There are multiple interpretations/variations of Spiral Dynamics. The major ones are:
- Levels of Human Existence (Graves’ model)
- Original Spiral Dynamics (Don Beck and Christopher Cowan)
- Spiral Dynamics® (Cowan + Natasha Todorovic)
- Spiral Dynamics Integral (Don Beck)
- Integral Theory (Ken Wilber)
Spiral Dynamics starts with Clare W. Graves research and his theory of Emergent Cyclical Levels of Human Existence (aka “Graves’ model”).
Don Beck and Chris Cowan joined Graves in 1975 and continued to develop the theory after Graves’ death in 1986. They published it in 1996 as Spiral Dynamics.
While Graves supplied the original blueprint, he cautioned me on numerous occasions to continue to research, and pursue “the never-ending quest.” —Don Beck
Beck and Cowan focused on applying the theory on practice. Between 1981 and 1988, Beck made more than sixty trips to South Africa. (He and Cowan are credited with helping Nelson Mandela to peacefully end apartheid in South Africa.)
In 1999, Beck and Cowan parted because of Cowan registering Spiral Dynamics® (Beck wanted to keep it open for academic use) and joining Natasha Todorovic (formely a stock market trader) to start NVC Consulting, which made further collaboration difficult (Butters2015). (Cowan first co-founded National Values Center Inc. in 1978 and then co-founded NVC Consulting with Natasha Todorovic in 1998. Spiral Dynamics® | NVC Consulting)
As part of NVC Consulting, Cowan edited and published a book of Graves’ papers; he also offered training in Spiral Dynamics®. As a result of this work and further study of Graves’ writings, Cowan found “glaring errors in previous renditions of [the book] Spiral Dynamics which we are trying to address” (2001, Cowan2013). From Cowan’s perspective, Spiral Dynamics is very close to Graves’ original theories (terminology have changed, but the core is the same). By thus positioning himself, Cowan was able to critique other unorthodox interpretations.
Readers of the SD book should note that some of the materials he has copied essentially verbatim would not even be included were the SD book being properly redone today, especially some rather poor and over-simplistic examples for the levels described as “Where Found” and the political analyses because a great deal more has been learned about the theory since the writing in 1994-5 which is not reflected in that volume. [emphasis mine] After spending tfive [sic] years working on The Never Ending Quest and digging deeply into both Graves’s writings and those of his sources, we find some glaring errors in previous renditions of Spiral Dynamics which we are trying to address. —Cowan2013
Don Beck, however, views Spiral Dynamics development in three phases: 1) Graves technology (1975–1995); 2) Spiral Dynamics proper (1996–2001); and Spiral Dynamics integral, or SDi (2002–). This connection with Wilber (SDi) brought more interest into Spiral Dynamics.
Beck and Wilber parted because of “Wilber’s constant distortion of the Spiral Dynamics/Gravesian model” (Beck in Butters2015) and Wilber’s over-focus on spiritualism. They both continued to teach Spiral Dynamics in relation to Integral Theory, but in different ways.
Ken Wilber has studied Graves’ works before Spiral Dynamics was published. He then embraced Spiral Dynamics in Integral Theory in The Theory of Everything (2000). In Integral Spirituality (2006), after parting with Beck, Wilber simultaneously redefined and marginalized Spiral Dynamics while also outlining its limitations for spiritual application. Both Don Beck and Christopher Cowan report on Wilber misinterpreting and distorting Spiral Dynamics (Wilber misinterprets Spiral Dynamics).