Horizontal perspective vs. vertical perspective

October 31, 2009 · Filed Under Theoretical Foundation, Uncategorized, reflections 

Somebody summarized today’s “intellectual milliue” very succinctly like this:

” They read one book, write 10 and talk a 100″. We may call this horizontal perspective.

Horizontal perspective is based on an intellectual inertia that doesn’t challenge the fundamentals. It builds sand castles and packages them as fortresses. From another point of you, it’s purely quantitative: I give you data or information; e.g. this is how it’s done in this industry, it’s applicable to yours; here are the facts about your industry and the top three possible interpretations; research shows that customer preferences are changing; use this methodology, it always works! etc. Also: horizontal perspective is always easy to understand and provides easy solutions. While just because it’s easy doesn’t automatically mean that it’s useful or effective, the idea is that companies are not set up to handle the difficult – no matter how effective or useful it maybe! This is key!

People build careers on horizontal perspectives: they notice a phenomena, prove its existence by numbers, they refer to leading “authors”, associating themselves with the leader, write a book on the subject, they do a ton of presentations or lectures, and then they consult.

The style elements are reminiscent of those of a street hustler: quick, opportunistic, aggressive yet engaging, always appealing to what people want to hear.

Once the book is out they are “focused”: they consistently eat, drink, think, dream and talk the message. It becomes their brand, so to speak. The more aggressive types even fight for the “first mover’s” title: e.g. “I believe I was the first who coined the term paradigm shift.” The messages are typically very simple, often trivial and once they are no longer relevant, these horizontal consultants try to be the first at finding the next message (like the wisdom of the crowd, social media is a disruption factor, don’t tolerate assholes (one of my favourite ones), listen to the customers, etc.), and follow the same pattern; the second time however they already have a leverage: they were the (self proclaimed) first ones before!

Vertical perspective is different. Since it stands “above” the horizontal plane where the actors operate, it is first of all incredibly difficult to grasp. It demands style elements that are opposite to the opportunistic “horizontal” ones.

Vertical perspectives do not try to appeal to everybody; only to those who are predisposed to grasp it.

They don’t try to explain in a way that “Even I can understand”. Their objectivity is immutable thus exerting an upward “pull”, essentially providing what it should: a higher vantage point.

Since the vantage point is difficult to grasp, on a more practical plane such perspectives require discipline, determination and uncompromising courage, since once a higher perspective is reached, how to act is a question of integrity; especially in small things.

Vertical perspectives are permanent and described in absolute term, since their foundation, relative to the “field of operation” is absolute: principles.

Since vertical perspectives are absolute, they are independent of industries, situations, etc. They always apply; so whoever “gives” these perspectives always talks about the same things.

And last but not least: vertical perspectives can not be really “given”. Whoever seeks the perspective, potentially already has it. Support maybe given but that’s it.

Vertical perspectives are typically acquired by writing, not by reading…once in a while at good conversations.

In short: vertical perspective is for those who are serious about doing great things and do not get sidetracked by big things.

Challenging indeed!



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