12/21 — Commentary on Clare W. Graves Revisited Beyond Value Systems: Biocultural Co-evolution and the Double Helix Nature of Existence

December 2020 / Feature Articles

Dr Robin Lincoln Wood

Momentous leap
Robin Lincoln Wood

It is always a pleasure to review and comment on Said Dawlabani’s work. He brings a meticulous approach to detail and the science that underpins the fields of psychology, economics and anthropology which is refreshing in this era of instant, unverifiable opinions and ungrounded speculations. It is worth reading Said’s article all the way through, to grasp how he intertwines observations and findings in several fields with the three decades of research conducted by Professor Clare W. Graves at Union College in New York between 1950 and 1980. 

Graves described what he called “Levels of Psychological Existence” as an emerging pattern and priority of worldviews, value systems, and complex adaptive intelligences that arise in response to Life Conditions. Thus, human nature is not finite. We are not frozen into types or traits. Cultures are not static entities, forever trapped in Flatland. As Graves explained it:  

“Briefly, what I am proposing is that the psychology of the mature human being is an unfolding, emergent, oscillating, spiralling process marked by progressive subordination of older, lower- order behaviour systems to newer, higher-order systems as man’s existential problems change.”  

Said zooms in on the final lecture given by Graves in 1978, where, to quote Said:

“Graves proclaimed his readiness to disclose his full model which by then had evolved and (been) renamed The Emergent, Cyclical, Phenomenological, Existential, Double-Helix Levels of Existence Conception of Adult Human Behavior”.

I am going to parse this complex, rich description of Graves’ model, and use it to structure my review of Said’s article, drawing on several of my recent books listed on my amazon author profile- https://bit.ly/robinwoodauthor.

Let us begin our review with the last phrase:


As he taught them the various schools of psychology, from Wundt through Freud, Jung, Piaget, Kohlberg, Skinner, Maslow and many others current at that time, Graves’ psychology students would ask him: “Professor Graves, these different schools of psychology appear to contradict each other in many ways- which one do you believe is right?”

This triggered Graves into developing a questionnaire which he administered to his students every year, and which he continued to administer after they graduated to track the evolution of their responses. At the same time, he also used one-way mirrors and group experiments to record the reasoning, the “Why?”, which his test subjects would express during these structured group sessions, and then analyze the transcripts afterward in conjunction with the test results.

After several years of hard empirical research, Graves arrived at his first, six-level model of the evolution of adult human behavior, which proved to be robust and consistent throughout the late 1950’s and mid-1960’s, which Said describes clearly in his article.

As it turns out, Graves’ research findings proved to be consistent with roughly 400 developmental models in psychology, many of which stopped their developmental progress at Graves’ fifth or sixth levels. As many readers will know, Graves’ research in the late 1960’s and 1970’s began to pick up an additional two levels of development which he characterized as “The Momentous Leap” and “A New Movement in the Symphony of Human History”, of which we will speak toward the end of my commentary.

Graves, however, had observed something through his in-depth analysis that the other 400 developmental models in psychology appear to have missed. 


To quote Said:

“The one area that is commonly overlooked in Graves’ work is the double helix conception of the model, which keeps it on the cutting edge of evolutionary thinking. For the community of ECLET and Spiral Dynamics practitioners the understanding of this aspect of the model is at the heart of providing solutions to the challenges that face individuals, organizations and entire societies.”

Said explores the homology between the double helix structure of DNA in the nucleus of each cell, and the double-helix structure of Graves’ ECLET model, with especial reference to the work of anthropologists Joseph Henrich and Richard McElreath on Dual Inheritance Theory (DIT). As Said puts it: 

“DIT is a derivative of a far wider and older area of study called biocultural anthropology, which is primarily defined by the scientific exploration of the relationships between human biology and culture. Instead of looking for the underlying biological roots of human behavior, biocultural anthropology attempts to understand how culture affects our biological capacities and limitations.”

Many of our readers will also know this theory by its popular name: “Nature and Nurture”, which basically says that human behavior is an outcome of the interaction between genetic inheritance and the culture and life conditions in which a person lives.

The science of epigenetics, mentioned by Said in his conclusion, offers some valuable insights into how this double-helix works physiologically and socially:

Cellular informatic feedback processes are as formative as the DNA/RNA/protein process we used to believe to be the only key since Crick, Watson and Darwin. We’ve discovered that DNA is emitting photons as a part of the coherent structuring process that enables life to exist at all. Energy medicine and mindbody medicine based on this new understanding of DNA vibration frequencies and cellular vibration frequencies will be the next major revolution in medicine, in conjunction with the breakthroughs in the past decade in epigenetics.

Perhaps better then to speak not of genes but the genome — all your genes together. And not the genome as a unitary actor, but the genome in conversation with itself, with other genomes, and with the outside environment. If grasshoppers becoming locusts, sweet bees becoming killers, and genetic assimilation are to be believed, it’s those conversations that define the organism and drive the evolution of new traits and species. It’s not a selfish gene or a solitary genome. It’s a social genome.

It’s not that genes don’t sometimes drive evolutionary change. It’s that this mutational model — a gene changes, therefore the organism changes — is just one way to get the job done. Other ways may actually do more.

Like what other ways? What significant and plausible evolutionary dynamics stand in tension with a single-gene-centered model? What gets obscured by the insistence that a ‘selfish gene’, a coherent, solitary replicator, is the irreducible and ever-present driver of evolution?

A shortlist of such dynamics would include some of the evolutionary dynamics being proposed by anthropologists, such as cultural transmission of knowledge and behavior that allow social species ranging from bees to humans to adapt to changing environments without genetic alterations; and culture-gene evolution, a related idea, in which culture is not the ‘handmaiden’ of genes, but another source of transmissible adaptive information whose elements co-evolve with genes, each affecting the other, as illustrated in diagram 1 below..

Diagram 1 – From Biological to Conscious Cultural Evolution

Also in tension with the selfish-gene model are epigenetic changes suggested by recent research, such as methylation and other alterations to chemical wrappings around DNA, that can modulate DNA’s expression without changing its sequence. Such epigenetic changes may provide a way to pass heritable traits down through at least a few generations without changing any actual genes. To be sure, this research is still unproven as a significant evolutionary force. But while it is clearly important enough to pursue, many defenders of the selfish-gene model dismiss it out of hand.

Finally, the selfish-gene model is in tension with various ‘interesting evolutionary phenomena’, as Gregory Wray puts it in Evolution: The Extended Synthesis, ‘that are apparent only at the scale of hundreds or thousands of genes’ — a scale only made viewable during the past decade or so, as we’ve learnt to rapidly sequence entire genomes.

Of these genomic dynamics, perhaps the most challenging to the selfish-gene story are epistatic or gene-gene interactions. Epistasis refers to the fact that the presence of some genes (or their variants) can have profound and unpredictable influences on the activity and effects generated by other genes. To put it another way, a gene’s effect can vary wildly depending on which combination of other genes it finds itself with. (Think Jerry Garcia, John Lennon or Miles Davis playing with different musical partners.)

The Double-Helix: Action and Care Co-evolve

In 1974 Graves summarized his three decades of research into adult development as follows: 

“What I am proposing is that the psychology of the mature human being is an unfolding, emergent, oscillating, spiralling process marked by progressive subordination of older, lower-order behavior systems to newer, higher-order systems as man’s existential problems change. These systems alternate between focus upon the external world, and attempts to change it, and focus upon the inner world, and attempts to come to peace with it, with the means to each end changing in each alternately prognostic system.”

Said and I have had many conversations about what we might refer to as “altitude sickness” in integral and spiral dynamics circles. What this means is explained by a portion of a dialogue between Otto Laske and I here on ILR a few years ago:

“Otto:  So, Kegan’s theory and the whole social-emotional universe does not really provide us with any tools to develop people. And the bad thing, in my view, is that kind of thinking and research has taken over the cognitive training that people urgently need, both individually and in organizations and so I have come to speak of the whole integral movement as being on a “social emotional triumphal train”.

Robin: Yeah, that’s a very powerful phrase; a social-emotional triumphal train. And I can resonate completely with that because my biggest critique, and I’ve met … I know Ken Wilber quite well and I know Suzanne Cooke-Greuter and Don Beck quite well and a number of the figures in this for 25 years or more, and my critique has been this statement that it takes five years to go from one developmental stage to another as if there’s some kind of holy grail that you are aiming at. 

I call it altitude sickness when you get to the integral or the second tier and suddenly you’ve “made it”. It’s a triumphal arrival of the enlightened. And I’m very delighted to hear you say that because my own experience has been that my own cognitive development has always pulled the rest of me forward and helped pull other people forward well before I was even emotionally or socially able to even comprehend what I was doing.”

Human development and evolution appears to be driven by the biological, psychological, social and technological need to balance any living system, at all levels of scale, in a healthy zone between love and power, conserving what works well and changing what does not. As we develop as individuals, families, tribes, action groups, social institutions, enterprises, networks and communities toward the moment when we are ready to take a momentous leap in meaning and capability to second tier “being” as opposed to first tier “existence”, we find our capacity for care/relationship, together with action/engagement, rising steeply. 

This is what we can now observe occurring on a planetary scale amongst a few hundred million people at the forefront of human evolution and thriveable transformation. This is an inherently messy process, with two leaps forward and one leap backward on occasion, as we learn to adapt to and shape the emerging life conditions that present themselves in our emerging global civilization. 

Although we will experience many local collapses in dysfunctional communities, societies and socio-political systems, we find that the cathartic if tragic consequences of such collapses actually strengthen the capacity to design and take actions that enhance thriveability, while also deepening the bonding and mutual care between newly emerging global connections. 

While at one level we all function as individuals as best we can in this chaordic zone, we find a clarity of meaning and purpose in this evolutionary process, that helps build the trust that is critical to nurturing the global meshworks that can deliver a regenerative, inclusive world civilization. It is those accomplishments we need to celebrate, communicate and build on, rather than the diverse collapses in worn out authoritarian, exploitative and corrupt ways of being and governing, which have plagued us for so many millennia. 

As illustrated in diagram 2 below, we then find ourselves reframing our personal and collective accomplishments in ever bigger circles of care and engagement. As Said puts it:

“The retention of previous stages of development is a Gravesian concept called the healthy subordination of lower systems, and what Beck calls transcendence and inclusion. This is the healthy expression of all the activated systems along the Spiral. When we don’t observe the base pair rule and absent the inclusion of lower systems, problems will continue to exist along the entire double helix.”

This will not be a utopian outcome, however, as the complexity we generate in the process is challenging, and the ability to find the simplicity the other side of complexity in all of this is a hard-won outcome of much struggle within ourselves and between ourselves and others who are often in denial, cynical, enraged or apathetic. 

Perhaps the hardest people to work with are those who are experiencing an ego boost from their unearned “accomplishments” in hoarding wealth and maintaining the existing dysfunctional systems, and those who are deeply frozen in fear. Without conceding an inch to their pretensions and blockages, we must still include them in our circle of care as we hospice those parts of our world that are slowly dying and being replaced by more thriveable solutions to humanity’s challenges.

Just look around you and notice the sheer diversity, sumptuousness and glory of the world around you. Beneath the jaded exteriors of cynical city commuters, the calloused hands of those toiling the soil in the lands and seas that feed us, the glossy surfaces of the endless parade of celebrities and wannabe celebrities and those taxing us with fashion; inside every one of those hearts and minds lies an uncharted territory of possibilities waiting to be revealed and expressed, brought to life in the world.

We live in an era ripe with opportunities for breakthroughs; breakthroughs that can and are catalysing a momentous leap for our species: a new movement in the symphony of human history.

Diagram 2 – Action and Care Co-evolve in a Layered Field of Meaning


Human beings are unique on earth for having four circles of life: biological, psychological, sociological and technological. As a part of nature, we are conceived and born like all other animals. If we are born into one or more of the modern, post-modern or integral eras, however, our biological lifecycle becomes intertwined with the psychological, sociological and technological lifecycles prevalent in the specific world in which we take our first breath.

In the biological world, all living beings burn energy to perform three essential tasks: growing, living and repairing wear and tear. Over time, more things break, which means, the repair function consumes more and more energy and when the organism fails to keep up, it dies. The very same process operates in our communities, organisations and civilisations: Grow-Live-Maintain-Die. 

Our psychological lifecycle is driven by our personal developmental process, which in turn is enabled or constrained by our life conditions. Normally our biological and psychological lifecycles are synchronised, so that our stages of psychological development mirror our stages of biological development through infancy, toddler, child, teenager, young adult and mature adult. Even as we stop growing biologically, however, we can continue to grow psychologically for the rest of our lives if we so desire.

The sociological lifecycle is much more complex, as it comprises different kinds of social entities growing and developing at very different rates. Families, groups, teams, communities, organisations, large institutions and entire global business ecosystems all have their own distinct lifecycles, which can vary from years to centuries. The oldest organization in the world is the Catholic Church, with a 2 000-year history. Families and communities can trace their histories back many generations, while some global corporations are only a decade old, such as Facebook. Groups and teams are often evanescent, lasting months or years at the most.

Very complex trends and forces in science, society, business and culture drive technological lifecycles. The lifecycle of the average personal computer or mobile phone may be less than two years, while the lifecycle of very large systems and infrastructure from battleships to bridges and dams may be from fifty to five hundred years. The Romans built aqueducts two millennia ago that still function today.

The complexity and uncertainty in modern life is driven by the multiple, often-unpredictable interactions between these four lifecycles. As one peaks, another may hit rock bottom, while the other two remain stable. Our lives are a complex interweaving of personal, family, organisational and social forces and trends that need to be aligned in some way, and preferably synergised for the most positive, thriveable outcomes.

Triggering Breakthroughs in Synergy Zones

To connect multiple peaks and cycles, we need to find “super-saturated” synergy zones.

Who knows exactly when the first single-celled amoeba began swimming up a glucose gradient with its elegant little tail? Any guesses on the date of the appearance of the first multi-cellular organism- then plants, algae, fungi, sponges, flatworms, grasshoppers, clams, starfish, sharks, fish, snakes, dinosaurs, birds, dogs, cats, monkeys, and us?

What happened every time a new species emerged, out of the hundreds of millions of species that have ever existed? Each new species was a breakthrough that took place in a rich synergy zone, where there was a super-saturated solution of ingredients and conditions that resulted in a new organism never before seen, better adapted to its life conditions than what came before. And often the species that came before that species went extinct, being less well adapted to the new life conditions. 

Unconscious evolution is massively fertile in its productions, continuously recycling every speck of dust, chemistry and energy; generating huge variety, then selecting organisms and behaviours that work better in each set of life conditions, then retaining those features that are most successful- tails, fins, wings, legs, arms, eyes, hands and minds, for example.

In the human world of conscious evolution, the ingredients we are playing with are a combination of biological, psychological, sociological and technological components. Several ingredients are needed for synergistic, thriveable outcomes:

  • Firstly, a rich, diverse network of people with breakthrough ideas and plans needing an opportunity to mesh them with other complementary ideas and plans to weave a coherent pathway to a shared superordinate goal.
  • Secondly, insights into the energetic and mindset dynamics that can empower those on this pathway, as well as the blockages which can stop or disrupt forward movement.
  • Thirdly, the ability to align diverse agendas into a synergistic win/win/win desirable outcome which can engage people’s imaginations.
  • And finally, the ability to navigate the turbulence on the journey along that pathway, and to embed change and transformation deeply into the system, winning minds and hearts, balancing power and love.

And all of this is cycling in the endless stream of lifecycles of Grow-Live-Maintain-Die that operate in our communities, organisations and civilisations. What a complex, marvellous tapestry is woven within and around us every minute of every day, even while everything appears quiet and calm and the surface of reality like a still pond. 

Two point five billion heartbeats of life for each of us lucky ones that make it all the way to the “end”; 10 000 life-changing, synergistic innovations that make it possible for us to glide effortlessly over the surface of our earth in amazing contraptions that skim across the water, earth and air. We have so much to grateful for, yet so much more to do. As much as we might like to say: “Stop the ride- I want to get off”, evolution cares not for our personal dreams, hopes, frustrations and aspirations. 

Yet, as a species, we are gifted with some of the most advanced minds yet discovered, along with generous hearts and sensuous bodies that crave to love and be loved. We might not be able to change life conditions to suit us exactly the way we might wish, but we do have the power to react to, adapt to and even shape what comes next for us. Even the magnificent dolphins, elephants, whales and other large-brained mammals would be envious of that fact, if they could.


The European philosophers Jean Gebser and Ervin Laszlo, and American philosopher Ken Wilber have written a great deal about what they call the integral stage of development- Wilber, to the extent that he calls his life’s work “Integral Philosophy”. If Wilber and others such as Paul Ray, researcher and author of the “Cultural Creatives” are right, then roughly one hundred million plus individuals are engaged in a transition from first-tier ways of being and thinking, into second tier or “Integral” ways of being and thinking. What would that mean for the evolutionary trajectory of our species Homo sapiens, and what would that mean for each of us who are aware of this approach?

Graves captured beautifully the excesses of the “Green” way of being, where it could get away with it, as follows:

“The idea of a future suffered a similar fate. American Achievist man was always insistent that he had a great future, a ‘manifest destiny’ somehow enhanced by never having lost a war. Therefore, Affiliative “Green” man, in his rebellion, was forced to throw the future into the same garbage heap as technology, erecting in its place ‘the here and now.’

Picture, if you will, “Green” man seated in a yoga position, contemplating his inner self. He has completed the last theme of the subsistence movement of existence. There are no new deficiency motivations to rouse him from his meditations. In fact, he might well go on to contemplating his navel to the day of his death, if he only had some suitable arrangement to care for his daily needs. And it is quite possible for a few “Green” individuals to live this way. But what happens when the majority of a population begins to arrive at the “Green” level of existence? Who is left to care for their daily needs? Who is left to look after the elaborate technology which assures their survival? If we return to “Green” man seated in his yoga position, we see that what finally disturbs him is the roof falling in on his head.

This roof can be called the T problems, the ecological crisis, the energy crisis, the population crisis, limits to growth, or any other such thing which is enough of a disturbance to awaken “Green” man. Naturally enough, his first reaction will be that evil technology is taking over and that all the good feeling and greenery which made the Earth great is in the process of being wrecked forever. (We remember that attitude from the days when his father, Achievist “Orange” man, had much the same erroneous notion.) “Green” man is correct in the sense that his entire way of life, his level of existence, is indeed breaking down: It must break down in order to free energy for the jump into the Authentic Integral state, the first level of being. This is where the leading edge of man is today.”

With the completion of the “Green Meme”, human consciousness is poised for a quantum jump into “Second-Tier thinking.” Graves referred to this as a “momentous leap,” where “a chasm of unbelievable depth of meaning is crossed.” In essence, with second-tier consciousness, one can think both vertically and horizontally, using both hierarchies and heterarchies (both ranking and linking). 

What Professor Graves had found in his research amongst his Union College students in New York between the 1950’s and 1970’s has been mirrored time and again in the past fifty years as societies around the world have evolved into modernism, post-modernism and beyond:

“As man moves from the sixth or personalistic level (the Affiliative “Green” value system”), the level of being with self and other men, to the seventh level, the cognitive level of existence (what we now call Authentic Integral or “Yellow”), a chasm of unbelievable depth of meaning is crossed. The gap between the sixth level and the seventh is the gap between getting and giving, taking and contributing, destroying and constructing. It is the gap between deficiency or deficit motivation and growth or abundance motivation. It is the gap between similarity to animals and dissimilarity to animals, because only man is possessed of a future orientation.”

One can therefore, for the first time, vividly grasp the entire spectrum of development, and thus see that each level is critical for the health of the overall Spiral. The Authentic, Integral (“Yellow”, “GT” in spiral dynamics and Graves), level of development is the starting point for this exciting journey, followed by the Transcendent and Unity stages of development (or “Turquoise”, “HU” in spiral dynamics and Graves). These latter stages embodied in Turquoise are not well mapped yet, as there are so few people centred in them at the moment.

Each wave of development transcends its predecessor, and yet it includes or embraces it in its own makeup. For example, a cell transcends but includes molecules, which transcend but include atoms. To say that a molecule goes beyond an atom is not to say that molecules hate atoms, but that they love them: they embrace them in their own makeup; they include them, they don’t marginalize them. Each wave of existence is a fundamental ingredient of all subsequent waves, and thus each is to be cherished and embraced. 

Moreover, each wave can itself be activated or reactivated as life circumstances warrant. In emergency situations, we can activate red power drives; in response to chaos, we might need to activate blue order; in looking for a new job, we might need orange achievement drives; in marriage and with friends, close green bonding. All of these value systems have something important to contribute. 

But what none of the first-tier value systems can do, on their own, is fully appreciate the existence of the other value systems. Each of the first-tier value systems thinks that its worldview is the correct or best perspective. It reacts negatively if challenged. Blue order is very uncomfortable with both red impulsiveness and orange individualism. Orange individualism thinks blue order is for suckers and green egalitarianism is weak and woo-woo. Green egalitarianism cannot easily abide excellence and value rankings, big pictures, hierarchies, or anything that appears authoritarian and thus green reacts strongly to blue, orange, and anything post-green. 

All of that begins to change with second-tier thinking. Because second-tier consciousness is fully aware of the interior stages of development–even if it cannot articulate them in a technical fashion–it steps back and grasps the big picture, and thus second-tier thinking appreciates the necessary role that all of the various value systems play. Second-tier awareness thinks in terms of the overall spiral of existence, and not merely in the terms of any one level. 

In the transpersonal realm one transcends and integrates all other developmental levels, moving through the authentic integral level to the transcendent and unity levels of higher consciousness. According to recent research, hundreds of millions of people are now actively exploring these transpersonal levels worldwide, while at least 1% of the world’s population is anchored at the transpersonal in their daily life. 

This is the great leap Graves was talking about in 1970 as he reviewed his latest research results with Abraham Maslow and the rest of the American Psychological Association members. Such post-modern stages of development are the basis upon which an integral, global civilization could be built in the 21st century. I say could because:

  • the billions of conformists and achievement-oriented power holders would have to be sufficiently attracted to the possibilities that they are able to let go of some of their narrow belief systems and vested interests to give the newer systems and structures room to grow.
  • the hundreds of millions of affiliative, cultural creatives would need to become much more grounded and practical in their desire for transformation and demands for change, while also shedding the last remnants of their often-narcissistic tendencies.

As Graves himself noted in his speech to the American Psychological Association in 1970:

“There is … an appearance of breakdown which results from the realization of the new values themselves, because these new values are so often the exact antithesis of the old. In that sense, the new values do represent the ultimate breakdown of the current basis of society, or of the individual’s way of life.”


“The present moment finds our society attempting to negotiate the most difficult, but at the same time the most exciting transition the human race has faced to date. It is not merely a transition to a new level of existence but the start of a new ‘movement’ in the symphony of human history”.

In an article published in the “Futurist” magazine in 1974, Graves laid out in great detail why he believed “Human Nature Prepares for a Momentous Leap”. In the following paragraphs he outlines what his data was telling him:

“For many people the prospect of the future is dimmed by what they see as a moral breakdown of our society at both the public and private level. My research, over more than 20 years as a psychologist interested in human values, indicates that something is indeed happening to human values, but it is not so much a collapse in the fiber of man as a sign of human health and intelligence. My research indicates that man is learning that values and ways of living which were good for him at one period in his development are no longer good because of the changed condition of his existence. He is recognizing that the old values are no longer appropriate, but he has not yet understood the new.

The error which most people make when they think about human values is that they assume the nature of man is fixed and there is a single set of human values by which he should live. Such an assumption does not fit with my research. My data indicate that man’s nature is an open, constantly evolving system, a system which proceeds by quantum jumps from one steady state system to the next through a hierarchy of ordered systems.”

Freeman Dyson, Professor Emeritus of Physics at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, puts it thus:

“Now, after some three billion years, the Darwinian era is over. The epoch of species competition came to an end about 10 thousand years ago when a single species, Homo sapiens, began to dominate and reorganize the world. Since that time, cultural evolution has replaced biological evolution as the driving force of change.”

A number of theorists and strategists have been influenced by Graves’ “Emergent Cyclic Levels of Existence Theory”. Chris Cowan and Don Beck used it as the basis for their book Spiral Dynamics: Mastering Values, Leadership, and Change, which in turn is referenced by integral theorist, Ken Wilber in his later works. Dudley Lynch has used it as the basis for four books, including The Strategy of the Dolphin: Scoring a Win in a Chaotic World (with Paul L. Kordis). John Marshall Roberts builds on Graves’ work in his book Igniting Inspiration: A Persuasion Manual for Visionaries. Many other writers and consultants find merit in the Gravesian perspective in domains ranging from personal coaching to executive assessment, from organization design to social policy.


In Said’s conclusion, he says:

“Today, fields of studies that are built on the double helix conception and coevolutionary theories are no longer limited to bio-cultural evolution and the structure of DNA. Two of these models that are on the cutting edge of research come to mind. The first is from the field of epigenetics … The second model addresses the biggest existential problem we face today, climate change and it points to an entirely different coevolutionary process. It’s Gaia Theory, one of the largest coevolutionary models that proposes how our biosphere evolves and adapts. The framework goes beyond biocultural coevolution and suggests that all life forms on our planet interact with their inorganic surroundings in a synergistic, self-regulating way to form one of the largest complex systems we will ever be tasked to understand.”

If we are going to keep global warming well below two degrees and live within a one planet environmental footprint this century​, we need massive breakthroughs. Just as surely as mobile telephone networks mean that developing countries do not need to invest in fixed telephone and data lines, so too do solar, wind and biofuel renewable energy technologies ensure that they can bypass coal, gas and oil for their energy needs. Meanwhile, in the developed world, those technologies are transforming the way we do things, and making us more sustainable, if not “thriveable”.

The ability to thrive (or “Thriveability”), is both an end and a means- the end is a thriving human civilisation in a thriving biosphere (“thrive”), while the means comprises developing the capabilities (“ability”) to thrive within a one planet footprint that keeps global warming at or below 1.5C. 

In the 21st century, the rate of technological change will be at least one thousand times faster than in the 20th century. Biological extinction rates, climate change, and innovations in ecosystem regeneration and the life sciences are also accelerating at several hundred times the speed they did during the last century. Our psychological and sociological evolution needs to be accelerated if we are to end the 21st century more alive and thriving than when we entered it.

Clusters of innovations that enable and embed leaps in human progress have always driven human evolution. Evolution favours processes & structures that facilitate flows of energy, information and resources, with the most synergistic outcomes of those intermingling flows being translated into embedded innovations that scale species wide. This has already happened before in our shifts from hunter gathering to agriculture, and in the subsequent shift to the industrial age, and is now being evidenced in our next leap to a thriveable global civilisation- the “Momentous Leap”. Everywhere we can see encouraging green shoots emerging to shape a regenerative inclusive global political economy, despite the well-publicised setbacks in several countries.

As Said points out, information technology in the digital age has radically accelerated our capacity to change and transform, for both good and evil:

The Global Digital Dilemma. The digital age was envisioned primarily from the S base on the AI strand on the double helix. I argue in my book MEMEnomics that its initial purpose, according to the engineers who pioneered the world wide web protocols was to democratize information and resources. [1] This was a noble goal that was intended to disrupt the ER Orange system and the corrosive toll it had taken on society and economic equality. As an unintended consequence, what it has done, is it removed the physical barriers needed for hierarchical stage development. As the digital age becomes an increasingly indispensable part of our lives, we continue to ignore the fact that the physical world moves at a considerably slower pace than the digital world. While Graves argues that our brain has remained somewhat the same throughout human history, according to Moore’s Law the disruption and the removal of physical barriers coming from the digital age, moves at warp speed that doubles every 18-24 months and restructures everything in its path. Since we cannot slow down technology, the challenge going forward is how do we accelerate psychosocial capacities on the AI strand in individuals, institutions and societies and make them adaptable to the continuous change that comes from this exogenous phenomenon that is disrupting the totality of life at every level of development. 

What is often called “sustainable innovation” has taken off in the past few decades, building on “bottom-of-the pyramid”, lean business models that are able to deliver healthcare and surgery at one-tenth the cost in the developed world; or mobile phone services that cost less than a western cappuccino a month in India; or micro-cars that cost less than a month’s salary of an average western worker. 

Positive mavericks are entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs whose aim is to make the world a better place through their businesses and socially entrepreneurial endeavours. They range from mavericks like Elon Musk of Tesla and SpaceX, to Nemji Gangar, whose eye hospital in India offers free eye operations for the poor, subsidised from lean commercial eye operations.

New fusions of Bio, Neuro, Nano, Digital and Green technologies are leaping out at us every day as scientists, technologists, venture capitalists and labs everywhere ratchet up the speed at which they are able to roll out new innovations. Just look at how dozens of labs around the world have developed hyper-effective Covid-19 vaccines in less than a year, when traditionally it has taken between ten and twenty years to develop a new vaccine.

Building on Graves’ “BioPsychoSocio” approach, what I am proposing here is a new model of human evolution that embraces all four evolutionary modes present in humans and other social animals. This is the core of what I call the “biopsychosociotechno” story, which recapitulates the dynamic interactions between the biological, psychological, sociological and technological forces shaping our future as a species. 

The BioPsychoSocioTechno Innovation Story

Clusters of interwoven biological, psychological, sociological and technological innovations have literally driven the evolution of our species, and still do. Think of the “BioPsychoSocioTechno Story”. as a chain of causation that works both ways, from the bio to the techno, and vice-versa. Or think of them as four musical notes, which can be played as a chord, with one or more of the notes being dominant depending upon the tune being played.

For example, let’s take a simple breakthrough, fire. Before we discovered fire, we had difficult staying warm and getting enough food, because we could not cook and could not huddle around a warm fire together in the dark night. A new technology (TECHNO), fire, suddenly meant cooking could release more nutrients from raw food, giving us more energy (BIO), which also meant we shared meals around the fire, creating stronger bonds between us (PSYCHO), that led to better collaboration between members of the tribe (SOCIO), and ultimately, to more of us surviving those ice ages and dangerous predators.

Fast forward a few hundred thousand years, and we find ourselves spending a great deal of our time in front of the 21st century equivalents of the campfire, whether our digital devices or the local coffee shop or restaurant. We can now bond and collaborate with some of the 2.3 billion people on Facebook or get to know our friends and colleagues better to the sound of the cappuccino machine or the waiter taking our order. Again, the new technologies have biological, psychological, and sociological consequences, which must be taken into account in considering their function, design and operation. 

We cannot sustain a momentous leap unless we embed the BioPsychoSocioTechno story into the way we think, design, build and operate our planet. All life on earth depends on nature working well, and for that to happen in the future we need healthy human beings who are psychologically well adjusted. These humans need to get on well together and build trusting, caring relationships that enable them to manage our planet well. As these relationships coalesce into networks of capability, power, authority and influence, they create social capital that enables social institutions to function well and brands to be trusted.

The stability and predictability generated by social capital encourages the production and exchange of intellectual and manufactured capital, adding to the wealth and prosperity of a society. Infrastructure capital then acts to facilitate the processes of production and exchange through resilient habitats plus transport and communications networks that interconnect them. Then, financial capital can play its proper role as a scorecard (unit of value) and medium of exchange, and not the be-all and end-all of our hyper-financialised economy. 

In business and investment circles, the BioPsychoSocioTechno story is recognised as an approach to integrated thinking and management called “multi-capitalism”. In the thriveability approach to multi-capitalism, we recognise eight capitals:

  • Biological– natural and human capitals
  • Psychological– relationship and intellectual capitals
  • Sociological– social and financial capitals
  • Technological– manufactured and infrastructure capitals.

Progress in human civilisation is advanced through clusters of innovations that interweave the eight capitals in synergistic ways, creating more value for more people as a result. To make this value sustainable and thriveable, it needs to be measured as True Future Value. In order to make sense of this world of exploding possibilities and risks from an investment perspective, we need a framework and selection process that can helicopter over this complexity and synthesise it systematically, using science-based principles based on the latest climate, environmental and social science findings. 

In addition, the ability to scan for the positive mavericks and innovative green shoots emerging around the globe and evaluate their potential to regenerate key capitals while benefitting those challenged by climate change, pollution and poor social conditions, becomes mandatory for those seeking positive thriveable innovation and investing opportunities.

We must, however, remember the caveat about any technology, broadly defined, as Said points out:

“By removing the physical structures that defined each developmental stage the digital revolution has allowed human groupings and entire societies to bypass the necessary stages of development without necessarily having the prerequisite psychosocial capacities to move up the hierarchy. While this democratization can be seen as a positive improvement in many ways, the absence of structures that existed in the physical world can have a drastic negative effect on our developmental process. 

The nature of technology today has very few mechanisms that prevent unhealthy activities along the entire hierarchy. It disproportionally empowers the unhealthy expression of the lower systems like CP-Red, ideological and theocratic DQ-Blue and the unhealthy expression of ER-Orange, while falsely giving those in the FS stage a sense of humanitarian harmony. It enables all the unhealthy expressions to use the existing technological infrastructure to further destabilize the world. It is too early to tell if engineers who think from the T base on the AI strand can recreate, in the digital world, the structures that can pacify and deflect the unhealthy expressions that have run amuck due to the digital disruption and make digital intelligence subordinate to human wisdom.”

Thriveable Transformation from a Second-Tier Perspective

Thriveability is designed using a second-tier template that includes two “upstretch packages”- the first for peak to exiting achievers and the second for peak to exiting individualists. The key principle is that “Thriveability starts with me and is everyone’s responsibility”- this works with a ladder and a set of evolving views from each rung of the ladder, so that decision makers and investors at all levels from families to communities to cities to organizations to countries to global bodies can make more Thriveable decisions. 

The Thriveability Template recognises that each level of development is an interconnected ecosystem of players with complementary strengths who ideally need to co-evolve Thriveability in their parts of the ecosystem, helping unblock blockages motivated by propositions which are irresistible to each rung on the ladder.

Real 2nd tier applies acupuncture to dysfunctional parts of the first-tier memetic system, requiring it to know and be an expression of the healthy versions of all six levels. If the “2nd Tier” claimant is seriously dysfunctional or lacking themselves in any of the first-tier systems, that will tarnish the intervention. It is not so much just another stage, as that strategic psychological helicopter hovering over the entire first tier system of being and doing. Which is why the strategists in the FlexFlow 7th stage are so critical. Flexflow is a holistic acupuncturist, while the 8th stage, Globalview, is a planetary shaman.

There are seven dimensions to thriveable transformation, which follow the outside-in, inside-out dynamics that characterise developmental processes. The first six of these dimensions, or steps, start with the outside-in understanding of one’s context, and end with the inside-out integration of one’s own evolutionary self. 

Step 7 then builds on the learnings and insights from steps 1 to 6, dramatically expanding one’s ability to generate transformative moments and design thriveable futures. Designing Thriveable Futures relies on the art and science of generating transformative moments that shift entities and the warm systems they are in, into healthier, more thriveable states. The outcome of the sequence of the first six steps is a new stance which opens up new possibilities. 

Your “stance” is how you position yourself to what is different from and other than you. Your experience then follows your stance. This is well known from social-emotional theory which distinguishes “stages” of meaning making each of which defines a different stance toward oneself and others in the social world. Your stance may thus stand in the way of fully transformative thinking, and since stance is held unconsciously, transformative thought and action will remain impossible for you until you change your stance.

The world you see as “yours”, is a result of the interaction between your stance and your “tools”, which are cognitive, psychological and technological tools that make you more comfortable with contradiction and uncertainty that your stance may be poised to deny. A key to thriveable transformation is the insight that being attentive to what is emerging, you might have a chance to realize that your way of perceiving and thinking of something is limited, and less than thriveable. This realization could then have an impact on your stance, in the direction of becoming more highly aware of contradictions in what you encounter in the world. And this, in turn, could then lead you to having different experiences of, and in, the world. As a result, we can say there is a complete feedback loop between Stance, Tools, and Experiences.

The most powerful force for thriveable transformation in our challenging world today, is the ability to develop a new cognitive stance toward reality that directly contradicts what we take for granted, or swallow whole without reflection. If thinking for yourself still has meaning in the internet age, it amounts to including opposites and potentials in your thinking which open you up to new experiences and possibilities.

Teaching and learning integral, critical, complex and realistic thinking is the first step to realizing thriveable, transformative designs and moments in your own life and that of the others you engage with. In designing thriveable futures, you will need to reflect often on three questions to enhance your own success and ensure that of others through win-win-win dynamics:

“What should I do, for whom?”- reframe your identity and its sources (your work, family, possessions, religion and so on) to be more conducive to co-creating thriveable futures for yourself, your organisation and your world (your social-emotional base)?

“What can I do, what are my options?”- How can you learn to engage with concepts and designs with a transformational complexity beyond your current capacity for transformative thought structures? (your cognitive base)?

“How am I doing?”- what feedback is the world giving you and your current way of being and operating? What are you perceiving, and what are you projecting?

Leaders in general must rethink their thinking to co-create thriveable outcomes through novel, emerging situations, especially in transforming social and business models. The north star for new social and business models must be thriveability for all stakeholders and all life on our planet. For culture transformations in organizations this means that corporate cultures open to transformational thinking have a much better chance of being transformational than organizations adhering to logical-thinking schemes which abound in departmental silos. This new integral vision requires lifelong and steady commitment to transformations of consciousness and constant revisioning of our models of self-and-other-seeing and relating.

Healing Ourselves, Healing Our Planet

To conclude, I will leave you with the final page of my book: “The Momentous Leap: Thriveable Transformation in the 21st Century: Healing Ourselves, Healing our Planet”. And a big thank you to Said, whose scholarly article stimulated this review and synthesis of many aspects of my work as set out in the eight books mentioned below, from which many of the insights in this review were drawn.

“So, what will you do? How can you be part of the momentous leap, and make a difference that shifts not only mindsets, but also transforms cultures, social systems and the world around you?

This involves a two-step process- first, healing ourselves; then, step two involves applying that learning in some practical way that can be a part of the much bigger process of healing our planet. 

There are generally four steps to healing ourselves-

  • Waking up- becoming more aware and mindful of what is happening inside ourselves, and in the people and world around us; getting to grips with our strengths, weaknesses, and the opportunities and threats in our lives and careers.
  • Cleaning up- all of us carry some baggage from the past, often referred to as our “shadow”. There are many wonderful ways in which we can liberate the hidden energy in this shadow that is blocking us from taking the next steps we need to take to realise our dreams and ambitions.
  • Growing up- we all have parts of ourselves that are still stuck in various immature stages of development, and which can get in the way of our journey through life. Again, working on developing ourselves and becoming a fully accountable adult in every area of our lives yields major benefits.
  • Showing up- once we are fully accountable and responsible, we become dramatically more effective in using our capabilities to make a difference. We can see further, act faster, and go deeper in anything we set out to do, with less effort, and inspire others to do the same.

Remember that there are some 700 million other people at various stages in the momentous leap right now- you are not alone. And you can find them wherever you are, no matter what your interests, capabilities, passions and the current state of your networks and relationships. In order to close the momentous environmental and social gaps of our time, connecting up with like-minded others to align around things you care about and that really make a difference, is crucial.

The rewards of healing yourself, and healing our planet at the same time, are immense. The journey is well worth the effort. No matter where you are on your own journey, applying some of the thinking and frameworks in this book to improve your own practices and skills will help you become more focused and powerful in your efforts. Your fellow travellers are already out there, waiting for you to connect up with them. May the wind be at your back, and your companions resourceful as you undertake your journey together!” 

As Said puts it: 

“Graves’ theory remains, as the title of his book suggests, a continuously evolving set of works that always asked the general existential question: “What is adult human development all about?” In justifying its last comparison to Tsanoff’s, Graves vindicated his conclusion with the following statement:

“The answer from my data is quite clear. Tsanoff’s hope is much closer to the facts of human development than all the others are. His hope, according to my data is not a futile hope. It is an overwhelming probability… I say this because the data from my studies has forced me to this conclusion.” [2]

Here’s the quote from Tsanoff that captured Graves’ intuitive and philosophical side which has since been ignored in much of what has been published about his work: 

“The Twilight in which we seem to be moving today is the twilight not before night, but before dawn: that we are reaching the end of the dark ages of materialism, that the modern mind without surrendering the tools by which it has achieved its mastery of material nature, will now more fully vindicate its own self-recognition and achieve self-mastery and a more human life individual and social.” [3]


[1]  Said E. Dawlabani, Memenomics: The Next Generation Economic System (New York: Select Books 2013), 158-164.

[2] Graves. Levels of Complexity.

[3] Ibid.

About the Author

Dr Wood is a world-renowned strategist, futurist, communicator, author and agent of transformation. He is an entrepreneurial business and social activist who gets things done while helping build inspiring and entrepreneurial cultures. For example:

  • In 1992 he worked with the World Bank to develop the first sustainable energy strategy for the first Rio conference, then spoke at Rio+20 in the Hague in 2012.
  • He is a recognized leader in the field of sustainability, Founder of the Thriveability Foundation, The Balancer, the Thriveworld Game and a regular speaker at major conferences including Sustainable Brands.
  • Beginning in 1995, he helped to create the modern Internet and what we now know as E-Business, spending several years between London, Hong Kong and Silicon Valley.
  • He advised No 10 Downing Street Policy Unit on the impact of the digital economy on social capital, and explored the application of integral and spiral dynamics to develop more effective policies with the policy teams.

Here is a recent interview in Integral Leadership Review on what motivates him: 


Robin has been advising business and political leaders at all levels, as an integrally informed practitioner and leader in several ways:

BUSINESS AND GOVERNMENT – He has spent four decades working at board level with the world’s leading organizations, banks and several governments in 37 countries on four continents. He is deeply skilled in designing and catalyzing major shifts in large scale systems, and in inspiring and empowering the teams that deliver them. Robin’s mission is to catalyze, and support leaders, organizations and innovations to co-create a thriving global future. He does this as a keynote speaker, consultant to leaders and as the founder and leader of various socially innovative organisations.

CLIENTS – Robin’s clients in the past two decades have included the leadership teams and senior executives in more than 50 of the Global 1000 including: GSK, Pfizer, Novartis, Vodafone, BT, UK Defense Ministry, ZF Group, BBA Aviation, Eagle Star, Royal & Sun Alliance, Kellogg’s, Ernst and Young International, Hewlett Packard, HP/Microsoft alliance, HP/Intel alliance, Barclays, World Bank, Unilever, Royal Dutch PTT, ICL, 3M and Shell International.

SUSTAINABLE INNOVATION – Dr Wood is the Founder of Renaissance2 and Thriveability Foundations and the inventor of “ThriveAbility”. Thriveability focuses on transforming organisations and their business ecosystems to become healthier, happier and more prosperous, by focusing simultaneously on personal, organizational and ecosystem transformation. r3.0 https://www.r3-0.org/ has taken forward the thriveable transformation journey with IIRC, WBCSD, major corporates and financial institutions.

He has authored several award-winning books, including “The Trouble with Paradise”, “The Great Shift- Catalyzing the Second Renaissance” and “Managing Complexity”.  His latest books include “Synergise! 21st Century Leadership” in softback and Kindle at http://amzn.to/2ndNWOJ, and “Making Good Happen- Pathways to a Thriving Future” in softback and Kindle at http://amzn.to/2gj3csl. In the “The Momentous Leap: Thriveable Transformation in the 21st Century: Healing Ourselves, Healing our Planet”, Dr Wood focuses on the future of our species and thriveable transformation. https://amzn.to/2D8oX7j  

Healing Ourselves, Healing our Planet is a recent example of a successful training and development initiative which has reached hundreds of leaders in dozens of cities around the world in the past 9 months through webinars and live masterclasses, most recently in London, San Diego and San Francisco. 


  • A Fellow at the Centre for Management Development at London Business School and at the Institute for Coherence and Emergence in the USA. 
  • His doctorate from the London Business School focused on strategic alignment, leading to the development of the alignment wheel organizational diagnostic system which has been used in dozens of major projects globally. 
  • Robin has co-founded and led several start-ups such as Idon, Genesys and Telesure, the strategy and e-business practices at Ernst and Young and was a Managing Director at e-business creator Scient in the heady days of the internet boom.
  • His latest investment is in the Balancer App and supporting software suites, designed to help citizens, consumers and decisionmakers make a positive impact through greener lifestyles, business innovation and smarter governance systems. Download the Balancer for free here:

iOS Appstore https://bit.ly/applebalancer
Android Playstore https://bit.ly/androidbalancer

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