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Roger Martin is dean of the Rotman School of Management.
Roger Martin is dean of the Rotman School of Management.

Leadership advice

Martin: A new way of thinking for a new way of business Add to ...

Integrative thinkers also are willing to contemplate more complicated, causal relationships. So rather than a simple A causes B thinking, they think about complex causal relationships. They also make sure they are keeping close attention to the whole while working on individual parts of the puzzle, rather than chopping problems down into little pieces and trying to reassemble them, which is unfortunately what the modern corporation tends to do. Marketing takes the marketing part, and manufacturing takes the manufacturing part, and so on. It’s broken into 10 pieces, which rarely results in an integrative operation.

A manifestation of that is at Four Seasons, a hotel chain that charges a massive price premium for exemplary service, where you would think the second most important person would be the executive vice-president for guest services. It’s not. And the reason I can definitively say it’s not is because that position does not exist – there is no guest services department. The corny but true reason is service is everybody’s job.

Finally, when facing a choice, integrative thinkers are willing to keep working on the problem to see if they can come up with a better solution.

That is how integrative thinkers work, and at the Rotman school we are demonstrating this is totally teachable to MBAs and at other levels of education. We’re involved in a pilot project with the Toronto District School Board to bring integrative thinking – a version of it we call I-Think – to secondary school students. Thus far it is working spectacularly. They can learn this type of thinking at that level; you don’t need to be in graduate education.

You delved into design thinking, which has now become very popular, in The Design of Business. You highlighted the difference between analytical and abductive thinking. Could you discuss that?

This is a follow-up to the opposable mind and integrative thinking because we need to know how leaders come up with these creative resolutions. What is the creative act? As I explored this issue, it became clear to me that companies were getting in their own way on innovation by a subtle barrier in the way they thought. The business world has become much more quantitative and analytical technique-based in recent years.

Before I can explain why analysis can be a handicap for innovation, however, I need to delve further into how analysis comes about. There are two forms of logic that underlie analytical thought, deductive and inductive logic. Deductive means there is a rule that has been handed down from the past, like the times tables: 7x6=42. So if you ever see 43 as the answer to 7x6, you can say it’s not true.

The other form of logic underlying analysis is inductive, where instead of using a general rule, you look at many instances to form a conclusion. Market research is inductive logic. You survey 1,000 people and, on the basis of what they say, declare that people like a broad product line rather than a narrow product line or prefer blue to orange for your logo.

The difficulty is that, implicit in those two forms of logic, is they try to prove what is true based entirely on the past – on a rule handed down from the past or on observations that have a basis in the past. But you cannot prove from past data whether any new thing in the world – any new idea or innovation – will work.

Inadvertently, as managers have become more analytical and more quantitative, they have been inclined when someone puts forth with a new idea to respond, “Prove it in order for me to go forward.” That’s what a good manager does these days – he or she is analytical and asks for proof. But since you can’t prove a new idea in advance, all the new ideas are viewed as dangerous and problematic because they aren’t provable.

Companies have to recognize a different form of logic exists to handle new ideas. It’s abductive logic, which was the insight of a turn-of-the-20th-century American pragmatist philosopher named Charles Sanders Peirce. When you are facing something that doesn’t obey the previous rules or have some data but not enough to be inductive, you make an inference to the best explanation of what is going on, or what he calls a logical leap of the mind to come up with a new idea, and that new idea can only be proven to be right or valid by the unfolding of time and future events. So design thinking to me is the form of thinking that combines both inductive and deductive logic with abductive logic to create that which is new. It requires companies to drop the notion that they can prove new ideas in advance through analysis.

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