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Higher Level Thinking - Power to do what previously was “unthinkable.”

Updated: Jul 9



Conceptual Thinking

In leadership, thinking conceptually increases your power to solve problems. We can use models and conceptual frameworks to think conceptually. The chart below from Hersey, Blanchard, and Johnson’s book, Management of Organizational Behavior, illustrates the type of thinking required for various organizational roles. In Non-Supervisory roles, technical skills are most crucial, those skills associated with methods, techniques, equipment, or with a functional specialty like finance, chemistry, HR, etc.


In leadership roles Human Skills take prominence. These are skills associated with human behavior and interactions, the methods to move groups and individuals to action. For those at the highest levels in organizations, a higher level of thinking is demanded for success, specifically Conceptual Skills. These involve thinking at high levels about systems, processes, concepts. To assure their organizations survive and thrive, executive leaders must have the ability to place information and experiences in the context of models and paradigms, to understand the complexities of the overall system, the interconnectedness, the interdependence. Models and conceptual frameworks are crucial for executive leadership.

Double Loop Learning

Harvard Business School Professor, Chris Argyris, proposed the following model that succinctly summarizes the dilemma many organizations face. The immediacy and stress of running an existing business can cause leaders to get stuck focusing on action strategies and modulating those to improve results. The chart below presents the challenge to think at a higher level, at the level of examining Governing Variables.



Both Sing-Loop and Double-Loop are vital to success, but the Double-Loop often gets overlooked. Governing Variables in the Double-Loop are beliefs, values, attitudes, conceptual models and frameworks, policies, and overarching strategies. Many times we don’t know or question what is assumed because we are not allowed to challenge or test, or don’t want to. And more often than not, we don’t have time for it.

Digital Transformation

The rapid change taking place around us with Digital Transformation is giving leaders very powerful tools to examine and challenge the way things work. Building conceptual models for a critical work flow, a vital system such as a supply chain, a critical asset, or a business unit P&L, can be put together easily in a white boarding session with subject matter experts. Diagrams, which are the language of systems, can then be put to computer code and a Digital Twin, a digital replica of a real system, can be produced which will allow business leaders to modulate governing variables and get quick answers to their virtual experiments. Various inventory policies, as one example, can be examined to determine risks and results and thereby have an objective basis for making risk-based decisions for change. The technology for doing this exists today and many business leaders are not taking advantage of it. With a Digital Twin, configured as a web app for ease of use, a leader can run thousands of cases in a matter of minutes and identify the optimum. We do this building of Digital Twins right now for a living. You can have the power to do what previously was “unthinkable.” The future is now!

“Change before you have to.” — Jack Welch

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