Graves’ value theory

Graves and Maslow
MindSonar uses the ‘Graves drives’ to measure what someone finds important. Graves was a professor of Psychology in the sixties and seventies at Union College in New York, the same university where Maslow also taught at the time. Maslow was developing his motivation theory (Maslow’s pyramid of needs), which shows the developmental stages of individual needs. The highest level of Maslow’s hierarchy, ‘self-actualization’, fit right in with the prevailing views of the seventies, and Maslow’s motivation theory was well-respected. In Graves’ opinion this model did not offer a broad enough base for understanding man as a bio-psycho-social-cultural being. He assumed that human behaviour was not determined by individual needs alone, but by a combination of social, biological and psychological factors. Graves theorized that there are eight value systems which evolved over the course of the past 100,000 years of human history. This evolutionary process has affected us biologically, psychologically and culturally.

Eight value systyems
Graves researched concepts involving human development by having groups of students discuss the definition of a psychologically mature individual, and how one would define a psychologically healthy thought. He also researched what happens to someone’s fundamental value system when he is placed in a different context. Based on this research he formulated his eight value systems (Levels of Existence, indicated with letter codes). Graves’ categories are reminiscent, by the way, of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Concepts used by Maslow, such as primary biological needs, the focus on socio-economic security, social needs and the need for recognition, are also found in Graves’ work. Graves is more interested in the cultural development of humanity throughout the centuries as a determining factor for value systems. He also shows how each value system flows from the previous one as a response to ever more complex living circumstances and the problems which are inherent in the last system. For example, Graves argues that a long period with an animistic value system (code B-0) with strong tribal ties provides long-term safety and togetherness, but also results in stagnation, boredom and the curtailing of individual expression. Individuals rebel against this and demand personal respect and personal control. This is the beginning of the ego-centric state of being (code: C-P).

Graves formulated the following starting points for his value system:

  • Each fundamental value system is the result, on the one hand, of someone’s circumstances and the problems that come with it (life conditions), and on the other hand of the way he deals with it based on his neurological ‘wiring’ (mind conditions).
  • Every adult contains all value systems within himself.
  • A person’s value system changes depending on the circumstances he finds himself in.
  • The development of value systems is like a pendulum, moving back and forth between value systems focused on the individual and those focused on the collective.
  • The more complex people’s circumstances, the more complex the value systems which are required.
  • Value systems depend on the context. In different contexts (family, work, etc.) people may experience their immediate environment in a different way. This means that different value systems may predominate in these different contexts.

The Graves categories

In the ‘Spiral Dynamics’ system, devised by Beck and Cowan,  the Graves categories are indicated with colours. MindSonar uses these value systems to categorize the respondents criteria. Unlike Graves and his associates, the developers of MindSonar assume that a person can have different value systems in different contexts.

Purple drive
When someone has a strong purple drive, his criteria in that particular context have to do primarily with security and safety. Other key words for this drive are: belonging, tradition, feeling at home, togetherness and seniority. This means that in this context at least, safety and security within the group are foremost. Tradition is important to him, often accompanied by symbols and rituals. Stories that have been passed down have an important function. The interests of the group are foremost and he sometimes experiences an almost mystical harmony with (the forces of) nature around him. He believes the individual should exert himself on behalf of the group, just as the group exerts itself for him.

Red drive
When someone has a strong red drive, his criteria in the context in question primarily relate to drive and respect—to getting respect in particular, but also to showing respect. He acts impulsively, quickly and forcefully without thinking of the consequences. Other key words for this drive are: reputation, power, strength, honour and courage. This means that he sees the world, in this context at least, as a battleground geared towards the survival of the fittest. He is interested primarily in self-preservation. It’s important to him to know the balance of power: if he is not the one in power, he quickly figures out who is pulling the strings and acts accordingly. If you can’t beat them, join them!

Blue drive
When someone has a strong blue drive, his criteria in that particular context have to do primarily with order and security. Other key words for this drive are: discipline, reliability, duty and control. What matters to him, in this context at least, is that things proceed in an orderly fashion based on a foundation of a properly structured environment with clearly defined rules, procedures and methods. Order and authority are necessary and people should do their duty. There is usually only one right way which will result in rewards down the road. People should obey higher authorities (faith, organization, movement).

Orange drive
When someone has a strong orange drive, his criteria in that particular context have to do primarily with competition and winning. Other key words for this drive are: success, achievement, results, progress and influence. In this context, at least, it’s all about the marbles and not the game. “Healthy competition books results!” If he can improve his position he won’t hesitate to do so. Life is all about achieving status, profit, progress and efficiency. He sets the bar high, for himself as well as others. Competition and a ruthless business mentality are his basic drives, and people are merely means to an end.

Green drive
When someone has a strong green drive, his criteria in that particular context have to do primarily with ideals and loyalty to the group. Other key words for this drive are: harmony, community, connectedness, love, social contact and consensus. This means that he values relationships with other people, in this context at least. Warmth and communication make this world a liveable place. The well-being of people is of central importance to him. The green ideal is working together on solutions on a basis of equality. Ideas and feelings are there to be shared, and everyone has the right to be heard because we are all connected. He accepts the fact that decisions are usually not made in an efficient or business-like manner.

Yellow drive
When someone has a strong yellow drive, his criteria in that particular context have to do primarily with learning and independence. Other key words for this drive are: creativity, analysis and personal growth. In this context, anyway, the world is a fun and challenging place! He prefers to do his thinking on his own, because he needs the freedom to make discoveries. Someone with a yellow value system pays attention to connections and has broad interests. The World Wide Web is his playground. He is an independent and agile thinker, often misunderstood by others. He is primarily motivated by what is new and challenging. He values openness, freedom, functionality and spontaneity.

The turquoise drive
When someone has a strong turquoise drive, his criteria in the context in question primarily have to do with the big picture and becoming one. Other keywords for this drive are: responsibility for the earth as a whole, spirituality, balance, holism and integration. This means that he wants to take responsibility, in this context at least, for the larger whole. He values a broad, integrated view, because reality is too complex for simple “A causes B” reasoning. What matters is an ecologically sound judgement. He realizes that setbacks are inevitable but he doesn’t let that determine his course of action.


“Those who have tried to develop instruments have based them on what people think, do or believe, which is not the proper base for assessment devices. They should be based not on what the person thinks but how he thinks, not on what people do or what they believe but how they do what they do, and how they believe that which they do believe”
Author's imageDr. Clare W. GravesFounder of Graves Value Theory