So far I’ve read the first half of Roger Martin’s The Opposable Mind: How Successful Leaders Win Through Integrative Thinking (Chapters One through Four) which focus on examples of CEOs succeeding through integrative thinking (defined as the ability to hold two opposing ideas in your mind at once, and then reaching a synthesis with elements of both while improving on both). Some of the people featured were quite varied:
- Michael Lee-Chin, AIC Limited
- Isadore “Issy” Sharp, Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts
- A G Lafley, Procter & Gamble
- Bob Young, Red Hat (and now Lulu.com)
- Tim Brown, IDEO
- Piers Handling, Toronto International Film Festival
- Marta Graham, Denishawn School dance company
- Moses Znaimer, CityTV
In Chapter Two, No Stomach for Second-Best, Martin discusses the process of thinking and deciding and isolates four key parts to this process: salience, causality, architecture and resolution. He further defines the differences between integrative and conventional thinkers:
- Integrative thinkers take a broader view of what is salient.
- Integrative thinkers don’t flinch from considering multidirectional and non-linear causal relationships.
- Integrative thinkers don’t break a problem into independent pieces and work on each piece separately. They keep the entire problem firmly in mind while working on individual parts.
- Integrative thinkers search for creative resolution of tensions, rather than accept unpleasant trade-offs.
Chapter Three, Reality, Resistance, and Resolution, focuses on the concept that how each of us filters the world around us (which we do to protect our brain from being overloaded) determines how we see the world; that none of us experiences reality as it is but simply a model of reality.
Chapter Four, Dancing Through Complexity, condemns simplifications and specialization in clear terms:
Truly creative resolutions . . . spring from complexity.
Simplification makes us favor linear, unidirectional causal relationships, even if reality is more complex and multidirectional.
Simplification also encourages us to construct a limited model of the problem before us, whatever it might be. The alternatives we perceive are meager and unattractive, closing any remaining avenue to an integrative resolution. The simplifying mind has no choice but to settle for trade-offs, also known as the best bad choice available.
Specialization is a variant of simplification. . . the specialist attempts to preserve depth and thoroughness by masking out all but a few square inches of a vast canvas.
Hmm, seems a little harsh to me but Martin does show some convincing examples of integrative thinking at work.