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Published by Angela Neighbours

In my last Blog – Four Steps to Expand your Thinking – I introduced the question of ‘how’ you think.

As I commented, it is important to move your attention from ‘what’ you think – the content - to ‘how’ you think – the structure.  I also referenced Professor Otto Laske who developed the Constructive Developmental Framework that teaches dialectical thinking using four dimensions of thinking.

I am intending to introduce these four dimensions to you over the next few weeks, and will begin with the entry point, which is called CONTEXT.


Simply put, this is a way of thinking, speaking and writing about the real world from a big picture perspective, and also examining at the same time, the parts that make up that big picture.


Context thinking is the first step towards getting to grips with, and knowing the four dimensions of thinking, as this big picture encourages us all to build a ‘logical‘ system that brings the details into a balance and understanding for us.   It is what we are taught in our education system, and so commences our ability to think and make decisions logically.

Let me give you an example:

Firstly let’s take a big picture of running a country successfully (big picture).  The parts to be considered are the Government structure, the Ministers and Politicians that make up that structure and set the vision, and the public service leaders and teams of people who are responsible for policy and operations.   There are many more.  Working together responsibly to achieve outcomes is the goal.

In other words, we can make sense of it.  Context tends to give us an understanding of structure and stability of a system, an understanding of the relationship between parts and the whole, and provides multiple contexts and frames of reference to enable us to understand it.

In our Thinking Groups that we run monthly in both Auckland and Wellington, we have undertaken reading a number of NZ’s Publicly Listed Companies’ Annual Reports, which contain many good examples of CONTEXT thinking.

In our discussions what comes forward are comments like:

  • How do you know what achievements are fact and what are fiction?
  • It is often written with a “spin” by an expert, and signed by the company leaders.  How true is the ‘spin’?
  • It is a logically formatted description of something you are asked to believe
  • And of course, it is written with a big picture of a business and the parts that make up that whole.

The thing about Context is it is hard to get rid of or lose – in fact it can stick to us like glue as it is so familiar – so becoming aware of it and noticing how you approach a question is the first step on the discovery of awareness.

So here are four ideas to assist in your understanding of Context Thinking for you to apply:

  • Consider your Frame of Reference

    Look at how you think presently – your structure of your thinking – and work out which is the whole and which is the part and/or parts.

    We could also suggest here that Context exists separately from you – so ask yourself the question – am I in it and do I own it?  Which brings a relationship into the thinking as well.

    Once you have done this, you may well be starting to understand that what matters here is not the part or the whole, but the relationship between the two.

    So Context is all about the biggest picture possible.
  • Observe and Listen to Others’ Thinking

    It is interesting to notice how others think - but we need great awareness and presence to do this, particularly while listening to something new that may be complex to understand.

    Begin slowly – listen to social conversations and see if you can hear CONTEXT thinking going on.  Take some time to write your observations down, as it builds your knowledge.

    Sit back from a meeting and just listen to what is being said.  Where is the big picture, and what parts are being addressed?
  • Start asking Questions and Stop making statements

    To get you started, here are a few ideas.  I am sure there are many other ideas:

    • How would your view of this change if you looked at it in a broader context?
    • Are we looking at this from the broadest view possible?
    • What other parts make up the whole?
    • Are there parts we are ignoring, or failing to see?
    • What accounts for the stability of this situation?

    This can also helps others to grow their view to the biggest picture possible, which is what we are striving for.
  • Read some Company Annual Reports and see if you can spot the Context statement

    This is such an interesting exercise to help you identify sound Context examples.

    Sit in a quiet space, even encourage others to do it with you – it is a positive team exercise – and highlight what you see as Context examples, and then discuss them, or take your journal and examine them yourself.

    Remember you are only looking for the biggest picture, and its encompassing parts.  Context thinking can focus on the parts themselves, or the equilibrium of the whole.  There is always a multiplicity of entities and thoughts partaking in a common frame of reference.

Understand the ‘how’ of thinking will start you on your journey to open your mind, explore new concepts and start realising that we can think differently – it is just a matter of application.

Good luck! 

Read the previous post on this subject:
4 Steps to Expand Your Thinking →

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