Value Systems continued…

Who was Dr Clare Graves? (1914-1986)

image of Dr Clare GravesDr Graves was a Professor at Union College, Schenectady, New York and a contemporary of Abraham Maslow. His purpose in starting the research that led to the eventual development of the model was to “understand how people think”. One of the biggest distinctions between Graves work and that of Maslow was that the latter believed that there was a limit to human development (the level of self-actualisation) whereas Graves was convinced that there was no end.  Towards the end of his life, Maslow acknowledged that he had been wrong in his conclusions. Sadly, Graves had not completed his research to his satisfaction before he died and it has therefore been up to others, with the support of his family, to edit and publish elements of his work.

The background to the Graves’ Model

One of the reasons why the model is not as well known as its potential power would suggest is that Graves’ original designation of the model is unwieldy to say the least: The ‘Emergent, Cyclical, Double-Helix Model of Adult BioPsychoSocial Systems Development’! Our (perhaps slightly simplistic) interpretation of what Dr Graves had in mind is as follows:

  • Emergent:  The relationship between our neurology, values and social systems in response to changes in the environment around us.
  • Cyclical: This is the never ending swing between the “Express Self” levels (odd numbers) and the “Deny Self” (even numbers) systems.
  • Double-helix:  This is a metaphor to describe the original two-letter coding system that Graves used to show the relationship between the “Problems of Existence” (1st letter, starting at A) and “Coping Tools” (2nd letter, starting half way through the alphabet at N)
  • BioPsychoSocial: This term is a strong indicator of Graves’ desire for the model to be as “systemic” as possible, including multi-disciplinary approaches to understanding human nature.
    • Bio – is linked to the biological structure and functioning of the brain.
    • Psycho – relates to human psychological change, intellectual capacities and predispositions to certain types of temperament.
    • Social – includes the cultural dynamics, ethical and moral codes and the social ‘norms’ for a particular culture and context.

Two of Graves’ students, Don Beck and Christopher Cowan, used his original research materials to develop Spiral Dynamics, the book of the same name being published in 1996. The use of the word ‘spiral’ is intended to replace the term ‘helix’ and provides an image to which most people can relate. Note: Spiral Dynamics is the registered trademark of the National Values Center and NVC Consulting. It is protected under US, UK, Australian and international trademark agreements.

Key principles in understanding and utilising the Graves’ Model

If we were to identify one underlying principle of the Graves model, it is that there is an evolving relationship between our neuronal coping systems and the external context within which we exist. The key principles that underpin Graves work are as follows:

  • Each level is a ‘holon’. This means that it encapsulates all preceding levels within it (apart from the first level of course).
  • No level is inherently any better or worse than any other level although, generally speaking, the more evolved levels will offer individuals more options and choice of action.
  • Human beings evolve to the level that is best adapted to the environment within which they find themselves.
  • We can rise through the levels to meet various contextual changes and, equally, we can regress to an earlier level in order to cope with changed circumstances.
  • Despite some considerable effort, Dr Graves was unable to find any direct evidence linking the levels to intelligence.
  • Human development is both nature and nurture.
  • The levels move through a sequence of individual orientation (express self) to communal orientation (deny/sacrifice self), and then to individual again.
  • We move to a new level when we no longer get answers to life’s problems from the level we’re in.
  • Each level has an “Entering”, a “Peak” and an “Exiting” phase – these phases can be of any length.

Additional Vievolve perspectives

  • Most of us seem to operate out of three levels at any one time. One level is usually core to our being and the other two support this.
  • There is some correlation between the Graves levels and certain characteristics of the Myers Briggs Type Indicators (MBTI). Note: MBTI is a registered trademark of Consulting Psychologists Press Inc; Oxford Psychologists Press Ltd has exclusive rights to the trademark in the UK
  • Awareness of the model can often help to enable people to move from one level to the next
  • For maximum influence, we have to move to, and act as if we are in, the same values system as the other party. This may include presenting your case using their language and thinking patterns and inviting decisions based on their criteria, not ours.

This necessary flexibility becomes easier for the more evolved levels.

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