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.

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