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Value Systems as Foresight Frameworks

Marcus P Barber
Summer 2005

Marcus Barber, CEO of Looking Up Feeling Good Pty Ltd, is a leading Strategic Futurist in Australia. His work straddles academic, commercial and governmental operations. This article, in which he hypothesises about vMEMETIC (value system) perceptions of time, was first published in ‘Futures Research Quarterly’ (Summer 2005) and is republished here with the kind permission of the author.

Contact Marcus by e-mail to learn more about his work.

The hypothesis of this paper proposes that value systems, as initially identified by Clare W Graves (1970) and subsequently developed by Don Beck & Chris Cowan (1996) into the Spiral Dynamics model, provide clues as to how people approach the subject of time.

By identifying someone’s central values system (VS), we are able to anticipate their likely approach to time, their orientation toward the future (and, therein, foresight) and their potential expectations of the outcomes of planning. We are also made cognoscente of the fact that varying life conditions demand alternative methods of resolution. As such, the ability to consider the future for each of the value systems is influenced by differing factors of importance; and foresight practitioners and strategic planners will benefit greatly from being aware of those differences.

It is expected that this hypothesis can also be mapped across to social systems and that, in so doing, we will enrich the way managers, consultants, teachers and strategists engage their forward thinking and planning for the future within organisational contexts. This will enable foresight practitioners, in particular, to more effectively utilise the array of methodologies and tools at their disposal by bringing to the fore awareness of variations in how people approach the concept of time.

It is probable that the value systems approach to understanding these variations will expose structural limitations within popular foresight methodologies. By alerting foresight practitioners to the limitations and by making suggestions for improvement, we will be able to personally deal with a greater variety of subsets within a foresight process and can anticipate enhanced forward thinking outcomes for our ‘clients’.

I shall offer insights into the inherent structures of each VS and make suggestions to foresight practitioners for ways that they can enhance their implementation of foresight tools using values systems as foresight frameworks. This paper assumes that readers have an understanding of various foresight methods and tools and will not explain what the tools are or how they are used. Readers wishing to expand their knowledge should consider using the references provided in the text (in-text citations, with full details in the Bibliography) – or seek alternatives in order to improve their information base.

The research underpinning value systems extends over 40 years and will only be covered in general detail in this piece. Readers seeking richer understanding are advised to contact the National Values Center.

The variations of time
As referred to in ‘The Quest for Strategic Foresight: Using Foresight Methodologies to Move from Unconscious to Conscious Awareness of ‘Future’ (Barber, 2003), time tends to be viewed as occurring in 3 distinct streams – Spiral, Circular and Linear.

Where time has a defined start and end (you are born and then you die and in between you make a life for yourself), the interpretation is of a linear progression. Where time is seen as having defined stages of growth then decay, followed by growth and so on, it has a cyclical nature and an ebb and flow. In the case of time being interpreted as having a spiral nature, life and death are intertwined in an upward and continuous spiraling loop – in your next life you take another step towards being more ‘complete’ as a ‘being’, and death is merely an opportunity to reflect on your progress to date.

In any of the 3 contexts of time, it is usually the future that draws us forward. In this sense, ‘things that happened’ (past), ‘things that are happening’ (present) and ‘things that might happen’ (future) enable people to interpret or classify their understanding of events in time. Questions that arise in this paper address how each VS might work through aspects of time in order to achieve their appropriate end aim and proposes that, for some of the VS, the ‘future’ is clouded by historical factors and ascribed patterns of belief and, for others, may not exist in any conscious way.

Each distinct VS has its own interpretation of past, present and future; yet commonly these differences are ignored in social assessments – the ‘western worldview’ is one distinct lump, as is the ‘economic worldview’ or a ‘technological worldview’ or a ‘social worldview’. These paradigmatic themes ignore the markedly different interpretations of each paradigm as viewed through the eyes of particular VS. What passes for ‘technology’ to one group can be vastly different from another’s view. What counts as an appropriate style of social inclusiveness to one group is unlikely to be the same as that for a different value system. Please note that I am talking about the ‘style’ or method of application – this is a process-orientated dimension in much the same way that thinking about time is a process. Essentially this approach asks us to deal more with the ‘how’ than the ‘what’ (often referred to as ‘content’).

The implications for the way in which foresight methodologies are applied are significant. Selecting the ‘right tool from the toolbox’ now demands that the foresight practitioner also consider how the particular method or tool is applied or fits each of the thinking processes (value systems).

Foresight and strategic foresight awareness in value systems
Foresight is “A universal human capacity which allows people to think ahead and consider, model, create, respond to – future eventualities.”

The old saying “forewarned is forearmed” expresses the underlying benefits of foresight as a capacity – that being aware in advance will enable you to be better prepared for an eventuality. So if foresight (as defined by Richard Slaughter (2001) in the quote above) is a universal capacity that will better prepare us for possible future outcomes, why do we still hear of people who are shocked when an arguably foreseeable event (like another stock market crash, a house being destroyed in a tornado or bushfire prone area, a car accident on a busy street or job redundancy in ‘old world’ manufacturing plants) occurs?

My interpretation is that, for the most part, foresight operates at a non-conscious level – we sense an understanding, expect a predictable outcome and think no more of ‘what may be’. Of course, when our senses aren’t well tuned, our expectations unrealistic and our thinking shallow or misinformed, we open up the possibility of being surprised by the unanticipated events. This is where the value systems approach begins to expand our conceptual thinking around strategic foresight because they alert us to variables in expectations of the future and approaches to the future. These variables provide an awareness of what type of information is likely to be found in the non-conscious realm and the type likely to be found in the conscious realm for each of the value systems.

If we are to learn from our ‘mistakes of judgement and anticipation’ we need to be able to assess just ‘how’ we came to have the belief we did and seek to improve for next time. The VS understanding will be particularly enlightening as it provides a framework by which we can see what data will be first filtered by each VS prior to accepting it as relevant and valid information to be acted upon. Information that does not fit within the established VS framework will discarded or ignored and rarely make it to the person’s ‘radar screen’. Futurists attempting to enhance their own or their client’s forward thinking would do well to heed this message – make it specific and relevant to each VS and then present that information in the most suitable way for each VS.

It could be argued that in industrialised worlds where we are bombarded with so much information and our immediate attention is constantly being called upon to ‘attend to stuff’, that many have lost a connection to the innate qualities of awareness that our ‘less civilised’ ancestors were so attuned to. The result is that we seek to remind ourselves through conscious labelling of the importance of the task at hand. To this end we use the term ‘strategic’ foresight to indicate a conscious, deliberate, structured and methodical approach to alerting ourselves to the potentials of what may lie ahead.

The functional difference then between foresight and strategic foresight is that where foresight (non-conscious) is an innate quality of human beings, strategic foresight (conscious) deliberately questions the very assumptions upon which our beliefs are based. By bringing our thinking about the future into the conscious realm we begin to create quality, deep and broad strategic foresight approaches. These must then consider our understanding of time and how different approaches to time will lead to different ways to think about the future and how to deal with those possibilities.

I propose that certain VS are more likely to operate at a strategic level when utilising foresight and that for others, bringing to conscious awareness information not previously considered, will only succeed where that information fits within the VS process (framework) used. To that end, notions of ‘action’ and ‘inquiry’ (as per David Rooke & William Torbert’s (1998) model) improve our approach to foresight when we consider the differing VS and that which they accept as valid information. Potentially this also leads us to address the notions of ‘open’ and ‘closed’ (as developed by Milton Rokeach, 1960) states of thinking. The remainder of this paper seeks to unlock the hidden domain of VS and temporal perceptions.

An overview of value systems
The late Clare W Graves was a psychology professor at Union College, Schenectady, New York. His theory of human values began as he tackled a consistent problem in teaching his students – “whose theory was right?” Graves was constantly asked similar questions as he taught other psychological models and eventually his frustration in being unable to reconcile the variety of psychological approaches sparked him into action.

Graves decided to conduct a profiling research experiment on his own students and began by asking them to answer the following 5 questions:-

  1. Can one substantiate that conflict and contradiction, confusion and controversy are represented in the conceptions of psychological health?
  2. If so, what are the conceptions of psychological health extant in the minds of biologically mature human beings?
  3. Do the existing concepts suggest that psychological health should be viewed as a state, a condition or as a psychological process?
  4. What is the nature of psychological health if it is a state or a process?
  5. If psychological health is a state or a condition, can our state of confusion and controversy become, in theory, comprehensible and resolvable by clarifying that state which is psychological health?

The essence of the Graves questions was to define a meaning of a psychologically healthy mature adult personality and seek identifiable ways to aid people to a state of psychological health. His research revealed some startling discoveries and at the time moved the psychological field into uncharted territory. In fact Graves’ theory smacked head-on into the doyen of the day – Abraham Maslow and his Hierarchy of Needs theory (1943). In subsequent years, prior to his own death, Maslow deferred to Graves, indicating that “…he has it right” (Graves, 1971/2002)

Graves would summarise his model as ‘An emergent, cyclical, bio/psycho/social double helix model of adult human behaviour’. Whilst somewhat complex, it is an accurate description of his body of research and subsequent theory. He identified that adult human behaviour was influenced by external life conditions of increasing complexity. This complexity was derived from the ‘social world’ (environment) in which the individual ‘found’ himself or herself. The approach undertaken by the individual to dealing with that external complexity was influenced by their biological and psychological makeup. These two intertwined & influencing streams (external life conditions and internal abilities) provided Graves with a ‘double helix’ linkage and the more complex thinking in dealing with life conditions provided his ’emergent’ stages with a swing from a ‘self orientation’ to an ‘others orientation’ providing the cyclical nature of development.

Don Beck & Christopher Cowan were two students of Graves who worked closely with him in the decades prior to his death and began to expand Graves’ comprehensive research studies to a wider audience. After Graves’ death, Beck & Cowan coined the term ‘Spiral Dynamics’ and co wrote ‘Spiral Dynamics: Mastering Values Leadership and Change’.

The work of Cowan & Beck added an additional dimension to Graves’ work – a ‘shorthand’ for the model in the form of colour codes. The intention was to enable the complexity of Graves’ value systems notational style to be more user friendly for those with little experience in the model. These colour codes have led to a wide level of discussion in a number of ‘communities of practice’ who have begun to understand and interpret the research data. The important thing for this paper is to note that all of Graves’ research, along with much of that subsequently produced by Beck & Cowan, have confirmed that there are differing approaches to how people cope with their external environments. It is these differing approaches that create the variations in how people deal with the concept of the future and inherently lead to differing approaches for strategy development and engagement.

The Gravesian notation and corresponding Spiral Dynamics colour codes
Graves’ initial research identified four distinct VS subsequently classified as C-P, D-Q, E-R and F-S. He also gained a ‘hint’ of a fifth system (G-T) but felt that he did not have a big enough sample to confirm this system’s existence. Graves intuited that C-P was probably a more fully developed system than stages that existed before C-P became established and later based his A-N and B-O value systems on the findings of other researchers of his day. As indicated earlier, the model has two linked streams – the ‘external life conditions’ (listed as A, B, C through to G) and ‘coping mechanisms’ (listed an N, O, P through to T).

Beck & Cowan refined Graves’ research, confirmed the existence of the G-T value system and added the level ‘H-U’ with potential for another. Discussion by groups not fully conversed in the Spiral Dynamics model have theorised levels beyond H-U; but, to date, no quantifiable and supportable research has been provided. These colour codes have been ‘grouped into cool colour codes with a focus on achieving externally ascribed aims (PURPLE, BLUE, GREEN) and warm colour codes with a focus on achieving the individual’s aims (RED, ORANGE, YELLOW). The Spiral Dynamics colour codes and corresponding Gravesian notation, with brief explanation of the operational style of the value system are:-

A-N/BEIGE: this value system operates almost solely at meeting the basic biological needs – hunger, sex, shelter and has no conscious awareness of itself as an individual entity existing in an environment.

B-O/PURPLE: this value system operates in closely bonded clans (tribal) and though aware of itself is only aware of itself as a part of a larger group.

C-P/RED: the RED value system is the first with a recognition of itself as an individual with the desires separate from that of its tribe and to also experience self-determination within its surroundings.

D-Q/BLUE: this value system is the first to recognise that its own life is finite and seeks a structured order to its environment.

E-R/ORANGE: in the ‘ORANGE world’ we find the first value system recognising that, whilst a system cannot be controlled, it can be manipulated to meet its own goals.

F-S/GREEN: this value system is the first to recognise that multiple perspectives are valid and worthy of consideration and seeks to adapt the system to meet the needs of a wider range of perspectives, rather than to manipulate it for its own ends.

G-T/YELLOW: this value system is the first to take a systemic perspective and also incorporate all of the previous value systems in its planning and thinking.

H-U/TURQUOISE: the data uncovered to date indicates that this value system is the first to address the planetary system as a living unit and is able to make decisions based on what the planet needs to sustain life. No particular species is necessarily considered to be more worthy than any other, though the human ‘tribes’ hold sway.

Value Systems - TimeValue systems and approaches to time
The Value System Time Orientation diagram left demonstrates that an awareness of time and the ability to contemplate the future varies for each value system. Additionally it highlights that certain value systems may lack a capacity to think ‘long term’ and others still have awareness of or focus on historical factors.

What the diagram provides are ‘influencing aspects’ able to be considered with regard to time in the sense of life, from all ‘Life’ that existed in the past through to all ‘Life’ that will exist in the future. Further definition of each temporal marker is provided:-

‘Human’ in the temporal past refers to the species Homo Sapiens not able to be traced to any ancestry

‘Ancestry’ is those with whom an identifiable bloodline can be delineated from the entity, backwards in time

The ‘Relatives’ notation placed in the past temporally refers to living elders of the family of which a person belongs

‘Start Own’ is the commencement of a person’s current physical life

‘End Own’ is the completion of that person’s current physical life

‘Relatives’ in the temporal future refers to the bloodline heirs whilst still living (children, grandchildren, great grand children)

‘Human’ in the temporal future refers to the species Homo Sapiens yet to be born

The thickness of a line in the diagram above indicates the level of temporal focus – the thicker the line the greater the focus, the thinner the line the lesser the focus. Looking at the example given for the D-Q/BLUE system, we can see that there is some focus on the ‘living past’ and extensive focus on time up to the person’s own death. There are also two dotted lines indicating a focus on a time before their birth and after their own death but it is disconnected from their physical life. All value systems have ‘start’ and ‘end’ focus points except for the C-P/RED Value System whose focus is solely on the instant future (as shown by a small arrow) and the A-N BEIGE value system that has no awareness of temporality other than that driven from the biological impulses.

It is important to note that the diagram of time orientation only provides indications as to the span of temporal awareness likely within each VS. The foci within each system are also inherently different. So what we can see above is that both the B-O (PURPLE) values system and the H-U (TURQUOISE) values system have an extensive temporal awareness of ancestry. However, the way in which each VS contemplates historical factors is dictated by the ‘double helix’ make up of each system so that the necessary life conditions determines how any reflection on historical factors occurs.

From the descriptions provided earlier and expanded upon in the following pages, we know that connection to the ancestors within the B-O value system will likely come through tribal rites, story telling and blood lines. Here we accept the wisdom of those that came before, that the decisions of the tribal elders are based on what is right for the clan and that they are following the well worn path of the ‘family legends’ that form the foundation of the group. This is the realm of the ‘Hatfields and McCoys’ and similar ancestral based rites and lore where the myths and legends form a framework of the world.

H-U on the other hand is likely to take a completely different approach to assessing ancestry. Here we know that the emphasis is not on ‘my tribe and bloodline’ but on the vast ‘tribes’ scattered around the planet of which ‘my bloodline’ is in someway connected. H-U understands that at some level, we all come from the same stock.

We also see that D-Q (BLUE) has a temporal span that extends from the start of one’s own life till its end and that there is a dotted arrow denoting an awareness of the past and an existence into the future for perpetuity. We’ll discuss this in more detail later and for now an explanation is as follows – the D-Q VS believes that time in the physical sense is limited and that the purpose of it is to gain existence in the after life ad infinitum. This system strictly follows the ‘laws’ ascribed to it from the ‘past’ with the living time span being a test of worthiness to a greater outcome.

These brief examples show how time orientation can vary for each value system within the notion of future conceptions. Because each system has differing foci, the extent to which they perceive the future is influenced by what each system considers ‘important’.

For futurists, consultants, managers or change agents, being aware of the VS process that assigns validity to information that is presented is a vital component in understanding what aspects of a futures methodology are likely to be accepted as ‘real’. Building a scenario framework cannot then be limited to the consultant’s view of the future, no matter how broad or deep that view may be. The search for a conceptual space must consider that which is deemed valid for each value system. Again we begin to see the link between ‘open’ and ‘closed’ states of thinking and why consideration will benefit foresight practitioners as they assist their clients.

Simplistic and shallow futures methodologies like ‘trends’ could be greatly enriched if we can include within our thinking, how the trend may play out in the minds of each VS; though coming off an extremely low qualitative base, that shouldn’t be too difficult to do. Trends are wonderful examples of ‘Closed Thinking’ in reality.

‘Trend Spotting’, that wonderful craft made famous by such ‘futurologists’ as Faith Popcorn (1996) and so gleefully accepted in business circles as a legitimate business principle (as seen by her list of complicit clients), shows how a closed thinking approach to possible futures delivers the exact result demanded by the proclaimer of the trend. In searching for a trend, anything that confirms it is automatically ascribed value. Anything that does not is automatically dismissed as ‘irrelevant’ to the trend and so you create a self-fulfilling prophecy. It is no wonder that economists love trends – it is hard to be wrong when the only information you include is that which you claim to be valid confirmation of your desired trend.

But what happens to a trend when you ask of the proclaimer: “For which value system is this a trend?” To answer that, the ‘futurologist’ would need to have an open mind and, in so doing, risks exposing the so-called ‘trend’ as a creative fabrication because that which is relevant and valid varies within each VS. Simply stated, value systems expose shallow foresight methodologies for what they are – media sound bites and throw-a-way lines not to be taken seriously.