Books for Leaders – “The Opposable Mind”

23 Oct

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“Great leaders 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 idea.”  – The integrative thinker’s advantage – Roger Martin


Faster. Faster. Faster. The speed of business is a daily challenge to leaders around the world. Uncertainty pushes more decisions at us all the time. And in my own role, no challenge is ever exactly the same as another.

It is convenient and easy, when faced with a difficult challenge that presents two options to default to one option and keep moving. The problem is defaulting, while time efficient may not yield the best outcomes.

That is the big challenge in “The Opposable Mind” by Roger Martin. Great thinkers…great leaders will fight the temptation to default and instead embrace the complexity that comes with the challenge of considering both options and finding a better one.

Here are five big take-aways

A definition for Integrative thinking

“The ability to face constructively the tension of opposing ideas and, instead of choosing one at the expense of another, generate a creative resolution of the tension in the form of a new idea.”

Often I talk with my team and colleagues about being intentional to choose a “both…and” solution versus just “either…or”. The thing I like about this book’s definition is that it places the emphasis on the “new idea”. One of the big themes in this book is that integrative thinkers understand the solutions currently in place, but believe that a better, new solutions exists.

Generative reasoning

As we like to talk about on our team when building strategies or designing services is “what might be”? Generative thinking is possibility thinking. As shared in the book, most education today focuses on determining true or false or solving for one right answer via deductive or inductive logic. And while there are many instances where finding one right answer is good, in knowledge work, we need to embrace Many salient data points to allow for creative solutions to be explored, designed, and discovered.

Engaging and embracing complexity

As we mentioned earlier in this post, the pressure leaders and their teams feel each day is to quickly resolve issues and move on to the next ones. Utilizing the 80-20 rule can be helpful, but the challenge put out in the book is overcome our initial panic and look for patterns, connections, and causal relationships.

Assertive inquiry

Too often when we enter into discussions about solutions or decisions, people often pick an idea and spend their entire time defending that or they develop a strong confirmation bias that makes all of the data appear to support their position. Assertive inquiry challenges us to ask questions to probe for other ideas and viewpoints. Questions like “can you please help me understand…” and “could you clarify that point…” are great opportunities to utilize this skill.

Integrative thinkers “believe”

Integrative thinking is about seeing possibilities. In describing the six common features of integrative thinkers, four of them started with “Integrative thinkers believe”. It is a choice to be optimistic about creating a better solution by not settling and having confidence in yours and your team’s capability to design a better solution.

To close I wanted to share one other great idea that really sums up the theme of the book:

The message integrative thinkers take away when faced with unpleasant choices was not “choose now” but “think harder”.

I highly recommend “The Opposable Mind”. It will truly challenge how you think about designing solutions and give you valuable tools to practice in all aspects of your leadership.

Here are this week’s 5 for 5 articles:

The Key to Adaptable Companies Is Relentlessly Developing People – by Andy Fleming

5 Life Hacks Inspired by Nature – by Taylor Collins

5 WAYS PURPOSE CAN HELP YOU. – by David Hieatt

Corrosion – by Seth Godin

Got 15 Spare Minutes? Here’s How To Make It Count – by Lisa Rabasca Roepe

All the best, kevin