Multidimensional Thinking & Leadership

The Kaleidoscope

Our world is increasingly interconnected, complex, and unpredictable. We also have access to more information, which itself is growing exponentially. The global challenges and opportunities we face today call for equally holistic responses. In this post, we will focus on multidimensional thinking, interdisciplinary approaches, and how serious games may enhance both.

The Kaleidoscope is a perfect visual image for the needed perceptual shift. “The microscope has been the dominant image of research, manifested in the reductive approach of taking things apart into their separate components. It was, and continues to be, a highly successful source of knowledge. A new metaphor, though, is apparent – the kaleidoscope. Turning the tube of this popular child’s toy creates shifting shapes and colors, resulting in new and unpredictable patterns and hues.” (Julie Thompson Klein — Interdisciplinarity and complexity: An evolving relationship Vol. 6 Nos. 1-2 Fall 2004 pp. 2-10)


A multidimensional thinker is someone “high in cognitive complexity”. They “are able to analyze (i.e., differentiate) a situation into many constituent elements, and then explore connections and potential relationships among the elements” (Streufert, S., & Swezey, R. W., 1986).

Multidimensional thinking draws from a wide range of competencies, for example divergent and convergent thinking skills. It involves the ability to see the big picture and details. “Multidimensional leaders stay objectively alert in order to make strategic decisions within a context of ever-changing circumstances, parameters and variables” (

Dr. Charles Piazza observes that leaders that are multidimensional thinkers can:

  • Hold and utilize multiple viewpoints as critical lenses
  • Dialogue with radically divergent viewpoints
  • Develop a whole picture from which a creative solution can be devised (

 Multidimensional Thinking

“A multidimensional model of leadership addresses issues of leader cognition, race and gender, the importance of culture, and the need for more collaborative modes of communication and decision making to frame and implement change. It recognizes that there is no longer any one way to lead, and that the next generation of leaders will be more diverse, possess experience and qualifications from a wider variety of careers, and follow new pathways to their positions. Leaders in the future will possess a cultural competency that is fostered by being lifelong learners” (

The challenge is that “many leaders excel in one particular dimension, they do not see the necessity of improving. But no matter how good one-dimensional leaders are at that one thing, they cannot provide the kind of leadership that leads to innovation, social change and business transformation.” (

The Interdisciplinary

A discipline is ‘a branch of learning or field of study’ (Chambers Dictionary of English, 2003). This concept originated within the classic Greek tradition of educating the whole person through inquiry and synthesis. In the medieval university system in Europe established by the Catholic Church there were then several mandated ‘branches’ of learning (called the Trivium and Quadrivium respectively). These included mathematics, rhetoric, music, and philosophy. A scholar who successfully completed their course of study was graduated as a ‘Master of the Arts’. And this particular practice and corresponding designation has continued to the present day. A Master of the Arts could as easily be expressed as Master of Joinery. For that is essentially what the university graduate had accomplished through several years of study. They have joined the discrete knowledge gained in each branch within one larger conceptual frame and worldview.

Interdisciplinary’ refers to any endeavor that combines or involves two or more fields of study, academic disciplines, professions, and technologies, etc. Interdisciplinary thinking and learning helps individuals:

  • Increase ability to synthesize knowledge and see new connections
  • Create meaning from disparate contexts and perspectives
  • Appreciate multiple perspectives, points of view, and values
  • Gain understanding of interdependency
  • Cooperate more effectively (Integrative Curriculum: A Kaleidoscope of Alternatives. Educational Horizons 68 (1), 12-17: Harter, P.D., & Gehrke, N.J., 1989)

The Harvard Graduate School of Education is a leader in researching and promoting interdisciplinary learning. It’s developed a preliminary framework “to study learning progressions in interdisciplinary thinking … (as well as its) “central epistemological agenda” (Veronica Boix Mansilla). This consists of two areas of measurement. Each has four elements:

  1. Dimensions: purposefulness, disciplinary grounding, integration, & critical awareness
  2. Achievement Levels: naïve, novice, apprentice, & mastery

This new framework is a critical given the growing need for interdisciplinary efforts on a global basis in all fields of endeavor. It is encouraging that it encompasses space for: “non-verbal and non-written modalities … (as well as) learning outcomes such as written papers, presentations, works of art accompanied by written reflections, and video or multimedia productions … (this also) enables comparison of the performance of students at different moments in a multi-year interdisciplinary program” (Veronica Boix Mansilla).

However as of yet, “a (still) common problem with today’s graduates is their failure to understand the connections and interrelationships between and across functional and interdisciplinary areas of business. Consequently, the ability to work in multidisciplinary teams has been identified as a critical area of weakness amongst graduates” (Martin, Maytham, Case, & Fraser, 2005).

Neuroscience supports the value of interdisciplinary learning. The human brain “actively seeks patterns and searches for meaning through these patterns”(Schomaker, 1989, p. 13). It also “integrates new knowledge on the basis of previous experiences and the meaning that has developed from those experiences. It processes many things at the same time, and holistic or integrative experiences are recalled quickly and easily” (Cromwell, 1989; Caine & Caine, 1991). Caine and Caine (1991) state that search for meaning and patterns is a basic process in the human brain. “The brain may resist learning fragmented facts that are presented in isolation.“Interdisciplinary learning” encompasses diverse higher-order cognitive endeavors.

The idea of interdisciplinarity is moving from academic into the corporate sector. Companies increasingly foster learning across all organizational disciplines. This in turn supports critical as well as creative thinking as well as knowledge transfer. Employees today must have the skills to analyze, organize, interpret, and communicate myriad bits of information in a coherent holistic way. Companies are also therefore establishing Interdisciplinary Learning Zones. This “enables industry involvement to build up cross-disciplinary management exchanges between employees and provides real-life case scenarios for interdisciplinary research projects” (Anshu Saxena Arora, Learning Organization, The, Vol. 19, 2012).

 Tibetan Buddhist Monks Creating Mandala


The Prelude Suite™

The Prelude Suite™ offers an online experiential learning platform that helps cultivate multidimensional thinking and interdisciplinary teamwork. It harkens back to ancient models like the Mandala and Medicine Wheel designed to cultivate holistic perception and perspectives.


Team Encade




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Howard Esbin, PhDMultidimensional Thinking & Leadership