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Capability: Part 5 – Languaging


  • Declarative

  • Cumulative

  • Serial

  • Parallel

  • Third Order

  • Fourth Order

  • Fifth Order

This system comes directly from the work and research of Elliott Jaques, HUMAN CAPABILITY, 1994.  Over time, it has been called many things, but my preference for identifying the ideas have to do with how people language their being, doing, having, becoming, and contribution, and for that reason, I chose languaging to identify this particular model.

From Gower Publishing:
A major breakthrough in understanding human capability, intelligence, and development theory is reported with the results of Cason/Jaques’ conclusive 3-year study. Their field work demonstrates with high reliability and validity that when heavily engrossed in work, individuals process information in four and only four ways which recur in a series of higher orders of information complexity.

Further, this hierarchy of mental processing methods corresponds with levels of individual capability and is congruent with levels of work complexity, explaining, at last, the very nature of managerial systems. This book also presents support for the concurrent theory, first formulated by Dr. Jaques in 1956, that individuals mature in capability within predictable patterns, a maturation process that continues throughout life.

The authors demonstrate the nature of this maturation beyond adolescence and into old age, and discuss how this view compares with that of Piaget and of IQ studies which posit that capability and intelligence are fully mature by late adolescence. The ability to plot and predict the growth of human potential capability throughout life will alter dramatically our present conceptions in developmental psychology.

The social consequences of this work are likely to be substantial and extensive and are addressed by the authors. An important outcome of this study is the further development of managerial procedures that enable companies to match people with roles, and to develop programs that effectively meet the organization’s future human resource requirements.

The importance of languaging?

How we language our being, doing, having, becoming and contributing can actually be assessed using Jaques model of information processing. Jaques named his process Complexity of Mental Processing which later evolved to “Complexity of Information Processing” or CIP.

CIP has two parts, “Orders of Information Complexity” and “Mental Processes.” The former measures the level of abstract thinking of which a person is capable on a scale ranging from First Order (an inability to think beyond the realm of concrete entities) to Sixth Order (an ability to think in “universals”). The second variable, “Mental Processes,” describes the complexity of the arguments a person can master. – Debatable outcomes, By Drake Bennett

Excerpted from:

Potential Capability And Organizational Transition: An Application Of Elliott Jaques’ Stratified Systems Theory In A Family-Owned Business, Sandra King, PhD

Mental Processing
Jaques states that mental processing is the individual’s “mental working processes by which you [an individual] take information, pick it over, play with it, analyze it, put it together, reorganize it, judge and reason it, make conclusions, plans and decisions, and take action” (Jaques 1996: 18)

According to a study conducted by Jaques and Cason, an individual will use one of four types of mental processing, each of which has distinctive phrases or processes, when solving problems (1994). The four processes are declarative, cumulative, serial, and parallel (1994).

In addition, they found the “four methods of mental processing can be observed in each of two different orders of information, symbolic and abstract, used by adult subjects; they are recursive and maintain their hierarchy of complexity” (Jaques and Cason 1994: 61).

Complexity of Mental Processing
Jaques points out that an individual’s PC [Potential Capability] to perform work is determined by his or her level of complexity of mental processing (1996). He defines complexity of mental processing as the type of mental process together with the level of information complexity that an individual uses when solving problems. Therefore, the process of identifying an individual’s complexity of mental process is a two-part procedure.

First, the researcher observes the type of mental process used and second, the order of information complexity. According to Jaques and Cason, the range for most adults is from declarative/symbolic, level 1 to parallel/abstract conceptual, level 8 (1994). They suggest “there is one category [of complexity] of mental processing that matches the span of level of work for each specific organizational stratum in the managerial hierarchy” (1994: 61).

Table 1 provides a summary of the complexity of mental processing associated with each managerial role. The table includes the logic used, pattern of mental process, order of information, and the managerial level associated with each organizational role in Jaques’ MAH.

Table 1: Level of Managerial Role Associated with Complexity of Mental Processing in Jaques’ Managerial Accountability Hierarchy:
Logic: or-or and-and if-then-then if-and-only-if
Pattern of Mental Process: declarative cumulative serial parallel.

What you need to know?

How we language our: “mental working processes by which you [an individual] take information, pick it over, play with it, analyze it, put it together, reorganize it, judge and reason it, make conclusions, plans and decisions, and take action” –> is important to understanding our potential capability, but also where our capability can be scaffolded now, near and far.

Jaques understood that how people make use of their mental processes could be codified and studied, matched with roles and complexity to work in a collaborative way to get work done.

While NO THEORY or practice is the final answer, using the idea that how we language these mental processes is critical to “self-knowledge>>self-awareness” transitions through discreet levels of CAPABILITY is a great tool for postmodern leadership.

While we are now half way through our discussion of CAPABILITY DYNAMICS, the downside is really the upside as we begin to assemble the remaining group of elements.

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    Mike R. Jay is a developmentalist utilizing consulting, coaching, mentoring and advising as methods to offer developmental scaffolding for aspiring leaders who are interested in being, doing, having, becoming, and contributing… to helping people have lives.

    Mike R. Jay
    Leadership University

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