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on September 4, 2010
While there are many books in the market that either detail the character of successful organizations or biographies of successful people, this book shows how can one learn to use integrative thinking to become successful. After reading the book, I was able to put the approach into practice immediately regarding a problem at hand.

While discussing great leaders, e.g. Martha Graham, George F. Kennan, Isadore Sharp, A.G. Lafley, Lee-Chin, Bob Young, Jack Welch, Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan, etc., Roger Martin concentrates on the thinking skills rather than the doing skills of leaders. He terms the thinking style of these successful leaders 'Integrative thinking'.

Integrative thinking involves four steps: salience (which allows more features of a problem to to be considered salient, thereby introducing complexity), causality (which encompasses multi-directional and nonlinear relationships), architecture (seeing the whole while working on the parts), and resolution (searching for creative resolution of tensions). Each of these is explored in separate chapters. A framework for building integrative thinking capacity is presented involving stance (who am I in the world and what am I trying to accomplish), tools (with what tools and models do I organize my thinking and understand the world?) and experiences (with what experiences can I build my repertoire of sensitivities and skills).

The author then presents three tools for integrative thinking i.e. Generative Reasoning (as opposed to commonly practiced Declarative Reasoning (i.e. Deductive and Inductive), Causal Modeling (to get from the current state to the desired end-state), and Assertive Inquiry (seeking information about other people's models). The author discusses how each of these tools can and is being taught for example at Rotman School of Management at University of Toronto.
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As I began to read this brilliant book, I was reminded of what Doris Kearns reveals about Abraham Lincoln in Team of Rivals. Specifically, that following his election as President in 1860, Lincoln assembled a cabinet whose members included several of his strongest political opponents: Edwin M. Stanton as Secretary of War (who had called Lincoln a "long armed Ape"), William H. Seward as Secretary of State (who was preparing his acceptance speech when Lincoln was nominated), Salmon P. Chase as Secretary of the Treasury (who considered Lincoln in all respects his inferior), and Edward Bates as Attorney General who viewed Lincoln as a well-meaning but incompetent administrator but later described him as "very near being a perfect man."

Presumably Roger Martin agrees with me that Lincoln possessed what Martin views as "the predisposition and the capacity to hold two [or more] diametrically opposed ideas" in his head and then "without panicking or simply settling for one alternative or the other," was able to "produce a synthesis that is superior to either opposing idea." Throughout his presidency, Lincoln frequently demonstrated integrative thinking, a "discipline of consideration and synthesis [that] is the hallmark of exceptional businesses [as well as of democratic governments] and those who lead them."

The great leaders whom Martin discusses (e.g. Martha Graham, George F. Kennan, Isadore Sharp, A.G. Lafley, Lee-Chin, and Bob Young) developed a capacity to consider what Thomas C. Chamberlain characterizes as "multiple working hypotheses" when required to make especially complicated decisions. Like Lincoln, they did not merely tolerate contradictory points of view, they encouraged them. Only in this way could they and their associates "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 [whatever its causes may be] in the form of a new idea that contains elements of the opposing ideas but is superior to each."

This process of consideration is based on a quite different model than the more commonly employed scientific method based on, as Martin explains, the working hypothesis that is used "to test the validity of a single explanatory concept through trial and error and experimentation." He rigorously examines the process of integrative thinking in terms of four constituent parts: salience, causality, architecture, and resolution. He devotes a separate chapter to each, citing dozens of real-world examples, and then (in Chapter 5), he introduces a framework within which his reader can also develop integrative thinking capacity.

For me, some of the most interesting and most valuable material is provided in Chapter 7 as Martin explains how integrative thinkers "connect the dots." He cites Taddy Blecher (co-founder of CIDA City Campus, an innovative South African university) as one example. I think the details are best revealed within their context. Suffice to say now that for Blecher, "existing models are to his mind just models, each with something useful to offer." However, his objective was to find a better model of post-secondary education and Martin examines Blecher's use of "two of the three most powerful tools at the disposal of integrative thinkers," generative reasoning and causal modeling, to achieve that objective. He also discusses a third tool, assertive inquiry, and offers aspiring integrative thinkers a few lessons along the way.

In the next and final chapter, Martin suggests that "mastery without originality becomes rote" whereas "originality without mastery is flaky if not entirely random." Successful leaders integrate both while strengthening their skills and nurturing their imagination. They realize that existing models can be informative but are imperfect. They leverage opposing models, convinced that better models exist and can be found. And they "wade into complexity," allowing themselves time to be creative as they expand and nourish their personal knowledge systems. Throughout their own process of discovery, readers will be guided and informed by what Roger Martin so generously and eloquently shares in this brilliant book.

Those who share my high regard for it are urged to check out David Whyte's The Heart Aroused and Judgment co-authored by Noel Tichy and Warren Bennis as well as Howard Gardner's Five Minds for the Future, Justin Menkes's Executive Intelligence, Richard Ogle's Smart World, Albert Borgmann's Holding On to Reality, and Gary Hamel's The Future of Management.
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on January 3, 2008
Have you read "Good to Great" and wanted to dig deeper on level-5 leadership? Have you read Jack Welch, Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan and had an uneasy feeling that the solutions in their books were a tad simplistic? Then you must read Roger Martin's "The Opposable Mind".

The author does a great job of getting to the core of what makes successful leaders. It was an "Aha" moment when the author reveals how copying great leaders' decisions may not be the right thing for your situation and how some great leaders such as Jack Welch might not be able to reveal the thinking behind their decisions.

I would highly recommend this book if you are looking to gain a deeper understanding of business leadership. However, some amount of comfort with academic language and abstraction is necessary to get through this book.
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on July 19, 2013
The Opposable Mind is also the companion work to the Executive Education Program and EMBA course Integrative Thinking at the University of Toronto - Rotman School of Management. Roger Martin challenges you to develop your Integrative Thinking by exercising your "Opposable Mind". The author walks you through the stages of Integrative Thinking first by making comparisons to conventional thinking and also using real examples of successful Integrative Thinkers. He thoroughly explains the practices of Integrative Thinkers - salience, causality, architecture, and resolution. He then walks you through the steps of becoming an effective decision maker - stance, tools and experiences. Roger Martin also explains the benefits of moving from deductive and inductive logic to abductive logic. Read this this book and stretch your mind forever.
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on October 4, 2011
I had my apprehensions before reading this book. I wasn't quite sure what to expect. But Roger Martin has put out a really engaging and thought provoking concept in integrative thinking. I didn't fully agree with some of the concepts with the book but there were thoughts/nuggets that I did take a shine to and aim to incorporate in my future career.
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on May 6, 2015
The Integrative Thinking approach worked especially well with my Grade 11 Computer Science classes. The solutions that the students generated were spectacular, which made the students' experience both successful and rewarding. Awesome!
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on July 10, 2013
I first got this book from my local library branch and then realized I need to have it in my personal library.
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on July 25, 2014
It is a good read!
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on November 19, 2015
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