graves-model-stairs_personality-hackerThere have been a couple of times in my life where I’ve heard something so powerful I instinctively knew it was going to be a Game Changer. When I use that phrase, I generally mean “Holy crap, this going to change everything for me.”

The first time I heard a break-down of the Graves Model, I had one of those moments.

I was at an Eben Pagan/Wyatt Woodsmall conference on leadership (in 2009) when Eben just casually started talking about this model for seeing progress. It was peppered in among the rest of the content and the room lit up so much that he realized there was enough interest for an entire event around the topic, which they immediately began planning. I clearly wasn’t the only person impacted by it.

Since that time I’ve been a covert evangelist for the Graves Model. It’s possibly one of the most powerful tools I have in my arsenal, and I can totally envision how a global understanding of this model could literally save lives, as well as increase the quality of those lives.

First, let me explain how it fits in with the rest of typology.

There are two types of models: horizontal and vertical.

graves-model-x-y-axis_personalityhackerHorizontal models assume that people are at roughly the same level of development, and so study how we’re the same and/or different in our wiring all other things being equal.

Vertical models specifically look at how people are at varying levels of development, and study the progress we make as individuals and as societies.

Myers-Briggs is a horizontal model. It compares/contrasts how people think, make decisions and behave, but it doesn’t really take into account their perspectives of reality. If you’re a 15 year old ISTP or a 45 year old ISTP, the profile will read the same.

Enneagram is a hybrid of the two. A 15 year old Enneagram 1 will have the same profile as a 45 year old Enneagram 1, but their specific level of development within the type may vary greatly. The Enneagram is primarily about awareness and transcending the fixations of your type, and age will sometimes be a help in this (but not always!).

The Graves Model, however, is fully vertical. Its primary interest is in your worldview and just how expanded your awareness about life in general has become.

Most people change quite a bit between the ages of 15 to 45 as their experiences allow them to take in more ‘territory’. So, the profile for an ISTP Ennneagram 1 may read the same for a 15 year old as a 45 year old, but their Graves Model profile will look very different.

The fascinating thing about the Graves Model is that it has implications for both individuals and for societies, as a whole.

Individual people mirror societies, and societies mirror individuals. You can think of them as the “micro” and the “macro” for how people behave.

Since individual people are more nimble than whole societies (think: the difference between a tugboat and a barge), individual people have the capacity to outpace the culture or society they live in with their growth. They then become an example of where the society, itself, is headed.

To say it in an easier way, if you can chart the path that people at the highest levels are at, you can predict where people as a whole are headed.

That’s pretty huge. Anytime you know where things are headed, the ability to plan and guide the journey exponentially increases.

The other cool thing about the Graves Model is its diagnostic abilities.

Let’s pretend you have two generations of people – say, a father and a son – who cannot see eye-to-eye. Everyone says they’re carbon copies of each other and they think identically – in fact, they’re “too much alike,” the assumed cause of misunderstandings.
Father and son shoutingHowever, seen through the lens of the Graves Model if they are at two different developmental levels, when one points something out, the other one will not be able to see it. It’s simply not in their visual range. If one is exploring territory that the other doesn’t even know exists, their ability to see ‘eye-to-eye’ becomes impossible: for the one, the territory is obvious, and for the other it’s inaccessible.

It’s not that they’re necessarily disagreeing, it’s that they’re not having the same conversation and they don’t even know that.

Now, we don’t know what we don’t know, and when someone is trying to point something out that is beyond our current level of understanding, it’s the rare bird that will calmly and reflectively think, “I guess I just need to do a little more development to see their perspective.” Most people when they can’t see what you’re pointing out will say, “You’re an idiot” (if not out loud, at least to themselves) because you may as well be talking about purple elephants wearing feather boas.

When you take that same analogy and apply it to whole societies and cultures, you can see why we as humans are so convinced of our empirical rightness and, sometimes, hell bent on destroying each other. You’re WRONG (because I can’t see what you’re seeing), and I’m RIGHT (because what I’m seeing should be as obvious to you as it is to me).

To parse all of that down, the Graves Model:

1) Gives us a road map for where we’re heading, as both individual people and as whole societies.
2) Helps us understand why people clash, even if they’re similar in all other ways.

It does other stuff, too, but we’ll get to that in a later article. First, the model.

The Graves Model, aka “Spiral Dynamics”

Be sure to listen to the Personality Hacker podcast on the Graves Model for more information.

Spiral Dynamics is arranged hierarchically from 1 – 8. (There are more levels after 8, we’re just not there yet as a species.) It starts from the bottom and goes up.

Here’s a brief description of each level, including their micro (individual) and macro (societal) manifestations:

  1. Beige – Survival Level. Everything is about the individual and their personal survival. Examples – birth to 4 years old, people who are homeless and have little sensitivity to other people, feral children.
  2. Purple Tribal Level. The focus is now on the ‘tribe’ instead of just the individual. On a “micro” level, this is where a toddler starts to see themselves as part of a family/group. On a “macro” level, this is when tribes start to form. Identity becomes about ones place in the tribe, and it’s vital not to be kicked out. Survival depends upon it. Spiritual development can be observed (how gods impact us as humans, magical thinking).
  3. Red – Warlord Level. When one or two people stand out from the rest of the level 2 tribe, they begin to get a lot of attention and are regarded as leaders. They then move up to level 3, which goes back to a more ‘me-centric’ focus. On a “micro” level, this is when a teenager enters their rebellious years. While it may seem a cavalier or aggressive time period in life, it’s where individuals learn how to stand-up for themselves and their needs.
  4. Blue – Civilization Level. When 3’s start to run into each other and realize there are others not so easily dominated, they begin to create territory lines to indicate domain. Law and rule are created, and warlords become more ‘civilized’. On a “micro” level, this is when we learn to identify with an institution or paradigm “bigger than us.” We’re less ‘me-centric’ and go back to being ‘we-centric’. On a “macro” level, civilizations create armies and better ways to enforce law.
  5. Orange – Achievement Level. Similar to ‘stand out’ 2’s becoming 3’s, ‘stand out’ 4’s become 5. 5 leaders see resources as limitless, something they can manipulate and master. On a “macro” level, this is the birth of capitalism. On a “micro” level, the individual goes back to a ‘me-centric’ focus. They discover there’s no reason to limit themselves. Many people keep themselves from going to this level fearing it will make them ‘money-hungry’ or unethical. Science and technology become very important.
  6. Green – Ecological Level. Just like when 3’s bump into each other they start forming 4, when 5’s form groups they often graduate to 6.These are individuals who have met their goals.They have a more ecological perspective and start to think in terms that are ‘we-centric’ again: community and how they can give back to the world. They’re more concerned about the impact on a holistic manner. They learn how to give back. The idea of tolerance is introduced. Individuals in this level find it very challenging to accomplish their mission because they’re busy listening to everyone’s perspectives.
  7. Yellow – Thought Leader Level – Stand out 6’s often graduate to 7. A person who has realized that not every voices needs to give the exact same honour. They are able to communicate with individuals in different levels in order to get what they want in a faster and more productive way. It’s a ‘me-centric’ focus, but the territory of ‘me’ has grown to encompass a much bigger, global picture.

There is speculation on what level 8 looks like, and some individuals that claim to be level 8. I’d reference the related work of Spiral Dynamics to get a better view of 8. I, personally, have only met a very few number of 7’s, and no 8’s. Of course, I’m not an 8, myself, so I may completely have missed one if they came into my orbit. Since I have no personal experience with 8’s, I just use a lot of question marks when referring to them.

This is how the model visually looks:

ISFP

Implications of Spiral Dynamics

Conceptually, there are limitless levels, but as a species we’ve only really gotten to about 7. That is, there are a couple of people here or there that have reached 7, so we ‘kind of’ know what it could possibly look like.

At this time period in history, though, the average level for the human species is 4.

Within highly developed countries there are some highly developed groups that are 6, and they tend to be leaders in most industries. They are also the minority, though their numbers are growing fast in the United States, Europe, Australia, etc. Even in these countries, 6 is not the norm. They’re just becoming the new standard.

To give you more context, in the United States it seems that levels 4/5 make up roughly 70-80% of the population. Level 6 comes out around 10% (and growing fast), and everyone else is either level 3 or lower. Level 3’s are usually teenagers, and if they’re older than teenagers they’re often gang members, or that construction worker friend of a friend who seems like a douchebag.

I’m not saying that construction workers are all Graves 3 and douchebags. However, 3’s often work in manual labor careers and – as they are in the ‘warlord’ level – to other levels often appear to be douchebags. There are some adult level 2’s (as most in this country are children) peppered around trailer courts, Section 8 housing and in mountain communities here and there, and there is a minute number of level 1’s (the level generally represented by infants) that are serially homeless.

If that sounds really condescending, I want to clarity that it’s not because lower levels are intrinsically ‘less than’ or worse.

In Spiral Dynamics the numbers have been replaced with colors for just this reason: to remove the prejudice we have about ‘higher and lower’ equating with ‘better and worse’.

We generally can’t choose our current level, there are just too many influences: culture, time period in history, family background, personal experiences, etc. The only time we have a “quasi-conscious” choice is when we’re on the cusp of going to the next level and we start to resist it. Otherwise, unless we have the luxury of actively choosing a personal development path, our Graves level is somewhat arbitrary.

For example, tribes in Papua New Guinea are generally at Graves 2 or 3 (Beige/Red in Spiral Dynamics), whereas most people in developed countries are 4 or 5 (Blue/Orange). This has nothing to do with personal intelligence, capabilities or otherwise. It has to do with opportunity and how the cultures have evolved over time.
graves-model_PersonalityHacker.com_guns-germs-steelThere’s a spectacular book called “Guns, Germs and Steel” by Jared Diamond which discusses the reasons some cultures explode into technological growth, while others feel like anachronisms from thousands of years ago. Geography, land resources and the ability to cross-pollinate ideas with other cultures are major influencers, whereas superiority of race or culture aren’t.

So, are Graves levels 4/5 superior to 2/3? In terms of generating opportunities, absolutely. But the people who occupy those levels as individuals are not superior or ‘better’.

What do Graves 6’s look like in comparison? Though a small percentage of the general population, they are powerfully influential. They’re at the forefront of eating higher quality foods for both personal health and to increase the quality of the the lives of animals. They are the forefront of alternative energy sources, recycling projects and holistic or alternative medicine. They’re what we call the “creative class,” and are counterculture in a way that sees a bigger picture. They think in ecology, so systems are very important to them.

Since they’ve already been through Graves 5, they know how to accomplish, achieve and gain resource. Graves 6 is where most of the population is headed, should they choose to keep developing in their lifetime.

Knowing your Graves level is one of the highest leverage pieces of information you can have. It not only helps you understand where you’re currently at in your worldview, but it gives you a sneak peak into where you’re headed. It also helps us understand that not everyone is seeing the same terrain we are, and is yet another tool for reconciling differences between people.

Where do you think you’re at on the Graves Model?

-Antonia

p.s. To really understand this model and its implications in your life, check out the program Your Personality: The Owner’s Manual where we dig deep into this model and how it relates to your personal path.

Want to learn more?

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Showing 17 comments
  • Frederick
    Reply

    I’m probably exploring five.

    As of people at higher levels i think Eben is a 7, when he talks about “learning about learning about learning” i feel my head is exploding. Ken Wilber maybe is even higher because when HE starts talking i freeze like the blue screen of death for microsoft.

    • Antonia Dodge
      Reply

      Eben is one of the few people I know that I’d say is a 7. I’ve never met Ken in real life, so I reserve judgement on his Graves level. 🙂

      -A-

  • Julian Lee
    Reply

    What about the scenario when person is at a certain level, internally, but still living in a lower level world, not by choice but by circumstances?

    • Antonia Dodge
      Reply

      This definitely happens. Usually, the person feels they aren’t reaching their full potential and becomes frustrated or depressed.

      -A-

      • Victoria
        Reply

        This information just may be one of the most significant pieces to the puzzle I have been attempting to solve for quite a while now. It makes absolute sense as to why I am so conflicted on a daily basis, and can even feel paralyzed or immobilized often, about how to move forward in my life at this point. Antonia, I would LOVE to elaborate in detail if we are able to discuss it privately through email. I am not sure if you have a policy on this or not, but I do also have several personal questions. So, if you do have the time to chat, at your convenience, an email would be absolutely amazing and greatly appreciated!

        V <3

        • Hannah
          Reply

          I feel this way too! In fact, I’m pretty I’ve regressed internally in response to less than optimal circumstances brought on by the transition I’ve had to make to a new life stage. How can I best get through a time period of ill-fitting restrictiveness while preserving or even advancing the cognitive/emotional
          /psychological resources I already have?

  • Veronique
    Reply

    Very interesting. I see that there seems to be almost no content about this on the internet. What would be the best way to learn more about this model?

  • Katie
    Reply

    Can you explain what you mean by, “not every voices needs to give the exact same honour”? I’m thinking it has to do with realizing you don’t need to honor every voice in the same way– that there may be a hierarchy to giving others a fair hearing? But then I think maybe you mean that the person sees that not everyone is going to give others the level of honor they deserve, and you learn to be okay with that? I’m a little confused, haha.

  • Cody
    Reply

    As an ENTP I don’t resonate with any of this. May be due to a complete lack of self reflection, since this theory is so widely excepted and if this in fact the way it is for all people. But don’t resonate with blue at all, feel like maybe I was at that when I was 10 but always felt a nagging sense of being oppressed and anti conformist, though my religious family and pressure to be accepted effected my beliefs to an extent. Never went through a “rebellious” phase, just always kind of gauged which rules I followed and which ones were ridiculous, and I don’t believe in heirarchy so though I didn’t have reverence for adults or authority figures I did have mutual respect, just as I did with my supposed “inferiors”, even when I would easily get away with a little pompousness and down talk. Never been power hungry really and I hate the idea of controlling people, would much rather convince or persuade. I would guess I would be closest to stage orange, but I think this is super cookie cutter and maybe not all encompassing.

    • Antonia Dodge
      Reply

      I hope “this is super cookie cutter” is based off of having already read the book Spiral Dynamics (and other reference materials) and thoughtfully coming to that conclusion, not simply reading an article overview of said model and jumping to that conclusion.

      -A-

      • Petra
        Reply

        Do you feel differently now about where the developed countries are at now that we have had the US election? It seems like a clear divide between groups of people who are at distinctly different levels.

  • Romulus Cirone
    Reply

    Antonia, I recently discovered this post and I am very thankful for you contributing to a topic that is not widely discussed and I personally find highly relevant to our period in macro development.

    I would like to state my thoughts here, in hopes that it could be to your benefit and the benefit of others.

    I have read that 7 is considered the ‘second tier’ of the Graves model because essentially, the process reverts back to ‘Survival’, but from a very global ‘humanity’ sense. Instead of seeking physical self survival (and I stress ‘physical,’ because it is a huge distinction), the ‘thought leader’ (which I don’t consider to be a ‘thought leader’ so much as a ‘existential survivalist’), starts to realize that he is not fulfilled by 1-6 and starts to requestion what his needs are, since history shows them as never being met. He then seeks to find an existential answer of what ‘humanities’ needs really are, and as a me-centric focus, he starts this with himself. He analyzes the preceding systems as he is now consciously aware of them, and seeks to find a way to ‘existentially survive’ in it while watching it from a distance and trying to manipulate it. Eventually, the 7 will find a mystic understanding of what these human survival needs are by seeing that humanities needs are unfulfilled because, because humanity is caught up trying to use 1-6 for physical, self realization. The 7 then seeks to form a community in order to fulfill humanity’s existential survival needs. We are now looking at level 8, or the ‘second tier 2.’ Other levels may even confuse it for 2 because it appears so similar. I’ll nickname it ‘Existential Global Tribe’ to relate to your model. He seeks to form a global community where the focus is on humanity rather than the self. Existential survival of humanity becomes highly important, and he seeks to work within the levels of 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7 to redefine humanity’s needs.

    It is hard to see ‘8’ because it is hard to have a community-based level when their are so few to form a community from, and that it is seeking a community from humanity as a whole that will not be possible at this point from a Macro level. I believe that 6 and 7 still need to be fully explored on a macro level for 8 to even be possible. As it stands now, 4,5, and 6’s will look at 7 and 8 as being way too out of touch with reality, as they do not seek the same physical, or even ‘self-expression’ behaviors as any of the other levels. They are 100% foreign, as no one understands why they have so much understanding of themselves, and yet do appear to be seeking physical needs being met aside from what is necessary to meet basic 1 level needs.

    7 and 8 drop a sense of personal ego, and redefine the first tier from a place of ‘Humanity’s’ needs as opposed to the ‘Self’s’ needs. I believe you may actually be on 8 unknowingly, from what your goals are with Personality Hacker. I believe your confusion over 8 stems from you seemingly blending 7 with 8. 7 is standalone individuals, having not found fulfillment from 1-6 and trying to redefine what humanity’s needs could possibly be outside of those 6 – because he fears that humanity – seeking to achieve fulfillment through the struggles stemming from 3 through 6 will ‘kill’ humanity. 8, having realized that needs won’t be met if you just keep standing by trying to ‘find’ them, chooses to work with what he’s got and from a bond and connection with humanity, as now he is even more fearful (but understanding) that 1-6 are killing humanity and that it ‘is our duty’ to save it. As such, being so existentialist – it reverts to a strange sense of ‘woo woo’ mysticism reminiscent of the tribal level. As such, you will see 8s appear as very spiritual type but global in scope and seemingly not caring about physical fulfillment or achievement. Think ‘Ghandi’ and ‘Buddha’ as examples. They do not seek 1-6 for meeting physical needs, instead they seek to create a community of people focused on meeting humanity’s existential needs.

    I ranted, but this is my understanding of the model and I am open to being wrong. I hope to hear your take on this. I will site a link I found that made me come to understand the model in this way, and I will provide that link in another comment.

  • Romulus
    Reply

    This is not the link I mentioned, but is still relevant:
    http://vievolve.com/values-systems-4/

    This is the link I mentioned: 😉
    http://lifesmartebooks.co.uk/what-graves-value-level-are-you-part-3/

  • ELIZABETH
    Reply

    I think someone has basically applied their own morality to everyone. Framing this as levels is a mistake instead of talking about this as boxes. It implies that specific levels are better than others and your essentially saying your moral worldview is more enlightened than another person’s moral worldview. That’s not going to do us any good in healing the current divide we have between conservative vs. liberal worldviews . I find the following ted talk enlightening :
    https://www.ted.com/talks/jonathan_haidt_on_the_moral_mind and

  • Darryl Wills
    Reply

    I’ve actually taken an inventory based on Graves and came out at a 7… (as someone says, “7s are weird birds”). But reality these are context sensitive. I may be at a 6 level under some contexts–and if you slap my wife in front of me I will revert to a 3 very quickly. All of these are context sensitive.

    A great metaphor is a football game. You have the 2s performing their communal rituals (cheerleaders), threes are lined up against each other on the field, fours are the folks wearing black and white who make certain everything is done according to the rules. Fives are in the back running the concession stands, while sixes are on the sidelines with medical bags. Those in the stands are contextually either 3s, 4s, or 5s depending on why they are there.

    There is a moment when the entire crowd turns into a 6 moment: when a player on the field is seriously hurt and everyone suddenly becomes quiet. When the player gets up and is escorted off the field everyone applauds–that’s a 6 moment.

    You can also tell a 5 or a 6 by entering their office. A 5 will have diplomas and trophies prominently placed. A 6 will have photos of significant people and their team members.

    In a church setting: 4s are traditionalists (do it right), 5s want to see a meaningful worship (“but get it done in an hour because I have places to go!”), and 6s just want everyone to be together (“group hug!”).

    Even numbers are communal while odd numbers are individualistic.

    For a religious/congregational point of view: Dr. Michael C. Armour, System Sensitive Leadership (College Press)

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