Layers 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 known as transformational change), we add a new layer of development that brings a different 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 layers of the journey of human evolution. What’s fascinating is that every individual grows through the very same layers during his or her lifetime. The sequence of layers represents a fractal pattern of change that applies to individuals, social groups and to the whole of our species. A map of the layers (derived from the work of Dr Clare W. Graves) is shown below.

As we progress from layer to layer, the themes alternate between an individual and a collective focus. Although not shown in this diagram, the layers are actually nested inside each other. This means that each new layer is added over the previous layers, similar to the layers of flesh on an onion. Each layer adds new capacities, while the earlier layers remain present and accessible. For example, when we reach layer 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 layers, 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 layer 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 layer on our personal journey. Usually the most recently developed layer is our dominant one and it’s generally accepted that most people will operate across about three layers, moving between them as life conditions demand.

This pattern of increasing layers 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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