People can be centred in a particular level, and they may settle in one for any range of reasons, but they can develop and flourish within that level. If someone is not coping at their present level, asking them to shift to another level isn’t likely to be successful – first, give them the coping skills they need at their present level.
If you want change in Helix 2 (individual response) to stick, its essential to ensure that you create the Helix 1 (life conditions) to enable that. Disruption needs to be congruent with where people are. Under certain circumstances (such as too much change, too fast), a person may return to a previous level where life is more familiar.
The Value of Spiral Dynamics
What sets Spiral Dynamics apart from other models which focus on personality traits and types is that it is about psychological evolution and the dynamic interaction between people and culture as represented by the double helix – not ‘what a person is like’, but ‘how a person thinks, in this context, at this level’.
All around us, we see what it’s like when people at different levels of psychological existence, who hear, learn and communicate things differently, need to live or work together, yet as Graves pointed out:
The error which most people make when they think about human values is that they assume the nature of man is fixed and there is a single set of human values by which he should live. Such an assumption does not fit with my research. My data indicate that man’s nature is an open, constantly evolving system, a system which proceeds by quantum jumps from one steady state system to the next through a hierarchy of ordered systems.
In the workplace, in our government institutions, in our communities and homes, what seems like a clash of personalities or values may actually be a clash of levels.
Consider this example from Graves’s work on How People at Different Levels Form Groups:
Graves has tested some of his theories on his students at Union College in New York. In one experiment, he grouped students according to their levels of existence and then gave them various problems to solve.
Students at the D-Q level split up into a number of groups, each with its own leader. Graves likens this to the feudal craft society with elaborate hierarchies within trade guilds.
E-R students had a huge argument which ended when an overall leader emerged.
F-S students worked well with no leader at all.
G-T students would choose a leader who was well-qualified for the task at hand. Later they would drop him for another leader better-suited for the next task.
The percentage of his students in the different categories has shifted dramatically in the past two decades. In 1952 Graves found 34% of his students at the D-Q level and 10% at the G-T level. Today the figures have approximately reversed, an indication of the U.S. shift away from the D-Q level.
In the school, community or workplace, those operating in C-P (red) level may be motivated by managing immediate survival problems, D-Q (blue) will do best with rules and processes, and G-T (yellow) will buck a system that does not offer them autonomy and freedom to do things the way they see they could best be done. Most people in the (post) industrialised West are at D-Q (blue), E-R (orange) or F-S (green) levels.
As part of the Spiral Dynamics course, I completed some questionnaires to provide an insight into my current state (there is an ethic associated with how this testing is undertaken, and who receives the results):
- my Change State Indicator, or readiness and acceptance for change (which is not related to Gravesian levels);
- my Values Profile, to determine which levels I have an acceptance for or rejection of, and to what extent; what ‘blind spots’ do I have;
- my Discover Profile, to highlight which levels were most and least like me
It is easy to see the results of such questionnaires and be tempted to ‘spin a story’, which is why it requires a reasonable amount of expertise to interpret what the results mean, and to treat them as indicators of something that may be occurring, not a description of ‘what is’. A respondent’s results may reflect a situation that is occurring in a different context (eg. stresses in home life rather than work life).
Spiral Dynamics invites us to ask: what if we could consciously ‘change filters’ rather than unconsciously viewing the world through our own lens(es)? What if we could identify worldview-related areas of stress, strengths, potential?
What bearing would it have on how an organisation functioned in terms of management, sales/marketing and morale if they knew their project team to be F-S/G-T, their executive centred in E-R and their clients mostly D-Q?
How much of a difference would it make to be able to work with people’s worldviews as they relate to organisational culture or purpose, or a community’s goals instead of trying to ‘motivate’ them on the basis of a worldview they may not hold or even comprehend?
The insights and applications Spiral Dynamics offers could help people to better communicate, work together, manage, be managed and resolve conflict more effectively despite their differences.
Graves, whose model inverted Maslow’s pyramid (which implies an end point), believed humanity’s quest to be an open ended journey rather than a pinnacle to be achieved, which he succinctly captured in this narrative: