Spiral Dynamics: Stages of Adult Development

An integral-age conception, Spiral Dynamics offers us a broad systems view of human potential and development. Weaving together psychology and statistical methods of inference, Spiral Dynamics offers us the best of both worlds. While retaining the data-driven edge, we can come to know the stages of human moral development at a fine-grained level. According to Don Beck, and Chris Cohen, human moral development occurs in more-or-less discreet stages that unfold in a predictable fashion.

Using the “transcend and include” model, emphasis is on the preservation and extension of previous cognitive structures in each new developmental level. As the individual develops from a neonatal ignorance – completely unaware of the world and dependent on the mother – to a high-performing member in a global society, certain obstacles catalyze growth to a higher state of being. Exactly what is meant by “level of development” or “higher state of being” isn’t clearly defined, which is one drawback of the theory. On the other hand, these levels of development appear to emerge spontaneously from multi-factor analysis of specially conducted interviews. While it is possible that the finding is merely a language game or statistical error, it’s more likely that the self-reported data accurately reflects how people feel and what they value: the categories or levels themselves tend to emerge from the data itself.

Read more about Spiral Dynamics here.

Incidentally, the fact that each stage of development is named for a color is completely irrelevant to the content of the stages.

Spiral Dynamics Stages
  1. Beige (Tier 1) – Survival: At this stage the person is completely unaware of other’s feelings, existing in a completely narcissistic state of self-interest and only cares about survival. Higher emotions and thoughts processes are not present. “Society” as we would recognize it cannot exist at this stage of development, loose social groups based on instinct only may exist. The obscale of this stage is other people, you will not get your needs met if you don’t behave according to the social customs of the social group around you.
  2. Purple (Tier 1) – Magical/Mystical: At this stage the individual has managed to integrate most of its survival systems together and can more or less get along on its own. The very dawn of social interaction and group membership is now occurring. As individuals begin to interact with others in a social environment, magical/mystical thinking emerges. Societies at this level care about the shaman or witch doctor, and practice all kinds of magical rituals and ceremonies. The life of the individual is almost completely collective and absorbed into the mystical group-think of the tribe. The obstacle built into this stage is the emergence of the ego-structures and individualistic thoughts.
  3. Red (T1) – Power: At this level, the individual ego is growing quite strong and is capable of organizing and manipulating a coherent worldview-system to get what it wants. The individual has finally escaped from the magical indoctrination of the tribe and seeks to fulfill its personal desires. Societies at this level are basically totalitarian and seek to maximize the power and pleasure of a few individuals. The obstacle at this level is that the power structure tends to collapse; everyone exerting their own egoic desires leads to self-destruction of all involved.
  4. Blue(T1) – Rule/Order: At this level, the mind-system is organizing itself around ideals of law, rule and order. Dealing with the obstacle of stage red, and realizing that there are a plurality of egos all wishing to have their own way, the individual develops a new value system based on explicitly state laws, codes, and commandments. If everyone sticks to the rules, we can all get what we want without too much friction. To keep society running, everyone must keep their head down, not ask too many touchy questions, and submit to the universal code of ethics. The obstacle at this stage is the subjugation of the individuals rights; in fact, at this stage individual rights as we know them do not exist.
  5. Orange(T1) – Freedom/Individualism: At this stage, the values of freedom, economy, efficiency, excellence, beauty, and profit come into play. A major breakthrough has occurred in moral development from Stage Blue, namely that it is now accepted that morality is now relative to circumstance and individual factors. Moving away from absolute rule of law and codes, societies at this level start to develop moral systems based on maximizing individual freedoms and privileges. Many 1st world countries are, on average, at this level of development. The obstacle at this level is that economy, freedom, and individual rights have their limits. The rules of the capitalistic/democratic game that many stage orange people are playing now are inherently flawed and require a kind of compromise between freedom and equity.
  6. Green(T1) – Equity/Compassion: Having transitioned from stage orange, it is fully realized by the individual that “freedom” at it is usually understood, individualism, capitalism, and democratic ideals have their place but also their limitations. A level begins to emerge on top of the stage orange ideas that represent a call to compassion and love. Some world governments operate at this level, some of the time. I think stage green is still young on the world stage, but there are thinkers and leaders that operate out of this paradigm. Think about Malcom X, MLK, Ghandi, Nelson Mandella, or Oprah. The obstacle at this stage is that merely caring or being compassionate doesn’t fix problems, it can only care about them.
  7. Yellow (Tier 2) – Systems/Integral: At this stage, the individual has integrated all the first six stages into a coherent worldview that is capable of taking on many perspective and can deal with high-level abstract knowledge with ease. This is considered by those who study it to be a step beyond formal-operational thinking, and the individual begins to combine powerful imagination and rational thoughts to create new ideas, possibilities, solutions. Processing data across a variety of domains and synthesizing it into effective products, processes and systems is a hallmark of stage yellow thinking. Examples: Elon Musk, Nikola Tesla, Albert Einstein, Esalin Institute. The obstacle of this stage of development is more of a bandwidth problems, the individual hasn’t enough mental resources to deal with all the data that experience has delivered nor ways to process it into viable solutions or new systems; help from others and higher consciousness is needed.
  8. Turquoise (T2) – Wholistic/Transrational: At stage Turquoise, so-called rational thought is completely transcended for new more exotic forms of consciousness. Stage turquoise will likely emerge more as the century progresses, and we will find out more about it. The research mostly ends here, and not much is known about how Turquoise functions or what happens after Turquoise. I personally suspect that Turquoise represents a complete revolution in cognition that will change the human race permanently. Think bioengineering, brain-machine interfaces, and artificial intelligence. Imagine pursuing growth from mind-altering drugs, biofeedback machines, introspection, the worlds religious teachings, and integrating all kinds of medical, engineering, business, political, philosophical and psychological knowledge – what kind of human would emerge from such a grand experiment? Are we well on our way to a kind of Ubermench, a super human? Suffice it to say that cognitive evolution may only have just begun back at stage yellow. What will come next? Whatever happens, we’ll need you as a willing participant.

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