From “Organizational Development” to Self-Development: An Insiders’ View of the IDM Dialectical Thinking Practicum

Self-development, in capitalistic society a mere appendix of professional education for the sake of playing an organizational role, is increasingly making a comeback as a personal goal. This come-back seemed out of the question until recently, being an outcome of attempts to consciously reverse the demise of liberal education by which universities reduced themselves to trade schools and job preparation camps. The factors involved in the re-emergence of me-first education are many, including the pandemic’s destruction of the conventional work world and gains in the social media/AI link. While still acknowledged only half-heartedly as to their importance, these factors together form the springboard from which new self-developmental curricula will emerge. Job and role holders, whose skills’ half-life is shrinking by the day, are gradually realizing that managerially supported schemes of self-development are ploys intent on hindering taking full responsibility for one’s own development in the normative sense of adult development.

Research at the Interdevelopmental Institute (IDM) since 2000, as well as the Institute’s teaching practice of “develop yourself first” have made visible the deep interweaving of emotional and intellectual maturity, referred to in its Constructive Developmental Framework (CDF) as the interleaving of social-emotional and cognitive levels of adult development. That research has also shown that role holder’s psychological profile — in the corporate world often the exclusive focus of behavioral job interventions, as well as of coaching and training — is only a lesser ingredient of a person’s inter-culturally valid adult-developmental profile.

While books are still being written about “professional education” and “job education”, often with the goal of enhancing fluidity of thinking and taking responsibility for one’s assigned organizational role in terms of ‘competences’, for nearly two decades IDM has educated individuals with foremost attention paid to the learner him- or herself and attention to their clients and their goals a far second. The raison d’être of this approach is the insight that being of help to others is one of the most difficult accomplishment achievable since a person can be of help to others (as well as him- or herself) only to the degree that s(he) is presently developed both emotionally and cognitively.

Putting the client or the team first has long been seen at IDM as a (Kegan Level 3) subterfuge meant to aid avoiding to address one’s own development realistically and head-on first and independently. At IDM, managerial topics such as “employee learning and development” have long been suspected of being a trap into which to fall is too costly for an individual in terms of his/her own mental growth as a person. Equally, the much-touted notion of enhancing problem solving has been suspected of being just another subterfuge to evade self-development since “problems” to be solved institutionally always come already packaged in terms of an un-reflected world view that makes them unsolvable from the start, especially if they have become institutionalized as our problems “understood by all”.

Having sprung from the conviction that every individual composes his or her own unique ‘world’, IDM abides by its mission to put self-development first, and consider all other “development” as a far second and a lesser transformation. In this context, have a look at its current Practicum offering, described at , meant to assist participants revolutionize the internal dialogue by which they construct their own real world as something “in here” (in my own internal world), rather than submitting to the illusion that their real world is an “object out there” they have no alternative but to accept.

The focus of pedagogical and developmental attention on the “in here” of world construction follows the insight that the real world shows up for everybody exactly in terms of what a person presently manages to grasp cognitively and is able to experience social-emotionally, in an intense interpenetration of ‘how I feel about the world’ and ‘what I presently manage to understand about the world’.

That is why Practicum topics such as learning to attend to:

  • the thought form structure of what is said by others
  • the level of meaning making from which something is spoken (told, interpreted, obfuscated, etc.)
  • how one responsibly formulates a thought or question in real time dialogue
  • how one gives feedback to a loved-one, colleague, or client
  • how one becomes able to help another person reach a higher level of self-awareness

are equally of existential and professional relevance.

The Practicum described at is shaped by all participants, not the instructor alone who is playing the role of mentor and challenger who himself is open to be challenged in unforeseen ways.

The Practicum requires taking initiative regarding one’s own self-development in such a way as to equally honor others’ self-development and the level at which it presently stands. “We are all in the same adult-developmental boat together” is the motto. The Practicum’s curriculum comprises mastering the following set of dialectical tools, by working with thought forms in sober Bauhaus fashion:

  • dialogical listening tools
  • dialogue analysis tools, including tools for analyzing one’s internal dialogue
  • question and challenge generators
  • tools for broadening a conceptual field (including in an inquiry into one’s own emotional ‘inner’ world)
  • tools for finding/imagining alternatives to escape TINA (‘there is no alternative’) configurations
  • tools for understanding the implications and absences of a text, news story, biographical reflection
  • tools for redesigning policy scenarios in institutions and think-tanks
  • holistic causality tools
  • tools for following one’s own movements-in-thought in an untrammeled way
  • tools for a creative disregard of established conventions in one’s work, office, art studio, and writing practice
  • tools for understanding and analyzing one’s own and others’ creative work, including art work.

For further details on mastering dialectical thinking, go to

Inquiries based on this and the previous blog () to otto@interdevelopmentals.org are welcome.

 

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