Glenn’s Correction on “Universals”

E. Forrest Christian Theory 1 Comment

Glenn wrote the following to correct some of my terminology about what Jaques said happens when people move out of the what I was calling the “Strategic” order of thinking. He clears up some confusion that I was creating, so it’s worth noting here in full. I’ve done some minor layout to make it easier to read.

Universals! Interesting.

Let’s begin by redefining the terms – trust me this will be helpful. Jaques passed on still working on clear definitions. He was convinced that there were layers, but not able to clearly describe them. Yet we know from observation that someone operating from stratum 4 through stratum 6 can “see” the difference in the order of information complexity used in stratum1-4 from that used in stratum 5- 8.

Rather than names for “orders of information complexity” let’s use sequential numbers.

  1. 1st order: pre linguistic, I like “self explanatory gestures” but its not completely accurate. Seconds to hours.
  2. 2nd order: I like “specifics”, but also not satisfactorily accurate. Children tend to be here. Hours to days.
  3. 3rd order: This is where we need to begin. Its the realm of most organizational work and normal adult life. Stratum 1 though 4. Days to years.
  4. 4th order: Executive leadership. Abstract concepts (also not a good term). Stratum 5 through 8. Years to decades.
  5. 5th order: General principles, Decades to centuries.
  6. 6th order: Universals, Centuries to millennia.

Until his 2002 book “Life and Behavior of Living Organisms” there were 5 layers.

So, if we use numbers, then we can keep them straight till we really understand how to name them.

Also, keep in mind that its not the words themselves, but it’s the users understanding of the words. For example the marketing exec who says “I call it the bounce strategy,” then proceeds to build a complex model. Words are not complex but the user’s content is.


Rather than ask can we identify “universals” lets ask can we identify 5th order language.

I just finished working with a doctoral student, a pastor, who was using CIP in examining high level Christian leadership. We reviewed work by Martin Luther King and Pop John Paul II (present pope). Three examples each at different ages. King ages: 26, 34, 39. Pope John ages: 49, 59, 74.

Two of Kings examples were quite clear age 26 at mid stratum 6 and age 34 at low stratum 7. That would be mode 11.

Two of the Pope’s were reasonably clear (I say that because we have no references at this level) age 49, transition between stratum 8 and 9, age 59, mid stratum 9. These are also mode 11.

The way this works for me is to think that each succeeding order “subsumes” the preceding order. So, 4th order abstraction can exist at various levels of complexity and still not subsume one another.

Here are some phrases from King’s age 29 speech.

  • Apply our citizenship to the fullness of its meaning
  • Democracy transformed from thin paper to thick action
  • Plunged into the abyss of humiliation
  • The bleakness of nagging despair
  • Glittering sunlight of life’s July

Here are excerpts form Pope John II age 59 speaking to the “World Council on Law.”

  • Relations between men and nations
  • Paramount dignity of the individual
  • Every human group
  • Forged according to the traditions of different nations
  • Characteristic of the development of mankind and of nations

I see these as being somewhat more complex than King’s but not at a higher, or 5th order.

However there were other terms includes that do have that higher order, subsuming character:

  • The rule of Law
  • Unity of the human family
  • The welfare of man

In the body of the work, “the rule of Law” was carried as an overriding idea that the other ideas were used to support. There were 2 “bigger ideas”: “Rule of Law” and “Welfare of man” that were carried along as independent ideas. That is declaratively as appropriate for stratum 9. They were not accumulated as would be expected for stratum 10.

I don’t know if this will shed any light, but its my current thinking.

When this particular thesis gets published through University Microfilms in Ann Arbor, Michigan, I’ll post the abstract and link.

There’s a part of me that sees some of this as simply poetic language, a decent turn of phrase. But I’ve noticed that many deep workers wax poetic about their work, too, regardless of field.

I’ve been seeing these orders as orders of abstraction, each level above being the abstraction of the level beneath. That may be wrong, but I think it explains why 4th order (“abstract conceptual”) is hard to communicate, since abstractions are in the eye of the beholder.

I wonder what great poets come out as. As a writer and a sciencey type, I’ve always looked at poets as the basic researchers of the writing art forms.

Glenn has given us a good deal to think about.

About the Author

Forrest Christian

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E. Forrest Christian is a consultant, coach, author, trainer and speaker at The Manasclerk Company who helps managers and experts find insight and solutions to what seem like insolvable problems. Cited for his "unique ability and insight" by his clients, Forrest has worked with people from almost every background, from artists to programmers to executives to global consultants. Forrest lives and works plain view of North Carolina's Mount Baker.  [contact]

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  1. Pingback: The Problem of “Universal” Speech by Requisite Reading

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