Another note on Spiral Dynamics

A couple of quick follow-ups on my recent post on the Spiral Dynamics cultural-assessment framework, which I use in some aspects of my work on business-architecture and enterprise-architecture.

First, as per his comment on that post, Kent Bye has assembled on Flickr an excellent collection of more than 90 descriptive graphics about Spiral: see . A valuable resource for anyone interested in Spiral: strongly recommended.

Second, I probably need to emphasise a bit more a perhaps subtle distinction between awareness of the Other – as represented by Spiral layers as ‘distance from Self’ – versus responsibility toward the Other. If we’re not aware of the Other, we necessarily have limited ‘response-ability’ toward that Other because we’re not aware of it. Likewise there’s a crucial distinction between unawareness and deliberate indifference – simple ignorance versus a literal ‘ignore-ance’ of the Other and its needs – because in the first case there is no ‘response-ability’, whereas in the second there’s a deliberate refusal to enact ones known mutual responsibilities with the Other (passive dysfunctionality in relationship, otherwise known as ‘abuse’).

To give a direct business example, consider the mutual responsibilities implied in ‘corporate social responsibility’. In classic Friedman terms – “the business of business is business” – a corporation is an ‘artificial person’ and therefore has no responsibilities outside of profit-making: the consequences of such profit-making are, to use Douglas Adams’ phrase, made invisible by assigning them as ‘Somebody’s Else’s Problem’. In this view, there is no ‘Other’ beyond the corporation and its owners: the corporation is the enterprise, the enterprise is the corporation. Yet in order for the profit to be created, there need to be transactions, and a market in which those transactions occur: here, by definition, the enterprise must extend beyond the corporation, hence the Other must exist, and be acknowledged to exist, otherwise the corporation could only make its purported profit by cannibalizing on itself (not that that’s an unusual circumstance in business, of course…). So the Friedman model implies a classic game of ‘have your cake and eat it’: the corporation acts as if there are responsibilities to itself from the Other, but none of itself to the Other.

The relation itself can be highly asymmetric in responsibilities – as it is in functional variants of Spiral ‘Red’, for example, such as the trusted team-leader or platoon-leader – but as long as the responsibilities are mutual and do balance overall, the system will still work. (Spiral ‘Purple’ tribal, ‘Red’ great-leader or ‘Blue’ priest-led models are often essential where there’s a natural asymmetry of decision-making capabilities – hence ‘response-abilities’ – between the leader(s) and the bulk of the group.) But trust will fade and fail when that mutuality of responsibilities is not respected, in either or both directions. There’s usually more tolerance when the failure of responsibility arises from a true lack of awareness; but when the lack of awareness is feigned, or the mutuality deliberately ignored, expect there to be trouble, followed by rapid loss of trust. And from a business perspective, if trust fails, the transactions will also falter and fail – and likewise the profits. Hence one quick way to understand the current ‘Global Financial Crisis’ is that its root-cause has been a betrayal of trust on a massive scale. Another topic for another time, I suspect, but in the meantime, using Spiral as a means for architects to model value-sets, ‘distance from Self’ and mutuality of responsibilities seems like a useful way to go.

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