The Opposable Mind by Roger Martin: Chapters 5 – 8

As promised, here are my thoughts on Chapters Five through Eight of Roger Martin’s The Opposable Mind: How Successful Leaders Win Through Integrative Thinking (click here to read all my posts on this book).

In the second half of this book, Martin mentions some of the same people from the beginning of the book and continues to write about people from a wide range of disciplines:

  • Victoria Hale of the Insitute for OneWorld Health
  • K V Kamath, ICICI Bank
  • Meg Whitman, eBay
  • Nandan Nilekani, Infosys Technologies Limited
  • Ramalina Raju, Satyam Computer Services
  • Bruce Mau, Bruce Mau Design
  • Taddy Belcher, CIDA City Campus
  • Gerry Mabin, The Mabin School

Chapter Five, Mapping the Mind, is when Martin begins to teach readers how to hone their integrative thinking skills. Martin puts forth a model of “your personal knowledge system” (which is “highly path-dependent”) broken down into three parts:

  • Stance: Who You Are and What You’re After – further discussed in Chapter Six
  • Tools: Knocking the World into Shape – further discussed in Chapter Seven
  • Experiences: Where Stance and Tools Meet the World – further discussed in Chapter Eight

The example stances that Martin discusses are all varied and interesting in their own right.

Within experiences, Martin defines skills and sensitivities that are built through experience as follows:

  • Sensitivities: capacity to make distinctions between conditions that are similar but not the same
  • Skills: capacity to carry out an activity so as to consistently produce the destined result

Chapter Six, The Construction Project, is all about the integrative thinker’s stance and the six key features they have in common:

  1. Integrative thinkers believe that whatever models exist at the present moment do not represent reality; they are simply the best or only constructions yet made.
  2. Integrative thinkers believe that conflicting models, styles, and approaches to problems are to be leveraged, not feared.
  3. Integrative thinkers believe that better models exist that are not yet seen.
  4. Integrative thinkers believe that not only does a better model exist, but that they are capable of bringing that better model from abstract hypothesis to concrete reality.
  5. Integrative thinkers are comfortable wading into complexity to ferret out a new and better model, confident they will emerge on the other side with the resolution they seek.
  6. Integrative thinkers give themselves the time to create a better model.

In my opinion, these six key features could really be condensed into fewer points but it’s still useful as it is.

Martin goes on to describe three stances about the world (first three) and three about the self (last three) that he believes are the foundation of a personal knowledge system that will lead to integrative thinking:

  1. Existing models do not represent reality, they are our constructions.
  2. Opposing models are to be leveraged, not forced.
  3. Existing models are not perfect; better models exist that are not yet seen.
  4. I am capable of finding a better model.
  5. I can wade into and get through the necessary complexity.
  6. I give myself the time to create a better model.

Strangely, Martin uses the movie Crash to illustrate a need for integrative thinking. But what I found most interesting from this chapter was that Bruce Mau, one of Martin’s integrative thinkers, meditates when faced with complex problems — it’s not everyday that a business book advocates meditation!

Chapter Seven, A Leap of the Mind, breaks down the tools required for integrative thinking as generative or modal reasoning (as opposed to declarative reasoning), causal modeling, and assertive inquiry. The aspects of “multidirectional feedback loops” are also discussed. And Martin’s use of Taddy Belcher’s successful creation of CIDA City Campus as a model of integrative thinking is both educational and inspirational.

Finally Chapter Eight, A Wealth of Experience, concludes the book by detailing A G Lafley’s experiences starting from the Navy Exchange to Harvard Business School and finally to Procter and Gamble. The key experiences an integrative thinker strives for are ones that deepen mastery and nurture originality.

You know, having written my thoughts on each of these chapters, I feel like I’ve learned more from this book than I initially realized. I love when that happens!

Click here to view an excerpt of this book.

If you’d like to learn more, click here to listen to a podcast by Roger Martin about this book, courtesy of or click here to view the whole January 2008 Special Report on the book.



One response to “The Opposable Mind by Roger Martin: Chapters 5 – 8

  1. Hi, I’m doing research on this author, the book and the concepts espoused. I must say that your post – and this blog too, of course – are excellent! I’m subscribing to your posts from now onwards. Keep it up!

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