Often we find ourselves faced with seemingly intractable problems. Issues with many moving parts and opposing points of view. Situations where you are faced with an either/or choice. These can be difficult to navigate, resulting in compromise solutions which aim to keep everyone happy but frequently leave no one satisfied. When faced with an either or choice, it is a good indication that perhaps the problem has been framed incorrectly and needs an alternate approach. Don’t accept tradeoff’s or the obvious compromises— do something different. You can always come up with a better answer.
Roger Miller found these compromise solutions could be challenged by taking advantage “opposable thinking”:
We were born with opposable minds, which allow us to hold two conflicting ideas in constructive, almost dialectic tension. We can use that tension to think our way toward new, superior ideas. (HBR — How successful leaders think)
He developed this concept into a problem solving methodology, called “Integrative thinking”.
Integrative Thinking is…
“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.”
There are four steps to applying this method:
- Articulating two extreme and opposing models to the problem
- Examine the models
- Create new possibilities
- Prototype the new solutions
Rogers highlights in his “Talks at Google
” that the method is not necessary to apply in all situations, it is a useful tool when you have a real conflicting set of positions that seemingly just cannot be reconciled.
STEP 1: ARTICULATING TWO EXTREME AND OPPOSING MODELS TO THE PROBLEM
The authors outline the first step is to zero in on a problem worth solving and then attempt to identify potential models that address the problem. Turn this into a two-sided choice and push the models to as extreme a position as you can come up with. From the book “Creating Great Choices”
Define the problem.
- Articulate a problem worth solving.
- Turn it into a “How might we?” question.
2. Identify two extreme and opposing answers to the problem.
- Turn the problem into a two-sided choice.
- Push the models to an extreme so that each represents a core idea.
3. Sketch the two opposing ideas.
- Get clear about what each model is and is not.
4. Lay out the benefits of each model and the way it works.
- Pick the most important stakeholders who’s point of view you need to consider in working on developing the new solution.
- Create a pro/pro chart that captures your understanding of how each model works for the players
Say you are deciding with your family on where you might like to go on holiday. The question you might ask “How might we go on a family holiday that everyone really enjoys?”. Opposing models could be a stay at home vacation or a round the world cruise! (lets consider this pre COVID!)
Key stakeholders for this might be you and your wife, the kids and the family dogs (who you empathetically voice opinions on their behalf…!) The pro/pro chart, highlights positive items only. For example: