The Book Corner - Review

The Opposable Mind by Roger L. Martin

The Opposable Mind: How Successful Leaders Win Through Integrative Thinking

By Roger L. Martin
Harvard Business School Press, 2007

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How often have you as a manager had to choose between two clearly unattractive alternatives? Perhaps one alternative is “cheap, but also ran.” The other is “distinctive, but costly.” Neither is truly on target.

Do you pick the lesser of two evils, or do you create a new alternative that builds on the best of each and is custom-designed to meet the needs of your particular situation? Many successful managers take the latter course. However to do so often takes courage, skill, and experience. Roger Martin, author of The Opposable Mind, and Dean of the Joseph L. Rotman School of Management of the University of Toronto, believes you have it in you.

How many times have you been enjoined by a boss (or a book) to “think outside the box,” even though you suspect that he or she does not have the slightest idea what that really means? This book comes to your rescue.

The Opposable Mind explains the difference between conventional thinking and what it refers to as “integrative thinking,” an approach that is central to a more collaborative and creative form of management and has emerged as increasingly valuable in a complex and fast-paced world of business. Integrative thinkers are the ones that ask themselves questions such as:

  • Is the existing perspective for viewing this situation best for understanding it?
  • What are other relevant perspectives?
  • How do these perspectives confront one another?

As a result of his interviews with successful integrative thinking entrepreneurs and CEOs, such as A. G. Lafley who is currently CEO of Procter and Gamble, Martin develops a straightforward model of the integrative thinking process. He examines attitudes, tools, and tasks. Though several of his ideas are not completely new, they are presented in a refreshingly crisp, coherent, and interesting way with many examples. Further, based on his successful university course and the launch of the Desautels Centre for Integrative Thinking within the Rotman School, he spells out key exercises to help you develop your own understanding and skills in generative reasoning, causal modeling, and assertive inquiry.

This is a book that helps us to understand core interactions between a strategic and an operational point of view. It pushes us to dig deeper and look more broadly at our thinking and it demonstrates the complementary power of both mastery and originality. Finally, it helps us to muster the courage and to learn how to develop an integrative solution that makes our immediate situation both satisfyingly and sustainably competitive.

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