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The Opposable Mind: How Successful Leaders Win Through Integrative Thinking Hardcover – December 4, 2007

ISBN-13: 978-1422118924 ISBN-10: 1422118924 Edition: 1st
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this primer on the problem-solving power of "integrative thinking," Martin draws on more than 50 management success stories, including the masterminds behind The Four Seasons, Proctor & Gamble and eBay, to demonstrate how, like the opposable thumb, the "opposable mind"-Martin's term for the human brain's ability "to hold two conflicting ideas in constructive tension"-is an intellectually advantageous evolutionary leap through which decision-makers can synthesize "new and superior ideas." Using this strategy, Martin focuses on what leaders think, rather than what they do. Among anecdotes and examples steering readers to change their thinking about thinking, Martin gives readers specific strategies for understanding their own "personal knowledge system" (by parsing inherent qualities of "stance," "tools" and "experience"), as well as for taking advantage of the "richest source of new insight into a problem," the "opposing model." Each of the eight chapters is well organized, making for a clear and cumulative read. Part inspiration, part logic lesson, this title will provide fresh perspective for anyone prepared to dust off her thinking cap.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


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

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard Business Review Press; 1 edition (October 29, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1422118924
  • ISBN-13: 978-1422118924
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.8 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (44 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #244,116 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

I am a strategy consultant and business professor - and a Dean for 15 years. My passion is exploring mysteries related to the ways we think about or model our world. I've looked, for example, for common patterns in the way successful leaders tackle difficult 'either/or' dilemmas. I've explored how it is that corporations drive out innovation - even as they desperately seek it. I've examined the way in which theories that are meant to help corporations achieve financial goals and make shareholders rich actually produce the opposite. Most recently, I have explored how we conceptualize strategy influence the way we do or do not create useful ways to guide an organization's actions. In each of my books, I attempt to understand a particular way in which our thinking can get in our own way, and provide specific advice for addressing that challenge.

Check out my books to the left and visit my website (www.rogerlmartin.com) if you want to see more of my writing.

Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

68 of 74 people found the following review helpful By Robert Morris HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on December 28, 2007
Format: Hardcover
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.
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66 of 82 people found the following review helpful By Stoic Athos on May 26, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This books starts off by presenting the concept of the "integrative thinker", which is a person who has "the predisposition and capacity to hold two diametrically opposing ideas in their heads. And then without panicking or simply settling for one alternative or the other, they're able to produce a synthesis that is superior to either opposing idea"

If you look closely at this and read the examples in the book of the "opposable mind" in action, you'll begin to notice an assumption that we have no reason to believe is true.

The Main Assumption:
Focusing on the two (or more) alternatives leads to the third alternative chosen.

There is no reason to believe that the managers in the situations in this book developed further possibilities and alternatives from the apparent existing possibilities and alternatives. In most of the situations given as examples in the book, the managers appeared to be developing new possibilities out of a more fundamental knowledge of the situation at hand, rather than "integrating" and focusing on a few possible reactions to a situation.

I think that this book mainly serves as a red herring to those looking to develop creative thinking. Creative thinking is not linear as this book suggests. You typically don't develop the third alternative by focusing on the first two any more than you develop the second alternative by focusing on the first.
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15 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Eggcrate on January 23, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Some core points the author makes:

1. Much of the inner structure of the superior business mind is implicit, tacit, and mostly functions non-verbally on the unconscious level.

2. It is exceedingly hard to decompile and read the "machine language" of the superior business mind, probably because it is too complex and nuanced to be reduced to language.

3. Most business processes (as well as all institutional structure) are reduced to simplified, often grossly oversimplified diagrams, verbiage, mission statements, and employee manuals which cannot capture the true dynamism of the environment.

4. It is also exceedingly difficult to fully appreciate, and for many, to appreciate at all what box one is in, what box one's organization is in, what box one's culture is in... and without that appreciation it is impossible to step outside of the box in order to work with it creatively.

5. It was said of Jack Welch that he was a master of out of the box thinking, but he was also a master of inside the box thinking. Is any reader of Opposable Mind prepared to make a detailed life inventory of what constitutes "inside the box" and "outside the box" as it applies to his or her self image, his or her organization, his or her community, his or her culture ? If not, why not ?

6. The Opposable Mind is an overgeneralization. It could signify internalizing the forms of Systems Thinking as semi-linear strategic applications of the concept, or it could refer to full on Dual Hemispheric cognition in terms of brain organization, or it could refer to collective processes of inquiry that place value on opposition, challenge, unfamiliarity, and synthesis.

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Caufrier Frederic on April 12, 2010
Format: Paperback
`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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