Stages of Development

As our life conditions change, we’re called to change our thinking and behaviour in order to cope. Every time we go through major change (also know as transformational change), we move to a new stage of development that brings an altered view of the world, with different values and new motivations.

By studying the different worldviews evident at various times throughout human history, it’s possible to map them as progressive stages on the journey of human evolution. What’s fascinating is that every individual grows through the very same stages during his or her lifetime. The stages represent a fractal pattern of change that applies to individuals, social groups and to the whole of our species. A map of the stages (derived from the work of Dr Clare W. Graves) is shown below.

Figure 1. Stages of development

Figure 1. Stages of development

As we progress from stage to stage, the themes alternate between an individual and a collective focus. Note that the coloured cylinders representing each stage are nested inside each other as they progress upwards. This means that each new stage is like a new layer being added, similar to the layers of an onion. Each stage adds new capacities, but the earlier stages remain present and accessible. For example, when we reach stage 5 we have five possible worldviews or ways of operating in our repertoire, and as the demands of life change we can spiral up and down between these five stages as needed. This is usually an unconscious and extremely dynamic process, which explains why an individual can behave very differently under different life conditions. The complexity of our life conditions (indicated by the central grey line) determines which stage is most active at any given moment.

When we encounter problems that are more complex than we can cope with, we experience the change dynamic, which may over time cause us to develop to the next higher stage on our personal journey. Since Dr Graves gathered his data in the 1950s and 60s our world has become a much more complex place, so there are almost certainly new stages beyond Stage 8 but the research to map them is yet to be done.

This fractal pattern of increasing stages of complexity isn’t limited to our consciousness, it can be found elsewhere in nature. Click here to see an example.

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