The Opposable Mind - A Review

I often keep a ball of rubber bands on my desk to remind me to look at all the opposing focuses in a given situation.

How Successful Leaders Win Through Integrative Thinking.  A thought provoking title for someone in Student Life as one of the major responsibilities is balancing the needs of the institution with the needs of the students it seeks to serve.  Roger Martin’s, The Opposable Mind well establishes the concept of Integrative Thinking and how it has served the interest of great business leaders.  As I myself began applying Integrative Thinking while reading this book it became clear this concept could not only assist me with my professional responsibilities but could also help student leaders when engaging their peers.

Having started and ran a handful of small business operations, it was vividly clear that if I had known of the Integrative Thinking model sooner I could have forged more strategic partnerships and business opportunities.  Now, having made the transition to Student Life and have been applying the concept on a daily basis - I’ve witnessed how effective it is as part of the Student Leader training process.  But before I go too much farther, let’s look at Martin’s definition of Integrative Thinking. 

“The ability to 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 in the form of a new idea that contains elements of the opposing ideas but is superior to each.” (page 15)

For the next 176 pages that follow this establishment of the Integrative Thinking concept Martin continues in a personalized dialogue to establish examples from his interview series and first-hand experiences how this concept has played an invaluable roll to some of the world’s greatest business leaders.   While Martin moves with an easy to follow pace and firmly established concepts it is hard not see the value of transference to higher education at a time when we are struggling to reintroduce learners with the benefits of critical thinking. 

The ability to be a critical thinker in the human knowledge economy is a skill set that quickly defines the ability to advance in one’s career.  However, when I look at just critical thinking on its own, as an isolated construct I am left wondering if it is just enough to be able to assess a situation and respond accordingly.  For in that method you are looking at each situation in isolation without consideration of the other opposing tensions that could be causing the situation or resulting from the resolution of the situation.  I agree with Martin in that this would be considered “conventional thinking.”  In chapter 2: No Stomach for Second-best - Section Embracing the Mess, Martin speaks to the difference between integrative and conventional thinkers and the architecture of their decisions saying:

“Integrative thinkers don’t break a problem into independent pieces and work on each piece separately. They keep the entire problem firmly in mind while working on its individual parts.” (page 43)

The section continues with a discussion on how Sharp used this rule when considering its product development and manufacturing processes at the same time.  Again a remarkable thought that when you step back and reflect on some of your decisions as a leader in your organization you have, in all likelihood, engaged this method of thinking withoutknowing its true definition or purpose.  As a Student Life professional I can easily see the value of training Student Leaders in the art of Integrative Thinking. 

With every additional section and chapter, Roger Martian builds a strong foundation and cause for the use of Integrative Thinking amongst business leaders.  All while instilling a passion in this professional to bring this concept to the student leaders I work with and support through self-exploration and developmental programming.  Even if you have never read a business management book before, I highly recommend the Opposable Mind to anyone who works with teams of people where there always seems to be opposing tensions in the decision making process.  In a time of ever changing technology, resources and needs from the students we serve I can think of no better time than the present to look at any possibility that lends itself to win-win results. 

Book Details

Roger Martin was Dean of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto (1998-2013) and is a prolific author of business books.

Format: Hardcover
Dimensions:210 Pages, 5.9 x 8.5 x 0.87 in
Published:October 29, 2007
Publisher:Harvard Business Press
The following ISBNs are associated with this title: ISBN – 10:1422118924 / ISBN – 13:9781422118924

Want to order a copy to read or have in your office? I suggest Chapters!