At the most fundamental level, many of the problems we face are the unfortunate outcome of the malpractice of thinking. Whichever complex problem one may consider –be it ecological, societal, political, economic, organisational etc.– one will likely find that it is caused by the clashing of incompatible or inadequate manners of thinking. Even when these are genuinely well intended and strongly self-justified, they often inadvertently contribute to composite problematics.
The inadequacies of our thinking are deeply entrenched in the way that we, humans, perceive the world, ourselves in the world, and how we interact with it. Our professional, educational, cultural and metaphysical systems strongly dispose us towards outlining sharp boundaries, separating objects from backgrounds, ’us’ from ‘them’, defining identities and carving out what is to be of significance from what can be dismissed, disposed of, or exploited. Such dispositions result in oversimplifications which are often apparent to us in the thinking of others, but much less in our own thinking. Yet, they are omnipresent and almost impossible to avoid. Once cohered by logical reasoning, anchored in captivating symbolism and encoded in algorithms, such simplifications turn into cages: mental, emotional, operational… Moving beyond them becomes literally unthinkable. We may repeat the mantra of ‘thinking outside the box’, we may praise critical, independent, creative and disruptive thinking, but these get deployed only in as far as they prove usable for the affirmation of our respective, deeply rooted worldviews.
Our intelligence has limits which are not always obvious and once we fail to address the complexity of a state of affairs we are confronted with, we quite seamlessly simplify it to fit to our limitations by introducing instead of it crude, black-and-white representations. In order to address the formidable challenges of contemporary ecological, societal, political, economic and organisational problems; in order for humanity to move forward, ordinary intelligence is therefore not sufficient. As societies, organisations, teams and individuals we need to progressively muster intelligence that is extraordinary — and make it our new norm.
This understanding cannot just be thrown in the face of ‘corporations and institutions’, or delegated to any other reified faulty ‘other’. Simply put, the much needed leap in the quality of thinking across global society will not happen if there is no one to take the responsibility and actively engage in achieving it. Evidently the advancement of thinking cannot be externally prescribed, it must be intimately carried out by engaged individuals. For that, key influencers, leaders and managers, intellectuals and artists, politicians and activists, entrepreneurs and philanthropists, need to bring the quality of their individual thinking to the top of their priorities. The practice of thinking is too impactful, its consequences too potent, for us to afford not to pay attention to how it can be continuously advanced and refined. For exactly this purpose the VUB has created a novel academic project — Welcome to the Postgraduate School of Thinking!
‘Extraordinary’ is a progressive term. It points to a performance of thinking of a quality which continues to surprise. A thinking that proves to be more insightful, more farsighted, and more potent, than one could have normally expected or assumed. Learning how to bring one’s thinking performance beyond the threshold of the expected ‘ordinary’, again and again, results in an intelligence capacity that continuously exceeds its own limits.
To develop such capacity, the participants will acquire a combination of skills, theoretical knowledge and above all the experience of integrating these into their unique everyday practice. This informs the following specific objectives of the programme:
- Provide a comprehensive toolkit of powerful, advanced thinking frameworks, methods and tools. The students will be able to fluently select from a rich array of advanced thinking frameworks, methods and tools (such as complexity thinking, systems thinking, design thinking, collective intelligence tools etc.), apply them in real-world circumstances, and guide others (collaborators, teams, organisations) in joining in and thinking together.
- Facilitate an intense workout for thought. By applying and evaluating diverse thinking frameworks, the students will learn to disassociate their activity of thinking from specific patterns and methods that their thought is in habit of using. This is how they will learn to approach frameworks they are familiar with merely as a ‘training infrastructure’ for exercising the power, plasticity and movability of thought.
- Instil the habit of observing the quality of thinking. By learning to observe and appreciate the extraordinary thinking of others as well as of oneself, the students will learn to affirm and support the paths and stances which expand the horizons of thought.
- Provide a general, a-disciplinary ground for thinking about thinking. The students will become fluent in crossing all kinds of boundaries, in particular those maintained by the academic disciplines and professional identities. They will learn how all historically evolved academic, professional, organisational, cultural and ideological worldviews, disciplines and categories can be deployed by the thinker, without anymore imposing on thought their impassable boundaries.
The programme is addressed to working professionals whose primary responsibility and interests are focused on tackling complex, ‘wicked’, multidisciplinary or unprecedented problems — and particularly to those, for whom the outcome of their work critically depends on the quality of thinking, performed individually or by a larger team or organization.
The (non-exhaustive) list of the professional roles, whose performance can be greatly enhanced by participating in the programme includes: intellectual and organisational leaders, think-tank members, politicians, activists, entrepreneurs, intellectuals, researchers, artists, philanthropists, managers, as well as consultants, coaches, trainers, and teachers who support such professionals in their development.
An additional learning track is planned for a small group of selected research students / researchers of the VUB.
Center Leo Apostel (CLEA)
The programme is organised by Center Leo Apostel for Interdisciplinary Studies (CLEA): a transdisciplinary research centre at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB), which focuses on bringing together the different scientific, social and cultural disciplines. CLEA was founded in 1995, under the impetus of the Belgian philosopher Leo Apostel. Apostel saw the purpose of CLEA in integrating the results of the different disciplines so as to counteract the apparent fragmentation of ever more specialised approaches, and in attracting a variety of talented researchers from the humanities, social sciences, physical sciences and engineering to work together in an a-disciplinary academic environment. CLEA is internationally recognised as a unique, transdisciplinary research centre with a steady output of high-quality innovative publications. The main focus of CLEA research programme is transitions between ‘different layers of reality’ (e.g., quantum, physical, chemical, biological to cognitive and social), general metasystem transitions, creative processes, processes of self-organization and emergence.
Programme Management Team
The programme is managed by the team:
- Programme Director: Dr. Marta Lenartowicz
- Programme Committee: Prof. Francis Heylighen, Prof. Jean Paul Van Bendegem, Dr. Weaver D.R. Weinbaum, Prof. Yoni Van Den Eede