4/22 – A New Approach to Dialog: Teaching the Dialectical Thought Form Framework – Part III: Teaching Programs for, and Applications of, Dialogical Dialectic

Otto Laske

Otto Laske

Otto Laske

Otto Laske, Interdevelopmental Institute (IDM)


Part III: Teaching Programs for, and Applications of, Dialogical Dialectic

How to Develop a Teaching Program for Dialectical Thinking

Teaching dialectical thinking in a world dominated by logical thinking is a task of tall order. There is apparently no place for such thinking in a world governed by algorithms and formal- logical models.

At the same time, re-vitalizing dialectical thinking is of great value just because it provides a broadening of perspectives, not only for professionals but for living one’s life. It is, after all, an attempt to think at the level of living systems, not beneath that level where society conducts most of its business.

While logical thinking is a crucial tool of dialectic, taken for granted and by itself it has severe limitations from the perspective of the gap between “how reality works” and “the way people think”.

In fact, the gap derives from nothing but logical thinking itself, and is rooted in the fact that such thinking is neither holistic nor systemic in the sense of the transformational nature of reality that begs to be understood.

For some time now, I have undertaken the effort of teaching dialectic to professionals, a “liberal arts” venture in the form of “cognitive” or “philosophical” coaching focused on recognizing structures of thinking in professional dialog.

I have experienced professionals’ difficulty in undoing the dominance of logic in their way of constructing the world for themselves. 

This difficulty is to be expected since the social world is no less complex than the physical world although it outwardly gives the misleading impression of being structured in logical terms, due to being a totally “administered world” (as Adorno and Marcuse would have said).

Teaching Dialectical Thinking – 5 Aspects

At the end of this treatise on dialogical dialectic, I want to pass on my experience of teaching dialectical thinking, not only to individuals but, directly and indirectly, to organizations and institutions. I do so below, under the following headings:

  1. Raising awareness about the limitations of purely logical thinking
  2. Establishing a theoretical and practical framework for teaching dialectical thinking
  3. Developing teaching materials: teaching as dialog
  4. Mentoring professionals by way of case studies
  5. Guidelines for certification of dialectical thinking capability 

1. Raising Awareness about the Limitations of Purely Logical Thinking 

Raising awareness about alternative ways of thinking means conveying the following critical insights:

  • “What” people think about derives from “how” they think, or the thought form constellations that structure their thinking.
  • These constellations are part of an Inquiring System that the thinker is unaware of.
  • A logical Inquiring System is focused exclusively on “what is the case” or actuality, and tends to screen out “what is real”, in the sense of the four moments of
  • Every individual’s Inquiring System is, however, in developmental motion and comprises resources by which to move to systems thinking and dialectical
  • At any point in time, an Inquiring System can be assessed through DTF in terms of fluidity of thought form use as made visible by a Concept Behavior Graph (Fig. 11).

The task of disrupting the automatic logical and downloading mentality of conventional thinking can be undertaken in two essentially different ways:

first, through one-on-one mentoring by an expert in dialectical thinking, and second, in a team context, where an actual motivating issue or concept is brought forward, dissected, and put together in a new form based on facilitation using dialectical thought forms.


2. Establishing a Theoretical and Practical Framework for Teaching Dialectical Thinking 

Framework Used

In order to teach dialectical thinking, a theoretical framework associated with practical tools is needed. Such a framework emerged for me around the year 2000 when I began to combine three previously separate assessment tools 

  • A tool for measuring the level of meaning making (social-emotional maturity) in the sense of R. Kegan (1982; Lahey et al. 1988)
  • A tool for measuring the phase of dialectical thinking (cognitive maturity) based on Basseches’ work (1984)
  • A tool for measuring a person’s psychological profile in the sense of the theory of personality created by Henry Murray, and referred to as “Need/Press”, by his student Morris Aderman (Hawkins 1970).

Since dialectical thinking is an adult developmental achievement potentially attainable by all, its embedding in a broad profile as provided by CDF has successfully hindered me from thinking of an individual’s cognitive profile as a stand-alone capability.

It seemed clear to me from the start that de-totalizing human capability into isolated or logically related “competences” would be a grave error to make.

Hypothesis regarding the growth of dialectical thinking

Based on my teaching and assessment experience, I would formulate these hypotheses:

  • Social-emotional and cognitive development go hand in hand in that the first defines an individual’s Stance vis-a-vis the social world, and the latter provides tools for understanding both the physical and social worlds (thus being much broader).
  • The individual’s psychological profile (in the sense of Murray who operationalized Freud)) is largely established in childhood except that adult development assists an individual in learning “how to live with who I am”, thereby potentially smoothing the hard edges of the profile.
  • Both the social-emotional and psychological profile can potentially delay or block the development of an individual’s cognition which, however, can be alleviated by scaffolding, working with the concept of “zones of proximal development” (Vygotsky 1978).
  • However, cognitive development exerts a determining influence on social-emotional development, thereby enhancing overall developmental potential and minimizing psychological

It is evident that the complexities here indicated lead one naturally to thinking about personality and individual development in a dialectical manner. Logical shortcuts fail. 

This is exactly what is lacking in most “helping professions”, most of which work from models that de-totalize their clients to proportions their purely logical tools can deal with.

Teaching Procedure

Although I never entirely forget the social-emotional and psychological co-determinants of complex thinking, in teaching dialectical thinking I am typically restricting myself to DTF, the Dialectical Thought Form Framework sketched in this introduction.

As a consequence, the theoretical framework in the narrower sense here in focus  -is one that conceives of:

the development and acquisition of dialectical thinking as a natural birthright of individuals who are in a situation of “proximal development” where they need help for giving themselves permission to think, that is, to construct the real world in more complex than logical ways.

Once people realize that after their middle twenties, when logical thinking has matured in most of them, they are on a developmental journey to increasingly complex thinking, they begin to become curious about where along the trajectory of acquiring dialectical thinking they presently find themselves.

I have tried to convey that trajectory in this introduction by introducing the reader to motivational pillars of teaching DTF, such as notions of the mind’s UDR movement, the feedback loop involved in making experiences (Fig. 7), and the examples given for how TF configurations differ between more or less complexly thinking individuals.

I well realize that these motivational niceties are not always welcome, especially in organizational contexts and in teams where the issue is “to get things done”.

In those circumstances, when I have to forgo any kind of philosophical help, I typically focus on how to increase collaborative intelligence in teams or holacratic circles by inviting team members to present a problem they are sitting with.

I then facilitate their exchanges by pointing to absences in their thinking –

which could usefully be done away with by using this or that class of dialectical TFs, or this or that individual TF, following the pel sequence in the short and compact tables of thought forms (Table 4 [pel TFs], Table 5 [CPRT 28 TFs].

Two different teaching modalities

There are, in my experience, two different modalities of teaching dialectical thinking:

  • The long and deep way
  • The short and shallow

Which one to choose depends on the context in which the teaching occurs, and the financial means available for acquiring dialectical thinking.

The long and deep way

This approach to learning dialectical thinking is time-intensive. I call it the Case Study Method when working with an individual mentee, and the Case Study Cohort Method when working with a group of students.

We have seen that deep-thinking dialog is accurately modeled by engaging in cognitive interviews in which it is the task of the interviewer to lead an interviewee to the limits of the interviewee’s present ability to think.

Individuals can be encouraged to learn semi-structured cognitive interviewing that provides them with opportunities to acquire dialectical thought forms by way of listening to others in interviews. This involves recording and transcribing, and then systematically evaluating how an interlocutor has been thinking during a 1-hour interview conducted by a DTF expert.

The professional way to do such an interview is to use the Three Houses or a divide-and-conquer strategy in order to generate depth rather than breadth of thinking. Through interviewing and scoring practice, the learner will rapidly improve his or her own command of using dialectical thought forms in all communications previously based on purely logical thinking (Fig. 10).

Case Study Cohort Method:

In a virtual or actual workshop setting, this “royal road” approach is even more effective since an entire cohort is set to work on the critical evaluation of one of its members’ interviews.

In this way, an entire group, together with the instructor or by itself, thinks together about how to correctly evaluate the present phase of a client’s dialectical thinking in terms of his or her use of thought forms, thereby reinforcing cohort members’ insights into what is a correct or incorrect evaluation of text fragments (“bits”) selected from an interview.

Over time, the critical listening experience turns into an increasing facility to use dialectical thought forms oneself in all of one’s communications.

When the long and deep way is taken, the time required for mentoring based on conducting a complete cognitive case study is at least 12 x 1-hour mentoring sessions: 2 for teaching interviewing in terms of DTF, and 10 for supervising the evaluation of a transcribed interview and for preparing written feedback to the interviewee.

Making two additional case studies, as required for DTF certification, will require 12 additional 1-hr mentoring sessions. A total of 36 hours [2+10=12, x3]

The short and shallow way

Where time or money are not available for following the royal road to dialectical thinking just described, the best compromise is to proceed by way of a succession of 2-day workshops following each other a month or two months apart. All workshops are team workshops focused on increasing collaborative intelligence, and are thus steeped in pragmatic subject matter. (Collaborative intelligence in the sense of humans working with robots is now on the horizon   but won’t fare too well before humans have got their act together …).

While the first workshop is introductory, subsequent workshops are “advanced” in that group or team members already have access to a memory bank about DTF. In addition, the group’s choosing of practical problems enhances the motivation to absorb dialectical thinking by way of listening to how team members think and what are the absences in their thinking that hinder the group/team from succeeding in effective collaboration (in addition to team members’ Stance in the sense of Fig. 9).

In this context, the effectiveness of the training strongly depends on the level of dialectical thinking of the instructors or mentors, and their ability to motivate the team to think “differently”.

Effectiveness, however, is not meant in a purely technical sense, here. Rather, it ultimately refers to the thoroughness of culture transformation achieved in the team’s organizational environment.

Teaching dialectical thinking in an academic context 

In an academic (or even high-school) version of the short and shallow approach, for instance at the undergraduate level, it is crucial to work pragmatically, on the basis of motivating problems and issues participants bring to their learning.

The instructor best structures classes by dividing the DTF subject matter into an introductory and several advanced modules including individual and/or group mentoring, following the Exercise Grid in Table 7 below.

For instance, each of the four moments of dialectic, or classes of dialectical thought forms can be taught in four introductory modules terminating in an exam that comprises a short interview-based case study.

The study challenges the student to transcribe his/her own interview, perhaps of 20 minutes length, select relevant interview fragments for evaluation, and evaluate them in terms of the appropriate TFs (Tables 4 and 5).

Subsequent “advanced” modules should increase either interviewing or scoring requirements, or both, until a reasonable level of independent work on short case studies (interview transcripts) can be expected from students.

3. Developing Teaching Materials: Teaching as Dialog

Pedagogical Requirements. 

Teaching materials must satisfy the following requirements; they must:

  1. Motivate the learner to view his/her own thinking as a work in progress, in terms of acquiring a more complex Inquiring System (Fig. 7 in addition to Fig. 2.)
  2. Give the learner a notion of the progression from formal logical to systems to dialectical thinking in adulthood (Fig. 1; E.g., by introducing systems thinking tools such as found at
  3. Provide the learner with evidence of the limitations of logical thinking with regard to issues such as change, transformation, holism, and the understanding of organic wholes (e.g., by way of examples, such as a beehive, one’s own body, )
  4. Present the learner with interview or other text fragments (“bits”) from a comparison of which emerges an understanding of the difference in people between different levels of complexity of thinking (in DTF “the four managers” all of whom are thinking about the same organizational situation but at different levels of thought complexity)
  5. Link text fragments with either the short (Table 4: 12 TFs) or the compact table of thought forms (Table 5: 28 TFs) so that s(he) can begin to analyze text in terms of (i) the four classes of thought forms, and (ii) individual thought forms in these

Practice Suggestion

Dialectical thinking is “meta-thinking”, or Thinking about the structure of one’s own thinking and that of others (collaborators).

Such a discipline is presently not taught but could produce large benefits in practically any professional environment, beginning in high school.

A pragmatic program comprising four successively more complex steps in learning to think dialectically was first proposed by N. Shannon and B. Frischherz in their 2016 ESRAD presentation “Training in dialectical thinking to support adult development”.

It is shown below in Table 7 in a slightly expanded form.

Table 7 shows the steps from beginner to expert. The idea underlying it is simple:

Before understanding, and being able to recognize the four classes of thought forms as they derive from the four moments of dialectic, individual TFs make little sense to learners. This is so since individual TFs have their root in the four moments of dialectic.

Making a distinction between simple, medium, and complex “abilities”, the table further details the cognitive processes required of the learneridentify, reflect, use (in speech or text).

Each of these takes on a different meaning depending on whether the exercise is simple, medium, or complex. While understanding the differences between the four classes is relatively simple since it involves logical understanding, tasks of medium complexity – compare texts, reflect on a topic, rethink a problem – are more difficult. 

However, when restricting oneself to 12 TFs, these tasks are manageable if sufficient time is devoted to them.

Once classes of TFs have been understood and have been exercised in medium-difficulty tasks, more complex tasks can be undertaken.

Complex Tasks

These complex tasks deserve some comment.

  • Analyze a structured interview: While a DTF expert is able to analyze a structured interview by listening, even a fairly experienced dialectical thinker will need to work from a transcript of the interview. The task comprises the following aspects:
  • Select those interview fragments (“bits”) that are unified based on a cogent base concept whose implications they 
  • First determine the class(es) of TFs involved in the interview fragment, then select a cogent TF within the class. If more than a single TF apply, determine the relative weight (degree of clarity) of each, e.g., TF#10 [assessed as weight=1] & TF#18 [assessed as weight 2]. (Weighting TF use: operates between 1 and 3 maximally so that the highest weight per class of TFs, in the sense of Table 5, is 7×3=21, i,e., 7TFs x max weight 3 each). Then justify your selection and weighting decision.
  • For an entire interview, select 30 cogent text fragments, and use your evaluation outcome to formulate a “cognitive profile” of the interviewee in the form of a CBG as shown in Fig. 11 Cognitive Behavior Graph,
  • Write a report meant to give feedback to the interviewee regarding his or her present fluidity in using TFs, following Table 5,

Once the analytical task just outlined has been accomplished, the experiences made become the basis of a progression of the thinker to reflect– and use tasks, each of which can be simple, medium, or complex.

Reflection tasks are concerned with self-reflection and are pursued alone or in a group, while Use tasks involve communication via speech or text. As indicated, an expert has performed these tasks many times; their performance has become second nature for him/her and can therefore be effortlessly carried out in real time.

Given this outline of the components of a teaching program for meta-thinking, let us reflect on what is provided by this Introduction for defining a context in which the progressive learning steps indicated above can be carried out.

  1. This Introduction to the DTFM Manual delivers the theoretical framework for courses and workshops in dialectical thinking, whether in the organizational, educational, or academic
  2. The DTFM Manual itself falls into 2 sections, the first presenting in depth each of the 28 thought forms (“A” above), while the second (“B” above) provides useful tables and tools for evaluating transcribed interviews (or book texts) for the sake of clients (including students). Amongst the material in section B one finds tools for recognizing thought forms in speech and text, as well as an open (in-progress) list of questions deriving from each of the thought forms utilized as mind openers.
  3. Based on part A, the instructor can build teaching modules for learning each class of thought form (CPRT) and give examples for their use in professional
  4. Based on section B (scoring materials), the instructor can further scaffold the learning of thought forms. For instance, he can utilize the “Table of Questions about Thought Forms” in section B3 to give students an inkling of what to listen for in interviews and more unstructured conversations and discussions.
  5. Based on section B4 students can begin to learn to challenge interlocutors (and each other) to adopt more in-depth thinking than formal logic has to offer. Based on section B4, the instructor can lead students to reflect on how – from a single TF – many different challenge questions can be developed, either for self-reflection or for prompting an interlocutor to “think more deeply”.
  6. The Cognitive Behavior Graph (CBG) in section B7 can be expanded into an introduction with an internet-based tool such as Stella Professional modeling software. Based on that the instructor can help students get a better sense of “how they presently think” and explore the limitations and errors of logical thinking. The technology used in Stella can be seen as a potential basis for developing on-line tools for spotting dialectical fallacies regarding each of the four moments of dialectic and understanding the mechanism of thought form coordination.)

4. Mentoring by way of Case Studies

By “case study” is meant the interviewing of a client followed by a systematic analysis of the associated cognitive interview transcript in terms of DTF.

The “compact” Table 5 of TFs is used to evaluate thought form use per class and the degree of articulation of TFs in each class for each of the Three Houses (Fig. 10).

Such an analysis results in a cognitive behavior graph (CBG; Fig. 11) which gives visual evidence of what TFs have been used in which of the Three Houses at what point in real time (Fig. 10).

Such a case study does more than deliver empirical data about an individual’s thinking. What counts for the student is the process of working it out, that is, the mental processes that generate dialectic practice.

On the side of the interviewer, the study trains dialectical listening. This kind of listening to the thought form structure of a person in real time is the royal road to becoming a dialectical thinker, – “royal” because there is no better way of absorbing thought forms than recognizing them in another person’s speech flow.

On the side of the interviewee, the process provides ample opportunities for reflecting on his or her own thinking. If correctly prompted and challenged by the interviewer – say, by the question: “what would this look like if we considered this situation as being in flux (or being about to change)?” – the interlocutor is forced out of his/her adherence to logical models (which don’t even capture change) and has to find ways of dealing with transformation.

Through the medium of a cognitive interview the interviewer learns how to lead a conversation in which the interlocutor’s concepts are closely followed and potentially challenged in terms of how deeply they engage in a topic (more than how broad the topic can be spread).

The interviewee is made aware that there are 28 different ways to think about a topic, and that a particular thought form s(he) has chosen is only a paltry beginning of what could be discovered about the topic they were thinking to move to constellations of thought forms.

S(he) is also made aware that what is happening in a cognitive interview is not some description of the world but its creation in real time through dialog.

Therefore, the highest compliment an interlocutor could pay an interviewer would be to say: “Great thanks for this interview in which you have made me think about my topic(s) in a way I have never done before, or even known that I could conceive of it in the way you guided me to do!”

DTF Mentoring (Dialectical Thought Form Framework/Deep Thinking Framework

DTF Mentoring equates to doing a case study at one step removed.

The mentor adopts the role of a professional interviewer throughout the mentoring process. The mentoring process is nearly identical with “supervising a case study”, where both parties to the mentoring work on behalf of a client (interviewee) as an outside party whose way of seeing the real world (as a function of his/her level of adult development) is the crucial topic in focus.

DTF mentoring comprises the following teaching subtasks:

  • Introducing to the tools of DTF
  • Explaining the nature and structure of a cognitive interview
  • Modeling professional cognitive interviewing for the learner
  • Explaining interactive dialectical listening (use of base concepts) in the Three Houses
  • Critiquing the mentee’s interviewing procedure based on the interview transcript
  • Modeling the optimal selection of pertinent interview fragments to be analyzed
  • Questioning the initial selection and evaluation of interview fragments
  • Working toward a consensus with the mentee regarding the correct cognitive profile to give feedback on, as well as the way to do so
  • Suggesting more potent interviewing and listening techniques than were initially

Group Mentoring

In group mentoring, the same pedagogical processes apply but they are naturally potentiated by the collaboration of mentees among themselves and with the instructor.

This interaction creates mind-opening processes which could not happen in a one-on-one encounter. The mentor “thinks along” with the entire group or team, and attends to its self-observations, questions, and doubts.

This process entails noting how much help individual mentees need compared to others, i.e., the zone of proximal development in which different individuals find themselves regarding their dialectical thinking. In circles, the discovery of such differences can be crucial for the success of the circle.

The pedagogical processes listed above together form a comprehensive education program for both dialectical listening and thinking.

Overall, they clarify the nature of the four moments of dialectic and their associated thought forms, as well as their function in deep-thinking dialog.

In an important sense listening in terms of the four moments of dialectic is always the most important capability to be schooled in teaching dialectical thinking – which is the reason why it cannot be learned from books. It can only be learned from an expert in DTF.

The requirements for teaching dialectical thinking are equally rigorous. In my experience, only an experienced dialectical thinker (that is, an “expert” in the sense of using Table 7) can be expected to function as a mentor.

5. Guidelines for Certification of Dialectical Thinking Capability

As is easily imagined from material presented in this introduction, an individual’s present phase of dialectical thinking can be certified at different levels of competency. The determining factor is the extent to which the candidate can listen dialectically in terms of Table 5 (28 Dialectical TFs), and his/her ability of self-reflection. In all cases experience would recommend using case study material to arrive a certification decision.

For instance, as Director of Education at IDM I created two different certifications for dialectical thinking:

  1. The Developmental Coach/Consultant certification based on evaluating a single case study.
  1. The Master Developmental Coach/Consultant certification based on evaluating three case

The difference between capabilities so certified is palpable and easily seen.

A person certified in case (1)

shows inconsistent capability of conducting as well as evaluating semi-structured interviews, and as a group facilitator is often unsure about what s(he) heard from others in terms of thought forms.

A person certified in case (2)

is not a perfect DTF expert either but is more professional in both interviewing for the case study as well as its evaluation and feedback.

Wherever not simply assessment but mind-opening capability through dialog is the purpose of certification, learning DTF assessment remains the first best step.

Whoever cannot listen to speech in terms of thought forms (as required in an interview) is unlikely to have a sure command of thought forms that structure his/her own thinking or others’ dialog, for that matter.

The reason for this is simple: identifying and using thought forms is not an exercise of “pure thinking” but has a strong somatic base in one’s own acoustic and emotional experience.

One has to have experienced “what dialectical thinking sounds like” to be able to exercise it as well as guide its development in others.

Meta-Thinking Consultations (Philosophical Coaching)

It will be evident by now that, of the many kinds of dialog in the world, those aiming to shed light on the structure of thinking of interlocutors, whether paired or in teams, in real time, are a special breed. Today, such dialogs – or meta-dialogs — are more needed than ever.

After all, we live in a world of great complexity co-created by our discourse through which social reality has itself become “conceptual” (Bhaskar 1993), and therefore is in need, not only of “clear communication” but rather of deep thinking.

It is for this reason that the Manual here introduced is very timely, and of great use for leaders, managers, entrepreneurs, consultants, and coaches, not to speak of politicians and philosophers (Stewart 2016; Laske 2015).

It will also be evident that connecting Bhaskar’s four moments of dialectic, which refer to Reality, to classes of thought forms (Laske 2008) which refer to human thinking, amounts to constructing a new, powerful instrument “just in time”.

Exactly this was achieved by creating DTF, the Dialectical Thought Form Framework, still widely unknown.

Dialectical Critique

Dialectical Critique achieves more than critique.

What initially appears as an analysis of the thought form structure of thinking of individuals, groups, teams, and ideologies, either in real time or based on texts (Ulmer & Frischherz 2014), can easily be retooled for boosting individuals’ thinking  and collaborative intelligence in teams.

Analysis tools then become tools for mind opening through self-reflection that has potentially adult-developmental effects, and can bring about culture change in organizations.

Most people pay foremost attention to the contents of their own and others’ thinking (the “What”), unaware that and how thought content derives from the present thought form structure of their thinking.

Using a meta-thinking tool such as DTF leads too creating jolts of awareness that in “thinking” one is actually constructing the world one is only aware to be describing. This awareness easily translates into an opportunity to distance oneself from the many “models” one is unwittingly adopting as props for thinking, (which do nothing but impose constraints on what can actually be thought, thus destroying untrammeled movements-in- thought).

Laying bare the thought form structure of thinking is particularly powerful in organizational contexts where thinking is largely culturally pre-determined and therefore difficult to put oneself at a distance from, especially as a logical thinker.

 It is in such a context that a meta- thinking consultation by external consultants who are DTF experts can have dramatic effects:

What was believed to be the “truth” about a situation, event, or strategic goal, when thought about dialectically turns out to be nothing more than one of many possible “presentation problems” that begs to be seen in its true light in a broader thought form context.

While there are many variations of how a meta-thinking consultancy may be carried out, below is a suggestion based on my own experience of using DTF in work with teams, circles, and groups:

  1. The facilitator(s) sketch(es) the idea that most real world problems do not yield to logical thinking but require systems thinking if not complex thinking in terms of the four moments of dialectic (Table 7, row 1).
  1. They define the consultation as consisting of mind-opening exercises using the four moments of dialectic and their associated thought 
  1. They emphasize that the mind-opening effects of the consultation will dwarf finding any kind of expected solution to problems put
  1. They bring forward the notion of “classes of thought forms” and “individual thought forms” using the s table of TFs (Table 4), making the latter the center of all exercises. 
  1. After this introduction, they ask for a volunteer “problem presenter” who launches a conversation by stating a motivating and serious strategic
  1. They invite participants to offer comments and critique of how the problem was initially 
  1. Together with the facilitator(s), the group reflects on what, in terms of the four moments of dialectic, is absent from [not seen, hidden, denied, distorted, smoothed over, ideologically fused with or split from, etc.] the problem formulation in terms of the four moments of dialectic (Table 7, row 2).
  1. The group harnesses the additional insights gathered through dialectical comment and reflection, comparing it to the initial (“first-shot”) presentation 
  1. The group assesses how the problem formulation has changed by critically reviewing it, and by deciding what elements of the dialectical review of the problem need to enter into the synthesis making up of the “real”
  1. The group reflects on the opportunities and risks that emerged when gathering the results of the problem
  1. The group narrows the discussion to decide what steps to take to “solve” the problem, choosing the most reasonable risks and discussing the opportunities they may open up
  1. The group proceeds to another, different or related, presentation

The table below summarizes the structure of the consultation outlined above.

Throughout the consultation process, the DTF-schooled facilitators (coaches) consistently exercise their dialectical listening and mind-opening capabilities.

Doing so requires an expert who is not only able to analyze speech flow in real time, but can also model dialectical thinking for others on the fly.

DTF Applications in Organizations

Applying DTF in organizations and institutions is in itself the beginning of a culture transformation that dominant logical thinking has so far made impossible.

Whatever the reasons for opening to DTF may be, it is based the insight that the world is not logical, and that following formal logic or even systems thinking is a trap as far as understanding transformations goes. This opening only appears when thinking is no longer blocked by the priority of “getting things done”.

  1. Cognitive Coaching

Since its beginning in the 1980s, coaching has remained thoroughly behavioral, ignoring adult-developmental research findings.

As a result, dialog is conducted unaware of clients’ present developmental profile. Under these circumstances, cognitive coaching based on dialectical thought forms is, in my own and my students’ experience (Vurdelja 2011), highly effective in boosting executives’ fluidity of thinking.

It has shown itself to be highly effective wherever individuals are “in over their head” in their organizational work, in the sense that their size of role is bigger than their present developmental size of person (Jaques 1998), regardless of competences s(he) may have.

By interviewing executives and managers in the framework of the Three Houses (Fig. 10), the DTF expert can succinctly assess how flexibly and deeply an individual conceptually makes sense of his or her organizational function in an organization and its environment. Such an assessment also shows the developmental resources for more flexible thinking that an individual currently possesses.

  1. Talent Management, Recruitment and Retention

Another important application of DTF meta-thinking involves assisting human resources management as well as change management (Laske 2015b, 2008b, 2002; Vurdelja 2011).

Since the prevalent models of human resources are all based on purely logical thinking, the transformational character of human resources gets disregarded, which frequently results in business failure, at least in missing possible breakthroughs (De Visch 2010, 2014). In change management linear notions fail to anticipate real-world transformations (what formal-logic speak calls “disruptions”) that are either predictable or inevitable.

As in other domains of society where logical abstractions are made the foundation of managing complex transformations, denying the power of individuals’ longitudinally increasing cognitive resources is a recipe for failure, in this case failure in the market. This recipe for failure gains in strength to the extent that the deep thinking humans are capable of, is replaced by algorithms. 

  1. Organizational Design

A third important application of DTF has to do with realizing that new organization designs require taking into account the unequal cognitive resources available in a group or “circle”.

Where a cognitively defined management hierarchy does not exist, as is the case, for example, in holacracy, individuals require assistance with developing fluidity of thinking to various degrees, depending on the zone of proximal development they are in (Vygotsky 1978).

In this context, both DTF assessment and cognitive coaching become crucial aids for implementing designs aiming to establish a deliberately developmental organization (DDO).

Since DDO has so far only been thought about in social-emotional terms (Kegan 1982) but not cognitive termsother than by Laske (2015, 2008), holacratic designs face undiminished hurdles (Boyd and Laske 2017)

  1. Policy Design

An area of increasing importance relative to DTF is policy design in national governments, e.g., for a “green” and/or “circular” economy or for coping with global warming and other looming crises. Presently, public planning in this area is characterized by a strong tendency to rely exclusively on formal-logic based models.

The use of DTF supports more holistic and systemic thinking about the impact algorithms exert on the natural transformations a city or society is undergoing, thus helping to avoid policy failures (Ulmer & Frischherz 2014; Frischherz 2012, 2013a/b; De Visch, Ulmer, and Laske, 2016).

  1. Creativity in Science

In the era of “alternative facts” science is in jeopardy from those sidelining, and thereby sabotaging, logical thinking and truth.

Such sabotage is made all the easier where the cultural consensus regarding science is that it cooperates with monopolistic industries bent on extracting huge profits from those in need.

Given that the sciences pervasively use formal- logical and system models, cutting edge research – in whatever field – becomes possible based on exposing purely algorithmic models to dialectic critique and deepening their thought form structure (Horkheimer 2014).

Historical Note

How the Manual Came to Be

The Dialectical Thought Form Manual (DTFM) was compiled for the purpose of facilitating the learning and practice of dialectical thinking. Such a manual is nowhere to be found in the published literature, although for professional practice it has been shown to be a priceless tool (De Visch 2014; Vurdelja 2011). The absence of such a manual reflects the absence of institutional scaffolding for teaching such thinking which could easily start with teaching children dialectical thought forms (Veraksa 2013; Belolutskaya 2015).

The author has researched and taught dialectical thinking as an adult-developmental achievement at the Interdevelopmental Institute (IDM) for 15 years. He has designed the only graduate teaching program for instruction in dialectical thinking in existence that is based on his own developmental interviewing and listening practice. He has not found as effective an approach as his own teaching, and therefore considers the IDM program as a Royal Road to acquiring dialectical thinking.

Graduates of the Interdevelopmental Institute (, such as Dr Iva Vurdelja, Prof. Jan De Visch, Nicholas Shannon, Prof. Bruno Frischherz, Karin Ulmer, Raechel Ford, Angela Neighbours, Brendan Cartmel, Alessandro Rossi, and Gord Theo, Paul Anwandter as well as students at the latter’s Academia Inpact, Santiago de Chile, have brought dialectical or “deep” thinking into executive and life coaching, supervision, strategic design, leadership development, change leadership, teamwork, and psychotherapy, socio-drama, even policy design.

The Broader Historical Context

After the demise of the Frankfurt School in the early 1970s’ dialectical thinking became a topic of interest again on account of research in adult cognitive development within the Kohlberg School at Harvard University, Cambridge, MA. 

In 1978, M. Basseches took note of research by K. F. Riegel on dialectical thinking (1976; 1973) and began developing his own framework for semi-structured cognitive interviewing meant to probe individuals’ cognitive profile with regard to dialectic. For this purpose, Basseches developed the notion of “schema”, called “thought form” by Laske (2008), as a focus of measuring maturity of adult thinking. His publication of Dialectical Thinking and Adult Development (Basseches 1984) presented his empirical findings and thereby established a new, empirical, research tradition which is now fully embedded in the DTFM.

Without knowledge of Basseches’ work, in 1993 Roy Bhaskar, having founded Critical Realism, approached dialectic from the viewpoint of ontology (rather than epistemology as the Frankfurt School and Basseches had done).

Based on the most lucid critique of the western philosophical tradition, with a strong focus on Hegel’s dialectic, Bhaskar proposed that dialectic had to be “re-totalized under the sign of absence.” By this he meant the dialectic’s focal concept ought to be “negativity”, that which is not (yet) there, or “absence”. He showed in detail that “negativity” appears in different forms in each of the four moments of dialectic (MELD, refer Table 3), and that ontologically, as Non-Being, it unremittingly pervades “Being” (Laske 2008).

In 1999, Otto Laske, a student of Adorno’s, wrote a dissertation based jointly on Kegan’s and Basseches’ work in which he used the latter’s schemata framework to investigate the cognitive profile of six executives for the purpose of coaching research.

For this purpose, he refined Basseches’ Schemata Framework and renamed it the “Dialectical Thought Form Framework”, or DTF.

Seven years later, having encountered Bhaskar’s work on the four moments of dialectic, Laske became aware of the equivalence of Basseches’ “classes of thought forms” and Bhaskar’s “four moments of dialectic” which paved a path toward dialogical dialectic. 

In order to explicate this equivalence, in 2008, Laske wrote volume 2 of Measuring Hidden Dimensions, a book connecting E. Jaques’ work on Requisite Organization (1998) to both Basseches’ and Bhaskar’s work, for the purpose of creating a comprehensive theory of work and work capability. The present Manual (DTFM) first appeared as an Appendix to Laske’s 2008 volume, conceived as a tool set for facilitating and boosting dialectical thinking in organizations.

The very first manual of dialectical schemata was written in 1981 by a student of Basseches, Michael Bopp, but never saw publication beyond the dissertation format. However, in the late nineties, when Laske worked on his second dissertation, he took note of M. Bopp’s work, and who very generously shared his manual of dialectical schemata with him. As a result, Laske was able, in 2008, to publish the present manual in the Appendix of his volume 2, thereby completing the circle begun by Riegel 35 years earlier.

As documented above, the present text of the DTF manual – which hopefully will remain a work in progress — is a synthesis of empirical research on dialectic since 1973, and thus summarizes more than 40 years of empirical and theoretical study. Having been used in the teaching of CDF at the Interdevelopmental Institute (IDM) for nearly 10 years, the manual can be said to have proven its pedagogical value.

It is still the only existing manual of this kind in the world today.

Otto Laske Gloucester, MA, USA

April 2017

About the Author

Otto Laske is a social scientist and epistemologist grounded in work of the Frankfurt School linked to that of Nicolai Hartman, Bruno Liebrucks, and Roy Bhaskar. In 2000, he founded the Interdevelopmental Institute (IDM) for teaching the Constructive Developmental Framework (CDF), a synthesis of adult-developmental research from 1975 to 1995 (

whose cognitive component is DTF. His developmental and organizational work is based on dialectic as a real-time dialogical discipline. In his work he is influenced by Adorno, Bhaskar, Hegel, Horkheimer, Jaques, Marx, and Sartre, fruitfully combining philosophical thought with empirical assessment and research in the cognitive and social-emotional development of adults.

He can be reached at the Interdevelopmental Institute (IDM) by writing to, or by calling 978 879 4882 (Gloucester, MA, USA). His artistic work is found at

Acknowledgement: I want to thank Alan Snow, Sydney, for his indefatigable editorial and moral support since 2009 regarding the publication of my writings explicating the Constructive Developmental Framework (CDF).


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