The Colors of Change: Yellow

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 Yellow layer of development.

Graves called the layers after Green the “Second Tier” because they begin to repeat the earlier layers’ themes, but they’re more advanced. As Graves compared the layers to a symphony, these next layers are at a higher octave.

At this stage, we still have access to the rational mind, but are now able to access new dimensions including a deep intuition. One of the biggest indicators of the shift into the Second Tier is the absence of fear as a driver of behavior. No longer driven by fear, we live in a state of flow with nature. And we overcome other compulsive behaviors that are so prominent in the earlier levels.

Being comfortable with paradox in general opens up a whole new world of possibility, and according to Graves, the Second Tier has more coping capacity (ability to understand and cope with complexity) than all previous layers combined. This is huge!

Here’s a way to think about it. An interesting expression of comfort-with-paradox is reflected in the current increase in gender fluidity in Generation Z (born mid-1990s to early 2000s). According to Nadya Okamoto, the 21-year old co-founder of, a non-profit providing sanitary supplies to the homeless, and Juve Media, a consulting firm for brands wanting to reach this generation, Gen Z has two nicknames. “Plurals,” because they think in terms of “we,” and “the genderless generation,” because fewer than 50 percent of them identify as completely heterosexual and reject the idea of gender binaries like male/female.

I’m not aware of any societies in Yellow (yet) but there are some Scandinavian countries that are well into Green and beginning to move toward Yellow. There are many people already in Yellow and Turquoise, with more moving into these layers every day. We can expect that as more people move into these layers, a tipping point will be reached.

Second Tier allows us to meet people where they are. This also makes it difficult to spot other people on Second Tier—they are shapeshifters. They easily relate and fit in with others who think they are one of their tribe, without hurting or excluding others. This ability to relate extends to people with opposing political opinions, financial backgrounds, race, etc. They find common ground between diverse individuals and create win-win solutions. Does this describe anyone you know?

Graves’ work helps us understand that our current conditions and chaos are temporary. We are in the midst of a major transition and there is hope. If we can just make it through Green to Yellow…

 We will find ourselves in a very different world from what we know now and we will find ourselves thinking in a very different way. For one thing, we will no longer be living in a world of unbridled self-expression and self-indulgence or in a world of reverence for the individual, but in one whose rule is: Express self, but only so that all life can continue….

The purpose of Yellow man will be to bring the earth back to equilibrium so that life upon it can survive, and this involves learning to act within the limits inherent in the balance of life. We may find such vital human concerns as food and procreation falling under strict regulation, while in other respects society will be free not only from any form of compulsion but also from prejudice and bigotry….

While more naturalistic than the world we know today, at the same time the Second-Tier world will be unimaginably more advanced technologically; for unlike Green man, Yellow man will have no fear of technology and will understand its consequences. He will truly know when to use it and when not to use it, rather than being bent on using it whenever possible as Orange man has done.

In 2018, Ken Wilber wrote that only about 5 percent of the total population “is at any of these integral stages of development, but the evidence is that this is clearly where tomorrow’s evolution eventually will go—if it can survive the present transition.”

Yellow “Autonomous/Integrative” (Individual/Integrated Brain)

Emerged: 100 years ago

Mantra: Flexibility and natural flows.

Core values: Knowledge and cosmic reality, using the best evidence possible, regardless of where it comes from (an openness to all theories, models, religions, etc.)

The Yellow layer has begun to emerge and is our first leap into the Second Tier. It began about 50 years ago, in the 1960s, just 100 years after the onset of Green.

Just as Beige was the first baby step into being human, Yellow is the first baby step into a whole new realm of a multidimensional existence.

This layer again swings away from communal to individual, but with a difference. Individuals perceiving the world through the Yellow layer are able to accept a mix of conflicting “truths” and uncertainties. They value personal freedom but without harm to others or excess self-interest. Yellow demands open systems. The focus is on functionality, competence, flexibility, and spontaneity. It opens up our sensory perceptions in a new way.

This layer is also called the Integral Level because we are able to effectively work with, or integrate, both sides of our brain. Without constant fear, anxiety, and compulsions, we have more psychological energy than previous layers and can allocate it to solving complex problems that didn’t previously seem to have solutions.

In Graves’ research, for all layers, Yellow had the highest values for creating innovations and autonomy (tied with Orange) with the lowest values for an authoritative attitude.

Yellow is the first layer that can directly sense the active value systems in other people—like a frequency being transmitted. This gives access to an entirely new way of relating with other human beings. When you can read a person’s worldview and immediately know their challenges and motivations, without any feelings of rejection, you more deeply understand and interact with that person.

Positive Expressions of Yellow: curiosity without judging and the ability to ask the right questions. Yellow is creative and innovative and has a continuous flow of new ideas and ways of thinking. Yellow uses the most appropriate and workable methods and behaviors to realize strategies and builds on already existing knowledge and models. Individuals in the Yellow layer are able to better meet others where they are now.

Negative Expressions of Yellow: In the game-changing Second Tier, there are few, if any, negative expressions because there’s no fear, rejection, or compulsive behaviors.

Transition from Yellow to Turquoise: Yellow begins to break down when the new form of individualism fails to yield the kind of cooperation necessary for humanity’s survival. Turquoise emerges.


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.