Integrative thinking means being able to hold two opposite hypotheses and integrating them in a new, synergistic way.
According to Wikipedia: “Integrative Thinking is a field which was originated by Graham Douglas. He describes Integrative Thinking as the process of integrating intuition, reason and imagination in a human mind with a view to developing a holistic continuum of strategy, tactics, action, review and evaluation for addressing a problem in any field. A problem may be defined as the difference between what one has and what one wants. Integrative Thinking may be learned by applying the SOARA (Satisfying, Optimum, Achievable Results Ahead) Process devised by Douglas to any problem. The SOARA Process employs a set of triggers of internal and external knowledge. This facilitates associations between what may have been regarded as unrelated parts of a problem.
The integrative thinking is also defined as the ability to constructively face the tensions of opposing models; and instead of choosing one at the expense of the other, generating a creative resolution of the tension in the form of a new model that contains elements of the individual models, but is superior to each. Integrative thinkers build models rather than choose between them. Their models include consideration of numerous variables — customers, employees, competitors, capabilities, cost structures, industry evolution, and regulatory environment — not just a subset of the above. Their models capture the complicated, multi-faceted and multidirectional causal relationships between the key variables in any problem. Integrative thinkers consider the problem as a whole, rather than breaking it down and farming out the parts. Finally, they creatively resolve tensions without making costly trade-offs, turning challenges into opportunities. (The Rotman School of Management)
Systems thinking vs. Integrative thinking vs. Synthetic Thinking: Systems thinking would benefit from integrative thinking but systems are defined as parts interacting toward a shared purpose/aim/goal. Feedback loops define them. To think in systems is to think about cause and effect, communications, influence, obstruction, etc. By thinking in systems one looks for the parts that influence each other. Integrative thinking is looking at an issue from multiple perspectives. One could argue that integrative thinking is simply synthesis. Synthesis requires analysis, but it doesn't have to be directed toward understanding the issue in terms of a chain or loop of causal events. Or to even require that it's subject be viewed as a system or part of a system.
Integrative thinkers differ from conventional thinkers among a number of dimensions:
- They tend to consider most variables of a problem to be salient. Rather than seeking to simplify a problem as much as possible, they are inclined to seek out alternative views and contradictory data.
- They are willing to embrace a more complex understanding of how those salient features interconnect and influence one another, a more complex understanding of causality. Rather than limiting the possible causal relationships to simple, linear, one-way dynamics, they entertain the possibility that the causal forces may be multi-directional (circular) and complex.
- Integrative thinkers approach problem architecture differently. Rather than try to deal with elements in piece-parts or sequentially, they strive at all times to keep the whole of the problem in mind while working on the individual parts.
- When faced with two opposing options that seem to force a trade-off, integrative thinkers strive for a creative resolution of the tension rather than simply accepting the choice in front of them.
“Fundamentally, the conventional thinker prefers to accept the world as it is. The integrative thinker welcomes the challenge of shaping the world for the better.”― Roger L. Martin, Opposable Mind: Winning Through Integrative Thinking