Values Systems can be thought of as psychological coping mechanisms. As external conditions change, our internal prioritisation and decision-making processes must also change if we are to get an optimal result from the circumstances influencing us. The required change can either take us to a more evolved level – or back to an earlier level (regression).
A simple example of moving forward is that the values that are likely to be effective in driving a start-up business will almost certainly be different to those necessary to maintain high quality service levels in an established business. At its best, the Orange drivers of creativity and entrepreneurism that made it successful will not only be carried forward, but will incorporate the increase in collaboration and mutual understanding inherent in Green (level 6).
A deeply personal example of regressing back through the levels:
I had the first sign that all was not well one fine spring day in 2007 – a sudden inability to drive a fork in the ground to prepare for planting some vegetables. This was followed by an emergency trip to the local hospital, a range of tests, delays and eventual transfer to The Royal Brompton Hospital in South-West London where a successful coronary artery triple by-pass operation took place. In Graves’ terms, my normal everyday operating level would be Yellow (level 7). However the next six days would show a very different profile:
- Day 1: My day starts at level 7 as normal, I’m interested in what’s going to happen, albeit with some anxiety coming in from time to time. I say farewell to my wife in the middle of the afternoon and then am “out of it” until the early hours of the next day. Although I am unaware of it (fortunately!) I am entirely dependent on outside support to stay alive while in the operating theatre for about five hours – Beige (level 1).
- Day 2: On waking, I find myself in intensive care, hooked up to various wires, tubes and other forms of apparatus which have played a major part in keeping me alive. I am incapable of doing very much although I manage breakfast with some assistance. I’m still very much dependent on external support. At some point during the day I am moved into the high dependency unit and am pleased to see my wife and son – first steps into Purple (level 2).
- Day 3: A mini-scare where various vital signs seem to be going the wrong way is dealt with by the medical team and this takes me temporarily back to level 1. Once that is over and I’m stabilised once more, I am moved to the normal cardiac recovery ward. Red (level 3) kicks in as two nurses encourage (the more accurate verb would be force) me to get out of bed without assistance for the first time post-op. It hurts, feels impossible to do, yet they keep at me until I’ve not only done it, but have also made it to the shower in their company. In some other context this could be the realisation of some (not so) deeply buried fantasy.
- Day 4: A routine of exercise is set … walk 20 metres … rest … walk 20 metres again … rest … walk 20 metres … rest … etc (Blue level 4). I’m still pushing back and trying to do it my way (Red) but the system prevails. I don’t like the idea of being on powerful pain killers so tell the nurses to stop bringing them. They smile benignly and say “you’ll soon change your mind”. They’re right. My Red part is still angry that they seem to know what they want me to do when I know I don’t want to do it. Bah, humbug.
- Day 5: The exercise regime is extended … walk further, and do more repetitions. I am definitely becoming more compliant (Blue). My world view is still very limited with not much interest in anything outside of the hospital and my place in it. I am, however, pleased to see two close friends during the day, although I’m not sure I added much to their fund of human knowledge.
- Day 6: The discipline of Blue and the single-mindedness of Red combine to enable me to successfully undertake the “stairs test” – my passport to leaving the Brompton later that day.
Looking back, I think I had returned to a limited version of Blue (level 4) when I was signed off by the clinical team, and it would be another three months before I was able to function at anywhere near my previous level.