Book Review

Bernardo A. Merizalde

Measuring Hidden Dimensions of Human Systems:
“Foundations of Requisite Organization”, Vol. 2,
Otto Laske, (2009) Interdevelopmental Institute Press,
Medford, MA, USA

by Bernardo A Merizalde

laske coverIn Volume 2 of his series, Measuring Hidden Dimensions of Human Systems: Foundations of Requisite Organization, Otto Laske presents the second, but not less important, strand of his Constructive Developmental Framework (CDF). The book does not just follow Volume 1; it is an inseparable part of the model. Here, he describes, integrates, and develops, the concepts of evelopmental theory, and their practical application, this time, in the domains of cognition, development of knowledge, and capability. Professor Laske emphasizes the importance of both socio-emotional (the subject of Vol. 1) and cognitive dimension (Vol. 2) to any kind of comprehensive human capability assessment. He sees the two developmental domains as distinct and at the same time interrelated, even interactive.

Basing himself on the empirical studies of dialectical thinking of Basseches (1984), the review and extension of dialectical thinking of Bhaskar (1993), and the research on stages of reflective judgment of King and Kitchener (1994; called by him “epistemic positions”), Laske integrates these studies with Elliott Jaques’ theory of capability and organizational performance (1989), to create the most comprehensive, inclusive, and detailed, model of human development from a constructivist point of view available to date. The model is described in his usual, clear, and detailed, didactic manner.

Professor Laske straddles the worlds of philosophy and psychology, bringing to the task a philosophical framework, as a meaningful and important applied discipline, a stepping-stone to improve the human condition, and substantiating his premises with rigorous scientific research from the field of the human development.

In this volume the reader will find:

  • A thorough description of dialectical thinking, its development in individuals, and examples of how dialectical thought processes appear at each stage of adult development starting in late adolescence.
  • A description of each epistemic (knowledge) position (reflective judgment), stages of their development, and their maturation towards fully dialectical thinking.
  • A detailed introduction to Requisite Organization, in which individuals’ potential and capability is commensurate with the level of work complexity inherent in their particular roles.
  • With regards to individuals, an outline of the equilibrium of their particular developmental profile in terms of a balance of the cognitive and socio-emotional dimension, as evidenced by systematically evaluating scored semi-structured interviews documenting potential capability.

As the author details throughout the book, there is interdependency between social-emotional and cognitive development, as well as between the cognitive and epistemic (knowledge) development. As he emphasizes, it is still unclear how these two main strands influence each other, which is an area future research. It appears to him that such interrelationship is influenced by epistemic growth (improved capability of dealing with uncertainty) which increasingly calls forth the need for dialectical thinking tools. As he sees it, cognitive development requires a certain degree of development in the social-emotional domain (as that of “stance”), as well as a greater epistemic capability (as that of “tools”) to progress, and vice-versa. The particulars of this relationship are the object of an inquiry that has not even begun (see Laske’s suggestions for a dialectically conducted cognitive science on pp. 138 [Fig. 5.1] and 263 of volume 2).

To guide future research, Prof. Laske introduces a meta-perspective of “eras” in which cognitive development progresses from “Common Sense”, a Lockean Inquiring System (Churchman, 1971); through “Understanding”, a Kantian Inquiring System; to “Reason”, a Dialectical (Hegelian) Inquiring System; to “Practical Wisdom”, a hypothesized final stage congruent with Cook-Greuter’s research findings, which probably corresponds to Common’s cross-paradigmatic stage. (Cook-Greuter, 1999; Commons, 2008). These eras of cognitive development follow a traditional Piagetian framework up until the appearance of the first phase of dialectical thinking following the completion of formal logical thinking in early adulthood (Basseches M., 1984). The three subsequent phases of Reason (dialectical thinking) bring into play an increasingly larger number of dialectical thought forms and their coordination as a basis of transformational—fully dialectical—thinking. The third and fourth phases of this development may not be achieved by the great majority of adults who may be unable to break the fetters of formal logical thinking, with ensuing consequences for their diminished view of reality.

Importantly, Laske’s notion of Reason (dialectical thinking), in contrast to Understanding, is not pinned on “overcoming” but rather “integrating” formal logical thinking into a broader, transformational view of the world as something that is uncertain, in constant transformation, deeply interrelated in its parts, and graspable only from a holistic and systemic point of view not attainable by formal logical thinking even at its most developed.

These notions of human development, identified and integrated by Laske, are then applied to organizational function (chapters 9-15), where strata of performance and accountability are defined in cognitive terms, in accordance with the work by Elliot Jaques ( 1989/2006). Accordingly, individuals and teams can be evaluated in terms of how far they can carry their roles in an organization by using dialectical thinking. An individual’s dialectical thinking ability would correspond to the degree of complexity of mental processing required for the performance of tasks assigned into a particular role within a formal or informal organization.

In addition to outlining the eras of cognitive development over the life span that culminate in fully dialectical thinking, Laske’s book teaches how to conduct semi-structured cognitive interviews to be scored in order to determine the specific phase (not stage) of cognitive development of the interviewee, with an emphasis on the equilibrium of different thought form classes and their degree of coordination (see further details below). The structure of this interview closely follows Michael Basseches’ model, and is focuses the specific themes as represented by three “Houses” (Tasks, organizational environment, and Self), on which the individual is encouraged to describe the manner in which they are present, or not, in their life.

Throughout Laske’s book, M. Basseches is acknowledged as having made the brilliant contribution of identifying 24 “dialectical thinking schemata” (called “thought forms” by Laske), based on the history of dialectical thinking. In this way, Basseches brought about a pivotal step in cognitive science, namely, the beginnings of an empirical epistemology (rather than a mere psychology) of dialectical thinking. In Laske’s terms, this genetic epistemology puts the work of the Frankfurt School, especially Adorno’s (1999), on an empirical basis, rescuing it from being nothing more than “critical theory.”

In order to expand his studies beyond epistemology [theory of knowledge] —that is, into a theory of reality rather than merely a theory of human thinking about reality—Laske introduces the notion of the Four Quadrants of Dialectic as the forces that “run the world”. He does so by seeing Basseches’ classes of thought forms as representatives of ontological principles, in the sense that in its attempt to catch up with reality, human thinking uses dialectical thought forms to construct what otherwise remains beyond its reach.

Historically, Basseches (1984) divided his dialectical schemata into: motion-oriented (which Laske calls “Process” thought forms), form-oriented (Laske’s “Context” thought forms), relationship-oriented (Laske’s “Relationship” thought forms), and meta-formal (Laske’s “Transformational” or “Systemic” thought forms). Process thought forms comprise that aspect of dialectical thinking that focuses on what is in motion, either in thought itself or in the world thought is constructing; Context, or big-picture, thought forms focus on what remains relatively stable throughout change, forming a structure that holds things in motion together, thus providing a big picture; Relationship thought forms hold those elements of dialectical or systems thinking together, either extrinsically (from the outside), or intrinsically (by logically preceding related elements or being intrinsic to the parts of a system); Transformation, or Systems, thought forms occur when systemic opposites (A and non-A), since related, are included in a larger context (A’), and the system then acts in an organic way, by assimilating its “other”, and transforming itself in the process of adapting to the “other” (a notion stemming from Plato’s late work and further elaborated by Hegel; see Houlgate, 2006).

In light of the material presented in Laske’s Volume 2, a more general, wide-scoped theory of the dimensions of personality emerges. Social-emotional development, described in volume 1 (following Kegan), is recast by placing it into a greater context of human work capability. In this context, an individual’s social-emotional stage appears as the most general assessment, in that it applies to millions of people at the same time. It is thus not specific regarding an individual’s uniqueness and says virtually nothing about the individual’s culture. In contrast, the individual’s cognitive profile comes closer to a person’s uniqueness and manifests some cultural elements, articulating the individual’s “sense making” rather than “meaning making”. The Constructive Developmental Framework adds to the two developmental dimensions a third, behavioral one. An assessment of the behavioral psychological dimension is provided by the psychoanalytically based “Needs/Press Analysis Questionnaire”. Answers to the questionnaire, once evaluated, show an individual in the uniqueness of his/her self conduct, approach to tasks, and interpersonal perspective (“emotional intelligence”),–but only when viewed as an integral part of the overarching developmental (social-emotional and cognitive) assessment findings. In this comprehensive assessment (taught in IDM case studies in Programs One and Two), the full capability of an individual in the sense of Elliott Jaques emerges, in the sense not only of what a person “has” (competences, etc.) and can always decide not to use, but of what a person presently “is”.

As taught at IDM, then, all three scores derived through the Constructive Developmental Framework (CDF) need to be seen as interrelated and interdependent—moments of an organic whole. To achieve seeing CDF scores as an organic whole, however, the epistemic and cognitive perspectives cannot be fused with, or reduced to, the social-emotional, as is done by other evelopmentalists like Loevinger, Kegan and King & Kitchener (most likely due to lack of sufficient dialectical processing). When too few distinctions are made—such as between social-emotional and cognitive, cognitive and epistemic, social-emotional and epistemic, etc.—many profundities get buried and the individual is robbed of a significant degree of complexity. This simplification happens to the detriment of applied developmental theory that is becoming so crucial in coaching, counseling, and consulting, since it hinders assessment specificity.

It is known that the socio-emotional and cognitive dimensions correspond to different brain structures, with the socio-emotional centers developing earlier, and centered in the limbic system, while the cognitive centers mature later and are centered primarily in the brain’s cortex. But, it would be a great mistake to consider this a dualistic perspective, since these functions are interrelated, inseparable, and fundamental for an equilibrated development. (Basseches & Mascolo, 2010). Therefore, there is empirical and scientific basis for maintaining a clear distinction between the cognitive and the socio-emotional dimensions when assessing individuals.

Otto Laske, through his work at IDM, opens a new line for future research in adult development, and throughout his second book proposes hypotheses for such an endeavor, while basing this current work on solid philosophical, psychological, and scientific foundations. This book is an absolute must for any serious student of adult development and practitioner in the field of human capability and development, counselors, coaches, consultants, social workers, psychologists and psychiatrists.

Since I have read the both volumes of “Hidden Dimensions”, and gone through IBM modules A through D, I have been able to listen to my clients with a greater perspective and have become more perceptive of more subtle aspects of the phases (socio-emotional and cognitive) at which they operate. The model has also given me tools to help them move along their developmental path by providing them with opportunities to develop new competencies. This model truly provides the practical application of Vygotzky’s “zone of proximal development” concept.

The act of reading the book, and certainly by participating in the IDM training program, is also a catalyst towards finding our own selves as practitioners. Going through it, step-by-step, guided by Professor Laske, provides the opportunity to observe our own process and determine where we are in our own path of personal growth and development. Achieving the highest developmental level possible will permit us to be the most helpful to our clients.

Short Bibliography

  • Adorno, Th. W. (1999). Negative dialectics. New York: Continuum.
  • Basseches, M. (1983). Dialectical thinking as a meta-systemic fomr of cognitive organization. In M. Commons, F. Richards, C. Armon, & eds, Beyond Formal Operations: Late Adolescence and Adult Cognitive Development (pp. 216-238).
  • Basseches, M. (1984). Dialectical thinking and adult development. Norwood, NJ: Ablex.
  • Basseches, M., & Mascolo, M. (2010). Psychotherapy as a Developmental Process. New York: Routledge.
  • Bopp, M. (1981). A coding manual for the dialectical schema framework.
  • Bhaskar, R. (1993). Dialectic: The pulse of freedom. London: Verso.
  • Churchman, C. W. (1971). The design of inquiring systems: Basic concepts of systems and organization. New York: Basic Books
  • Commons, M. L. (2008). Introduction to the Model of Hierarchical Complexity and its relationship to postformal action. World Futures: The Journal of General Evolution , 67 (5-7), 305-320.
  • Cook-Greuter, S. (1999). Postautonomous ego development: A study of its nature and measurement. Doctoral dissertation. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Graduate School of Education.
  • Jaques, E. (1989; 2006). Requisite Organization. Arlington, VA: Cason Hall & Co. Publishers
  • Houlgate, S. (2006). The opening of Hegel’s logic. West Lafayette, IN: Purdue University Press.
  • Kegan, R. (1982). The evolving self. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
  • Kegan, R. (1994). In over our heads. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
  • King, P. M. & K. S. Kitchener (1994). Developing reflective judgment. San Francisco: Jossey Bass.
  • Laske, O. (2006). Measuring hidden dimensions (volume 1). Medford, MA: IDM Press.
  • Vygotsky, LS (1978). Mind in Society: Development of Higher Psychological Processes, Harvard University Press; 14th edition

About the Author

Bernardo A Merizalde, MD, DHt, is Board Certified in Psychiatry and Neurology, after training in Hahnemann Hospital in Philadelphia; he is also Board Certifice in Homeotherapeutics. He is Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Thomas Jefferson University and Consultant at the Myrna Brind Center for Integrative Medicine at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia. He is Medical Director at the Family Hope Center, in Blue Bell, PA; he has a private practice of general medicine and psychiatry in Lafayette Hill, PA. He is the past president of American Institute of Homeopathy and is currently a member its board of directors; he is also a member of the board of directors of the Greater Philadelphia Society for Clinical Hypnosis.

He has been certified as a practitioner by Spiral Dynamics Integral Technologies, Richard Barrett’s Cultural Transformation Tools, Developmental Coaching by the Interdevelopmental Institute, and Susanne Cook-Greuter’s Leadership Developmental Framework.

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