Spiral Dynamics For Platform Design – The Secret Weapon

The majority of the writing on this blog has been focused on ecosystems, I wanted to share how I’ve used spiral dynamics for platform and ecosystem design. It’s not possible to design for, curate or empower an ecosystem without also thinking about its platform. Hence, it’s imperative that anyone interested in ecosystems also practice what Platform Design Toolkit founder Simone Cicero refers to as platform thinking:

As a synthesis, we could say that platforms are scalable collaboration agreements powered by technologies: it’s impossible to discern between a technology, a strategy or the organization itself; at the end, everything molds into seeing platform thinking [as] a way to organize value creation at scale for a particular ecosystem of interacting entities.

Why Use Spiral Dynamics For Platform Design

If platform thinking is about organizing value creation at scale, the question then becomes what will people place value on in the future? This may seem like a broad question, but back when I first started thinking about the future, this question led me to Spiral Dynamics. In my 7 years of using the model, it has helped me to understand how evolving human values drive technology innovation and big societal shifts. It ultimately led me to believe that ecosystems would emerge as the predominant organization structure when very few people were talking about ecosystems or platforms. It is by far the most effective sensemaking tool I’ve ever used.

What is Spiral Dynamics?

Spiral Dynamics is a developmental psychology framework, which was created by Dr. Clare Graves over a 20 year period of observing how humans change their worldviews in response to increasingly complex problems. While explaining the model in detail is beyond the scope of this post (find more detail here), here are some highlights:

  • Humans awaken new mental capacities in response to increasingly complex life conditions.
  • These mental capacities shape one’s values and worldview and are referred to as vMemes (mindsets).
  • vMemes influence priorities, motivations, culture, and social organization.
  • Each mindset/worldview can demonstrate healthy and unhealthy behaviors.
  • A new mindset emerges when existing mindsets cannot solve increasingly complex problems and life conditions.
  • One’s mindsets can move forward or backward through the vMemes.  It’s not a one-way street.
  • There are currently eight vMemes that have emerged to date and they are categorized into two tiers.  Tier one consists of mindsets that focus on one’s individual needs of subsistence while tier two mindsets focus on collective needs and co-existence.
  • Tier one mindsets compete with each other for superiority.
  • Tier two mindsets are highly cooperative. They seek to incorporate the healthy and eliminate the unhealthy behaviors of tier one mindsets.
  • Graves referred to tier two thinking as mankind’s momentous leap
  • At any given moment, one can demonstrate healthy or unhealthy aspects of any vMeme/mindset.  That is, we embody all vMemes.
  • Graves found that creativity and problem solving increases exponentially in tier two mindset groups.
  • Humanity’s ability to awaken new mindsets is infinite.

How To Use Spiral Dynamics For Platform Design

Spiral Dynamics is most widely used by Organizational Development professionals for organization design, improving team cohesion or resolving conflicts.  It is also used by Personal Development coaches to assist in individual development. Despite the model’s incredible ability to make an impact on one’s personal development (it has been life-changing for me), I have used it time and time again as a foundation for business strategy and innovation. Here’s a summary of how I’ve used it:

Sensemaking – SD value systems are very useful for finding signals of change and categorizing emerging trends, as well as identifying and even predicting big societal shifts.

Ideation – SD is very useful in broadening narratives, design challenges and problem statements to overcome the risk of ideating too narrowly.

Business model design – Business models are heavily influenced by the intent, mindset and worldview of their creators.  By understanding, emerging mindsets and worldviews, one can unlock new possibilities and paradigms for organizing.

Experience design – SD is extremely useful in looking at an experience from multiple dimensions of value. SD raises awareness to the aspects of experience that go beyond convenience that designers can get too focused on by defining human beings as a “users” or “customers”.

Shifting mindsets – Because platform and ecosystem design often involve collective decision making and issue resolution, SD is very effective in establishing common purpose, challenging paradigms and opening people’s minds to new possibilities.

Platform Design Applications Using Spiral Dynamics

In future posts, we’ll share more perspectives on how Spiral Dynamics supports platform and ecosystem design, including how we see it applying to open source toolkits like platform design toolkit. Hopefully, you will find this useful for your next platform design project.

  1. David, I’ve been an SD practitioner for 17 years and studying PDT for one year, so I’m quite interested in the subject.

    When will you say something about HOW do you use SD, for example in Business model design or Experience design?

    1. George, we’re working on a post now to share how we use it. We are also working on additional tools to compliment PDT. Look forward to your feedback as a 17 year SD practitioner!

  2. Hi David,
    My name is Frank Lin. I’m from China. My mission is to spread Spiral Dynamics (i) in China.
    I’m interested in what you are doing say incorporating SD into the design of platform (Actually I penned an brief article a few months ago in the topic of ‘Platformization of Individual (in VUCA Era)’).
    I tried to connect with you on Facebook weeks ago but failed. My email: frank.lin@cidrix.com
    Look forward to your reply!
    Kind regards,
    Frank Lin

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