Spiral dynamics is a book by Don Beck and Chris Cowan which is based on the theory of psychology professor Clare W. Graves. The book was targeted at a business management audience and is not a psychology book. However, many readers, including the American philosopher Ken Wilber, find the book's ideas to be compelling and important. "Spiral Dynamics" is a registered trademark of the National Values Center, Inc.


Spiral Dynamics argues that human nature is not fixed: humans are able, when forced by circumstances, to adapt to their environment by constructing new, more complex, conceptual models of the world that allow them to handle the new problems. Each new model includes and extends all previous models. According to Beck and Cowan, these conceptual models are organized around so-called vMemes: systems of core values or collective intelligences, applicable to both individuals and entire cultures.

In Spiral Dynamics, the term "vMeme" refers to a core value system, acting as an organizing principle, which expresses itself through memes (self-propagating ideas, habits, or cultural practices). The prepended and superscripted letter v indicates these are not basic memes but value systems which include them.

First tier vmemes:

These memetic levels are mainly focused on survival, and include almost all of the worldviews, cultures, and mental attitudes up to today.

  • Beige - instinctive/survivalistic - from 100,000 BC on
  • Purple - magical/animistic - from 50,000 BC on
  • Red - impulsive/egocentric - from 7000 BC on
  • Blue - purposeful/authoritarian - from 3000 BC on
  • Orange - achievist/strategic - from 1700 AD on
  • Green - communitarian/egalitarian - from 1850 AD on

Second tier vmemes:

These are just emerging memetic levels, that gradually move away from the survivalistic self-concern of the First Tier.

  • yellow - integrative - from 1950s on
  • turquoise - holistic - from 1970s on


According to some theorists, including Don Beck and Ken Wilber, each meme has both healthy and unhealthy versions. The pathologies are sometimes referred to as being "mean" as in "Mean Green Meme" (MGM), "Mean Orange Meme" (MOM) - the MOM includes the extremes of capitalism like exploitation, environmental devastation and a general lack of ethics and sensitivity. The MGM includes performative contradictions like anti-hierarchy, anti-competition, etc.

One of the co-authors of Spiral Dynamics, Chris Cowan, disputes that any credible evidence exists for the existence of pathologies like the "Mean Green Meme".

Other Theoretical Elements:

Clare Graves' original theory on which Spiral Dynamics based was known as Emergent Cyclic Levels Of Existence Theory (ECLET). The term Vmeme and the colour system was introduced by Beck and Cowan in Spiral Dynamics. Graves had used numbers to refer to each level and had not considered any connection with memetics. Beck and Cowan also introduced or adapted a number of other elements, most notably, 'change states', which identify the path of individual change between the levels. Graves' original theory uses a double helix model to show the interrelatedness of an individual's experience and use of a level with his surroundings or "life conditions". This double helix is referred to as a spiral in 'Spiral Dynamics.

Further Theoretical Development:

Following the release of their book, Beck and Cowan taught this theory in two courses, SDI and SDII. They ceased their formal working relationship in 2000.

Beck became interested in Ken Wilber's integral theory and developed a branch of spiral dynamics that he calls Spiral Dynamics Integral. This version of the theory uses integral concepts such as the four quadrants. Beck is also associated with spiritual teacher, Andrew Cohen.

Cowan does not subscribe to this development and promotes a version of the theory which he describes as remaining faithful to the original research of Clare Graves. He continues to use the term 'Spiral Dynamics' to describe his work. With his partner, Natasha Todorovic, he has undertaken work in integrating Spiral Dynamics with NLP and in developing corporate strategy. He stongly rejects Beck's current approach.

Each of the external websites listed below promotes the organization of one of the rival co-authors.