Developmental Levels

By Herb Bowie

tags: ,

A number of authors and systems of thought espouse one or another series of developmental levels, in fields of study as diverse as psychology, sociology, economics and organizational development. Ken Wilber was the first author I encountered who proposed an integration of these various developmental progressions into a single unifying scheme. However, much of Ken’s take on these levels was heavily influenced by the Spiral Dynamics work done by Clare W. Graves, Don Beck and Chris Cowan.

The following reference table lists the levels in this general, unifying model, showing the color schemes used by both Integral Theory and Spiral Dynamics.

Developmental Levels
# Name Characterization Spiral Dynamics Color Integral Color
1 Archaic / Instinctual Focused solely on immediate survival needs; minimal sense of self; behavior based on natural instincts and reflexes; concern only for physical self and physical environment; nothing that we would recognize as society or culture. Beige Infrared
2 Magical / Animistic Beginning to differentiate self from world, and elements of world from one another, and to intuit causal relationships, but no accurate understanding of these relationships; impulsive, possessing faith in magic and superheroes; tribal kinship bonds, ethnic tribes, ancestral stories, superstitious beliefs. Purple Magenta
3 Tribal / Power Gods Egocentric; asserting self for dominance, conquest and power; evident in feudal empires and criminal gangs; people organize themselves based on power hierarchies, with the most powerful individuals leading the weaker; might makes right. Red Red
4 Traditional / Mythic Order People organize themselves around mythic, fundamentalist principles of truth, with groups requiring close conformity to their particular principles, but with no reliable way to make value judgments comparing one group's "truth" to another's; group membership now based on professed allegiance and obedience to shared principles, rather than on family ties or geography or membership in gangs; fundamental principles held to be absolute and unvarying; belief in the law and in an authoritarian hierarchy from which the law is passed down. Blue Amber
5 Modern / Rational Society advances based on use of the scientific method; quantitative methods are introduced that allow people to make objective decisions about what is true and what is false; truth is determined based on the testing of a variety of hypotheses, rather than reference to an absolute authority; oriented towards achievement of results. Orange Orange
6 Postmodern / Pluralistic Egalitarian; relativistic; situational; accepting of fluid affiliations; acknowledges that there are multiple, valid ways of perceiving reality, and tries to accept all people and life forms by placing value on diversity; may be seen as a means of accommodating multiple tribes, gangs and mythic orders within a single, overarching social order; consensus-based decision-making. Green Green
7 Integral / Systemic Sees the importance of the earlier levels, and of the developmental model as a whole; while still acknowledging the value of diversity, also recognizes the validity of healthy value hierarchies. Yellow Teal
8 Integral / Holistic Sort of like the prior level but with a more holistic sense of the kosmos. Turquoise Turquoise
9 Post-Integral This is sort of a place-holder for higher levels, based on the belief that continued human evolution will continue to produce higher levels of consciousness. Coral Indigo

As with the Four Quadrants Model, I’ve found the concept of developmental levels to be tremendously useful, and so wanted to share a brief introductory overview with others.

These levels represent parallel development in all four quadrants: they represent different ways of feeling, different sets of values, different behaviors by individuals, and different ways for individuals to interact with each other.

Taken together, these two models are sometimes referred to as AQAL, for “All Quadrants at All Levels.”

Spiral Dynamics originally associated the colors with the levels. Ken Wilber initially used the same colors but, at some point, decided that some divergence of color schemes was necessary. Colors are generally used to avoid the implication that “higher” levels are “better” than “lower” levels. While I respect this intention, I have also added numbers, simply for ease of reference.

The numbers also help to give a sense of progression, since the idea is that individuals and societies progress up through these levels, one at a time, without skipping any.

Both cultures and individuals, however, may have their development arrested at any of these levels. Nothing about this scheme suggests that development to higher levels is guaranteed.

Healthy systems are arguably able to function at all of these levels. While higher levels are in some sense more advanced than earlier levels, a system that functions only at one level, or that avoids certain levels, is generally not as functional as it could be.

What I am referring to as levels 1 - 6 are sometimes referred to as “first tier,” while higher levels are “second tier” or “third tier.” It seems to me that gradations of levels beyond 7 are sometimes based more on aspiration than on reality: of course, proponents of these higher levels would probably insist that my position is based on me being “stuck” at a lower level. I will leave it to the reader to make these sorts of judgments.

I should be clear that while the table above summarizes material from both Integral Theory and Spiral Dynamics, it does full justice to neither; interested readers are encouraged to seek out more authoritative source materials such as A Brief History of Everything, by Wilber, as well as Spiral Dynamics: Mastering Values, Leadership and Change, by Graves, Beck and Cowan.