30 June 2015

Book Review: The Opposable Mind: Author: Roger Martin

The complete name of the book is 'The Opposable Mind: Winning through integrative thinking': Author: Roger Martin.

Much of the progress achieved by human beings is attributed to the 'opposable thumb', the fact that human beings are the only animals whose thumbs works opposite to the other four fingers, helping us to sew, hold and grip things.

Roger Martin, in his book 'Opposable Mind', proposes that the highly successful leaders are able to keep two opposing ideas in their minds, without any emotional stress, and are able to integrate these ideas to form an integrated idea, which is far more superior to either of the opposing ideas.

In this book, we meet many successful leaders, P&G CEO A G Lafley, Bob Young of Red Hat, Tim Brown of IDEO, Isadore Sharp of Four Seasons Hotel, Pierce Handling of Toranto Film Festival and Moses Znaimer of City TV.

Many of the iconic Indian CEOs are referenced here. These include FC Kohli and Rama Dorai of TCS, Nandan Nilekeni of Infosys, KV Kamath and ironically (in hindsight), Ramalinga Raju of Satyam.

With this introduction let us dive down into the book. 

In Chapter 1, Roger Martin eases the reader to the concept of opposable mind through a series of real life examples. Here the concept is explained, where some leaders are able to hold two opposing view points in their minds without the associated emotional stress. The key message is that thinking is equally, if not more, important that the execution - a point made by Steven Covey in his book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

Chapter 2 dwells on the structure of integrative thinking. Martin breaks the integrative thinking process into its four constituent parts vis Salience, Causality, Architecture and Resolution.

In chapter 3, author explains, through various examples, that integrative thinkers have the ability to distinguish models from reality. This ability is critical for driving through the constituent parts to a creative resolution.

Next chapter, chapter 4, explains that the twin forces of simplification and specialization discourage integrative thinking and goes on to suggest how these forces can be countered.

The reader will find the next four chapters to be interesting and useful. From chapter 5 through 8, the author discusses the ways in which one can cultivate the habit of integrative thinking.

Chapter 5 introduces the framework for developing integrative thinking capability. This framework has three components, Stance (How you see the world and your place in it), tools that you acquire based on your stance above and finally experiences that you undergo based on your tools and stance. The main point to note is the 360 degree interaction between Stance, Tools and Experiences.The interaction between these components makes a fascinating read.

Chapters 6, 7 and 8 discus each of these components in detail. Chapter 6 discusses the Stance of an integrative thinker, how they view world around them and their perception of their ability to influence that world. Author delineates 6 aspects that they consider when deciding on their world view. Three are related to the external world and three are related to how the integrative thinkers view themselves as a player in this world.

Chapter 7 discusses the tools that an integrative thinker uses when evaluating information. There are three tools that they use. They are Generative Reasoning, Causal Reality and Assertive Inquiry. These tools are used to determine the linkage between material connection and teleological connections. Material connection relate to the 'as is' relation between two objects and teleological connection relate to how that relation 'should be'.

Chapter 8 talks about the role of experiences for an integrative thinker. Two aspects are discussed. One is mastery, a detailed knowledge of something specific and the other is Originality, creative understanding of new subject. Integrative thinker gives equal importance to both of them and uses a virtuous circle to move from originality to mastery which expose him to new areas and originality.

In summary, the personal knowledge system of an Integrative Thinker is depicted in the diagram below.

This is a very insightful book and explains the thinking process through simple scientific explanations The concepts are very easy to put in practice. The most important takeaway in the book is the 360 degree interrelationship between Stance, Tools and Experience. By working on any one of these one can change all the three components and thereby future.

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