by Don Beck and Chris Cowan

© Copyright 1996, The National Values Center, Inc.
All Rights Reserved


While these are chaotic and turbulent times, they are hardly crazy ones. There is rhyme to both the reason and the unreason. Order lurks in the chaos; a deeper chaos still lurks in the order. Those who have eyes to see, ears to hear, and spirals in their minds to understand, will rest easier knowing the sky is not falling, after all. These Wizards in our midst do not live in Edwin Abbott’s two-dimensional Flatland. Their thinking is not trapped in repetitive cycles, either. Values, complexity, and change have new meanings in Spiral space, the best place to live and conduct business in the 21st century.

Late 20th century folk are caught in a storm of conflicting values. Ethnic eruptions, crises-du-jour, and ecological uncertainties cloud the future. Like clashing weather fronts, political, technological, economic, and social forces are spawning windshears and tornadoes over the global marketplace. Most executives, like airline pilots using yesterday’s technology, have been caught by surprise in the downdrafts. Neither our business gurus nor social forecasters had prepared us for the turbulence. Nothing has arrived to set our altimeters or true our compasses, much less equip us with a means for regaining control.

Captains of both the private and public sectors are restructuring, downsizing, reengineering, and playing catch-up with the change curve, only to fall further out of trim. Gridlock is everywhere. At many levels, we are flying through turbulent storms of severity and complexity never even mocked-up in our simulations. Why is this?

For one thing, we are entering a period of millennium hysteria. Back in the 10th Century – the close of the last thousand year phase on the Gregorian calendar – western Europe fell into turmoil. Near-panic gripped the Christian community as many believed the year 1000 A. D. would bring the end of the world at the hand of a wrathful, decimal Deity.

Even the hundred year transitions shake up societies. The French have the term fin de siecle for crazy periods like these when mystics, soothsayers, and prophets engage in end-time predictions. No wonder David Koresh and the Branch Davidians near Waco, Texas, attracted so much attention in 1993 with their apocalyptic beliefs. Likewise, it should come as no surprise when guru-seeking executives grasp at the re-organizational flavor-of-the-month so desperately.

This cycle sickness does not infect Eurocentrics or the business community alone, though. It spreads all over the planet. Regardless of which calendar you use, today’s world is chaotic, crisis-filled, and complex almost beyond belief. Whether you are among the corporate suits, in priestly garb, in a military uniform, or just hanging out doing your thing in a pair of jeans, you are living the Chinese "curse" of very interesting times.

Second, deep-seated and fundamental belief structures have been tilted, causing us to question everything. In the past we were isolated by physical distance and smoke-signal communications. Now we know too much, too soon. When one place is upset, it reverberates globally within the hour. Like migrating tectonic plates, several core ways of thinking – paradigms, if you will – are grinding against each other. These deep rubs echo in major eruptions at the surface. The shock waves rock cultural groupings, redraw national boundaries, redefine markets, and rewrite futurists’ scenarios. The quakes reverberate in geopolitics, race relations, ethnic conflicts, religious schisms, gender relations, education, business, the environment, criminal justice, and our ongoing questions about morality and what is right.

Third, we inhabit a polyglot, diverse, but not yet interdependent world. All of the stratified human life forms, from tribal societies to info-techies, are in daily conflict over niches and resources. The end of the bipolar world dominated by super-powers brought a resurgence of old mindsets, surprising intruders from the dark and violent history of our kind. At the same time, fresh approaches to living on Earth are being liberated. We are going back to the future and forward to the past, engaging all of history’s villains and saints in quick time.

The complications of this diversity can be overwhelming. Ancient ethnic sores are belching fire while transnational companies linked by satellites conduct their business oblivious to the feudal past below. Virtually any social, environmental, or spiritual cause with PR savvy can get down-center-stage media exposure on global TV. When in the spotlight, people at every level of development – from pre-literate indigenous people living on a once-remote island to terrorists espousing some fundamentalism to the cyber-nerds hacking about along the "information superhighways" – show up as essentially the same. It is as if every human mindset that has ever lived is returning to demand a place in the sun and a piece of the pie.

Finally, our expanding sciences and technologies have shrunk all of those good folks into global villagers. No one can hide. Ted Turner’s CNN and Boeing’s 7X7’s collapse both time and distance. The World Wide Web concentrates knowledge. What happens anywhere is instantly known everywhere. Both the good news and media sharks’ frenzies over the bad spread on the wind. Volatile ideas run like wildfires on the prairie, burning over stable institutions and fragmenting them.

If a "psychograph" could register on a Richter-type scale for social upheaval, what level of human quakes are we presently experiencing? 4.5? 5.7? 7.2? Even worse? Imagine some consequences . . .

Great Ideas are Forged in Chaotic Times

It seems that we are at a break point, a shift in psycho-tectonics of profound significance. In the April, 1974, issue of The Futurist Clare W. Graves warned that mankind was preparing for a "momentous leap" and we should pay heed. His quarter century of research had disclosed pending changes in human nature which were about to impact American culture and the world to the core.

This phenomenon of deep change is not unique. Human history is filled with intervals of turbulence and Diaspora’s. Sometimes retuning and mild adjustments of the status quo restore balance. But occasionally major chaos erupts to trigger order-of-magnitude, epochal changes. This seems to be one of those times.

Social analysts Heidi and Alvin Toffler caution that... "the old world map is obsolete – we are undergoing the deepest rearrangement of global power since the birth of industrial civilization." (New York Times, October 31, l993, p. E-17)

What are some implications of all of this? First, we need the flexibility to deal with clans, tribes, empires, ideologies, enterprise zones, human communes, and villages of lone eagles which cover the planet. It is imperative to work constructively with 1st through 4th World human groupings and their ranges from have-a-lot’s to have-not’s, can-do’s to cannot’s. It is no longer possible to deny the long-term impacts of our technologies and the costs of our "success," nor to shirk the responsibilities of our potential.

Second, we must get to the bottom of what it is in human nature that causes so much chaos. In earlier times when harmony was essential to survival it seems we could settle major conflicts with compromise or Chieftains’ edicts. When we could only resort to bows and arrows, even the very worst decisions had only a limited, local significance. Today’s squabbles have intercontinental implications. Everybody is impacted, like it or not. Something about us – not just our tools – has become less ordered but vastly more powerful.


The complex times in which we find ourselves are stretching our capacities for self-management; sometimes Earth seems to be rocking out of control. We have encountered "The Humpty Dumpty Effect." As described in the familiar nursery rhyme, the fat-and-happy Humpty Dumpty falls from his perch upon a wall. In fact, he has a great fall. In Lewis Carrol’s version, he even becomes fractured into many chunks. That is bad enough;. but there is worse news, yet. All of the King’s horses and men – resources maximized! – cannot restore poor Humpty Dumpty to his vaunted perch. Doing their best is not enough. There is no glue strong enough to put him together again. The dedicated efforts of the most prestigious consultants and respected pundits are inadequate. Entropy wins.

There are clear signs of an impending Humpty Dumpty condition. A catalogue of quick-fixes, flavor-of-the-month training packages, and snake-oil salespeople appear on the scene. Large scale regressions into the past – nostalgic trips into corporate history and "...Give me that old time religion..." managerial approaches become popular. Debates over conflicting "Truths" force everyone to draw lines in the moral sand and defend their grounds. Shrill voices replace calm ones. Zealots make grand claims for simplistic and narrow cures. Trendiness sets in, causing everyone to scurry about copying what others are doing, regardless of price or evidence of efficacy. Then come the gridlocks and stalemates. Corporate ladder climbers reach dead-ends. Stress goes up as trust sinks down. An "every man for himself" mentality sets in, whether for individuals, departments, or the whole titanic enterprise. The brittle hopelessness of the Humpty Dumpty Effect turns the world upside down.

Why did H.D. fail to anticipate his plight? Why did his own experience, academic theories, and training let him down so hard? Was he so arrogant he thought himself unsinkable? Why did the forecasters and lookouts fail to warn him of impending danger, even though colleagues had close calls already? Were his messengers afraid to deliver bad news? Did the guardians of the status quo keep word from getting to the top of the wall? Might they actually have enjoyed his tumble?

No doubt poor Mr. Dumpty would like to have known. Business executives and others in leadership roles all around the world are feeling off balance without understanding why. As they look from their own walls, Humpty Dumpty seems to have splattered everywhere – in corporate suites and financial centers; in academic ivory towers and think tanks; in state capitols and city halls; in churches, cathedrals, mosques, and synagogues; at the U.N. and Canadian Parliament; in "democratic" nations and eyes-open dictatorships.

In short, we are at-risk because we are prisoners of our own paradigms. Our successes, like H.D.’s girth, have overwhelmed us. We thought our worlds would continue forever along the same trajectories. We thought it was safe to "drive change" down from our lofty perches. Little did we know how limited and distorted our views had become, and how much we were not seeing because of our walls.

Distortions in Cycleland

In his book, Cycles, Samuel A. Schreiner, Jr., invites the reader to discover "Cycleland," claiming that "cycles are at work everywhere and in everything. It is more than a possibility that the study of cycles will one day reveal the long-sought-after unifying principle that will enable man to understand how the universe really works." (p. 2)

Pendulum swings and S-curves do explain a lot, from life-cycles (birth, growth, maturity, decline, and death) to seasonal, cosmic, economic, population, long-wave, and generational shifts. The oil industry uses them constantly to track their markets. But even these patterns may be illusory and deceptive, especially if one believes the pendulum always returns, given enough time, to the same place. If trapped in Cycleland’s back-and-forth, up-and-down rhythms and patterns, we miss uniqueness, quantum change, and evolutionary flows.

Arthur Schlessinger, Jr., the noted north American historian, claimed for years that the average pendulum swing from liberal to conservative and vice versa occurs every 30 years. He has been forced to recant in light of the overwhelming Republican Party victory in November of 1994. There was only a two year period between that landslide and more liberal Bill Clinton’s victory in 1992. You can forget about reliable 30 year cycles; and you will if you understand spirals.

Great awakenings break from the past, thus interfering with the pendulum’s predictable arc. Ray Grenier and George Metes observe in Enterprise Networking: Working Together Apart that "...in the past, we were able to work in and manage change because we could predict cycles. Cycles are obscure, "mutant," or discontinuous. Evolutionary changes obviate trend planning." (p.34). They break cycles and introduce new dimensions.

This is disturbing news to people who depend on framing problems in terms of the solutions they know how to deliver. That includes those who rely on the back and forth swing of the reliable pendulum. The Humpty Dumpty Effect is devastating to established orders, but essential to what must come next.

Different Times Produce Different Minds

Different times force us to think differently. The first harbingers of change are often "Old Testament"-type prophets who show up with cries of alarm, predictions of doom and gloom, demands for penitence, and threats of fire and brimstone. Next come visionaries with messianic hopes and dreams who point to Nirvana just ahead. They offer to lead us to sweetness, salvation, and bliss – though usually for a price. Then the more pragmatic pathfinders emerge without fanfare or hubris to scout through the chaos and confusion and to set about the task of planting the seeds of a new way.

It is in our nature to solve problems, but then to create new ones. Human beings love to engage in quests of one kind or another. The long list includes: the Holy Grail, the lost city Atlantis, the Messiah, Peace, Shangri La, the Unified Field, Self-Actualization, Nirvana, Life Everlasting, the Golden Bough, and the chosen Brit who could pull Excalibur from her entrapment in stone.

Today, a new chapter begins in the never-ending saga of as we try to breach another rock and unlock the nature of human thinking. With this Rosetta Stone-like translation , bright people – ordinary people – can pull forth answers for the paradoxes and problems that will set our course into the years ahead. Wizards of many all kinds will arise. But what message will they read etched on this tablet? What psychological languages do humans speak? Why have there been so many different worlds on Earth?

The historic evidence is clear: New times produce new thinking.

From our earliest upright steps as Homo Sapiens we have trekked from one awakening to another, becoming a slightly different being with every one. New times produce new thinking as new theories of everything are spawned, history is revised, priorities and values are reordered-stacked, and people marvel that they did not see it all so clearly before.

The Shifting Views of Tom Peters and the Tofflers

Few management gurus have been as celebrated over the last decade as ex-McKinsey & Company consultant Tom Peters, author, columnist, and television personality. He initially made his name and fame in l982 by preaching the virtue in "pursuing excellence" and of MBWA - "management by walking around." A decade later he seemed to recant a bit, deciding the whole "excellence" theme was "about wacky ideas" and the companies he selected as "excellent" were not that, after all. They just did some "excellent" (does that also mean "wacky"?) things.

His 1992 book, Liberation Management, was reviewed less than glowingly in the Wall Street Journal by Jack Falvey (December 31, l992, p. A5) who chose to quote Mr. Peters:

To his credit, Tom Peters was forthright enough to suggest he did not have a clue as to what was really happening. Apparently, by his own admission, he did not know in l982, either. But, like so many of us who have done "wacky" things in our pasts, he was not being dishonest. He was doing his best. He reported as he saw and understood. He could not know what he did not know; and he knew that.

If you carefully examine the six books Tom Peters has produced as a case study in Spiral Dynamics (and you should), you will get a clue as to what we are suggesting. Note the shifts from his In Search of Excellence (with Robert H. Waterman, Jr.) and A Passion for Excellence (with Nancy Austin), to Thriving on Chaos, and then to Liberation Management. He could not have written these books in a different sequence. In fact, you get a distinct feeling some kind of pattern is evolving. It seems that Peters begins to recognize it in his 1994 compendium of interesting thoughts, The Tom Peters Seminar. He concludes that since "crazy times call for crazy organizations," a fresh approach to thinking about corporate beings is required.

As you will discover shortly, what Peters (with tongue in cheek) now calls "...weird enough," is simply a next developmental step on a Spiral of thinking systems. You will also come to recognize that the organizing principles that Peters (and Peter Senge, Edwards Deming, and many others) advocate are never THE solution, but A solution set that lies at a particular region within a whole spectrum of organizational forms.

Alvin and Heidi Toffler’s popular trilogy – Future Shock, The Third Wave, and Power Shift – also maps a pattern of change. But even their 1993 book, War and Anti-War: Survival at the Dawn of the 21st Century, still does not uncover the deep forces that drive major transformations. While the symptoms make for interesting and entertaining reading, we are left with the unanswered question: Why do these changes occur?

Tom Peters and the Tofflers are not alone in avoiding this difficult question. You can watch it being skirted in the latest business "fashion magazines" on airport book racks or in executive waiting rooms, their promising covers beckoning anyone seeking the latest in competitive advantage, cutting-edge ideas, and profiles of role-models who have made it to the top. The more inspirational selections offer paths to growth, "becoming," peace of mind, healthy families, and harmonious lives among the stresses of an uncertain world.

All beg the question – Why? It is as if we are blessed with elegant tiles for a mosaic but have no design. There are mounds of great ideas, insightful bits, and clever pieces, but no artist with a plan for turning the whole assortment into an elegant, integrated picture and no grout to hold it together.

How might the chunks connect? What is it in our DNA, in how our brain makes a mind, that produces new perspectives, new thinking? Something invisible, intangible, yet powerful drives these changes and transformation sequences. What is it? A powerful force? A scientific pattern? A mystical Spirit? A cosmic law? Pure happenstance? The roll of God’s dice, after all?

The Wonderful World of Spirals

"There is a theory that history moves in cycles. But, like a spiral staircase, when the course of human events comes full circle it does so on a new level. The "pendulum swing" of cultural changes does not simply repeat the same events over and over again. Whether or not the theory is true, it serves as a metaphor to focus our attention. The topic of this book [and Spiral Dynamics, as well!] represents such a spiral cycle: chaos gives way to order, which in turn gives rise to new forms of chaos."

Stewart, Ian, Does God Play Dice? The Mathematics of Chaos, Basil Blackwell, Cambridge (MA) 1989.

Behold the eloquence of the spiral. Consider the internal integrity, the elegant architecture. Everything connects to everything else. In your mind’s eye picture the beauty of a sea shell; with your mind’s ear listen to its roar. Now imagine a Thanksgiving banquet table. Out from the spiraling cornucopia, the mythical horn of plenty, pours the abundance of harvest. Next, think of the night sky. Look out into the cosmos and imagine Earth’s place in it, a little hanger-on following one of the billions of swirling spots in the Milky Way, itself a swirling blob among billions.

Spirals exist from the sub-atomic to the interstellar realms as a dominant universal fractal. Deep within the cell nucleus are the long, spirally-wound ribbons of DNA on which rest life’s genetic code. At the other extreme, distant spiral galaxies send us greetings from the past. Spirals are alive, magical, powerful, and multidimensional. They can be as fearful and destructive as a tornado or as seductive and haunting as a whirlpool. You ignore them at your peril.

Ralph Waldo Emerson described life on a spiral staircase: "We wake and find ourselves on a stair; there are stairs below us which we seem to have ascended, there are stairs above us which go out of sight." Life’s spiral is expansive, open-ended, continuous, and dynamic. All of the whorls are alive at once. Yet there is also an inner intelligence that draws them together in a hierarchical structure, the a curvatures of life.

Cometh the Thinking: Spiral Dynamics

This book is about the forces inside the human spirals that wind through individual minds, drive organizations to new plateaus, and push societies to evolve through layers of complexity. It is also about a body of knowledge that draws together practically everything that has come before in leadership, management, and organizational design. Finally, it is about the next epoch’s King’s Horses, Men, and Women. Arriving in the nick of time like the cavalry in an old western movie, we will call them the Spiral Wizards.

Their task is a big one. Again from Enterprise Networking, Grenier and Metes conclude that...

The problems that come at us in transition to the 21st century can only be resolved by solutions that they, themselves, create. The pattern repeats itself: New Times demand New Thinking. Only this time, the "new thinking" must be more than the next regular step on Emerson’s staircase. It must be well "beyond the mark." When Vaçlav Havel, President of the Czech Republic, accepted the Philadelphia Liberty Medal at Independence Hall on 4 July 1994, he remarked:

The Construction of Spiral Dynamics

Each time we experience the New Times, New Thinking sequence, a controversial if not altogether revolutionary view of human nature evolves. The resulting synthesis of ideas, perspectives, and theories yields a compelling restatement of what it means to be human.

We are now in the seventh expression of the Times–Thinking sequence. Again, the search is on again for the core mechanism that shapes human nature; but this one will be revolutionary. We suggest that knowledge and insight crucial to uncovering it exist in two related tributaries of thought. The first is the expansive Levels of Human Existence framework laid out by developmentalist Clare W. Graves, formerly Professor Emeritus Psychology, Union College, New York. The second is the concept of "memes" introduced by British biologist Richard Dawkins and later amplified by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihali. Together, they combine lessons from molecular biology and the neurosciences with more traditional psychological research.

The Pathfinder on the Mohawk

Our friend and mentor, Clare W. Graves, lived and worked in the upper Hudson Valley, only a few miles from the historic Mohawk River and the Erie Canal. Graves was a relatively obscure professor of psychology in the years following World War II. As often seems to happen, wartime energy and post-war euphoria served as breeding grounds for visionary thinking and bold, new breakthroughs in human knowledge. Such was the case with Graves. Rather than rehash older psychological constructs or participate in the debates between the conflicting theories of the day, he decided to start afresh by searching for the reasons behind shifting views of human nature.

Graves sought to get to the mind of the matter and explore why people are different, why some change but others don’t, and how better to navigate through the emerging and often chaotic versions of human existence. As he put it:

In other words, human thinking evolves in recognizable packages as the world around us gets more complicated and we try to keep up. At the same time, we are constantly altering our world because we are clever. Graves was one of the first psychologists who understood that we live, act, make decisions, and undergo change through complex systems. His informal drawings and illustrations would be familiar to any serious student of quantum physics, general systems, and chaos theory.

Graves’ orientation was to integrate "bio-," "psycho-," and "socio-," thus meshing human knowledge and breaching the walls of academia that separated disciplines and fields. As early as 1973 he was pointing to the critical importance of mind/brain research with a focus on how the mind is shaped by neurological structures and networks, and how it is activated by chemical agents and life’s conditions. Such speculations amounted to heresy in those golden years of the humanistic views that led to today’s political correctness and egalitarian orthodoxy, but Graves held fast.

He would often summarize his point of view in the following constructs:

1. Human nature is not static, nor is it finite. Human nature changes as the conditions of existence change, thus forging new systems.

2. When a new system or level is activated, we change our psychology and rules for living to adapt to those new conditions.

3. We live in a potentially open system of values with an infinite number of modes of living available to us. There is no final state to which we must all aspire.

4. An individual, a company, or an entire society can respond positively only to those managerial principles, motivational appeals, educational formulas, and legal or ethical codes that are appropriate to the current level of human existence.

A Spiral vortex best depicts this emergence of human systems as they evolve through levels of increasing complexity. Each upward turn of the Spiral marks the awakening of a more elaborated version on top of what already exists. The human Spiral, then , consists of a coiled string of value systems, world views, and mindsets, each the product of its times and conditions.

Clare Graves was a man out of his time. In the late 1970’s Canada’s MacLean’s Magazine referred to his concept as "the theory that explains everything." While he would personally cringe at such a claim, his work is massive and elegant - a comprehensive thinking process, systems package, and action strategy whose time had not yet come two decades ago.

But time has a way of sifting the wheat from chaff when it comes to ideas. Constructs with greater explanatory power and practical application tend to prevail. Only now, a full decade after his death in 1986, are Graves’ contributions becoming widely known and recognized. The theory of human emergence, change and transformation he proposed has been richly fleshed out and validated rather than replaced by contemporary research. Once you start thinking "like a Gravesian," you will find this point of view has the power and precision to deal with people and social forces of all kinds, from hostile warlords and virulent -ism’s to the relief agencies caring for their victims and peace-keepers befuddled by the mess.

The same principles of Spiral Dynamics apply to a single person, an organization, or an entire society. Since it describes human nature in a universal sense rather than through personality types or racial, gender, and ethnic traits, the model provides a common language for grappling with both local and global problems. It offers a unifying framework that makes genuinely holistic thinking and actions possible.

While Graves was involved in research as a social scientist, a large portion of his work was actually in the business sector. His article, "The Deterioration in Work Standards," appeared in the Harvard Business Review of November, 1967. Not only did he predict the erosion of America’s productivity, but he laid the foundation for the current interest in total quality and reengineering. As you will discover, the Graves conceptual system provides the human factors component that the followers of Edwards Deming have been seeking and others do not yet realize they lack. His framework maps out how to transform a company or a culture to make it healthy and receptive for the introduction of complex technologies and rapid change.

GENES & MEMES: Circuit Riders on the DNA

In The Evolving Self (HarperCollins, l993), Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi uses the expression "memes" to contrast with "genes" in identifying the origins of human behavior as opposed to physical characteristics.

The term itself was first introduced a number of years ago by Richard Dawkins who abbreviated the Greek root, "mimeme." He and others have used it to describe a unit of cultural information such as a political ideology, a fashion trend, language usage, musical forms, or even architectural styles. In the March 1994 issue of Wired magazine, John Perry Barlow states that Dawkins idea involves... "self-replicating patterns of information that propagate themselves across the ecologies of mind, a pattern of reproduction much like that of life forms...They self-reproduce, they interact with their surroundings and adapt to them, they mutate, they persist. They evolve to fill the empty niches of their local environments, which are, in this case the surrounding belief systems and cultures of their hosts, namely, us."

Thus, what biochemical genes are to the DNA, memes are to our psycho-cultural "DNA." Genes are the information units of our physical nature derived from genetic contributions of mom and dad and properties inherited from our species. Memes are born, Csikszentimihalyi notes, "when the human nervous system reacts to an experience." (Evolving Self, p. 120) They are the information units in our collective consciousness and transport their views across our minds.

A meme contains behavioral instructions that are passed from one generation to the next, social artifacts, and value-laden symbols that glue together social systems. Like an intellectual virus, a meme reproduces itself through concepts like dress styles, language trends, popular cultural norms, architectural designs, art forms, religious expressions, social movements, economic models, and moral statements of how living should be done.

Memes act much like particles. Spiral Dynamics proposes the existence of another kind of wave-like meta-meme, a systems or "values meme" (vMEME). These vMEMEs are organizing principles that act like attractors for the content-rich memes Dawkins and Csikszentimihalyi describe. Big vMEMES are the amino acids of our psycho-social "DNA" and act as the magnetic force which binds memes and other kinds of ideas in cohesive packages of thought. While they are initially shaped in each human mind, vMEMES are so vital they reach across whole groups of people and begin to structure mindsets on their own. vMEMES establish the pace and process for gathering beliefs. They structure the thinking, value systems, political forms, and world views of entire civilizations. vMEMES are linchpins of corporate cultures that determine how and why decisions are made. Our individual vMEME stacks are central to our personalities and set the tone for relationships and whether we are happy campers or restless souls.

While genes evolve slowly, the decision systems formed by vMEMES are always on the move. vMEMES can be so dominant they seem like archetypes and are easily misinterpreted as "types" of people. When several are in harmony, vMEMES resonate like the notes in a musical chord. However, vMEMES in conflict lead to troubled individuals, dysfunctional families, corporate malaise, fractured churches, and civilizations in decline and fall. Since they are "alive," vMEMEs can ebb and flow, intensify and soften like a string of Christmas tree lights on a dimmer. Several different ones may line up in support of a specific issue, idea, or project because they share the values contents. At other times, people with essentially the same vMEME decision-making frameworks may disagree violently over details of beliefs and what is "the good," degenerating into holy and un-civil war.

We can have toxic, dangerous genes that predict physical troubles ahead. (How to deal with this knowledge may be the single biggest issue confronting medical ethicists today.) We can have nasty, unpleasant memes nestled among our attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors. Likewise, you may find misfit vMEMES in control of individuals, organizations, or cultures. come. The forces that enable us to respond to new problems in the environment can also block successful adaptation if the vMEMES are unhealthy. Any strength, taken to the extreme, becomes a weakness. No wonder so many great cultures fade into historical footnotes. Their vMEMES wore down long before their monuments.

The vMEMES encode instructions for our world views, assumptions about how everything works, and the rationale for decisions we make. To clarify with an illustration, think about a fast-track, highly-competitive, self-directed and status-sensitive Yuppie you have known. He or she strongly expresses what we will color-code as the ORANGE vMEME. It often attracts things like dressing for success, driving the prestigious motor car, being seen in the right places, displaying the upscale spouse or partner, making the right career moves, and seeking autonomy along with the pot of gold.

As long as that vMEME flashes and repeats it’s messages, the pattern will continue. It may be passed right on to the children who translate it into their own special music, fashion statements, and attitudes at the mall. The vMEME’s processes may be dominant throughout a neighborhood and central to the politics of a community. It may soften, remain steady, or become even more intense. ORANGE is only one of eight principal vMEMEs attached to the Spiral.

vMEMES are like a parallel life form. We are barely aware of their power because we can only infer their existence from behavioral displays and the artifacts swirling around them. But like the intestinal compadre’s that digest our food for us, vMEMES assist the wetware of our minds to sort out what the world is "really" like. Spiral Dynamics describes how they act at three different but clearly interrelated levels:

These are only a few manifestations of the core vMEMES in action. The dynamic Spiral is the framework on which vMEME awakenings and expressions hang. It is the organizing principle that pulls the "Why?" from apparent chaos and translates our values languages. Instead of categorizing behavior or classifying people – there are plenty of other models that do that – Spiral Dynamics will guide your search for the invisible, living vMEMES that circulate far deeper within human systems and pulsate at the choice-making center in every person’s, organization’s, or society’s core.

Go to the book description page for ordering Spiral Dynamics or click here amzn-black-button.gif (525 bytes)
Go to Home Page

© Copyright 1996, 1998  The National Values Center, Inc.
All Rights Reserved