What’s driving you?

Why do so many want to be a fireman? Why do some lead and others follow? Why are you so passionate about politics? How can you cope with an hour of traffic every morning? Have you ever wondered what motivates you? Well, there is a system and it pretty much explains what drives us.

Back in 1996 Don Edward Beck and Christopher Cowan wrote a book called ‘Spiral Dynamics, Mastering Values, Leadership and Change”. The theory is derived from the work “Emergent Cyclic Levels of Existence Theory” by Professor Emeritus Psychology Dr. Clare Graves. Ken Wilber was inspired by the theory to write his book ‘A Theory of Everything‘.

But let’s focus on Spiral Dynamics (hence the top image). The model was brought to my attention by Roger Rutten on Linkedin. Here is an illustration:

Most will recognize similarities with the five stage motivational model of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Theory. Indeed, both models have a lot in common, but they hold a different perspective.

In Spiral Dynamics a meme is much like what DNA is to our physical body: it is the story that shapes us. Spiral Dynamics distinguishes eight value systems from which our motivations spring. From the bottom up:

  1. Instinctive Self (age: 0-18 months | meme started 100.000 years ago)
  2. Magic/Animistic Self (age: 1-3 years | meme started 50.000 years ago)
  3. Impulsive Self (age: 3-6 years | meme started 10.000 years ago)
  4. Rule/Role Self (age: 7-8 years | meme started 5.000 years ago)
  5. Achiever Self (age: 9-14 years | meme started 300 years ago)
  6. Sensitive Self (age: 15-21 years | meme started 150 years ago)
  7. Integral Self (meme started 50 years ago)
  8. Holistic Self (meme started 30 years ago)

The first tier (1-6) is mostly personal: sexuality, gender, mortality, spirituality, emotions, relations. The second tier (7-8) is transpersonal (being): contemplation, creativity and aesthetics.

“If you ever wondered why someone got gunned down over a pair of Nike Air Jordans, Spiral Dynamics will help you to understand the ‘red’ (3) mindset and the life conditions of the people living there. If you wonder why that weird uncle of yours is all into God and Government, Spiral Dynamics will teach you all about the ‘blue’ (4) mindset and their life conditions. Once you understand the value system of a person in this way, it becomes much easier for you to work with them. Or work for them. Or manage them. You’ll understand why they would respond better to discipline, incentives, or recognition. ”

Looking at what motivates customers most marketeers agree that the old way of segmenting customers into simple demographics is no longer valid: we have to look at customer intent, the personal motivation that drives each customer.

Ken Wilber’s Theory of Everything could probably not have been constructed 50+ years ago. Our ability to conceive multiple perspectives of what we perceive of reality wasn’t merely limited by our brain, but mostly by the access to these perspectives. And since we are creating new ones, at an ever increasing speed, the dynamics of our perception of reality very much resembles a spiral.

Today, integral frameworks like the Balanced Scorecard (strategic management and execution), Discover Insights (personality traits) and Customer SONAR (single customer view), exist because of our ability to transcend memes, silos and egos. We don’t need to fully comprehend these integral perspectives, but we do need to understand how these frameworks fit our personal drives.

If Spiral Dynamics teaches us anything it is that each product, idea, believe, goal, and even an integral framework, needs to match with the drives of that person in order to be relevant i.e. to be of value to him/her.

Just a personal note: I like to view love, friendship and partnership as some sort of helix, where motivations and life conditions of two people grow parallel.




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