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Spiral Dynamics

About Spiral Dynamics
Clare Graves original stages
Tiers and Stages interpreted by Wilber
Comparison between Wilber, Beck & Cowan, and myself

About Spiral Dynamics

The following is from external link Disinformation - expanded spiral dynamics® bibliography by Alex Burns

"...external link Spiral Dynamics® [is a] meta-model ("a model about other models") of evolving perceptual, thinking and values systems within people, groups, organizations, nations and subcultures.

This research originally derived from the psychologist external link Clare W. Graves, and has been spearheaded by two students, external link Dr. Don Beck and external link Chris Cowan....The best source for this meta-model, while not a "quick" read (which the authors admit), is Beck and Cowan's book Link to Amazon com Spiral Dynamics: Mastering Values, Leadership and Change (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1996)...

There are several other Gravesian interpretations around, notably by Jenny Wade and an introductory overview that discusses more "real-world" applications within Ken Wilber's "Wilber-4" model (I always advise people to utilize Beck and Cowan's book first, to appreciate SD's full scope). A pdf mini-course was recently posted in Adobe Acrobat PDF, by Chris Cowan and Natasha Todorovic, his colleague.

Spiral Dynamics® has also been featured at the external link World Future Society conclave, and has been successfully applied within Fortune 500 companies, to resolve geopolitical crises (such as South Africa's transition to a post-apartheid society), sporting teams, and to revitalize local communities."

Clare Graves original stages

It is worth giving these, as they have been rather radically re-interpreted by Don Beck and Ken Wilber, and to a lesser extent Chris Cowan (Cowan, who co-founded the popular colur system and vMemes terminology with Beck, has since broken from Don Beck, and external link strongly disagrees with Beck and Wilber's use of the Spiral Dynamics Model, and supports a more traditional, Gravesian interpretation)

Spiral Dynamic stages according to Clare Graves

Spiral Dynamic stages according to Clare Graves (I can't recall where I got these and the other images here from).

Diagram of the human bio-social ecological personality
Vertical, oblique, and horizontal change
Nesting Aspects of Human Personality systems

Note that Graves' interpretation is far more subtle and profound then that of Beck, Cowan, or Wilber. But being more profound it is harder to understand, and hence the simpler interpretations become more widely known. Moreover, the interpretations become increasingly simpler and less nauanced with each iteration. Basically, Beck and Cowan focus only on a spiral of vertical developmental systems, and apply it to business management and social development. Steve McIntosh also focuses mostly on a Beck style developmental spiral of stages, which, although useful (as is the work of Wilber and others) does not convey the full nuanced depth of Graves work. Finally, after an original flirtation with Spiral Dynamics, Wilber - who has almost certainly not read any of Graves original work - flattens the whole system into a one dimensional altitude scale.

Spiral Dynamics Stages according to Beck and Cowan

Don Beck and Chris Cowan greatly simplified Clare Graves original model, changing it from a profound and truly integral system of human development and self-transformation to a single developmental series, with applications for business management and a curiously archaic model of socio-cultural evolution. They also introduced - purely as a mnemonic system - a simple colour-coding system, with warm colours representing the extrovertive tendency of development in the world, and cool coulurs introvertive self-transformation. Actually Beck and Cowan showed suprising intuitive sensitivity in their choice of colours, as they for the most part very closely match Christopher Hills Rainbow Chakra typology. This isn't the case with Wilber's post-Spiral Dynamics altitude spectrum.

It is unfortunate that this useful system has been so abused, especially to attack critics of Beck and Wilber, who are denigrated by being placed in the green category. It is hpowever wotrth pointing out that one of the two main advocates pof Spiral Dynamics - Chris Cowan - strongly disputes his former co-worker ion this matter, and rejects both the hierarchical and elitist interpretation of "tiers" and the idea of a "mean green meme" championed by both Beck and Wilber.

In the following pages, each of the eight stages are described in a little detail, along with comments.

Beige Purple Red Blue Orange Green Yellow Turquoise

Tiers and Stages interpreted by Wilber

One thing Wilber contributed to regarding Spiral Dynamics, and Beck incorporated, is the theory of quadrants, or four primary perspectives. While stifling if taken too literally, and containing various shortcomings, it still provides an additional perspective. The following shows the Tiers and Stages interpreted by Wilber according to his AQAL model. Note that this colour scheme has since been replaced by a simple spectrum, but the descriptions would remain the same.

AQAL interpretation of Spiral Dynamics

Comparison between Wilber, Beck & Cowan, and myself

external link table and references by Frank Visser. These refers to the developmental stages only; for the sake of fun I added my own stages :-)

WILBER SD This site
nondual "fourth tier" Realisation
transpersonal "third tier" Esoteric
existential second tier holistic
(pre)personal first tier Egocentric, Ethnocentric, etc

" S E C O N D   T I E R "
Late vision logic
Experientialistic Existence
Second Being Level
Middle vision logic
YELLOW, FlexFlow
Cognitive Existence
First Being Level
" F I R S T   T I E R "
Early vision logic
GREEN, HumanBond
Personalistic Existence
Fifth Subsistence Level
Mental-egoic ORANGE, StriveDrive
Materialistic Existence
Fifth Subsistence Level
Mythic-membership BLUE, TruthForce
Saintly Existence
Fourth Substence Level
Magic-typhonic RED, PowerGods
Egocentric Existence
Third Subsistence Level
Magic-typhonic PURPLE, KinSpirits
Tribalistic Existence
Second Subsistence Level
Archaic-uroboric BEIGE, SurvivalSense
Automatic existence
First Subsistence Level

1) K. Wilber, Link to Amazon com Integral Psychology: Consciousness, Spirit, Psychology, Therapy, Shambhala, 2000.
2) E. Beck & C. Cowan, Spiral Dynamics: Mastering Values, Leadership and Change, Blackwell Business, 1996.
3) C. Graves, external link "Human Nature Prepares for a Momentous Leap", The Futurist, April 1974, pp. 72-87.

note on the above: Spiral Dynamics does not include Third Tier, which is Wilber's term. As far as I know, Wilber does not use the term "fourth tier". In a paper submitted to the Journal of Integral Theory and Practice, I argue that gnosis and esotericism proper constitutes "third tier". I would then include Realiztion as "fourth tier" (although this isn't mentioned in the article), although use of "tier" in this case becomes problematic. Therefore I refer to "stages of transformation". I have included my equivalent stages in the table provided by Frank Visser. Although Frank includes Clare Graves name and a reference on his original page, as mentioned above, the current interpretation of Spiral Dynamics developmental levels seems to have little to do with his work, apart from the idea of progressive developmental stages. Continuing to invoke his name in this context, as Wilberians do, reminds me of Christians who invoke the name of Jesus although their current belief system and ethos has really very little if anything to do with the teachings of the original historical Jesus.

I cannot but feel that current Integral Theory would be greatly enriched if Graves' subtle insights were incorporated alongside those of Wilber. It would also help to displace the unfornuate Wilbocentric bias of the current Integral movement with a less monolithic, more multidimensional and multi-perspectival approach.


Spiral Dynamics Link to Amazon com Spiral Dynamics : Mastering Values, Leadership, and Change by Wikipedia link Don Beck and Wikipedia link Chris Cowan, Blackwell, 1996. Shifts the emphasis from Clare Graves' original profound psycho-socio-ecological model of human development to one more limited to business management. Introduces the vMEMES colour classification. Extremely influential within the Mainstream Integral Movement, mainly via Wilber's A Theory of Everything, published several years later.

A Theory of Everything A Theory of Everything: An Integral Vision for Business, Politics, Science and Spirituality, by Ken Wilber, Shambhala, 2000. I haven't read this book and I don't think it looks very interesting. Basically it is just Wilber-IV (better presented in Link to Amazon com Sex, Ecology, Spirituality or for the abbreviated version A Brief History of Everything) + Beck-Cowan Spiral Dynamics (see above volume). This book's only contribution was to introduce post-Gravesian Spiral Dynamics into the Wilberian Integralist Canon. In Integral Spirituality, Wilber rejects the Beck-Cowan model in favour of his own altitude theme.

Integral Consciousness and the Future of EvolutionIntegral Consciousness and the Future of Evolution by external link Steve McIntosh, 2007, Paragon Press. The third of the trilogy of Integralist works on this subject. McIntosh draws from Wilber, Beck, Teilhard, and Whitehead, and focuses mostly on a Beck style developmental spiral of stages, which, although useful (as is the work of Wilber and others) does not convey the full nuanced depth of Graves work. . The book serves not only as a primer for mainstream Integralism, but also provides a detailed but readable account of psycho-social developmental stages (I myself find this widely used linear model of psycho-social evolution a bit simplistic, but it is still useful regarding understanding these archetypes), discussing the use of metaphysics in integral theory, integrating the spiral with a novel application of lines of development. (Will, Thought, and Feeling, the same three as used by Rudolf Steiner, but it seems independently arrived at), and being the first work to seriously external link apply Integralist ideas to world government. This latter itself is not too far from, even if not as disciplined as, Plato's Republic with its admirable concept of rule by enlightened philosophers; the only difference being that the Republic would be ruled from a "third tier" rather than a "second tier" level of consciousness - see tiers table for difference).

Web links Links Web links

Web Page An Introduction to Spiral Dynamics®

Web Page An interview with Dr. Don Beck

Web Page Trinity: I-I, SDi, Neurotechnology - What is Spiral Dynamics integral?
"Spiral Dynamics Integral (SDi) is a map of human growth and development, based on the pioneering work of Clare Graves, coupled with the integral framework of Ken Wilber." is a Global resource network of concerned corporations, other organisations of varying size and individuals who are interested in considering alternative options for moving positively into the future by using the vMeme technology.

unfortunately the home page layout is crowded (too many frames) .
See the main frame for easier navigating

Web Page Spiral Dynamics Waardenmodel - overall table, in Dutch

Web Page Empowerment Illustrated - Spiral Dynamics.

Wikipedia link Spiral Dynamics - wikipedia

Web Page Complexity Theory as a possible mechanism for the progression through the stages of social evolution as described by Spiral Dynamics® - Victor MacGill

Web Page Spiral Dynamics - Breathwork and Social Evolution, by Jim Morningstar - describes the different stages of Spiral Dynamics in the context of Breathwork

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page by M.Alan Kazlev
page uploaded 13 August 2004, relocated and last modified 9 December 2009