THE ART OF GETTING HORIZONTAL
TM Lutas had a comment on Dr. Barnett's reaction to Bush's SOTU
. Thomas PM Barnett had written earlier today:
"Again, you got the feeling the White House wanted to avoid anything expansive on foreign policy after the way in which the inaugural speech was interpreted. But to me, that's not letting Bush be Bush, and if he's gonna be president another four years, shouldn't he be?"
Shades of " Let Reagan be Reagan ". TM responded with the following psychological observation:
"I'm getting the message that Dr. Barnett is a fellow who simply thrives on the horizontal and doesn't much care for the vertical. Unfortunate, that, because I'd estimate that 90% of the actual work of changing the world is in verticalization of the kinds of horizontal concepts that he does so well in PNM and elsewhere. "
My response to TM is " probably yes, but...". I don't know Tom except through email exchanges and what he has written for public consumption but to get the doctoral degree requires vertical mastery of a field or subfield. That being said I think at a certain level of expertise, one's enjoyment of rooting out ever finer gradations of knowlege that fewer and fewer people can appreciate starts to diminish. Eventually, if you are really on your game, your intellectual exchanges are less dialogues than monologues not because you are a blowhard but because finding someone who can " keep up " is difficult.
At that point, Horizontal thinking becomes richly rewarding in terms of intellectual stimulation. You provoke exchanges with people of comparable expertise in different fields whose answers jolt you in to new patterns of thinking or bring fresh perspectives to bear. In the comments section in an earlier post I responded to Stuart's comment on the relationship between Horizontal and Vertical thinking as follows:
Tom's Horizontally conceived work naturally lends itself to Vertical expansion. Edward DeBono described Lateral thinking across domains/perspectives as complementary rather than adversarial toward the Vertical thinking we are familiar from experts in a field, subfield or niche. So when Tom in PNM does this:
....Concept A....Concept B.....Concept C....Concept D...
It's relatively easy for me to come along and do this:
<...Concept A....Concept B.....Concept C....Concept D.......>
Vertical thinking comes naturally to most of us. Horizontal/Lateral thinking usually does not unless we tend to be one of those individuals regarded as " creative" but it is a skill that can be taught and learned by most of us to varying degrees. It is in part, a cultural shift in our thinking patterns.
There is a natural limit or caveat to recall when dealing with Horizontal thinking however. One of the tools used fairly liberally is the construction of analogies. Case in point, Dr. Barnett's borrowing of the concept of System Perturbation from complexity and chaos theorists. It is not used in PNM * exactly* the way the originators of the term would use it in their field but since the global economy of nation-states is a complex system of subsystems, it's a theory with real-world traction.
When you wander further and further from the sure ground of your own expertise, the greater the risk of your analogy becoming a false model. Collounsbury
has been driven to distraction at times by the application of the lessons of the Soviet collapse/Cold War to the Arab-Islamic World. Sometimes there is transfer, particularly with Arab states that consciously aped the East bloc in structure, policy and institutions but often times not. I've been guilty of the false analogy here ( my area of concentration in history was US-Soviet relations) occasionally in my analysis and I have not minded a bit when Col or Juan Cole
corrected me. Calling me on my sloppy reasoning only makes me sharper.
Horizontal thinking is energized and made purposeful by the cross-disciplinary debate it is intended to evoke. It shakes the vertical experts out of their narrowly framed box and keeps the horizontal visionaries tethered to earth.