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Review – Creating Great Choices: A Leader’s Guide to Integrative Thinking by Jennifer Riel and Roger Martin

choicesThis review first ran in the Dec. 4 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

Creating Great Choices: A Leader’s Guide to Integrative Thinking

By Jennifer Riel and Roger Martin

Harvard Business Review Press

$41.99

Do yourself a favour.

Don’t tell a team to reach for consensus when they’re trying to solve a problem.

Yes, you’ll keep the peace. They’ll play nice and be polite to one another. The team won’t split into warring factions. Meetings won’t turn into cage matches. There will be no battle of the wills where the most persuasive, persistent and pushy railroad the rest of the team into choosing their preferred solution. No one will lose face or leave with bruised egos and lingering resentment.

But the team won’t deliver what you need. Reaching for consensus will leave you with an unholy mess of good, bad and ugly options stitched together into a weak compromise.

Instead of reaching for consensus, help the team build their integrative thinking skills. Show them how to hold opposing ideas in their minds and use the tension to create new and better choices.

“To produce better decisions, we need a better process,” say Jennifer Riel and Roger Martin, authors of Creating Great Choices and professors at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management.

“One key step in doing that is to explicitly consider opposing solutions, exploring deeply divergent possibilities for solving the problem. This approach is about challenging the notion that there is a single right answer. It is also about using conflict purposefully, thereby enriching our understanding of the problem and expanding the possibilities for its resolution.”

According to Riel and Martin, integrative thinking isn’t an innate skill. It can be learned by following three core principles at the heart of better decision-making: metarecognition, empathy and creativity.

“With these three components as the base ingredients for an effective approach to decision-making, you can lay the groundwork for a new way to think and work your way through difficult problems of almost any type,” say Riel and Martin.

Much of our thinking is automatic, implicit and abstract.  Metarecognition is the ability to be self-aware of how we think, draw conclusions and make decisions. “This means understanding why and how we believe what we believe. It means being clear not only about our conclusions and our actions but also about the data and reasoning that support them.”

Empathy is the ability to more deeply understand and better appreciate how others see the world. “It is the act of experiencing things as if we were in another person’s shoes. It’s about genuinely seeking to understand who another person is, what she thinks and how she feels.”

Creativity is about seeking the new and embracing the unique. It’s the imaginative spark that leads us to imagine something beyond existing options. “When we’re confronted with a difficult decision, most of us understand that it is our job to pick the right answer from among the options. In contrast, a richer decision-making process reframes our job: it isn’t to choose an option, but to create a better answer that effectively solves the problem.”

Creating Great Choices is the practical user guide to The Opposable Mind, Martin’s earlier book on integrative thinking. You’ll find exercises and templates to help you and your team look past least-worst options and instead reach for better solutions.

@jayrobb serves as director of communications for Mohawk College, lives and Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.