In part one of this two-part blog series, I described integrative thinking as simultaneously embracing two differing views or ideas, and considering multiple options while solving a seemingly “either/or” dilemma. This key leadership skill allows teams to break conventional “We have always done it this way” or “Let’s just go with the easy answer,” thought patterns as a means to “building a better house.”
Traditional Thinking = We can build either a low cost, low quality house, or a high cost, high quality house.
Integrative Thinking = Maybe we are not limited to one option or the other. What are some of our other ideas? How can we build an affordable, high quality house?
Let’s “build” on this metaphor and take a more in-depth look at how we can construct “low cost, high quality houses.” The “house” represents a problem that seems to have only two mutually exclusive solutions. Instead of simply selecting one solution or the other, we, as leadership architects, can think through our thinking, and look for the “and” instead of the “either/or.” Here are a few metaphorical questions we can ask ourselves to break out of our old traditional thought processes and engage new integrative thought processes:
Are we designing the bathroom, bedroom, and a kitchen separately and simply hoping the rooms will fit together? Let’s start by defining a big-picture project vision. How big should our house be? How many rooms do we want/need in our house? Where and for whom are we building the house? How do all the rooms fit together? Do all the rooms fit together?
Am I deciding where all the sidewalks will go instead of letting my team members, community, agency partners, etc., walk around the worksite and help decide where they should go? Am I assuming the way I see it is the way it should be? Am I including my team members’ ideas? Am I seeking ideas from others outside my immediate circle? Have I allowed some time to pass before making a decision or just “reacting” or “doing the usual”? Am I willing to take risks? Do we even need sidewalks?
If the roof leaks, am I automatically assuming the roofing material is to blame? Ask tough questions and resist the urge to jump to easy conclusions (e.g. this = that). Consider all causal relationships. Is our house design flawed? Is a rain gutter clogged? What else could be causing the roof leak?
Am I comfortable with eraser dust, stray pencil marks, re-measuring, last-minute changes, and spilled coffee? Problem solving is messy. Am I willing to tolerate messiness and inconvenience in exchange for better, more creative answers and ideas, or am I excessively concerned with keeping things “neat and tidy?”
Am I resisting either/or thinking in favor of integrative, “Best of both worlds” thinking? Am I tempted to make this problem go away by selecting a simple “Plan A or Plan B” solution? Can I recognize and resist my propensity to do so? What will it take to keep costs low and product quality high? Find the synergy, hold both “low cost” and “high quality” in your mind simultaneously, and reach for unique solutions that still meet project goals.
Integrative thinking is a powerful leadership tool. Even if we don’t get all the way to the “low cost high quality house” the process will help uncover options and possibilities that are stimulating and valuable. So instead of simply dusting off old blueprints or drawing up the same old plans when faced with a problem or opportunity, we can apply integrative thinking and design solutions with our teams that are relevant, innovative, and effective.