Level Nine Thinking

I found this insight while reading through the comments of Matthieu Ricard’s TED talk on how to let altruism be your guide. Kunal Bavishi shared the characteristics of level 9 thinkers, taken from the work of Eliott Jacques.

Level 1 Time Horizon: 3 months

This encompasses jobs such as sales assistants or line workers handling routine tasks.

Level 2 – 4 Time Horizon: 1 to 5 years

This encompasses various managerial positions.

Level 5 Time Horizon: 5 to 10 years

This is the domain of small company CEOs and large company executive vice presidents.

Level 6 – 7 Time Horizon: 20 to 50 years

This is the realm of statements and legendary business leaders, comfortable with thinking in time horizons of 20 years (level 6), 50 years (level 7) or beyond.

Level 8 Time Horizon: 100 years

This is the realm of 100 year thinkers like Henry Ford.

Level 9 Time Horizon: Greater than 100 years

These are individuals capable of setting grand tasks into motion that continue centuries into the future. Think Einstein, Gandhi and Galileo.

Maybe the problems we face with climate change are because our political system only elects level 2 thinkers when we need level 5 thinkers or greater. What politician will think longer than 5 years if his term ends in 5 years? Kunal ends his comment by suggesting that Matthieu Ricard, with his deep understanding of altruism, is one of the level 9 thinkers alive today.

What level thinker are you?

How differently would you lead your life if you thought in a longer time horizon? Imagine you think in the time horizon of 80 years. At this level, it’s almost impossible to be selfish. You don’t live forever. So the longer your time horizon, the more people you have to include in your thinking. You might think about your kids, and the world you’d want to leave to them. You might think about your work and what impact it has after you die.

For Matthieu Ricard however, his thinking goes beyond that. He’s thinking is not just about his friends or family. He thinks about the whole of humanity. Ricard inspires me. He holds a deep wisdom about the universe and it would serve humanity if we had more level nine thinkers like him.

What would your life be like if you thought in a time horizon of 100 years? 500 years? 1000 years? How would your sense of self change as you expand your time horizon? What would it matter if that guy in the blue jacket just bumped you while walking past? How would your gratitude and appreciation for life change at this level of thinking?

Three Stages of Evolution

1) Dependency

You’ve just been born. You are wholly dependent on your mother and will continue to be for years to come.

2) Independence

Now you’re a teenager. You begin rebelling and craving for independence. You leave home. You begin earning money. You buy into this notion that you are an independent human being.

3) Interdependency

Through deliberate thinking, or perhaps a spiritual revelation you see the illusion of independence. You see that while you are earning money, this independence is still an illusion. You are not separate from nature. The food you eat still grows from the ground, no matter how high up you are in a skyscraper.

Humanity is still evolving.

I’d like to think we are beginning to see the illusion of independence. I’d like to think we are moving towards interdependency. As humanity evolves to include a longer time horizon, and a sense of self that extends to all of humanity, the entire planet and to the universe we reside in – what world will we create?


At such big picture thinking it can be difficult to see what relevance our day-to-day actions have. But Gandhi said it already – be the change. If we want humanity to evolve collectively, we must evolve individually. And this starts with small things. The next time you’re on a train, see if you can feel every human being who is also on the train.  Notice their presence. You can do it with eyes closed or open.  Breathe and notice everyone else breathing with you. See if you can feel the collective heartbeat of everyone on the train. Extend kindness, compassion and love towards everyone. And enjoy the train ride.

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