Spiral Dynamics and E-C Theory

I recently gave a talk to the SDi Live group, nominally about the distinction between E-C theory and SD. While I did cover that distinction, the second half of the talk turned into a deep dive into A'N' and how it relates to AN, and B'O' and how it relates to BO.

A common E-C theory visualization showing progress to A'N', flanked by SD-colored spirals.

Point of view: open-minded

  • Note 1: This post is a little unusual because it focuses on more-or-less orthodox E-C theory and Spiral Dynamics, rather than on my visualization and its applications, or on the decolonization effort.  But the recent talk of mine linked below is likely to cover some things that are of interest as background.  It does assume a basic familiarity with SD and less familiarity with E-C theory, but that is a common situation among folks who have heard of Gravesian theory at all.
  • Note 2: There is a glossary for all of the terminology and abbreviations.
  • Note 3: I usually focus on E-C theory, which can give the impression of dismissing SD/SDi.  And my criticism of the 1996 SD book regarding its focus on examples that are often culturally-specific can give the impression that I think SD is very cultural specific (despite global examples of application, efforts underway to establish it in China, etc.).

    The reality is more complex.  SD and SDi are brands related to certifications for leadership training and change management, and are subject to some rather murky trademark considerations due to the frustrating history of personal disagreements among their principal advocates.  This makes them unappealing as a base for work that will question many of the things that are taught in the certification programs.

    But SD was arguably not meant to be that base.  A professional skill requires some sort of predictability about what one will get when one hires a professional!  I dislike the litigious approach to intellectual property taken by Chris Cowan and Natasha Todorovic (although I agree with a great deal of their writing on SD).  Don Beck has been more open, but SDi is still something you get certified in.  I don't object to SD and SDi being brands, but brands don't make a good base for new work.

    Beyond that, I disagree sharply with the entire "mean Green meme" (MGM) concept, whether from Don Beck or Ken Wilber, and have many objections to Wilber's presentation of SD as just a "values line", and the way he sort-of-but-not-quite paralleled it with his similar-but-confusingly different AQAL altitude colors.  Not to mention the prominent strains of 2nd-tier-messianism (Wilber's AQAL and to a lesser degree Beck's SDi) and "more-Turquoise-than-thou" attitude (AQAL, not to mention the whole "3rd tier" that has nothing to do with Graves).  The fact that so many only know SD through Wilber's excessively modified presentation is another ongoing source of frustration particularly as I have encountered many who had bad experiences with Wilberian Integral and have to convince them that Gravesian theory is not just what Wilber says it is.

    However, I would not know about E-C theory, or have delved so deeply into it, were it not for the 1996 SD book and various SD/SDi communities, most notably the Beck-Graves Original Spiral Dynamics Facebook group.  Many people came to those communities by way of Wilber, and found value in his work without falling into the MGM or "more-Turquoise-than-thou" traps.  And while MGM does come up in the Beck-Graves group, those discussions and debates led to me developing a lot of my own ideas about FS/Green.

    So in this post I want to acknowledge that debt to Beck and Cowan for bringing Graves's work to the wider public, to the Beck-Graves group for many wonderful discussions, debates, and explorations, and to my friend Naomi Most for introducing me to all of this in the first place.  I would not be doing this work without them.
  • Note 4: I think this post is about 3/4 "notes"!
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I recently gave a talk (see link below) to the Spiral Dynamics Integral Live group, nominally about the distinction between E-C theory and SD, aimed at an audience familiar with SD and/or SDi. While I did cover that distinction, the second half of the talk turned into a deep dive into A'N' (Yellow) and how it relates to AN (Beige), and B'O' (Turquoise) and how it relates to BO (Purple).  I did this in part to lay some groundwork for how I emphasize the cyclic nature of the "2nd tier" in my own work, and also specifically to refute the idea that we should all aspire to Turquoise right now!

I wrote and gave the talk before the entire "stage theory is colonialist BS" discussion, but parts of it dovetail nicely.  The notion that we should all rush to Turquoise, which is particularly prominent in Wilberian Integral theory, is directly related to one of the charges of colonialism: that no matter how much Graves, Beck, or Cowan emphasized that the best level is the one that matches your conditions, people in our society will immediately want to be the "highest" level, or simply declare that they already are regardless of reality.

A related issue discussed in the talk is that people try to force themselves and others up into what they think is "2nd tier" thinking, rather than focusing on the process of change and whether their or anyone else's local conditions motivate or even allow for the desired change.

I mentioned the conditions for change, which are often overlooked no matter what presentation of Gravesian theory you encounter.  I spend a significant amount of time on that process in the middle portion of this talk, so if you are not familiar with those conditions you will find that section helpful.

The slides for this are also available.  Many thanks to Veronica Polo for inviting me to give the talk, and the SDi Live group for hosting it!