FAQ > Caveats and concerns




Might the models in Spiral Dynamics, used as a view of human cultures, contribute to the disintegration of indigenous cultures and languages and therefore of ethnic identity?

We've had some conversations around the question and obviously hope the implied hypothesis is unfounded. Although Graves proposed that the psychology of the individual corresponds with the psychology of the group, the spiral may well be a better model for understanding people within cultures than cultures, themselves. It's a complement to anthropology and sociology, not a replacement. However, it's hard for those familiar with it to avoid using this frame to look for the predominant levels of psychological existence (or vMEMEs) present in a culture or sub-culture, whether social or corporate, because it's useful for that and reveals dimensions not otherwise discerned. Understanding the model can position people who are open and willing to recognize the depth in alternative ways of living and being so as to honor and respect them, not just to judge them.

Still, there's been a bit of discussion as to how this and similar models could be used to categorize and, if misused, to rationalize dilution of indigenous societies in the name of some "greater good" or even "for their own good" so as to close gaps (as defined by outsiders) between them and a dominant culture's imposed mindset. That applies to neighborhoods or foreign policy, and to any culture with power over another. We'll admit to sensitivity to this sort of application and the high-handed way people sometimes talk about upliftment from high-horses with either a presumptive "Second Tier" view or a capitalist multinational corporatist perspective - "we won the cold war" so our 'greater good' is the greatest. Sometimes we even hear echoes of neo-eugenics that are in no way true to the essence of this model. Fortunately, that's rare.

Yet the risk of arrogant application in second, third, or fourth hands is present for almost any robust theory - Maslow, Loevinger, Gardner, Kegan, Piaget, or Einstein - you name it. Troubles arise when the hands are those of scoundrels or do-gooders, well-meaning but naive, or self-serving but smooth. With power there is inevitable risk. One option is to keep knowledge secret among elites, but who watches those watchers? It's no better. The alternative, of course, is a hands-off approach. Leave people alone and appreciate them as they are and may, of their own devices, become. That requires both a fence and an electromagnetic screen these days since information access and global transport are changing the world and the cultures on it. Won't happen. And would it really be a good thing to stand by respectfully and protectively while a people self-destructs? I think not, but it's a choice.

So, perhaps the more important question is about the use and abuse of the models and theory covered in Spiral Dynamics programs in the hands of whom? With what intent? At what level(s) of existence, themselves? Functioning in an open or closed state? Accompanied by what temperament factors? With what knowledge? Open to what sources? Wise or ignorant? And again, who monitors the monitors? Those who really understand Dr. Graves' point of view recognize the merit and necessity of all the levels - the spiral is an interconnected whole - but also can accept that the general trend in human nature is toward more complex levels because we can't help discovery and expansion of who we are. See http://www.spiraldynamics.org/Graves/CG_quotes.pdf

A good use of these models is to recognize the richness of indigenous cultures, the ways of their learning, and the power of holding onto languages that carry far more meaning than their words. Since the spiral doesn't speak to types or categories of people but to ways of thinking about things, then there can be several levels active in a person or culture at the same time. 

We'd propose that the spiral can be used quite powerfully to justify the preservation and resurrection of indigenous cultures, the value of languages (per the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis that language and culture are entwined, especially in non-literate societies), and to honor ethnic identity as part of a greater, synergistic spiral whole. Losing cultural variability is equivalent to species loss, and almost as rapid. 

Each of the spiral's systems (colors) and the mixes in between represent a worldview; that's central to the point of view. It's an approach to how values are picked. Thus, there can be a range of cultural values at each level, but a similarity in how they are thought about and, to some extent, a pattern to the underlying assumptions. 

As above, the nature of the user is a critical factor. People operating from different levels will see the work quite differently and use it in ways that fit the reality they see and project it. We've used the 'colored filters' metaphor for years - just put those over your lens and you'll see the variability. Someone with strong FS (Green) will operationalize the spiral one way, ER (Orange) quite another, A'N' (Yellow) something else. If you want to see how Graves compared his work with some models of development popular in his day, go to http://www.clarewgraves.com/theory_content/compared/CGcomp1.htm  

One of the more important things to keep in mind is that the spiral isn't a model of types, but a biopsychosocial systems approach that focuses on the interplay of neurology in the mind/brain complex with problems of existence in the reality at hand. There are dozens of ways to sort people into categories and sequences to describe them. Our approach to outcomes for SD trainings tends to focus more on where those types might come from, what makes us change, and what's the direction if movement in these emergent systems there is to be. 

Is "The Spiral" too much of a western convention?

Most of the people who have been active in the development of such developmental theories over the years have been westerners, or at least curious about the impacts of the ER-level+ and the consequences (a far more meaningful differentiation than geography). Sometimes there's a dominant culture slant in many examples utilized to illustrate theoretical points. However, we are troubled to find religious and political presuppositions being inserted as if they're core to the theory rather than personal opinion attached to the theory. 

Alas, when humans describe our try to use an abstract theory, their personalities and experience are going to come into it - it's only human. So the character and ethics, as well as the cultural slant, economic views, and personal politics of the presenter will inevitably enter into a presentation, or tint an application. The extent of that intrusion varies with both depth of understanding of the models covered in SPIRAL DYNAMICS training and a presenter's ego involvement with those matters. People will project their own systems through the model, thus turning it, to some extent, into a reflection of their perspectives. (This is a very useful thing to observe for analysis of who folks are rather than just what they say. For example, if you have a good grasp of Gravesian theory, look at a rendition of the Spiral and what it promises and intends to get a clue as to the nature of the renderer(s); interpretation of the Spiral colours is a great projective test.) Since it's easy to attribute the character of the implementer to the theory behind the implementation, a clear distinction of the two - the tool versus the mechanic - is vitally important lest the model be painted falsely with traits and attitudes it cannot possess. 

Trying to minimize biases and recognizing stylistic differences in teaching is about all anyone can do about it, however. It would be great to have a total range of life experiences from all around the world on which to draw; but there just isn't time. So we all must depend on feedback and contributions from those who have had different experiences and who are willing to share alternative perspectives constructively to fill in the narrative. The theory offers a framework; fleshing it out with examples and illustrations can be tailored in numerous ways. The model has room for all of them. 

The models in SPIRAL DYNAMICS programs have been applied fairly broadly in a number of societies ranging from Africa to South America, Europe and Australia, and even Native American groups. Feedback from the "east" and "mid-east" is scant, though the material is being taught there without our input. That's unfortunate and we suspect many of us would love to have both research opportunities and involvement with more non-western societies. 

Nonetheless, if there's anything to these models or emergent theories in general, then it should track as well in an eastern or western context - effective assessment and adaptation is the issue, not the model(s). The nature of human nature ought not shift very much from nation to nation, ethnicity to ethnicity, race to race, or even gender to gender. There will certainly be unique vMEME mixes and expressions, as well as characteristic profiles as manifestations with differing traits and artifiacts. That's what we differentiate as surface and hidden values - but the deep values themselves (vMEMEs or ECLET levels) ought to be relatively consistent across human beings.

What common misconceptions about the model are especially troublesome?

(1) First among many is the "up the spiral equals closer to godliness" error. Many people try to conflate the developmental process described by Graves/Spiral with spiritual development as described in traditions like Christianity and Buddhism or even TM. Indeed, some renditions seem to be following a pattern like the Transcendental Meditation movements' somewhat bizarre evolution over the years. While there's evidence that meditation or some kind of contemplative practice is good for the brain, or at least helps us relax, it not the key to movement along the Gravesian spiral, though it certainly can't hurt.

In our SPIRAL DYNAMICS trainings, we describe how people come to think about spirituality, religion, and other things material and immaterial. That spiritual traditions seem to coincide is logical, but not a lock. There can be near-infinite expressions within these levels, and some familiar theological/spiritual approaches will inevitably appear to fit and fit well. However, they are not the levels, only coincidental substance within them. 

Refinement and elaboration within such traditions need not equate with movement on the spiral at all. Graves termed this "horizontal" change in which the basic psychological assumptions remain essentially unaltered while the content is enhanced or expanded. It is our view that this can happen in terms of the spiritual domain, making it quite possible for persons at any level to achieve "higher" states of awakening and enlightenment, though they will do so in the way and on the terms of that particularized stage and in accordance with the life conditions congruent with it. To claim that greatness can only occur atop the spiral model displays both ignorance of history and of the theory. 

We'd agree that expanding conceptual space opens lots of possibilities; thus the potential for understandings with very different senses ought, logically, to emerge with systems. That's why it's undeniable that higher levels offer more degrees of freedom to act appropriately, and a better chance for getting things right in highly complex situations. But this is merely possibility and potential, not a guarantee.  

People throughout the levels have spiritual experiences far beyond their apparent capacities through meditation, breathwork, drugs, chanting, and assorted other means to achieve enlightenments in a context. (See Dr. Andrew Newberg's studies.) The Spiral levels do not predict whether this happens or not, only how it is likely to be processed. The quest for "the breakthrough" to elevated consciousness or out of the troublesome conventions of human nature into something more noble is a perpetual one, likely built into our brains just as there are tools for dealing with the awareness of mortality. Dr. Graves and many of his contemporaries were parties to this exploration, and it has continued in the years since as searchers explore what human potentials might be.

(2) Here's another blunder: "A company at risk of failure and trying to survive tough economic times is therefore Beige since people's livelihoods are on the line. It is struggling to stay alive." This might be a comfortable metaphor, but it's a bad application of this model. Beige represents the first level of humanness, the deepest system of instinctive, automatic, reflexological being which rests close to our genes and biology. Under first-level conditions - a Garden of Eden-like environment or with a deficit of more elaborated coping skills - survival and reproduction are possible. However, human individuals leave it as they pass from infancy, just as human societies left it on exiting from stone-age existence. We'll not find organizations here at all.

When Beige is awakened it is not metaphorical: survival is literally at stake. Concepts like bankruptcy or losing a home due to back taxes or even lacking a pay check to buy food are not Beige-level issues. Hunger, thirst, sex drives, fight-and-flight reflexes are. Worrying about future problems is not Beige, nor is going to lunch with friends or figuring out how to manage a killer mortgage. At Beige, meeting first-level needs takes nearly 100% of the person's effort and attention - they will die of thirst or starvation otherwise. The means are hands-on and immediate, not dependent on social systems or economic success. While persistent failure on economic terms might cause a person to slide downward on the social hierarchy and face great hardship, it is extremely unlikely to shift their thinking back to Beige. (This is where understanding the double-helix construct of Gravesian theory is so vital, and an easy test of who understands the model versus others - a large majority, in fact - who are merely applying a color code.)

So while, at the deepest level, one might be able to track some deep-seated fears to the corporate mind and uncover some subtle elements of vestigial Beige (it's part of all of us, after all), to attribute a company's actions or even an individual's choices in social settings to 'Beige' is a stretch too far. Beige needs are embedded in the higher levels and solved in their more elaborated ways. Rarely, except in pathology and direst stress, would someone actually shift back to this level once leaving it; certainly not in a business sense, and generally only in terms of presenting problems, not thinking. 

(3) We keep seeing writings suggesting, frankly, that Purple (BO) equals primitive, third world, and dark skin. Some of what we've heard being attributed to "The Spiral" is nothing short of racist tripe and the rantings of elitist snobs out to defend exploitation and happy to sort people's worth on socioeconomic terms. On the one hand, 'tribal' is treated as a pejorative; on the other, anything in a tribal context gets painted paternalistically Purple, even when other systems are active and dominant. It's very easy to miss greater complexity when observations stop at the surface, or when it's convenient to do so to serve a dominant group. Assuming that poverty precludes more complex thinking is the worst sort of arrogance, though the assumption that abundance equates inevitably with exploitation is about as bad. That said, overlooking the very real pressures at work when tribalism or the forces of strong ethnic identity are present is only asking for trouble.

Again, Gravesian levels can play out with many different forms of expression, and observers' biases play into what they can and will see. One of the easiest traps to fall into when applying this material is projection and the easy valuing of other ways of being without empathy, i.e., an honest and relatively judgment-free effort to understand where the other person is and why that is 'reality' for them. That's not to say that all ways of being are equal or even deserve equal toleration or support, only that they exist because they are and understanding needs to come before action.

Another misconception about Purple is that anything which seems sociable or group-oriented is based at the second level. In the Graves/Spiral sense, Purple represents the first stage where structured social groupings (beyond the reproductive pair-bond and family) arise. It implies the beginnings of behavioral norms along with a set of explanations for why things happen, a need not felt at the first level. Issues of kinship, blood lines, a spirit world, ethnic ties, and gender roles are keys. Vestiges and artifacts subsumed within more elaborated systems are often confused with nodal Purple.

Merely being together in a group or team, or having a common goal do not Purple make. Humans get together at all levels. How and why they gather varies, and the value placed on relationships differs, as well. So to attribute group behavior to Purple-ness is to miss that key point, as well as to dilute the incredible power genuine second level attachments can exert. Such bonds are not taken lightly, nor are they easily dismissed. They are not transitory emotional states, but ties of tribe and family that endure above all else, often through generations. While all of the cool-color systems (the sacrifice/deny-self group) have a collective tone, even the warm-colors include groupness and interpersonal dynamics. Purple represents something far deeper and closer to our origins. 

(A similar off-the-mark perception is that it's Green which equals sociability and togetherness along with its increase in intrapersonal curiosity. While the value of affiliation and belonging are often high at Green, this level is not alone in its attention to social dynamics since all of the deny-self systems tend to 'other' orientations and the warm express-self systems often find managing them important - the inner-outer focus cycle.) 

For those taking a more particle-like view of the model in SPIRAL DYNAMICS materials and some thinking of these systems as "energy cores" or chunks in a sort of mix-and-match game, the error comes more easily. Purple is the first of the communal/collective systems and extrapolating it across the spiral makes some intuitive sense. Even then, though, it's important to recognize that the energy of Blue's communalism, of Green's, of Turquoise's, etc., will sound schematically similar to Purple's, but altered and augmented. The Purple notes will be subsumed and embedded in their more elaborated music. For those approaching the work from a more Gravesian perspective, the nature of BO should be easier to differentiate and the confusion of all group activity with Purple shouldn't be a problem.

(4) A commonplace misconception is that Red equals violence. We go into this in some depth elsewhere and need not elaborate here except to say that the emotionality and frequent tone of negativity in the third level don't necessarily equate with violent acting out at or hostile aggressiveness. Furthermore, as Graves pointed out, some of the greatest violence ever wrought by mankind has been fostered by scrupulously justified Blue-on-Blue warfare wrapped in flags of security, or through the rationalized fallout of Orange economic maneuverings justified as greater goods while lining pockets. One must ask why violent tactics were chosen, if chosen they were, and then ascribe levels as possible. 

(5) Like the naive "Red is violent" claim, we've gone at the "Mean Green Meme" myth elsewhere, too. It is one of the most prolific meme viruses that's been attached to these colours in the Spiral, and one with the power to do great damage in our opinion. Today's expressions of FS are not those of the 1960's, yet many of the harshest critics seem unable to differentiate past renditions from contemporary ones, or even to understand the sixth level versus sociable, left-leaning, humanistic perspectives attached to fourth (DQ) or fifth level (ER) systems. FS is less elaborated than GT, yet a genuine FS passage is a necessary part of it. Merely wishfully proclaiming one's self "second tier" is not to be it.

Embedded in it is another of the things we find very disturbing, that being the confusion of a meme (a concept or idea) with a vMeme (a framework for contemplating memes). This lazy conflating of contents with containers has done a great deal to over-simplify the Spiral and make glib stereotyping so easy. Indeed, it's diluted the very thing that makes the point of view much more than a typology or pile of levels and quadrants. One of the toughest things for our students to do, especially when they've been exposed to the work elsewhere, is to figure out the difference between how a person thinks about a thing and the thing, itself. Indeed, even Dr. Graves got himself confused on this now and then, and we do so, too. Nonetheless, it's the quest to understand how we process and think about things, not just to catalog values and beliefs, that sets this work apart from so many others.

(6) Finally, beware the "Yellow sees all, knows all" trap. The first step is falling into the Tier pit wherein all things positive and good are Second Tier, as if there were a sharp line of distinction and separation. (Funny, to be ranked Second Tier is not so good for politicians.) This seems to come easier if one is thinking in particles (Spiral-lingo) rather than emergent waves and wave-forms (more Graves-like), though the leap from subsistence to being levels was a matter of great curiosity for Dr. Graves in his later years, as it had been for Maslow, Calhoun, and others. 

In this vein, we're genuinely amazed at some of the folks claiming to be among the ever-expanding cadre of "Spiral Wizards" (a term rooted in the 1996 book and one which we tend to avoid as way too cute) and selling tickets to take others along some Yellow road to enlightenment as if magic answers lie just around the next bend. To check this, listen to some of the jargon and how easy it would be to word process it into very conventional religious themes - salvation, immortality, obedience, a virtual deity - and how the talk of devotion, commitment, belonging, and even future reward fit the long-established, almost archetypal, patterns. So, rather than accepting claims in and about the Spiral on face value or as articles of faith, one needs to maintain both an open and skeptical mind so as not to be caught up by well-marketed memes. Neither Yellow nor Second Tier are optimal states ready to solve human kind's problems, although if the theory is correct, they do offer overall biopsychosocial advantage in the long run of time.

We've encountered several people who are deeply ego involved in being Second Tier and even proclaiming themselves among the "Turquoises" to prove it. It's like they really NEED to be a cut above the crowd, somehow more knowing or seeing. Yet they often exhibit absolutistic certainty in the correctness of their views, occasional narcissism, and a clear set of compulsions to reach ever-higher levels of consciousness in route to either transcendence or eco-fitness; they seem to believe that talking holism, contemplative understanding, and global consequences enough will prove the eighth level and give them a success. This drive to be among the elite few and to be counted as an agent of positive change (and subtly to dominate) is often like a compulsion, yet that's one of the things Graves argued had to go away to move into the being levels, if being levels there actually were. (It's important to recognize that Dr. Graves's discussions of the upper levels were derived from data in the 1950's and 1960's, a time quite different from today.) 

The test of this theory is to watch how people behave - how they deal with others and themselves in both public and private - rather than taking their word for levels. The people we've encountered who do seem to be functioning in the more complex levels tend to demonstrate a fair bit of uncertainty and modesty about themselves since they see multiple aspects in play and have no needs to prove anything. It's the ambitious folks who know just enough about the theory to become competitive within it that prove best what they're not. This is not a grading system, it's a series of cause-and-effect relationships. Those who fight hardest for the A's demonstrate that they're not the best students of this work in progress.

How about using Wikipedia as a resource for information about SD?

Simple answer: don't do it. The Wikipedia entry has been an ongoing source of misinformation, gamesmanship, distortions, and confusion. We'd be happy to see it deleted and replaced with a simple link to www.spiraldynamics.com. For those interested in complementary theories and models, there are plenty of other entries (like 'developmental psychology') where all the contributors can be discussed ad infinitum, though with widely varying quality.  

Throughout its iterations the Wiki description of the Spiral has been filled with misrepresentations, bizarre notions, subtle marketing infusions, imaginings, and inaccuracies, along with some factual statements. Sometimes it is OK, at others steeped in ignorance. Even the discussion about errors is riddled with errors. We used to try and keep up with it but have surrendered to the self-appointed experts, most of whom we've never even heard of. The entries have been rife with comments that are patently untrue, additions from spin-offs and reinterpretations rather than the essentials of Graves, and others which are severely twisted and damaging.

That's the great weakness of the wide-open Wikipedia model: total fabrications and factual reports have equal chance of showing up. Genuine experts and 'authorities' only in their own minds share space; the reader is left to sort for credibility. Tertiary punditry and panditry are treated like primary sourcing. The gullible and lazy are misled. Well-organized campaigns and powerful marketing can overwhelm reality. Oft-repeated untruths take on the mantle of fact and go unchallenged. The game of edit-my-edit can become an unending and frustrating loop, especially when poorly informed True Believers and fanatics with axes to grind engage in complex things. The Wikipedia compendium is a glorious and fascinating experiment, but not always a definitive or even credible resource, certainly not regarding this work.

The community of those who have taken
SPIRAL DYNAMICS training is increasingly diverse. Many of those involved have strong views. Despite the majority of users with their heads together who apply the core principles well, we're amazed at how some people become overly ego-involved and blinkered around a pet perception of what the Spiral model is and should be. It seems to help them explain who they are in a hard-to-understand world. In these cases, what it stands for depends more on what they're looking for than what the model is about. Many anchor on being "a Turquoise" or "Second Tier;" others just hanker for a better business tool. And some strive to live a spiral life, a slightly screwy idea. So "SD" is like a projective test wherein needy folks insert their own meanings, interpretations, and fabricated "truths" while others must struggle with the fallout. 

We're constantly amazed at what folks claim that "Spiral Dynamics says", as well as the confusion about its derivation and history. Certitude abounds along with misquotes and false claims, partly because of the undercurrents of hostility which pervade the field and leave room for great confusion, and partly because so many fringe players with right-thinking minds try to promote their pet ideas in places like Wikipedia. Granting all ideas and their promoters equivalence is a risky proposition.

Many who could know better (or would know better if they'd bother ask direct questions instead of assuming mystical knowledge or making up 'truth' based on rumors) have posted grand statements that are erroneous, nonsense as fact. It is our opinion that the Wikipedia entry should be generally ignored and even deleted as long as it is so inaccurate and subject to periodic sabotage, whether well-meant or otherwise. Our advice on all of this is to think critically and ask questions, taking nothing for granted and learning as much as possible. 

Marks of an amateur

With the increasing popularity of SPIRAL DYNAMICS programs and Dr. Graves's work has come an almost limitless supply of self-proclaimed authorities and derivative spin-off renditions. It's often easy to confuse confidence and charisma, or even heartfelt and appealing sentimentality, with knowledge. So here are a few key markers to recognize Spiral amateurs ranging from the naive and uninformed to the outright charlatans:

Talk of the "Graves colors".  As those who have read this site know, Dr. Graves did not use or assign a color code to his levels of psychological existence. The colors came with applications as Value Systems and then in the Spiral Dynamics book. People who do not know this have not participated in a competent SPIRAL DYNAMICS training program.

Driven be "a Yellow" or "a Turquoise" and worships "2nd Tier." 
As systems in people instead of types of people, there is no such thing as a Yellow or a Turquoise. To escape from compulsions and being driven is a marker of the F-S to A'-N' transition. Graves remarked that someone with A'-N' "has ambition but is not ambitious." Goal setting to "achieve" levels is usually lower-order transitional thinking wrapped in fancy terminology. Those who understand the spiral tend to be modest in their self-appraisals and find teachers and learnings at many levels without pretension or fear of the opinions of others.

Can't tell a meme from a vMeme. 
OK. Agreed. vMeme is a typographically difficult way to designate a Gravesian level of psychological existence or a coping system. But there's a great difference between a biopsychosocial system and the memes - replicable ideas and actions - it attracts and repels. Using the two terms interchangeably is either a mark of ignorance or laziness. In both cases, it's misleading and a mark of an amateur.  

People who do not understand this work use it to categorize people into color-coded boxes - "you're such a Blue," "she's a Green," or "we're a Yellow company." This is finding simplicity which is not there since these are systems in people, not types of people, and they can coexist and overlap. The levels represent worldviews and ways of thinking about thing(s), not eight kinds of human being.

Talk of the "Graves test". 
While he worked with a number of psychometric instruments in validation and exploration of his point of view, Dr. Graves never designed a pencil-and-paper assessment. In fact, he was not convinced it would be possible to measure these levels via questionnaires or surveys. 

No clue about biopsychosocial system.  The application via SPIRAL DYNAMICS programs are derivative of Graves's emergent, cyclical double-helix model of adult biopsychosocial systems development. People who understand the point of view recognize the meaning of each of those elements and apply them in analysis. Many others toss around the color code with no idea of the underlying theory or its implications.

Stairway to Enlightenment.  This work describes levels of psychological existence and how congruent behaviors might develop around them. It is not a spiritual path with higher levels being closer to some ultimate state of perfection. While there is evidence of increasing conceptual space and elaboration as new systems emerge, this is not a personal development plan for elevating consciousness. 

Inflationary Consciousness.
Watch out for anyone promoting Spiral levels beyond B'-O' (Turquoise) or promising to elevate you to magnificent heights through their awesome powers to release your hidden potentials. Those who know the material know that Dr. Graves had data on C-P through G-T (Red-Yellow) in his research. Much of his early work was with D-Q through G-T. He had some ideas of what H-U (Turquoise) might be if the theory held, but lacked data in support. The A-N and B-O descriptions are based largely on the work of others in anthropology and psychology. Spiral Dynamics described eight systems, though the Yellow and Turquoise chapters ring of effective versions of E-R and F-S. So anyone talking of Spiral level 9 or 10 or 12 (i.e., Coral, Teal, White, or some such inflated palette) isn't talking about Graves; they are talking about their own projections, imaginings, and even wishful thinking. Ask for data in support of the conjectures, and a description of the existential problems and neuronal systems active, not just True Believers rehashing 1950's spirituality with refreshed jargon. Thinking about consciousness is not the same as being conscious, talking of transcendence is not necessarily being so, understanding the principles of systems doesn't guarantee a systemic thinker, and achieving a balanced state of mind is not necessarily enlightenment. Listen to the words, then look for the business plan.

Systems relate to age.  While some models do attempt to relate stages with age, Graves' models explore the mature adult personality in operation and how it might change. It presupposes a normal developed brain. The systems arise through the interaction of existence problems with neuronal systems, not at predetermined chronological points. 
Talk of "tiers" without even knowing what it means.  Dr. Graves's unproven hypothesis that there might only be six basic systems which then repeat in ever-higher order is the root of much confusion and hype. It is merely to say that after the first cycle of six systems runs its course, there is a possibility of a second run-through, then a third. The idea of a leap to a higher level of being is found in Maslow and many of Dr. Graves's peers in the late 20th century.

Using the colors like grades.  Some people have turned the Spiral model into a typology and tend to use the basic color code like a grading scheme - the "higher" the color, the "better" the grade. Thus, being graded Yellow or Turquoise is much better than a grade of Blue or Orange; they set a goal of rising through the levels because, like a mountain, they are there. That indicates a failure to grasp the underlying theory and the importance of congruence across the double-helix.

Create derivative works without attribution.  The most egregious amateurs rip off the work and fail to acknowledge source. You will find the Spiral colors (trade dress) prominently used, but with little if any effort to make proper citation or references, much less participate in actual training to get a foundation before creating spin-offs.

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