The Colors of Change: Orange

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 Orange layer of development.

Orange Layer “Scientific Modernism” (Individual, Left-Brain Focused)

Emerged: 300 years ago

Mantra: Act in your own self-interest by playing the game to win.

Orange (Prosperity) Success drivenAutonomyCompetitionGoal orientedLeverages influenceConsults expertsHigh-techImage consciousWants to prosper now  

Core values: Independence, success, materialism, technology, and prosperity.

Socially, Orange began about 300 years ago with the Industrial Revolution and the advancement of science. It’s the primary layer in Western society today.

Orange was a swing from the rigid rules and constraints of the Blue layer. When Orange reached a critical mass, the French and American revolutions, the writing of our Constitution, the end of slavery, and the beginning of feminism all happened.

Since Orange emerged, we’ve seen the development of democracy, put a man on the moon, gone to the depths of the ocean, made tremendous medical advances, and connected the world with technology. We’ve added an additional 30 years to the average life span during this time and ended most infectious diseases that resulted in mass casualties in the past. We’ve also seen the end of organized slavery in most developed nations.

This layer is very physically based. It ushers in a rejection of traditional religion and spirituality in favor of modern science. Science began to replace myths, superstitions, and “blind” faith.

Individuals and organizations operating from an Orange perspective are prone to acting in self-interest, playing the game to win. Its valuable contributions are achieving, and measuring success, setting goals and all the modern, labor-saving technology. As a result, the movement from a rural, farm-based economy became an urban, industrialized economy during the Blue/Orange transition.

From the Orange perspective, people begin to question the beliefs and values they have accepted on the authority of parents and teachers, and start to think for themselves. This may lead to rejection of traditional religions, pleasure seeking, and a focus on material world and achievements.

In Graves’ data collection, Orange had the highest values for aggression, autonomy, and independence (tied with yellow) with the lowest levels of values for belonging and self-control. Does this sound like anyone you know?

Positive Expressions of Orange: Result-driven, explorative, able to think strategically, pragmatic problem solving, and entrepreneurial.

Negative Expressions of Orange: Identity crisis when traditional values are abandoned, excessive consumerism, manipulative behavior, the environmental crisis, workaholism, loss of connection with nature and each other. Excessive orange leads to a world of winners and losers and the emergence of corporate states. Because Orange is science-based, religion and spirituality are often disregarded or used as tools of manipulation, leaving behind helpful rituals that are beneficial to our overall wellbeing.

Emotion that drives the transition to the next layer: Loneliness

Transition from Orange to Green: Orange begins to break down when overconsumption wreaks havoc and the need for inner peace grows. Here’s why: Material success brings the luxury of time to ponder the meaning of life and notice the loneliness and absence of spiritual nourishment. And for most people, burnout from overwork prompts a desire for greater inner peace.

The materialistic nature of this layer no longer meets the needs of an increasingly complex society. Orange took a man to space and connected the world through technology, but from an excessive Orange perspective, humans also feel isolated and alone. Suicide, depression, and drug use increase so the pendulum must swing back to a more communal time to solve these problems, but this time at the higher octave of Green.


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.