Tim Morgan @TimothyNMorgan (Director of Strategic Foresight at North Texas Foresight Institute) gave this presentation at the 2018 Spring Foresight Event at the University of Houston and I thought it was brilliant! I begged him to put it in blog form for me to post here. I bet you will love it too!
Spiral Dynamics is a theory of emergent values development based on the work of Clare W. Graves. These emergent values levels, called vMemes, have a reputation for being notoriously confusing when first encountered. Don Beck & Christopher Cowan attempted to ease the way for newcomers by describing Grave’s original research using symbolic colors & tags. Beck & Cowan’s kaleidoscopic levels are a bit easier to absorb, but still can seem daunting to beginners.
Can we make it even easier or more accessible so that people can begin to understand Spiral Dynamics?
We can try, via Marvel comic book characters.
TIER 1 LEVELS OF EXISTENCE
The Incredible Hulk: Level of Existence #1, Beige SurvivalSense
Beige values center on individual survival in a hostile world. No one puts the Fight into Fight-or-Flight like the Incredible Hulk. The Hulk represents human values in its most raw, survivalist form. He can barely speak and has an extremely limited view of the world. His values are completely centered on moment-to-moment action. Anger triggers Hulk’s emergence from Dr. Bruce Banner when survival is at stake.
Guardians of the Galaxy: Level of Existence #2, Purple KinSpirits
Purple goes from individual survival to thriving as part of a larger group. The Guardians of the Galaxy typify that transition from individual survival to group purpose. Each Guardian brings their own unique virtues to their tribe-like circle. Together, they go beyond mere individual focus, to thriving kinship in a hostile universe.
The Red Skull: Level of Existence #3 – Red PowerGods
Red wants to break tribal limits to impose their will on the universe. The Red Skull embodies the PowerGod vMeme. He seeks out both mystic and physical power to impose his will on the universe. He creates pecking orders of trusted lieutenants around him. He revels in the destruction of his enemies, and dreams of a never-ending empire created by his own hand. He bridles at containment. His will is to command, and never to be shamed by failure.
Captain America: Level of Existence #4, Blue TruthForce
Blue has a capital-P Purpose. Captain America is Marvel’s embodiment of Blue’s traditional values: truth, order, and community. He works for the good of society, willing to sacrifice himself for the greater good. Everyone has their place in the grand scheme of things, and Steve Rogers accepts his: working to defeat chaos and restore order. Just as Blue values first emerged to contain Red impulsive dominion, Cap emerged in WWII to defeat Hydra and the Red Skull.
Iron Man & Black Widow: Level of Existence #5 Orange StriveDrive
Orange strives for autonomy and achievement. Billionaire genius Tony Stark typifies Orange’s success-oriented, no-nonsense view of the world. Stark’s ultimate achievement is his Iron Man exosuit. Stark constantly pushes the limits of science and technology making each new version more advanced than the last. Orange achievement isn’t always about money or technology. S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Natasha Romanov, code name “Black Widow”, chose a different path. Black Widow masters every challenge through keen observation, focus, and strategy. She is spycraft personified: cool, calculating, pragmatic, preternaturally competent, and precise
Groot: Level of Existence #6, Green HumanBond
Green values reject hierarchies and roles in favor of relationships and empowerment. Groot is the living embodiment of such community-focused nurture and alignment with nature. His plant-like form grows and adapts to the needs of others. He guides his friends towards a spiritual sense of nature and fellowship. He willingly sacrifices himself to save his fellow Guardians, telling them “We are Groot”, only to be reborn again through their care.
TIER 2 LEVELS OF EXISTENCE
The Vision and Doctor Strange: Level of Existence #7, Yellow FlexFlow
Yellow breaks past previous levels of existence to a new level of systemic understanding. Yellow values both the analytical and spiritual. It focuses on “I”, but never to the detriment of “We”. It is unlike prior values levels which center on either “I” or “We” values but not both. Two exemplars of Yellow’s integrative “systems-of-systems” perspective are The Vision and Doctor Strange. The Vision is a living robot, born from the fusion of advanced technology and an Infinity Stone. He strives to balance his desires with other’s needs. Yellow emerged differently in Dr. Steven Strange. Strange was a world-class surgeon, a true man of science and rationality. He went on a transformative journey of discovery after a debilitating accident. That journey ultimately led him to arcane knowledge of a wider universe where science and mysticism are different maps of the larger reality. Both The Vision and Doctor Strange stand apart as powerful individuals who are compelled to gain an ever wider understanding of the universe, simultaneously desiring to keep everyone at every level safe.
Wakanda: Level of Existence #8, Turquoise GlobalView
Turquoise senses the world artistically through its interconnected flow. It looks to “We” first, but in ways which empower “I”. The hidden city of Wakanda is the embodiment of this holistic worldview. It blends its separate cultures in ways which preserve each’s uniqueness but gives common voice to all. It does not shirk from sacrifice and looks to sustain all within it. A Turquoise citizen of Wakanda is one who moves comfortably across all the levels, using each to harmonize the whole. Wakandans go beyond seeing the world via Yellow’s integrated system-of-systems eyes. They know the world as a holistic continuum, an environment of environments. They celebrate both cultural diversity and shared values. Turquoise Wakandans do not see competition between technology and nature but use each to enhance the other in a dynamic balance.
Level of Existence #9 & Beyond
Grave’s theory indicated that new levels of existence would continue to emerge as new life conditions arise beyond the current levels. Some claim emergence of these later levels, even though Yellow and Turquoise are still forming. It is almost impossible to comprehend what new values and patterns of thinking will emerge as we confront life conditions beyond the growing environmental stress and global strife giving rise to Yellow and Turquoise. We can only speculate on later levels. Certainty must wait as the future unfolds new challenges along the infinite spiral of values.
Coda on Imperfect Analogies
The fun pop-culture examples barely scratch the full extent of the Spiral Dynamics theory. They are only an entry-point for understanding this unique model of human values development. Spiral Dynamics is a flexible tool for understanding human behavior and aspects of social change. Enjoy your journey up the spiral. Excelsior!