Integrative thinking is the ability to take two opposing ideas and combine the best elements of both into a winning resolution. Rather than pitting the ideas against one another, the integrative thinker strives to create new and better solutions using the framework provided by the original ideas. Integrative thinking helps businesses make efficient decisions, put their best ideas forward, and keep conflict to a minimum. The process includes four steps: determining an issue’s important features, identifying the causes of the issue, envisioning the decisions to be made, and arriving at a solution.
Determining the Issue’s Important Features
An integrative thinker analyzes an issue first by determining its important features. In other words, on what desired outcomes are you basing your decision? Imagine that you’re considering changing your company’s compensation plan for salespeople to reduce the base salary and place a heavier emphasis on commission. Many potential reasons exist to make this decision, among them added motivation to sell, less money wasted on less productive salespeople, and the ability for top performers to earn more. Maybe you have several reasons for considering the change, but identifying the most important ones enables you to come up with relevant pros and cons and examine the potential costs and benefits of the move.
Identify the Issue’s Causes
The causes of an issue and the potential outcomes of your decision usually carry relationships to one another. If you reduce your sales team’s base salary and increase commission rates, you motivate your best salespeople to set higher goals for themselves while indirectly encouraging the more unproductive ones to either shape up or start planning their exit strategy. Such a move also might affect the type of salespeople your company attracts in the recruitment process. The new batch of candidates is more likely to feature salespeople who aren’t afraid of working for their paychecks. Identifying these relationships between an issue’s causes and how a change in one might affect the others is an important step to integrative thinking.
Envision the Decisions to Be Made
As you work your way through possible solutions to an issue, it’s important not to lose sight of the potential outcomes generated by those solutions. When analyzing a potential course of action, envisioning the end result of the decision can be useful, as it gives you something tangible by which to compare the outcomes of other decisions. It also allows you to focus on the entirety of the issue and resolution, even during times when you’re forced to break the issue into smaller parts and analyze them separately.
Arrive At a Solution
The integrative thinker always arrives at a solution decisively. Rarely is the integrative thinker’s solution one that fits into a nice little box or one that compromises on important goals. The best decision makers use the integrative thinking framework to produce creative solutions that combine the best elements of competing ideas, as opposed to making either/or choices that almost always mean accepting sacrifices in certain areas. Integrative thinking enhances decision making by helping you take opposing ideas and, instead of putting them in opposition to each other, using them as fodder for crafting an even better solution.