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Spiral Dynamics

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Spiral Dynamics introduces a new model for plotting the enormous economic and commercial shifts that are making contemporary business practice so complex and apparently fragmented. Focusing on cutting-edge leadership, management systems, processes, procedures, and techniques, the authors synthesize changes such as:

Increasing cultural diversity.

Powerful new social responsibility initiatives.

The arrival of a truly global marketplace.
This is an inspiring book for managers, consultants, strategists, and leaders planning for success in the business world in the 21st century.

352 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 2005

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Don Edward Beck

4 books37 followers

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5 stars
438 (47%)
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137 (14%)
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29 (3%)
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 85 reviews
Profile Image for Conrad Zero.
Author 3 books137 followers
August 8, 2016
While the creator of Spiral Dynamics is no longer with us, this reworked and updated version presents a theory of human "progression" through various stages of value systems. Each stage of the system is represented by colors. It reminds me of Abraham Maslow's Heirarchy of Needs theory, only with more layers and technicolor.

This book is essential reading for many reasons. One is diversity training. Different people have different values and filters on the world. SD not only simplifies and explains those values but shows the life conditions which perpetuate them. If you ever wondered why someone got gunned down over a pair of Nike Air Jordans, this book will help you to understand the "Red" mindset AND the life conditions of the people living there. If you wonder why that weird uncle of yours is all into God and Government, SD will teach you all about the "Blue" mindset and the life conditions which would lend themselves toward a Blue solution.

Once you understand the value system of a person in this way, it becomes much easier for you to work with them. Or work for them. Or manage them. Or simply tolerate them at the holiday dinner. You'll understand why they would respond better to discipline (for Blue/Red), or incentives (Orange), or recognition (Green), etc. While it's not exactly the superpower the authors present (You'll become a SPIRAL WIZARD!) it's definitely powerful knowledge about the humans you share the planet with. Since reading this book, I've been able to identify the different colored thoughts and patterns in both conversations and headlines, and even in my own life. Self Knowledge - always a good thing.

The authors repeatedly point out that that people aren't simply one color for all things, but they can have dominant color thinking for different areas of their life. They may be Green regarding their relationships, but Blue in their business dealings. These values are not necessarily a conscious choice, but rather a reaction to the Life Conditions in which people find themselves. When the zombie apocalypse happens, those trapped in the infected zone will quickly find their brains switching to a more Red mindset because of the prevailing Life Conditions. SD definitely implies nurture over nature in this case.

I'm not sure if I agree with the authors that there is an actual Progression through the color spectrum as they list it. On the surface it makes sense, but my own experience I seem to have skipped some colors, and they mention more than once that skipping colors is possible, which makes me wonder if there are other paths through the colors than the one listed here (Tree Dynamics?)

Furthermore, there is a Second Tier to the spiral, (starting with Yellow) in which one recognizes the different colors and is able to pick and choose the appropriate color for any particular situation. The problem should be obvious - how do I know whether my weird uncle is really Bright Blue, or enlightened, second tier Yellow, but choosing to value Blue around Religion and Politics? Nit picking, I suppose, but not really addressed in the book.

Overall, this is an extremely helpful book for managers, the diversity-challenged, or those wanting more insight into human nature.
Profile Image for Stephen Joyce.
Author 2 books6 followers
November 6, 2011
important but , in my humble opinion, very poorly written book - the work of Graves did not deserve to be buried in such a shambling text - it made an extremely useful and creative model of human development into something obscure and elitist ( for really smarty people who have university education) - the KEY to these ideas can be found in 'A Theory of Everything' by Wilbur - who managed to make the theory much more accessible to everyone.
Profile Image for K.M. Weiland.
Author 29 books2,276 followers
February 24, 2019
Blew my mind. Incredibly insightful paradigm for personal and social growth. Much of the book is focused on large-scale “spirals,” applicable to business and global infrastructures. I would have found a more intimate focus on spirals in personal development to be more pertinent. But it still provided some amazing food for thought.
Profile Image for David Dvali.
18 reviews1 follower
September 1, 2020
Absolutely shocking model. For me was hard to read mindfully first part of the book, but model is shocking. When reading was thinking that it is story of my life through this stages. Every people must know this model. I think it will help us to understand what we are doing when we are developing ourselves. And every person is doing it no matter if he lives in jungle or not knowing what self-development is
Profile Image for Eugene Pustoshkin.
440 reviews68 followers
October 5, 2018
SPIRAL DYNAMICS is a truly unique book. I mean you won’t find similar books around. Specifically, I mean that it is written in a style which belongs to this book only, as far as I am aware. It doesn’t look like anything else, I assure you.

(One good advice that some readers give is to start reading with chapter 3 or 4 and then come back to the beginning chapters.)

Spiral Dynamics (SD) tracks down the evolutionary spiral of human consciousness and its value systems in a very pragmatic (atheoretizing) sense. In SD those are called vMEMEs—value meta-memes which attract numerous memes (self-replicating patterns of thinking, doing, feeling, being). I personally prefer to call them value matrices. These vMEMEs are basically structures of consciousness as applied to the values sphere (the things we value the most about life and which we strive to enact). They determine not what we value, but how we think and go on about our values.

A Russian physiologist Aleksei Ukhtomsky coined the term “dominanta,” and these vMEMEs, these value matrices, could be seen as these kinds of “dominants” in individuals, organizations, and societies at large. vMEMEs are seen by SD ontologically, as kinds of matrices of values enactment that create a multilayered societal cake.

Spiral Dynamics is a very pragmatic framework. It has been applied to organizational and international development, but it has also found its use in the fields of psychology and psychotherapy (both individual and group). It has become a kind of worldview template to make sense of the varieties of thinking/values that permeat our global societies. It clearly shows that we really need to recognize the vertical developmental dimension of human lives which consists of 7-8 or more levels of consciousness.

The SD awareness has been popularized thanks to the efforts of numerous individuals and groups, including scholars-practitioners who work in the field of Integral Theory & Practice, as evidenced by the works of the famous internationally-acclaimed thinker Ken Wilber. Being more a practical framework for socially proactive people rather than a philosophical or theoretical treatise, SD brings forth a bubbling sense of optimism about our human condition and provides some tools of how to address complex situations—both in personal realms as well as cultural, organizational, and even geopolitical realms.

In my opinion, for any integrative thinker-activist Spiral Dynamics is a wonderful tool which is best complemented with the AQAL Integral Framework developed by Ken Wilber (and in Don Beck’s more recent work on Spiral Dynamics Integral Wilber’s four-quadrant view has been included as well—but there is much more to Integral Meta-Theory than just four-quadrants: Integral has a powerful understanding of states of consciousness dynamics, as well as shadow dysfunctions, and transpersonal states and stages of consciousness, and much more, including such topics as developmental psychology, post-metaphysics, Integral Methodological Pluralism, etc.).

Also, I think that it is great to treat SD as a practical template/model/language which has been tested in the field of pragmatic activities (especially in organizations), and at the same time work on expanding one’s own knowledge and awareness by diving into the amazing field of adult development theories (so-called vertical growth models), such as Susanne Cook-Greuter’s elaboration of Loevinger’s Ego Development Theory, Robert Kegan’s orders of consciousness, Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, and so on. Adding here some mindfulness/contemplative practices could generate powerful results.

The diversity of perspectives that arises from bringing in all these different frameworks and paradigms offers a safety net of triangulation which helps in pattern recognition which is so necessary to any “spiral wizard” (the term used by Spiral Dynamics to designate a person who is able to grasp and activate flexible flows of the entire evolutionary spiral or its specific clusters whenever it is necessary) or integral evolutionary.
Profile Image for Ruben Mes.
113 reviews6 followers
June 15, 2020
I have struggled tremendously with this book. Though, allow me to elaborate on this.

I give this book 3 stars instead of 4 or 5 because of several things.

Firstly, it's quite outdated and many of the geopolitical situations described where of a time when I was only a baby. It's almost 30 years ago. And besides the fact that I don't know many of the situations, I'm also way more interested in our current situation (2020, covid + black lives matter).

Another point that made this a slug fest is that I believe it's been awkwardly structured and the barrage of concepts seem to have little impact on me when regarding the spiral, even though I can hear how well it works in theory.

The various extra's, like Closed, Arrested and Open conditions, X, Y and Z templates and how to align action to purpose where so murky and unclear to me that I feel like I missed a large part of this book. It sounds like these were Beck and Cowan's own contributions, though I may be wrong here.

The exploration of vMemes over different parts of the world and how they are expressed and evolve over time was brilliant to me. That's why I got this book.

But now I'm left with wanting way more insight in the political situation of today. And how to support the overall health of the spiral. And how to propel the West into second tier.

If anyone has sources that take these insights from Clare Graves and apply it to modern day, I'd be really interested in it.

Conclusion: I felt this book was a very cluttery representation of a highly refined, nuanced, transformational model. I love Spiral Dynamics. This book contains some valuable tools and insights but it left me drained, confused and hungry for the real deal.
Profile Image for Alexandr Blokhin.
30 reviews4 followers
May 31, 2018
Думал прочитать эту книжку за 12 дней, но на прочтение ушёл почти месяц. Думал, что это очередная бизнес-литература, где достаточно прочитать начало и конец абзаца и смысл будет ясен. Начал так читать и понял что в книге очень ёмкие предложения, в каждом предложении содержится очень много информации и бегло прочитать не получится. Половину книги вообще не понял, что в целом и подразумевается контентом книги. Скорее всего, придётся книгу прочитать снова через 4-5 лет.

После этой книги я ещё больше полюбил людей. Несмотря на их мировоззрение, несмотря на отличные от твоих взгляды, несмотря на их образование.
August 9, 2022
Provides satisfying answers about characterizations of human expression, development, conflicts, and overall relationships. Spiral Dynamics describes the fluid pattern of human development of the psyche which oscillates between personal focus and communal focus. This back-and-forth between personal and communal happens simultaneously as both an individual and society mature along their lifespan, eliciting a visual of human progress with a cyclical nature to it - a spiral.

I was surprised to find how much of this book is about business and management (considering that I first learned about Spiral Dynamics through spiritual and religious podcasts), but those sections are naturally stimulating because a) so much of Western/American life feels like it is read through a corporate lens already and b) the fundamentals of the spiral and its tiers translate well into multiple disciplines.

It took me so long to finish this book since after reading a section I would remember a point in my life where one of the tiers along the spiral was prominent and very expressive. I would sit with this memory for a while because now I had the proper vocabulary to describe patterns of growth and development in my own life. This probably happened multiple times throughout each chapter of the book. --Highly Recommend
Profile Image for Jeremy Garber.
252 reviews
July 10, 2018
A fascinating typological model for how individuals, groups, and societies react to pressures in their environment based on their primary mode of existing in the world. Based on the research of Dr. Clare Graves, a psychology professor at Union in New York, Don Beck and Christopher Cowan present a dynamic model of the progress of societies from the earliest days of survival to the present complex age. The Spiral Dynamics model offers a range of what they call "vMEMES" that persons use to react to times of stress and change. Almost half the book is devoted to these vMEMES, describing them using various colors, personality types, figures from ltierature, etc. The vMEMES are:

Beige - Instinctive/Survival
Purple - Tribal/Animistic
Red - Egocentric/Exploitative
Blue - Absolutist/Moralistic
Orange - Materialist/Achiever
Green - Senstive/Communalist
Yellow - Interrogative/Thriving
Turquoise - Oneness

As both individuals and societies react to outside pressure, they survive by moving back and forth within the spiral. The authors are careful to note that one vMEME is not better than another - primal red rage might be more effective to surviving a particular situation than green communal peacefulness! The spiral also moves back and forth between individualism (beige, red, orange, yellow) and collectivism (purple, green, blue, turquoise), as the limits of each are reached. However, the spiral does indicate a progressive amount of complexity that helps humans deal with an ever increasing world. The most dramatic break comes between green and yellow - the movement from the first tier of values, based on fear, to a second tier of values, based on love and connectedness. The authors suggest that as we continue to develop in more complexity, we will develop even more vMEMES to deal with that complexity - or we will fail to survive.

Maybe because it's not my field, I found the leadership model for working groups through change the least helpful part of the book. I might come back to it if I ever find myself in a leadership position in which it would be useful, but I definitely skimmed that half of the book.

As sometimes New-Agey and theoretical as the model sounds, it is based on a great deal of empirical research and provides a useful tool for thinking about persons in times of stress on any level of existence. The authors have a tendency to wax excessively poetic about the model at times, and it is VERY important to remember that this is a way of thinking about the world, not an absolute metaphysics about the way the world actually is. But I have found this a useful tool in working with myself and with groups to work through conflict and how we can achieve the highest and best results so that everybody thrives.
Profile Image for Ivan.
764 reviews27 followers
September 10, 2013
Well, I finally read this one, after 6 month, as it's not a book to be read in absence of tangible proof and real-life examples. Overall, it could be summarized as recommendations for management, which, like any other recommendation shouldn't be taken to the letter, and certainly shouln't be implemented completely.
I have previously mentioned the book downside - excessive use of clichée literary embellishments and thesaurus, peppered by very informal speech - it hurts the overall credibility of the book. It is almost as if the author, instead of writing something in a simple fashion proudly runs up to the reader and says , waving his arms - "Look, I know how to use big words! And I'm really good at that" and then - in a gesture to please a less-educated audience started to curse and throw sticks around , meaning that he is also a simple man.

If Edward Beck planned to write an academic book, he should have stuck to a formal language and eliminated the pseudo scientific aggrandizement of daily events compounded by colorful, yet purposeless descriptions of the mundane things; if it was supposed to be a management book, why use a great amount of general public marketing lingo, if he wrote it for the general public, why refer to academic studies, by inserting a lot of references to those.

I was disappointed that I haven't found much new material, and the presentation of the memes, as well as an influence of parenting remained arguably unexplained, in contrast to the Linda Pollock and Lloyd de Mause research on the influence of early childhood developmental psychology and parenting styles upon the makeup and fates of societies.
Profile Image for Krzysztof Herdzik.
3 reviews2 followers
December 26, 2017
Great theory to be applied for individuals, teams, groups, societies and countries. Helps to understand not only what happened in society and individual development but also helps to predict where human development goes.

Helps to understand changes in organisations, development of people based on their values. Helps finally to design leadership of XXI century.

One minus star for the language used - Texan, low quality literature style...
Profile Image for Natasa Tovornik.
334 reviews13 followers
May 21, 2012
I love the priciple fo Spiral Dynamics, find it a powerful tool and a great model to understand different dynamics and needs for change.
The book itself is quite complex, written in a complex language. It can take a while to read it. As well, I would appreciate an update, as the book was written in 1995 and many things that are described as future, actually lay in the past.
Profile Image for Francis White.
13 reviews
August 11, 2011
Brilliant theory, check the Wikipedia entry and leave the Introduction until after you have read it!
3 reviews
February 6, 2017
Great book describing the different personal value levels and the shift between them in the life of a person. This book will make you think - you will rethink your decisions.
16 reviews
March 12, 2021
Not a great book, but great concepts. Changed my worldview.
But, as George Box said: All models are wrong, some are useful.
Profile Image for Dina Alieva.
2 reviews
May 17, 2020
Well-rounded concept which may be applied to nations, communities and individuals and gives a hint into further development stages. The book itself is poorly written, though.
Profile Image for Lyle.
102 reviews1 follower
Currently reading
February 23, 2019
Page 16
At each stage of human existence the adult man is off on his quest of his holy grail, the way of life he seeks by which to live. At his first level he is on a quest for automatic physiological satisfaction. At the second level he seeks a safe mode of living, and this is followed in turn, by a search for heroic status, for power and glory, by a search for ultimate peace; a search for material pleasure, a search for affectionate relations, a search for respect of self, and a search for peace in an incomprehensible world. And, when he finds he will not find that peace, he will be off on his ninth level quest. As he sets off on each quest, he believes he will find the answer to his existence. Yet, much to his surprise and much to his dismay, he finds at every stage that the solution to existence is not the solution he has come to find. Every stage he reaches leaves him disconcerted and perplexed. It is simply that as he solves one set of human problems he finds a new set in their place. The quest he finds is never ending. (Clare W. Graves)

Page 294
I am not saying in this conception of adult behavior that one style of being, one form of human existence is inevitably and in all circumstances superior to or better than another form of human existence, another style of being. What I am saying is that when one form of being is more congruent with the realities of existence, then it is the better form of living for those realities. And what I am saying is that when one form of existence ceases to be functional for the realities of existence then some other form, either higher or lower in the hierarchy, is the better form of living. I do suggest, however, and this I deeply believe is so, that for the overall welfare of total man's existence in this world, over the long run of time, higher levels are better than lower levels and that the prime good of any society's governing figures should be to promote human movement up the levels of human existence. (Clare W. Graves)
Profile Image for Elizabeth Schwartz.
4 reviews9 followers
September 23, 2011
Although written in a business context, it holds a philosophy about the parallels of human socio-evolution and individual growth which are mind-blowing.

It is a controversial stipulation because critics say it creates a euro-centric process and assumes all cultures will follow the same process. However the theory relies so much on the nature of human beings to stick with what works until it doesn't any more and to start something new that better meets the essential needs, especially of individuality or of communalism (thus the redirected focus from democracy to capitalism and then back to green environmentalism).

It points to exactly why you can't go into a third world country or city projects and try to use the same techniques that help people already thriving in a consumer-based society. Motives are too different.

I think this book is brilliant and wish Don Beck would write some more in ways that draw in a wider readership.
Profile Image for Sergii Khlivnenko.
23 reviews8 followers
April 3, 2018
This is the most powerful book I have ever read. I have changed professional direction and lifestyle, after I first time I have heard about Spiral Dynamics in 2014,.
The book describes the idea is about the only way for development of systems: individuals, organizations and societies. There is no short way to the top, but constant vibrations between self expression and self sacrifice straight to new levels of consciousness. Life conditions need the most suitable mindset and values, not the most developed.
The book gives you new clear understanding of how the world works and explains reasons of actions, based on dominating value system. Definitely must read, especially for managers and thinkers!
Profile Image for Toni Tassani.
165 reviews11 followers
January 28, 2019
A thinking tool for how people, organisations and society evolve. The authors base their work on Clare Graves work, and are highly influenced by Ken Wilber. They map the stages to colours, in a similar pattern that Frederick Laloux does with his Teal Organisations, but they include a 1st and 2nd tier, with a different level of consciousness.
1st tier:
BEIGE survival
PURPLE magical
RED impulsive (the terrible 2)
BLUE purpuseful (the Ten Commandments)
ORANGE achievement (Wall Street)
GREEN communitarian

2nd tier:
YELLOW systemic
TURQUOISE holistic

The idea of the vMEMEs and the Life Conditions are the most valuable part for me, but the levels of detail of each of the stages seemed absurd to me.
The book was too long and too detailed for me.
Profile Image for Willa.
68 reviews
July 3, 2009
another one that's really hard to rate. The content is fantastic, and very useful for anyone wanting to really understand Spiral Dynamics. But if you're not over 50 and Texan, you can hardly read it - because it's not written in English but in Texan! That is a great set back and hopefully something more up to date will be written soon (it is hard to see a writer rave about GM or the banking sector, or the moral excellence of the US military, with no awareness of 9/11 or the massive corporate scandals to come... but then that wasn't his fault because it was published in 1996!).
Profile Image for Jeff.
27 reviews
November 7, 2014
Fantastic book! Although it seems the author sees more business applications to its content than anything else, I found that there are some profound implications for fostering understanding between people. We live in such a polarizing society it's nice to be reminded that people and issues are complicated and can rarely be divided into black and white or left and right. If you've ever found yourself desperately trying to figure out how someone could believe a certain thing and genuinely want to understand where they are coming from, this book is a great start!
Profile Image for Stefan Bruun.
268 reviews50 followers
January 5, 2018
Puts words to a concept that I would have loved to see described this clearly much earlier. The necessity of going through a particular developmental stage to go to the next is a concept that can be applied so much more broadly in life to improve the understanding of individuals, communities, and societies.
Profile Image for Suzanne Hazelton.
49 reviews7 followers
April 13, 2013
Whilst I love the concept of Spiral Dynamics, I found the book a bit heavy going. For more of a review - including links to a great overview on Spiral Dynamics, take a look at my blog --> http://wp.me/p10Vn0-7Z January 2012
Profile Image for Quang.
35 reviews
May 30, 2018
If you don't want to get lost in the streets, you will need Google maps like almost every other homo sapiens :)

If you don't want to get lost in your journey of psychological development, this book is written for you
14 reviews
May 16, 2017
Really interesting, but complicated at times
293 reviews3 followers
March 30, 2018
The spiral wizard can understand how the world develops and evolves. This seems to be a very important read for anyone who would be a leader and anyone who wants to know how each individual develops.
Profile Image for Brandon.
47 reviews5 followers
October 29, 2020
Spiral Dynamics: Mastering Values, Leadership and Change, honestly felt like more of a textbook than a standard publication; based in over 40 years of research - its profundity cannot be expressed through these words and funnily enough, its contents do a great job of expounding why you will either find yourself bored in reading, or in accordance, having realised its power in practically recontextualising your entire perception of all of human civilisation up until and going beyond the present moment indefinitely.

Due to its immense implications, the Spiral Dynamics model should ideally be read over and revised time and time again, especially into the technical factors involved in actualising conscious intentions in line with its presented mechanics. This is perfectly okay though, as I said, this feels more like a textbook, and not the kind you may have disheartenly bought during University in sheer astonishment as to how such an excessively expensive purchase could warrant a mere 12 weeks worth of your attention. Spiral Dynamics on the other hand, is in my opinion, priceless; while it was relatively expensive ($55), I must acknowledge that it was more than worth it; not only will it stay relevant for the next 12 weeks of my life, but easily the next 12 years and beyond. In all honesty, due to its nature and essence, I wouldn't even consider it possible for it to ever become irrelevant - it is a fantastic awakening and presentation to the development of consciousness both individually and collectively.
"One of the chief beauties of the spiral as an imaginative conception is that it is always growing, yet never covering the same ground, so that it is not merely an explanation of the past, but it is also a prophecy of the future; and while it defines and illuminates what has already happened, it is also leading constantly to new discoveries" - Theodore Andrea Cook, The Curves of Life, Dover Publications, New York, 1979
Not only did countless personal experiences in my life come to be understood further in retrospect once filtered through the lens of The Spiral, but also those around me, as in persons, and of course the entirety of human civilisation as well. I will definitely be incorporating and further integrating its contents into my being as I move forwards in life, for as aforementioned, the implications are radical in the best way possible and are demonstrated in literally all interactions - Practical direct experiences cannot be avoided, only embraced.

Despite my affinity, I don't think I will find myself recommending this to many people, perhaps only a handful at most but even then, an introductory presentation specifically tailored to their relative worldview would most likely be of better suit. This is only because in order to really grasp the essence and implications of this model you must be for the most part, relatively high on it (in its own terms, at least stage YELLOW, which as researched, makes up approximately only 1% of the global population, let alone TURQUOISE, with 0.1%).

It is incredibly ironic how inaccesible yet universal Spiral Dynamics is - for its essence is practically inherant to everything that is, and yet, it is so deeply intergrated into our sense of being that we are completely blind to it. However, for those of you that are open, I will leave you with its closing sentence: "A little knowledge is a dangerous thing, but ignorance is worse. If you are awakening to Spiral Dynamics, you hold the handle of a versatile tool. Merge it with your wisdom and other insights. Then use it wisely and well"

Five stars (*****)
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