Let’s look at what many consider to be the most common and the most influential Spiral Dynamics stage in the world at the moment: stage Orange.
Orange is the fifth stage in the Spiral Dynamics model. This is a “warm-coloured”, self-oriented stage, meaning that we impose ourselves on the world and attempt to mould it to ourselves. And at Orange, our own materialistic success and comfort is what takes top priority.
The Spiral Dynamics theory calls this StriveDrive, Strategic-Materialist and Achievist. As you might guess, the desire for individual gain, autonomy, materialistic achievement and success is one of its hallmarks.
A period in the Blue stage tampers the unbridled, fiery self-expression of Red. So Orange won’t kill you if you stand between it and its goals, but it won’t think twice about manipulation and gamesmanship. More on this to come.
Indeed, this stage is described as: “Act in your own self-interest by playing the game to win”.
And the father of Spiral Dynamics, Clare Graves, summed it up as:
“Express self calculatedly with little shame or guilt”.
Many people (myself included), whether they’re aware of it or not, get caught up in the downsides of Orange. Granted, we want to individually and collectively move beyond Orange. But by rejecting it, we block ourselves to its wisdom and vital lessons – a recipe for disaster in collective and individual growth.
So let’s look at when Orange emerges collectively and individually. This will help us really grasp both its necessity and its pitfalls.
When Does Orange Emerge Collectively?
Orange emerged in a historical sense when the limits of religious myths were made clear at the end of the Middle Ages. Enlightenment-era scientists and philosophers began poking at the mythic house of cards, and it fell.
In this era people began to see that hierarchical, myth-based Blue societies stifle individual enterprise, created rigid social classes and put solid shackles on people’s behaviour. Enough order had been established to undo that order.
Then came the rise of market economy, the scientific method, the industrial revolution and universal individual rights.
And that same psychological structure has now been seared into each of our developmental trajectories, waiting for us as and when we emerge from Blue.
In modern societies, Orange emerges where science and technology is transforming old, inefficient and divisive structures that have created relative stability. China is a prime example of a country where Orange is collectively flowering, albeit in a unique cacophony of other value systems.
This stage is alive and well in the West, in affluent suburbs, in business and the media, and is becoming evermore prominent as the developing world discovers democracy, technology, and material comfort.
When Does Orange Emerge Individually?
In an individual sense, Orange comes online when we sense the limits of Blue conformity. The desire to reassert ourselves, go it alone and seek individual achievement surges.
We perceive the flaws, contradictions and limitations of the group that had provided us with identity and a sense of belonging. Often this is our parents, a religious group, our school or our nation.
We break the shackles and begin to look for fulfilment by pursuing our own desires, listening to the beat of our own drum and achieving material outcomes.
Spiral Dynamics Orange: Worldview
We need to carefully pick apart the Orange worldview that corresponds to its psychology, behaviour and values. Only then can we really grasp the essence of this stage.
A crucial component of the Orange worldview is multiplistic thinking. Now we have the perception that there are many ways to do a thing, but only one correct way. This is an enormous collective and individual liberation from the ethnocentric, “chosen group” philosophy of Blue.
And Orange views the world (Earth, planets, the solar system) as a well-oiled, ordered machine whose workings can be understood and altered. This is the Newtonian “clockwork universe”.
Truth is no longer to be found in the religious scripts or books, or in the mandates of our chosen group, but rather through study, experimentation and evidence. Let’s find the right way, the needle in the haystack, the secret sauce, using objective evidence and reason.
With this perception comes the idea that human beings and their lives can be perfected through science-based technological advancement. We now have this remarkable tool that allows us to alter the world and impose ourselves on it. It’s not order and obedience that makes us prosper – it’s science, technology and progress.
There also comes the critical realisation that all humans, regardless of race, colour, sex, creed or status should (at least theoretically) enjoy the same rights. This leads to individual autonomy and freedom, the crumbling of previous mythic hierarchies, and marks the rise of capitalism and the market economy, one driven by the “invisible hand” of the market.
To prosper in this economy, we have to discover the secrets of the game, put our pieces on the gameboard and play to win. We can all pull ourselves up by the bootstraps if we’re optimistic, risk-taking and self-reliant.
Of course, this also brings with it the delusion that everyone has to stand on their own feet. The world is a chessboard, and if you’re not winning games on this chessboard, you’re simply not trying hard enough.
The winners are those who discover the secrets, take the jump and come out the other side with status and materialistic success.
Spiral Dynamics Orange: Psychology
The psychology that characterises Orange is motivation, goal-seeking and independence. Get the competitive juices flowing, we’re going for a ride.
We’re thirsty for exploration and discovery. We want to excel and become winners. There’s a financial dream that we’re after, and autonomy, independence and self-reliance will get us there. There’s nothing in our way. Marking our path are clear goals, targets, milestones and expectations.
We’re seeking challenge and improvement, and we’re sure we’re going to jump over that obstacle.
There’s also self-absorption here. We often won’t change our ways or opinions by listening to authority, colleagues, family, you name it. If their opinion doesn’t match our own conclusions and experience, it’s out the window.
We have difficulty trusting others. Relationships can become purely utilitarian – “can this person help get me from A to B?”. Our phone is filled with the contacts we may need to use in future, but few true friends.
Any sympathy here is artificial. The “have-nots” need to learn to stand on their own feet and play the game. And if they’re the victims of my game? Not my problem. They aren’t clued up on the tricks of the trade.
But under this façade of the confident, all-powerful, independent, heroic Wall Street warrior is a status sensitivity and a fear of never “making it big”. If I’m not seen driving the fancy car with the latest gear on, I’m a loser.
We fear incompetence and failure, and they can be major sources of suffering for us. The never-ending quest for absolute autonomy and independence also torments us – we fear their loss, and we may never find them in the end.
Spiral Dynamics Orange: Values
Let’s now look at the characteristic values of stage Orange – what’s most important to us here?
First and foremost, it’s achievement, conventional achievement – money, fame, status, sex, and so on. We want to have financial power and use it to satisfy our material desires.
We value materialism, consumerism and success. I want to win, be the best, make it big, buy all the things I never had and live like a king. That’s the purpose of my life.
Sadly, this is also tied to short-termism and myopia. The bottom line and the salaries of executives often takes precedence over morals, ethics, the environment and the overall wellbeing of society – one of the nefarious sides of Orange that we’re currently battling with.
Status is also a valued commodity. We not only want to achieve and spoil ourselves, we want others to reaffirm that we “did it”. This means the flashy car, the slickest suit, the lush leather sofa. They’re all vital elements of life’s report card. We want to hobnob with the right people, get the right contacts and form connections – they might come in handy for a favour down the line.
Tony Robbins and Napoleon Hill may be regular reading for us as we explore the Orange territory.
We also value science and technology. These are the means to a better world. They will alter the status quo and bring about the good life – the comfortable, materialistic life.
A more profound Orange value is that of individual rights. We move beyond the ethnocentrism (only me and my group, my religion and/or my nation are important) of the Blue stage into worldcentric concerns (all people, regardless of race, colour, sex and creed are important).
Rest assured, we aren’t born with a worldcentric perspective. Only when we get to Orange and above does this become available.
And finally, we value being in control and independent. There can be a delusion here that we’re capable of everything and anything and that only a lack of time or lack of knowledge is stopping us. We don’t yet fully grasp our insignificance in the grand scheme of things. At later levels, we appreciate both the interdependence of all life and the limited effect of our actions.
Spiral Dynamics Orange: Behaviour
To finish off, let’s now look at the behaviour of Orange. How does Orange appear in groups and business?
Orange business is highly competitive, pragmatic and often manipulative. Enterprise over ethics, expansion over environment. Market economies are the home of Orange business – anyone can create a business and become a winner, then bribe, twist the law and strongarm to gain more power.
While Blue uses hierarchies of status underpinned by divine duty and authority and Green doesn’t use hierarchies, Orange arranges itself in status hierarchies, in competitive hierarchies. The strongest, the bravest, the one with most financial weight, or the one with the best ideas for expansion and growth, will reach the top and delegate to the rest.
Teams are then achievement oriented and motivated by carrots, sticks, perks and monetary rewards. Symbols of success and status run through the organisation – image is important, remember.
In business, Orange often has a strong element of Red. It can be manipulative and cunning. It won’t chop your head off, but it will wrangle you out of money, trick you and place booby traps. There’s no time for guilt – customers are just means to my end. “The customer comes first”, so long as they open their wallet.
Learn about the traps of Spiral Dynamics in This YouTube video
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