, which is one helix of the spiral, which is labeled from A-H, on the other hand the coping means, which are labeled N-U. The model is open ended, so I and V would be the next level. Spiral Dynamics has more emphasis on group phenomena than Ego development theory, which is why it's in a separate section.

The open-ended spiral, broadening as you go up.

The various levels look for different things in life, this I took from the source mentioned at the start of this page:

  • BEIGE (A-N) survival; biogenic needs satisfaction; reproduction; satisfy instinctive urges; genetic memory
  • PURPLE (B-O) placate spirit realm; honor ancestors; protection from harm; family bonds; respect elders; safety for tribe
  • RED (C-P) power/action; asserting self to dominate others and nature; control; sensory pleasure; avoid shame
  • BLUE (D-Q) stability/order; obedience to earn reward later; meaning; purpose; certainty; Truth; the reason to live and die
  • ORANGE (E-R) opportunity/success; competing to achieve; influence; autonomy; mastery of nature; understanding self
  • GREEN (F-S) harmony/love; joining together for mutual growth; awareness; belonging; spirituality and consciousness
  • YELLOW (G-T) independence/self-worth; fitting a sustainable living system; knowing; the big questions; the long view
  • TURQUOISE (H-U) global community without exploitation; understanding of life energies; survival of life on a fragile Earth

The colors are just convenience labels without any specific meaning, it hides the double helix nature of the model, so there is a strong preference to understand the meaning of the letters. To compare with the Vertical Development page for individuals, conventional levels here are mostly D-Q and E-R, which is where the bulk of society is these days. Beware that it is also possible to have a combination such as E-Q or D-R, which basically means the person cannot cope with the world they life in very well, or they their coping skills are "too much" for the world they live in. Someone who used to work in a structured government environment, and they then move to a business environment that has to compete, they might experience such an E-Q situation.

The (approximate) worldviews of all the levels.

Both A-N and B-O are hard to find these days, and such don't expect to be able to relate to this unless you have personal experience with tribal societies. C-P can easily be found, for example in the so-called terrorist movements in the Middle East. D-Q and E-R can be found easily in modern societies, although the difference between D-Q and E-R is huge, it's about as big as the difference between "Conformist" and "Achiever", as mentioned in Vertical Development for individuals.

Some groups or nations are moving into F-S, this is because E-R has the tendency to treat life like business, and ignore the shared aspect of humanity. F-S is essentially about rediscovering these lost aspects of humanity. F-S is strongly different from E-R, which can lead to conflict and misunderstanding. Not to mention the many people at D-Q, who cannot even properly comprehend what F-S is about, because two levels above yourself is usually very hard to grasp. F-S is the last of the levels that does a fairly harsh rejection of the previous way of living, which is making the transition harder. Some Scandinavian countries are for example likely to operate mostly at F-S, but they are labeled by some others as "socialist" for example. I personally consider F-S a phase of human development that cannot be ignored, and staying too long with E-R dominance will most likely result in the collapse of Earths ecosystems.

The significant problems we have cannot be solved at the same level of thinking with which we created them. - Albert Einstein

G-T is an interesting level, which can be found in a noticeable amount of individuals already, but not yet in entire groups/countries. G-T tries to integrate all that came before, instead of rejecting it. Whereas F-S cares about sustainability, people at F-S struggle to actually realize it, which helps to form G-T. G-T at least recognizes the complexity of human life on this planet which at risk from going extinct, and tries to do something about that.

Lifecycle of vMEME
The life-cycle of a level, which is also called a vMEME.

It's maybe interesting to know that F-S is very group, and group process oriented, while the "Individualist" mentioned in the Vertical Development section for individuals, can have both this group oriented expression, but also a more personal journey type of expression. G-T is more individualistic, allowing it to regain some energy that was lost in the F-S group processes. In Spiral dynamics there is an alternation between individual and group focus, this is part of a natural growth process, where we are constantly breaking away from the group to develop ourselves, and then returning with greater insights.

H-U is a problematic level to talk about, because it's a group oriented expression, of something which there are maybe one percent of people on this planet. Just like the transition to "Construct Aware", mentioned in Vertical Development for individuals, is not a typical one to occur, similarly the transition from G-T to H-U is a pretty big one.

Beware that this topic is complex, so if you are interested now, and haven't read the document linked at the top, it's only a few pages long ;-)