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What Is Spiral Dynamics Integral?
By Don Beck
2003 – 2004 Integral Naked. All rights reserved.
Spiral Dynamics is based on the original work of Clare W. Graves, who taught
at Union College for a number of years. He was quite upset in teaching
psychology because he would teach on each of the theories from Freud to
Watson/Skinner behaviorism to humanistic approach of Maslow and Carl Rogers
and at the end of the course his students would say, “Fine, Dr. Graves, which
theory is right?” Well, that just about drove this man crazy because he didn't have
So from that type experience he began a longitudinal research activity
designed to try to figure out why people think in different ways about virtually
everything from politics to religion to sports to architecture to economic theories to
sex and marriage to a host of other kinds of issues. And what he discovered was
that these different theories, rather than being contradictory of each other are
simply different stages of psychological development.
So from that original research that lasted over about 30 years he finally
reached a state of being able to describe what today we call Spiral Dynamics.
The basic concept is based on a spiral, which means that as a spiral unfolds, it
moves to greater complexity. While it is, in a sense, a single line because if you
lay out a spiral it will be a line, yet each of the turns of the spiral represents a
different worldview, a weltanschauung, a way of understanding reality, a bottom
line and what today we're also calling a meme, a value system meme. We're able
now to demonstrate what lies beneath the surface in relationships, in issues, in
controversy, even in warfare, are these different core adaptive contextual complex
Let's look quickly at the nature of these intelligences. Basically, there are
three components that we need to understand. The first component would be the
life conditions, the problems of existence that people are encountering. These, of
course, are different in terms of culture and of time and a number of other factors.
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So life conditions for most people can become more complex or, in case of
crisis, can regress into being less complex. But first we need to recognize that
these systems that we're trying to describe are not innate in people, not like IQ
intelligence or EQ emotional intelligence. Rather, they are adaptive intelligences
to these life conditions. So first we have life conditions.
Second, we have the memetic code. That is to say, the way that we deal with
Now there isn't a single, one-to-one relationship between life conditions and a
code. A person might be overwhelmed by certain life conditions like a deep-sea
diver who gets the bends and the coping mechanism designed to deal with those
life conditions may or may not be awakened. There is no guarantee of that.
Further, a person may, in an altered state kind of experience, begin to
contemplate different memetic codes before they reach a threshold of replicating
themselves and so they are, in a sense, from a less complex system in an altered
state beginning to contemplate the more complex ways of thinking but have yet to
reach a threshold where they become part of their every day life and part of their
particular realities because those life conditions in which they're functioning simply
So we have life conditions and then we have the awakened systems, and
then third we have the way those codes are being expressed in real life, whether
in a host of topics like religion, politics, lifestyles and so forth. Once again, no
direct connection system between the awakened code and its surface-level
manifestation and so this means when we look at these systems in just a moment
the orange code, achievement and modern, doesn't always produce capitalism.
Those are simply historic manifestations of the code.
So here are the three components—life conditions, awakened systems to deal
with those life conditions and then the particular way that that code is being
expressed in that person's repertoire of adaptations to those life conditions. So if
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we look quickly at these codes you can begin to get a sense of why they are what
they are. Each one, then, is designed to deal with certain conditions in the
environment and when the new one is expressed, as you can see in the graphic,
the older codes don't disappear. Rather, they continue because those life
conditions that gave them birth are still two paychecks away from a person.
With beige we have the basic instinctive survivalist system, making it through
the day, making it through the night. You see it in newborn infants, you see it in
the elderly, you see it in times of great crisis like in 9-11 when there's a temporary
regression into beige. So the only thing important now is survival.
Out of the beige system came the purple system. During the Ice Age, when
clans began to bump into other clans, a need to form a more complex system and
what happened in the brain was the awakening of the cause and effect linkages
and thus we had the emergence through purple. And you can even watch these
in young children as they suddenly have animistic belief about their dog or their
dolly or bonding to their blankets or if you saw some of the current movies then
you can begin to see how purple develops itself in response to crisis.
And so out of purple, then, comes red, the first of the strong, egocentric, self-
centered, “I am me,” “I am the greatest,” “I am all there is,” assertion of egocentric
and power. You see it in the terrible twos. You see it in adults in various
expressions of macho and you see it in entire nations today in terms of the only
bottom line is to assert power. It becomes a very predatory system, yet it's also a
very positive stage in human emergence in which the first raw self concept
Out of red will come blue. Obviously the chaos and anomie of red, each one
doing what's right in their own eyes, reaches a stage where there is a need for
order and a shift out of looking only for self today into a recognition that “thou, too,
are mortal,” and there will come some time in the future the reality of death. And
often these trigger the search for meaning and purpose which are the key
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elements in blue. It's a system that's designed to enable people to find deeper
meaning and purpose in their particular life and when this particular means begins
to express itself, one is quite willing to conform to rules, regulations, to some kind
of plan for that person's life because they will guarantee something in the future.
And so the code here becomes sacrifice self now to obtain later.
Out of blue, historically, comes the autonomous self of orange. If you think of
blue in terms of kind of a fatalistic, “I'm simply along for the ride and whatever will
be, will be,” out of that will come, “Well, maybe I can change things. Maybe I can
influence my own course. Maybe we need not accept the inevitability of whatever
“ism” that we have embraced. Maybe we can make a difference.”
So out of the Enlightenment came the whole notion of individual freedom and
independence and when Martin Luther was able to, on the church door in
Wittenberg, Germany, to nail the 95 Theses, that in itself was an assertion that
each individual could interpret the Bible on their own and his friend Gutenberg put
a Bible in the hands of everyone because of the technology of the printing press
and thus we had the surge of orange to create the good life here and now and not
wait until the pie in the sky when we die.
So the orange value system meme is certainly the dominant force today in our
society, aided and abetted by our amazing technological successes and by our
capability as humans to go anywhere on the world, down beneath the oceans and
even to the planets. So orange, then, is that expansive value system and
because, like red, it's a warm color, the focus is on self versus the focus on some
Well, as you might expect, out of orange came green, a shift again from the
I/me/mine of orange into the we/us/our of green, into the more subtle humanistic
concerns that happens only in societies that have enough money in the bank.
That's why you don't find green in Afghanistan and recently in a project in Mexico
where the top-level government officials they said there's very, very little in green
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in Mexico other than from colonies of Americans and others who come down there
So what triggers green is the awareness that maybe in the search of success
and material pleasure we've lost our soul, we've lost what it means to be human.
We've become so automated by our technology and, in one sense, enticed by our
material gain and our affluence that maybe it's time that we began to ask, “What's
it all worth?” And thus we've had the shift out of orange into green.
In some cases, that experience of green will be more conceptual than realistic
in terms of the full array of sensitive emotions that often captures a person in
green. It may lead to all kinds of social concern in terms of business organizations
without moving into a heavy green grope kind of emotive experience. It may take
But likewise, it looks down-spiral at orange and blue and sees in them
elements that divide people, that bring harm to people, that separate people. And
so one of its first obligations, it thinks, is to deconstruct what orange has produced
because it produces winners and losers and what blue often produces because it
locks saints and sinners into categories.
And so green's goal is to try to clean up the spiral in terms of what the other
systems have done, which it views to be dangerous and detrimental to humans
themselves. So it has that cleansing kind of effect on people.
But green, by its very nature, is a short-term and very, very expensive system
because in spite of all of its good intentions, in spite of its egalitarian motives to
see to it that everybody has an equal share of our bounty, it lacks in itself the
codes to actually make those things happen. Consequently, out of green will
come what we call the second-tier systems.
In Clare Graves' research, he found a momentous leap. He found in the
people that he was studying a capacity in what he calls G-T or yellow. He found
the ability to make decisions far beyond what any of the other subjects that he's
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been studying for years were able to accomplish. He didn't know why. He had no
idea why it seemed to be that this next system was not the next in the series of
ratchets of systems but of something quite different.
And so that's why in his research he said the first six systems represent our
attempt to leave our more animalistic nature and with green, that's the capstone of
that search. But he said in second tier is when, for the first time, having met most
of our needs as humans we simply don't have the same kind of predators, we can
find food down at the local grocery store, we have access to what happens around
the world instantly, so here we are now, as species Homo Sapiens, standing up
once again to say, “What in the world are we and where are we going?” but asking
these questions with a full array of skills that have been added to us by these
different meme codes. And so the crossing over of this great Rubicon from green
to yellow or from first tier to second tier describes the cutting edge of society
In yellow, which is a warm color, which means it's an I/me/mine focused on
self, we're going to define a whole different kind of human, one that's not driven as
much by obsessions, one that has a good internalized compass, one that has is
more comfortable inside his or her skin, one who understands reality in terms of
natural flows, one who is able to focus on human nature, not as a fixed type as the
first tier meme codes tend to do, that is a final answer, but recognizes the
Consequently, one of the first things yellow has to do is look back at the first-
tier systems and see where there's serious trouble. Now it does this on its own
behalf. It wants to live in a world where it can pursue its own interests, but when
it's threatened by drive-by shootings in red, when rather insidious, malignant
“isms” can come out of a version of the jihad in blue endanger its survival, when
orange has so contaminated the environment it can't breathe and when green's
naivete is such it refuses to put in the kind of disciplines necessary for others to
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climb this existential ladder, that impairs upon the capacity of yellow to be free and
to live the kind of lifestyle that it chooses for itself.
And so its first task, in a sense, is to put on a toolkit and surf up and down the
spiral to repair each of the systems to enable life to continue. And when it's joined
with, in a sense, its compatriot, turquoise, that is right brain with data, it is, more or
less, brains with feelings. Then we have both an I/me/mine system in yellow
joined with a we/us/our system in turquoise. And just as yellow's task is to repair
the first-tier systems and to stitch together the wounded world, turquoise, because
it is a collective we/us/our system tuning in to energy fields and to life itself—not
just human life but all life—engulfs the spiral in the warm, healing bond that makes
possible humans, for the first time, freeing themselves from the gravitational tug of
the more primitive systems and, therefore, enabling humans to move ahead.
So those are the first eight of the memetics which have emerged to date and
since the whole Clare Graves Spiral Dynamics concept is not a final stage it
means there will be coral. Then there'll be teal and as each of these life
conditions warrant, then we'll begin to see the more complex systems start to
emerge, many of whom have already been experienced because of altered states.
But until they reach that threshold where they replicate and begin to solve human
problems they have yet to reach the stage of being a value system meme.
Well, to conclude this very quick trip, we want you to see that these are
systems in people and not types of people. We want you to understand that each
of us may, at certain times in our life, even though we have advanced to more
complex views of the world, may under circumstances when life conditions get
worse, regress back to the essential coping systems to deal with those life
conditions. And what exists inside the individual, likewise, exists within the core of
a company, within its sacred Ark of the Covenant that determines how that
company does business. And, likewise, these same codes exist within the core of
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One of the most important aspects of what we call second tier is that Spiral
Dynamics is now integral. This is a major development in the whole Graves
paradigm, one that he encouraged me—the last time I talked to him before his
death in 1986, he said, “Don, you must continue the work. The research I've done
has been important but my whole theory says it itself has to emerge.” And so in
my promise to Clare Graves, I said that's what my role will be, to continue your
research and to add on to it elements that you could not have seen back when
you were gathering data back in the 1960s and 1970s. And certainly the influence
of Ken Wilber here was such that it began to open a whole new horizon to those of
us who have been working with the Graves concept for a number of years.
So we've added the term “integral” to suggest that even the whole Spiral
Dynamics concept is emerging, it's evolving. And what this means practically in
what we call second tier will be both a vertical integration and a horizontal
So by integral vertical, I mean that what happens in second tier is a
recognition that all of the meme codes and first-tier systems need to be healthy.
And so the task of the integral approach is to show people how they can integrate
and awaken and refresh and certainly empower each of these systems in them.
And so rather than debate between the various meme codes or listen to
people say this one is better than that one, our approach in Integral is that each of
these represent ways to be human and since the spiral is inside the person, then it
is critical that each of these systems resonate, be exercised, in such a way for
them to contribute to the further evolution of the spiral itself. And so yellow and
turquoise both attend to the question, “How can we keep the whole first tier set of
systems in their healthy version and how can we keep the entire spiral open for
movement if and when life conditions trigger that movement?”
So rather than debate between each of the meme codes, it's so refreshing to
be able to say, but each of these are critical aspects of being human and because
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of our vertical sense, we can identify where people, companies, societies are
functioning. Then we can begin to show what is next for them.
So each of us has a center of gravity and we have memes in our basement,
those systems once used but today are not as congruent or relevant, and memes
in our attic, which means those systems appearing on the horizon. So we live in
tension zone between those memes used before and those yet to emerge. And
so the basic concept now, rather than to discredit any of these meme codes is to
show their importance in the overall emergence of the spiral. So that's what
makes Integral different, even from those other people using this Graves concept.
But second, it becomes integral horizontally in that we're able to show in
second tier how each of these codes operate in the full dimension of being human.
And here, once again, using the Wilber all quadrants, all levels, all lines concept
we're able to actually graph and demonstrate how these codes express
And if you're aware of the all-quadrants-all-levels approach, you have the two
versions of the self, that is, the person. Those concepts about the person that are
visible, external, such as the brain and the organism and what Graves would call
“degrees of activation” of the central nervous system, the visible, biological
features. You have those aspects of the individual in terms of what you can't see,
what are intangible, those invisible states of mind. And here we find the levels of
If the approach to human development focuses only on one and not the other,
then that approach is fragmented and this is a topic of concern to the field of
psychiatry that now must be of two minds, one using Prozac in terms of an
intervention into the physicality or what we call the upper right, individualistic
exterior system, or the use of talk therapy or other tools of emergence in the so-
called upper left, individual interior. And it becomes important to recognize the
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Furthermore, the two lower systems, which are collective, that is to say the
collective, interior system, which is invisible—and these are the webs of culture,
relationships, norms, boundaries and customs—and the lower right system would
be the visible societal structures—economic, political, laws, habitat—things that
And what is really powerful about this model is one can diagnose a particular
situation and see what kind of intervention is necessary and flesh out that
intervention in all four quadrants. Otherwise, we have efforts that appeal to only
one quadrant and deny the importance of the other, like we give economic aid to a
country and not pay attention to its interior capacity to handle that money in a
responsible sense, or we expose children to pretty nifty training programs to keep
them out of gangs and then what do we do? We send them back to the same
gang-infested, lower-left culture that produced the dysfunctionality.
And so what is extremely powerful about this integral approach is that we can
hone in on any particular situation, diagnose what's happening in all four
quadrants, read the codes to see at what level these interventions are now being
pitched and then do what we call “major alignment” to see to it that all the efforts in
all four quadrants and, ultimately, in all the lines of development—social, emotive,
physical, ethical—are, likewise, accommodated. So we come up with a full
spectrum approach, one that has the capability to do a major shift in the whole
Now while this sounds pretty complicated, it's actually quite simple. We even
use the metaphor, “Humpty-Dumpty sat on a wall,” to illustrate it. You know, he
had a great fall and all the king's horses and all the king's men couldn't put him
together. Well, the reason is, so many efforts are fragmented, ad hoc, piecemeal.
They all mean well, but the various stakeholders—home, church, school, law
enforcement, business, government—all of these things are doing the very best
they know how to do, but things get worse because they lack the ability to
integrate their efforts and align them like laser beams on these meme codes.
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So what we've been able to demonstrate is what we developed in South
Africa, is how to practically use this information in this integral fashion to deal with
what are some of the most difficult problems that we encounter today. So this
becomes very exciting work because we know exactly what we're trying to do
memetically and we can show how the various entities', stakeholders', efforts may,
unhappily, be contradictory, piecemeal, ad hoc, fragmented and, therefore, we can
introduce at community levels, in companies, in communities, and in entire
societies, ways to shift the focus and the efforts in such a way to impact the
And so we're able, because we're integral, to look at other entities that are
traveling the same territory with us and begin to do some alignment. And we gain
from them as they gain from us. But this becomes a very interesting and useful
application of Spiral Dynamics, because our task (if we choose to accept it, of
course) is to do things in the betterment of this human Spiral. So I’ve become a
“Spirocrat;” I believe in the “Spiralocracy;” I think we can identify what I call the
power of the third win. And if we can keep the Spiral healthy, if we focus on the
undercurrents of the memetics, this is how we can enable emergence of people
up the Spiral as life conditions warrant.
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