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The Opposable Mind: How Successful Leaders Win Through Integrative Thinking Hardcover – 29 Oct 2007
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"Martin makes a compelling argument for a paradoxical approach to problem-solving." -- BusinessWeek, November 26, 2007
"...compelling...the thesis that fresh thought processes are required to deal with the world s contradictions and complexities rings true." -- The Financial Times, December 19, 2007
What makes great CEOs stand out from their peers? This is the first book to really answer that question.
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Basically 3 parts are to be found back: The first part is a comparison between conventional thinking and integrative thinking. The second part gives a deeper introduction into a framework covering integrative thinking and the last part provides a knowledge system so you can become a better integrative thinker.
To cover the positive, negative and interesting points of this book:
- Positive points: The book does give a framework and template to become a better integrative thinker and it leaves you with the taste to explore this thinking even deeper (especially if you think already integrative). It provides a mental attitude setting (stance) and tools so you can start exploring this thinking further.
- Negative points: This book has at the start an irritating aspect of "us-versus-them" comparison claiming that integrative thinking is so much more important (I guess it is this part that resulted in lower scores here by other reviewers). Conventional thinking (as well as integrative thinking) has both their benefits and by bashing it you don't make a cause for your own model (though the book later recovers very nicely to illustrate the power of integrative thinking). Integrative thinking is actually just `big picture thinking' (or holistic thinking, ..) so I am not convinced of having it re-labeled. Furthermore some of the content stays a bit too much on the academic level. I guess it is perfect as an introduction manual for the integrative thinking course at Rotman School of Management.
- Interesting point: This book is a support for all the managers and leaders who love `big picture thinking' but were often told to stop thinking like that.
I am looking forward to read once an extended version on this topic. Interesting!
On the front cover it is described as "Brilliant and utterly convincing" by Malcolm Gladwell. This was not my experience as a reader. The book could go a lot further in motivating the reader, and you could easily fail to complete the whole book. The tendency to over use a small number of case studies to prove a point is not especially convincing eg the example of procter and gamble.
One aspect that is a real insight is the work on mapping the mind - chapter five. The material on - your personal knowledge system for example, (see figure 5.1 p 103) merits a look. However much of the book could be easily be summarised in an 8-10 page article.
Another alternative is the work of Honey and Mumford, on learning styles. This has been around for a while and is first class in its breadth and depth. I have used their inventory for team building, management development etc. This I feel provides more insight into the thinking processes of managers than this book.
Stan Felstead - Interchange Resources UK.
The title of this book draws upon the metaphor of the opposable thumb: reflecting on how all the skills and technological advances have flowed from this basic feature of the human anatomy - the thumb 'opposing' the fingers. Roger Martin uses this to illustrate the crux of what he has observed in leaders of break-through approaches: integrative thinking. This is the ability to avoid the common either-or choices that two apparently different options offer, but rather to go on to integrate these into something new and superior. He illustrates this with a number of different cases from a range of endeavours, including interviews with Bob Young of Red Hat Software.
His central proposition is that this mental faculty can be found in great leadership, and can be taught and developed.
The model he presents of the leader's 'personal knowledge system' includes the thinker's stance to the reality and models of reality that present themselves, the tools the thinker obtains and uses to analyse and construct a better architecture, and the experiences, and how they are assimilated and assessed to in turn align tools and stance.
Throughout my reading I couldn't help make comparisons with the model of business transformation presented in 'Managing Successful Programmes'. I found several important similarities, not least the observations Martin made about the integrative 'architecture' of the new business model, and MSP's focus on the Blueprint as an integrative model of a different way of doing business.
Also, I applaud his conclusion that such integrative thinkers were not satisfied with usual responses to the complex world our organisations operate within - responses that either simplify and ignore data, or to go into silos of specialization, the latter being characteristic of western medicine, for example. Instead he recognises that an integrative thinker is prepared to wade into the complex, to respect it, and to recognise and model rather more salient features than would others. He gives an fascinating example in the story of A.G. Lafley of Proctor and Gamble. This in turn drives the integrative thinker to select tools that model non-linear causation (i.e. life is more complex than 'if A happens, then B, then C').
However, I thought Roger Martin's treatment of such tools, though, was a little too narrative for my taste as a more visual thinker. I still think Peter Senge's section in Fifth Discipline on systems thinking is more helpful here. Also, MSP's Outcome Relationship Model is a graphical step in the direction that Martin advocates.
Also, I felt the author was a touch too dismissive of Jim Collins' work towards the beginning where the critique of Good to Great's Level 5 Leadership ignores Collins' earlier work with Jerry Porras in Built to Last. In this earlier book, the launch pad, if you will, for the research in 'Good to Great', Collins and Porras identify that the 'Genius of the AND' was a common trait among all visionary organisations. This is absolutely congruent with the case Roger Martin makes for integrative thinking.
In summary, I'm very grateful for Roger Martin's efforts in producing this book. 'The Opposable Mind' is important, stimulating and potent. If you want to become a brilliant leader, you would not waste time in reading this.