Coda, Integral Leadership Review , August 2006

Russ Volckmann

Spiral Dynamics provides a developmental perspective that, when applied with an understanding of other variables, can be very, very useful. The problem is that, like any model or approach, it has been adapted or rigidified or just simply misunderstood. Below are descriptions of two invaluable tools for comprehending this useful perspective, this useful theory. Taken together they provide a solid foundation that is even more valuable than the original Spiral Dynamics book.

Don BeckDon Beck, PhD, Spiral Dynamics Integral: Learn to Master the Memetic Codes of Human Behavior, Sounds True Audio Learning Course (6 CDs), 2006.

Have you ever attended a Don Beck led course? SDi I or SDi II or even more advanced? Have you attended a SDi Confab? A World Futures Society Conference? Or any of a number of other possible venues the world over (particularly South Africa, Netherlands, Germany, England, Israel and Palestine? Well, it you have you can image the warm countenance, but rather soft presentation skills of Dr. Don Beck.

I attended SDi and II in Vancouver, B.C., Canada a few years ago. Don’s presentation of the spiral, its colors and musical examples of each level was interesting and a good introduction to SDi. When I left, however, I was a bit disappointed. There just wasn’t enough “doing” time involved in which one could integrate what was learned. I suppose that was because of the volume of material Don wanted to cover and his passion for building an international network of folks involved in meshworks to generate change. Or maybe I am just a little slow and too introverted to take advantage of what was offered. In any case, I came away with a more solid comprehension of SDi, a hint at how to use it and that lingering frustration.

Now Don has put out this set of CDs that takes us through some of the material that he presents in SDi, in particular. The descriptions of the stages are lucid and well illustrated. But it is CD #4 that interests me, in particular. This is the one on Leadership. Here is the heart of the SDi approach to leadership and organizations.

He distinguishes between what leaders do and leadership and how the different levels of the spiral might define leadership and organizations. SDi provides a means for a more flexible and fluid approach to the design of human systems. Second tier uses natural design based on a key question (equation): How should who lead whom to do what? From what and to what?

Connecting these variables includes the relationships between leaders and followers and why different followers follow different leaders. It also includes to the “do what,” the purpose of the relationship and dynamics of influence. The variables in the question point to integral approaches. The leader’s developmental levels must include the capability to lead the followers who are at their developmental levels. The result is that we design systems that meet the natural requirements of those who participate to maintain and develop those systems. Don is very clear that this is a presentation that is not just theory. It has been applied in businesses and educational systems and he provides multiple real experience examples. Some of the change examples that he presents are very much like those found in organization change interventions. An example, is a reexamination of the way people think of what business they are in, e.g., shifting from being in the paint business to the “happy walls” business with many meanings associated with happy from quality to environmental sustainability. The most interesting, however, are explorations that involve identifying the levels of the spiral that managers and employees are centered in.

A key problem is the ways leaders design systems. Much of this is in the book, Spiral Dynamics, coauthored with Chris Cowan. He also brings in the life cycle model of Adizes (Beck has been presenting in Adizes’ graduate programs.) He applies the “meme sensors” to look at the stakeholders and a design based on aligning memes to the relationships among the stakeholders. These are interesting stories involving sports teams, airlines and other businesses. In addition to bottom line results it is also about teaching people decently based on where they are centered (meme cores), the language that they understand.

The most interesting aspect of this discussion for me is the idea that organizations, systems and relationships cannot be effective when we use a cookie cutter approach to design and implementation. This is the most powerful way to use SDi and to use integral approaches: they are lenses that allow us to understand the variables and their relationships to design and evolve the systems through which we seek to make a difference in the world. The ability to apply these approaches not only to individuals, but also to systems and cultures is a most important reason to use such approaches.

What is required are the five bottom lines: noble purpose, efficient processes, respect for profit and its multiple uses (“Right” profit and distribution), sensitivity to humans, and respect the natural ecology of things. His presentation of these factors is worth the price of the CDs. And, by the way, included in the set is a vMeme self-test and a chart about the vMemes associated with each of the SDi stages.