Lives on the Spiral #2
Work And Spiral Dynamics integral
Prior to the Beck & Cowan workshops, career-wise I was very much driven by BLUE. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, given the household I grew up in, once I had gotten over the peak of my hippie rebellion, unconsciously perhaps my YELLOW taking in the consequences of all that GREEN-liberated RED indulgence – I settled easily into BLUE ways of thinking and ended up working as a consultant on quality standards like ISO 9000 and Investors in People. Unfortunately I very much approached this work, not from the angle of business improvement but from the perspective that what was required was rigid conformity to idealised models of business performance.
My precision and attention to detail made me effective in getting organisations to meet their desired standard but I did little or nothing to improve business performance. One printing house in London threw out the project because I was tying them up in paperwork. That was typical of BLUE’s emphasis on form over function. That motivation was taken to the extremes of punishing the sinner when, during a procedural audit in a care home, I castigated a nurse for not signing the care plan in the right place. The nurse was in tears but the care plan itself was fine and the actual care delivered even better. But all my myopic BLUE could see was that the nurse had invalidated the plan because she hadn’t signed in the right place. No wonder the care home owner threatened to physically eject me from the building! Paradoxically perhaps, my father, who was also providing ISO 9000 consultancy at the same time, was more effective at improving business performance than I was. In retrospect, there was clearly some ORANGE pragmatism tempering his interpretation and application of the quality standard. Once I had that astounding release of YELLOW thinking following the Beck & Cowan workshops in March-April 1998, I began to focus on what the system needed, rather than what I personally thought should be done.
The problems with Business Link were resolved quickly. They didn’t have the funding to carry on my work as an employee so I reinvented myself as a self-employed adviser. With Ian Lavan and another adviser, Steven Beevers, who had also been infected with the memes of SDi, we created a business network, the 21st Century Group, which was so effective in getting local small business leaders to think strategically it was commended by the government’s Department of Trade & Industry. We also supported the HemsMESH project which involved Don Beck in using an SDi MeshWORK approach to look at regeneration in the South-East Wakefield former coalfields.
Though I personally wasn’t interested in money much beyond what I needed to live my fairly simple life, I made more money in the 18 months after the Beck & Cowan workshops than I ever have, before or since, both from public funds and private companies. It didn’t last, of course. The new Government initiated a drastic restructure of the Business Links and I eventually returned to teaching.
As a part-time teacher, I’ve found the multiple perspectives facilitated by SDi invaluable in understanding how and why educational institutions do and don’t work. In the early nineties I lived in Hull where the political elite were convulsed with the unpalatable fact that the city came bottom of the GCSE qualification league tables year after year. High rates of truancy were identified as a key factor – ie: how can the students learn if they are not in school? As I pointed out to several local politicians and council/education officials I was in contact with, children and teenagers are voracious learning machines. Those truanting students just weren’t learning what the system wanted them to learn. Instead they were learning how to have sex, take drugs, fight, steal cars, evade police, etc., etc – things that were relevant to their values.
This was really brought home to me around the same time when I took on a short-term supply contract in nearby Grimsby. Like Hull it was a depressed town, in good part due to the severe decline in the fishing industry. The school I was assigned to was located in a part of town where many of the former fisher folk lived. It was now wracked with unemployment, poverty, prostitution, drugs and gangs. For History lessons I had to teach 14-year-old bottom-set Year 8s about the political manoeuvring and religious schisms which had brought about the English Reformation. No matter how much I tried to make it a soap-opera narrative about Henry VIII and his wives, they lost interest as soon as I went into the political and religious contexts, resulting in bad behaviour and high-stress conflicts. When I asked, only 2 of the class had been in a church and only one had ever opened a Bible. The History topic had no relevance to them and only a few had much idea what a king was.
I suggested to the school that, since a prime objective was to teach the students how to do History, we set them a coursework project on Grimsby in the time of the fishing fleets, for which they could get information from their parents, uncles and aunts and grandparents, thus exploiting the familial and oral traditions healthy PURPLE is so rooted in. Unfortunately the BLUE of the school insisted on sticking to the National Curriculum and not deviating at all into unapproved projects, for no matter how short a period of time.
More Than 15 Years Of SDi
Some 6 months after he had been on one of my courses, Lewis Lynch, a former novice monk turned Religious Studies teacher, told me he could find no weakness in the SDi theory. He had tested and looked for flaws. He had put up scenarios where he thought it may not have been able to give him insight. In every instance, Lewis reported that the theory held true. More than 15 years after the Beck & Cowan workshops Don’s former PA Petra Pieterse has referred to me as “one of the old-timers”. What Lewis reported is how I feel today about SDi.
I live my life as though 7 broad-based systemic motivations live inside my head with the potential for an 8th to emerge. I understand they conflict sometimes. I also understand that they collaborate. What they each do is not always in my global best interest in a particular circumstance. So, while I usually seek to nourish them in the way that Maslow saw them as ‘needs’, I also understand that sometimes they also have to be restrained, all according to the current circumstances, or ‘life conditions’ as Graves termed them.
I also meta-state (to use L Michael Hall’s (1995) term for interpretation via frame of reference) my interactions with others via the Spiral. What memes are going back and forth between us? Facilitated by what vMEMES? And are those vMEMES in competition or harmony?
Over time I’ve also come to realise what SDi is not. It patently is not “the theory that explains everything” as claimed by Nicholas Steed in Canada’s Maclean’s Magazine (1967), an unfortunate strapline which both Beck and Cowan have used at times in the past and which probably has done the theory no favours amongst academic sociological and psychological researchers. SDi per se has little or nothing to say about such key areas of psychological concern as:-
- The Unconscious, either in the Psychodynamic sense of a repository for hidden drivers and unacceptable memories or the cognitive notion of unconscious processing.
- Perceptual processes, either top down or bottom up
Yet, if the precepts and understandings of SDi were applied throughout the behavioural sciences, what applications to these and other areas might be uncovered? For example, Graves (1971/2002) speculated that there was most likely a connection between temperament and vMEME motivational systems, but had no credible evidence for this. Clearly, he was not aware of the unpublished work of N N Trauel (1961; reported by Hans J Eysenck, 1967) which found a link between Extraversion (temperament) and disobedience (motivation). As the four types of attitude and behaviour described by Marston seem to contain describing words and phrases for both temperament and motivation, would this again imply strongly that there is some kind of link between these two dimensions of the human psyche? If Freud’s Id is equated to the warm coloured side of the Spiral and RED in particular, while the Ego-Superego tendency to conformity and obedience is matched to the cool-coloured side of the Spiral, would this imply a better understanding of the unconscious could be developed by applying SDi motivations rather than Freudian/Psychoanalytic ones?
Questions such as these have led me over the past 10 years to work on formulating an approach I call Integrated SocioPsychology. Put simply, this involves assuming that SDi is the most accurate representation of human motivations and then seeing how other psychological and sociological concepts fit with it. What I’m finding is that having SDi underpinning everything makes sense of the behavioural sciences. Disparate and sometimes contradictory assumptions increasingly seem to fit into a greater whole, in which they seem to explain different aspects of that whole without being contradictory. By finding them a place within the greater whole, these many concepts add both depth and breadth to the knowledge and understanding SDi provides. It’s a huge and highly ambitious task, of course, aligning and integrating the behavioural sciences around the conceptual structure of SDi, a task I’m increasingly aware is beyond my sole capacities. Nonetheless, increasingly I’m coming to see this as my mission in life: To develop an approach for integrating and aligning the behavioural sciences based primarily on SDi.
Thus, in effect, I can say that not only did Beck & Cowan save my sanity (and possibly my life too) back in March-April 1998; but they also set me on course for discovering my mission in life. That mission also has to have a pragmatic and highly-practical face to it. Whatever Integrated SocioPsychology becomes as it develops from its core of SDi, for me it has to be something that can transform people’s lives for their real benefit. Many of my early workshop programmes lost money, due to the difficulty of getting people interested in a new and relatively unknown concept. I was frequently asked why I continued to run them, often with only a small handful of attendees. The answer I used to give still applies: In SDi I’ve been given a wonderful gift that is effectively the key to understanding human life. It’s enabled me to transform my life. When I’ve been given such a wonderful gift, how could I not want to share it with others?