FAQs > Questions About Spiral Dynamics Levels 1 & 2 Applications


Who can understand and apply this theory?

The models and theory covered in Spiral Dynamics training and programs are accessible to any curious human being of reasonable intelligence. It is wonderful how many people have found that the material in our programs answers many of the questions they have been asking better than anything else. However, people will understand and use it in different ways, based on their needs, interest, experience, intelligence and where they are along the spiral. There are different ways of thinking about the theory, and different depths of understanding (see Advanced tab under Resources), just like everything else. 

Applications can range from a set of basic how-to instructions for recognizing and managing human differences to an elaborate schema for dealing with simultaneous change in large, complex systems. Many people treat the spiral as little more than a typology and use it to color-code different value systems they encounter; that's the most superficial application. Others delve into the underlying theory of the double helix and get beyond what people think to how and why they do as they do, a far more powerful way to use the work. 

The more expansive the thinking, the more aspects of the theory become useful, and the more possibilities open up to use the various models in our approach. It does appear that this sort of inclusive perspective becomes more "natural" with openness, and with the emergence of systems approaching the 7th (Yellow, A'N') level where the kinds of questions this work addresses become commonplace. 

Even though a person operating at a lower level might have difficulty identifying with the worldview of someone operating at a higher level, or even mischaracterize it entirely, that does not mean that the person cannot learn the means and techniques for dealing with such people, and then do so effectively if not intuitively. With adequate training and coaching in the principles of the levels, we can coach, teach, manage, and lead people centralized at many levels besides our own. 

At the same time, a person operating either arrestedly or closedly at a higher level might have difficult dealing with people operating in a lower zone because the pressing concerns and ways of adjusting that fit there are blocked from view, subsumed or forgotten. Some re-learning often must occur so important aspects are not overlooked or disrespected when dealing with people living in disparate levels. In all cases, it is important that persons trying to operate within a diversity of systems be in open conditions, or at the most mildly arrested, since those who are closed have great difficulty stepping outside their own boxes. It is also important that the person be open-minded to allow room for differences. 

Most important to understanding and applying this theory is an attitude of curiosity, motivation and patience since it often takes a great deal of experience and learning to understand and apply it effectively. Sometimes years are required to go through the process from sophomoric "Piece of cake", "Got it!" understanding to recognizing how much we do not know - "This is way too complicated to be useful" - to "I see the world in different way and am in a constant process of unfolding and learning." It can be a lot of fun, as well.

Because NCC's Spiral Dynamics programs address how different people think about things differently, how they learn, lead, and live in ways that fit the world as they perceive it to be using the neuronal capacities they have aboard, and what is most likely to trigger change, and in what direction, the applications are nearly limitless. That's not because these models are the be all, end all. It is because an inclusive theory of human nature and motivation is applicable to a wide range of uses depending on the interest and expertise of the user. Some areas where these models have been helpful include the following, but the list is almost limitless since these frameworks apply to help you design systems which fit and forms which align whenever human nature plays a role. 

Congruent Leadership
Job description
Strategic Planning
Futures Studies
Geopolitical analysis
Communication and message design
Human Resources and Executive Development
Organization Development and Design
Wellness management


What is "the design question?"

A simple way to frame the elements in a Gravesian analysis of an activity—business, education, politics, health care, coaching or whatever—is to ask a simple question: "How should who manage (or teach or lead or coach or facilitate) whom to do what?" To add a temporal component, include "when?" This was one approach Dr. Graves advocated to make practical use of his point of view since each element can be broken out according to principles in ECLET theory. This is how you achieve congruence, fit, and alignment. 

  • “How” includes and inventory of the alternative models, means and tools. It can range from hard, pragmatic realities to wild imagination and best-case guesswork.
  • “Who” defines the choices of teacher, manager, leader, etc.—the person who will best fit the people and situation given the possibilities at hand.
  • The verb “manage,” etc., is part of the work to be done—the facilitative function that causes action. It’s important to engage the correct sort of action step and to implement it in a way that is congruent with the task and the people involved. The important aspect is the interface between teacher and learner, coach and client, manager and managed, colleague and colleague.
  • The “whom'” element is the differentiation of thinking and capabilities, the recognition that people are different, have different needs and operate on different levels of existence.
  • “To do” calls for an assessment of competencies and the requirements to accomplish the work to be done, whether physical, mental or emotional. More than that, it’s the way of thinking that the work requires, the situation presents, and the milieu presents to those entering it.
  • 'What' is the character of the work to be done. This includes complexity of work, repetitiveness, temperament required, intelligences demanded, risks and benefits, etc.
  • Finally, the 'when' element recognizes that individuals and organizations change, so it’s important to recognize where in their lifecycle stages the intervention is occurring with the recognition that events are sometimes loops, often spirals. This is the timing question and suggests that what worked then might not work now, and what works now might not work tomorrow. 

Putting all of these chunks together, the design question provides an elegant way to look at the many factors that affect people in organizations and forces us to think about the relationships among them. It provides a useful tool to stretch across surface, hidden, and deep values, and reminds us that elements connect across many variables. 


Are there other people applying this model?

We are pleased to say that many people are using what they learn in Spiral Dynamics training to make better sense of the world we live in. We have trained thousands of people in the work over the years, and others learned of Dr. Graves's work before the Spiral Dynamics brand was coined and use it wisely and well. 

Today, an Internet search will pull up tens of thousands of hits on the term "Spiral Dynamics". Many people have learned what they know from secondary and tertiary sources - rumors of hearsay mixed with wishful thinking and mighty promises - and relatively few seem to grasp the essence of Dr. Graves's point of view well enough to use it to the fullest, or to recognize what it is and is not. The vast majority of claimants to expertise in this work fall into the myth/metaphor levels of understanding and present a spiral typology and decorations without the equally important (and potentially more useful) dynamics of LC:MC interaction and change. So the spiral model is very much a work in progress still sorting itself out.

A search will reveal quite a few spin-offs - some imitations are heavily promoted and marketed by organized groups and aggressive competitors. Some give credit where due, and others are shameless rip-offs. All of these are of varying quality and integrity, ranging from interesting reinterpretations and elaborations to sheer and utter nonsense. Since some are far better than others, we can only suggest caution and doing some Gravesian homework before buying into any program or guru. Some prominent "experts" are only C students where the foundational work is concerned, despite paying search engines for links and heavy promotion. (See the caveats page for more.)

We maintain original, foundational materials here and at www.clarewgraves.com and we continue to offer extensive in-depth training in our Spiral Dynamics Levels 1 and 2 programs, as well as other courses for those seriously interested in applying Gravesian theory. Our aim to to help potential users build as solid a base as possible so they can take the work forward and use it with integrity. For the names of individuals and organizations that have participated in our training, please go to the People section under Resources at the top of your screen. For a list of training sponsors, please go to the Partners section under About NVC tab at the top of your screen. 


Does the Spiral model/Graves theory apply to large groups and not to individuals?

Graves sought a theory derived from his research and data; the principles he established would apply to individuals, groups, societies, and all of Homo sapiens. The notion that these models and theory apply only for large groups and large-scale systems and not to individuals is nonsense. As anyone who looks through many of Dr. Graves' papers recognizes, he gathered most of his data from assessments of individuals and concentrated on conceptions of the mature adult personality in operation. Although his early work was in clinical settings, his interests ranged from individual to cultural levels with the belief that both develop according to a similar set of underlying principles.

Many of Graves’ conclusions and recommendations apply to social change and human betterment. Though his laboratory studies were with individuals and small groups, much of Graves’ library research was in the literature of anthropology and sociology through scholars who concentrated on the broad picture of human emergence. The focus on applications to large-scale systems and governance is very Gravesian, though his underlying research was not. So, the idea that the work doesn’t fit individual psychology is an aberration that isn’t accurate to the core work at all. Quite the contrary, the stretch has been to larger systems.

A central tenet of the Gravesian point of view is that psychology is fractal-like; i.e., the psychology of the individual nests within the psychology of the group, which nests within the psychology of the society, which nests within the species. The development of the individual is a microcosm of the history of human life (with a reversed time scale). To say that Spiral Dynamics is a model that applies only to groups and not to individual emergence and development is misleading and a disservice to potential users of a point of view that seeks to connect the levels, not to disconnect them.

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