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3.8 out of 5 stars
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3.8 out of 5 stars
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The book tackles the subject of integrative thinking. The basic premise is that skilled leaders have the ability to hold two opposing ideas in their minds at once, and then reach a synthesis of both, that improves on each.

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.
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on 26 January 2015
Honestly, I was disappointed. It is one of the books that seems to be in the "hype circle" of books that quote each other recently and are more wordy than substantial. There are good ideas there, but the author is certainly more focussed on "selling" those ideas than on critical evaluation of them. And that goes kind of against the very title of the book. So I found it shallow - despite the fact that the idea presented is indeed a very important one. It is a read for a waiting room rather than serious book about how our mind works or indeed how we can improve our thinking.
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on 4 December 2007
"Why didn't I think of that?" is a common reaction to other people's creative breakthroughs. In hindsight, the idea looks so simple, so elegant, so right, that you can't believe you missed it. But for some reason you did. Why? Can this sort of creativity be taught? Roger Martin, dean of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto, answers both questions in this beautiful systematization of creative problem solving. The good news is, it can be taught and Martin is a wonderful teacher. We think his ideas are so clear and logical, so obviously right, that you'll wonder why you didn't think of them.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 28 December 2007
As I began to read this brilliant book, I was reminded of what Doris Kearns reveals about Abraham Lincoln in Team of Rivals. Specifically, that following his election as President in 1860, Lincoln assembled a cabinet whose members included several of his strongest political opponents: Edwin M. Stanton as Secretary of War (who had called Lincoln a "long armed Ape"), William H. Seward as Secretary of State (who was preparing his acceptance speech when Lincoln was nominated), Salmon P. Chase as Secretary of the Treasury (who considered Lincoln in all respects his inferior), and Edward Bates as Attorney General who viewed Lincoln as a well-meaning but incompetent administrator but later described him as "very near being a perfect man."

Presumably Roger Martin agrees with me that Lincoln possessed what Martin views as "the predisposition and the capacity to hold two [or more] diametrically opposed ideas" in his head and then "without panicking or simply settling for one alternative or the other," was able to "produce a synthesis that is superior to either opposing idea." Throughout his presidency, Lincoln frequently demonstrated integrative thinking, a "discipline of consideration and synthesis [that] is the hallmark of exceptional businesses [as well as of democratic governments] and those who lead them."

The great leaders whom Martin discusses (e.g. Martha Graham, George F. Kennan, Isadore Sharp, A.G. Lafley, Lee-Chin, and Bob Young) developed a capacity to consider what Thomas C. Chamberlain characterizes as "multiple working hypotheses" when required to make especially complicated decisions. Like Lincoln, they did not merely tolerate contradictory points of view, they encouraged them. Only in this way could they and their associates "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 [whatever its causes may be] in the form of a new idea that contains elements of the opposing ideas but is superior to each."

This process of consideration is based on a quite different model than the more commonly employed scientific method based on, as Martin explains, the working hypothesis that is used "to test the validity of a single explanatory concept through trial and error and experimentation." He rigorously examines the process of integrative thinking in terms of four constituent parts: salience, causality, architecture, and resolution. He devotes a separate chapter to each, citing dozens of real-world examples, and then (in Chapter 5), he introduces a framework within which his reader can also develop integrative thinking capacity.

For me, some of the most interesting and most valuable material is provided in Chapter 7 as Martin explains how integrative thinkers "connect the dots." He cites Taddy Blecher (co-founder of CIDA City Campus, an innovative South African university) as one example. I think the details are best revealed within their context. Suffice to say now that for Blecher, "existing models are to his mind just models, each with something useful to offer." However, his objective was to find a better model of post-secondary education and Martin examines Blecher's use of "two of the three most powerful tools at the disposal of integrative thinkers," generative reasoning and causal modeling, to achieve that objective. He also discusses a third tool, assertive inquiry, and offers aspiring integrative thinkers a few lessons along the way.

In the next and final chapter, Martin suggests that "mastery without originality becomes rote" whereas "originality without mastery is flaky if not entirely random." Successful leaders integrate both while strengthening their skills and nurturing their imagination. They realize that existing models can be informative but are imperfect. They leverage opposing models, convinced that better models exist and can be found. And they "wade into complexity," allowing themselves time to be creative as they expand and nourish their personal knowledge systems. Throughout their own process of discovery, readers will be guided and informed by what Roger Martin so generously and eloquently shares in this brilliant book.

Those who share my high regard for it are urged to check out David Whyte's The Heart Aroused and Judgment co-authored by Noel Tichy and Warren Bennis as well as Howard Gardner's Five Minds for the Future, Justin Menkes's Executive Intelligence, Richard Ogle's Smart World, Albert Borgmann's Holding On to Reality, and Gary Hamel's The Future of Management.
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on 29 March 2008
This book was a disappointing read for two reasons: first, I found it pretty boring to read, with dry descriptions of the cases. Secondly, and most importantly, the fundamental premise of having an integrative or "opposable" mind is not new: it's been called 'strategy' for several decades.
Anyone who claims to work on strategy must be able to come up with there kinds of insights, if they are to make a viable plan for their company. There are plenty of better books on strategy out there that I would recommend instead, e.g. Blue Ocean Strategy by Kim and Mauborgne.
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on 12 April 2010
`The Opposable Mind' discusses integrative thinking as added value for business leaders. In that regard it does a pretty good job.

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!
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on 2 January 2011
great "how to" enable integrative thinking successfully within organisations - the design of business is an easy read in comparision, however this has the bare roots of how it works,
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on 16 January 2012
Like many other "how to" books writers, the author professor Roger Martin, has examined many examples of successful businessmen, and he pretends to offer the secret of their success.
For professor Martin, the secret of business success, is to have integrative thinking:"to hold 2 opposite thought in mind, at the same time".
Unfortunately,I read this book carefully, sometimes I read the same chapter twice, but I didn't understand how to "hold 2 opposite thought in mind at the same time" and turn it in a successful business solution.
Maybe I should join the author's MBA program, to learn integrative thinking, but I live in Europe and one MBA is enough for me.
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on 21 March 2008
What distinguishes a brilliant leader from a conventional one? Roger Martin would argue that it all begins with how this person thinks about the world.

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.
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on 15 February 2016
Examples are good but the framework is not that clear for reapplication.
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