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Spiral Dynamics and the Enneagramme

March 2005

With its roots reputedly in Suffi mysticism, the Enneagramme has developed through centuries to become arguably the most potent of the typing methodologies. Only the Myers-Briggs Typing Inventory, derived from the types postulated by Carl Gustav Jung,(1921)  and the DISC Inventory, based on the work of William Moulton Marston (1928), have anything like as strong a reputation for reliability. While some of those who champion the systems-in-people approach that Spiral Dynamics identifies are wary of types-of-people models such as the Enneagramme and Myers-Briggs, undoubtedly typing models with an irrefutable level of accuracy cannot be ignored and must offer insight into the human psyche in all its many manifestations. For example, it might be argued that a Type is impacted by particular gravitations – developments of harmonics and conflicts amongst vMEMES. So, when types flip into different but predictable patterns, what movement in the selfplex influenced this? And how are meta-programme axes affected by such shifts – reflected in the ‘flip pattern’?

For more than 2 years Fabien Chabreuil e-mail – and his wife, Patricia email – have been working with their students at the Institut Français de l’Ennéagramme in Paris to understand how Spiral Dynamics and the Enneagramme might map into each other. Over some 2 years they have observed and questioned their students within the framework of the Integral Personality project; and some of the results of their work are discussed below. This conversation between the Chabreuils and Spiral Dynamics co-developer Chris Cowane-mail – and his personal and NVC Consulting partner Natasha Todorovic e-mail – was compiled from various conversations and documented sources by Jack Labanauskas e-mail. It was first published in the March 2005 edition of Enneagram Monthly and is republished here with the permission of Jack Labanauskas/Enneagram Monthly and the consent of all the participants.

Jack Labanauskas: Fabien and Patricia, tell us about your research linking the Enneagramme and Spiral Dynamics. Why is it important to make these connections? How did you find out about Spiral Dynamics and would you give a brief explanation to our readers?

Fabien Chabreuil: Something strange happened to me in 2002, during a training. I was sitting next to a participant named Michael. After we were introduced, he said: “Ah, you teach the Enneagramme. I sort of studied that model some time ago, but it never really interested me.” That was quite a shock! How could anybody not be interested in the Enneagramme? So I asked him, “Maybe you could not find out your Type?” “I did,” he replied, “I’m clearly a Type One. Anger and perfectionism drive my personality, but I am not centred in BLUE.”

Jack: Centered in BLUE?

Fabien: That’s what I thought too. Actually, BLUE comes from a model called Spiral Dynamics that describes how human personality works; but whereas the Enneagramme considers it steady (one Type for a lifetime), Spiral Dynamics proposes that human personality evolves through a set of levels. Several levels can coexist at the same time.

Patricia Chabreuil: We always pay attention to people who do not like the Enneagramme. They often give us an opportunity to better our knowledge of the profiles or our pedagogy. Sometimes they give us the opportunity to improve the model and make it more accurate. That is how we came up with the Unified Model of the Enneagramme & the Counterpassions. (These articles appeared in EM Nov 1998 and Oct 2002 respectively.)

Fabien: What was new with Michael is that he could recognise himself in the model, but he thought it described him inaccurately. Roughly speaking, the basic patterns of the Types, mainly passion and fixation, were relevant, but most of what Michael read in books about the Enneagramme did not mean much to him.

Jack: That surprises me. Usually the hardest part is identifying your basic patterns and accepting that your life is largely driven by your passion and your fixation.

Patricia: You’re right. Michael’s problem was the opposite of what we usually encounter. He was informed enough to know that he was driven by Type One’s patterns so his doubts about the model were even more relevant.

Fabien: That’s where Spiral Dynamics come in; but, as a French saying puts it, you’d better talk to God rather than his saints. Spiral Dynamics is the popularised version of a model built by the American researcher, Clare W Graves (Professor Emeritus, Union College, Schenectady, New York), and was later simplified and applied by two of his mentees, Christopher Cowan & Don Beck. Chris Cowan and his associate, Natasha Todorovic, whose contribution is fascinating, have agreed to present the model.

Jack: OK! So what is Spiral Dynamics?

Chris Cowan: First of all, Spiral Dynamics and the Enneagramme share the idea that people think in different ways – that people from the same family, company, or country have totally different worldviews. Like the Enneagramme, Spiral Dynamics brings some order to the apparent chaos of the human psyche. It provides a framework describing the evolution of worldviews for individuals as well as for organisations and societies.

Natasha Todorovic: The main difference is that Spiral Dynamics does not define a set of types. It’s a dynamic unfolding process that describes why societies and individuals evolve or stagnate. Each of the systems emerge if the individual has the required capacities and if life conditions make it necessary. Clare W Graves, the genius behind the research and the theory, talked about emergent bio-psycho-social systems.

Jack: Can you describe those systems in practical terms?

Chris: For pedagogical reasons and simplification, each system in SD was assigned a colour, even though Dr Graves primarily used letter pairs. The first level is BEIGE. In the Stone Age, BEIGE represented the highest form of development. Its only concern is to satisfy instinctive physiological needs, such as looking for food, or reproduction. After BEIGE comes the PURPLE world. The thinking is animistic. Though there is no real sense of Self yet, the individuals sacrifice themselves to the wishes of the elders, to what the ancestors and the spirits command. Being part of a tribe is the means to ensure your safety in a frightening world that’s full of mysterious powers.

Natasha: Currently we see some of this in the world of Anthropology and in childhood. Nevertheless, its traces are still visible today in superstitions, in the importance of reciprocal contacts, in rituals, in blood kinship. The impact of this level is often underrated, particularly in the context of globalisation and international relations. The next level…

Jack: Sorry to interrupt. When and why do we go to the next level?

Chris: Each system in the Spiral appears according to the life conditions the human being confronts. It is awakened to solve the main problems caused by those life conditions. But, as a consequence, the levels might change the human being. Some of those changes are positive. Others are negative and create new problems. As they accumulate, a new system is needed.

Fabien: As a Type 7, I like to explain that with a metaphor. You are in a room. The life conditions make it cold. You put a heater in the room. As planned, that heater changes the life conditions by making the temperature more comfortable. But at the same time, it dries out the air and, some time later, without really making any connection between those facts, you develop allergies. Your heater, which was supposed to solve all your problems, created new ones and, affected by a change you thought was positive, your life conditions become uncomfortable again. Thus you want a new change. You start that change by taking anti-histamines every day. Great, you are breathing again. The problem seems to be definitely solved. Yet, some time later, because of the drowsiness due to the drugs, you make a lot of mistakes in your personal as well as your professional activities. A new change is now essential, etc.

Chris: To it sum up, each level of the Spiral solves problems caused by the previous level and creates problems that will need to be solved by the next one.

Jack: Until…?

Natasha: The system has no end. So far, 8 levels appear to have emerged. When the human being is aware that the eighth level creates its own share of problems, as Graves said: “He will be off on his ninth level quest. As he sets off on each quest, he believes he will find the answer to his existence. Yet, much to his surprise and much to his dismay, he finds at every stage that the solution to existence is not the solution he has come to find. Every stage he reaches leaves him disconcerted and perplexed. It is simply that as he solves one set of human problems he finds a new set in their place. The quest he finds is never ending.” Spiral Dynamics is an open system, not one focused on an end state or perfection.

Chris: Among the problems caused by each level, we find the individual/collectivity dialectic. One system favours the expression of the Self and the next system sacrifices the Self to the needs of the community. Too much individualism creates problems that human beings try to solve by fitting into a group. After some time, that creates frustration and difficulties and the pendulum switches back to an individualistic level.

Jack: So after PURPLE, we find the next level favours the Self?

Chris: Exactly! After each cool colour, in which the Self is sacrificed, comes a warm colour where it is expressed. The next colour after PURPLE is RED.

Natasha: RED is the world of power and domination, impulsiveness and the ego. The congruent way to cope with an unpredictable world where you are discovering a sense of self for the first time, and overwhelming emotional drives, is to be the strongest and toughest around with a reputation of being so. Those centralised in this system do not sensate guilt because they don’t have the chemistry for it, yet. Thus, there is no long term, consequential thinking. This is a system that does not respond to punishment and is most likely to be punished by our current values in society. Punishment only reinforces that they were right about their view of the world.

Jack: In human development, that sounds like the mindset of the ‘terrible twos’!

Natasha: I would be cautious about comparing it to child development since this is a model of adult behaviour, not chronological development. In a very general sense, though, that’s right. During that period in children’s development their favourite word seems to be ‘no’, and parents have a terrible time. We often have problems in the teenage years – puberty – as well. It’s a very important system to understand for at-risk-youth and some street crime. It can also be incredibly creative and think outside the box. When they think of RED, many people associate it with violence. But violence can come from many systems. If we use this system well, we want to know what conditions led to the violence – why? If it was an impulsive and uncontrollable act, then it might well have been based in this kind of thinking; but if there was planning and consideration, then it could well come from other systems. Alas, it is the prevailing reality of life in some countries and neighbourhoods. The film ‘Monster’ is a great example.

Chris: Even if our culture calls itself civilised and tends to reject RED, it is important to understand that this level, as any other level, is an essential step in human development. With RED, a real sense of Self appears, supported by a great power to act without constraints.

Jack: What happens when that self-centeredness becomes excessive?

Chris: If there is the capacity, BLUE emerges.

Jack: Just like that?

Chris: No, and that’s an important point. Dr Graves’ work, more than Spiral Dynamics, describes subsystems between systems. Each change of level can be seen as a continuous transition along a wave; but to keep the model operational, it is simpler to talk about the big steps. For instance, RED is followed by RED/blue, then red/BLUE, before getting to BLUE, strictly speaking. Those details are essential to fully understand the theory, but they are too complex for this article.

Natasha: With BLUE appears the awareness of linear time and concerns around mortality, thus the need to give meaning to life, and the rise of guilt rather than just shame. There is one right way, ordained by a Higher Truth, to do things, to organise the world and society. That transcendent source of Truth punishes and rewards. A social order is created with which the individual complies in hopes of a future reward.

Jack: Can we say that Christian religions or Communism are in BLUE?

Chris: Spirals levels often run in combinations, not pure tones. But you are essentially right – many such systems strongly express BLUE. Your question gives me a good opportunity to introduce another aspect of the model. Each level describes a system of values. But we make a distinction between surface values and hidden values – stated ideals and deeper ideologies. Spiral Dynamics describes deep value systems, values structures we are more or less unaware of. Each system can express itself through a vast number of surface values systems that are apparently very different. That’s why two antagonist systems such as Catholicism and Communism can be connected to the same level of the Spiral. A BLUE container can hold diverse contents.

Fabien: That’s another aspect that Spiral Dynamics and the Enneagramme have in common. A type in the Enneagramme consists of a set of patterns the individual is more or less aware of. Each of those patterns can express themselves in a vast number of different personalities. For instance, the sense of beauty is a main line in Types 4’s lives. But I know some Type 4s who express it through Gregorian chants and others by working on car bodies. Another example: all type Ones have a moral, values driven life, but we don’t know anything about those values.

Jack: I assume the same problem afflicts Spiral Dynamics and the Enneagramme. Finding your position on one or several Spirals is not obvious and requires that you analyse yourself with honesty and awareness.

Fabien: You are right. Especially because a set of surface values can on the surface look like one of the Spiral’s levels and yet correspond, as far as hidden values are concerned, to another level.

Jack: Could you give us an example using the levels we have talked about so far?

Patricia: A cult guru may use a BLUE surface speech (let’s sacrifice ourselves today for our future spiritual awakening), but in fact he may only look for immediate satisfaction of his impulses, power, fame, fortune at the expense of his followers. This is the expression of RED and probably other levels we have not talked about yet. Although it’s not true of all cult leaders, some might be characterised in this way.

Jack That’s clear. So after BLUE, we switch back to an individualistic system

Natasha: That’s right. Now comes ORANGE, a level we are familiar with since it’s prevalent in current Western culture. In ORANGE, the world is seen as full of opportunities to reach success, to achieve results, to have influence and to achieve autonomy. Those in ORANGE seek productivity and take calculated risks. The important thing is to be a winner and to control change.

Chris: ORANGE brings us the introduction of rationality as we conceive it since the philosophers of the Age of Enlightenment. There are many possible ways to do and to be, but one is the best and that is found through study and research. With its strong individualism, ORANGE also brings, at least in theory, equality of possibilities, no matter what your ethnic group, your gender or your culture – if you can produce results. ORANGE believes in historical and personal progress. Of all the levels identified to this date, ORANGE is by far the most materialistic. Thus, it is in that field that its influence on the world has been the most important, for instance, in our everyday comfort, agriculture, transport, globalism, and information exchange.

Jack: Individualism and materialism create limited world, don’t you think?

Chris: This leads to the emergence of the next level, GREEN. In GREEN, the attention turns towards those who were excluded by ORANGE and brings back a sense of the group. It becomes important to take human needs into consideration, to belong to one or several communities, to live in harmony and to look for consensus.

Natasha: The thinking is relativistic with a focus on people, human and environmental needs and interdependent living. Ideas are considered in their context and all members of a group are listened to and their choices respected as much as is possible. Functioning becomes more intuitive. Equality and a balanced life are often core values. Collective responsibility regarding how the world goes appears, as does doubt and ambiguity.

Jack: It seems that values play an increasingly important part.

Natasha: Yes. It is the current emerging system in Western culture, and it is getting some significant impact, especially in some pockets in Northern European countries: Denmark and Sweden certainly have more than the US.

Chris: Although GREEN is still just forming in most places, there are 2 more systems, both of them still marginal. We encounter them in individuals, in small groups and organisations, but they do not prevail yet in any country’s culture. In some ways, the next 2 appear to be repeats of the first 2, but at a higher level. The first one, YELLOW, is notable for a reduction in compulsiveness and fears which often drive the first six systems.

Jack: Could you be more specific about those fears, maybe sum up the first 6 levels?

Natasha: In BEIGE a dominant fear might be those natural, instinctual fears such as loud noises and heights; it’s good programming for escaping sabre tooth tigers and things with claws, fur and fangs, as well as not falling off cliffs. In PURPLE the dominant fears might include evil spirits, curses, or angering the ancestors or violating taboos. In RED there is no open admission of fear, but powerful others are respected and shame is dreaded. In BLUE fears might include being victimised by someone in RED, fear of chaos and social disruption. Concern with sin and evil, mortality and punishment take high priority. ORANGE might include fears of failure, of financial ruin, of one’s image being tainted, of missed opportunities, or out of control. GREEN fears might include rejection or not being liked by others, fear of freedoms being taken away, or social disapproval for hurting feelings or harming others.

Jack: So after GREEN, fear disappears?

Natasha: It’s still there! But it is not the driving force it once was. The attention turns towards existence problems, rather that survival problems. Fears become concerns, not debilitating drives.

Patricia: It is a bit like in the Enneagramme. Any ego can feel and does feel envy once in a while. But for 4s, it is the core emotion of the way they function. It is structural, whereas for any other type, it is circumstantial and therefore less important. In the same way, fear is structural for the first 6 Spirals’ levels, whereas it is circumstantial for the following ones.

Jack Labanauskas: You mentioned 2 features of the 2nd Tier levels.

Chris Cowan: Let’s make it quite clear that the repeat of a basic 6 systems is just a hypothesis – a fascinating one, but only a hypothesis. That said, the second feature that seems to be shared by the seventh and eighth levels is that, little by little, a global awareness of what all other levels bring appears, as well as a need to connect internal and external forces and to accept simultaneously order and chaos. As Graves said, it’s simply using more of the brain that is there.

Jack: How does it show?

Natasha Todorovic: There comes a time when individuality, sacrificed in GREEN, comes back. Collective values keep their meaning, but belonging with the peer group is no longer an end in itself. YELLOW appears and this is also a relativistic, situational and interdependence-oriented system. In YELLOW the individual considers that the world is at risk and neither change nor lack of change is the norm. Thus, uncertainty and chaos are inevitable and ambiguity is a totally acceptable way of life.

Chris: YELLOW approaches this world with systemic thinking. It notices interdependences and accepts with flexibility differences and flows. In YELLOW more important than integration is the idea of differentiation. There is no need or compulsion to get finished, simply to understand something is the key. Those in this system favour being functional and dislike things which are not, often authoritarianism and competition are dislikes as well and when faced with this, if they can’t change it, they simply vacate the scene.

Jack: Does the individual/community switch continue after YELLOW?

Natasha: Apparently, yes. After YELLOW comes TURQUOISE. But YELLOW is already extremely rare. Probably no more that a minute percent of the world’s population have regular access to that level. TURQUOISE is even harder to find. Graves thought he had a handful of cases and we have found none in our current research. The current description of TURQUOISE is imprecise and will have to be refined and completed as this level emerges.

Chris: It is an example of a field in which the difference between surface values and deep values is essential. The need to preserve all life goes way beyond the ‘common good’ speech sometimes heard in ORANGE, or the concept of ‘extended community’ often found in GREEN, or even the connection to elements that exists in PURPLE. We have already talked about it, but I insist because it is one of the essential points to really understand the model.

Jack: One of the points? Could you give us the others?

Chris: It is important to understand that no level is better than any other. One level is good if it enables people to adjust to their life conditions. That is all. There is no reason to move to the next level just for the sake of it. That would be an ORANGE worldview, focused on the idea of progress, and willingly competing to reach the Spiral’s highest possible level. Among other things, it is certain that you are not smarter when you reach one level or another.

Fabien: In a magazine I read, a person (we will kindly keep the name secret) describes 3 levels after TURQUOISE, levels that person represents, of course. I even read a text about a 3rd Tier!

Natasha: We see that all the time and it’s evidence that they have done neither their homework nor research involving clear understanding of this model. Grandiose claims without fact or data are very easy to make and often come from a kind of ORANGE hypertrophy. Many of the same people believe it is their mission to grow people. There is no reason to force other people to change. Graves had a great phrase he liked repeating: “Damn it all, people have a right to be who they are!”

Jack: Are there some other points you would like to talk about?

Natasha: We have also mentioned that Spiral Dynamics is not a typology. No one is a YELLOW or a BLUE. People, at some point in their lives, in a given context, can express one or more levels. This dynamic, this complexity makes Grave’s model so rich – systems in, not types of people

Fabien: This is also important from our point of view. Since it is not a typology, Spiral Dynamics does not compete with the Enneagramme. Thus, the point is not to make connections between 2 models aiming for the same goal, but to understand how they can complement and enrich each other.