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Changing How People Think: Vertical Development

By November 12, 2015April 29th, 2019Article


Changing How People Think: Vertical Development

As we conduct L&D needs analyses at SyNet in collaboration with our clients, we are noticing a heightened interest in supporting executives in developing improved ways of thinking about problems. This shift in focus—from skills and competencies (horizontal development) to cognitive thinking (vertical development)—is the result of leaders having to operate with less certainty, in a quickly changing and complex environment. Executives now continuously face unique situations where they have less confidence in knowing what to do or how to act in the moment. So, how do you change how people think?

Looking at how people think and reason is not new. Cognitive development has its roots with Greek, Hindu and Buddhist philosophies. Otto E. Laske, author of Dialectical Thinking for Integral Leaders: A Primer, has done extensive research on Dialectics or reasoning. Dialectics defines four classes of thought that people use to capture and see reality. The four classes of thought are:

  • Process – how things or systems emerge, evolve and disappear;
  • Context – how things are part of the structure of a larger, stable whole;
  • Relatedness – how things (that are part of a much larger whole) are related and what they have in common;
  • Transformation – how systems are in constant development and change.

Vertical development requires organizations to redefine how they approach management, leadership and executive thinking styles and patterns. The process of redefining learning and development strategies will require organizations to push people to the edges of their knowing and comfort, forcing them to consider alternative perspectives and opinions, and especially learning how to be present in the moment so they can take in with all their senses the current circumstances.

On the surface, the vertical approach may seem similar to traditional learning and development, with group projects, instructor-led sessions, mentoring and coaching. However, it is quite different than these. Developing more sophisticated ways of thinking requires individuals to:

  • be responsible for their own learning,
  • identify and access the necessary learning resources for themselves,
  • engage and apply key concepts and frameworks while working on actual team projects,
  • explore unfamiliar frontiers on their own with the assistance of mentors and coaches.

Finding the right formula for a curriculum that balances self-directed learning with increasingly complex situations requires an analysis and assessment of both the individual’s and organization’s needs.

The result of this type of rigorous approach to vertical development is having managers, leaders and executives who are more adept at being able to handle any kind of situation, be it simple, complicated, complex or chaotic either on their own or in collaboration with others in the organization.

SyNet is currently conducting prototypes of this new ‘species’ of L&D curricula in collaboration with our clients. If you would like to explore vertical development programs for your organization, please contact us for a conversation and more information.