Book Review: The Opposable Mind

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Martin, Roger L. The opposable mind : how successful leaders win through integrative thinking. Harvard Business School Press, 2007.

Author, and Dean of the Rotman School of Business, at the University of Toronto, Roger Martin studied fifty superior business leaders to discern a shared theme — what makes these people successful? He found that these successful business leaders had a special way of thinking. When faced with problems, they all were predisposed to construct solutions using diametrically opposing ideas, those that seem, on the surface, to be mutually exclusive. Successful leaders avoided settling for one alternative or another, but instead they produced a synthesis that was superior to either of the opposing ideas. Martin calls this thinking process Integrative thinking.

One example that Martin uses is a local company, Red Hat in Research Triangle Park. In the mid 1990’s the software industry was dominated by two business models. In the proprietary software model, companies invested heavily in research and development, guarded their intellectual property and charged high prices. These companies had high profit margins. The alternative model was the free software model where suppliers sold CD-ROMs that included both software and the source code. Prices were low but volume was high. These seemed to be the only two alternatives.

In 1995 Red Hat’s Bob Young decided that Red Hat’s LINUX software would be downloaded from the internet, but the company would generate revenues through its ongoing service relationship with customers. Red Hat vaulted over its competitors and became the industry leader in its market.

In most of the book, Martin breaks the thinking process into constituent parts and shows how individuals can be taught to improve their integrative thinking skills. He also highlights CEO’s with integrative thinking skills, including Isadore Sharp (Four Seasons Hotels), A.G. Lafley (Procter & Gamble) and Piers Handling (Toronto International Film Festival).

© Reviewer: Meg Trauner & Ford Library – Fuqua School of Business. All rights reserved.

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