Introduction to Spiral Dynamics


by Bethany Krasey

Edited by Frederick Krasey

Before anything can be useful you must understand it. This is the beginning of something that will give you an amazing advantage in life. The purpose of this section is to help you fully understand the concept and nothing else. Putting it in action comes later.


What is it?

Spiral dynamics was derived from the work of Psychologist, Clare W. Graves and his framework, “levels of human existence” and was further developed into the current theory by Don Beck and Chris Cowan, in order for us to better understand each other and ourselves at a deeper level. Holistically, Spiral Dynamics is a theory, a philosophy, map and a tool kit to discern the following:

  • Theory of human emergence logistics
  • Theory of psychological levels of human development
  • Personal Development and growth

Spiral Dynamics theorizes that we have a very dynamic mind, which continually re-calibrates itself, forming new boundaries (beliefs/ values), removing old boundaries (beliefs/ values) in response to changing life conditions. Spiral Dynamics also theorizes that, the way in which humans recalibrate their minds have identifiable patterns. The essence of Spiral Dynamics is understanding and recognizing these patterns. These patterns have been categorized into separate memes, defined by colors and/ or an alphabetical set of reference labels for us to easily recognize and understand.


What are Memes?

To explain the pattern of human thinking, Spiral Dynamics has categorized everything into packages that we call memes.

In this context memes can be considered,

  • A unit of cultural and individual development.
  • Separate thinking structures that appeared in times of need in order to survive and progress.

In other words human thinking evolves in recognizable packages (memes) as the world around us gets more complicated and we try to keep up. New times call for new thinking.


Important note: Going through each stage (Meme) is a journey rather than a type of person, not something we decide, nor is it a label; rather the life conditions make it so. In order to evolve, certain conditions must be met; this will be discussed in detail in module 2.


The memes are mapped in a spiral vortex to depict the emergence of human thinking as we evolve through levels of increasing complexity. Imagine it as a moving animation rather than a still image. We start at the bottom and develop through each meme progressing to a new worldview each time. As we travel up the spiral as an individual or as a society, elements of all previously experienced memes are still present within us. (We transcend and include.) This is a very good thing as we need experience of all memes and refer back to them when the time and circumstance calls for it. Being in higher or lower meme is not an indicator of “better” or “worse”, as each meme displays its own individual intelligences. Each of the memes have negative and positive aspects. Once one understands the memes, one should be able to see a consistent flow of human development, thinking patterns and worldview understanding people at a new level.

Another thing to notice is that, “meme attracts meme”. Like minded thinkers will band together. Each meme has its own music, dress code, symbols, slang, architecture, art and many more identifiers. Spiral Dynamics theorizes that the reason for most conflict is only a matter of conflicting memes/values/beliefs which is why understanding them all is of such benefit.



The theory is based on the philosophy that the human mind is generally always developing. Rather than say, “we think one way or the other”, the theory suggests that we think in multiple ways depending on how much we have traveled through the spiral. The way we think can also change or not change over time. The different meme packages are not a way of labeling people. We all have a variety of meme packages and we can express them in many different ways. The framework is only an analytical tool. Spiral Dynamics theory shows us clearly that it is in our nature to solve problems, but then to create or experience new ones.

The constructs of Human Nature as put by Clare W. Graves (The Founder)

  1. Human Nature is not static, nor is it finite. Human nature changes as the conditions of existence change, thus forging new systems. Yet the older systems stay with us.
  2. When a new system or level is activated, we change our psychology and rules for living to adapt to these new conditions.
  3. We live in a potentially open system of values with an infinite number of modes of living available to us. There is no final state to which we must all aspire.


First Tier

Beige: (Nature, Nurture.) The beginning of the spiral is all about survival; we operate independent of external influence or control. We follow a fixed pattern of behavior like animals in response to “predatory instincts”. There is no structure.

Purple: (Magic, Mystic.) Belief in the existence of spirits that inhabit natural objects and phenomena. Must display loyalty to a tribe or group for safety.

Red: (impulsive, egocentric.)Thinking only of oneself, without regard for the feelings or desires of others; has a “going it alone” type attitude. This meme is known to build empires.

Blue: (Authority, Rules) Absolutistic, belief in an absolute doctrine, principle, or standard. Blue Favors absolute obedience to authority, as against individual freedom. The structure is pyramidal.

Orange: (Strive, Drive) think in terms of how we can multiply our material success. Orange cares greatly about their status and social recognition. They are very strategic thinkers.

Green: (Egalitarian) Green is the birth of moral relativism which is a belief system that holds to, nobody is objectively right or wrong; and because nobody is right or wrong, we ought to tolerate the behavior of others even when we disagree about the morality of it. The Green Meme shares the belief in the equality of all people, especially in political, economic, or social life. Everything must be consensual.


Second  Tier

Yellow: (integrative)Relates to and affects the entire spiral and society as a whole. The Yellow meme combines and coordinates diverse elements into a whole. Yellow meme is capable of influencing every other meme and like-minded people.

Turquoise: (Holistic, all encompassing.) Turquoise meme seeks to benefit or cause minimal damage to the environment. They take into account the environment and the way that plants, animals, and humans live together and affect each other. They also seek to benefit, not just the environment but the people. The structure is global.

Difference between first and second tier

While researching, Graves, the founder of this theory began to find thinking patterns that he could not explain. The people he was testing had such high quality, complex decision making skills that it could not be tied down to any, one value system of the memes beige to green.

The most significant marker was that fear was no longer present, caution yes… fear, no. Second tier thinkers seemed more curious about just being alive in this amazing universe than fearful.

Second tier thinkers are no longer bound by the restrictions of first tier, they move freely up and down the spiral as they please. The surge into the second tier involves a shift into a totally new dimension of thinking which will be discussed in more detail in Module 4.


History and emergence of Memes (Beige to Green)

New memes are born when humans recalibrate their own mind in order to survive and adapt, this is how each of the known memes are assumed to have come into existence:

Originally humans were much like animals according to the evolution theory, with the desire to “just stay alive”. If you are not fond of that theory you can think of it also in terms of the history of one’s life. When one is born they start in beige relying only on instincts and primitive ways of being. Nurture and nature.

As time progresses the human population increases and in order to avoid conflict, the people begin to form clans. Before this, an individual had no reference structure or group consensus to determine normalcy, therefore strange happenings or phenomena were not recognized. However after people came together and some sort of an understanding had developed, the phenomena of the world could be discussed and decided. Hence magic and mysticism was created. In terms of an individual’s life, a baby in beige will eventually come to notice that he/she is not alone and try to make sense of the world.

It was more the success of the purple meme rather than the failure that brought about the new meme. In purple we had become very successful, too successful, to the point where it became boring. So many youth became discontented, they saw that there was something about their essence that, rather than being protected, was being contained and limited. Red is, in some forms rebellion. In terms of human life, if you have ever had a child or know a little about them, you may have heard of the “terrible twos”.

Eventually society could no longer function with the constant presence of red, with its war-like, gang-like, war-lord like entities. Hence the blue meme is born, a new way of thinking built on the pillars of discipline, righteousness, accountability, stability and social preservation. The blue meme appeared to control the red (introduce the emotion of shame and guilt), which they did through self sacrifice for the common good in numbers. This does not mean that all people in Blue meme are the “authority,” most just believe in following it. In terms of the human life, hopefully after the “terrible twos” the parent introduces some form of discipline and the child learns authoritarianism.

Once again, blue becomes highly successful, too successful, that the individual becomes bored. The over bearing sense of being one of the masses rather than an individual re-surfaces. Blue meme says stay in line and conform for eventual benefit and the new “orange” meme decides that they can get the benefit on their own. Now an individual could attempt to shape their own future via changeability and belief that we are the stewards of our own universe. It is here that scientific method is born. It is also here that status is born. In terms of human life, we all remember those teenage years of believing we could do it all ourselves. The shift from unwavering commitment to the rules into believing in own your way.

Time passed and our science left us numb, without heart and soul, and with only the outer manifestations of success. The “good life” was measured only in materialistic terms. This cold existence was the cause of the appearance of the last meme of the first tier, Green. After individual success no longer became fulfilling the focus turned to the community to, “give back”. Green is about making peace with oneself and unifying the people. In terms of a human life, the shift to green is actually a rarity, but of course if it does occur; it is usually after much success.


Modern Day Times

This topic is rather debatable but the general consensus among spiral theorists is that change is on its way! To explain fully what they mean by that I would like to explain something called the “Exponential curve”. An exponential curve is a line on a graph that starts out very low and stays that way for a long time only getting higher in small increments. Then it hits exponential turning point (critical mass) and sky rockets!

The same effect can be seen in the time differences between each meme emergence,

The beginning was beige,100,000 years ago
Then purple,50,000 years ago
Then red,10,000 years ago
Then blue,5,000 years ago
Then orange,300 years ago
Then green,150 years ago
Then yellow,50 years ago
Then Turquoise,30 years ago
Then Coral,Who knows…

We are reaching the exponential turning point. Change is becoming more rapid, technology as well as science improves and expands on a day-to-day basis, and younger generations are dealing with increasing amounts of complexity. If we are to survive, we must adapt and we have already begun with the revolution of second tier.

Predictions of the future

Theorists suggest that Memes exist in increments of six and that each tier is a repeat of the previous themes only amazingly more complex and advanced. By that theory, Yellow is a more advanced repeat of Beige and Turquoise is a more advanced repeat of Purple. This means the currently hypothetical Coral meme would have to be a more advanced repeat of Red.


Further Distinctions

The Pendulum within the Spiral

Another distinction that can be made about the memes is that they all fall into two categories, “I” and “we” or “me” and “others”. If you look at each meme in juxtaposition of the other you will notice that the focus oscillates from the self to the people with each development up the spiral.

“I”/ “Me” / “Warm Colors”“We” / “Others”/ “Cool Colors”
Beige: “I” survivePurple: “we” the clan
Red: “I” the powerfulBlue: “we” the true believers
Orange: “I” the capableGreen: “we” the accepting
Yellow: “I” the knowingTurquoise: “we” the becoming

Entering and exiting a Meme

As you know, experiencing each meme is a journey and to experience one you have had to come from another before it. Each journey through a meme has a recognizable pattern. For some it may be easier to imagine it in the shape of a wave. The pattern is as follows,


Enters the Meme, (bottom of the wave)

New beliefs take over old ones

Beliefs become more relevant in relation to the individual and the individual meme.

Spreads wildly (like a virus)


Maximum Peak of Meme, (at the peak of the wave)

Becomes structured and has a set resonant frequency of attraction (refer to “law of attraction”)


Decent of the Meme, (begins to fall)

Starts to become rigid

Meme no longer serves

Gets generalized to symbols and rituals


Exit the Meme, (wave has reached the bottom)

Residue Remains

An Important note is that, an individual does not necessarily complete the exit of a meme and may sometimes remain in arrested development. Certain life conditions and environmental factors have to be met before the transitional phase of meme development can occur. This will be discussed later in further detail.

What is a Meme Malignancy?

Sometimes a meme can become so overpowering that the meme values dominate the status quo and becomes controlling. Like a virus out of control.

What are Meme Mates?

Most of the time when different memes clash there is conflict, but sometimes, due to certain life conditions two different memes can peacefully co-exist together. We refer to them as Meme Mates.

What is Meme Migration?

Memes can actually travel through the mediums of education, immigration and travel, economic transitions, entertainment, the mass media and many more. For example, there is an eastern and a western way of thinking, and pockets of both exist all over the world due to Meme Migration.

What is Meme Scape?

Think of the word “landscape” and then replace land with meme. Meme Scape is the reach over social and geographic landforms such as families, companies, communities, regions and societies.

What is a Meme Shift?

A meme shift occurs when one meme supersedes another to become dominant higher or lower on the spiral.

What is a Meme Stack?

A Meme stack is where seven memes co-exist together either in an individual or a community. Where ever we are at in the spiral we will have a stack of memes.

What is a Meme Zone?

A meme Zone is a locale where specific Memes clearly dominate at particular times because of specific life conditions. Example being, the blue meme dominates church buildings.

What are Meme Harmonics?

Meme harmonics is something that is not known to the mainstream, it is a distinction made by theorist and philosopher, Frederick Krasey. Rather than travel up the spiral sometimes an individual or group skip a meme. If you look at the pendulum within the spiral you will remember that the focus oscillates between “me” and “others” which means when you skip a meme, it’s two of the same, “me” and “me” or “others” and “others”. Because we still express previous memes as well as new ones, the memes stack. And it is much like the harmonics of a chord, as skipping some notes (memes) gives a more consistent sound. Examples being, purple, blue, green or red, orange yellow.