Graves: The 6 Requirements for Change

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Graves: The 6 Requirements for Change

This is the 2nd article in series of 6 on how to increase your eco-influence by 60x.


Clare Graves (1914-1986) was a brilliant psychologist and professor, born in Indiana.  He used his tenure at Union College in Schenectady, New York to perform exhaustive studies over decades to develop the theory he called Emergent and Cyclical Levels of Human Existence.

After his death, his work was continued by Chris Cowan and Don Beck in their book titled Spiral Dynamics.  All the while, dozens of organizations around the world created their own assessments to apply Graves’ insights to develop human potential at work.

Chris Cowan later partnered with Natasha Todorovic, a Spiral Dynamics trainer, to compile and edit all of Graves earlier unpublished work in an authoritative and compelling summary called The Neverending Quest.  In this book, they share intimate details of what Grave’s called the “6 Factors in the Change Process.”

Now I had a six-fold process of change.  The first was potential – some never changed.   The second was the solution of existential problems.  The third was disturbance of the solution, that is dissonance, which precipitated a stage of regression.  Then insight came into the picture as that which halted the regressive phase.  This was followed by the need to remove barriers so that a quantum-like jump to a different way of thinking could occur.  Then it was necessary for consummation of the change to take effect.
(p. 107)

  1. Potential
  2. Solution to existential problems
  3. Feeling of dissonance
  4. Gaining Insight
  5. Removal of barriers
  6. Opportunity to consolidate

Compare this to the persuasion strategies offered by Bob Doppelt and re-organized into the 3 Stages of Eco-Influence.  You’ll see that Graves’ research in the 1940s to 1980s provided critical information that was ignored when Doppelt translated Changing for Good into it’s eco-equivalent, The Power of Sustainable Thinking.


When someone is opposed to your way of thinking, they must (1) have potential to change and (2) not be preoccupied with a more pressing existential problem.  For example, let’s say you lost a loved one to gun violence and you want someone to support your campaign to fix some gaps in responsible gun legislation.

If they only recently became a gun owner, have had zero experience with gun violence, and were raised to believe all gun legislation is “socialist gun control”… then they don’t have the potential to consider what you’re proposing – even if it is a sound, rational proposal.  The gap between where they are and where you are is too great.

Add to this, if they also just lost their job and are struggling to provide for their family.  Until they find a solution to this existential problem, they will not have time nor interest in your loss or your campaign to fix gun legislation.

No potential or solution to existential problems = no change in thinking.  More likely, they will be upset and turned-off by your proposal, deepening their opposition.  Contempt.

Strategies proposed by Doppelt from Changing for Good were: (1) disturbances, (2) awareness-building, (3) choice expansion, and (4) supportive relationships.  It’s no surprise that if these 4 strategies aren’t working, you might have ignored Graves’ first 2 factors.  You may need to back up and (1) assess potential and/or (2) provide solutions to their existential problems.


Some have potential and are not dealing with an existential problem that trumps your cause.  Hopefully you were successful in developing a supportive relationship with them, raising their awareness, and disturbing their existing thinking (only a bit) by showing them new (equally valid) choices available to them.

If so, they will be open to what you have to say.  Curiosity.

They will also begin dealing with a troubling feeling called dissonance.  This is a form of fear.  Taking the gun example, they will have worries.  Will my pro-gun friends and family be angry with me?  Will we still be close?  How will my life change if I adopt this new way of thinking or make these new choices?

It is critical to both answer their questions and provide access to new sources of information when they are in this stage.  Arm them with the tools to respond well to family, friends, and peers – not turn against them.  It is their confidence in themselves, arriving at their own insights that will move them past dissonance.  It is easy to discredit you or your ideas alone.  Diversify and continue to be seen as a supportive relationship – not someone trying to brainwash them.

When queried about what else was involved… they said that following this disturbance of their complacency some new ideas, some new thoughts which came from somewhere – they could not often express from where – started the change.  And they said that at the right time the right person, seldom the instructor, encouraged them to explore their ideas further.
(p. 104)

Strategies proposed by Doppelt from Changing for Good were: (1) supportive relationships, (2) emotional inspiration, (3) self-appraisal, and (4) commitment.  It’s no surprise that if these 4 strategies aren’t working, you might have ignored Graves’ next 2 factors.  You may need to back up and (1) arm them with a variety of credible tools to overcome dissonance and/or (2) ensure they feel responsible and confident in gaining new insights.


Some feel dissonance and gain the insights they need to move past it.  Hopefully you were successful in strengthening your supportive relationship, sharing some emotional inspiration, helping them do some honest self-appraisal, and considering a new commitment.

If so, they will be ready to make a change.  Commitment.

Any change will be met with unexpected barriers and the need to consolidate all new ideas into a different way of thinking and behaving.  You can help by being a resource that removes barriers for them, and (very importantly) connects them with others who can do the same.  Again, diversify.  Don’t give fake advice.  If they are dealing with a problem that you have not experienced, introduce them to someone who can be an experienced mentor for their situation.

In our gun example, introduce your friend to someone who was anti-gun legislation in the past but changed their mind.  Invite them to a group of responsible gun owners that want holes in legislation fixed.  They will appreciate your hand in expanding their circle of supportive relationship during this transition phase.  You don’t have all the answers (and you don’t have to).  This will give them the opportunity they need consolidate what they’ve learned with much less stress.


It was only when the insight specific to a category arose, along with potential, and was added to the solution of existential problems and dissonance that one could truly see a definitive change in terms of movement in the direction of a new conception taking place… But in this overall process there was much complicating data.  For each conception there were different kinds of dissonance, insights, barriers, etc.

That is why it is so important to laser-focus your influence strategy to each unique person.  Include things like the 4 Eco-Personality Types and the 5 Levels of Commitment.


ecofluencePRO Part 2: Stages & Strategies goes into tons of detail that I can’t list here.  It includes the two types of growth, expectations on time, and even more behavioral and verbal cues for identifying stages, including: what question words to listen for and how to interpret silent-stages.



Adam Hammes is the executive director of the Iowa Sustainable Business Forum, a consultant, author, and motivational speaker. He specializes in helping businesses and sustainability professionals with environmental and social performance.

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