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What is Spiral Dynamics Coaching, and why haven’t we heard of it???

Posted by Angela Goodeve

Spiral Dynamics CoachingGuest post by Coach, Angela Goodeve, CCC. Angela is a member of School of Coaching Mastery's Ultimate Coach Training Program. Visit Angela's blog here. Angela is a contestant in the Best Coaching Blogs 2012 Contest.

Ok, Spiral Dynamics Coaching is a little complex, so if you are in a light mood, or it starts giving you a headache, you may want to bookmark this post until later!!!

When I first started leaning about Spiral Dynamics at School of Coaching Mastery, my first reaction, like many others, was “huh??”; My second reaction was “hmm, this is interesting…”; my next was “wow, this is REALLY interesting”; and my next was “Why haven’t we heard of this before???”.

I have a four-year degree in Psychology, have attended many educational conferences, and have been into personal development for a very long time, but not once have I heard of Spiral Dynamics until studying it at School of Coaching Mastery, at least not in a meaningful and detailed way!


This is what I have learned so far about Spiral Dynamics:

  • Spiral Dynamics has been used with individuals; governments; and in marketing, and has been beneficial in all of these settings;
  • This psycho-social-spiritual theory was first proposed by psychology professor, Clare Graves, PhD, in the 1950’s, and has been referred to as the “The Theory that Explains Everything” by MacLean’s magazine.  It was later clarified by Dr. Don E. Beck and Dr. Christopher Cowan in their seminal book, Spiral Dynamics, Mastering Values Leadership and Change; and
  • The theory combines biology, psychology, and sociology in trying to describe differences in human thinking and behavior.

So, what IS Spiral Dynamics???

Spiral Dynamics describes human thinking in terms of an evolution of individual and societal value systems.  According to the theory, each individual, culture, and society follows a succession in levels of thinking, that are characterized at each stage as a different value system that guides not only the person’s thinking, but their behavior, and their interaction with others, and the world around them.

Each stage, for simplicity, has been organized into a color system that describes different value systems and ways of thinking. 


The key things to remember when learning about these value systems and stages are:

  • There is no “right” or “wrong” way of thinking;
  • That the world needs people who think at different levels along the “spiral” to survive;
  • When we move on to the next “stage” we integrate the values of the previous “stages” so that we can utilize them if needed;
  • A person, culture, or society can “spiral” back to a previous stage in certain circumstances, and may become “stuck” at an earlier way of thinking;
  • Lower levels are not aware of the existence of the higher levels;
  • Individuals and Societies are best served by leaders, including coaches, who are thinking at the higher levels, who can recognize others at different stages along the “continuum”, and use this knowledge to help solve issues according to the applicable ways of thinking, or value systems.

The “stages” are as follows (they will be described in terms of the individual for simplicity):  

  • Beige – At this stage, the individual’s mainly thinking of survival, much like an infant ‘s physical concerns and biological needs;
  • Purple - The individual sees the benefits of a Family/Tribe, and safety and security in numbers.  Much like a toddler they are influenced by ritual, and believe in the “guidance” of their “Chief”, or Parents.
  • Red - This stage is very egocentric, and adheres to the principles of:  dominance, power, and control, much like teenagers typically assert themselves;
  • Blue - Sees the world, and interacts with it, according to rules and authority that they believe brings stability, order, and meaning;
  • Orange - Evolves in their values and thinking towards achievement, competition, and success.  They thrive on opportunities, and are driven to a “better way of living”.
  • Green - Is concerned with humanity, love, harmony, and purpose (think 60’s hippy!!)
  • Yellow - Places high value on flexibility, independence, and a certain knowing about themselves.  They care less about what others think, and more about doing what one chooses, an existential way of being.
  • Turquoise - Is a more holistic way of thinking, in terms of consciousness, life force, and the “global community”.

So, what does this all mean to coaches, and how is learning about this going to benefit us in terms of our interactions with, and understanding of others?

For one, it reminds us that we are all individuals, with different value systems, ways of thinking, and different ways of interacting with the world.  It therefore follows that we cannot assume that any individual does, or should think the same way we do.

Knowledge of this theory can also help us in coaching and communicating with others, whether it is on an individual level; through professional coaching, via marketing; or in a more global sense.  If we can understand where another person is coming from in term of their values and thinking, then we can tailor our communications to that person, audience, or community to foster a stronger connection.

As Coaches, if we can understand where our Clients are coming from in terms of their values and thinking, we can help them find solutions that are appropriate for them, and that will resonate with them much better!

Since this is a pre-pre-101 to Spiral Dynamics blog article, you may want to visit some other sites to read more about it:  I found this one helpful in deepening my understanding.

You can also take the Introduction to Spiral Dynamics for Coaches at School of Coaching Mastery.

If you have heard about Spiral Dynamics, I would love to hear your comments!  Let’s get the discussion going!

Peace and Love,

Ang :)

School of Coaching Mastery teaches a Spiral Dynamics course tailored to the needs of business and life coaches. It's part of the Ultimate Coach Training Program:

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Topics: Coaching, Best Coaching Blogs, School of Coaching Mastery, Coaches, coaching clients, Business Coaches, Life Coaches, clarifying, Spiral Dynamics, Don Beck, Dr. Clare Graves

Are You Stuck in the Green Meme?

Posted by Julia Stewart

Spiral Dynamics CoachingI've been fascinated by Spiral Dynamics, lately. It's a theory of human development that helps to explain people's paradigms, both individually and culturally. (You can read a brief synopsis of it in Ken Wilber's A Theory of Everything, or the whole enchilada in Spiral Dynamics by Don Edward Beck and Christopher C. Cowan.) 

This theory neatly explains why people think what they do and why there is so much disagreement about values in today's world - and it's weirdly color coded. 

Spiral Dynamics & Ken Wilber use the word, "meme", differently than we do as coaches. In SD, the word, "meme", closely resembles the word, "paradigm". It's a come-from more than an idea. Another term for this is, "meme complex". 

So, SD organizes paradigms, or memes, into levels that are color coded. The dominant memes of Western Society are the Red Meme, which is war-like and features a "might makes right" ethic; the Blue Meme, which is based on absolute truths and is dominant in our major religions; the Orange meme, which is evidence- and material-based and is seen in science and corporate ethics; and the Green Meme, which is socially conscious, multi-cultural, and teaches that truths are relative and dominates in the social sciences and academia. SD arranges these memes in ascending order, with Red on the bottom and Green on top. There are other memes, as well, but these are currently the dominant ones.

One thing that all the above memes have in common, is that they tend to view each other as wrong. The reality is that individuals and cultures all need to pass through every stage in order to progress. But because they see each other as wrong, the world is suffering from a kind of global auto-immune meme disease.

Here's an example of that: in the US, we're currently divided between the "red" conservatives and the "blue" liberals. Those colors have nothing to do with Spiral Dynamics, but conservatives are basically of the Red warlike and Blue religious memes. Whereas liberals are of the Orange scientific and Green socially conscious memes. And each side thinks the other is nuts.

Ken Wilber says Cultural Creatives are primarily of the Green Meme and also that this meme rose to ascendancy with the Baby Boomer generation. I'm thinking that the Green Meme is pretty common amongst coaches. Do you agree?

Here's the hitch: There are levels above the Green Meme. In fact, there's a whole Second Tier of memes in SD that begins with the level above Green. And between Green and the next one up, the Yellow Meme, which is about "Flex & Flow", there is a huge leap in consciousness. This leap goes from thinking that everyone who doesn't subscribe your meme is wrong, to thinking that all the memes have value and must exist. In other words, it's all perfect.

I believe coaching, itself, belongs in the second tier. That you might see the value of coaching if you're in the Green Meme, but you won't really get it, until you're in the Yellow Meme. This may explain, at least in part, why there are so many frustrated coaches out there, because only a tiny fraction of society has reached the Second Tier. (They have research to back this up.)

[UPDATE 5-9-13: In a live teleclass, yesterday, Ken Wilber mentioned that research shows that 5% of the world's population has reached the 2nd Tier and that if current growth continues, it will be 10% within 10 years. Historically, when a new meme system takes hold in 10% of the population, a tipping point is reached, which results in immense cultural change. This may be good news, since today's global problems require an unprecedented degree of cooperation from the global population.]

The problem with a coach being a member of the Green Meme is that they are not going to get some highly important concepts and that can get in the way of their success. 

So, how do you know if you're stuck in the Green Meme? Well, I haven't done research on this, yet, but here are some possibilities:

  • Do you have trouble getting some coaching concepts? (Like recognizing perfection in every situation or knowing that people are doing their very best, even when they're not. I don't mean intellectually, I mean really get it. That definitely requires Yellow Meme thinking)
  • Do you feel uncomfortable with business and marketing, or with making money? ('cause that's Orange Meme territory - Remember, Yellow Memes appreciate all levels of thinking.)
  • Do you have a problem with competition? (you need to make peace with Orange Meme thinking)
  • Do you believe there can be no heirarchies and no absolutes? (Except the absolute that there are no absolutes? If so, you are definitely at Green and will have a big problem with Blue thinking)
  • Do your biases get in the way of your coachng many clients and do you get annoyed with people, because you know they are wrong? (then you are stuck in the first tier)


How do you make the shift to Second Tier thinking? Ah, that's where coaches come in! That's what we're in the business of: Helping people shift up to the Second Tier!

My prediction is that Green Meme coaches will have more difficulties with their career than will Yellow Meme (and higher) coaches. And it's a BIG shift. No wonder becoming a coach is such a huge transition!

Learn About "Spiral Dynamics Integral" Coaching


Copyright, Julia Stewart, 2005 



Topics: Coaching, Spiral Dynamics, Ken Wilber, Don Beck, Second Tier, Cultural Creatives

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