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Construct Thinking

How Construct Thinking Could Help Organisation Developers

How Construct Thinking Could Help Organisation Developers


As we seek to better provide solutions to problems there are techniques that can explore how a problem is viewed, and enable us to find solutions that will have a higher business impact.  If we take open and closed questions, we can already see the impact of: what are your business challenges, and what is your Talent problem?  These two questions give you different answers.   They are also influenced by the power dynamic of who asks it, for example, if your boss asks you for feedback, compared to a colleague or a neutral interviewer.  The criticisms of asking for information on problems, is that the answers are “descriptions that we feel contain the most important truths about our problems.” If you ask about the business challenge you could get answer’s similar to: I’m losing people and it’s costing me $22m, constant union negotiations and currency fluctuations, we are not getting the value we thought we would from our acquisitions.  These open questions start to put a different frame on the building of an organisation development plan. I start with open business questions, because the Organisation Development has to flow from the Business, they need to sponsor and drive the change.  Construct thinking takes this one step further.

Last weekend at university a colleague took me through construct thinking, and it got my interest.

Construct Thinking looks at a problem as a situation where someone wanted something to be different from the way that it actually is. Just like the Chinese symbol is danger and opportunity.  It is a different way of thinking about the crisis. Different people see different opportunities to close the gap between what they have and what they want.

For example, at the moment a proportion of the UK public see a problem with the amount of money they have, but there are different interpretations of the issue:  too much tax, not enough jobs, low wages, cost of living is too high or the aspirational living standards are too high.  There are many viewpoints of the same problem.  These situations can be complex.  Construct thinking can help people to think more laterally about the opportunities.

There are two roles identified in construct thinking, the helper and the client.  The helper asks,  “What is the problem or challenge?”

The answers that are given can contain the facts or hard information, as well as soft feelings or theories.  The technique developer suggests that “things that are seen as objective, the hard ‘facts’ are often fairly trivial compared with the subjective, soft ‘feelings’ or ‘theories’ that are central to it.”  As a helper you need to let the client ramble to get both the hard and soft information and listen with empathy.

The output of these open interviews is to look at constructs and pick a triad of the issues, e.g. the top 3 occurring themes.

  1. No successors to leadership positions
  2. Attrition costing $22m
  3. Not enough capability for the Future plan

The helper investigated these with the clients and out of that can extrapolate polar opposite constructs.  For example, if the issues were:

  1. Unskilled for the New Markets – Skilled for the our New Markets
  2. Speed of recruitment and selection slow – speed of selection fast
  3. No movement of people between brands – movement between brands

The grid is completed by asking the client to consider every construct against every element.   The element is rated on how much the construct influences it. For example, the capability is highly influenced by people being unskilled for the New Markets.  The result is a three dimensional map which represents the relationships, and constructs which will have the most impact on the desired opportunity.

Constructs Unskilled - Skilled Speed Slow -

Speed Fast

No Movement -


No Successors 4 5 2
Attrition 5 2 4
Capability 1 3 2

The usefulness of this cluster process has been criticised to be dubious due to the time and complexity of the mapping, or it was!  It is always worth revisiting concepts, because now with advancements in technology like sci:vesco software construct the capability to map construct thinking is a powerful combination between human (the Organisation Developer) and computer.



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