Change management, Guidance
The Spiral Dynamics value model: What really matters to people 2/2

Table of contents

The Spiral Dynamics value model GVS:
What is important to people? What is the Spiral Dynamics value model? What values are there? What are value memes and which ones are there?

The Spiral Dynamics value model: What really matters to people 2/2


What is really important to people?

Everyone thinks a certain way of life is right, has ideas about what is important, what is right, what someone should strive for. These values can be fundamentally different. We know this from our families: Grandma Berta, 89, finds it extremely important that the others in the village think well of her. This means that the street is swept on Saturdays, that the family’s children greet their neighbors well, that rules are followed and that no one steps out of line. Torn jeans? – What should people think? That’s just not right! Father Johann, 69, believes it is important to be successful and to show it. If you don’t have your own house at 40 and don’t drive a big car, you’re doing something wrong in life, says Johann. His favorite thing to do is to talk about everything he has and what he can do. Frederike, 41, doesn’t stress about it. In general, she finds it much more important to have friends, to relax, to do something good, so that it doesn’t cause too much stress. Ann Marie, 19, doesn’t think this goes far enough; she sees commitment to the climate, animals and fellow human beings as a central concern and not just a hobby. Almost everything she does is geared towards this. She complains about all the meat at every family meal.
We all encounter such attitudes. What are the underlying values in each case and is this more an individual imprint or a collective one?

The Spiral Dynamics value model

Origin of the Spiral Dynamics value model or Graves Value System

“Why do some people change and others don’t? And are there similarities in how people change?”
Students put these questions to the US psychology professor Clare. W. Graves (*1914, †1986). And so Graves began to explore what values and the development of people’s consciousness are all about.
– And yes! There are similarities in the changes that people go through. We have set ourselves the task of describing these here.

Based on his research into values, Graves developed the Graves Value System (GVS). His students Don Beck and Christopher Cowan used Graves’ findings and developed them further into the Spiral Dynamics value model; the book published by Cowan and Beck appeared in 1996. Spiral Dynamics is a registered trademark.

What is the Spiral Dynamics value model?

The Spiral Dynamics value model assumes that there are eight different basic values. These value clusters are called memes. They describe people’s attitude to life, their view of the world, their motivations.



What are value memes?

Memes subsume values and ways of thinking with which people try to react appropriately to the challenges of their environment. Different ways of life, situations, societies or systems demand different values. If you live in a jungle with a group of people, then different values count for you than if you were born a digital native with a cell phone in your hand or if you live in a strictly religious caste society or grow up in bombed-out post-war Berlin.
The memes, the attitudes, are strategies for coping best with the respective environment. If the fundamental situation changes, then the respective solution strategies also change.

Why is the Spiral Dynamics value model important?

Clare Graves assumed that people and entire societies go through these values or parts of them one after the other; that one meme, i.e. one level of consciousness, follows the other in a development process. In this respect, the Spiral Dynamics value model allows conclusions to be drawn about the further development of groups.
It also enables us to better understand the attitudes of other people.

Where is the Spiral Dynamics model used?

The Spiral Dynamics value model is used in companies. The values of all stakeholders, customers and partners are essential for companies.
But it is also used in politics: Bill Clinton, Tony Blair and even Nelson Mandela used it.

We use it to create a value profile of a team or organization, which can be the starting point for a value-based transformation. You can find more information at

Our values Article Series

We have already written a lot about values. Because the topic is important to us, we have published a whole series of articles on the subject of values, value management and value models. Here is the overview:

The 8 values of the Spiral Dynamics value model

In the course of human history, we humans have developed eight value memes. Each is a strategy for coping with the demands of life and social conditions.

Here is an overview of the seven of the eight value systems that can be found in companies today:


We present all eight memes here and invite you to look at life from different perspectives and put yourself in the respective mindsets. Have fun!



Mem 1 Survival, Spiral Dynamics



1st meme of Spiral Dynamics: instinctive / survival meme, beginning 100,000 years ago, middle Palaeolithic period

Basic theme: Do what you have to do to survive!

The mindset

Imagine what your life would have been like 100,000 years ago!
You live in a small group that hunts and gathers together. Nothing in your life is safe! You are out in nature, exposed to wild animals, weather, hunger, enemies. Every day in your life means that you have to fight for your survival. Even if there is no enemy or wild animal after you, you have to make sure you find water and something to eat. You need warmth and a safe place to hide and must be able to defend yourself if attacked. What drives you is your will to stay alive.
No matter what happens, you have to adapt very quickly to the respective conditions: if there is no water, you have to find some. If a storm is approaching, you need to find shelter quickly. If you are attacked, either you or your opponent survives. A birth or broken leg can be the end of you.
You live in and for the moment. Food, sleep, sex. Planning for the future or drawing conclusions from past experiences is not part of your behavior; simply do what is necessary, when it is necessary.

The values

Fulfillment of primary needs, fight for survival at all costs; everything else is indifferent.

Forms of appearance

This way of life was found in early human cultures. Nowadays, however, this meme has faded into the background. This value preservation and survival strategy can still be found in drug addicts who have to get their next fix, in mentally ill or senile people who live in the now, or in homeless people who have to secure their survival on a daily basis. This makes up around 0.1% of the adult population. In adults, this archaic meme is usually only activated in life-threatening situations, such as war.

In terms of individual development, the survival meme corresponds to baby and toddler age.

In the company

This meme is not found in companies, so we will neglect it here.





Mem 2 Tribe, We, Spiral Dynamics


2nd meme of Spiral Dynamics: Magical / Animistic meme, beginning 50,000 years ago

Basic theme: Keep spirits and chiefs happy and the tribe’s nest warm and safe!

The mindset

The world 50,000 years ago: You live in a tribe, based on a clan structure. This gives you a sense of belonging and security, as it is much easier to overcome the dangers of the environment together. Your ultimate goal is to maintain the protection of the tribe. This includes not only following the chief, the shaman or the council of elders and submitting to the group, but also upholding the traditions, symbols and rituals of your tribe. The latter is very important, because spirits and gods rule the world and magic and rituals are needed to make them feel good. Ancestors and heroes are your role models. They do everything they can to help the tribe and ensure everyone’s survival. You are happy about the recognition of your achievements. You know your position in the tribe well, are proud to belong to it and would even sacrifice yourself for the good of your tribe. What needs to be done will be done. You follow the rules and don’t question them. And everyone else should do the same.

The values

Security in the group (e.g. family, tribe), togetherness, sense of authority, rituals, tradition, habit.


Forms of appearance

Of course, there are still people today who live in tribes. They live in close contact with nature, usually with little contact with so-called civilization. This way of living together and the associated way of thinking can be found in Africa, South America, Oceania and the Arctic. But this value system also exists in our Western culture, for example in (extended) families, sports teams and clubs. Around 10% of the adult population lives according to these values.
In terms of personal development, this is where we find childhood: the child identifies with its family, the rules and customs that prevail there and accepts them unconditionally.

In the company

We still find this meme today in patriarchal small businesses and family businesses.


Mem 3 Power, Spiral Dynamics


3rd meme of Spiral Dynamics: Impulsive / egocentric meme, beginning 10,000 years ago

Basic theme: Be what you are and do what you want immediately and without any consideration!

The mindset

This meme was created 10,000 years ago. It is also known as the robber baron or cowboy meme, even if this is certainly not entirely historically correct. – You’ll see why. Let’s take another little trip back in time: You have left tribal life and its peer pressure behind you. You want to achieve something yourself. You are a robber baron. Around you, robber barons – and subjects. You can’t trust any of them: The other robber barons want to rob you just as much as you want to rob them. And your subordinates would not hesitate for a moment to take your place as soon as you show weakness.
Your subjects only work as long as they are controlled. No wonder – after all, you exploit them without a guilty conscience. Machiavelli sends his regards: the law of the jungle clearly applies. Everyone takes what they can get – the only maxim: don’t get caught. You are fully aware that power and its enforcement is the only way to get what you want – and to arm yourself against being overpowered. You feel strong and want to conquer new things, whether it’s your neighbor’s property, new slaves or the treasures of another country. You are of the opinion that you are entitled to all of this.
It is important to you that others respect you, perhaps even fear you. What you can’t stand at all is when someone speaks disparagingly about you, because shame and embarrassment damage your power. You’d rather your heroic deeds become legends. If you meet someone with higher status and more power, for example the. the king, then you subordinate yourself and try to manipulate the situation to your advantage. To rule or to be ruled. Don’t let up – then the others will win over you.

The values

Whoever has the most power will prevail. I want it all…now! Anyone who is not for me is against me and will be flattened. With force if necessary. The battle is a matter of life and death. It’s about clearly demonstrating and defending your status.

Forms of appearance

This way of thinking can be found in dictatorships, in power-driven gangs or drug gangs. This kind of world view is often sung about in rap music, which is about power, status and respect. If a war breaks out or similar conditions of violence prevail, this meme is often activated.
The person shaped by the egocentric meme has values such as independence, a spirit of conquest and assertiveness. He is cocky, expects attention, demands respect and commands action. About 15% of the adult population has these values.
On an individual developmental level, this impulsive meme corresponds to puberty: the individual learns to stand up for himself, wants to satisfy his needs immediately, often regardless of losses.

In the company

Companies or units in which red predominates are characterized by strong struggles over the hierarchy and distribution of power. Due to the “elbow mentality”, disadvantages for others are accepted or even brought about for one’s own benefit. We often find this meme today in companies with an aggressive sales approach aimed at exploiting the individual, but also in times of uncertainty or restructuring, where there are no clear boundaries and rules or responsibilities are not clearly defined.





Meme 4 order, Spiral Dynamics



4th meme of Spiral Dynamics: goal-oriented / authoritarian meme, beginning 5000 years ago

Basic theme: Life has a meaning and a direction with a predetermined outcome.

The mindset

There was a lot of war and fighting in the preceding red meme. This brought with it injustice, suffering and insecurity. All the more reason for you to long for order, security and justice. This is the first step towards a civilized society. How nice that there is law and order in the new form of society. These follow a higher, almighty order. This can be a belief or a different world view. It doesn’t matter whether they are Christian, Islamic or other forms of faith, or whether the society has more nationalistic tendencies.
Here is an example:
You live in a religious society. It is important to comply with the laws and standards. Because if you commit an offense, you will be punished and feel guilty. There is a lot of social control. You know who is good and who is bad. There is only one truth. As long as you follow the rules and live a righteous life, nothing can happen. On the contrary – if you put yourself back now and act with discipline, you will be rewarded for it in the future. This could be money saved in retirement, a promotion, but also an advantage in the next life – regardless of whether a cloud with a harp or 99 await you there.


The values

Rules must be adhered to and are not questioned, order and structure are important. Self-purpose, obedience and discipline provide security and will be rewarded in the distant future.


Forms of appearance

30% of the adult population live according to this meme. Today, the blue meme can be found in fundamentalist religious communities and military hierarchies, among others. Honor, patriotism, faith and loyalty, unselfish deeds are important foundations in addition to following the rules. But you can also encounter this way of thinking in a rule-conscious allotment garden colony.

In the company

We find this meme today in very bureaucratic organizations and units, such as large administrative bodies and some industrial companies. Large structures with a strong division of labor, fixed responsibilities and clear rules, in which everything runs within a defined framework, are often guided by immovable principles and regulations.





Mem 5 Profit, Spiral Dynamic


5th meme of Spiral Dynamics: Successful / strategic meme, beginning 300 years ago

Basic theme: Act in your own interests and play to win.

The mindset

After everything is regulated in the blue meme, some people break out of this strict order to set their own goals – and these are usually material. In the orange meme you find the so-called materialists and capitalists.
The world is full of abundance and you set out to make your fortune, to reap wealth and prestige. You want to make something of your life. You are prepared to do a lot for this. You want to be the best and once you’ve achieved your goals, you want the world to know it too! I’m a winner, baby! Status symbols are a suitable means of proclaiming your success. You like outward appearances, you like to show off how great you are – whether you are presenting beauty, wealth, sporting ambition, intellectual achievements, doctorates or proving to everyone that you are right.
You realize that you have many options and choose the one that offers you the most benefits and earnings. Even in an orange society, there are rules, but you try to interpret them in your own favor, maybe even bend them a little: tax loopholes, environmental regulations or friendly coexistence – if something like that gets in the way of your advantage, you’d rather try to use legal sophistry instead of considering whether the rules make sense for the community. After all, you want to maximize your profit. To achieve this, further development and technology are important factors.
Competition motivates you. If your environment, your group, is also prospering, you feel particularly successful. Nature, other people and yourself are resources that you can use to achieve your goals.

The values

It’s about beating the other and being in first place yourself. Success, especially financial success, is everything! You can recognize the winners in this system by expensive cars and expensive watches. A career is important, as is belonging to the rich and famous.


Forms of appearance

At 30%, the orange meme is very common in the population. This materialistic world view is predominant in our so-called first world. Modern industrialized nations are built on these values. Status consciousness is very widespread among the population; many are working on their advancement. High-tech and development are important factors for steady growth. Emerging markets such as India, which previously had a strong regulatory and civil service system (blue meme), is moving towards the orange meme. A classic embodiment of the orange mindset is the “yuppie” or the “Instagirl”.


In the company

We find the orange value system in organizations with performance-oriented hierarchies, very often in sales organizations. The focus is on the customer, the thinking is long-term and goal-oriented. Target agreement processes, commission regulations and the promotion of internal competition through leaderboards are typical manifestations of this meme. It is no longer guided by regulations, but by objectives.





Mem 6 Equality, Spiral Dynamics



6th meme of Spiral Dynamics: Communal / Egalitarian meme, beginning 150 years ago

Basic theme: Emphasize the performance of the group and be attentive to human needs!


The mindset

The previous orange meme brought prosperity. But unfortunately it also had side effects: internal competition, loneliness, burn-out and a huge gap between people. The green sociocentric meme emerges from this experience.
You believe that everyone is worth the same. You know that everyone has their own ideas about life and their own views. And in order to be able to realize these ideas, everyone should have the same opportunities and rights. You have recognized that this is not yet the case. Your goal is to overcome exploitation, racism, sexism, social inequality, the destruction of nature and to create a humanistic society that is not driven by greed or dogma. You are prepared to put yourself on the back burner to ensure that everyone is doing well. In order to live equality, everyone decides together according to the consensus principle. This ensures that everyone is heard and can participate. You find it much more important to pay attention to the feelings of those around you than to focus on the latest inventions and technologies or on your own success. And what for? Together you are much more successful than as a lone fighter, especially if you work in a team of people with different skills. It’s about togetherness, that’s what quality of life is all about for you. You prefer good cooperation and warm-hearted interaction, because you are not interested in competition, status and privilege. Cold and rationally planned strategies are not your thing. On the other hand, you are very good at reflecting, listening, communicating and forming deep relationships.


Community, consensus decisions, collaboration, cooperation, equality, harmony, sharing, humanity


Forms of appearance

Around 15% of the population live the green meme. This level had its first beginnings around 150 years ago. This way of thinking became much more important during the ’68 movement. Today they are found particularly in professions with a helping focus, such as teachers, social workers and so on. This meme is more prevalent in the Scandinavian countries than in the rest of the world. But it is also becoming increasingly widespread in other western industrialized nations. It is particularly present in humanistic psychology and in all organizations that campaign for equality, human and animal rights, as well as environmental protection issues.

In the company

Companies that think at this level dissolve hierarchical structures in favor of flat hierarchies and team structures. Team commissions, co-determination, employee participation, group consensus, employee development, fair wage compensation and matrix organizations are typical examples of this meme. This meme is often at home in the HR department.





Mem 7, Openness, Spiral Dynamics


7th meme of Spiral Dynamics: Integrative meme, beginning 50 years ago

Basic theme: Find a pragmatic way to create synergies, not at the expense of others!


The mindset

The world is becoming increasingly complex and demands a more complex way of thinking.
You are aware of this, but you don’t let it drive you crazy because you see chaos and change as a normal state – and not as a threat. You understand that different situations require completely different courses of action. This way, you are also aware that your fellow human beings have different values and importance – and that this is justified. You appreciate this variety because it allows you to use and combine the best aspects. In dealing with the complex, constantly changing environment – you appreciate being able to react flexibly. You love having lots of alternatives from which you can spontaneously choose the most functional solution at the moment. The possibilities that have been added by the Internet support you in this.
Since you already feel the inner urge to learn and experience new things, it’s only right for you if there are changes. Fixed systems are anathema to you; it’s much nicer to be able to allocate your resources yourself. The knowledge and expertise that you have acquired – mostly independently – give you confidence.
You can think systematically and understand larger contexts. You don’t like hierarchies; you prefer networked, equal cooperation. That’s why you respond more to logical explanations or necessities than to orders, dogmas and hierarchies. For you, an authority is the person who can solve a problem, regardless of age, gender, ethnicity or origin. Status and material things are not of great importance to you. Instead of accumulating possessions, you would rather improve yourself, your skills and your performance, broaden your horizons. You have the needs of others on your screen. You are aware that the world is in danger from the exploitation of people, animals and resources and from environmental pollution. It is important to you to improve this situation. You are looking for solutions where there are no losers.



Knowledge is important, networking takes us further. It’s about creating synergies, lifelong learning and doing what makes the most sense for the situation at hand. New things and change are fundamentally attractive.


Forms of appearance

The yellow meme affects only about 1% of the adult population. This systematic, flexible system of thought is relatively new. It is slowly beginning to spread, especially in the western world.


In the company

The meme occurs in working life, where fixed structures become less important. People feel comfortable in loose networks and virtual teams, the organizational forms are fluid. Management is based on targets and well-defined general rules (governance). The group positions itself in the best way to achieve the set goal. A wide variety of individuals and subgroups are integrated. Change and complexity are welcomed.





Mem 8 Wholeness, Spiral Dynamics


8th meme of Spiral Dynamics: Holistic meme, beginning 30 years ago

Basic theme: Experience the consequences of actions in the world!


The mindset

You take a look at the world and see that nature and creatures, including humans, have been considerably damaged by the so-called modern way of life. You recognize the holistic connections: you see how natural cycles, economic cycles, people and many other factors are interwoven. Everything is interconnected, including through energy and information. The world is a collective organism and you are part of it. It makes no sense for you to extract and analyze things because they have to be considered in their context. You are aware that every action you take has an impact on the environment, on future generations and on other people. That’s why you consider the consequences of your actions for others very carefully when making decisions. You would rather do without something than cause damage. You also want this kind of responsibility for the big picture from your fellow human beings, from companies and from other systems.
Economic or geopolitical interests are not an argument for you if damage is caused elsewhere. It’s about global (survival). What could be more important? It motivates you to help free the world from hunger, war, oppression and pollution. Your purpose in life is to create a world in which every individual can flourish, in which cycles function for the benefit of all life. You subordinate yourself and others to this goal; you are quite prepared to sacrifice your own advantages or those of others for it. You would also sacrifice yourself out of a sense of responsibility, not because of orders (blue) or a need for harmony (green).
You work towards your vision cooperatively and ecologically. You think intuitively, holistically and transrationally, which means you can combine thinking and feeling. Conventions and traditions are not for you – you try out new ways of life and want to develop beyond previous boundaries. It is natural for you to keep learning throughout your life. In doing so, you connect with other people – also to find meta-solutions together.


Sustainability, protection of the environment, future generations, conservation of resources


Forms of appearance

This sustainable meme is currently only practiced by around 0.1% of the adult population. The trend is rising.


In the company

There are still only a few ecologically, socially and holistically oriented organizations or cooperatives. What is important is the high benefit for everyone and everything – far beyond the organization. This level is otherwise hardly common in companies. Occasionally, this kind of thinking can be found in some areas, currently still driven by individual idealists or by the awareness that the company’s customers will reward a sustainable approach. In this case, the turquoise behavior is due to an orange drive.





How can you determine the Spiral Dynamics values?

Do you want to identify where your company stands in terms of values? Then you should create a value profile. How does that work? – We have developed a method for this. It is called the Value Party. Yes, party – because it’s fun. The Value Party can be played at live events, but you can also work with it virtually.
As this requires a detailed explanation, we have written a whole article about it. So if you want to know more, take a look here:
How to create a value profile and use it to change your company

Or simply go directly to the ValueParty website.

What can you do with values in the company?
We have described in detail why you should know about value management in your company and why it makes you and your company successful in our article Why value management makes your company successful .

Here is the short version:

  • You can understand your employees better
  • You get a new perspective on conflicts
  • Decisions can be made much faster if everyone in the company knows what is at stake and what is important at the moment
  • When employees are heard and their values are incorporated, motivation is significantly higher
  • Commitment can arise when values and visions are clear and supported by everyone
  • The values that are present and those that are needed give you valuable information for the strategic direction of your company.
  • Living your values makes your company attractive to potential employees and customers


Reading on the subject of values, Graves and Spiral Dynamics

Would you like to read a little more about values, value management and Spiral Dynamics? Well, wonderful. Here we list our relevant articles again:

Why should your company be concerned with values? What’s the point? What are the advantages of value management? How do I go about it? How do we define the values in the company?

The first part of our article on Clare’s value system. W Graves. What is the background to the model? What do you need to watch out for?
The Spiral Dynamics value model: What is really important to people.

The second part of the Graves Value System: Spiral Dynamics. What values, basic attitudes and levels of consciousness are there?

How do you find out how your employees and steakholders rate you and what values are important to your company? Here we show you how to create a value profile.

The big article on changing values: How do you manage to change the values in your company so that they support the company’s success, motivate employees and make customers happy? Detailed instructions.

You can find all information about the ValueParty app, value-based transformation and the ValueParty card game here:


Books and articles on Spiral Dynamics

The authors

Oliver Grätsch
Michelle 550
Michelle Templin
Christian Grätsch
Matthias Beikert
Susanne Grätsch
Monika Bt 550x550
Monika Steininger
Kai Hübner
Philipp Andresen 500x550
Philipp Andresen
Anna Isabell Arendt
Dr. Claudia Schmidt
Inga Kühn
Kassandra Knebel
Claudia Lehmann
Komplettes Team

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