Integrative Thinking

Informed by “The Opposable Mind” by Roger Martin

Imagine a situation where you have to choose between two alternatives. Say it’s growing an organization vs. maintaining a small feel. What if we could simply take the best of each scenario? That is integrative thinking.

Roger Martin lays out the case for this way of thinking and details several business leaders who practice it. His metaphor to human’s opposable thumbs is the most telling. I’ve rephrased it here:

Just like humans are born with opposable thumbs that are crucial to performing numerous tasks, humans have opposable minds. They can maintain tension between two opposing ideas, and come up with an even better solution than had they just picked one.

Integrative thinking is “yes and” thinking. It’s not about either or, it’s about both.

In our example from before, we have a tradeoff: small and personal or large and impersonal. Integrative thinking tells us that there is a solution that could allow us to grow, while still maintaining the personal nature of the organization. Think of examples where this is true. Zappos is a big company, but they still operate in a way that preserves a small business feel because they have incredible customer service.

It makes sense that there are solutions that don’t force us to simply pick the lesser of two evils. The challenge is holding these complex ideas in our hands and being comfortable not choosing one. As humans, we want to simplify. We want to say that A is correct or B is correct. To say that “A and B are both kind of correct in their own way,” is complicated. But this balance leads to superior solutions.

Where are you making tradeoffs in your life? How can you take the best of both alternatives to craft a creative solution?

Comment your favorite examples below!

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