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How do humans grow and evolve? Cindy Wigglesworth explains spiral dynamics (#39)

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Jean Latting
November 10, 2023
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Cindy Wigglesworth deep dives into spiral dynamics; what it represents, how it addresses life stages, and what it means for the rekindling of hope.

Highlights from this week’s interview

Jean introduces Cindy Wigglesworth, founder and president of Deep Change, Inc. Her coaching is based on the four types of intelligence: emotional, spiritual, physical, and cognitive, with an emphasis on the spiritual. She developed a skills assessment for spiritual intelligence, named the SQ21TM. Cindy, Jean, and Rev. Karen Tutor are co-program directors for Healing the Heart of Racism at Unity of Houston.

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In Cindy’s words, spiral dynamics “is one model of human development.” In Jean’s, it is “a theory about the past, present, and future of humankind.”

spiral dynamics overview of human history



Spiral dynamics is a model of human development; others include the better-known Maslow Hierarchy of Needs. Spiral dynamics was initially conceived by Clare Graves. Don Beck and Chris Cowan expanded upon the idea of life being a process, not simply a series of stages.1 

Maslow's Pyramid
Abraham Maslow's Pyramid

There is a “very strong relationship between the higher stages of adult development and what I describe as exemplars of spiritual intelligence.”

The core idea of spiral dynamics is that people emerge over time through developmental levels of increasing complexity, with each level reflecting their life conditions at that stage. 

Jean: How does it address the current state of despair among many people? 


Cindy: As a research-based way of looking at human capacity, spiral dynamics proposes that if we live into our capacity, we might survive ourselves, that despair and retreat are part of and necessary for our growth.



“It relies on challenge to create its potential for maturity. If we're not frustrated, if we're not mad and getting our needs met, if we're not scared, if we're not upset, if we're not hitting the limitations of our current level of maturity, we have no incentive to move to the next one. So we must be upset and scared and frustrated, and have all kinds of existential threats around us to pop to the next level.

“If you spend all your time in bed, you will never develop the muscle, you must be pushing against something. And so in this very weird way, the problems we encounter help us to become the people we can potentially be…. Taking any action is helpful, even if it's just to get out of bed and take a shower.”


Cindy explains the relationship between development and challenge, the elements of choice and motivation, the need for tribe vs ego.


Cindy: We are at our limit of existing worldviews. We’ve been choosing to go backwards, against science, against each other. Yet there will always be times we have to take a step or two back to see that going back is not the solution. At times we even require this cognitive dissonance in order to find a way forward.

Jean: We need to talk about the model for spiral dynamics. 


Cindy: The first vector – the word spiral – is really important and intentional. In referring to a spiral staircase, we see it also looks a great deal like a DNA strand: as life conditions go up in complexity, adult development goes up in complexity.

a large spiral staircase

The second vector is movement, progression. This is a dynamic model. The graphics of spiral dynamics show the colors of progression. We can see it as its most basic, a pyramid. Or we can elaborate on the various stages, using colors and descriptions to emphasize movement.

ocean waves


Cindy offers a visualization of the colors (very abbreviated).

Beige: Look at the history of Homo sapiens. The first level is beige, operating at the most instinctive level. It's mostly reactive, responsive. And in that mode, there would be small family groups, like you would see in wolf packs. But it's pre-verbal and pre-tribal, just survival.

Purple actually is for magical thinking. It comes from the fact that purple dye was used for early religious ceremonies. 

Red: About 25,000 years ago, Neanderthals developed some tribal grouping, and some magical thinking and representational thinking where they're drawing and using symbols to communicate and having early religious beliefs. Language arises, tribal consciousness is dominant. Tribes are living and competing with other tribes. War is fought to protect food and water sources, to protect each other. The color is red, the color of blood. This is the bloodshed era, the era of warlords and the beginning of empires, and it's brutal.



Blue: Then the earliest laws arise, and the beginning of the major world religions arise during this axial era, all of which are very focused on law and order. God is up there rather than God is in the earth, which was more the purple period of history. Blue was for sky gods.

Orange is an interesting period in history. Europeans first developed this massive capacity to travel the world in ships, so they start traveling the world with armies and with their livestock. The people they did not conquer with their guns or their weapons, they conquered with their germs. And many theorists have speculated that the reason the Mayan Empire collapsed had much more to do with the germs than with the weapons. Orange represents the gift of science; the reason it's orange is because this is a steelmaking era, and steel forges are orange.

Green reminds us about plants. Capitalism created abundance, now we’re starting to see we're destroying the planet. Green becomes very aware of the wrong way we treated Native Americans, or the indigenous of any part of this world. In the pluralistic green, you find a lot of social activists.

Yellow: Between green and yellow is the momentous leap to what Beck and Cowan called the second tier, where the second part of the spiral is starting. Yellow is directly above beige, if you're imagining this as a spiral staircase. It's responding to survival level threats. But it's integrating all six previous levels and saying, let's take the best of every previous level, and pull it together and add next level thinking to it so that we can be flexible and fluid and competent for the problems of life that are arising. Here you find a different kind of leadership. What yellow will be able to do is to deploy every known kind of leadership style.

The stage beyond it is called turquoise; the motivation at second tier is the thriving of the whole. And that's going to be such a relief, but it's going to be hard, because we still have these first six levels. Remember that we contain within ourselves all of our previous selves.


Cindy talks about the implications of spiral dynamics for hope in this society at this time.

Since life conditions help to provoke the emergence of the next stage, one might ask, what life conditions might help people to move… to create a buffer… if they're at green to move towards yellow… to move from an unhealthy version of their color to a healthy version. So I would say the change in life conditions that remove as many of the stressors that pushed people into regression as possible, would be the best way.

We're not going to argue people out of a bunch of beliefs that they've become highly defended about. But if they feel disrespected, and unseen, for any reason, if they feel hopeless, because you know, in their neighborhood, all the manufacturing jobs are gone, all the coal mining jobs are gone, whatever it is that's going on in their lives. They deal with their sadness and depression by getting angry because anger feels better than sadness.

spring meadow full of flowers on a sunny day

Instead of arguing with people about their beliefs, how can we deal with the real problems that are in our country? That’s where a competent administration – which Joe Biden seems to be working hard to set up – can help. I think what can help is the work of Pete Buttigieg with infrastructure. With that will come changes in life conditions for a great many small towns as well as big cities. A lot of job training, good paying jobs, jobs that can support a family. This can remove a lot of stressors. Having good jobs available will yield long-term benefits for everyone, which will start restoring hope. And hope is a better antidote to sadness and powerlessness than anger.

Cindy Wigglesworth headshot

Cindy Wigglesworth

Founder & President, Deep Change, Inc.

Cindy originally founded her business (as Conscious Pursuits, Inc) in 2000 to assist individuals and corporations to develop and utilize all four of their key intelligences: IQ, emotional intelligence (EQ), spiritual intelligence (SQ) and physical intelligence (PQ).

She has become a recognized expert in the field of Spiritual Intelligence. Inspired by the work of Dr. Daniel Goleman and Dr. Richard Boyatzis, Cindy has, with the help of PhDs in various fields, created and validated a skills-based SQ assessment (theSQ21TM) and has field tested ways to help people build their own SQ.

Her website is www.deepchange.com

Connect with Cindy:

Questions to ask ourselves:

  1. Review the stages in spiral dynamics. Which do you think reflects your current stage of development?
  2. What would have to happen for you to move from that level to the next?

Leading Consciously concepts and skills
covered in this blog post: 

  • Conscious use of self
    • Engage in powerful listening
    • Adopt a learning orientation
    • Commit to personal change

#LeadingConsciously       #LeadershipConcepts    #PowerofChange

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1 Beck, Don Edward; Cowan, Christopher C. (1996). Spiral Dynamics: Mastering Values, Leadership, and Change. Blackwell Publishing.