Opposable Mind: Winning Through Integrative Thinking

Read in May 2016
Book by Roger L. Martin

I try my best to write a short summary/review of the books I read, and this is one of them. I typically publish them on Goodreads, but also sync them to here.

Opposable Mind is a book about thinking. The book centers around the topic of how to come up with original, creative ideas. This topic definitely deserves a book. It creates a mental model for something I've struggled to put into words for the past year.

Integrative thinking is the theme of the book. This a unique kind of thinking. When you approach a problem, you often find yourself at the end of a spectrum. You engage your opposable mind to locate the other end. You list out the pros and cons of each side, and you pick one—right? With integrative thinking, instead of picking, you combine. You bend and twist both sides until you end up with something in the golden middle that captures the pros of both sides.

In order to do this, you need to line up all the elements that are salient to a decision. Then you need to consider all the complex relationships between them. If you change one, what happens to the others? Is the relationship bi-directional? Is the relationship non-linear? At this point you have a complete architecture laid out of the problem, with everything that's salient and how these elements interact with each other. This is a much more complete model than a one-dimensional pro-con list, that doesn't properly capture relationships. With this model, which may take days, weeks or months to develop you can start diving into creative new solutions. What happens if you stress the importance of one salient player, and dimm another? What if you change a relationship? What if you turn a fundamental assumption on its head? If you can identify the unquestioned assumptions everyone else are building on top of, and change it—that's when something new and exciting appears. While this may not always be something you need to put the full effort into, I see it the same way as asking yourself the question of how you can make something 10x better. It's not necessarily about 10xing, but rather about putting your mind there and see what happens when you think really big. Does that change anything?

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Coming up with these original ideas of course requires mastery over the subject at hand. You can't expect to go through this model unless you know it inside out. It can take years of experience to understand everything that carries salience and its relationship to everything else.

Another powerful mental model introduced by the book is that of how Experience, Tools and Stance relate to one another. Everyone has a stance, or an attitude. This stance is informed by the tools we have, which in turn is guided by the experiences we've accumulated. When we have a stance, we apply various tools, which leads to new experiences. I think that this is a useful construct to think about biases and our unconscious reaffirmation of them as well.

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This book is filled with examples of people who've executed integrative thinking in the real world. The mental models introduced are powerful, and useful. I recommend this book.