‘Hierarchy of Thought’ – Let’s Give it a Thought

Find a star in your life to orbit around; it will not only provide you energy but gravitate you to stay on a balanced path.

The human cognitive process is perhaps the single most important determinant of socio-economic growth, creativity and innovation, and the wellbeing of human civilization. While computers, machines, devices and all available tools and technologies – that we can think of – play a vital role in augmenting human living experience, and enabling social and economic growth; let’s not forget that all these tools and technologies were created by human beings (using their cognitive abilities) in the first place. Therefore, an understanding of the human cognitive or thought process is pivotal to create and deliver value in any form, manner, or shape.

In this regard, Bloom (1956) pioneered a taxonomy of educational objectives often termed as ‘hierarchy of thought’ which provides a structure around the human thought process. The hierarchy comprises of six layers i.e. Knowledge, Comprehension, Application, Analysis, Synthesis, and Evaluation (Bloom, 1956).

While defining the taxonomy, Bloom (1956) emphasized that the layers in the hierarchy can be conceived in many different arrangements but it is expected that objectives to be achieved at a particular layer in the hierarchy will be built on behaviors developed in the preceding layer(s) of the hierarchy. As such, knowledge acquisition should enable comprehension which leads to the application of comprehended knowledge to a known or a new situation. The experience from the application would facilitate analysis by building an understanding of underlying relationships among the constituent parts/elements of the phenomenon or thing being analyzed. Such an analysis will result in synthesis and finding new meaning or patterns of thoughts. The highest layer in the hierarchy is to evaluate and make judgement about the value of the output from the process carried out at the lower levels in the hierarchy. In short, the entire process of thought development is to create value in some form, which is very important for growth and prosperity.

While this conceptualization has been debated in the literature just like any other scholarly work, nonetheless it provides a very sound mechanism and a framework for understanding thought process. Such an understanding could provide significant leverage to achieve full benefits of human cognitive abilities for growth and prosperity.

From an organizational perspective, by capitalizing on the use of the ‘hierarchy of thought’ process, organizations can improve decision-making, problem-solving, creativity and performance of tasks, just to mention a few.

Then the question is: in what way the understanding and use of the ‘hierarchy of thought’ process can help improve value delivery? To answer the question, below we look at some areas – keeping in view the impact in terms of value delivery – that can potentially benefit from optimizing the human cognitive capabilities by embracing a ‘hierarchy of thought’ approach. Obviously, the areas identified below are just a few of the many that can benefit from paying more attention to the ‘hierarchy of thought’ process, as human cognition is the common denominator of success of all activities.

  1. Harness creativity

The use of the ‘hierarchy of thought’ approach could be very useful to harness creativity. Organizations could use the approach to instill behavioral tendencies among their staff to seek or acquire knowledge which is a precursor to comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation to harness creativity.

According to Bloom (1956), knowledge acquisition can be about many things such as terminology, facts, conventions, trends and sequences, classifications and categories, criteria, methodology, principles and generalizations, and theories and structures. Understandably, not everyone in the team would be able to have all the knowledge, yet it seems imperative that dedicated efforts be made to help people gain as much knowledge as possible to kick start the process of understanding, application, analyzing and building value.

  1. Build scenarios and identify alternatives

One of the key capabilities that staff need to have is to be able to see different perspectives. Being able to build scenarios and identify alternatives is very important to value delivery. The ‘hierarchy of thought’ provides a useful mechanism to instill analysis, synthesis, and evaluation behaviors among the staff so that they are able to construct scenarios, see different sides of a situation, identify alternatives and come up with useful solution(s) that help create value for the client.

  1. Interpret user experience (UX) driven needs

Having an ability to interpret and understand needs considering User Experience (UX) is vital to create value in organizations. Understanding and interpretation of UX require lot more than just knowledge about the product needs, environment, and potential functionalities. Analysis, synthesis, and evaluation are critical steps in the interpretation of needs considering UX.

Organizations should make efforts to develop higher-order thinking capabilities by sharing stories of UX and inviting staff members to interpret good and bad experiences, sending staff to short courses on UX, and doing seminars on UX that provide understanding about how to analyze and interpret UX. Such efforts can help strengthen cognitive capabilities as per the ‘hierarchy of thought’ approach.

  1. Convert obstacles into opportunities

Having the capabilities to convert obstacles into opportunities can be a potent force to create value for the client. The competitive business and working environment require non-linear thinking and being able to see different perspectives. As such, it is vital to develop capabilities among staff that enable them to find solutions to problems, suggest ways and means convert obstacles into opportunities.

Obviously, it is easier said than done. But it is a worthwhile trait that should be developed. Taking the ‘hierarchy of thought’ approach could be very useful to inculcate application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation behaviors. One possible way to build some capabilities is to use business games to help staff learn problem-solving and convert obstacles into opportunities.

Concluding thoughts:

Human cognitive capabilities are catalysts for growth and prosperity.  Building such capabilities is thus of paramount importance. One of the mechanisms to build these capabilities is to use conceptualization enshrined in Bloom’s (1956)’s taxonomy of educational objectives or ‘hierarchy of thought.’ The concept provides a very simple but robust means of building cognitive capabilities among people. From the lowest level i.e. ‘knowledge’ to the highest level i.e. ‘evaluation’ in the six-level hierarchy, the approach encapsulates a process of how a human being could develop thought to create value.

Bloom, B.S. (1956). Taxonomy of educational objectives. Vol. 1: Cognitive domain. New York: David Mckay Company, Inc.


Jiwat Ram
Jiwat Ram
Jiwat is currently working as a Professor in Project management at Excelia Business School France. He did his Ph.D. from the University of South Australia and MBA in International Business from AIT Thailand. Jiwat has over 20 years experience of working in industry across banking, construction, service, and education sectors in an international setting. For the last more than 10 years, Jiwat has worked in academia teaching at Executive Education, Master’s, and bachelor’s levels. His teaching includes courses on Artificial Intelligence, project management, management, and research methodology. Jiwat has published his research work in top-tier, high-impact factor journals including the International Journal of Production Economics, the International Journal of Project Management, Computers in Human Behaviour, the Journal of Global Information Management, and Enterprise Information Systems, among others. Combining academic and non-academic work, he has published over 100 articles in journals, conferences and industry outlets. His published work has been well received and four of his published papers have ranked in the Top 25 most downloaded papers from ScienceDirect. His two papers have been ranked in the Top 25 Most Cited articles as well. Jiwat’s research is focused on the impacts of technologies such as Social Media, Big Data, and Artificial Intelligence on businesses and society. Jiwat likes to understand how we can leverage upon the use of innovative technologies for business growth and productivity. Jiwat regularly contributes towards the development of new thought and ideas in business and technology management. As such, he has a growing portfolio of publications on some of the contemporary issues in the management of projects and organizations. Jiwat also publishes his work on social media platform Linkedin to connect and reach out to other industry professionals. His work has received a good following with a significant number of posts cited as reaching top 1% engagement on Linkedin. Jiwat’s content on LinkedIn can be accessed at: #ideannovation_jiwat Please feel free to connect with Jiwat on LinkedIn by clicking on the Icon above.

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