The Integrative Thinking: Learn How to Solve Problems by Personalizing and Developing Mental Models Based on Experience

Our life journey is a search for answers to problems, for solutions and/or strategies to reach our goals. For each of us, the answers we come up with depend on the mental models we form based on personal knowledge system, which in its turn is made up of 3 elements: 

  • Identity: our stance is our answer to, “Who am I in the World, and What am I Trying to Accomplish?”
  • Tools: with what tools and models of reference do we organize our thinking and understand the world? 
  • Experience: with what experiences do we build our repertoire of sensitivities and skills?

These three aspects of our personal knowledge system are interdependent:

our prospective influences and determines which tools we choose and use, which Influences what we store and which builds our present and future repertoire of skills. 

These are also the key aspects that successful persons question to themselves to set and accomplish goals that will give them an important direction to their life and a successful position.

Philosophers, starting from Plato and Aristotle, have discussed mental models as bases of a proper rational, inquiring and problem solving thinking for millennia.

Everyone, aware or unaware face to life with some mental models. Differently from our personal beliefs system that are subjective and imperfect, mental model are the found of a first an explanation of how something work and also guide our perception and behavior. 

Despite that also mental models are imperfect and/or refutable they are objective and they are functional because they give us new and widely shared ways (for example a good common sense about the reality) to observe and question about the world. They are the thinking tools that we can use to understand life, make decisions, and solve problems and they give access to other resources. There are thousands of mental models, but the best ones are those that are possible to apply broadly to life and that are useful in a wide range of situations.

The Knowledge Systems of Integrative Thinkers 

In his book Titled “The Opposable Mind”, Roger Martin defines the integrative thinking as “the ability to face constructively the tension of opposing ideas and, instead of choosing one at the expense of the other, generate a creative resolution of the tension in the form of a new idea that contains elements of the opposing ideas but is superior to each.” 

Successful individuals are integrative thinkers, it Means that they have a different combinations of mental models and experience than non-integrative thinkers. 

Integrative thinkers are different in the nature of their perception of the world in these six ways:

  1. They recognize that existing models do not equal reality
  2. They seek out model clash and leverage opposing models
  3. They believe that better models always exist and that they cannot be seen yet in the perception of their role in the world.
  4. They believe that they are capable of finding and to generate a even better mental models
  5. They are willing and enthusiastic about wading into complexity; and
  6. They give themselves the time to explore a situation and to create an innovative solution; they aren’t rushed to find “the answer” to a problem.

To consider and to adopting these six aspects of the integrative thinking it is a necessary starting point to build the creative models targeted by the stance also if there is no sure-fire recipe to resolve the tension between different or opposing mental models, even less so when a situation requires to solve a complex problem. However, there are three key basic tools/mindsets to develop in order to improve the integrative thinking ability, and they are 

  • A first tool is abductive reasoning, which is the logic of what might be to the conventional reasoning tools of deductive logic (the logic of ‘what must be’) and inductive logic (the logic of ‘what is operative’). The use of abductive logic is strategic during the study and the examination of a mental model or a problem.

  • A second mindset is about to become more rigorous about the possibility to unbundle or to reverse the engineering of one’s own existing model and building new causal models based on even more possibilities.

  • And the third, is the tool of inquiring into and understanding the models of others as the conventional tool of advocating one’s own model.   

Is it easy to become an integrative thinker?  unfortunately not, it requires commitment, effort and resolution, overall because integrative thinking is not a scientific method based on fix rules in sequence, but if we adopt the stance, we work toward acquiring the appropriate personal tools/mental models and we seek out experiences that both deepen our mastery and nurture our originality/uniqueness, we will steadily improve for sure our integrative thinking capacity.  

Suggested Reading: “The Opposable Mind: How Successful Leaders Win Through Integrative Thinking”  by Roger Martin

Author: Cristina Capucci

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