What is Vertical Development?

Ryan Gottfredson

by Ryan Gottfredson

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Two Types of Development

If we want to improve ourselves, there are two forms of development that we can engage in.

Vertical Development

Roughly 90% of all development efforts focus on a form of development called horizontal development.

Horizontal development involves improving our knowledge, skills, and competencies. The focus of this development is to expand the things that we can do. It is a lot like adding an app onto an iPad. A new app broadens that iPad’s functionality. It can now do more than what it could do previously.

This is a good form of development, but it has a significant limitation. If we add an app onto an iPad, while that may broaden its functionality, it does not improve how effectively the iPad operates. It can’t function any more quickly or handle more complex tasks.

If we want to improve how we operate, we need a different form of development called vertical development.

Vertical development focuses on improving our internal operating system. Rather than helping us do more, it helps us be more. When we vertically develop, we elevate our mental maturity so that we make meaning of our world in more cognitively and emotionally sophisticated ways.

Where Does Vertical Development Come From?

Vertical development is new to the leadership and personal development space, but research on vertical development has been around for over 50 years in the field of developmental psychology.

The field of developmental psychology has been around since 1880. From the 1880’s until the 1960’s, the primary focus of developmental psychologists was on child development. What they learned is that as children develop from infants to adults, they do so through predictable stages of development, and for the most part, they proceed through these stages automatically. Thus, for children, their development is largely a function of their age.

In the 1960’s, a select few developmental psychologists started to ask the questions:

  • Do adults develop during adulthood?
  • And, if they do, do they also develop through different stages?

What they have found is that, “yes,” adults do develop, and there are different developmental stages during adulthood. But, what they also found is that most adults actually never really develop during adulthood. Thus, as adults, one’s development is not a function of age, but of effort.

Development by Age Stages Effort Pace

Three Stages of Adult Development

In fact, these researchers found that there are three primary stages of adult development. I call these Mind 1.0, Mind 2.0, and Mind 3.0.

Good Soldiers Progress Makers Value Creators Mind Levels

I use these labels because at each level, our mind, or internal operating system, is programmed to fulfill different needs.

Mind 1.0

When we operate in Mind 1.0, our internal programming is focused on keeping us safe, comfortable, and feeling like we belong. At this level, we operate like good soldiers. At this level, we don’t want to take charge, but we are willing to do what is asked of us so that we ensure our safety, comfort, and belonging. 64% of all adults and 7% of executives operate at this level.

Penguins Mind 1.0

Mind 2.0

When we level up to Mind 2.0, we change our internal programming to be focused on standing out, advancing, and getting ahead. This is a dramatic shift because when we get here, we become willing to be unsafe, uncomfortable, and not fit in in order to stand out, advance, and get ahead. When we operate in Mind 2.0, we shift from being a good soldier to being a progress maker. We like to take charge and lead, and we are focused on accomplishing outcomes that will help us stand out, advance, and get ahead. 35% of all adults and 85% of executives operate at this level.
Penguins Mind 2.0

Mind 3.0

When we level up to Mind 3.0, we again change our internal programming. When we make this shift, we go from being a progress maker to being a value creator. At this level, we no longer are focused on standing in or standing out. Our focus is on contributing, adding value, and lifting others. This is a significant shift because when we operate in Mind 1.0 and Mind 2.0, our internal operating system is programmed to seek things for our benefit. In Mind 3.0, our internal operating system is programmed to seek the benefit of something greater than ourselves. Only 1% of all adults and 8% of executives operate at this level.
Penguin Mind 3.0

Introspect on Your Vertical Altitude

When we learn about vertical development and these mind levels, we are empowered to ask two powerful questions that few people ever ask.

The first question is: “What is my vertical altitude?” This is powerful because it gives us a sense of where we are on our vertical development journey.

But, it isn’t an easy question to answer because I believe that we, at different times, operate at each of the different mind levels.

So, a second question we can ask ourselves is: “What is my center of gravity?” At what level do I spend the majority of my time operating at.

Vertical Development and Mindset levels pie charts

If you want to awaken to your center of gravity, take my FREE Vertical Development Assessment (only 15 questions).

When you review your results, remember, 64% of all adults operate primarily in Mind 1.0, 35% operate primarily in Mind 2.0, and only 1% operates primarily in Mind 3.0.

The odds are that we have some elevating to do.

And the good news is that we can elevate. We can upgrade our internal operating systems. And, we can improve our capacity to spend a greater percentage of our time in Mind 3.0.

When we elevate, we become a more positive force for good.

If you want to learn how to elevate, preorder my new book The Elevated Leader: Level Up Your Leadership Through Vertical Development.

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