The Opposable Mind: How Successful Leaders Win Through Integrative Thinking


Agent: David Burkus

Agent Activities: Author, Podcaster and Associate Management Professor

Where to find him: @davidburkus (Twitter)

Quake Books Bonus: Exclusive Interview





Roger Martin Book_300x371

Author(s): Roger Martin

Published: 2007

Report Published: 12th July 2016

Quake Magnitude: 8.0 major quake stamp_100x36

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Field Survey

If you want to be an effective leader, you should probably start by studying how the world’s greatest leaders think and The Opposable Mind would be a great a place to start. Martin offers insights into the thinking of geniuses like A.G. Lafley of Proctor & Gamble and Bob Young of Red Hat Software, both of whom are able to create innovative new approaches by blending two seemingly opposing forces or ideas. He elaborates on a quote I have always loved from F. Scott Fitzgerald “the test of first rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function” by explaining to the reader what that looks like and how to go about doing it.

In this book, you will realize that leaders learn to think a little bit differently. They engage in what Martin calls “integrative thinking” which 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.” Martin argues that anyone can develop the skill of integrative thinking, and he devotes the second half of the book to teaching us how.

Anyone who utters the phrase “think outside the box” ought to have a copy of this book thrust into his or her hands. It’s not about thinking inside or outside the box, as if that metaphor withstood any scrutiny anyway. Most often innovative ideas come from looking at things everyone else sees as unrelated or opposing and finding ways to meld them together. That’s integrative thinking, and that’s the kind of problem solving we need.


“My critical question is not what various leaders did, but how their cognitive process produced their actions.”

“Integrative thinking offers us the choice not between, but of.”

QUAKE Moment

The biggest challenge to my thinking was early on in the book, when Martin argued that much of what we think of as “reality” is better described as a mental model. I understand now that we can’t comprehend everything so we make a map to simplify the territory but that often we fall into the trap of believing that the map is the territory and, when confronted with information that contrasts the map, we just get baffled, which is not helpful in management/leadership. This realization has help me properly weigh everything from others advice to my own perspective and escape both when needing to make a decision.


Integrative thinkers know that the map is never the same as the territory and use new information to update and improve their existing mental model. Ever since reading this book I have made sure that I distinguish between the map and the territory and I find I can make decisions more effectively as a result. It’s not always about either/or…often it’s about how to do both together.

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