Integrative Thinking

Welcome to the Integrative Thinking page of the rethinked*annex project. This is where I (Elsa) will be keeping track of all things IT: books, links videos, articles, quotes, main ideas, people, etc. I’m constantly adding to this page so be sure to check back often for updated resources, especially December 2012-March 2013 when the Integrative Thinking cycle will be in full swing.


Cognitive Laziness Inhibits Creative Thinking~ Find out how integrative thinking can boost creativity. Michael Michalko on how one of the many ways in which we have become cognitively lazy is to accept our initial impression of the problem that it encounters. Once we settle on an initial perspective we don’t seek alternative ways of looking at the problem. Like our first impressions of people, our initial perspective on problems and situations are apt to be narrow and superficial. We see no more than we expect to see based on our past experiences in life, education and work. via The Creativity Post, published September 28, 2012

Choices, Conflict, and The Creative Spark: The Problem-Solving Power of Integrative Thinking by Roger Martin ~ via Rotman Magazine Winter 2008

Integrative Thinking: A Model Takes Shape by Roger Martin ~ Ongoing efforts to engage the Rotman community in the process of building a model for integrative thinking and learning have been buoyed by the first year of the Rotman Integrative Thinking Seminar Series, which has featured some of today’s leading integrative thinkers. Dean Roger Martin says these highly successful business people employ a distinctive pattern of thinking,which leads him to believe that a model can be developed to teach students to think in unique and powerful ways. Via Rotman Management Fall 2002.

The Art of Integrative Thinking by Roger Martin & Hilary Austen ~Modern leadership needs integrative thinking. Integrative thinkers embrace complexity, tolerate uncertainty, and manage tension in searching for creative solutions to problems. via Rotman Management Fall 1999

How Successful Leaders Think by Roger Martin ~ Harvard Business Review 2007 “We look for lessons in the actions of great leaders. We should instead by examining what goes on in their heads–particularly the way they creatively build on the tensions among conflicting ideas.”

Integrative Thinking: An Interview with Roger Martin~ What links great leaders, Roger Martin says, is “a predisposition to and capacity to hold in their heads two opposing ideas at once.” October 2009 via Forbes

Becoming an Integrative Thinker: The Keys to Success by Roger Martin. Integrative thinkers share some common traits related to their stance, tools and experiences, which is good news for those of us who aspire to attain their level of decision-making prowess.via Rotman Magazine Fall 2007

Roger Martin Explores Three Big Ideas: customer capitalism, integrative thinking and design thinking 2011 Interview via Strategy & Leadership

Your Start-Up Life: Design Your Thinking ~ 2012 interview with Tim Brown via Huff Post: Business. “I believe integrative thinking is foundational to design thinking. The ability to hold multiple ideas, perspectives, or tensions in the mind and consider them simultaneously is necessary for the process of design. […] The most skillful designers have an impressive ability to spot patterns, synthesize new ideas from fragmented parts, and to empathize with people different from themselves. Designers have developed techniques over the years that help supplement our natural integrative thinking skills. Drawing, mind mapping, and prototyping are all examples of tools that help us explore complex interdependencies and resolve them into creative solutions.”

Leadership and Integrative Thinking ~ An Interview with Roger Martin. via Ontario Ministry of Education’s In Conversation Newsletter. Spring 2009

A Smart Example of an Integrative Strategy by Roger Martin. via Harvard Business Review Blog. December 2010

The Integrative Strategic Move of ‘Doubling Down’ by Roger Martin via Harvard Business Review Blog. January 2011

Barack Obama’s Integrative Brain by Roger Martin. via Harvard Business Review Blog. January 2010

Integrative Thinking ~ SpencerStuart Directors’ Summary: Leadership

Integrative Thinking and 21st Century Skills by Dawn Hutton 2008 Examining the power of Integrative Thinking in Education. Fall 1999

How Business is Like A Game of Cricket ~ Management expert Roger Martin says that maximising shareholder profit should stop being the raison d’être for businesses. August 2011 via Forbes India

Stuck in a Rut? Meditation Can Help Get You Out ~ mindfulness makes us less automatic, less blinded by our habits and past experiences, and enables us to better consider alternatives, to experience things in a fresh way, and with more of a ‘beginner’s mind,'” said researcher Jonathan Greenberg. via Big Think, published June 17, 2012.

We Got Merge: Noam Chomsky on the Cognitive Function that Made Language Evolve ~ Merge — a basic cognitive function that, in its simplest form, enables you to take two things and construct a thing that is the set of the two things.via Brainpickings, published June 29, 2012.

How Humans Predict the Behavior of People with Different Values ~  Researchers at the RIKEN Brain Science Institute in Japan have uncovered the brain processes by which humans learn to understand the values of others and use this information to predict their decision-making behavior. via Big Think, published June 24, 2012


How to Solve Wicked Problems Using Integrative Thinking ~ Roger Martin 2010

Interview with Roger Martin-Author of “The Design Of Business” 2010 interview by Branden Kelly

The Power of Changing the Way You Think ~ Are you in a rut? Instead of changing what you do, try changing how you think about it, says Roger Martin, a strategic advisor to global businesses and Dean of the Rotman School of Management. via BigThink 2011



List of Integrative Thinking resources from Rotman’s Desautels Center for Integrative Thinking

List of articles by and about Roger Martin and his work




MAIN IDEAS: …coming soon…


Source: Martin, Roger. The Opposable Mind: Winning Through Integrative Thinking. Boston: Harvard Business Press, 2009. Print

The leaders I have studied share at least one similar trait, aside from their talent for innovation and long-term business success. They have the predisposition and the capacity to hold two diametrically opposing ideas in their heads. And then, without panicking or simply settling for one alternative or the other, they’re able to produce a synthesis that is superior to either opposing ideas. Integrative Thinking is my term for this process–that is the hallmark of exceptional businesses and the people who run them. 6

[…] we were born with an opposable mind we can use to hold two conflicting ideas in constructive tension. We can use that tension to think our way through to a new and superior idea. Were we able to hold only one thought or idea in our heads at a time, we wouldn’t have access to the insights that the opposable mind can produce. And just as we can develop and refine the skills with which we employ our opposable thumbs to perform tasks that once seemed impossible, I’m convinced we can also, with patient practice, develop the ability to use our opposable minds to unlock solutions to problems that seem to resist every effort to solve them. 7

In our daily lives we often face problems that appear to admit of two equally unsatisfactory solutions. Using our opposable minds to move past unappetizing alternatives, we can find solutions that once appeared beyond the reach of our imaginations. 7

Integrative thinking shows us a way past the binary limits of either-or. It shows us that there’s a way to integrate the advantages of one solution without canceling out the advantages of an alternative solution. Integrative thinking affords us, in the words of poet Wallace Stevens, “the choice not between, but of.” 9

[…] a working definition of Integrative Thinking: The ability to face constructively the tension of opposing ideas and instead of choosing one at the expense of the other, generate a creative resolution of the tension in the form of a new idea that contains elements of the opposing ideas but is superior to each. 15

My critical question is not what various leaders did, but how their cognitive processes produced their actions. 19

The pattern of reasoning, or perhaps better, the cognitive discipline, that I discovered is what I came to call integrative thinking. It has a series of identifiable steps. It has a consistent purpose. It can be understood clearly and put into practice. 22

Salience is individual and idiosyncratic: what I see as salient might be completely different from what you see as salient. And both of us have blind spots that make it likely, though not certain, that something important will be left off our list of salient concerns. “I wish I’d thought of that sooner” is just another way of saying, “I wish that had been salient to me when I was making up my mind.” 27

Having selected our salient features, however imperfectly, we next consider how they relate to one another: the word we give to the pattern formed by the relationships is causality. […] In essence, we build a little map in our heads as to how the salient features influence one another–that is, their causal relationship to each other. A causal map lays out the array of causal relationships at work in a given situation. 27

With the causal map of salient features in our mind, we turn to the architecture of the decision. In simple decisions, the architecture is minimal because the decision is binary: “Shall I go to the newly released blockbuster movie tonight, or stay in and watch television?” Our vacation decision, on the other hand, has multiple moving parts: travel, lodging, and activities, just for starters. […] There are various paths a decision might take; none is necessarily right or wrong. 27

Finally you choose: you come to a resolution as to whether you’ll roll though Tuscany, trek through Cambodia, or ply the waters of Hawaii. Or maybe none of your three options are satisfactory–the flight schedules were inconvenient, the lodging was substandard, the tours were all booked–and you begin the decision-making process again from the beginning.

Whatever we decide, we’ll arrive at our choice by considering a set of features we deem salient; creating a mental model of causal relationship into an architecture intended to produce a specific outcome; thereby reaching a resolution of the problem at hand. With different salience, causality, and architecture, we would almost certainly arrive at a different outcome. 29

And thinking differently started with going beyond conventional notions of what was salient. 32

The first difference between integrative thinkers and conventional thinkers is that integrative thinkers take a broader view of what is salient. 41

More salient features make for a messier problem. But integrative thinkers don’t mind the mess. In fact, they welcome it, because the mess assures them that they haven’t edited out features necessary to the contemplation of the problem as a whole. They welcome complexity because they know the best answers arise from complexity. 41

Integrative thinkers don’t flinch from considering multidirectional and nonlinear causal relationships. Simple, unidirectional relationships are easier to hold in the mind, but they don’t generate more satisfactory resolutions. 42

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 its individual parts. 43

As they do with salience and causality, integrative thinkers allow complexity to compound as they design their decisions. The complexity presents a cognitive challenge that integrative thinkers welcome, because they know that complexity brings along in its train an opportunity for a breakthrough resolution. 43

[…] the integrative thinker will always search for creative resolution of tensions, rather than accept unpleasant tradeoffs. The behaviors associated with such a search–delays, sending teams back to examine things more deeply, generating new options at the eleventh hour—can appear irresolute from the outside, but the results are choices that could only have been generated by an integrative thinker who won’t settle for tradeoffs and conventional options. 43

[…] departmental specialization conditions people to pay attention to only a subset of the many things to which they might otherwise productively pay attention. 45

Conventional thinking hides potential solutions in places they can’t be found and fosters the illusion that no creative resolution is possible. With integrative thinking, aspirations rise over time. Conventional thinking is a self-reinforcing lesson that life is about accepting unattractive and unpleasant tradeoffs. It erodes aspiration. Fundamentally, the conventional thinker prefers to accept the world as it is. The integrative thinker welcomes the challenge of shaping the world for the better. 48

One factory preset of the human mind is a tendency to assume that our models of reality are identical to reality itself. That conflation shuts down the latent power of our opposable mind before it can be engaged. 50

We swim in a veritable ocean of data every day. We don’t drown in it because we are born with a capacity to shape it into something meaningful. But that meaning comes at the expense of a great deal of information. We filter out much of what comes flying at us and knock the rest into some kind of narrative order that seems to make sense. There’s no guarantee that we won’t filter out valuable data in our drive to compile a coherent narrative. 50

Models are our customized understanding of reality. 50

Limitless data combined with the mind’s natural drive to add meaning produce a profusion of clashing models. 54

“We think that what we see,” says John Sterman, MIT’s expert in systems thinking, “is what there really is.” This tendency makes it difficult to know what to do with opposing and seemingly incommensurable models. Our first impulse is to determine which one represents reality and which one is unreal and wrong, and then we campaign against the idea we reject. But in rejecting one model as unreal, we miss out on all the value that can be realized by holding in mind two opposing models at the same time. We disengage the opposable mind before it can seek a creative resolution. 55

He treated the opposing models as hypotheses rather than the truth, which gave him the intellectual and emotional latitude to weigh the merits and drawbacks of both models without needing to defend one and declare the other false. 58

As comforting as simplification can be, however, it impairs every step of the integrative thinking process. It encourages us to edit out salient features rather than consider the question of salience broadly. Editing, in turn, leads to unsatisfactory resolutions of the dilemmas that business throws at us. 76

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 tradeoffs, also known as the best bad choice available. 77

Specialization is a variant of simplification. If the simplifying mind attempts to understand the whole picture by making it more shallow and superficial than it really is, the specialist attempts to preserve depth and thoroughness by masking out all but a few square inches of a vast canvas. Like simplification, specialization allows us to cope with what might be overwhelming complexity. 77

Functional specialization is especially inimical to integrative thinking because it undermines productive architecture–the keeping in mind of the whole while working on the individual parts. 79

Bruce Mau, a renowned designer and frequent collaborator with Frank Gehry, told me, “You can’t make a renaissance person anymore, because the range of what you would need to do is just impossible. But you could actually assemble a renaissance team.” The integrative thinkers rely on their renaissance teams to broaden salience, maintain sophisticated causality, and create a holistic architecture in their drive for creative resolution. 82

At the top of your personal knowledge food chain is your stance. It is your most broad-based knowledge domain in which you define who you are in your world and what you are trying to accomplish in it. Stance is how you see the world around you, but it’s also how you see yourself in that world. 93

Stance has both individual unique elements and shared cultural and community aspects. 96

Our stance is often something we take completely for granted. It is simply “who we are”, and we fail to see how our view of who we are governs our unquestioned assumptions about the “way things are”–which is to say, our assumptions about the model of reality that we mistake for reality itself. But even when we take our stance for granted, it guides us in making sense of the world around us and taking action of the basis of that sense-making. In fact, because we are so often unconscious of our stance and the assumptions about the world that flow from it, its guidance is all the more powerful and all the more difficult to resist or divert. 97

One step down in your personal knowledge system are the tools you use to organize your thinking and understand your world. Your stance guides what tools you choose to accumulate. 97

Tools range from formal theories to established processes to rules of thumb. 97

Theoriesprocesses, and rules of thumb are efficiency vehicles. Without a conceptual toolkit, you would have to tackle every problem from scratch, proceeding from first principles. Theories, processes, and rules of thumb make it possible to recognize and categorize problems, and apply tools to them that in the past proved effective in similar circumstances. 98

As with stance, some of your tools will be yours alone, while others will be community property, as it were. All the investment bankers at Goldman Sachs may share the same models and spreadsheets, and all the derivatives traders across the world may have learned from the same textbook. But through experience, most of them have developed rules of thumb for negotiating acquisitions or assessing risks that are uniquely their own. 99

You experiences form your most practical and tangible knowledge. The experiences you accumulate are the product of your stance and tools, which guide you toward some experiences and away from others. 99

Experience enables us to hone our sensitivities and skills.

Sensitivity is the capacity to make distinctions between conditions that are similar but not exactly the same. A chef can make fine distinctions between a piece of meat that is done and one that is not quite done. An art critic has the sensitivity to make distinctions between a bold, original talent like Caravaggio, and more timid, conventional craftspeople. An experiences stock analyst can read nearly identical financial statements from two different companies, pinpoint where they diverge, and use experience and rules of thumb to accurately predict which will outperform its peers. 100

Skills is the capacity to carry out an activity so as to consistently produce the desired result. A skilled chef can consistently cook steak to the desired state. A skilled art critic can help viewers see the difference between a masterpiece and a merely competent piece of art. A skilled stock analyst can consistently distinguish between stocks that will track the overall market, and those that will outperform it. 100

Skills and sensitivities tend to grow and deepen in concert. As you repeat a task, you are inclined to build what you learned from the previous repetition into the next iteration, until you develop a consistent technique. An improved technique sharpens your skill, making you faster and more accurate. And as you repeat a task, you learn to make finer and finer distinctions between levels of quality, so that an experienced chef can tell almost by instinct when a steak is bleu, and when it’s rare. 100

When we learn something new, we’re acutely aware of features that more experienced practitioners take for granted. Think of your self-consciousness when you learned a new sport or took your first driving lesson. This hyperawareness of yourself and the skills you’re learning does not last long. Over time, practice transforms conscious acts into automatic habits characteristic of mastery. Think of your anxiety at stoplights when you first learned to drive using a standard shift, and the unthinking ease with which you now put the car into first and drive off. The better we get, the faster we forget about what we are doing. Our awareness of what we are doing and how we are accomplishing it quickly becomes as intuitive and inaccessible as the knowledge we use to tie our shoes or ride a bike. 100

Personal knowledge develops a system because its three elements influence one another. Stance guides tool acquisition, which in turn, guides experience accumulation. 101

The circular relationship between stance and tools was famously noted by communications theorist and philosopher Marshal McLuhan, who in turn was paraphrasing an observation made by Sir Winston Churchill. McLuhan argued that, “We shape our tools, and afterwards our tools shape us.” I agree entirely, but I wouldn’t stop there. Our tools inform our experience, which lead us to new tools, which expand or deepen or otherwise alter our stance. To follow McLuhan’s thought all the way out to the end, then, we shape our tools, and through experience, practice, refine, and incorporate them into our stance. In due course, they shape us. 103

Operating at their best, the three elements of the personal knowledge system will reinforce each other to produce an ever-increasing capacity for integrative thinking. by the same token, thought, stance, tools, and experience can conspire to trap perfectly intelligent and capable people in a world where problems seem too hard to solve and mere survival is the only goal. 104

Integrative thinkers are a varied lot, as we’ve seen. but their stances have in common six key features. Three concern the world around: three concern their role in it. 111

First, they believe that whatever models exist at the present moment do not represent reality; they are simply the best or only construction yet made. 111

Second, they believe that conflicting models, styles, and approaches to problems are to be leveraged, not feared.112

Third, they believe that better models exist that are not yet seen. 112

Fourth, they 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. 112

Fifth, they are comfortable wading into complexity to ferret out a new and better model, confident that they will emerge on the other side with the resolution they seek. 112

And sixth, they give themselves the time to create a better model. 113

This is an inherently optimistic stance. Integrative thinkers understand that the world imposes constraints on them, but they share the belief that with hard thinking and patience, they can find a better outcome than the unsatisfying ones they’re presented with. 113

Integrative thinkers also share an uncanny composure in the face of complexity. They wait patiently for multifarious strands of a problem to become apparent and shape themselves into some kind of pattern. 114

[…] remember that stance is not, as it were, freestanding. It exists only in the context of tools and experiences, which require time to accumulate. So neither I nor anyone else can teach you the stance of an integrative thinker. Such a stance is a cumulative continuous process that begins with the individual temperament. […] Tools and experiences reinforce the stance entailed by temperament and they add depth and nuance. 115

Remember that each is only a start. They have to be reinforced with tools and experiences to become robust. As you come to understand that existing models do not represent reality, you’ll also begin to believe you are capable of finding a better model. As you learn to see that opposing models exist to be leveraged, you’ll grow more comfortable wading into the resulting complexity, confident that you’ll come out the other side with deeper understanding. And as your conviction grows that better models exist that are not yet seen, you’ll find yourself more willing to take the time you need to fashion a creative resolution. 116

The first step towards a consciously cultivated stance is to learn to distinguish between subjective constructions and objective reality. 117

There’s much to be gained from the recognition that no model has a lock on reality, but that all models reflect reality from a particular angle. It becomes possible to assemble a fuller, though probably not complete, model of reality by incorporating a variety of other models. Salient data that was once overlooked, causal patterns that formerly went unnoticed, architectural possibilities that once went unexplored, all being to emerge. 123

Opposing models, in fact, are the richest source of new insights into a problem. We learn nothing from someone who sees the problem exactly as we do. The agreement and reinforcement are gratifying, but that sense of gratification can be deceiving if we both have overlooked something crucial. 124

If anything but your model is wrong, every other model is a problem to be eliminated or ignored. If instead your model is one of many, all of them imperfect, then the existence of a clashing version is to be expected, not feared. 124

At the broadest level, there are two conceptual approaches for considering and evaluating theories of how the world works. I call them the “contented model defense” and “optimistic model seeking”. Contented model defense is by far the most prevalent model–it is the factory setting for most people, who are generally unconscious of its operation. When we engage in contented model defense, we adopt a theory and then seek to support and defend it. As we accumulate data in support of the theory we’ve adopted, we become more certain that our theory represents the truth and more content that we have achieved our ultimate goal, certainty. 125

The problem with single-mindedly seeking to justify and confirm the veracity of the existing model is that the contented model defender won’t treat discomforting data as valid, much less salient. When we go into defensive mode, we short-circuit any attempt to seek a more accurate model. 125

In many respects, Chamberlin offers the most effective counterargument to the contented model defense, with his admonitions against the “ruling theory” approach to scientific work. Contented model defenders want to have a ruling theory because when it’s confirmed, they can return to a resting state, all their certainties in place. The reigning Western model of education, with its emphasis on finding a single right answer, supports this tendency. 126

Within the contented model defense stance, an alternative or clashing model is a problem to be eliminated. Alternative models pose a threat to the veracity of the existing model and must be disbelieved, distorted, and disproved. 126

There is a more productive alternative to defending one existing model against all challenges: the stance of the optimistic model seeker. The optimistic model seeker doesn’t believe there is a right answer, just the best answer available now. American philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce (1839-1914) called this the fallibilist stance, because it presumes that all models are fallible. That doesn’t mean that the current models should be rejected. Until the best present model is eclipsed by a better model, the best present model should govern. But fallibilism assumes that the best current model will be eclipsed in due course, as will its successor models. 126

For optimistic model seekers, their resting state is not certainty. They are forever testing what they think they know against the best available data. Their goal is the refutation of their current belief because refutation represents not failure but an advance. Just as Peirce suggested, each new model, while an improvement, is still imperfect and replaceable in due course with a still-better model. In essence, the stance can be characterized as optimistic because it implies optimism that future models will be superior to the current model. 127

Optimistic model seeking reinforces and empowers the integrative thinking stance. Integrative thinkers look for and enjoy opposing models because they see the presence of an opposing model as evidence that a better model can and will emerge. Unlike contended model defenders, who are discomfited by multiple models, optimistic model seekers are discomfited by the presence of a single model. They see the value in the complexity of multiple models, and their preference is always to wait for a better model to emerge rather than to justify the existing model. 127

If you can define the problem differently than everybody else in the industry, you can generate alternatives that others aren’t thinking about. 128

Typically, we find that we maintain our beliefs by engaging in contented model defense. For example, we often resort to authority to justify our beliefs. “I know it is true because that is the way God meant it to be” is an example of that defensive strategy. Invoking divine authority neatly blocks any search for inconsistent or disconfirming data–such a search would be tantamount to blasphemy. 129

Logical circularity is another favorite strategy of contented model defenders. “I know that I treated him fairly in that transaction,” we tell ourselves, “because I am a fair person.” This formulation neatly places the burden of error on the person who feels unfairly treated. 129

[…] experience is the best teacher of these components of stance, because only through experience do we gain confidence that the statements are indeed true. And only through experience do we gain skills and confidence that we can find the better model, handle complexity, and be patient with ourselves. But we can help by teaching our students to reflect on how they think consciously and systematically. Thought reflection they learn to explore the thinking that goes into their decisions. They learn to analyze the models underlying their decisions to determine what was salient and what causal relationships were inferred. And by analyzing their decisions, students learn whether they were able to focus on the whole as they designed a solution, or whether, like most of us, they got lost along the way, emphasizing one detail at the expense of the whole. 129

To learn from our decisions and their consequences, we must be explicit in advance about the thought process preceding the decision. For better and for worse, the mind has an almost infinite capacity for rationalizing after the fact. If things don’t go the way we hoped they would, we are capable of totally forgetting the thoughts that led to our decision. Instead, we tell ourselves that the unanticipated outcome is, in fact, what we expected all along. 130

The only way to defeat that rationalizing mechanism is to record the thinking that leads to a decisions and the outcome we expect from that decision. At that point, it’s a fairly simple matter to compare the actual outcome against our expectations. The disparity–and there’s almost sure to be a disparity–offers us a valuable glimpse into our own thought process and our characteristic errors–errors which are, I suggest, the product of our stance. 130

When a group reverse engineers [traces the logical audit trail from salient data to causal connections to architecture of the model to its conclusion, but traced backwards, from conclusion back to salient data] the assumptions underlying a given model it is important that the group’s members focus on what would have to be true for the model to be valid, rather than what they think is true. By taking the time to consider what would have to be true for the model to be valid, they gain practice in not rushing to confirm or disconfirm the veracity of one model or the other. 131

The three most powerful tools at the disposal of integrative thinkers–generative reasoning, causal modeling and assertive inquiry.

The first of the three tools is generative reasoning, a form of reasoning that inquires into what might be rather than what is. Generative reasoning helps build a framework for creative resolutions that is sturdy enough to withstand the rigors of the real world. 144

Most of us were never taught generative reasoning. Western education emphasizes declarative reasoning, which, as the term suggests, is a cognitive tool for determining the truth or falsity of a given proposition. It operates through deductive and inductive logic, which dominate both education and discourse in the world of business. 144

Most of us learned to use ever more sophisticated techniques of deductive and inductive logic as we progressed through formal education, all in service of declarative reasoning–the ability to declare a proposition to be true or false. We received little or no instruction in an equally useful form of reasoning known as modal reasoning. It uses logic to inquire into what could possibly be true. Integrative thinkers reason about what might be–about models that don’t yet exist–to generate a creative resolution. 145

Modal reasoning makes use of deductive and inductive logic, but it also requires a third form of logic, dubbed abductive logic by Charles Sanders Peirce. He hit on the concept to help him explain the logic that went into what he called “inventive construction of theories.” To Peirce, neither deductive nor inductive logic satisfactorily explained how entirely new models came into being. Deductive logic needed a preexisting theory or model on which to base its reasoning. Inductive logic sought to draw inferences from repeated experiences or observations. But invention, Peirce saw, required a logic for making “leaps with your mind.” 146

In essence, abductive logic seeks the best explanation–that is, it attempts to create the best model–in response to novel or interesting data that doesn’t fit an extant model. Deductive or inductive logic might prove such a model true or untrue over time, but in the interim, abductive logic generates the best explanation of the data. That’s why I call the process of using abductive logic “generative reasoning.” This process inquires after what might be, and thus is modal in intent. It employs abductive logic to leap beyond the available data to generate a new model. 146

Generative reasoning facilitates the trial and error that is integral to creative resolution. As integrative thinkers put their resolution through multiple prototypes and iterations, they use generative reasoning–whose raw material, remember, is what does not yet exist–to work back down from resolution to architecture to causality to salience. 147

Sophisticated causal modeling is a crucial underpinning for causality and architecture, the middle two steps of the integrative thinking process. Recall that in the causality step, the thinker must consider nonlinear and multidirectional causal links between salient variables. In the architecture step, the thinker must keep the whole interlocking structure of causal relationships in mind while working on the individual parts of a solution. 150

To build sophisticated models, we need to consciously acquire tools. We don’t have to do that to build basic models. After all, we’re natural model builders, with a factory setting biased in favor of shaping the fabric of our experiences into mental models. “You never have the choice of ‘let’s model or not,’ ” says John Sterman, a professor at MIT Sloan School of Management and a leading thinker in system dynamic. “It’s only a question of which model. And most of the time, the models that you’re operating from are ones that you’re not even aware that you’re using.” Integrative thinkers differ from the rest of us in being more conscious about the tools they choose to use to model. 151

Two forms of causation are important to causal modeling. The first material causation, which says that under a certain set of conditions, x causes y to happen: if we price our product 10% below our competitors’ price (x), our market share (y) will rise. 151

The second form of causation we need to know about is teleological causation, which asks, what is the purpose of y, or why do we want y to happen? 151

For the causal modeler, material causation and teleological causation connect the way things are to their desired end-state. Material causation is how we know that if we press this button, we shut down the nuclear reactor. Teleological causation is the process by which we understand that if we want to shut down the reactor, we press the button. When the desire to shut down the reactor causes us to press the button, we’re enlisting the material to achieve the teleological. We aim to change the present state (a hot reactor) into a desire end-state (a cool one), and we do so by following a known chain of material causation. 151

System dynamics is a theory of mapping the activity of complex systems that Jay Forrester of MIT developed in the early 1960s.He brought the tool set from the engineering domain and applied it to the business world. System dynamics holds that the results of our decisions are so often disappointing because we overlook important causal relationships, or because we misread causal relationships, usually by assuming them to be linear and unidirectional when they are in fact nonlinear and multidirectional. 152

A primary focus of system dynamics is one sort of causal relationship: multidirectional feedback loops that accelerate relationships between variables. Here’s an example: hotel developers are often dismayed to discover that when they open a hotel in a market that supports high room rates, those rates often fall because the new hotel increases local capacity. The usual managerial response is to cut costs and prices, but that step often hurts the hotel’s premium image, and thus it’s occupancy and profitability. Another round of cost-and price-cutting ensues, doing further damage to occupancy and profitability. Repeat, while accelerating frequency, until bankruptcy. System dynamics experts call that an accelerating feedback loop. A person could not model the dynamic accurately or intelligently without an ability to imagine nonlinear, multidirectional causal relationships. 152

System dynamics tools help integrative thinkers consider complex causal loops in creating their models and help them build models in which the whole is viewed together rather than split into discrete components. In fact, in system dynamics, the whole must be held in mind to capture and understand all the relevant causal feedback loops. 153

Generative reasoning seeks to build new models that take into account data that doesn’t comport with the current models available. A tool for forming such models is what George Lakoff and Mark Johnson call “radial metaphors,” by which one devises a metaphor and builds a model around that metaphor. For example people commonly use a few different metaphors to describe a business organization. The metaphor might be that  of a sports team, in which the employees are the players, business competition is a game, business etiquette and business ethics are the rules of the game, and customers are the fans. 154

The radial metaphor tool helps integrative thinkers in two ways. First it helps thinkers conceive of the situation at hand in a way that’s conducive to creating a new model. […] The radial metaphor also helps with the cognitive heavy lifting of keeping a coherent whole in mind while honing the individual parts. That skill is critical to integrative thinking, and the radial metaphor can be an invaluable help. 154

At Rotman, we give students practice at all three levels of causal modeling. The simplest practice is to ask students to reverse engineer their own models. We ask them to pick a belief (better grades help get a better job) or practice (calling team meetings every Friday morning) and break down the causal reasoning that underlies the belief or practice. This helps them recognize how they’re already using causal modeling without realizing it, and shows how the modeling might improve by being more explicit about it. We then graduate to interviewing another person to understand the causal modeling that underlies a particular belief or practice. This exercise entails speculating on the logic another personal follows to arrive at a particular conclusion, and many students find it challenging. 155

The most important takeaway from these interview sessions is that it’s extremely difficult to build a causal model that adequately takes account of human beings and their wishes and dreams. It taxes students’ abilities to take a wide view of what’s salient, to perceive complex causal relationships, and to hold the whole in mind while drilling down on a particular part. The faculty’s goals in these exercises are threefold. First, we want students to see themselves as thinkers capable of conscious causal modeling. We want them to understand that their modeling gains power and effectiveness when they’re conscious and explicit about it. And we want them to practice using techniques such as system dynamics and radial metaphors to build sophisticated causal models. 156

The third important tool for the integrative thinker is assertive inquiry. Integrative thinkers use it to explore opposing models, and in particular, models that oppose their own. When we interact with other people on the basis of a particular mental model, we usually try to defend that model against any challenges. Our energy goes into explaining our model to others and defending it from criticism. Parrying critiques of our model gives us a deeper understanding of it, but it teaches us nothing about the models other people hold in their heads. In fact, the defensive stance helps ensure that we never learn anything about models that might oppose our own. And that keeps us from finding clues that might lead to a creative resolution should our mental model come into conflict with someone else’s mental model. 156

The antidote to advocacy is inquiry, which produces meaningful dialogue. When you use assertive inquiry to investigative someone else’s mental model, you find saliencies that wouldn’t have occurred to you and causal relationships you didn’t perceive. You may not want to adopt the mental model as your own, but even the least compelling model can provide clues to saliencies or causal relationships that will generate a creative resolution. 157

Assertive inquiry’s intent isn’t argumentative, and its method isn’t to ask leading questions (“don’t you think that…?) or discourage challenge (“wouldn’t you agree that…?). Assertive inquiry involves a sincere search for another’s views (“could you please help me understand how you came to believe that?) and tries to fill in gaps of understanding (could you clarify that point for me with an illustration or example?). It seeks common ground between conflicting models (“how does what you are saying overlap, if at all, with what I suggested?” 157

Assertive inquiry isn’t a form of challenge, but it is pointed. It explicitly seeks to explore the underpinnings of your own model and that of another person. Its aim is to learn about the salient data and causal maps baked into another person’s model, then use the insight gained to fashion a creative resolution of the conflict between that person’s model and your own. 157

We try to teach students how to engage in productive dialogue in the face of clashing models, and the vehicle we use for teaching it is the “personal  case.” I have adopted the technique from the methods and theories of Chris Argyris, a professor emeritus at Harvard Business School and a leading theorist of organizational learning. We ask each class participants to recall an encounter with another person that involved a clash of views or positions. This encounter, moreover, had to end badly, in egocentric terms. That is, the outcome had to be less favorable than the one the student sought at the outset of the interaction. If it is only a failure in the minds of others, the student can distance himself or herself from the failure (i.e., I succeeded but they thought it was a failure), and in doing so, lessen the learning. We ask participants to explain in a paragraph or two the purpose of the failed encounter, and then in another paragraph or tow explain what they hoped the interaction would accomplish and how. Then we ask them to record, as best they can recall, the actual conversation during the interaction, and present it as dialogue in a play. We ask that they display the dialogue on the right half of the page. On the left half, we ask them to provide a sort of running commentary on the dialogue, made up of what they thought and felt but did not say. Finally, we ask them to write a paragraph or two of reflection on the outcome of the interaction. […] At the end of the exercise, we want participants to better understanding how they built from directly observable data to higher-order conclusions, and how that sequence might have ended in a productive resolution instead of unproductive conflict. 158

A creative resolution requires one or the other party in the dialogue to recognize additional salient data and perceive more or different causal relationships. Repeated and intensifying advocacy does not broaden salience, make causality more sophisticated, or facilitate holistic architecture. It crowds out the conditions necessary for creative resolution. 166

[…] stance and tools influence experiences. Experiences, in turn, influence tools and stance. Experiences can deepen mastery and nurture originality, and those that combine to deepen mastery and nurture originality are the most powerful in enhancing integrative thinking capacity.179

We have an inclination to accumulate experiences that reinforce the stance and tools we start with. That’s because stance guides the acquisition of tools, and tools guide the sorts of experiences we have. So people who believe that existing models are identical to reality and fear opposing models aren’t likely to believe that better models exists. Having a low tolerance for multiple models, they’ll be impatient to choose an available model, whatever its shortcomings. They will use only inductive and deductive reasoning, will build highly simplified models, and will advocate their own point of view rather than dispassionately consider multiple points of view. The experiences they gather will tend to reinforce their initial stance and suggest to them that they have all the tools that they need. 179

In stark contrast, people like Lafley believe existing models are just the best anyone has come up with to date and relish opposing models. Not only do they think a better model is waiting to be found, they think they will find it, by wading into complexity and staying patient. They will use generative reasoning, causal modeling, and assertive inquiry. The experience they gain building new models will reinforce their initial stance, and the sill and sensitivity with which they deploy integrative thinking tools will increase. 179

Mastery requires repeated experiences in a particular domain. Because masters in their domain have seen particular phenomena before and know what they mean, they don’t have to interpret every sensation or input from scratch as a novice would. In the essentially infinite morass of data, they can pull out the few salient data points that make a difference and mentally map their causal relationships. And because they have done it many times before, they know from experience how to structure the problem in order to create a resolution. 181

From their vast databanks of experience, masters develop pattern-recognition skills that open up shortcuts to solutions. 182

Mastery isn’t gained by accident. It comes only through planned and structured repetitions of a consistent type of experience. That is why I argue that experiences don’t necessarily deepen mastery. 182

Some contexts don’t reward the repetition, structuring, and planning that are the hallmarks of master. Those nonstandard contexts require the creation of a new approach or solution–that is, originality. Originality demands a willingness to experiment  spontaneity in response to a novel situation, and openness to trying something different than perhaps first planned or intended. Rooted as it is in experiment, originality openly courts failure. It’s important to become comfortable with the process of trial and error and iterative prototyping, or you’ll be tempted to focus on the less risky mode of mastery, to the exclusion of originality. 183

Mastery and originality need each other to grow. 184

Using experiences to drive a combination of mastery and originality is characteristic of integrative thinkers. 184

As Lafley, Znaimer, and Mabin illustrate, the great ones utilize their experiences to build and deepen their mastery while maintaining and expressing their originality. Average leaders do one or the other. 185

Mastery without originality becomes rote. The master who never tries to think in novel ways keeps seeing the same points of salience, the same causal relationships, and the same problem architecture. Such mastery will produce the same kind of resolution every time, even if the context demands something different. Mastery without originality becomes a cul-de-sac. 186

By the same token, originality without mastery is flaky if not entirely random. Mastery is required to distinguish between salient and unrelated features, to understand what causal relationships are in play, and how to analyze a complex problem. Without such mastery, the creative resolution is likely to be a random guess. It might succeed once, but there’s little chance of repeated and consistent success. 186

At its core, integrative thinking requires the integration of mastery and originality. Without mastery there won’t be a useful salience, causality, or architecture. Without originality, there will be no creative resolution. Without creative resolution, there will be no enhancement of mastery, and when mastery stagnates, so does originality. Mastery is an enabling condition for originality, which in turn, is a generative condition for mastery. The modes are interdependent. 187

It’s hard to overemphasize how much stance, tools, and experience reinforce each other. Each time you use generative reasoning, causal modeling, and assertive inquiry to construct a creative resolution, you deepen your understanding of the tools used to produce the constructive outcome and reinforce the belief that you are capable of forging creative resolutions. You also improve the odds that your next attempt to fashion a creative resolution will succeed, because you bring a greater level of skill to the task at hand. Success, in turn, will reinforce you optimistic stance and your confidence in your skills. Integrative thinkers continually gain experiences that deepen their mastery and make them more confident they can handle complexity as they approach a creative resolution. 187

To ensure that students and executives at Rotman’s integrative thinking courses maximize the learning benefit of their experiences, we teach them to audit and record the logic of their own decisions, and compare the results to the outcomes they predicted. If the results are consistent with their predictions, the validity of their tools and stance is reinforced, building confidence for the next decision cycle. If the results are inconsistent, class participants can ask themselves: what changes in the tools used ore the guiding stance could have produce a better outcome? With a relatively small amount of practice, participants can become proficient in reverse engineering their decisions and auditing the results. 189

With respect to patience, to be a truly inspired integrative thinker, you need a wealth of experiences to hone your sensitivities and skills. For most, those sensitivities and skills will take years in not decades to build–“time takes time”, as they say in twelve-step groups. By adopting the six attributes of the stance, you can give time a hand, as it were, by creating a structure that will help you develop the tools you will need and direct you toward experiences that build sensitivities and skills. 191

Reflection, which defeats the tendency to take the obvious for granted, is what gives experience value. When you refuse to take your thinking for granted, you give yourself the best opportunity to enhance and utilize your opposable mind to its fullest. 191

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