Culture Change: Developmental Levels

This is part of the 'Cultural Flux' series, article 3 of 3.

In Article 2, we looked at Spiral Dynamics as a framework to help understand the different levels of existence people are operating from in the world. I believe this framework has the potential to raise self-awareness and bridge the gap in understanding between competing and conflicting levels, especially seeing beyond our own level of thinking to open up to further possibilities for ourselves and humanity (developmental levels of change). I invite you to explore these possibilities with a sense of curiosity, play and sincerity.

In this article we will focus on organisational and individual change. In particular, how we can approach things differently using the frameworks, theories and approaches discussed in this series.

Before diving in I would like to make the following important distinctions:

  • Outer game —ideas, relationships and environment
  • Inner game — mind, body and emotions

The Outer Game

These are the extrinsic conditions which shape/govern our experience and decision making, such as economics, governance, law, language which includes systems (including education), resources, infrastructure for collaborative ways of working.

Internal Game

These are the intrinsic conditions and motivations that shape our inner world, which we project onto
the world around us and long to gain fulfilment from. Our unique aptitude, interests, passions, depth
of subjective experience, creative process, things we appreciate/what makes life most rich for us.

Curiosity, openness and empathy are traits we naturally embody as children, but sadly lose as we grow into adults. We feel we need to protect ourselves from a challenging and threatening world reinforced by our current systems and decision making models. However, curiosity, openness and empathy are crucial pre-requisites for understanding others and personal evolution.

Cognitive dissonance — the ability to hold conflicting values, ideas and beliefs and the resultant psychological stress if we go against one/more of these. Engaging with competing and contradictory ideas (including resolving paradoxes) is necessary for our human evolution and transformation including evolving beyond our current paradigm or ‘spiral level.’

The alternative, is our current state of polarisation, 'stuckness,’ being right and making ‘the other wrong’ reinforcing tribal and ethnocentric world views.

Developmental Levels and World view

This developmental model is premised on the notion that our level of concern and care expands as part of our evolutionary growth and development.

  • Egocentric - I care only for myself
  • Ethnocentric - I care only for my tribe, my country, my nation
  • Worldcentric - I care for all human beings, seeing their inherent value and shared commonalities
  • Kosmocentric – I care for all sentient beings

The Next Developmental Level

What does the next level look like for you in one or all of the following domains as an:

  1. Individual
    2. Family
    3. Team
    4. Organisation
    5. Society
    6. Local culture
    7. Global culture

I believe it is important to work through all of the above and integrate conflicting parts, because how we show up at home will impact what kind of employee and in turn what kind of global citizen we are.

The Spiral Dynamics framework can help us to see our current place within the collective whole. This provides much needed context and perspective, opening up new possibilities beyond our current paradigm, way thinking, perceiving and sense making the world and our place in it. A map for greater possibilities for our personal evolution, integration and healing of former levels, which is necessary for greater wellbeing and effectiveness individually and collectively.

Evolving and Integrating Blue and Orange Developmental Levels

Take the example of a blue public sector organisation who wants to become more innovative, creative and entrepreneurial in the way it operates, whilst retaining its best elements.

Spiral Dynamics Table

Table 1: Synthesis of information from Spiral Dynamics in Action: Humanity’s Master Code, Prof. Don Beck et al, 2018.

It is currently operating from the values, beliefs, identity and environment of ‘Blue.’ In order to effectively integrate with the next developmental level ‘orange’ it must effectively transcend its current level (seeing the need for orange) whilst integrating the positive attributes of ‘blue’. It must effectively synergise and resolve any conflicts, which is a co-creative and emergent discovery having engaged in the active process of change and adaptation.

It is important to note that we are not any one level, and the level we operate from may change depending on situation/context, stress/wellbeing levels etc.

Dilt’s Logical Levels of Change

Whereas Spiral Dynamics provides the macro picture of human development, we can hone in on individual change, organisational change and even cultural change using ‘The Dilt’s Logical Levels of Change.’ I believe both frameworks are compatible and complementary as illustrated below.

Dilt’s Logical Levels of Change Image

The outer game of any kind of change work may merely focus on behaviour change and environment. Dilt's Logical Levels of Change highlights the importance of working beyond just the very bottom levels of the pyramid to encompass purpose, identity, mission, values, beliefs and capabilities for more sustainable change.

When these two models/frameworks are combined, they may look something like the following:

Spiral Dynamics and Dilt's Comparison Table

Can you see the possible synergies? How about values conflicts that need to be resolved? This is why change is not so easy. It needs to be navigated and guided through a process that often is uncomfortable. Nevertheless, this is a necessary part of the process and when guided/facilitated well can be transformative.

As this series has argued culture is in constant flux evolving and adapting to the needs of the times. It follows then the values, beliefs and behaviours are also evolving. When consciously trying to evolve the culture within an organisation to meet changing needs, it then begs the following questions:

  • Is organisational culture aligned with the organisation’s mission? What spiral levels does this encompass?
  • Are the various spiral values contradicting and at odds with one another? How is this impeding what you’re looking to achieve?
  • What is the current context (actual reality) within organisations? What spiral levels and multiple paradigms (basic assumptions and ways of thinking) are employees operating from and within?
  • What conflicts need to be resolved?
  • How does thinking need to evolve?
  • What conversations are necessary? Are they happening? If not, how do we facilitate them?
  • Have we considered the inner game as well as the outer game?
  • What level have previous change programmes targeted in terms of the ‘Dilt’s Logical Levels of  Change?' How effective were they?

In summary, in this final article we looked at how we can engage with and do the work required to transcend our current level whilst integrating the levels before. The challenges we face today both individually and collectively require us to do so, now more than ever. As complex beings operating in complex systems and in complex times we need useful theories, frameworks and facilitators to help us successfully navigate these conditions. By consciously co-creating beyond our current level we can create new realities that are emergent in nature.

If you are interested in starting conversations on how we can co-create a more transformative, cohesive and inclusive culture in the workplace and society, please send your name, contact phone number and email address to

Connect with Sobia on LinkedIn:

About the Author

Sobia Iqbal is a leadership and management transformational coach, as well as an organisational development strategist and facilitator. 


Article 1 of 3 - Culture Change: Cultivate Your Garden

Article 2 of 3 - Spiral Dynamics: Flow Like Water

Spiral Dynamics: Flow Like Water

This is part of the 'Cultural Flux' series, article 2 of 3.

In Article 1, I dove deep into the notion of culture, how it shapes our current context of global uncertainty/change and lay some foundational principles for emergent thinking/ways of being. Why? So we can cooperate and organise at a global scale against some of the greatest threats and opportunities that we face today. How? I believe, we need to explore ways that we can accelerate our level of thinking and consciousness to achieve a tipping point — a moment of critical mass. This shift towards more cohesive global values and culture, can then be the vehicle for global transformation.

In this second article, we will look at a specific framework (Spiral Dynamics) that may be able to support this cultural shift and transformation. The same premise applies once again — just as culture is in constant flux so too is any theory or framework, remaining useful so long as it helps us to evolve and get to an even better theory. Culture like water is in a state of flux adapting to the conditions of its environment, culture needs to flow like water so it does not become stagnant.

As already established, we live in a VUCA World (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous), so theories and frameworks can be incredibly useful to us as we navigate through challenge. As Einstein aptly put it "We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” This idea of levels is integral to one of the best frameworks that I have come across whose relevance is becoming more pressing — the work of Clare Graves, later developed into Spiral Dynamics.

Clare Graves a Psychologist undertook research in the 1950-60s that culminated in an evolutionary human development model. The central premise that humans operate from and evolve through different values levels. Graves’ work helps us to understand the different levels of existence (bio-psycho-social systems) that individuals, organisations and whole societies are operating from. He died before his work could be published. Fortunately Don Beck continued Graves’ work and Spiral Dynamics emerged.

Levels to Human Development

The eight human developmental levels that Grave observed in his research of people are listed below. For any transformation work to take place, it is incredibly important to understand the underlying beliefs in the system, which can help determine how to approach the change. These levels have been developed and colour coded by Don Beck and is better known as ‘Spiral Dynamics.’

Spiral Dynamic Summary Table
Spiral Dynamic Summary Table

Key Principles and Wider Considerations

I include some key principles of Spiral Dynamics and wider theories/approaches below to help us move beyond the current level of debate, a point I feel we are stuck at currently.

  1. Transcend and include — the importance of integrating the level that came before. Doing so allows you to ‘surf the spiral’ utilising the most important
    elements of any given level for a desired outcome
    2. Emergence of new evolving systems comes from co-creation and fostering the right conditions
    3. Importance of finding common ground, truth and nuanced discourse
    4. Shared language to support having courageous conversations
    5. Usefulness of scaffolding and a sense-making framework to help navigate this important and necessary work
    6. Organisationally, creating meaningful impact through aligning systems, cultural cohesiveness (beliefs, values, ways of thinking, norms) as well as strategy
    7. Diverse and broad skill-sets and ways of thinking are required to deal with the levels of complexity we face today
    8. Showing up with a 'Growth Mindset' as opposed to 'Fixed Mindset’
    9. Understanding and addressing our personal saboteurs so that we can have lasting and sustainable change (Positive Intelligence)
    10. Acknowledging individual and collective trauma (the historical context continues to shape our lives today)
    11. Acknowledging where we are right now as individuals, families, communities and societies. Spiral level Blue (truth force) is the current dominant level in the world

There is a pressing need to move to functional design of systems within workplaces and society at large, including addressing the socio-political-economic-cultural-technological challenges of our time. Grave’s work and Spiral Dynamics can help us do this urgent work, by providing a framework to explore these dimensions within individuals, societies, organisations and the world at large.

No one level is more important than another. We must learn to navigate each level in order, take the learnings and useful tools of this ‘operating system’ and way of looking at the world before ‘transcending and including’ onto the next level. We must learn to ‘surf the spiral’ i.e. the different levels skilfully so we can adopt the most appropriate tools for the VUCA conditions we face.

In summary, we explored a specific framework to navigate the uncertain and changing world we live in. What insights, reflections and/or questions has this raised for you? In the last article of this series, we will look at why change at the system level is so important and why behavioural interventions can be short-lived if the intervention is not geared at the right level. Spiral dynamics is also very useful in this regard because by understanding the underlying beliefs, values, norms within a given system, we can better determine how to approach the change. In article 3, I will attempt to illustrate this at both the individual
and organisational levels, incorporating additional tools where helpful.

If you are interested in starting conversations on how we can co-create a more transformative, cohesive and inclusive culture in the workplace and society, please send your name, contact phone number and email address to

Connect with Sobia on LinkedIn:


Sobia Iqbal is a leadership and management transformational coach, as well as an organisational development strategist and facilitator. 


Article 1 of 3 - Culture Change: Cultivate Your Garden

Article 3 of 3 - Culture Change: Development Levels

Culture Change: Cultivate Your Garden

This is part of the 'Cultural Flux' series, article 1 of 3.

In this 3-part series, I will explore culture in the context of global flux both in terms of the level of change and uncertainty we face today. Furthermore, exploring what this means practically and how to cultivate the conditions for transformative emergence, where the parts add to the whole in way that is not visible to us yet. But first we must deconstruct and define culture.

What is Culture?

The word culture comes from the Latin ‘colere’ which means ‘to tend, till or cultivate.’ What do these words evoke in you? Preparing to plant, growing crops or vegetables perhaps? Whatever your associations, in this fast-paced digital world, more and more of us do not see the fruits of our labour in a physical/visceral sense. Thereby, making the need to reconnect with nature all the more important. This is true for me — someone who can easily get lost in thought and ideas and has had to learn to consciously become more embodied and grounded.

I believe reconnecting with nature is important if we are to successfully navigate and actively foster the conditions for something new to emerge. The emergence of which will likely be rooted in the lessons learnt, intersectionality of different fields and principles known to have worked in the past.

In light of this realisation, last summer we planted 35 native wildflowers seeds and three grasses at the bottom of our garden, being especially mindful of the variety of seeds that would flourish in this area— difficult to grow much because of the partial shade caused by a large overhanging tree and poor soil quality. For me this represented hope, creativity and the very act of tilling, cultivating, sowing and tending being a grounding experience. The whole process of which taught me some useful lessons that seem highly relevant here.

Imagined Realities

Imagination is our ability to conceive new ideas, concepts and images that were not previously wholly perceived in our external reality, nor present to our senses. Take my simple example of planting a wildflower area — there were many possibilities and several options we explored beforehand. The entire process was vividly imagined, conceived and then brought into reality. So too are the great feats in human progress and exploration such as sending men to the moon. Again, these are very visceral and tangible achievements but now on a cosmic level.

Similarly, Yuval Noah in his book ‘Sapiens’ describes ‘culture’ as creating and recreating imagined orders. Our ability to do so as humans gives us a unique evolutionary advantage, enabling us to cooperate effectively at scale. Over time diverse imagined realities have resulted in diverse ways of thinking, belief systems, values and behavioural norms. Just think about the stories, myths and archetypes you were told about as children and how we continue to pass these down to future generations. Yet, this is not a static process but a dynamic one.

Cultural Flux

Although conditioned from birth our beliefs and how we identify with ‘our culture’ continues to evolve and remains in constant flux. How so? Well, just consider the impact of 203 new words being added to the Oxford dictionary as part of the October 2019 update (including the Star Wars term Jedi). We shape language and in turn language shapes how we think. What fascinates me is the intersectionality between cultures, industries, ways of thinking — that’s where you can often find the growing edge — areas of our life and work we actively develop despite feeling unsure, uncomfortable, uneasy and perhaps even frightened. Another area I am personally fascinated by is how multilingual thinking shapes identity and culture. Moreover, what insights, lessons and values can we draw in this intersectional space that can help shape our current context and the need to ‘ground global flux’ so as to address the most pressing issues of our time. This impacts all of us to some extent as we borrow words from other languages and cultures such as Safari (Arabic), Guru (Sanskrit) and Cookie (Dutch).

By recognising and accepting that culture is constantly changing because as humans we are naturally driven towards exploration, evolution and growth. Culture is not something that can stay stagnant as this lack of movement causes problems both locally and increasingly at a global/planetary level. Returning to days gone by is not the answer either as those conditions no longer exist for a reason — ultimately we evolved beyond them and they no longer work for current conditions. That is not to say we need to completely disregard what came before but to ‘include and transcend’ to the next iteration, level and evolutionary cycle. We can and may regress should the conditions permit but the overarching drive is forward movement, progress and evolution.

Culture is no one thing but is made up of a myriad of elements and is increasingly interacting with many other cultures. A need is arising for an inclusive, universal and global culture to emerge, so that we can organise ourselves and cooperate at scale e.g. finding a vaccine for COVID-19. This is not only desirable but necessary if we are to successfully navigate climate change through new technologies and behaviour change, foster equitable economic, political and social norms, whilst reducing or eliminating the threat of nuclear war or conflict. This requires cooperation at a much greater level than we have seen before — a global perspective enacted locally.

Culture Word Cloud

We can draw reassurance and inspiration from arguably one of the greatest human achievement of the twentieth century — great strides in public health including sanitation, antibiotics and vaccinations against some of the deadliest diseases.


Back to my gardening project and the insights I drew from it. The whole process was a co-creative one; we prepared the soil, sowed the seeds and watered occasionally but it was not all down to us thankfully. We co-created with nature which wonderfully illustrates the interconnectedness and interdependence of our existence.

The right conditions were necessary for a thriving wildflower meadow to emerge. Only then when the time was right, did the seeds germinate and grow into an impressive display of beautiful flowers. The wider impact was to provide a habitat for a whole array of insects, butterflies, bees, spiders and birds. Culminating in our enjoyment of its beauty, an important facet of the human experience as demonstrated by art, music or any creative endeavour. This not only allows us to express ourselves but gives us hope and the fertile environment to imagine new realities.

Another important lesson was the journey being just as if not more important than the outcome. As who you become in the process and how you think and act differently impacts how you show up in the world. We need to show up differently, as our best and most evolved selves to brake free from our current level of thinking, to a level that resolves the problems we have created using former levels of thinking and being.

Beyond Cultural Relativism

It is incredibly useful to deconstruct ideas, theories and cultures themselves to understand and test the validity of the underlying beliefs and assumptions from different vantage points. However, it is equally important to rebuild on a stronger footing. There is almost always something useful to extract, a useful connection, insight or questions raised that can unlock a whole new way forward in a specific field or for a much wider human application. The difference being we are looking to evolve understanding and not just trash, criticise, create a sense of ‘other’ fostering ‘false separateness.’ Even worse dehumanise paving the path for immoral/inhumane action being perpetrated more easily and then justified. Making ‘the other’ wrong so we can be right is operating from ego consciousness (short-term gain, pleasure, violence, fear) and not a greater collective consciousness (unity, sustainability, human kind flourishing).

A great example that captures rebuilding and reclaiming from the past is the High Line in Manhattan, New York. This elevated park is 1.45 miles long and was redesigned on abandoned spur railroad tracks. As a ‘living system’ space it was created using a multi-disciplinary approach including ecology, urban design and landscape architecture.

High Line Park

High Line Park, New York

Back to our garden, despite there being the potential of 35 wildflower seeds to geminate and flourish, only several did and perhaps next year other varieties may emerge depending on the conditions. This is the very process of co-creation and
emergence — you do not know what will arise exactly yet you remain committed to the process of discovery and unfoldment.

The conditions we find ourselves in today include ‘post-truth’ — appeals to emotion disconnected from facts, polarisation that shows up most vehemently in the schism between left and right, freedom of speech and cancel culture as well as identity politics. Now more than ever, there is need to make great strides towards truth-seeking, sense- making and first principles. This will provide a firm footing to move forward in a way that allows us as human beings to organise and cooperate at scale against the many threats but also opportunities looming. The disappearing standard for objective truth is highly problematic and cannot remain so if we are to not only survive but thrive sustainably as a collective whole.

The focus of this first article has been on a more macro level but this is not to diminish the importance of the individual. There is a need to take individual responsibility for what we say and do, be willing to have those courageous but necessary conversations to move the debate forward rather than remain stuck and polarised in ‘no mans land.’ Moving towards openness and a willingness to understand others requires empathy and
compassion for ourselves and others.

So rather than just being tolerant of other people’s beliefs and values we need to actively engage and find a way to ‘transcend and include’ our current and dominant psychological paradigms. From this dialogue, a way of thinking, a system or framework can emerge that can begin creating global values and solidarity around a common interest as way to organise and cooperate effectively at a global scale. This will only emerge through committed engagement, co-creation and doing the necessary work.

Planet Earth

In summary, the work is to create the right cultural conditions for humans to flourish through the emergence of new cultural norms necessary for us to thrive. This is not a single destination but a continuous evolutionary process. In article 2, I explore how we can navigate a volatile and uncertain world using an existing framework and in article 3 what can be done more on an individual and organisational level.

If you are interested in starting conversations on how we can co-create a more transformative, cohesive and inclusive culture in the workplace and society, please send your name, contact phone number and email address to

Connect with Sobia on LinkedIn:

About the Author

Sobia Iqbal is a leadership and management transformational coach, as well as an organisational development strategist and facilitator. 

Related articles: cultural flux series

Article 2 of 3 - Spiral Dynamics: Flow Like Water

Article 3 of 3 - Culture Change: Development Levels