As readers of this blog, readers of my books, participants in any workshop longer than 30 minutes that I’ve designed and anyone who has ever asked me who the most seminal influencers of my career have been know, I have an outsized regard for the intellectual skills of a most remarkable, if often underappreciated, researcher and theorist named Clare W. Graves. He was a psychologist, and a very unique one.

Like another iconoclastic psychologist of his generation, the late George A. Kelly, in the 1950s, Clare Graves was coming to suspect that the differing psychological systems of the era were multiplying rapidly because “the people who developed them were focusing their attention upon somewhat different events.” (Kelly often referred to the theories of psychoanalysis and behaviorism as the Conventional Wisdom of the Dominant Group, a designation that one of his followers later shortened to COWDUNG!)

I’ve also been a fervent admirer of the work of two of the most competent academicians using Dr. Graves’ theory in their personal research and writing: Christopher C. Cowan and Dr. Natasha Todorovic, of Santa Barbara, Calif.

DR. CLARE W. GRAVES<BR>(Photo courtesy of Christopher Cowan; used by permission)

(Photo courtesy of Christopher Cowan; used by permission)

Cowan was the primary creative wellspring behind the writing of a tour de force for academicians and other serious scholars attracted to the Graves theory: Spiral Dynamics: Mastering Values, Leadership and Change/Exploring the New Science of Memetics (co-authored with Dr. Don Edward Beck), published in the mid-90’s. Cowan was a confidant and close colleague of Clare Graves in the final decade of his life and for nearly forty years has done extensive applied research into uses for the Graves model.

If not the first, Dr. Graves was one of the first visionary actually to see and to cite hard evidence of a revolutionary new way to describe human nature. In doing so, he was one of the very first challengers of the late Abraham Maslow’s idea that there was a ceiling to we humans’ psychological development, one that Maslow called “self-actualization.” Once fully self-actualized, we supposedly had nothing new to add to our mental, emotional and spiritual toolkit of personal developmental possibilities. Graves torpedoed that idea by doing research that turned up people who, as he phrased it, had made “a monumental leap.”

I once asked Cowan and Todorovic what we should expect to see in the way of personal characteristics in individuals who are approaching the point where they might be candidates to make that Gravesian leap, and they provided this list:

• Relativistic: situationalistic and context-dependent behaviors.
• Attracted to religion (again).
• Many alternatives and each to his own.
• Many alternatives—choice made on the basis of feeling, not knowledge or rules—service to others.
• Considers intellectually, but conclusion does not follow logic.
• Negative sensitivity to control by authority; sensitive to peer group and situation.
• Tendency to criticize but not cynically or snidely in a way to lead to change.
• “Each to his own, others have their way, we have ours, not mine to judge.”
• Chameleon-like character: when I FEEL this way I do this.”
• Centrality of life is people and friends.
• Superficial approach to solving problems of the world (they go away).
• Shows negativity around only one thing—hurting other people.
• “Things should be different, but I’m not the one to change them.”

And here’s what the Santa Barbara researchers say they would expect to see in someone who has made the leap:

• Relativistic: situationalistic and context-dependent.
• Conclusions follow logic.
• Do not stop from doing something even if it may hurt someone’s feelings or people are hesitant.
• Matter of fact responses which describe reality of what “is” in a detached though interested and concerned manner.
• Allow other person his/her point of view and still have his/her own point of view.
• Impulsivity and compulsivity are absent.
• Absence of fear.
• Ability to be critical without rancor.

Few things are more inspiring than listening to the great man himself as he described what he believed he was seeing in folks who have made the transition to this new level of maturity. Here is a snippet of his observations on how ethics change for us when, as we like to say around Brain Technologies. one of us succeeds in entering dolphin-thinking waters:

“Ethics that are good for man in his life, not after life; that are good for him, not his superior; that are good for him, not his group; that are good for him, not his ego … no bowing to suffering, no vassalage, no peonage. There will be no shame in behavior, for man will know it is human to behave. There will be no pointing of the finger at other men, no segregation, depredation or degradation in behavior… a foundation for his self-respect, which will have a firm base in reality [in an] ethical system rooted in human knowledge and cosmic reality.”

From Chris Cowan,

Wow . . . And thanks! You continue to impress with your generous tone and writing, Mr. Lynch.

Looking at the word Wow—probably a mind worm wriggling—likely came up because we returned last week from the WOW5 conference at the U. of Indiana: “Workshop on the Ostrom Workshop #5″. It was a gathering of political scientists, many social game theorists, who assemble every five years to compare notes. Most were trained by Elinor (Nobel prize in economics) and Vincent Ostrom at the Bloomington school. We . . . found that all these global scholars tend to miss the human factors in analysis. They look at ethnography and demographics, but do not delve deeper into why participants in social games make the strategic moves they do. An exceptionally collegial and welcoming bunch.

We were invited to attend by [a Brasilian consultant] who did a couple of our courses and whom we let use assessments to see if there was a relationship between game performance (most of theirs are build around CRP—common resource pool—decisions such as managing a fishery, distributing water rights, dealing with forests, now atmospheric carbon, etc.) and levels of existence. Surprise! The more F-S [Level 5, or shark] the more collaborative and willing to compromise for win:win solutions. The more D-Q [Level 4, or carp], the less willing to bend. They’ve been largely discounting the personality dynamics of the players and are now scrambling to fill in the gap in their analyses.

Thanks again,

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