Posts Tagged ‘integrative thinking ’

Wicked Problems, A Defining Challenge

Tuesday, March 1st, 2011

Reverberating events

The uprisings in the Arab world are capturing worldwide attention not only because we’re witnessing history in the making, but because the changes are bound to affect us all. We live in a world that’s interconnected in ways that were hard to fathom only a few years ago. Interconnectedness is creating new challenges with social implications that traditional institutions and leaders aren’t equipped to handle.

The clashes across the Middle East and North Africa are only the latest example of unforeseen events that reverberate across regional boundaries. Before that, the sub-prime mortgage crisis in the U.S. sparked a deep global recession that affected more sectors than anything economists had seen before. As some economies began recovering during the following year, Europe’s mounting debt crisis triggered  a cascade of new problems in distant economies.

Today’s challenges, geopolitical or otherwise, are more difficult to predict, understand and handle than the kinds of problems we’ve seen until recently. As the world grows more interconnected, we become more exposed to what design theorists Horst Rittel and Melvin Webber called “wicked problems” which are substantially harder to define and solve than so-called “tame” problems.

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An Intregrative Crisis Response

Monday, October 27th, 2008

rogermartinsbook_osprey-imageI’ve written before about Integrative Thinking (or “Design Thinking“), a creative problem-solving approach described by Roger Martin, Dean at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Business and others.

Martin defines integrative thinking as the ability to deal with the tensions of competing solutions to a problem. Instead of choosing one solution at the expense of the other, the practioner generates a solution integrates both solutions.

In his ’07 book, The Opposable Mind, Martin argues that integrative thinking is superior to conventional thinking which consists of “accpeting unattractive and unpleasant tradeoffs”.

This concept is relevant to how government and business leaders ought to approach the financial crisis.  Instead of deciding between implementing tax cuts or a stimulus package – seemingly contradictory models – why not try both?  Instead of businesses merely cutting operating costs, why not implement initatives that preserve high margin business increase customer retention and profit per customer.

Martin considers these issues in an October 8  interview. He applies integrative thinking to the vexing challenges associated with the economic crisis affecting today’s leaders.

Cudos for “The Opposable Mind”

Monday, April 7th, 2008

I can’t remember the last time I read a business book where I was hungry for more.  That was the case with Roger Martin’s ’07 book, The Opposable Mind. This is one that I’ll propose for our upcoming Executive Book series — it’s a “must read” for all business consultants, executives or managers who want to get to the true heart of problem-solving.

Martin, who is the Dean at the University of Toronto’s innovative Rotman Business School, debunks conventional, linear thinking conducted by many business practitioners.  Instead, he advocates an unconventional, seemingly paradoxical approach to solving problems known as integrative thinking.  He maintains that successful leaders excel at integrative thinking.

According to Martin, integrative thinkers view problems “holistically”while embracing the tension between competing ideas. Integrative thinkers actually “hold two conflict ideas in constructive, almost dialectic tension.” He argues that many people find such tension uncomfortable, but not integrative thinkers.  In fact, their capacity to work in this space leads to creative solutions to complex problems.

Martin cites numerous examples of integrative thinkers and their successes including Meg Whitman of eBay, Victoria Hale of the Institute for One World Health, and Nanden Nilekani of Infosys.

Martin admits that shifting to integrative thinking isn’t easy.  But, he’s convinced that practioners can vastly improve their capacity for integrative thinking and, by doing so, can increase their effectiveness as problem-solvers.

His prescriptions include:

• Look at problems holistically, with consideration to how various parts fit together, rather than analyzing the parts in isolation.
• Consider multiple causes, as well as possible nonlinear relationships between cause and effect, rather than thinking of terms of simple linear relationships between a single cause and effect.
• Embrace the tension between opposing ideas and use that conflict to generate creative new alternatives rather than making simple either-or decisions.

Martin walks us through his argument with great clarity and elegance.  This was an informative and highly pleasurable read…