The 10 Laws of Vertical Development

Ryan Gottfredson

by Ryan Gottfredson

Top of Mountain scaled

When it comes to personal and leadership development, there are two forms of development:

  • Horizontal development – Increasing one’s knowledge, skills, and capabilities
    • This is like adding an app onto an iPad, it broadens its functionality
    • New knowledge, skills, and capabilities broadens one’s functionality, but it does not improve how effectively the iPad operates
  • Vertical development – Enhancing one’s ability to make meaning of the world in more cognitively and emotionally sophisticated ways
    • This is like upgrading the operating system of the iPad. It is elevating how the iPad operates altogether.

When development is desired, vertical is generally what someone has in mind, but it is generally horizontal that gets focused on (by a wide margin). This is partly because relatively few people know about vertical development.

To help you learn more about vertical development, I have scoured almost every source I could find on the topic. To summarize my learnings, I have come up with The 10 Laws of Vertical Development. Here they are:

  1. Different people make meaning of their world at different levels of cognitive and emotional sophistication.
  2. People at different levels of vertical development see things differently, process information differently, and operate differently to the exact same conditions.
  3. There is a hierarchy of vertical development, such that (1) someone at a higher level of vertical development can understand and see why someone at a lower level of vertical development sees, processes information, and operates the way they do, and (2) someone at a lower level of vertical development has a difficult time seeing or understanding why someone at a higher level of vertical development sees, processes information, and operates the way they do.
  4. When we have risen in our vertical elevation and traverse previous terrain, we will see it differently, interpret it differently, and navigate it differently.
  5. We are able to operate at any altitude level that we have traversed, but it is difficult to operate at an altitude level that is higher than we have traversed.
  6. We generally don’t primarily function at the highest altitude we have traversed; instead, we generally operate somewhere between base camp and our highest climb. The level that we generally operate at is called our center of gravity.
  7. We will operate at a lower altitude when our body budget is depleted (we feel over-extended, stressed, tired, hungry, and/or unsafe). We will operate at a higher altitude when our body budget is full (we feel balanced, energized, and safe).
  8. Raising our vertical altitude requires an investigation of how we make meaning of our world and why we make meaning in the ways that we do.
    • This generally involves a rejection, release, and/or surrender of current worldviews, and the acceptance, adoption, and reassertion of new worldviews. It is as much about dismantling as it is about forging.
  9. Our foundational meaning makers are our mindsets, which are our mental lenses that (1) filter the information that comes into our brain, (2) interpret that information in unique ways, and (3) activate the different elements about ourselves to best navigate that situation based upon the information taken in and how it is interpreted.
    • Our mindsets are not our “attitude” toward something. They are literally long-range neural connections in our brain that influence how we see and process information.
  10. Those who make meaning of their world with greater cognitive and emotional sophistication (i.e., at a higher vertical altitude):
    • Are more effective
    • Are more successful
    • Have greater well-being
    • Are more respected
    • Have better relationships
    • Are more agile
    • Handle stress and pressure better
    • Navigate uncertainty, ambiguity, and complexity more effectively
    • Do better at leading transformation
    • Make for better leaders

Next week, I will give you the laws of vertical development as it relates to leadership.

In the meantime, if you would like to learn more about the power and importance of vertical development, download my white paper – Vertical Development: The Key to Elevating Leadership Development.

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2 Responses

  1. Hi Ryan. I wonder why we don’t function at the highest level once we reached it. It sounds like when I work six hours straight without food and I get really hungry then I can’t think clearly until I eat lunch. I can see the difference in my work. This would be me living laws 6 and 7!
    Since I started reading your articles and book, I feel more confident to challenge myself such that I passed the SHRM CP exam last week. What a relief!
    As always, I am grateful to you for sharing your insight and inspiring me to grow and be better.

    1. Congrats on the SHRRM CP exam! That is great!

      It’s a good question, and I think there are a variety of factors, including effectively managing our body budget (e.g., not getting out of an appropriate balance with work, hunger, fatigue). Also, do we implement daily habits to help us get into Mind 3.0 (e.g., meditation). Another thing that I have been thinking about is: are we ok with “letting go” of Mind 1.0 or Mind 2.0 habits, practices, or contexts in order to get to Mind 3.0?

      I am so glad you are taking strides upward, and I am honored to be a part of your journey!

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