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 sobia@pegasuswellbeing.com

Connect with Sobia on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/sobia-iqbal-pegasus-wellbeing/

About the Author

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

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 sobia@pegasuswellbeing.com

Connect with Sobia on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/sobia-iqbal-pegasus-wellbeing/

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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