Volume 12, Number 11
Graham Douglas is a
consultant in Integrative Thinking and author of The Revolution
of Minds! and the SOARA (Satisfying, Optimum, Achievable
Results Ahead) Process of Integrative Thinking. www.integrative-thinking.com.
Most people normally address a
problem by using critical thinking; the type of thinking
that our education has drilled into our heads.
That is, you:
Break the problem down into parts.
Look for past data about each of the parts.
Analyze that data for trends.
Check what others have done in similar circumstances.
Do some brainstorming or use some other technique to come
up with ideas in the context of these data and trends.
Test these ideas with some "what if" analyses.
Settle on the course of action that is best supported by
Rely on existing reporting systems to monitor progress.
When you are thinking
critically, you will be reasoning by manipulating symbols
representing what you know about the problem.
It's as though your mind were a computer, unconnected with
the remainder of your body and your environment. You will be
limiting yourself to what is known in the context of the problem.
You will not be very creative.
The effects of this on our
lives and work include:
People who are predisposed to be less comfortable with
manipulating symbols tend to become alienated from the better
tends to lie with the better justifiers.
As justifications become more specialized the difficulty of
communicating increases and trust decreases.
We tend to become locked into our justifications.
We make a habit of being critical first, then thinking
constructively, or not at all.
We continue doing what has worked in the past even when
Critical thinking based on different, crude and rigid
categorizations often leads to unresolved conflict in groups and
organizations. This unresolved conflict can surface later and
undermine the group or organization.
Similarly, as individuals we can be left with unresolved
All this unresolved conflict leads to cruelty, unhappiness
and inefficiency and hinders our creativity and performance.
Integrative thinking will
overcome these difficulties. We need to use our integrative
mind of which our critical mind is a part.
Extensive research has shown:
Our reasoning is influenced by our body's interaction
within itself and with its physical, social and cultural
Much of our reasoning is done when we are not conscious of
it being done.
Over a lifetime of experiences, we develop a number of
prototypes that are reflected in patterns in our brains.
It is difficult to change these prototypes, so solving
novel and complex problems in a creative way involves redeploying
prototypes from another domain to the novel domain.
The more prototypes we have (the broader and deeper our
knowledge) and the greater our ability to trigger those
prototypes, the easier it is for us to creatively address novel
and complex problems.
We tend to be simplifiers because we can keep only about
three to four items in our short-term memory while we are working
on other information.
This is what you do when you
Wonder about the problem against your lifetime of
experience and training.
Imagine how things might turn out (create a narrative) if
you took certain directions.
Let you mind explore the problem by sleeping on it.
Wake up with a new approach to the problem.
Go with your gut feeling to implement that new approach.
Keep thinking about the approach and how it is working out
because it is your creation.
Sense and respond to further opportunities as they arise.
When you are engaged in
integrative thinking, you will be giving your mind a chance to
make connections between what you know in other fields and the
context of the problem. This is the essential feature of
We all are capable of being
better integrative thinkers but the emphasis on training our
critical minds has tended to make us put critical thinking first.
So, to improve integrative thinking requires conscious
effort. Here are some tips to improve your integrative
Memorize some general categories to help trigger
connections in your mind; for example, people, market, product,
money, physical, social and cultural environment.
Think integratively more often so you habitually make
connections to create a whole new picture rather than habitually
break down an old picture into its parts and put it together again
with a "facelift."
Wonder, from many angles, about what you have and what you
want. Problem solving
is simply the negotiating of change from what you have to what you
Create a sensible narrative connecting your wonderings.
Manage your experiences in acting out the narrative.
With uncertainty and risk the
normal, you will benefit by solving both work and personal
problems through integrative thinking. Think about it!
Copyright Graham Douglas 2003