Integrative thinking is the way forward

Steffie Verstappen
Article by: Steffie Verstappen
Integrative thinking is the way forward

On the topic of the current financial crisis, most experts will say that this is like nothing we have seen before. The current crisis is unique. Most experts have been traditionally educated and/or trained to assume predictable and measurable clarity while solving problems. Here, a substantial problem presents itself: if this crisis was impossible to predict, how will models based on narrow perfectionism help to tackle it? They won’t.


We need people that are capable of developing a whole new multi-faceted understanding of what is going on in the world, while taking account of all factors that make up a complex and unpredictable world. Although we, human beings, are predisposed to narrow perfectionism and specialization, we desperately need approaches of integrative thinking to take root within leadership levels of all sectors in our societies.


"Modern leadership needs integrative thinking. Integrative thinkers embrace complexity, tolerate uncertainty, and manage tension in searching for creative solutions to problems” — Roger Martin


At THNK, we believe that the capacity to think integratively is one of the key components of truly creative leadership. Integrative thinking is best described as the inclination and capacity to be able to, instead of choosing from among models, to build better models: model creation, rather than model choosing. It is inspired by design thinking because of the value of the designer’s approach to problem-solving. Nevertheless, the integrative way of thinking and problem solving can and should be applied to all components of business.


Integrative thinkers develop and utilize “messy” models to understand and drive action in a world that they explicitly qualify as messy, too. While conventional managerial wisdom often pursues predictable and measurable clarity, the integrative stance embraces an uncommonly high tolerance for—even attraction to—change, openness, flexibility, and disequilibrium. Integrative thinking models capture the complex, multifaceted and multidirectional causal relationships between the many salient variables, which may be needed today more than ever before.


Until now, integrative thinking has not gained overwhelming ground as a result of traditional disciplinary divides. Disciplines like to develop models and teach those to their students. Despite the fact that models are valuable, integrative thinking is a skill and capacity that is more valuable still. In fact, truly integrative thinkers will be welcoming of different perspectives, are able to harness all of that thinking and utilize different views and areas of expertise in order to come up with unexpected solutions to complicated problems. Leaders in all disciplines and sectors of public and commercial life will have to become flexible problem-solvers if they are to be creative and successful. “With the forces of competition today, it will make the difference between success and mediocrity," Martin predicts.

To learn how to think integratively, embrace complexity, tolerate uncertainty, and manage tension, join the THNK Creative Leadership Program. Visit the program page to find out if you qualify or contact us at