Integrative Thinking is a field which was originated by Graham Douglas in 1986. He describes Integrative Thinking as the process of integrating intuition, reason and imagination in a human mind with a view to developing a holistic continuum of strategy, tactics, action, review and evaluation for addressing a problem in any field. A problem may be defined as the difference between what one has and what one wants. Integrative Thinking may be learned by applying the SOARA (Satisfying, Optimum, Achievable Results Ahead) Process devised by Graham Douglas to any problem. The SOARA Process employs a set of triggers of internal and external knowledge. This facilitates associations between what may have been regarded as unrelated parts of a problem.
Definition used by Roger Martin
Integrative thinking is a discipline and methodology for solving complex or wicked problems. That theory was originated by Roger Martin, Dean of the Rotman School of Management, at The University of Toronto and collaboratively developed with his colleague Mihnea C. Moldoveanu, Director of the Desautels Centre for Integrative Thinking.
The Rotman School of Management defines integrative thinking as:
"...the ability to constructively face the tensions of opposing models, and instead of choosing one at the expense of the other, generating a creative resolution of the tension in the form of a new model that contains elements of the individual models, but is superior to each."
The website continues:
"Integrative thinkers build models rather than choose between them. Their models include consideration of numerous variables — customers, employees, competitors, capabilities, cost structures, industry evolution, and regulatory environment — not just a subset of the above. Their models capture the complicated, multi-faceted and multidirectional causal relationships between the key variables in any problem. Integrative thinkers consider the problem as a whole, rather than breaking it down and farming out the parts. Finally, they creatively resolve tensions without making costly trade-offs, turning challenges into opportunities."
To develop the theory of integrative thinking, Martin interviewed more than 50 successful leaders, from the fields of business (Jack Welch, AG Lafley, Nandan Nilekani), the arts (Atom Egoyan, Piers Handling) and the not-for-profit world (Victoria Hale). He spoke with these leaders, some for more than 8 hours, about the decisions that they had made over their careers and about how they thought through those decisions. What he found was that some of them had a distinct common characteristic - "the predisposition and 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."
Integrative thinkers differ from conventional thinkers among a number of dimensions.
- They tend to consider most variables of a problem to be salient. Rather than seeking to simplify a problem as much as possible, they are inclined to seek out alternative views and contradictory data.
- They are willing to embrace a more complex understanding of how those salient features interconnect and influence one another, a more complex understanding of causality. Rather than limiting the possible causal relationships to simple, linear, one-way dynamics, they entertain the possibility that the causal forces may be multi-directional (i.e. circular) and complex.
- Integrative thinkers approach problem architecture differently. Rather than try to deal with elements in piece-parts or sequentially, they strive at all times to keep the whole of the problem in mind while working on the individual parts.
- When faced with two opposing options that seem to force a trade-off, integrative thinkers strive for a creative resolution of the tension rather than simply accepting the choice in front of them.
Integrative Thinking is influenced by and connected to a number of intellectual traditions. Most notably, it is influenced by the pragmatism of Charles Sanders Peirce and his notion of abductive reasoning, the falsificationism of Karl Popper and the management theories of Chris Argyris and James March.
Desautels Centre for Integrative Thinking
The Desautels Centre for Integrative Thinking is a research, development and educational centre at the Rotman School of Management. Its mission is threefold. First, it conducts fundamental research in the basic mechanisms of perception, inference, calculation and communication related to integrative thinking in business. Second, it develops new courses, course modules and interventions to teach the basic discipline of integrative thinking to MBA students. Third, it develops and offers executive education programs for developing the core skills of integrative thinking in the senior managers of business organizations.
The Desautels Centre for Integrative Thinking was founded by a donation from Marcel Desautels, a Canadian entrepreneur and businessman. After founding and running Creditel, a credit reporting agency, Desautels established the Canadian Credit Management Foundation as a charitable organization that has made significant contributions to higher education in Canada, endowing the Desautels Centre for Integrative Thinking, the Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill University and the Desautels Faculty of Music at the University of Manitoba. For his exemplary philanthropic efforts, Desautels was awarded the Order of Canada in 2008.
Integrative thinking as devised by Roger Martin is open to the criticism that the theory was created using a non-scientific research approach; by simply interviewing successful leaders, and inferring a theory for their success, Martin and his colleagues may have been subject to a confirmation bias effect. The body of work is also incomplete, because the studies in question did not look at integrative thinkers who failed and non-integrative thinkers who succeeded in similar situations.
- Critical Thinking
- Design Thinking
- Systems Thinking
- Thesis, antithesis, synthesis
- Cognitive dissonance
- "integrative thinking".
- Douglas, G. B. (1994). "The Revolution of Minds".Ipswich, AIPS
- Douglas, G. B. (2006), "Achieving Sustainable Development: The Integrative Improvement Institutes Project" Presented at the Inaugural All China Economics Conference, Hong Kong.
- "Definition of Integrative Thinking". Rotman School of Management Website, University of Toronto.
- Martin, R.L. (2007). "The Opposable Mind: How Successful Leaders Win Through Integrative Thinking." Boston: Harvard Business School Press. p. 6.
- Martin, R.L. (2007). "The Opposable Mind: How Successful Leaders Win Through Integrative Thinking." Boston: Harvard Business School Press. p. 41-44.
- Martin, R. L. (2007). The Opposable Mind: How Successful Leaders Win Through Integrative Thinking. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.
- Moldoveanu, MC and Martin RL. (2008). "The Future of the MBA: Designing the Thinker of the Future." London: Oxford University Press.
- "Definition of integrative thinking".
- Roger Martin on Integrative Thinking.
- E. Pastor & GK VanPatter, 2010, Humantific's Integrative Thinking Research Initiative 2002-2010 / Design Thinking Made Visible Project, Humantific Publishing, Virtual Book Series. http://issuu.com/humantific/docs/humantificthinkingmadevisible