Coda: Clare W. Graves (2005) The Never Ending Quest Christopher C. Cowan and Natasha Todorovic, eds. Santa Barbara, C A: ECLET Press

Russ Volckmann

Cowan and Todorovic

The editors have taken scraps of material and the products of extensive search efforts to assemble the pieces of this approximation of Clare Graves’ “last work.” Graves was injured in an accident and because of additional complications failed to finish the book. Working with a table of contents, Graves’ hand written notes and other material in the Graves archives, they have pieced together a presentation of Graves’ work that is superb and, much of it, fascinating reading.

Since I have not had the benefit of training with the editors I cannot say how the book augments their work. However, I find it a perfect companion piece to the book, Spiral Dynamics, and to the teachings of Don Beck.

The book begins by addressing what human life is about, particularly based on academic research and professional publications in the fields of psychology and psychiatry. It is also a very elaborate presentation of the extensive research that Graves conducted over many years. Graves brings together diverse perspectives in a way that honors the contributions of all. While he ultimately may not find agreement between his own “emergent cyclical” model, he points out in later chapters the congruence and variance between his approach and those of others, ranging from Perry, Loevinger, Hunt, and many more.

The central part of the book, a must for serious students of developmental psychology and its relevance for leadership, focuses on descriptions of the various levels of development. There are also, throughout the book, presentations of Graves’ perspectives that are highly relevant to the study of human development and of the role of leadership in human systems. Here are just a couple:

Graves makes the case for the treatment of development and self-knowledge as an organic, messy process and concludes, “man can never know his total self and man can never fulfill his total potentialities.” [476] There are to clear upward boundaries in developmental potential. However, he cautions us to be careful about how we use the stage or level conception.

The level of existence conception of adult human behavior sees human life as a coherent developmental process of successive equilibrations, successive styles of living. But let us not be misled. A level is not, in reality, an attainable state. A level is a theoretical state of equilibrium. It is a state toward which a human who has certain dynamic systems open moves when in relatively stabilized conditions of existence. Levels are constructs. They are not realities…They are not to be viewed as forms of human behavior which actually exist.


This is an important observation that is relevant to all of leadership theory. Our constructs and models are tools, not to confused with reality. Traits analysis, style analysis, whether leadership is transactional or transformational, the functions and dysfunctions of charisma, etc. are also tools. Thus, it seems to me that Graves’ work serves to point out something that I have found true in working with both the theory of leadership, the development of leaders and leadership practices in human systems: The task in all cases is to find ways to help individuals make meaning and to discover what is effective in their situations. Sometimes this will mean relying on tried and true practices adapted from other settings, because those settings and the life conditions that created them are close enough to being the same that only minor adjustments will be required. Sometimes, we need to be very cautious about relying on tradition, or what we have learned from other contexts because those conditions have changed significantly. All of the time we need to have a framework that helps us make largely conscious choices about the actions we will take. To do less is raise the stakes, increase the gamble. And in this era of rapid change and context between so many levels of development in the world today, such risks are extremely costly.

There is so much rich material in this book, including things like the Ten Points from Dr. Graves’s Workshop Handouts” found in the Appendix. Here is a sample:

  • 1. That the human being, through but one biological organism, has developed to date, seven fixated, exciting, eight open nodal, and seven entering states plus mixed states…
  • 3. That the biopsychosocial development of the mature hiuman arises from the interaction of a double-helix complex of two sets of determining forces, the enviornmentosocial determinants…and the neuropsychological equipment of the organism…
  • 7. That increasing degrees of behavioral freedom, increasing degrees of choice merge with each successive level…
  • 10. That at this point in our history, the societally effective leading edge of humanity, in the technologically advanced nations, is currently finishing the initial statement of the sixth(FS) [green] state of existence…Thus, some humans have started to think about and some of them are well into thinking according the the ways of a second spiral of existence, the being [as compared with the doing] level systems. These humans have truly started to think of the interdependence of existence rather than in individualized independent existence…


What I have found about the work of Graves, Beck and Cowan is that they are all passionate about what they are doing. They want this work to make a difference in the world. Cowan and Todorovic have given a gift of passion that will no doubt contribute to making that difference.