I've been a bit remiss lately in my regular blogging due to the fact that I was asked to review a couple of new management books. One that I've just finished is called The Opposable Mind, and it has really left me thinking. And since the title of the blog is Thinking Faster, I'm now thinking at light speed.
The author, Roger Martin, is dean of the Rotman School of Management and obviously a deep thinker. His premise is that managers far too often are willing to settle for either-or propositions. That is, I have have a product cheap or reliable, but not both. We've been taught to expect these distinct either/or tradeoffs and the less than satisfactory outcomes they provide. He argues that the best managers and leaders are the ones who can hold these two disparate options in mind and seek a new model or perspective that transcends the either/or perspective and finds a new solution that provides the best of both seemingly mutually exclusive options.
Martin first proposes a model for how we arrive at decisions, consisting of "Salience", "Causality", "Architecture" and "Resolution". As you might have guessed, he almost lost me at Salience. He then examines several case studies of decisions by senior executives that appeared to require either/or type decisions and the interesting alternative solutions they created. He notes that these decision makers didn't retreat into simplification or specialization, two options we've all grown fond of when confronted with complexity. Instead, he demonstrates how these decision makers used their "stance, tools and experience" to find new options. Stance is defined as how you see the world around you - basically your perspective. Tools range from formal theories and established processes to rules of thumb. Experience is where "stance and tools meet the world".
An integrative thinker is said to have six key features. First, they believe that models (the either/or tradeoff) do not represent every possible outcome. Second, conflicting models or approaches to problems are to be leveraged, not feared. Third, they believe that better models exist, they just haven't been exposed. Fourth, integrative thinkers believe they can find and expose those new models. Fifth, they are confident that they can find a new model. Sixth, they give themselves time to create or find the new model.
In a later section, Martin elaborates on another approach. Many integrative thinkers build backward from outcomes, to the actions that produced the outcomes to the thinking that occurred. Martin calls this TAO (thinking, actions, outcomes).
Using these concepts and models, the integrative thinker has the ability, self-confidence and patience to build a new reality rather than accept a less than satisfactory tradeoff, either/or proposition. Martin does a great job identifying how some great leaders have demonstrated integrative thinking, and helps us understand the underlying tools and assumptions that can help us become more integrative thinkers. This is a book that is filled with a lot of information about how we think and arrive at decisions, so it necessarily includes a lot of what may sound like consultant speak ("modal reasoning" for example), but it backs up its assertions with models that you can apply. Our management teams need the ability to get beyond the either/or proposition and discover new options or models, yet we rarely teach people to think this way or to expect that they can create new options or models.
If you are interested in expanding the way you think, to create new options or opportunities or if you are simply tired of facing the same either/or tradeoffs in business, give this book your full attention. It will require your full attention, but you'll be glad you did it.