Spiral Dynamics

Understanding How Values May Affect Decisions

Spiral Dynamics

A spiral continues to turn and change.

© iStockphoto/danleap

When you look back on your actions, decisions, and ways of coping with problems, were your responses consistent?

Or have your reactions changed over the years? (Most people's do.)

This is because our values and motivations change over time.

Psychologists have long been interested in these changing reactions. In fact, some of the best-known psychological theories on motivation have been derived from looking at this very phenomenon. Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs   and McGregor's Theory X versus Theory Y   are just two of the theories that have emerged to explain what motivates people and why. Although each theory is different, the question of what people value is central to the theories of motivation and human development.

Spiral Dynamics, a fascinating but less known theory of motivation, looks at the value systems that drive individuals' beliefs and actions. The concept originated in the 1930s with the work of Dr Clare Graves, but he died before publishing his theory. With the popularity of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, Graves' theory slipped into obscurity until one of his students, Dr Don Beck, wrote "Spiral Dynamics Integral" in 1996. This "new" theory is an extended version of Graves' original.

Graves' original theory was called "The Theory of Levels of Human Existence." Graves' theory attempted to explain why people's reactions and motivations are so different. It was Beck's application that brought the idea into the main stream and applied it to workplace motivation.

Explaining the Idea

Spiral Dynamics differs from other theories of human development and motivation in one key way:

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