Every once in a while, a theory comes along that explains EVERYTHING. Darwin invented one. So did Karl Marx. So did Freud and so, of course, did our own Marshall McLuhan. And now meet Clare Graves, a U.S. college professor who’s devised a theory that explains why China is belligerent, why hippies act so cool, and why you’re not getting along with your boss or your mate
IF YOU’VE DESPAIRED of making sense out of life — and worse still, the people you have to deal with — take heart. At last someone’s come up with an easy-to-understand system that appears to explain everything.
The idea’s so simple that it’s fast becoming a favorite cocktailparty game. Publishers are vying for the right to publish it, and interviewers are clamoring to meet the man who discovered it: Clare Graves, 52, a mild-mannered, hitherto obscure psychology professor at Union College, Schenectady, New York. With a properly professorial mixture of amusement and concern. Graves is seeing his theory rapidly propel him toward something of the status of a new Marshall McLuhan.
First published in the respected Harvard Business Review, Graves’ idea brought requests for 15,000 reprints — and they’re still coming in. A New York publisher’s reader who looked at the first chapter of Graves’ forthcoming book reported: “Either this is one of the worst pieces of malarkey or it’s an honest-to-God breakthrough; I just don’t know which.” But according to David Ewing, associate editor of the Harvard Business Review, academics and businessmen are taking it most seriously. “So far,” says Ewing, “there's been nothing but good response, both from the academic community and outside.”
What Graves has done is to isolate and scientifically measure what he calls seven “levels” of human existence. Every one of us falls into one of the levels, which range from level-One, a human vegetable, to level-Seven, the highest form of man. The levels have nothing to do with age, intelligence, success, affluence, education or any of the other conventional yardsticks. What they do indicate is our degree of civilization and self-development — the distance that separates us from the apes.
Despite its potential as a cocktail-party “numbers game,” Graves devised his system as a serious academic thesis, the result of 14 years’ painstaking research, much of it with a machine called a tachistoscope.
With the system it's possible to gain fresh insights into our own and others’ behavior. If you’re having trouble with your wife, for instance, it could be because she’s still a Three, while you’ve climbed up to a Five. If the boss is driving you mad, perhaps he’s a Five and you're a Six. John Diefenbaker and Lester Pearson? Well, read on and judge for yourself The whole beauty of Graves’ system is that it applies to everyone, and it explains why the supposedly great minds in every field have rarely been able to agree. The answer is that they were all correct — for their own level of existence and that of the society around them.
The system is easiest to understand in the light of how Graves came to formulate it. “All my life,” he says, “I’ve been confused and perplexed by the fact that on every damn subject there arc so many schools of thought. Take psychology. The whole field is a battleground of contrasting theories — the Freudians don’t agree with the Adlerians, the psychoanalysts won’t talk to the behaviorists. The same’s true of all of life. Man is so confused that he speaks of peace — and then righteously makes war. We profess to care about poverty, but yet give the poor so little that they riot. We advocate religious tolerance, yet we disapprove of inter-faith marriages. Everywhere you look people are divided into rival factions, each group claiming that it is right and the others are wrong.”
Graves concluded that man is either just plain perverse, or there’s been a colossal misconception underlying all previous theories of human personality. How else could you account for the fact that otherwise intelligent people persist in disagreeing on just about every subject?
As a starting point in his search for an answer, Graves decided to try to define a healthy human personality. He interviewed hundreds of students, many of them people beyond normal college age attending night classes. Much of the time he used the tachistoscope, a machine that flashes programmed words onto a screen to test subjects’ recognition of different concepts and ideas. What finally emerged, somewhat to Graves’ surprise, were a number of / continued on page 72
continued on page 72
HOW TO PLAY THE RATING GAME
WHAT SORT OF PERSON ARE YOU — A RULESBOUND THREE, A TEAMPLAYING FIVE, A LOFTY SEVEN? PICK THE STATEMENT THAT GENERALLY DESCRIBES YOU BEST. THEN CHECK THE KEY AT BOTTOM OF THE PAGE FOR YOUR RATING
What I want to do most in life is to just be left alone so I can learn as much as l can about what interests me. I don't mind doing a bit of teaching but, apart from that. I’m not interested much in the world outside. I’m just fine in my own little world. If I don't get on with my boss, well, what the hell. 1 just sit back and wait and sure enough sooner or later things will change for the better. 1 just sort of feel that 1 know what life is all about, although 1 can’t put it into exact words. This feeling gives me a great sense of contentment. Far be it from me to ever tell anyone else what to do, or how to run their lives. I’m happy the way l am; let them do what suits them best.
The thing I really want in life is to be respected and liked by other people. I'm pretty content with my home, standard of living and family. I feel pretty confident about always being able to get along, and I don't subscribe to any particular religion or viewpoint. I think the best way of getting things done is for everyone to get together and talk the thing out and then agree on a course of action. 1 can't stand people who want to do everything their own way; the right thing to do is to get general agreement on something. People who want to be prima donnas are a pain in the neck. It makes sense to try and be pleasant to people, and to try not to hurt their feelings.
I believe that God — or some other extra-human power — wants me to be what I am, and I’m content with my present job, family, house, status in the world. I realize I’m never going to be a big shot, and it doesn't particularly worry me. I prefer working within a set of rules and regulations. I tend to get upset when something disturbs my daily routine. I like a boss/ husband who knows what he wants, and who can tell me exactly what he wants done, and how he wants it done. I believe in a religion, and I believe in sticking to the rules of my religion. People who say that God is dead, or that the old morality no longer applies, are just trying to make excuses for their own laxity. There is such a thing as right and wrong, and anything in between is just a lot of talk by people who are frightened of facing the truth.
I couldn’t give a damn about God, or the boss or what’s going to happen to me five years from now. I work best when I can figure a thing out for myself, and then go ahead and do it my way. I don’t like people telling me what to do, or how to do things. Committee men, group thinkers, Home and School meetings, women’s groups all drive me up the wall. What matters to me most is what I think of myself; I couldn’t care less what other people think of me.
I believe I can pull myself up by my boot straps and make a better life for myself. 1 think that some people are certainly brighter and tougher than others, and it’s only right that those who come out on top in life should enjoy the rewards of success. There is altogether too much coddling of people who are too lazy to work hard and help themselves. I work best when I've driven a hard bargain with those I work for — right after a new union contract, for example. When I feel it’s time for a new deal with my boss I work poorly until I get it. I tend to be a firm believer in things and then I drop them and find something else that appeals to me.
ƒ/ statement A seems to sum you up, then you’re a Seven. If statement B is the real you, then you’re a Five. C is a Three. D is a Six, and E a Four.
RATING GAME continued from page 25
“What’s a healthy personality?”
continued from page 25
vastly different conceptions of what makes up a healthy human personality. What’s more, people with differing ideas of what made up a healthy personality appeared to function perfectly well within their own definition.
Initially, there appeared to be five widespread concepts of healthy personality. Graves called them “levels” and arranged them in order of superiority. He decided that the more freedom of choice an individual allowed himself, the higher his level of civilization. Thus someone who lived rigidly by the rules of a dogmatic religion allowed himself little freedom of choice; he ranked below someone who thought out every moral dilemma for himself. At the bottom of the list of five levels Graves tacked on two other low-grade groups he’d encountered through anthropological work and field trips.
Graves’ first test was simply to ask his subjects, “What is your conception of a healthy human personality?” He found the answers highly indicative of a person’s level.
FIRST-LEVEI. MAN is a human vegetable—a mental retardate or someone in the throes of a mental breakdown. He is similar in many ways to a newborn baby: only dimly aware of life outside, he’s concerned mainly with feeding, illness, reproduction and primitive squabbles. He is obviously unable to define what to him is a healthy personality—or anything else.
SECOND-LEVEE MAN is primarily concerned with survival. His brain is
just starting to awaken, but he only dimly comprehends what's happening. He’s consequently full of magical beliefs; he lives by totems and taboos. He’s able to work, but his performance in any job is spotty and sporadic. Anyone trying to manage a level-Two worker must resort to the threat of sheer naked force to get him to do anything; even then, his work will be poor. Examples of Twos can be found in primitive hillbilly areas such as Appalachia, and in U.S. Job Corps programs in backward areas.
THIRD-LEVEL MAN is much more common in North America. Unlike Two, he is aware of the forces within himself and the world, and he copes with them by imposing a rigid order on himself. Such people frequently subscribe to some dogmatic system, often religion of some sort. A Three believes he is what he was born to be; position in life is predetermined by some extra-human power. Thus typically a Three could say a healthy personality is someone who lives by the Ten Commandments. He works best within a rigidly enforced set of rules — army regulations, for instance — and as long as they’re there, he’ll be happily productive. Remove these rules and the Three becomes neurotic and unproductive. Threes, says Graves, make excellent secretaries.
FOURTH-LEVEL man is very different from a Three. Fours believe in the power of self, the mastery of the world through one’s own personal power. To a Four. God shows his hand not by
ordering from birth the state of affairs, but by distributing among people varying degrees of power. Fours believe that those who come out on top in life fully deserve it; those who fail are simply ordained to submit themselves to the chosen few. Fours are dogmatic — but pragmatic, too. Thus, they’ll change their beliefs if they find something that works better. To them, a healthy personality is whatever way of life they happen to be following at the time. Fours make excellent bosses or husbands for Threes. At work, they produce best after a period of hard bargaining with management.
FIFTH-LEVEL man is the team player. the junior executive who is constantly running things up the flagpole to see who salutes. Tie's solved the problems of basic survival, and now he's determined not to rock the boat. He’s no longer interested in material gaim or power; he seeks self-esteem and social status. Thus, he’ll always go along with what everyone else decides is best. The danger with Fives at work is that they become so enmiored with group decision-making that they often have one meeting after another and never get anything done. To a Five, a healthy personality is what everyone else has agreed it is. Not surprisingly, Fives often make lousy bosses for Three and Fours. The Three is confused by the Five's wooing tendencies. The Four simply takes advantage of the Five's “niceness.”
SIXTH-LEVEL man drives most businessmen up the wall. Sixes are no longer motivated by man’s common fears — fear of survival, fear of God, fear of the boss. Sixes are quietly confident of their capacity to survive, come what may. They resent following standard operating procedure, and they work best when allowed to do things their own way. Sixes are often found in advanced technological or creative industries—inevitably they’re in deep trouble when they find themselves working under a team-playing Five or an authoritarian Four. To a Six, a healthy human personality is a casual definition such as, “It’s what I think it is — I don’t care whether you agree or not.”
SEVENTH-LEVEL man, the highest on Graves’ scale, is a refined version of the Six. He’s conquered the Six’s desire for self-esteem. What drives the Seven is the desire to acquire and to disseminate information. Thus Sevens are often scholars, w'ho may live contentedly in a world by themselves; unlike the Sixes they will not attempt to change their working conditions or the world outside. They will simply wait until conditions change themselves. Asked for a definition of a healthy personality. Sevens say, “I’m damned if I know.” According to Graves, “You get an almost mystical conception where the guy says he has a sort of feeling of what a healthy human is.”
Having catalogued his basic seven levels, Graves noticed certain similarities between oddand even-numbered levels. Odd-numbered people, it appeared, were trying to adjust to their environment, while even - numbered people were attempting to change it. At this point Graves noticed another phenomenon: there appeared to be a marked similarity between Ones and Sevens. Both were passive, both tended
to a rather mystical type of thought, though on vastly different intellectual levels. Graves now believes Sevens may actually be Ones on a brand-new ladder of levels, and that unlimited cycles of new levels may develop in the future.
"We can speculate,” he says, "that mankind may be able to progress steadily in the future to higher levels still. Advances in biochemistry, for instance, may make it possible for us to induce chemical changes in people to enable them to progress to levels still undreamed of.”
Having formed the theoretical basis of his system. Graves tested it with students. He grouped them according to their levels and asked them to solve problems — sorting out piles of cards, for example. The Threes split up into a number of small groups each with its own leader. Graves interprets this as being analagous to a feudal craft society with elaborate hierarchies within trade guilds. The Fours started off by having one hell of a fight, at the end of which there emerged an overall leader. Fives worked well with no leader emerging at all. Sixes tended to choose a leader well qualified for the task in hand, and then drop him in favor of another leader better suited for the next task. As for Sevens, Graves has yet to find one among his students.
This part of Graves’ research is most immediately applicable to the field of management psychology. Graves’ experiments with groups of students at various levels showed that specific management techniques are applicable for each level. So far, Graves knows of only one company that’s taken direct action as a result of his theory. A New York advertising agency reorganized its creative staff — level - Sixes, mostly — so they wouldn't be under a level-Five teamplayer. Productivity and morale showed an impressive increase.
In Canada, a Toronto sales consultant looking for a better job has already tried to cash in on Graves’ system, by advertising himself in a newspaper as a level-Three. “I read the article,” explains Don Fulton, 38, a father of five, “and it seemed to me that level - Threes are the most desirable workers for management to have. So I advertised myself that way.” He described himself as “alert, co-operative, responsible, predictable . . . produces because he believes it’s his moral duty to do his best.” But for several days, at least, there was no response; obviously Graves’ theory is not yet widely enough known. “I just tried the ad I as a teaser, really,” says Fulton.
Graves' system applies equally to nations. The United States, he says, is a Four moving toward being a Five, with strong undercurrents of Three thinking still at work. A classic example of the change from Four to Five is illustrated by a comment from one of Governor Ronald Reagan’s California campaign managers in 1966: “Working people in California used to register as Democrats,” he said. “But when they buy a house and get some roots down, they want stability, they’re against boat-rockers. They become conservative.”
If Graves is right, that the U. S. is moving from Four to Five, then one obvious conclusion is that we’re going
RATING GAME continued
Even nations get a Graves rating
to see a lot more Ronald Reagans gain power.
As for Three-level thinking, it’s not difficult to detect strong strains of it in the arguments of those opposing abortionor liquor-law reform. Its characteristics are theologically based rules for living. Today the Threes are fighting a losing battle to preserve their old-fashioned, rigid, well-ordered world.
in international affairs. Graves’ system shows the importance of recognizing when a nation is moving from one level to another, and adjusting policy to match. Thus Russia changed from Three to Four when it went from Stalin to Khrushchov, and is now reaching to level - Five with Kosygin. The only way to deal with Stalin's Russia was to lay down the rules and stick by them with force — hence (he NATO policy of containment. But this inflexible approach was not appropriate for Khrushchov who. as a Four, responded well to hard bargaining. Likewise, as Kosygin and those who follow him reach increasingly toward level-Fivc, they’ll genuinely want to get along with everybody and avoid boat-rocking.
China, says Graves, is trying to change from Three to Four: witness the Red Guards ruckus. Chairman Mao, as a classic Three, is fighting a desperate rearguard action against the more progressive Fours. Given time, China will hopefully change
again up to Five, at which point the threat of war will disappear.
Graves also believes the whole field of education is a perfect example of where his theory should be put to practical use. “It’s crazy educating people according to income level, academic skills or trades, as we do now,” says Graves. “Obviously, what we should do is reorganize education along the lines of the different levels. Thus all Fours would go to school together, all Fives . . . and so on. Teachers would become expert in handling each particular group, rather than having to cope with all groups, as they do now.”
Graves cites the “God-is-dead” theological debate as another instance of the change-in-levels at work. Thus the old religion was for Three and Fours; the new approach is making headway with Fives because Fives will always go along with what the “experts” think best. The strong undercurrents of Three thinking still at work in North America will continue for some time to provide the fundamentalist and dogmatic religions with flocks. Increasingly, though, the middle-of-theroad religions will change to Five thinking, and subscribe to the God-isdead view. The most difficult change to make, says Graves, both for an individual or a nation is from Five to Six. “This is tough,” he says, “because nothing is more frightening for a Five than to have to start thinking for him-
self. It’s only when you get to he a Six that you start to see the world as it really is.”
President Kennedy, Graves belie\es. was approaching the Sixth level when he was assassinated. President Johnson gets a much lower rating — he's a Four "trying to sound like a Five.” Prime Minister Pearson sounds like a Six to Graves, although he admits. “We get so damnably little information on Canada in our papers here that I couldn’t say anything about Canadian leaders for sure.”
So far. Graves professes surprise at the attention his theory is getting. He says he’d resigned himself to a quiet, unobtrusive life at Union College, a small school noted for, if anything, the tendency of its students to be unremarkable. Graves is now working on the book which will officially break his system to the world.
The whole idea came to light prematurely in the Harvard Business Rexiew. It got printed only because Graves lamented one day to his plumber on the difficulties of getting academic work published. The plumber, a Business Review reader, wrote indignantly to the Review editors, demanding to know why they’d neglected such an obviously great man. Sure enough. Graves was invited to publish.
His article, entitled Deterioration of Work Standards, applied his theory to the problem of getting the most from workers. Graves’ point was that each worker should be treated according to his level and not just as a member of a mass. The article prompted the fantastic demand for reprints, and soon Graves was in the limelight. Letters asking for further details and requests for speeches are coming into Graves’ tiny office so fast he can’t keep up; now he just ignores them. “I’ve only got half a secretary,” he explains.
Many people who’ve already become familiar with Graves’ theory find themselves in an eerie state of indecision — the same feeling they got, in fact, when they first read Marshall McLuhan. Is the man simply restating the crashingly obvious in a provocative new' w;ay — or is he really onto something? Certainly, Graves’ observations aren’t without precedent. In the 1950s, U.S. sociologist David Riesman, in The Lonely Crowd, set up similar categories to analyze the emergence of the American managerial class. Riesman’s categories •— “tradition-directed man, inner-directed man and other-directed man” — closely correspond to the Threes, Fours and Fives on the Graves scale.
Graves is charmingly uncertain on this point himself. “On the surface,
I suppose I sound like the egotist to end all egotists,” he admits. “Here I am proposing something w'hich purports to explain everything." He's worried that critics will neglect the
serious scientific research that went into establishing his theory; he's devoting all his spare time into getting his book, as yet untitled, into print as quickly as possible.
Modestly, Graves places himself as a Three who is in transition to a Four but who's held back from further development by the need to work for a living. “1 was reared in a very severe Third-level world,” he says. "And that takes a lot of breaking out of. My problem is that which con-
fronts most of us — to a certain extent I’m held in bondage by the conditions of my own existence. Once I can get the problems of my own financial security solved, and provide for my family, then I'll be able to start operating at a higher level. I'd dearly love to be a Six or a Seven, but it's pretty tough when you're teaching for a living.”
He cheerfully admits that on the Union campus he's considered a bit of a character; until recently, he drove
a rusted 1955 Ford with 250,000 miles on the clock, and he openly laments the lack of student nonconformity. “I've rather carefully nurtured this image,” he says. “It makes it easier for me to be left alone to do my own thinking.”
So far it seems to have paid off — his book is almost finished, and with it perhaps will come financial security and a chance to be a Six or Seven. "That.” he says, "will have made the whole damn thing worthwhile.” ★