My 2020 blog series (starting with Gluttony here) on the seven deadly sins has left me (and perhaps you) with the uncomfortable feeling that the behaviours that were condemnable then and are condemnable now still play a big part in our lives. And maybe you occasionally think about why this is so, when and how this can change and what exactly this has to do with your personal life. From my point of view, there is an absolutely convincing concept to think about this, the concept of Spiral Dynamics. I have also developed a questionnaire for this (here), which you can download from my website.
But now to the reasons why this concept of Spiral Dynamics can also be interesting for you. (And why – in my view – it should be compulsory reading for every politician).
1. Because no other social theory has combined findings from so many fields of knowledge as Spiral Dynamics.
The concept of Spiral Dynamics was “invented” in the late 1960s by the psychology professor Clare W. Graves. (More about how he came up with the idea here:) His goal was to combine the findings of the biological, social and psychological sciences. And then to tear down the walls between them. Perhaps this is why his theory did not find acceptance until 20 years later. And unfortunately Graves himself did not have the chance to seeit. He already described the spiral development of man and his society. Christopher Cowan and Don Beck then used this as a basis in the late 1980s. They supplemented Graves’ theory with the idea of memes, which was introduced by the biologist Richard Dawkins and further developed by the psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.
2. Because the concept of Spiral Dynamics uses one of the fundamental forms of our universe.
The spiral is one of the most used shapes in nature and this occurance is in itself extremly fascinating. From inflorescences to snails, from snake movements to the whirl of hair on your head, from chemical formulae to cosmic nebulae – the spiral is everywhere. Quite excitingly, this shape can also be represented mathematically. The graphic representation of the Fibonacci sequence also results in a spiral. And this sequence of numbers and its connection to spiral shapes and the golden section are so intriguing because they almost give you the feeling of being on the trail of the basic blueprint of life (one example of a short explanation of the connections you can find here:). Above all, the spiral form offers the possibility to illustrate that levels are not self-contained. They always merge into each other and up to the highest spiral level there is a connection to the lowest.
3. Because the various levels of the Spiral Dynamics concept are so understandable (which I now explain as briefly as possible).
For the baby as well as for the first human hordes, there is/was only one goal: survival. Neither thought nor action is rational, strategic or even thought through; action and learning and decisions are purely instinctive.
As soon as the child grows or the horde has either enough or too few resources to survive, questions arise. Questions like: who am I / are we? How could we survive in an easier way? What could we do to make our environment more agreable?…
This way, the child or clan learns that the most important factor for survival is belonging to a family/clan. Everything outside is alien and hostile. Young children and clans learn traditions and rituals of the family/clan from stories. They learn, act and decide on the basis of these traditions, taking their guidance from the knowledge of their leaders.
But these traditions are restrictive and prevent people from discovering things for themselves.
Children in the first phase of spite and stronger in puberty, like the first rulers and kings (from the 6th millennium BC), fight back against traditions that deny them what they want and what they think they are entitled to. Victory at any price is the goal. The environment is defined as a jungle in which the strongest survive. Learning comes from concrete actions, acting out of curiosity, following the desires of the ego and making decisions of the moment.
But in the long run, the struggle tires, and it is not always won. But for cooperation and new victories, rules, structures and discipline become necessary. The question of who is right arises.
The child is taught rules that determine how to live together. Sanctions ensure that these are understood. In history, writing, rules and laws and monotheistic religions appear in the 2nd millenium BC. In this way, children and people learn that they have a concrete place in life which is the correct one and which they must fulfil in the right way. They learn from books (or scrolls), act in the interest of the community and in subordination to its interests. And they decide on the basis of what they have recognised as truth.
Self-worth in such a society is determined exclusively by the question of whether one behaves according to the rules and conventions. Deviations lead to guilt and shame.
Adults who wanted to free themselves from these narrow structures (with the Renaissance from the 14th century onwards ) are responsible for this stage. Truth and narrowness are questioned, rational science and the separation of mind and matter offer new choices. One’s own advancement, one’s own success, one’s own knowledge become the goal. One learns by trial and error, acts pragmatically, innovatively, egoistically and competitively and decides on the basis of expertise and possibilities.
The constant competition causes fatigue and the rational separation of mind and matter is increasingly perceived as restrictive.
People now try to form more equal communities to decide on resources by consensus. Personal growth with the support of the group is the goal. People learn to use knowledge from different sources depending on the context. They act in harmony and empathically and decide in a grassroots democratic way. The first approaches to this were already developed in the French Revolution of 1789 (liberty, equality, fraternity). Nevertheless, today there is only a part of humanity that ticks like this and no societies yet. You can only find some political groups and non-profit organisations on this basis.
However, in the existing groups, the way of acting seems to be too inefficient o be helpful in solving the current problems.
And so some people develop the understanding that, analogous to our globally networked world, our knowledge and actions must also follow a network. They strive for more knowledge. Scientists want to integrate contradictions of previous scientific approaches as well as the separation of mind and matter. They dream of individual freedom, but this can only be within the framework of an interconnected responsibility. The first approaches to this came with chaos theory and quantum physics in the 1920s. To these days there are only small companies (start-ups and consultancies) that are trying out this model.
However, it is already clear that the focus on individual freedom (despite the restriction imagined here) still does not help to solve the problems in view of global problems.
The goal should therefore be to heal the whole system globally. This is only possible if holistic systems are understood and the human being is seen as a small piece in a huge global universe. The Club of Rome already conveyed the first ideas in its publications in the 1960s. However, representatives of this way of thinking have been rather rare so far. This way of thinking requires a new spiritual level of connection between one and all. But this spiritual thinking must be developed without losing sight of the scientific and factual levels.
We already suspect today that our genetically determined limits of understanding, ability and power may be an obstacle to managing the prevention of global catastrophe, the mastery of AI and the dawn of the cosmos.
There will come a time when we adapt our species to the problems (biogenetically or technologically). I am convinced of this, and there are authors too like Yuval Harari (see here). This will open up new paths that are not yet clearly imaginable today. But the first attempts to do so are already underway, as I wrote in my last blog.
It all sounds logical, doesn’t it? If you are interested in history, you will easily recognise the eras; if you have children, you will see the developmental steps.
4. Because you master successful or harmonious communication with this concept.
If you have now read through the description of the levels, you may have seen that there is not only a different main goal at each level. There are also different approaches to learning, thinking, acting and deciding. The moment you have reflected on yourself in this regard and try to classify your partner in conversation, your staff or colleagues or even political statements, you know whether you are on the same level of Spiral Dynamics or not. If not, this could be a reason why you do not reach your partner with your ideas or are not reached by your partners. I am convinced that understanding is the first step to acting in a way that makes it easier for you to reach your goals.
Of course, it is beyond the scope of a blog to describe how to communicate with a partner from a different spiral level. But it is clear – as with all communication models – that you have to pick him up where he is. If you now look again at the description of the levels, you will also understand on which level someone prefers to communicate more successfully or more harmoniously.
5. Because you understand the connection between collective behaviour and individual outburst and your own classification.
There is another very interesting fact about this communication issue. My test is based on questions and statements that you can score. When clients or friends do my test, they very often have points in the spiral levels that are more focused on the individual (red, orange, yellow) or in the levels that are more collective (purple, blue, green, turquoise).
The fact that some people have these focuses makes it clear that in a society with a concrete main value, which is also focused either on the individual or the community, there are always people who tick in the opposite direction. People who either still stuck in behaviour patterns of the previous level or are paving the way for a new level. If such a focus exists in a person, then it is also clear from which source he or she gets his or her self-worth. Rather from one’s own inner self (individually oriented) or from the outside (collectively oriented).
Both obviously play a significant role not only in communication with others, but also in orientation towards certain professional tasks. And this is interesting both for personnel managers who are looking for team-oriented staff and for you personally, if you are applying for a position where teamwork (i.e. the acceptance that the team’s interests are to be weighted higher than your own) is required. On the basis of my questionnaire, if you have points mainly in the red, orange or yellow area, you should think carefully about taking on such a position. The focus also makes it clear why you need very much or very little external feedback – which in turn also plays a role in the hypothetical job and is closely linked to the ability to work in a team.
6. Because with Spiral Dynamics you understand the evolution of humanity and the man and so you can bring order into the chaos.
If, for example, the political system is a democracy, then principles that belong to the blue spiral level predominate: Rules, structures, very clear guidelines on what is right and wrong, expectation that the citizens follow the rules, that they make sacrifices for the benefit of the community. But if the mass of citizens rather strive for individual development and show little interest in the community, consider the available resources as useful for their own success and only follow rules as long as they suit them personally, then politics can no longer understand the interests of the people and certainly cannot represent them. It is also understandable why a country that is largely characterised by clan structures (such as Afghanistan) cannot easily be transformed into a parliamentary democracy, because a whole level of inner development of society is missing in between.
7. Because with Spiral Dynamics you know in which direction you have to move in relation to your future.
Although the vision of the coral level may sound upsetting to you, it can become very positive for our species, the planet and perhaps even the universe. But this requires us to evolve in order to sort out the complexities of our time and thus enable our continued existence in the first place.
Perhaps it was not yet clear to you where your journey should go. And you will tend not to succeed in immediately changing from the red spiral level to yellow. You would lack the understanding for the meaningfulness of blue structures and orange creativity and inventiveness. You would not know the good feeling of working together with others on the culpably caused global problems. Are you a person to whom structures and rules, right and wrong mean a lot? Then maybe it’s time to open yourself up to creative ideas and discover the joy of curiosity-based research. Are your status symbols everything to you? Then you might want to listen to yourself and see how connected you feel to others. Is environmental protection high on your list of priorities? Maybe look at new, flexible solutions beyond grassroots democracies.
Well, have I convinced you? Do you think that the concept of Spiral Dynamics can be a helpful tool for understanding the world in general and your life in particular?
As always, I look forward to receiving comments and reports of your experiences!
P.S. I really recommend the book by Christopher Cowan and Don Beck. Of course there are a number of other publications on specific topics based on this concept. But to be honest, I think that you can only begin to understand them without the “basic book”.