The Colors of Change: Blue

Spiral Dynamics is a theory of human and societal development uncovered by  Dr. Clare W. Graves (1914-1986). Graves was a developmental psychologist and professor of psychology at Union College in Schenectady, New York. He was a peer of Abraham Maslow.

Graves’ model is a bio-psycho-social one based on more than two decades of research. According to Ken Wilber, the founder of the Integral movement which incorporates Spiral Dynamics, the Gravesian model has so far “been tested in more than fifty thousand people from around the world, and there have been no major exceptions found in the general scheme.” It has also been called, the Theory of Everything.

With this model, Graves discovered the underlying pattern for human and societal change. He identified eight unique stages (or layers as I refer to them) that we move through in a set sequence. However, the model continues beyond these stages and is “neverending”. As long as humanity survives, we will grow and evolve.

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the Blue layer of development.

Once we move from Red into Blue, rational thought emerges. Prior to Blue, our thoughts are largely driven by our needs and our emotions. Here we see the more complete activation of the pre-frontal cortex, the area of the brain responsible for decision-making, moderation of instinctive and emotional drivers, social behavior, and complex cognitive behavior. There is a heart opening at Blue that enables the religious “love thy neighbor” capacity and emotionally-driven loyalty between people who are aligned to the same cause (e.g., in marriage, religion, the military, etc.). The rational layers include blue, orange, and green.

Blue Layer “Purposeful/Authoritarian” (Communal, Right Brain focused)

Emerged: 5,000 years ago

Mantra: Life has meaning, direction and purpose determined by a higher order such as a God, religion, or strict political affiliation.

Core Values: Blue values discipline, duty, regularity, loyalty, and honor. Blue believes in self-sacrifice for later reward (e.g. in heaven) and living according to a strict moral code.

Blue (Truth) Order-drivenPurposeful lifeStabilityMoralisticCautious & carefulTraditionListens to authorityOnly one right wayRewards to comeSacrifice for purpose

Core values include self-discipline, modesty, piety, and morality. There is a focus on good vs. evil. Blue thinking is very linear, absolute, literal, and definite.

Blue is frequently religion-based but can be secular or atheistic. There is always some kind of “righteous order,” such as a church hierarchy or authoritarian government, which enforces a black and white code of conduct, teaches “right” and “wrong,” and provides meaning for life. Anyone outside the order is wrong and does not deserve respect. The sought-for goal is ultimate peace, often suffering now to receive a reward in the afterlife.

Blue systems are almost always paternalistic, strongly conformist and include rigid social hierarchies, such as the caste system in India. Blue shows up in Puritan America, religious fundamentalism (Christian, Jewish, Islamic), and the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts.

In Graves’ research, Blue had the highest values for authoritative attitudes and self-control with the lowest values for creating innovations, achieving new concepts, and independence.

Positive Expression of Blue: Blue can bring order and structure, creating the necessary stability for people to live together in large societies.

Negative Expression of Blue: Blue can be negative when it becomes too rigid in role identification, keeping people from developing and changing; script pathology (what you are and do is predetermined); religious fundamentalism; and fascism. Religion is strong for those perceiving the world through Blue, but it is from an “us” vs. “them” perspective. There is only one right way, for example those with a Blue orientation may take a strong stance against other belief systems and even other sects within their own religion (e.g., Sunni vs. Shia, Protestant vs. Catholic, etc.).

Emotion that drives the transition to the next layer: Frustration

Transition from Blue to Orange: Blue begins to decay when individuals see that following the one accepted path doesn’t always work. They begin to feel frustrated and confined by the rules and conformity of the group. Orange emerges with a focus on the individual and provides multiple paths to follow, including blazing your own trail. During the transition from Blue to Orange in the United States, we saw the Civil War, which brought the Blue agrarian values of the South into direct conflict with the emerging Orange industrial values of the North.


Graves' spiral dynamics from The Change Code

 Your Colors

I’ve created a free assessment that you can take to find out your colors. You will receive a report with the results of your assessment, showing you a ranking of your top value systems by color.

Want to learn more about Spiral Dynamics? Check out my Spiral Dynamics Resource page or read more articles on the topic including more info on each color/layer.

Your Turn

I want to hear from you. How did you first learn about Spiral Dynamics? How have you used this theory in your personal or business development? Share your experience in the comments.