In one of his previously published books, The Opposable Mind: Winning Through Integrative Thinking, Roger Martin explains that all great leaders possess "the predisposition and the capacity to hold two [or more] diametrically opposed ideas" in their head and then "without panicking or simply settling for one alternative or the other," were able to "produce a synthesis that is superior to either opposing idea." Integrative thinking is a "discipline of consideration and synthesis [that] is the hallmark of exceptional businesses [as well as of democratic governments] and those who lead them." Great leaders develop a capacity to consider what Thomas C. Chamberlain characterizes as "multiple working hypotheses" when required to make especially complicated decisions. They do not merely tolerate contradictory points of view, they encourage them.
In his latest book, Martin explains why "design thinking is the next competitive advantage." In fact, it may well be the most valuable application of integrative thinking, in part because, that successful business innovation is the result of collaboration and proceeds through a "path" or (as Martin describes it) a "knowledge funnel." The model for value creation that he offers in this book requires a balance - "or more accurately a reconciliation - between two prevailing points of view on business today." One is analytical thinking that "harnesses two familiar forms of logic - deductive reasoning and inductive reasoning - to declare truths and certainties about the world." The other is intuitive thinking - "the art of knowing without reasoning. This is the world of originality and invention...Neither analysis nor intuition is enough," however. Martin presents a compelling argument in support of reconciling the two modes of thought, asserting that the most successful businesses in the years to come will balance analytical mastery and intuitive originality "in a dynamic interplay [he calls] design thinking."
How so? "Design thinking is the form of thought that enables movement along the knowledge funnel, and the firms that master it will gain an inexhaustible, long-term business advantage. The advantage, which emerges from the design-thinking firms' unwavering focus on the creative design of systems, will eventually extend to the wider world. From these firms will emerge the breakthroughs that move the world forward [because] design-thinking firms stand apart in their willingness to engage in the task of continuously redesigning their business." And, I presume to add, because their leaders have mastered integrative thinking, without which creative and productive collaboration cannot be achieved, much less sustained.
So, what is "the design of business"? It is the process by which business leaders apply design thinking within the current knowledge stage and hone and refine what is known so that they can "generate the leap from stage, continuously in a process I call the design of business." Citing the pioneer insights of Charles Sanders Pierce, Martin duly acknowledges that it is not possible to prove any new thought, concept, or indeed in advance. In fact, "proof" must be redefined. "the answer, Pierce said, would come through making a `logical leap of the mind' or an `inference to the best explanation' to imagine a heuristic for understanding the mystery."
Although all this may sound highly theoretical and hypothetical, in fact the bulk of the material that Martin provided in this book addresses two separate but related questions: How to master design thinking? And How can it help to create a decisive competitive advantage? He focuses on a number of exemplary companies those initiatives help to provide an answer to each of these two questions, especially to the second. They include Cirque du Soleil, Research in Motion (RIM), Procter & Gamble, Steelcase, IDEO, Apple Inc., Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children, Herman Miller, and Target. Led by an enlightened and determined, when necessary tenacious CEO and management team, each of these companies embraced design thinking and overcame three major forces of resistance whose objectives were to "enshrine reliability and marginalize validity": the demand that an idea be proved before it is implemented, an aversion to bias, and the constraints of time. There can also be cultural barriers, the result of what James O'Toole characterizes as "the ideology of comfort and the tyranny of custom." One of the less-recognized benefits of integrative thinking is that it is more inclined to respect, perhaps even welcome dissent. At least some of those who oppose change will be less inclined to do so if they and their concerns are treated with what they perceive to be appropriate respect.
Readers will appreciate Martin's focus on what works, what doesn't, and why. His own mastery of integrative thinking is reflected by the scope and diversity of different perspectives on how to achieve and then sustain successful business innovation. He reminds his reader that the key tools of design thinkers are observation that is "deep, careful, and open-minded," imagination that consists of "an inference and testing loop," and configuration that enables translation of an idea into "an activity system that will produce the desired outcome." In the previous chapters, he had discussed dozens of real-world examples of effective applications of these tools. the critically important challenge of enlisting the active support of those who are "reliably-driven analytical thinkers who dominate the hierarchy and the validity-driven intuitive thinkers who are often brought in to `get the organization out of the box,'" Martin suggests and then discusses five specific initiatives (Pages 168-177). With all due respect to the power of integrative thinking, Martin correctly stresses the importance of what is generally referred to as "emotional intelligence." That is, being willing and able to appreciate legitimate differences between and among groups as well as individuals; to empathize; to seek to communicate on others' terms, not one's own, using tools with which they are familiar; and to stretch out of one's comfort zone to those of others.
In this brilliant book, Roger Martin has shared all he has learned about what design thinking is and can do; also, he has suggested specific initiatives that can help to enable his reader to become an effective design thinker while maintaining an appropriate balance by gaining "fluency in both the allusive poetry of intuitive discovery and the precise prose of analytical rigor"; and finally, while creating value for a business, his reader is urged to discover how design thinking can create meaning for one's life. Bravo!