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.

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