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Summary:

The concept of the opposable mind is simple – the ability to hold two opposing thoughts in your mind at the same time. When faced with choosing option A or option B,  you come up with option C, which is a better solution (and not a compromise of A or B).  Implementing this is much more difficult than the concept sounds, and it would appear that there are not a lot of business leaders practicing it. It leads to a concept that Roger calls “Integrative Thinking” which is really holding a lot of complex details in the brain at the same time, rather than dumbing it down to the simplest component (a la factory setting). He holds that the greatest thinkers of our time have this integrative thinking capability, and thus have opposable minds.The observation is based on 50 interviews he did with top business leaders where he was trying to figure out the skill that they all had in common.

And just like opposable thumbs set us apart from most of the animal kingdom, he argues that the opposable mind sets those people apart from the rest of business thinkers. The book is peppered with great examples from real life situations that provide supportive examples for the theories presented. One of the early examples he gives in the book is where a mutual fund is facing ruin and everyone expects that the fund manager should just sell everything and close the fund. The fund manager sells some of the fund but buys a significant investment in other areas that actually recover the fund and have it go on to become a success.

Key points and quotes:

– Pareto 80/20 rule: “We settle for 80% to avoid being overwhelmed by complexity and losing the ability to function at all”
– “Simplification impairs every step of the integrative thinking process…” and “Simplification, 80/20 style, leads to more business as usual. Truly creative resolutions spring from complexity.”
– He argues that business could take a coherent, holistic approach to “crafting” their products or services but they don’t because of the factory setting” of the contemporary business organization which is based on simplification and specialization.  The example he gives is where IDEO is hired to change the interior of some AmTrak cars but that was only 1/10 of what needed to be changed – passengers hated the entire AmTrak experience, not just the car interiors.
– Roger takes us through the 3 main things that make up the integrative thinker’s personal knowledge system (and are under your control): Stance, Tools, and Experience

– When someone sets off in a given direction, that direction is likely to be re-inforced and amplified (not diminished or altered) because of simplification familiarity. This can result in good spirals or bad spirals. He gives the example of inner city youths that get involved in gangs (bad spirals) and those that break out of them (good spirals).

Integrative Thinkers have a very different stance than others:

1st: Believe that whatever models exist today do not represent reality (they are merely someone else’s simplification, and is only a model of reality). He uses the great example of the Hispanic locksmith and the Persian shopkeeper in the movie “Crash”.
2nd: They believe conflicting models, styles, approaches are to be leveraged, not feared (they are the richest source of insight into the problem)
3rd: Believe models exist that have not yet been seen. Fallibilism – they believe that the best current model will be eclipsed in due time. We all have models we hold to be true on the basis of no or little testing, and we defend those models.
4th: Not only do they believe that a better model exists, but they have the capability to bring that new model from hypothetical to reality. Many non-integrative thinkers will look for data that supports their own models…and argues that we need to have an opportunistic, model-seeking approach if we are to be successful as integrative thinkers.
5th: They are comfortable wading into complexity to bring about a new model (defying the lizard brain). He argues Thinking -> Actions -> Outcomes, and that reflecting on actions is tough, but reflecting on the thinking that led to the action is even tougher.
6th: They give themselves time to create a better model (not looking for a quick fix)

Three tools that can be used to help build this skill:

Generative Reasoning – a form of reasoning that inquires as to what might be rather than what is

Causal Modeling – He lists three types. Material Causation – if you do X, Y will happen: Telelogical Causation – why do we want Y to happen in the first place: System Dynamics – holistic thought involving multiple feedback loops

Assertive Inquiry – not challenge, but explicitly seeking to explore the underpinnings of your own model and that of another person – using inquiries such as “Could you clarify?” and “How did you come to understand that”.

Whether a business owner, consultant, or employee, there’s lots of food for thought in this book. Chew slowly. (I’m still digesting!)

(Ed Note: This is as much for my own r

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