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Drives, Clare W. Graves

Introduction The foundation for our organization is the (drives) theory of the American Professor, Clare W. Graves (1914-1986). The core of this theory is human striving to react adequately to circumstances, with survival as its primary goal.

Or as Charles Darwin (1809-1882) said:

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one the most adaptable to change”

Drives are buried deep in our subconscious. From there they take over the management of our behavior when our conscious brain fails us. On average we are able to consciously focus on 7 different things at any one time, the rest is left up to our subconscious. Our drives play an important role in this. They determine how we function and how we deal with these situations.

Only a fraction of all our actions takes place from conscious thought, a few percent at most. This means that the rest is managed by our subconscious drives. This makes them the greatest source for human behavior and for the dynamics present in teams and organizations as well as for our development and vitality as humanity.

The origins of drives theoryThe theory comes from scientific research carried by the American Professor Clare W. Graves in the 60’s. In 1971, he was able to expose a clear pattern explaining human behavior in different situations. He discovered different levels of human existence where situations and ways that they are dealt with, differ greatly.

The levels of human existence follow each other in a logical way, each level offering a solution to the inefficiencies of the previous level. The different levels build on each other into a complete development model, that we can use to explain our behavior and development. Graves was able to identify 8 different levels, with various transition levels in between. His research also showed that in the future new levels will emerge.

From Graves to Spiral Dynamics™Don Beck and Chris Cowan, Graves’ students, simplified his results. They put less emphasis on the transition levels and concentrated on the main levels. Then they attributed colors to the main levels, making the model more accessible. These are the colors, in order of complexity: beige, purple, red, blue, orange, green, yellow and turquoise.

You can see Graves’ model in the illustration below. It shows the mutual interconnections between the drives. This shows how we evolve (from bottom to top) and how under stress or pressure, we can reverse back down (from top to bottom). The Graves model allows you to explain these natural patterns of human behavior simply and with complete clarity.

Brief explanation per drive:

BeigeThe core of this drive is basic survival. Behavior is a reflex aimed at primary needs such as hunger, thirst and sexual drives. There is no consciousness or reflection. Beige can be seen in early infant reflexes and later as a reaction to illness, accidents or psychological trauma. Beige is an individually focussed drive.

PurpleIn the drive purple everything depends on loyalty. Solitary we are weak, together we are strong. We offer each other protection through unconditional loyalty. Think of mother and child, family, unions, indigenous tribes etc. Inside the group you are safe, on the outside you’re not. Purple is a group focussed drive.

RedIn the drive red, it’s all about being the strongest; it’s a jungle out there, where only the strongest survive. This demands decisiveness and fearlessness. This drive likes to hang onto power, because in the end the only person you can trust is you. Where there’s red, there’s action. Red is an individually focussed drive.

Blue The drive blue is focussed on clarity, clear rules and agreements. We create them together to make sure that everything takes place well and in an orderly fashion. This is the only way to prevent chaos. Blue is a group focussed drive.

OrangeThe drive orange aims for goals and results, the world is full of opportunities. If you want something, go for it and it will be successful. You won’t let yourself be stopped by anything or anybody, results are the only things that count. Orange is an individually focussed drive.

GreenIn the drive green, everything revolves around harmony and equality. Nobody is left behind; we take care of each other. We have a social perspective, enjoy working together and are there to help each other progress. Green is a group focussed drive.

YellowThe drive yellow is all about knowledge and fully grasping complexity. Autonomy is at its core. Others serve to deepen your knowledge and to move it forward. There are always options and alternatives, and this drives yellow forward. Yellow is an individually focussed drive.

TurquoiseThe drive turquoise always puts everything into perspective. Everything happens for a reason. In this point of view, there is no good or bad, there is only the right thing to do. Everything is energy, whether this means human beings, nature or the cosmos and everything is interconnected. Sustainable action is an unconditional starting point. Turquoise is a group focussed drive.

After turquoiseThe Graves model is a development model and so it does not stop at turquoise. In the last century coral was assigned as the drive to follow turquoise.

At this moment it is too early for precise definitions or descriptions of coral. For most of us, it is not even perceptible yet. Based on Graves’ research we can however already say the following with certainty:

Coral is developing faster than the previous drives. This means that it will arrive relatively quickly. It is another individually focussed drive. It will exceed the turquoise drive in terms of complexity and respond to its inefficiencies. Coral follows the drive yellow as an individually focussed drive.

Human behavior during COVID-19 During this time of the COVID-19 crisis, we can see Graves’ model “in action”. People around us are naturally switching their drives in answer to these bizarre circumstances.

Globally, we can see people switch back to beige as a reflex. While the drive beige is seldom visible in most of us, we now see people suddenly “raiding” supermarket shelves. This is due to a deeply rooted fear of being left without any food. On a completely different scale and in its rawest form, we also see beige in the images of thousands of people, at home or in hospital, who are literally “fighting” for their lives.

We can see the drive purple in our subconscious need to keep our families “safely” together. Within the walls of our own home, we feel safe, outside it is unsafe. We keep others at a distance to protect our own “group”.

At the top of the model, we can see how the Dutch government is managing the crisis using the scientific insights of the drive yellow, while other countries choose the blue-drive path of strict rules (testing and isolation).

We also hear from the turquoise point of view. This sees COVID-19 as a “natural” disaster, such as regularly take place on the globe. This time it is extra disastrous, because of the global economy that we ourselves created. A turquoise question is: what can we learn from this?

Application in Spiral Drives™All Spiral Drives™ instruments include the drives purple through turquoise. These drives are sufficiently present in our consciousness that we can measure them in a responsible way. This is not yet the case for beige or coral.

We measure the drives on three levels: collective, team and individual. That’s how we offer concrete tactics and advice to develop organizations at all levels.