Defining Integrative Thinking


Part 3 of 4 - The Top Emerging Competencies for 2021

In Part 1 of our series, we started a discussion on the potential top competencies needed in the new year as integrative-thinkingbusinesses and business leaders continue to adapt to the new realities of the post-pandemic world. Part 2 took a further look at one of the most critical competencies of Developing a Strategic Mindset. Today, in Part 3, we introduce a discussion on Defining Integrative Thinking.

Part 3 - Defining Integrative Thinking

Traditional leadership development best practices suggest that if you want to be like the great successful business leaders of our time, all you must do to emulate them is read their biographies, learn about what they did and the decisions they made, and then duplicate and replicate them. You want to create the next “Apple,” read the Steve Jobs biography and be like Steve. You want to be the next Jack Welch and create a General Electric, go the Jack Welch school.

Author Roger Marin says that is a big mistake! The concept of Integrative Thinking was introduced in his book called “The Opposable Mind: How Successful Leaders Win Through Integrative Thinking.” Martin defines the concept of Integrative Thinking as “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.”

Instead of focusing on what exceptional leaders do, we need to understand and emulate how they think. Successful businesspeople engage in what Martin calls integrative thinking creatively resolving the tension in opposing models by forming entirely new and superior ones. Drawing on stories of leaders as diverse as AG Lafley of Procter & Gamble, Meg Whitman of eBay, Victoria Hale of the Institute for One World Health, and Nandan Nilekani of Infosys, Martin shows how integrative thinkers are relentlessly diagnosing and synthesizing by asking probing questions including: What are the causal relationships at work here? and what are the implied trade-offs?

Martin also presents a model for strengthening your integrative thinking skills by drawing on different kinds of knowledge including conceptual and experiential knowledge.

Integrative Thinking can be learned, and The Opposable Mind helps you master these vital skills.

Great leaders who apply integrative thinking go through a decision-making process when examining a problem, whether it is small or large.

Martin presents 4 steps to the process:

Step 1: Determining Salience - This simply means which of all the factors does the decision-maker consider as necessary and vital. Nothing is thrown out as Integrative Thinkers love having chaos and many ideas to examine. The messier the better. As Martin claims, “they welcome complexity because that’s where the best answers come from.”

Step 2: Analyzing Causality - In this step, you attempt to analyze how many factors relate to one another. In our Advantexe business simulations, we call this the “what-if analysis.” Linear thinking often is conventional, but an integrated thinker isn’t afraid to question the validity of something that seems logical in the chain. These questions force different thinking, which forces different answers.

Step 3: Envisioning Decision Structure. This allows the person deciding to think ahead, to be proactive, and understand the pitfalls that could occur once the decision is finalized. This “what-if analysis” often results in redesigning your steps to find a better solution. 

Step 4: Achieving Resolution. An integrative thinker is always reworking the decision for the best outcome, not the timeliest one. They never ask, “what else could we do.” Instead, they think more holistically, even if it means creating delays. Being right is more important than being on time.

In summary, Integrative Thinkers can challenge the status quo and look at problems in a different way to find unique and powerful solutions. Having these skills can lead to better decision, making, more innovation, and better business results.


Robert Brodo

About The Author

Robert Brodo is co-founder of Advantexe. He has more than 20 years of training and business simulation experience.