Vertical Development

Chris Argyris: The Grandfather of Vertical Development?

While reading an amazing article recently (which I’ll talk about later), it mentioned Chris Argyris using a method of communication involving inquiring and advocating. Thinking the article may have gotten confused about this, as Bill Torbert uses a communication method involving framing, advocating, illustrating, and inquiring, I decided to do a Google search. What I found out was that not only was Bill Torbert a student of Chris Argyris but Peter Senge was as well!

This is pretty wild because while I was aware that Chris Argyris is known for The Ladder of Inference, I wasn’t aware that he helped build the foundations for vertical development, which his students seem to elaborate upon. Below is a quote from Bill Torbert speaking about Chris Argyris. (BTW note that “action inquiry” is just one of the many names for vertical development).

Q: You were a student of Chris Argyris and the whole idea of action inquiry has been central to your work. What is unique about your work in action inquiry?

A: Although it is definitely true that Chris is a central influence in my life, and that is because he clearly was concerned with putting action and inquiry together, it’s also true that at the same time as I met him at Yale I also got to know Bill Coffin, the Yale minister. He’s sometimes called the white Martin Luther King, was very involved in the Civil Rights movement, was one of the first Freedom Riders, and later stood in the opposition to the Vietnam War.

A Fresh Perspective: A Conversation with Bill Torbert

And below is a quote by Peter Senge on Chris Argyris. (Note that Bill’s Torbert’s Action Inquiry is a branch of Action Science development by Chris Argyris, as mentioned below.)

Despite having read much of his writing, I was unprepared for what I learned when I first saw Chris Argyris practice his approach in an informal workshop… Ostensibly an academic presentation of Argyris’s methods, it quickly evolved into a powerful demonstration of what action science practitioners call ‘reflection in action’…. Within a matter of minutes, I watched the level of alertness and ‘presentness’ of the entire group rise ten notches – thanks not so much to Argyris’s personal charisma, but to his skilful practice of drawing out… generalizations. As the afternoon moved on, all of us were led to see (sometimes for he first time in our lives) subtle patterns of reasoning which underlay our behaviour; and how those patterns continually got us into trouble. I had never had such a dramatic demonstration of own mental models in action… But even more interesting, it became clear that, with proper training, I could become much more aware of my mental models and how they operated. This was exciting.

Chris Argyris: Theories of Action, Double-Loop Learning & Organizational Learning

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