Strategies to develop analytical and strategic thinking

By Maretha Prinsloo on June 26, 2019


This blog follows on the principles of organisational and individual learning entry which focused on the different ways in which organisations can extend the traditional concept of learning by implementing principles of “learning organisations”(See the link to navigate to this blog included here: In this previous entry, it was found that organisations can enhance learning by focusing on the development of employees’ cognitive thinking processes. 

In order to influence the cognitive development of employees within an organisation, it is necessary to start by assessing the current and potential cognitive processing capabilities and preferences of individuals and their teams. Two of the assessment techniques available for this purpose are the Cognitive Process Profile (CPP) and the Learning Orientation Index (LOI) as provided by Cognadev. Both these tools offer automated simulation exercises which operationalise, externalise and track thinking processes according to thousands of measurement points. The results are algorithmically interpreted by expert systems and comprehensive reports on an individual’s cognitive functioning and metacognitive awareness are generated. Metacognition refers to an awareness of one’s own thinking processes as well as the use of certain metacognitive guidelines or criteria to direct and evaluate these thinking processes.

The cognitive requirements of the organisational work environment may also be assessed by means of the Contextualised Competency Mapping (CCM) tool, which allows for person-job and team-job matching to guide learning and development initiatives. The CCM tool is also provided by Cognadev.

All of Cognadev’s cognitive assessments and training initiatives are based on a theoretical model of thinking processes. More so, the cognitive developmental initiative itself is guided by the application of a particular methodology anchored in metacognitive awareness.


The theoretical foundation for the Cognitive Process Profile (CPP) and the Learning Orientation Index (LOI):

The Information Processing Model (IPM) is the theoretical model on which both CPP and LOI assessments are based. It can be represented as follows, whereby the various cognitive processes are organised holonically, and guided from a metacognitive perspective.


The Information Processing Model (IPM):Metacognitive Criteria Illustration


The following metacognitive criteria guide the application of all processing skills:

Metacognitive Criteria Illustration


Taking account of the above, the development of both analytical and strategic thinking skills will briefly be explained here.

Additionally, once the strengths and development areas, stylistic preferences and the complexity capabilities of candidates have been assessed, suitable cognitive development programmes can be planned and implemented. These should ideally involve facilitated group exercises which capitalise on real, job-related cognitive challenges.


The importance of metacognition in developing cognitive skills:

Analytical thinking and Systems / Strategic thinking skills courses should ideally entail two to three days of intensive facilitation. This should also be followed up in the longer term in collaboration with peers and mentors from the work environment. Besides, as these two thinking skills programmes are of a purely cognitive focus, a broader perspective to develop emotional and consciousness factors in addition to these cognitive skills should also be offered. This will accommodate for the highly integrated nature of human functioning. Most participants are able to embrace these broader principles with relative ease, whereas the development of advanced cognitive skills requires long term practice aimed at the internalisation of metacognitive criteria.


1. The development of analytical thinking skills:

Analytical skills are particularly useful for dealing with the challenges of operational environments. Due to the dynamics and fuzziness of practical situations, everyday problem-solving challenges are often vastly more complex than the available theoretical models. Analytical problem-solving skills are thus required. The good news is that these can be developed with relative ease.

Specifically, analytical skills development entails the activation of metacognitive guidelines to deal with domain specific, job-related, problem-solving challenges. A methodology aimed at transferring and internalising specific metacognitive criteria is recommended.

The learning outcomes of analytical skills development normally includes the following capabilities, including the ability to:

  • Explore situations in terms of the metacognitive criteria of relevance and clarity;
  • Establish an appropriate level of detail versus generality at which to deal with a task;
  • Work with the required detail and precision;
  • Compare various task-related aspects spontaneously;
  • Identify and apply rules systematically;
  • Differentiate between elements;
  • Identify relationships and link related aspects;
  • Order and structure information coherently to make sense;
  • Integrate new and discrepant information into existing frameworks;
  • Restructure maps and models to accommodate emerging requirements;
  • Contextualise own solutions, models or ideas appropriately; and
  • Show metacognitive awareness of all of the above cognitive processes.


Analytical skills training thus involves the assessment of each candidate’s current cognitive preferences and capabilities. Their metacognitive awareness is of particular interest. Once these profiles have been investigated, strengths and development areas in terms of metacognitive awareness can be identified at the individual and team level. A metacognitive “voice”, which best reflects a person’s strength, can then be allocated to that individual member. For example, one person may take on the role of “The voice of relevance”, another “The voice of coherence”, or “The voice of clarity” (refer to the IPM).


Furthermore, analytical skills training sessions should be facilitated by a trained professional who understands the dynamics involved in cognitive functioning. Exercises in these sessions centre around dealing with real job-related challenges. Typically, during this facilitated process, those holding certain metacognitive “voices” have the authority to interrupt the group’s problem-solving process at any time, in order to create an awareness of a neglected metacognitive criterion. The facilitator’s role will, therefore, include to capitalise on such insights as well as to reinforce the internalisation of specific metacognitive criteria or “voices”.

The full training process is thus aimed at the “automation” or internalisation of metacognitive criteria by participants to guide their thinking processes in future. Once all group members have practised their metacognitive strengths, the roles are reversed so that they take on their underdeveloped metacognitive “voices”. This facilitated workshop should be followed up with applicable projects and include the involvement of mentors or peers to further consolidate the metacognitive skills acquisition of each person.

Whereas analytical thinking involves a focus on the constituent parts of systems, strategic / systems thinking processes reverse the relationships between the parts and the whole. In other words, in the case of systems thinking, the parts can only be understood in terms of the dynamics of the whole.


2. Building strategic / systems thinking capabilities:

Systems thinking remains a critical prerequisite for the strategic viability of organisations. This skill is unfortunately seldom taught within educational and training contexts, where the focus is mostly on the transfer of knowledge and skills. Unless systems / strategic thinking awareness is cultivated within an organisation, the principles of learning organisations will not be adopted by a critical mass of people. This may result in the gradual deterioration of learning values and ideals into mere ‘window dressing’.

According to a systems approach, the world is regarded as an integrated, dynamic whole, or a series of nested sub-systems forming a holon. In agreement with Ken Wilber (2007), who popularised Arthur Koestler’s concept of holons, the entire universe is organised such that subsequent systems levels include and transcend their predecessors.

The development of systems thinking skills to optimise strategic thinking is thus aimed at the acquisition of integrative, intuitive and holistic cognitive capabilities. As in the case of analytical thinking training, pre-assessment of delegates’ cognitive capacity and preferences will guide the specific design of a systems thinking development initiative.

A Systems / Strategic thinking course normally involves a focus on real organisational challenges in terms of four phases of analysis and conceptualisation, namely:

  • An in-depth investigation of the strategic challenges of the organisation to generate ideas, externalise positions and polarise perspectives. The complex information generated is then analysed according to a typical, matrix-like technique (Kepner-Tregeo, 1997), using unique and appropriate evaluation criteria. At the end of the first phase, most participants will fully understand the strategic challenges faced. These challenges can then be defined and metaphors selected to represent their underlying dynamics.
  • The next phase involves a dynamic analysis of the root causes of these strategic challenges, and the identification of leverage points and catalysts of change. Here the definition of strategic challenge is analysed in terms of the four most appropriate archetypes as proposed by Peter Senge (1990).
  • The following step involves creative strategy formulation, whereby unusual techniques are used to stimulate creativity. Initially, this is often met with resistance from rationally trained executives and managers. However, in retrospect, these creative exercises are often regarded as the most liberating and enlightening aspect of the course. Various intuitive techniques are practised – most of which have been proposed by the intuitive Sue Mehrtens (2002).
  • Consolidation of the entire process takes place by evaluating the extent to which the formulated creative strategy – aimed at dealing with the organisation’s strategic challenges – can be implemented and contextualised. Factors such as organisational structure, processes, power dynamics and measurement options to track intangible progress, are considered.


Thus, to summarise, in the case of analytical thinking, elements are isolated, the nature of interrelationships are investigated, a detailed and precise approach followed, single variables are modified, and a linear or structured approach applied. Systems thinking, on the other hand, involves unifying interrelationships, investigating the effects of interaction, considering groups of variables, and is best suited to dealing with vague, fuzzy, complex, and dynamic information. Systems thinking focuses on purposes and objectives and considers the impact of the duration of time.

Nevertheless, the analytical approach is often criticised for its somewhat reductionist and factual nature, and the systems approach, characterised by holistic thinking, thereby emphasise the different sides of the proverbial coin. Both are equally valuable components of individual and organisational learning and performance.  Ultimately, all learning is rooted in culture and values – constructs that are best described by the construct of consciousness.  Organisational and individual learning initiatives should, therefore, be approached in an integrative manner, by simultaneously taking into consideration the impact of cognitive preferences and the valuing systems or cultural memes rooted in consciousness.


An in-depth description of the above mentioned cognitive training processes can be found in





Beck, DE & Cowan, CC (2005). The Spiral Dynamics: mastering values, leadership and change. Wiley-Blackwell.

Kepner, CH & Tregeo, BB, (1997). The New Rational Manager. Princeton Research Press.

Mehrtens, Sue E (2002). Intuition overview. Unpublished article.

Mindell, Arnold (2010). Process Mind: A User’s Guide to Connecting with the Mind of God. Quest Books. Theosophic Publishing House, Wheaton IL.

Prinsloo, M. & Prinsloo, R. (2018). The assessment and development of Analytical and Systems thinking skills in the work environment. Integral Leadership Review, November.

Prinsloo, M & Barrett P (2013). Cognition: Theory, measurement, implications. The Integral Leadership Review, June.

Prinsloo, M (2012). Consciousness models in action: Comparisons. The Integral Leadership Review, June

Senge, Peter (1990). The Fifth Discipline (2nd Edition). Cornerstone Import.

Wilber, Ken (2007). The Integral Vision. Shambhala Publications: Boston.


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