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5-D thinking



The most effective CEOs can see what others can’t see through a 5-dimensional perspective considering near and far futures, stakeholders, and ecosystems as they subtly interconnect and interdepend.


Why it matters: Making decisions in an unpredictable and interdependent business environment that changes daily is tricky, so seeing what others can’t see helps navigate complexity.


The big picture: 5-D thinking includes 1,2,3,4-D thinking capabilities.


Here is a quick recap of the previous two newsletter posts in the series:


1-D thinking is a first-person perspective—the subjective capability to see only one perspective—the person’s perspective.


  • 1-D thinkers impose their thinking on everybody else. They aren’t capable of listening or even considering other points of view.

  • Some conform to the group's point of view almost blindly, especially from authority power. They automatically reject other groups' perspectives. It's ‘us vs. them.’

2-D thinking is a second-person perspective—the capacity to see the other's perspective and decide 'either/or.'


  • Some 2-D thinking leaders consider or adopt other perspectives if they come from people who are more experts than them.

  • Some 2-D thinking leaders welcome other points of view as long as they fit into their pre-conceived goals and outcomes.

3-D thinking is a 3rd person's perspective. It is the capacity to see that there might be more than one truth, and we don’t need to choose one over another. 'Both-and' expands 'either-or.'




  • 3-D thinkers look at a situation from all aspects.

  • They can deal effectively with conflict and disagreement and build bridges of understanding and alignment across opposing positions.


4-D thinking is a 4th-person perspective. It’s the rare capacity of leaders to assess situations, have conversations, and make decisions from four dimensions of themselves (1st), other people's perspectives (2nd), all people's perspectives (3rd ), and the systemic perspective (4th) of stakeholders outside the situation, conversation or decision.




  • 4-D thinking is a developmental capacity that evolves with the ability to shift attention from advocating and promoting your perspective to inquiring about other perspectives.

  • This shift requires an operating system upgrade that includes your assumptions, beliefs, fears, and safeguards

Learn the four strategies to evolve 4-D thinking in my previous newsletter post.


5-D thinking is like interstellar travel


Even if you’re an astronaut on the way to the moon, you still won’t be able to notice that the Earth orbits the Sun at an average speed of 67,000 mph.


Only if you travel outside the solar system will you be able to notice.


This is the power of distancing ourselves to see the relative moves of all system components.



Leaders who operate at the Integral potential can distance themselves enough to see it from the perspectives of very remote stakeholders.


The problem is that 50% of the leaders are incapable of 3-D thinking and beyond. They have been stuck at 1-D and 2-D thinking.




Five strategies to evolve 5-D thinking


1. Future-Backward


In the unpredictable world, the long term isn’t as long as it used to be. Boards of directors and leadership teams focus on the short term, not going far enough into the future.

Thinking about the very far future changes our perspective. When we are ‘future-backward,’ we can see how our actions impact generations ahead.


I have three children and no grandchildren yet. Still, when I think about my future grandkids and grand-grandkids, I make different choices about how I take care of the environment, limit my contribution to climate change, and help the food sources of future generations.

The world population is expected to grow to 11 billion by 2100. I won’t live then, for sure. I’m not sure my kids will. I hope my grandkids will. That’s my perspective. What’s yours?


2. Past-Forward


It’s fascinating how much we can learn about ourselves and others by reflecting on our historical context. We’re a product of our conditioning.


Boosting our full potential depends on our ability to integrate the old versions of ourselves into the new version of ourselves. 


There is no transformation without integration.

Reflect on the three pivotal moments in your life that shaped how you lead today. Then, follow the same process with your team, identifying the team events that shaped the way you work together.


Past-forward is the way to move fast-forward. 


3. Villain Stakeholder


We are so busy gaining market share and ‘fighting the competition’ that we rarely invite them to our executive meetings.


I’m not kidding.


Well, kinda. We invite them virtually but not literally. One of the most eye-opening experiences with leadership teams is when two people represent their most fierce competitors.


The newly “appointed competitors” do some homework to present an ambitious plan to crash their competitor, a.k.a their company. Equipped with insider information, the “fake competitors” find apocalyptic scenarios to win the game that the leadership team hasn’t considered.


Stepping into the competitors' shoes and trying to “destroy us” using our inner knowledge exposes tons of blind spots, weaknesses, and existential risks that you wouldn’t get otherwise.


4. Invisible Stakeholder


In the previous 4-D thinking newsletter post, we discussed how identifying your stakeholders and agreeing on the primary one isn’t easy for a complex business.


5-D thinking goes one step further. A 5-D thinker identifies the invisible stakeholders. Those who aren’t your stakeholders yet, or worse, they are, and you don’t know.


For example, I’m an invisible stakeholder for many companies I used to buy from before.


As a vegan family, we don’t buy animal-based products and ban many products that aren’t vegan-friendly or cruelty-free certified products.


We are stunned by how companies wouldn’t make small product changes, such as replacing gelatin with cellulose pills. 


Invisible stakeholders can also be environmentally conscientious people, human rights conscientious people, etc. 


5. External Systems


I have worked with leadership teams who focused so much on the immediate stakeholders that they missed tectonic shifts in their “solar system.”


A useful framework to analyze external system called PESTLE developed by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD):


  • Political – Government policy, trading policies, lobbying, war, tariffs

  • Economic – National and international trends, taxation, industry trends, interest rate, exchange rate, inflation rate, access to capital, competition, cost of living,

  • Social – Demographics, lifestyles, media, buying patterns, talent pool, marketing trends, cultural norms, health consciousness, age distribution

  • Technological – Disruptive technology, research, automation, innovation, information, communication

  • Legal – legislation, ethics, governance, IP, regulators, DEI, consumer protection, Privacy

  • Environmental – climate change, pollution, carbon footprint, environmental policy


Analyze each of the PESTLE factors:


  • Affected within my industry

  • Importance to the organization


The bottom line:


5-D thinking is an expansive leadership capacity that widely opens your perspective to envision the invisible and make bold moves that have both historical significance and future impact.


This capacity is available for Transformer potentials and completely unaccessible to Centric potentials. It’s not a skill. It’s potential! 

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