The Future of CDF Is Bright: What the Early Adopters Saw

This blog makes accessible, and comments on, a 2010 publication of the Interdevelopmental Institute (IDM) on the Constructive Developmental Framework (CDF) that is still largely unknown in Europe and the US. The publication is in the form of an issue of Wirtschaftspsychologie, a Swiss-German magazine focused on the psychology of work delivery, and referred to as Themenheft. The publication was assembled upon the invitation of Prof. emeritus Theo Wehner, Institut fuer Arbeitswissenschaft, ETH Zurich, Switzerland.

The Themenheft articles introduce a new conception of human resources and, related to that, new ways of supporting organizational work by way of consulting, coaching, team and leadership development. The articles anticipate what later would be called by Kegan & Lahey the “deliberately developmental organization.” As in Jaques’s conception of “requisite organization”, the assumption is made that there is ultimately no conflict between work force development and client and stakeholder satisfaction.

Viewed from a broader, methodological, perspective, CDF represents a novel approach to carrying out  qualitative and quantitative research in the social sciences. It promotes empirical research of a kind that overcomes the positivistic tendencies of purely logical thinking, and thereby avoids reifying social and psychological processes rather than making them transparent in their unfolding in real time. This becomes possible on account of the fact that CDF encompasses a dialogical methodology that not only favors, but requires,  dialog between individuals and within teams, as well as dialectical thinking for understanding and boosting it. As a result, CDF stands in opposition to monological objectification that freezes reality into unrelated entities conceived of as linked by linear causality (which leads to a gross simplification of the real world).


To understand Themenheft contributions thematically, it is helpful to know that CDF takes up the Platonic hypothesis that human consciousness comprises three dimensions: the “appetitive”, “spirited”, and “rational” one. In CDF, these dimensions are rendered as “psychological” (behavioral), “social-emotional”, and “cognitive”, with a strong emphasis on issues stemming from their mutually constitutive relationship. In contrast to other developmental methodologies deriving from Kohlberg School research (1975-95), in CDF (1998-2000) this relationship is considered as requiring dialectical analysis. This explains the overriding practical relevance of DTF — Dialectical Thought Form Framework — in utilizing CDF in consulting, coaching, policy making, and related pursuits — especially in the one-dimensional cultural world of the digital age.

The articles were written by 14 early adopters of CDF. Predominantly in English. They  open new perspectives on the human condition, beyond work delivery in the commercial world, specifically on educational reform (Schweikert), psychiatric practice (Merizalde), ministry education (Ste-Marie/Johnson), policy making (Ulmert), and dialectical thinking (Laske)..

Eight years after the release of the publication this much is evident: Themenheft contributors share the enthusiasm of innovators, specifically of overcoming anachronistic models of work delivery (such as competence models), orthodox talent management protocols, notions of command-chain leadership, stiflingly behavioristic team coaching agendas, and educational orthodoxy in general. All CDF adopters pioneer novel ways of thinking about the nature of work.


The Themenheft is divided into four parts which position CDF as a novel consulting methodology. The issues taken up are as follows:

A. Introduction to CDF as a consulting and coaching methodology (Hager, Ross, Laske)

B. CDF as a tool for supporting organizational transformations (Shannon, Engel, De Visch)

C. CDF as a tool for re-vitalizing leadership in organizations, schools, and catholic ministry (Neiwert, Tenguez, Philips, Ogilvie, St. Marie/Johnson)

D. CDF as a tool for adopting new ways of policy making (Ulmer); supporting the pedagogy of entrepreneurship and innovation (Schweikert); and refining psychiatric practice (Merizalde).

Wirtschaftspsychologie-1-2010 (Themenheft)



Short introductions to individual contributions follow below:

A. Introducton

Introduction to the Themenheft (Laske, both in German and English)

Laske’s Introduction to the Themenheft not only recalls the history of the CDF methodology and defines CDF’s main features. It also details the novel issues and perspectives on transforming organizations that arise from the tri-partite structure of CDF and its intrinsic interconnections. Laske views CDF as the potential basis of a new kind of Sozialwissenschaft (“social science”) thereby extending Horkheimer’s conception of the 1930’s, which joins together individual psychology, sociology, and political science with a focus on explaining how individuals experience society internally while simultaneously constructing it based on their own life-span developmental mental processes.

Personal Development Becomes Measurable (August Hager, in German)

In this German book review, Dr. Hager presents a thorough reflection on the two volumes of Measuring Hidden Dimensions by Otto Laske (2005; 2008) with a focus on coaching. From the developmental background provided by the books, he points to obvious limitations of strictly behavioral coaching (Verhaltenscoaching).

Review of the Manual of Dialectical Thought Forms (Sarah Ross)

In her review of DTFM, Sarah Ross emphasizes the importance of dialectical thinking for our present ecological and political situation in the sense that more complex thinking might have helped avoid many of the crises we are presently living in. As she puts it: “When we are consciously interacting with the environment – including our social-emotional one – to understand our world, we are free of the constraints of closed-loop linear logics that fool us into
thinking we understand how the world works”. She points to the mind-opening features of thought form us that promote going beyond the mere output of the thinking process without reflecting on the mental process that yielded it.

I would add to Sarah’s text the following quote from M. Basseches from The development of dialectical thinking as an approach to integration. Integral Review, 1, 2005: “The willingness to question the permanence and intransigence of the boundary conditions of a problem and to ask about situations that lie beyond those boundaries characterizes… dialectical analysis. … In questioning these boundaries, we may be questioning precisely those points of reference that provide us with a sense of intellectual stability and coherence about our world. To think dialectically is in a certain sense, to trade off a degree of intellectual security for a freedom from intellectually imposed limitations on oneself or other people. The open-mindedness thus gained is extremely important from the perspective of a concern with socio-cognitive development because it facilitates the joining in collective meaning-making efforts with others whose reasoning is shaped by very different world views or life-contexts.”

A Concept of Process Consultation Anchored in Research on Adult Development (Otto Laske; in German)

In this article, O. Laske expands E. Schein’s notion of process consultation to include findings of adult-developmental research, for the purpose of arriving at a broader concept or organizational consultation. After explaining Schein’s original notion of ‘process consultation’, the author shows how a CDF-based concept of consultation comprises organizational consulting, psychotherapeutic mentoring, and andragogic teaching. Emphasis in the article lies on cognitive tools called thought forms which enable a helper to expand both clients’ and pupils’ domain of discourse. The author proposes establishing a new concept of “social science” in which so-called “theories” are validated by way of supporting adults’ real-time learning rather than becoming the object of monological validation for their own sake, as is customary in a positivistic mindset.

B. CDF as a Tool Supporting Organizational Transformations

CDF: Toward a Decision Science for Organizational Human Resources: A Practitioner’s View (Nick Shannon)

Selection decisions concerning a business organization’s management are critical to the success of that organization, but to date there has been little use of rigorous scientific methods and knowledge to inform the decision making process. Recent calls by academics have urged practitioners to adopt a “Decision
Science” approach to Human Resources by grounding decision-making processes in sound theory and logical frameworks and by monitoring and measuring the outcomes of HR decisions. This paper contends that CDF is a step forward in terms of meeting such requirements in the field of executive selection decisions and provides a testable hypothesis that relates measurements of executives’ developmental profiles to the level at which they can function effectively within an organization. As such it should be considered as a valid and useful “Decision Theory”.

An Informal Application of the Constructive Developmental Framework in Staff Appraisal and Team Building (Juliette Engel)

The article describes the experience of a manager applying the Constructive Developmental Framework (CDF) to staff appraisal and team organization. The method was used informally alongside a familiarization process with the instrument over a three years period. The first year focused on socio-emotional
evaluation. In the second year, cognitive evaluation was highlighted, leading to work on developing the manager of the team in the third year. The team itself was difficult to work with, since classical team building exercises did not yield any tangible or long-term results. It was, therefore, all the more gratifying that coaching the manager using CDF assessment results enabled the manager to re-organize her team. Overall, work with CDF showed that using the instrument
is beneficial even outside a formal assessment process because its foundational ideas are novel and far-reaching.

Mental Highways and Behavioral Pathways: The Unity of Thinking and Doing (Jan De Visch)

The article focuses on the cognitive requirements of organizational, especially managerial, work. Based on the hypothesis that thinking precedes doing, the author makes us of new insights by Jaques and Laske into requirements of cognitive capability in organizational work. Based on CDF and its dialectical thinking
assessment, the author criticizes the presently predominant competency models, showing that they neglect to take developmentally anchored human capabilities into account and therefore fail particularly at higher managerial echelons. To detail this hypothesis, the article introduces the “Mental Highways” model, meant to identify the changes in behavior and competences that are needed at higher levels of managerial accountability. The article concludes with reflections on changes required in leadership education.

C. CDF as a Tool for Re-Vitalizing Leadership

The Development of Leaders in School Management Following the Constructive Developmental Framework (Neiwert, in German)

Leadership requirements for school principals have recently been expanded from the acquisition of administrative competences geared to guaranteeing the functioning of a school or group of schools to the ability of actively leading and managing schools, whether public or private. In addition to safeguarding a school’s daily functioning, principals’ has become that of initiating, executing, and supervising complex transformational processes geared to improving the quality of learning opportunities a school offers. The article sheds light on leadership requirements from the vantage point of the Constructive Developmental Framework and points to the consequences of using CDF for developing leadership in schools. The central assumption is made that attention to principals’ competences and psychological profiles needs to be informed by insight into the theory of, and empirical findings about, adult development.

(To Be) Competent is Not Good Enough: Defining a New Kind of Corporate Management Development Program (Alper Tenguez)

State-of-the-art corporate management development programs have reached an enormous degree of complexity and integration with organizational systems. There is intense interest by corporations to learn from thosecompanies at the vanguard of management development. At the same time there is continued
skepticism whether even the most sophisticated approaches are effective in developing the so-called next generation of leaders. This skepticism has not yet led to mainstream alternatives to orthodox management development approaches. In this article I propose such an alternative approach. I leverage insights from adult development theory and education psychology practice to propose a framing for alternative management development programs.

Using the Constructive Developmental Framework (CDF) in Leadership Coaching: A Case Study in Shifting from Behavioral to Developmental Coaching in Midstream (Nad Philips)

In this paper, I use an actual case study to demonstrate changes in the coaching process nurtured by the use of CDF compared to an initially adopted behavioral approach. After an introduction into the chosen case, I introduce CDF in some detail and then present the developmental data produced by using this instrument for coachee Michel. I discuss the effect of developmental assessment on Michel as well as the coaching relationship. In conclusion, I reflect on the advantages brought about by using CDF compared to a non-evidence-based behavioral approach.

Cognitive Development: A New Focus in Working With Leaders (Jean Ogilvie)

There is growing recognition of the importance of cognitive development in the field of executive and leadership development as we increase awareness around the phenomenon that behavior or agency comes from the internal landscape of any leader (intentions, commitments, abilities, prior experience). Humans think first, and then choose actions to take, based on those thought processes. Accordingly, developing leaders requires us to come to an in-depth understanding and
appreciation of the cognitive life of that person. What does their cognitive mapping of the world, and their workplace, predispose them to do? What does such mapping openup, or make possible, and what does it shut down? The Constructive Developmental Framework enables us to listen for different phases of cognitive development by evaluating the use of thought forms and to describe the cognitive centre of gravity of a person in terms of epistemic position as well as dialectical fluidity. This in turn enables us as coaches and facilitators, to point towards dormant resources that can be mobilized in a person. The author closes with a quote from M. Basseches highlighting the increased relevance of dialectical thinking in digital society.

The Impact of the Constructivist Developmental Framework on Adult Learning in Ministry Leadership Formation (Lorraine Ste-Marie & Abigail Johnson)

This article describes the learning environment of field education within integral formation for pastoral leadership. It identifies an intersection between insights from the Constructive Development Framework (CDF) and current teaching practices of ministry candidates. Part one describes the place of field education in pastoral leadership education, and outlines its underlying educational theoretical foundations. Part two shows how CDF offers an approach that distinguishes
between social-emotional, cognitive, and psychological factors, in order to offer greater insight for developmental learning.Part three looks specifically at how the cognitive development aspect of CDF has led to a reframing of ministry students’ learning challenges as cognitive developmental challenges that impact on the whole person. Attention is given to the notion of well structured versus ill-structured problems inthe King and Kitchener Reflective Judgment
stages, as it applies to issues both students and seasoned pastoral leaders encounter. The article ends with an examination of the intersection between theological reflection as praxis and CDF for encouraging greater cognitive fluidity, hence, a more effective formation for ministry leadership. (See also “A Model for Theological Reflection on Experience” in the Appendix of this article).

D. CDF as a tool for adopting new ways of policy making (Ulmer); supporting the pedagogy of entrepreneurship and innovation (Schweikert); and refining psychiatric practice (Merizalde)

Logic versus Ill-Logic in Policy Making: A Look at Economic and Trade Policies (Karin Ulmer)

Policy is ultimately made by individuals, who both represent and shape institutional thinking. The issue examined in this article is policy-making in complex economic and trade areas, and the extent to which formal logical thinking, which construes causality as linear, needs to be supplemented by integrative and
dialectical thinking. Several short texts are examined to establish the thinking behind them. Using the tools presented in Laske’s Dialectical Thought Form Manual (2009), the article argues for a dialectical, that is, an integrated and systemic, approach. This produces more satisfactory results than the typical “urge to simplify” (Sutton, 2008) or avoidance of “unattractive trade-offs” (Martin 2007). Some of the dialectical ways of thinking proposed by the author are set out, along with the argument that these are likely to result in policies satisfying broader economic and social interests, allow for ongoing checks on broader impacts of policy. Other advantages, it is suggested, are broader public participation, and a new approach to the evidence behind policy-making.

CDF  als Bildungswerkzeug fuer Menschen im Zeitalter der Wissensoekonomie (Simone Schweikert; in German)

This contribution is based on the premise that in the era of the knowledge economy, there is a need to amplify classical academic offerings by way of new learning opportunities, especially for young people. Such offerings should centrally address the discovery of each students’ developmental potential linked to its unfolding, for the simple reason that individuals’ potential is the direct source of innovation and value creation. Inspired by the theoretical and methodological aspects of CDF (that circumscribe individual potential capability), the article shows, first, how one might further refine classical pedagogical offerings and, second, presents an outline of the form and content of a new concept, that of an andragogic “ZukunftsBildungsForum” (forum for education for a personal future).

Note: Unfortunately, the author of this highly original contribution has prematurely died from cancer. My hope is that her vision will be taken up in the future.

Insights into the Pre-Linguistic Senses of Self in Relation to the Higher Reaches of Adult Development From Laske’s Constructive Developmental Framework (Bernardo Merizalde)

In this article, issues of human personality are presented from a dialectical point of view, using as basis Laske’s Constructive Developmental Framework (CDF). This model is useful from a psychiatric perspective since it postulates the dialectic of cognition and emotion as interrelated features in development, simultaneously understanding dialectical lthinking as the apex of cognitive development. According to dynamic systems theory, a key concept of personality and personality development is that of a “center of gravity,” considered as an “attractor.” It is a state or condition a human system gravitates toward, after natural fluctuations. Attractors correspond to temporarily stable personality traits. The article shows in correspondence with the notion of increasing developmental integration over the human life span that attractors seem to become more cohesive, thereby stabilizing the individual and permitting supra-rational modes of cognition to emerge. The hypothesis that dialectical thinking is the peak of cognitive development and a point where people can reclaim aspects of a prelinguistic
sense of self is also presented, as are notions in psychiatry and practice that seem to reinforce that hypothesis.