Graves’ Values Systems

The “Emergent, Cyclical, Double-Helix Model of Adult BioPsychoSocial Systems Development” – Dr Clare Graves

“I am not saying in this conception of adult behaviour that one style of being, one form of human existence is inevitably and in all circumstances superior to or better than another form of human existence, another style of being.

What I am saying is that when one form of being is more congruent with the realities of existence, then it is the better form of living, for those realities. And what I am saying is that when one form of existence ceases to be functional for the realities of existence then some other form, either higher or lower in the hierarchy, is the better style of living.

I do suggest, however, and this I deeply believe is so, that for the overall welfare of total man’s existence in the world, over the long run of time, higher levels are better than lower levels, and that the prime good of any society’s governing figures should be to promote human movement up the levels of human existence.”

Dr Clare W Graves, Professor of Psychology, Union College Schenectady, USA (d1986)

image of people

This is a brief description of the eight human developmental levels that have been defined so far.  You will see evidence for the levels in personal growth, organizational development and cultural/political change.

  • No level should be seen as ‘better’ or ‘worse’ than any other level
  • People operate out of the level where they get answers to life’s problems.
  • Each level enfolds and incorporates all the levels that precede it
  • Up to and including level 4, it is very difficult to see (and above all appreciate the value in) any level beyond the one you are currently at.


Outline Description and Characteristics

1. Beige

reactive image

An inwardly pointing worldview, dependent on outside support for its survival. Today only seen in babies and very young children, and those people suffering from a severe degenerative condition (such as Alzheimer’s) or extreme drug dependency.
2. Purple

tribal image

Very ‘tribal’ in its approach. The individual follows a strong leader or symbol. In today’s society it is seen in a somewhat more diluted form with some family units, football supporters, highly competitive corporate teams. Core values include safety and security.
3. Red

egocentric image

A highly individualistic level, often with a lot of anger in it.Can be seen in the ‘terrible two’s’ and rebellious teenage behaviour. Also evident in macho street violence later in life. Core values here include power, immediate gratification, escaping from being controlled, being respected and avoiding shame. Some evidence that a high proportion of UK prison population is at this level shown by lack of consequence awareness.
4. Blue

absolutist image

A community oriented level with strong “moving away from” motivation.Strong sense of right vs. wrong, good vs. bad and the need for order in society. In cultural terms, judicial systems develop at this level. Fundamentalist religious beliefs are seen here too. Core values include justice, security and morality. Also a desire to control impulsivity and “evil” deeds. Can be seen in movements such as “right to life” and “moral majority”.
5. Orange

materialist image

An individualistic level with a strong personal drive and high energy operating from a “moving towards” motivation strategy. Very aspirational, keen to succeed and responds well to the trappings of success. Much of creative science emerges as a means to control human destiny at this level. Core values around success, creativity and achievement. Likes to be popular and enjoys winning. Can be seen in modern industrial nations and the upwardly mobile.
6. Green

personalistic image

Focus on involvement and gaining consensus/agreement. Seeks peace with inner self and to gain contact with the inner self of others. Core values around fairness and equality with the desire to free the human spirit from exploitation. Has generated the women’s movement and the civil rights movement in the last century. Wishes to eliminate poverty, racism, chauvinism and other forms of divisiveness.
7. Yellow

systemic image

An individually oriented ‘systems’ viewpoint. Sees the world as being in danger of collapse because of misuse of resources. Sees life as diverse and paradoxical. Has the pursuit of knowledge as a major driver but without the need to demonstrate his/her own ego. Can often see the bigger picture and be willing to take a position that is contrary to popular opinion. However, may get frustrated if others are not able to see their point.
8. Turquoise

holistic image

Sees a world in danger of geo-political collapse as a result of adopting short term strategies. Seeks spirituality and unity in living systems. Strives to eliminate war, poverty, disease, hunger and political oppression. Recognises the potential need to sacrifice self and others as may be required for the overall survival of life. Thinks and acts globally.

Estimates of world population and power:

Note: This table is intended as a guide only because it was based on estimates and may include some double-counting, probably as a result of exiting/entering phases)

Level Population % Power %
1.) Beige N/A 0
2.) Purple 10 1
3.) Red 20 5
4.) Blue 40 30
5.) Orange 30 50
6.) Green 10 15
7.) Yellow 1 5
8.) Turquoise 0.1 1

Sources: Dr Wyatt Woodsmall – Integral Change Technology TM
Don Edward Beck/Christopher C. Cowan – Spiral Dynamics

Note: Our ability to influence each level requires both willingness and personal flexibility. It will be heavily influenced by the system or systems within which you currently sit. As Graves suggested, the more evolved levels do offer significantly more choice of action so anything you can do to move yourself, and your team, further into Level 7 thinking will be very helpful at both an individual and organisational level.

Graphical Summary of Graves’ Values Levels

Purpose: To illustrate how each level is a ‘holon’ and is encapsulated within each subsequently emerging level.
images of graves values

Notes for guidance:

  • Odd numbers tend towards individual orientation
  • Even numbers tend towards communal orientation.
  • No level is any more “real” than any other – it is appropriate for that person’s needs.
  • People only move from one level to another if they cease to get answers to life’s problems at that existing level.

Relevance to organisational issues

  • We need to be aware that different parts of any organisation may be operating out of different levels.
  • We need to be able to adjust our approach to enable rapport to be established with each level as appropriate.
  • Tension, stress or some other significant change in their environment or context may cause people to regress to an earlier level.

How the Levels May Regard Each Other

Purpose: To provide an unscientific, tongue in cheek summary of how each level may view the others, especially what they would regard as the more extreme or “unhealthy” versions of each level.

1. Beige
  • No real discrimination at this level, so all are ok if Beige’s own immediate needs are met
2. Purple
  • Sees Purple as “one of us” or “one of them”
  • Sees Red as the strong leader to be obeyed
  • Sees Blue as the State or remote Government
  • Sees Orange as either their saviour (way out of poverty) or their next master
  • Sees Green as very helpful or as “do-gooders”
  • Can’t easily see Yellow or Turquoise except when an exceptional, beneficial, sustainable intervention occurs which would be attributed to Orange or Green
3. Red
  • Sees Purple as tools to be used
  • Sees Red as a threat to be overcome or as the next leader if he or she is strong enough
  • Sees Blue as authoritarian, and probably the enemy
  • Sees Orange all around and wants its’ toys now
  • Sees Green as lunch
  • Probably can’t see Yellow or Turquoise and certainly wouldn’t value them
4. Blue
  • Sees Purple as the “Noble Savage” in need of saving
  • Sees Red as “bad”
  • Sees Blue as being right, provided they have the same “Truth” as we do
  • Sees Orange as arrogant, self-serving, nouveau riche and greedy
  • Sees Green as “wishy-washy” and probably irrelevant
  • Sees Yellow and Turquoise as “out with the fairies”
5. Orange
  • Sees Purple as resources to be exploited
  • Sees Red as dangerous
  • Sees Blue as “stuck” and bureaucratic
  • Sees Orange as either someone to aspire towards or as a competitor,
  • Sees Green as irrelevant to personal success and therefore to be ignored
  • Sees Yellow and Turquoise as making things overly complicated
6. Green
  • Sees Purple as wonderful communities that should be valued
  • Sees Red as needing to be saved or educated into other ways of behaving
  • Sees Blue as authoritarian, biased and unfair
  • Sees Orange as greedy and exploitative
  • Sees Green as an enlightened, caring equal
  • Sees Yellow as insensitive and intellectualising / avoiding emotional engagement
  • Sees Turquoise as OK but lacking in emotional sensitivity
7. Yellow
  • Sees everybody else as “interesting” and will match them as the situation demands.
  • Does relate particularly strongly to others coming out of Yellow as it reduces the possible loneliness
  • Will get immensely frustrated and walk away from those who “just don’t get it”
8. Turquoise
  • No real evidence yet because of the very low numbers but should bring the pragmatic acceptance and curiosity of Yellow forward into the resolution of global problems.
  • The biggest risk could be that it adopts a command and control approach
<< Previous