As individuals we are not fixed in our nature, we evolve and adapt due to different life circumstances and are able to deal with greater intellectual and emotional complexity. Spiral Dynamics is one of the models used to describe this evolution.

According to developers of Spiral Dynamics, Graves, Beck and Cowan, our core values progress and regress over time depending upon the life circumstances we find ourselves in. The research undertaken over many years has uncovered that this model works on the individual level and also on the level of a group or even whole societies; it also established that this model is independent of culture, which led them to believe that it is associated with the ‘deep structure’ of our consciousness.

Spiral Dynamics OverviewThe diagram shows the spiral that gave the model its name. Each colour corresponds to a values level. The diagram should be interpreted as ‘transcend and include’, meaning that as a person gains access to the next level, they don’t lose access to the values of the previous levels.

Within the model, individuals (and cultures) do not fall clearly in any single category (colour). Each person embodies a mixture of the value patterns. At the same time it is useful for a person to understand what the highest level of values development they have reached is.

In Australia, for instance, it is estimated that about 50% of society has evolved primarily in to orange, 25% primarily in to green and 20% primarily in to blue (see table below). Similarly it is estimated that approximately 1% of the world’s population is sitting primarily in yellow and less than 0.1% is the percentage given for turquoise.

Spiral Dynamics is not a linear or hierarchical model; stages of progress and regression over time are dependent upon the life circumstances of the person. Attaining higher stages of development is not synonymous with attaining a ‘better’ or ‘more correct’ values system. All stages co-exist in both healthy and unhealthy states, whereby any stage of development can lead to undesirable outcomes

Spiral Dynamics Levels

Spiral Dynamics Table 1

Spiral Dynamics Values Keywords

Sometime the easiest way to get a sense of the values development stage you are in is to reflect on specific values that represent each level and see where there is resonance or dissonance in comparison with how you behave and live your life. In the table below, we have collected a list of such values and assigned them to the values level with which we believe they best correspond.

Spiral Dynamics Table 2

Application of Spiral Dynamics to Conservation

From the above descriptions of the values levels we see that conservation is firmly rooted in green. The conservation movement coincided with the large-scale emergence of the green values level in the 1960s. Yet at the same time the dominant move in values at the global scale today is from blue to orange, not from orange to green. The big transitions in countries like China, India and Viet Nam are all from blue (Confucian/Communism or caste system) to orange (capitalism). This needs to be taken into account when addressing conservation and illegal wildlife trade issues in those countries.

The basic emotion the conservation movement aims to elicit is empathy. This explains why most campaigns use animals because an empathetic response is anticipated. The orange and blue value systems also place humans above all other species on the planet. This is reflected clearly in charitable giving in OECD countries, with over 90% of funds donated going to human causes.

What works in each values system for conservation:

Spiral Dynamics Table 3

Breaking The Brand was informed by this model when creating our pilot rhino campaign.

Example – Canned Lion Hunting
How to create an advert to break the demand for canned lion hunting:

Canned Lion hunting advert

Target Group 1 – People who care about lions

  • Typically at green values level
  • Strong affinity with conservation efforts and big cats
  • Expect first-hand, close up experiences to be able to show their empathy
  • Group based values system – being seen to do good is important

Target Group 2 – Big Game Hunters

  • Typically at red or orange/red values level
  • Need to demonstrate strength, courage, wealth, status
  • If orange – expect the hunt to be organised to their wishes (customer is king)
  • Individual values system – being seen to be a hero/successful is key

In order to create a successful advert, we need to address the motivations and pain points on both sides. If we don’t hook the primary target group around their motivation, they will not take notice of the ad. Hence the ad needs to feel familiar to the target group and then and only then (on closer inspection) can it trigger the pain point.

Target Group 1 (Green) –

  1. Motivation: Relates to ‘cute lion cub’, triggers empathy. Petting lion cub is a close-up, personal experience that can be shared with others.
  2. Pain Point: My indulgence and my need to help is actually creating tame targets for easy execution. I find hunting abhorrent, so I will have to abstain from my desire to pet lion cubs.

Target Group 2 (Red) –

  1. Motivation: Demonstrating courage, strength, power. Big Game hunting is seen as ultimate test of courage and skill.
  2. Pain Point: Canned hunting is cowardly. I might be seen as a loser, not a hero. I hope nobody finds out that I got my trophy from a canned hunt.

The ad concept displayed above primarily targets the green group – people who care about lions. In the same way an ad could be constructed that primarily targets red and orange members of the second target group.