Stages of Development


Stages of Human Development

Stages of Human Development, Spiral Dynamics,
the Awareness Index and the Leadership Role of the
United States in the 21st Century.

This Paper is designed as a brief overview of the levels of human development and how they related to the leadership of the world in the century now ahead of us. How human development and world leadership are connected is like asking how professional development and leadership in the corporate world are connected. 

They are inseparable. The problem is that this connection has been all but ignored over the last 100 years as the world reached the exponential growth stage of the Awareness Index, and humanity, for the first time ever, has become truly global. New paradigm after new paradigm have come and gone as we have muddled through the last 50 years of the most dramatic change. What is really necessary is not a new paradigm, but a more accurate map of who and what we really all are and what we are doing here in the first place. That is the goal of Spiral Dynamics and the Awareness Index.

This has become especially true as the world has gotten so much smaller and closer in this age of information and we have all finally really had the opportunity to get to know each other. For the most part the results have been discouraging. The prime candidates for the defining features of our newfound world acquaintance are: profound misunderstanding and mistrust.

As the United States became the only remaining global power in the 1980’s, all eyes were on them to pick up the torch and provide a clear beacon with which to traverse this rocky path. Today, I don’t think anyone seriously thinks the jury is still out on current world leadership by the U.S. or anyone else for that matter. Unfortunately, it appears that at best we have managed is to confuse the world, and ourselves, as to what and who America really is. How has this happened?

As we look at these stages of human development, we will look at both the exterior view, (i.e. what they look like to an outside observer), as well as from the point of view of the interior mind, (i.e. what the worldview of the child or person looks like from their eyes at each stage). The most relevant part will be the final look as we attempt to construct the societal worldview at each stage, (i.e. how we see ourselves within our society and how the individuals within each stage see the society and themselves within it). This last area we will use the colors and stages based on the Spiral Dynamics development model (red, blue, orange, etc.).

The research supporting these stages of development is voluminous and has shown that these stages of development are universal and cross cultural, from Senegal to South Bend. While the ideas may seem new, the reader will most likely intuit most of the assertions as obvious and logical once they are pointed out. These ideas are actually not at all new, but they are not well known. Hopefully the reader will desire more detail and background information as this map will likely hit them as truly astounding. To this end references for further reading will be listed in the endnotes, which I would recommend reading.


Stage 1: Pre-Differentiation

Exterior Development

This stage begins with the newborn infant up to about age 12 to 18 months. At this stage of development the child has no capacity to differentiate themselves from their environment. They begin not knowing where their arm stops and the bottle begins. This is a self-exploration stage in which initially biting one’s own finger is the only available method for exploring the self and the world. Everything must then be touched and chewed as much as possible. The brain and body are developing at a massive rate. Research shows that at this stage, exposure to a wide range of stimulation such as music, language, animals, parks, other children, and a varied and stimulating environment will increase the development of the neo-cortex, thus improving later cognitive capacity.

Interior Worldview

This stage I am calling noncentric. Here there is no cogitative ability at all that would enable the infant to see from any perspective at all. They have only their personal direct present experience. It is possible to play hide and seek in plain view since once the child closes his eyes, to him everything truly has disappeared.

Their world is dominated by what they need and want, and if given the opportunity, they will unknowingly control or manipulate their way to that end in almost every situation, even to their own detriment.

Societal Worldview – Beige

At this level it can be imagined that there is no capacity to understand the concept of society, much less where they themselves fit. The noncentric stage is exactly that. Even the connection with mother and immediate family is not really identifiable. A child at this stage will accept a new set of parent and family without major issue, with likely no recall of the original caretakers.


Stage 2: Initial-Differentiation

Exterior Development

This stage begins at around age 18 months to around age 4-5. Here the child begins to be able to differentiate themselves from others. If the child is shown a piece of paper with orange on one side and blue on the other, clearly seeing both sides, when shown just the orange side they will correctly answer that they see orange. When asked what color the person holding the paper sees, they will also say orange. They cannot take the role of the other.

Interior Worldview

This stage I am calling pre-egocentric. With the ability to initially differentiate, the child begins to display the development of their own ego. While there is no conscious Awareness on the part of the child, they will clearly display the classic signs of ego-building; there is a desire to please, to be liked, to be accepted, and to be given attention, etc. At this stage the ability to take a 2nd person perspective is developing. However, there is still no ability to take a 3rd person point of view, which develops in the next stage. When asked how the child would think Billy’s sister would feel if he kicked Billy, the child cannot understand.

Societal Worldview – Purple

Children at this level also begin to self-organize into their own groups and sub groupings. Leaders emerge and role differentiation becomes obvious to the adult observer. It often looks like a simple tribal structure with ad-hoc groups and bands of children constantly jostling for position in relation to each other within the groups. However, there is no consciousness to this self-organization. It is all happening without plan or thought of structure. If the children are re-organized into different groups, they will immediately begin the process again, ending up with similar looking groupings.


Stage 3: Differentiation

Exterior Development

This stage begins at around age 4-5 and runs through age 9-11. Here we have a full differentiation between self and others. Shown the same piece of paper with orange on one side and blue on the other, they will correctly answer that they see orange and you see blue. They can now understand that their feelings are not Renessny’s feelings; and increasingly they can imagine what Renessny’s feelings are as they progress though this stage. The majority of the brain has developed and cognitive capacity can be noticed in the child’s learning patterns and ability.
Here the child makes a clear distinction with conscious Awareness that Renessny has different feeling than them. While cognitive development continues to grow, the child has now strongly established patterns of learning and a growing self-image.

Interior Worldview

This stage is full egocentric. The ability to take a 3rd person position is now developing. The child not only knows that his or her feelings are not Billy’s, but can actually imagine how Billy would feel if he were kicked. The ego at this stage begins to strongly develop. Doing well in academics or sports is now more that just being accepted by parents and family, it directly builds the child’s own self-image. It becomes extremely important to be on the team, or make the cheerleading squad. Rationality at this stage begins to develop; however, it is present in a very nascent form and is strongly outweighed by the ego drive that defines this stage.

Societal Worldview – Red

Children at this stage become conscious of their place and role in society, but only within their immediate group. Here there will be a very conscious attempt to find position within any previously established groups. While this is played out within the group dynamics, the group does not primarily drive the child. Rather it is his or her own natural drive to develop their ego that is the primary motivator.

If the child is raised with the same set of friends that he or she went through the previous stage with, then there will already be set in place a hierarchical structure of which his or her place is clear; however, there will be a consistent attempt (mostly unconscious) to improve that positioning. If one makes the football team standing will likely go up. Being talented in a sport or instrument almost always improves positioning within the group. Not only will the group structure become much more rigid, but group differentiation becomes much more clear. There are the smart kids, the band, and the athletes, just to name a few.

While it appears that group creation and order are primary at this stage, in actuality it is still the individual’s placement in the group that is important to the adolescent, not the group itself. At this stage he or she can still be moved to another group without major objection and will simply begin the process of finding position within the new group.

Additionally the scope of the group is still very limited to only immediately present persons with almost no thought of those who are not present. If Renessny has to change schools, he will no longer hold in mind his previous classmates as any consideration whatsoever within the new group.

The overall rationality of the group at this stage often seems almost non-existent since the ego drives of the individuals far overpower the only newly forming rational, formal logic ability of the members. Kids here will often choose a clearly irrational option based purely on present desires, much to the dismay or many parent.

Stage 4: Identification

Exterior Development

This stage begins at around age 11 and running through the teen years. The adolescent’s ego is now really setting patterns of who the person will be. Patterns, habits and the ego-personality are beginning to be defined. The brain and body are close to fully developed and capable of reproduction. The person’s activities and actions are usually well conformed to the expectations of the larger group within which they function. The ego drive, while still very present has been tempered with the realization that the individual is functioning in a world of other similar individuals.

Interior Worldview

This stage is termed ethnocentric. Group differentiation, demanded by the growing ego that occurred on the previous stage, now becomes identification with the group. We call this stage identification or ethnocentric, since identification with the group (ethno) creates the expanded identity of the person. Ethno denotes the group in whatever forms it takes. It may be based on actual ethnicity, family, class structure, regional groupings, school affiliation, country, language, etc. The person’s ego based self-identity is now expanded beyond his or her individual ego to include that of the group as a whole. Here belonging to the preferred group is essential to the individual’s self-image and development. The more desirable the group, the more desirable and accepted the person sees himself or herself.

At this stage we see the further development of rationality; however the capacity is still not fully developed enough to trump the need to be included in the group. This is true, even if at a later stage of development this seems highly irrational, which it almost always does when one looks back at themselves at this stage.

Societal Worldview – Blue

The person at this stage becomes highly identified with their groupings. My team, my school, my country right or wrong. Hierarchy and structure become very important as a way to keep order and balance within the group as it expands and grows. The groups that are best at keeping that structure and have the clearest order ranking and hierarchical system are usually the strongest and hence the most desirable to be associated with. Notre Dame’s “winning tradition”, Alabama’s illustrious history, IBM’s domination, and Semper Fi are all examples of extremely strong organizations that support this stage of development. Identification with one’s country and native language, while broader, are also strong ethnocentric stage identifications.

Loyalty to the group is rewarded and advancement is based primarily on the pre-arranged structure of the group. It is years logged, not performance, which moves one from Lieutenant to Captain in the Navy, freshman comes before sophomore, etc. Development beyond this stage is not assured particularly if the society in which one lives is primarily functioning at this level.

This stage is considered extremely important, since it is the first stage that expands the individual’s identification beyond the ego or self. Children with developmental problems that prohibit them from reaching this stage have a very difficult time functioning within a society that as a whole is operating at this level or higher. Additionally, the structure provided at this stage is critical to temper the ego drive that defines the previous level. Groups that fail to develop a sufficiently supportive structure here will revert to acting at the previous stage (red). This can be seen in the street gangs of L.A. or the Favellas of Rio de Janeiro.

Rationality is becoming much more developed at this stage. Nevertheless, it is still not the governing criteria. This is proudly demonstrated at university campuses each year at hazing time as otherwise seemingly intelligent 18-23 year old adults (which should be beyond this stage) kill and mame one another with unbelievably stupid rituals that defy all logic.


Stage 5: Post Identification Differentiation

Exterior Development

This stage develops after the person has gone through the identification stage 4. In a healthy stage 4 development the person will eventually again begin to differentiate themselves from the group. As ability and talents have improved under the stage 4 (blue) structure, there is a realization that the individual is different and unique. This is again an expansion of the ego to a more inclusive view. It should be pointed out here that the stages actually alternate between agentic and communion, i.e. some are stages that require more identification with the whole, while the next will be a stage that is primarily individual.

Interior Worldview

This stage is termed expanded-ethnocentric. Here there is still a strong identification with the ethno, or group, but there is also a realization that the individual is unique. The person realizes that advancement in the group can be based on merit and not just the structure. Differentiation is seen as good and is acknowledged as most often beneficial for the group as a whole. We call it expanded-ethnocentric, since it is the person’s realization that their special contribution both benefits the whole, and makes them individually special.

At this level we also see the full fruition of rationality and formal logic. The person’s ability to think rationally and logically is strongly developed at this level. Thinking though problems in a logical sequence with a rational prediction of the outcome. We also see the development of the ability to take many different perspectives beyond just how Billy would feel. How do you think Sally would feel if her brother Billy were to get kicked, and so on.

This fully developed rationality is also critical in providing the mutual basis for understanding another point of view fully. This is the key to unlocking increasing cognitive capacity. Two people at this level can have a debate with a solid foundation for understanding that does not fully exist at any of the previous stages. This is also exemplified in the areas of math and science as the ultimate realm of rationality and logic.

Societal Worldview – Orange

Groups functioning at this level will almost always outperform groups at the previous level. Since individuals are advanced and rewarded based on performance, i.e. a meritocracy, there is a strong incentive to improve individually, which benefits the whole. Pure structure alone found at stage 4 (blue) is replaced with a more flexible and responsive ability to react and respond to overall conditions as interpreted by the fully capable rational mind.

This stage of development is found in new corporate America. Flexible corporations succeed since they can respond faster. Employees are paid with bonuses and rewarded based on performance and exceeding goals. Here it is not the companies with the best hierarchical structures that are most desirable, but those that have the most advanced ability to monitor performance and contribution and hence can attract and retain the most talented employees.

This stage is also the realm of fully developed rationality. Once the mind develops the rational capacity, things inherently make sense, (i.e. are rational) which further helps to support the development into and through this stage. It makes sense compared to the irrationality of the previous stage where there was a failure to see the obviousness of the benefits of rewarding people based on their contribution, for example. The great advancements of science are also based at this level. Rationality continues to be refined and applied to solve ever more complex problems with science being one of the primary beneficiaries of this rational approach.

It should be noted that as one moves through these stages there is a transcending of the previous stage. While this allows growth and the ability to use any of the skills developed at a previous stage, there is still an unawareness that the self is actually passing through levels of growth. For example a person reaching stage 5 (orange) is likely to not notice they went through stage 4 (blue) and will be very critical of those who are at that developmental stage, including themselves. When forced to go into a blue group dynamic, they feel un-appreciated and stifled, not to mention extremely frustrated at the bureaucracy and irrationality that exist. Conversely, persons functioning at any of the previous stages do not feel comfortable at stage 5 with a pressure to perform and their as yet undeveloped sense of rationality and self does not fully comprehend the logic of the situation.

It is this last point regarding rationality that is so critical. Since rationality, once grasped makes so much sense, the mind assumes that it was always there. Research overwhelmingly shows that this is far from the case, but since there is no Awareness that at the previous stages of development it was absent, there is an incredible amount of incredulity when it’s absence is sensed, particularly in another adult. The businessman can be driven insane by the hard-headedness of the bureaucrat.

As with the previous stage, development to this stage is considered very important. Societies that reach this level of development are more capable of creating wealth and opportunity for their citizens. People who develop to this level are usually successful in career or business, thus capable of creating financial stability where the opportunity is available. Here again, development past this stage is not assured. This is particularly true if the individual is living within a society with a center of gravity at this stage or previous.


Stage 6: Inclusive (pluralistic)

Exterior Development

As with the previous stage, this stage may only be reached after going though all of the previous stages. Exterior indicators that a person has reached this level of development will be primarily related to how the individual chooses to function within the society as we will see below.

Interior Worldview

This stage is termed worldcentric. Here we have a major expansion of the worldview of the person. This is the first stage where the person sees all people as part of their world, hence the term inclusive or pluralistic. Worldcentric means exactly what it sounds like. The identification is no longer with the ethno, or group, but will all people everywhere. Again we see a similarity with Stage 4 (identification) in that the person again identifies with a group. The difference here is that they see themselves as an equal part of the entire web of humanity, not just a member of a particular group. There is a respect for the differentiation of each member and the value that each brings to humanity as a whole.

Societal Worldview – Green

At this stage all humanity is seen as part of the whole. Further, this recognition is expanded to include the environment, animals, and in fact all life. There is a realization that we are all connected and that we cannot avoid impacting each other. It was not until a critical percentage of society reached this level in the United States and Europe that we saw the development of civil rights, animal rights, environmental protection, Greenpeace, etc. There is a strong desire not to exclude or marginalize anyone.

As with previous stages, we can see an expanding of identification past just us, to all of us. Nevertheless, there is still no conscious Awareness that the self has traveled through many stages of previous development to get here. The obviousness of this stage seems self-evident, but only to those who are actually there. “Why doesn’t everyone see that we (all of us) cannot let 20% of humanity suffer and die of hunger and curable disease.” Since this stage is a more inclusive worldview, and yet still not aware that it is part of a chain of development, those at this stage are often very critical of any of the previous stages that are not seen as equally inclusive.

Development to this stage obviously has a strong impact on how the person sees the globalization of the world. The inclusiveness and pluralistic view is a hallmark of this level. Nevertheless, since there is no Awareness that the previously held worldviews are actually stages of development, and were in fact essential for the person to even reach this level, there is a denial of anyone else’s view who is not also at this stage.


Summery: Stages 1-6

As can be seen, every stage of development up to this point, when it comes to the societal worldview, is non-inclusive of every other worldview. This failure to recognize that each stage is in and of itself a very important, in fact essential prerequisite for the next stage has been termed by Wilber as flatland. There is no realization that the self is getting more inclusive with each stage jump, in which case development would look like a spiral staircase or increasingly concentric rings, instead the result looks like a flat land, or a pie chart, where it is assumed that all people are at the same stage of development with simply differing views. In flatland there is little attempt to try and understand other’s view and where they may be coming from, but rather, constant attempts to simply convince the rest of flatland (using rationality which only fully applies to stage 5 and 6 in any case) to accept one’s own view. As one can imagine, this approach leads to incredible misunderstanding, especially from Stage 5 or 6 (orange and green), where it seems incomprehensible that those at stage 4 or 5 (blue and orange) cannot understand your viewpoint.

The reality is that there is no way that there can be mutual understanding until each party to the discussion also develop to the appropriate stage, OR (and this is a big or) those at the more inclusive stages, particularly stage 6 (green) get out of flatland! Until that happens, the net result is that although Stage 6 (inclusive, green pluralistic) is the most developed and most inclusive worldview, and the only true worldcentric stage, it is also incredibly judgmental of any other stage that does not see the world the same way. In the end it is not so inclusive at all and in its zeal to help it often does more damage than good to many that are appropriately working through the previous stages.

Of particular note is that stage 6 (green) will fight to actually dismantle the other stages, particularly stage 4, which is the previous social stage (i.e. green dissolves blue). What this leads to is a backtracking of the dissolved blue society to stage 3 (red). Stage 6 (green) then attempts to provide space for this egocentric, irrational view under the guise of inclusiveness and a desire not to marginalize anyone. While Stage 3 is normal and functional in children, in adults it can be highly disruptive as it acts irrationally in a constant attempt to gain power and fuel the ego with no appropriate blue structure for balance and guidance.

Based on the Awareness Index model, in the world today we have ample examples of entire societies functioning at almost every stage of development. An example of a primarily stage 4 (blue) society was Iraq prior to the removal of Saddam. However, when Saddam was removed the blue structure was dissolved and almost immediately reverted to a red, egocentric, irrational, power grabbing, chaotic mess.

In a case such as Iraq, likely a more appropriate approach would be to not break down the blue structure of the dictatorship, which was in place, and try to replace it with an orange-green liberal democracy. Based on this model, that approach is doomed to failure on its face. Instead, a recognition that the society was at an appropriate stage 4 (blue) level of development would be the first step. Second, realize that it was not a healthy blue society, but rather a pathological and repressive blue structure (Saddam). Finally, use the appropriate inclusive and pluralistic (orange-green) means not to dissolve the structure, but rather to replace it with a healthier structure, while letting it remain blue (i.e. Pakistan). People, and societies can only move to the next stage of development by first going through the previous stage in a healthy and functional manner. Failure to realize this often causes more harm than good, regardless of intent.

This approach was used in the transition during the end of Apartheid in South Africa to inform the process with great success. However, by and large over the past 30 years, it can be clearly seen that leadership on all sides has been consistently stuck in flatland! Until there are a significant number of politicians and policy-makers that realize this, the U.S. leadership is likely to remain unclear, ineffective, and most lamentable divisive.

It should also be noted that at no time does understanding the developmental stages give leeway to judge the people going through them. There is a differentiation between the demonstrable stages of development and the person themselves. Unfortunately since all of the first 6 stages of development are already predisposed to judgment of the other stages, there is a strong temptation when confronted with the model to simply use it to further one’s own case. This, of course, would be most tempting for stage 6 (green), since it is the most inclusive stage yet discussed. This is all the more reason the solution presented below is so pressing.

Solution: Move out of flatland!

For the U.S., or any other country, to become an effective world leader there must be a realization, at least on the part of the leaders, that we all move through these stages of development. This in itself would be a further move to an even more inclusive worldview since by definition; stage 6 (green) does not recognize that it is itself just a stage of development. What would that move look like? Let’s see.


Stage 7: Integral

Exterior Development

At this stage of development, for the first time, there is Awareness that it took all of the previous stages of development to be where one finds themselves today. At this stage the person is able to transition fluidly between all of the previous levels. When going through a bureaucratic (blue) process there is understanding and hence patience. When involved with an orange corporate structure, the integral person can participate and speak the appropriate language of business and rationality. When dealing with a green pluralistic charity, there is understanding and yet an added ability to bring non-judgment to the discussion, demonstrating a higher and clearer level of inclusiveness.

Interior Worldview

This stage is termed expanded-worldcentric. Expanded since it includes the world at all stages of development. At the previous stage, just worldcentric, there was acceptance of all humanity, but only if they agreed with you and hence only those that were also at the worldcentric (green) level. Here there is an understanding that it is the healthy growth and development of all of humanity at all stages that really matters.

Societal Worldview – Yellow

At this stage the focus is not stage specific. Integral means that there is a recognition that all stages are essential and the focus is on creating a healthy cycle of development for all. Policy would be guided by the health of the overall chain of development, not the self-interest of the particular stages. There would be a conscious recognition and patience with every stage, while at the same time development tools would be put in place that help people and societies evolve through each stage or at the least move to a healthy form where one is at.

In the case of highly dysfunctional pockets, they could be contained with joint military and economic pressure, but not forced to fit into someone else’s model. At the same time policies would be put in place that encourage a move to a healthier model, but with recognition that all of us must fully go through each stage. The development also need not, and will not, look the same in different cultural contexts. This is an extremely important point as different looking development should not be confused with dysfunctional development. Morocco will certainly move through blue looking very different than Moscow, neither of which will look like the United States.

As more and more people do move into yellow, the current judgment that besieges the world today would be steadily replaced by an Awareness of the entire cycle of development. A truly integral culture would be consistently working to understand where they are and what is the healthiest way to push forward and would be fostering healthy development in all its beautiful expressions and contexts.




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