Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Integrative Thinking, Part 5: Resolution

Salient elements of two opposing ideas are explored for causality while decisions regarding structure (or “architecture”) are delayed to enable form to truly reflect function. These integrative thinking steps lead to the final stage: resolution. (See the previous postings on this topic for information on salience, causality, and architecture.)

In The Opposable Mind, Roger Martin (2007) describes resolution as the “creative resolution of tensions” (p. 47). Opposing ideas contribute traits that merge to generate a new idea. The form created through such a merge establishes the resolution.

In Isadore Sharp’s experience, resolution produces a “system of reinforcing activities,” comprising mid-sized hotels with an intimate feel, superior staff attitude and customer service, consistency in implementation worldwide, and a focus on serving employees. Each element of the “system” strengthens the others to generate a model that thrives (p. 38).

Integrative thinking may be interesting to study, but how does it relate to teaching and learning? We’ll explore this in the next posting, but recent research suggests that increased teacher thinking could do much to improve the quality of instruction and depth of learning in our schools.

Martin, R. (2007). The opposable mind: How successful leaders win through integrative thinking. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Integrative Thinking, Part 4: Architecture

Imagine building a house, but instead of a fixed, linear progression from foundation to final touches, you keep every stage fluid. One day you may focus on the roof but the next make changes to the floor plan that will influence the roof. And the next day you decide to make it a two-story house rather than having everything on one level. All these decisions keep your house in line with your vision for your home: a comfortable shelter that fosters interaction between its inhabitants.

Such fluidity would probably mean you’d be changing general contractors a few times and increasing your construction costs, but nothing would have to be fixed permanently in place until every element was just right. With integrative thinking, such fluidity characterizes the architecture of ideas as they move from the cognitive realm to the concrete world.

The Opposable Mind, Roger Martin (2007) again uses Isadore Sharp’s approach to founding the Four Seasons line of hotels to illustrate this element. Normally, hoteliers determined the size of a hotel, defined the services to be offered, and hired the appropriate individuals to provide such services. Mr. Sharp chose a different route. He chose a principle, the “Golden Rule,” to serve as the reference point for designing the hotel’s physical and human resource needs.

By keeping the usual elements (e.g., hotel size) fluid, Sharp could adjust to align the physical and human resource elements with the organizing principle. As a result, he focused on medium-sized, intimate physical structures that offered superior service from carefully chosen and well-trained individuals. To stay true to the “Golden Rule,” Sharp decided against a customer service department, choosing instead to make every employee responsible for all aspects of customer service (p. 37-41).

Salient features of opposing ideas were examined for relationships of causality. These relationships led to a more fluid approach to the architecture as ideas moved to reality. And it all began with the willingness and intentional decision to entertain two seemingly conflicting ideas.

Next time, the final element of integrative thinking: resolution.

Martin, R. (2007). The opposable mind: How successful leaders win through integrative thinking. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

We Interrupt This Message…Again

For your brain's sake, give the most recent episode (#54) of the Brain Science Podcast a listen. Dr. Michael Merzenich discusses brain plasticity, his work with the Fast ForWord program—a research-proven effective intervention for struggling readers, and ways to maintain brain health throughout life. The episode can also be downloaded, and you can subscribe to the free podcast, via iTunes.

Next posting on integrative thinking coming soon!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Integrative Thinking, Part 3

Integrative thinking considers opposing ideas and borrows from each to construct an idea superior to the original opposing ideas. Salience is one of the thinker’s considerations in processing the opposing ideas. Salience, or relevance, produces a list of desirable traits/characteristics/features that are desired in a new idea.

In The Opposable Mind, Roger Martin (2007) suggests causality continues guiding integrative thinking. Once salient features from each idea have been identified, the thinker explores relationships between them. The relationships, or connections, between the ideas aid the thinker in understanding the give-and-take of each opposing idea and alternatives between the extremes that may yield a better solution.

Martin (2007) illustrates causality by continuing to explore Isadore Sharp’s founding of the Four Seasons line of hotels. Sharp noted an obvious relationship between hotel size and amenity offerings—larger hotels offered more amenities. But did it have to be this way? Could a smaller hotel offer an increased number of amenities and remain profitable? Another causal connection provided a position between the extremes.

Sharp knew that employees more consistently provided outstanding service to hotel guests if the employees were served well by management. The concept of high quality service became the defining characteristic of the Four Seasons hotels, both at the management to employee and employee to guest levels. And that level of service justified higher lodging rates, rates guests were willing to pay because they felt they received service worthy of the monetary outlay (p. 34-37).

Considering causality provided a superior idea to either of the original opposing ideas. Connecting concepts prompted Sharp to explore how altering input (quality of service at all levels) could generate a superior solution (small hotels with great amenities made profitable, in part, by the provided level of service).

Returning to our challenge, what are the causal connections between the salient features of hands-on teaching vs. lecturing? Do these causal connections prompt ideas of better approaches to teaching—ideas that feature elements of both but structured in such a way that the teaching is improved? Play with these thoughts and see what develops.

In the next posting, we’ll explore the third feature of integrative thinking: architecture.

Sources: Martin, R. (2007). The opposable mind. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Integrative Thinking, Part 2: Salience

In The Opposable Mind, Roger Martin (2007) defines 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.
Notice the time factor. Integrative thinking is a form of creative thinking, and creativity requires a pause between initially getting information and moving to application. I often use the term percolate to describe this pause, as in, “I don’t know yet. I need to let the idea percolate.”

During this pause, integrative thinking rejects neither opposing idea. Instead, it explores each and constructs something new—something that possesses traits of each idea but generates a result/solution better than either opposing idea.

This exploration begins as the thinker analyzes the opposing ideas to identify “salient” (i.e., relevant, important) elements (p. 29). What about Idea A is noteworthy? potentially beneficial? logical? accurate? The same analysis is made of Idea B, the opposing idea. This analysis produces a list of desirable traits/characteristics/features that are desired in a new idea.

To illustrate this analysis for salience, Martin presents Isadore Sharp’s story. When Sharp entered the hotel business, two models dominated. Hotels were either large and offered a myriad of amenities or small and offered just the necessities. Pulling from both models, Sharp designed a hotel with the amenities frequent travelers needed and an emphasis on personal service. This model became the Four Seasons line of hotels. “Rather than choose one of the existing models and accept the downside it entailed, Sharp used his opposable mind to hold the two models in his head, roll them around, and design a creative resolution of the tension between them” (p. 31).

Challenge yourself to apply this factor of integrative thinking. Choose two opposing ideas (e.g., teaching through hands-on activity vs. teaching through lecture). Can you analyze the ideas, identifying salient elements of each? Write a list and keep it handy. In the next posting, we’ll explore the second feature of integrative thinking: causality.

Sources: Martin, R. (2007). The opposable mind
. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.

Friday, February 6, 2009

We Interrupt This Message…

NPR recently produced two intriguing stories about brain functioning. Find out about your brain on color and your brain on books.

Also, neurosurgeon Ben Carson's inspiring story to be told in a TV movie this weekend.

More in integrative thinking in the next post.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

“Integrative Thinking”: Part 1

Everyone has opinions. Some are informed opinions. Others are judgements reached in the absence of evidence. For example, much to my wife’s dismay, I know that I do not like shrimp. I also claim that I do not like calamari. One informed opinion (I’ve unfortunately tasted shrimp) and one judgement formed without evidence (I’ve never actually tasted calamari).

Fine, suggests Roger Martin in his book The Opposable Mind, but can you consider two opposing ideas at the same time. While it may be difficult for me to think simultaneously that I do and do not like shrimp, I could potentially consider two sides of an argument. For example, government spending is a means of economic stimulus vs. government spending fails as a means of economic stimulus. The ability to hold such two opposing ideas in one’s mind often leads to “a synthesis that is superior to either opposing idea” (Martin, 2007, p. 6).

Martin refers to this ability as “integrative thinking” (p. 6), and claims that such thinking can produce insights that holding to only one thought cannot. Furthermore, Martin claims integrative thinking leads to better solutions than considering only one idea. In his research, leaders who possessed integrative thinking made significant breakthroughs that benefitted their organizations.

What, then, are the attributes and components of integrative thinking? and how can we help students develop this worthwhile capacity? We’ll be exploring these ideas in future postings.

By the way, Dr. Ginger Campbell, friend and host of the Brain Science Podcast, was featured in several Alabama newspapers recently. Check out the article here.

Sources: Martin, R. (2007). The opposable mind: How successful leaders win through integrative thinking. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.