Examining Opposing Models
Episode #7 of the course Integrative thinking: A practical guide for leaders by Jennifer Riel
Hello again. We are at step two of four in the integrative thinking process. In the last lesson, we explored how to articulate opposing models and to note what is great about each of them.
In today’s lesson, we will talk about how to hold the models in tensions, asking key questions that can set you up to find a new and better solution. Take the pro-pro chart you created in the last lesson and follow along, asking each question for your problem.
What Is Similar, Different, and Valuable?
First, notice how the models are similar and how they are different. Think about which outcomes are associated with the different models and different stakeholders and which of the outcomes matters most to you.
When it comes to deciding what you value most from each of the models, there is no right answer. Different people may value things differently. This is actually helpful; it enables a conversation about the outcomes we most desire, why we value what we value, and what might be different potential paths to resolution of the problem. Challenge yourself (and your team) to parse what is truly most valuable to you.
Tensions, Assumption, and Cause-and-Effect
After determining which benefits you most, it is time for some new questions … about tensions, assumptions, and cause-and-effect relationships.
Tensions: At a high level of abstraction, our opposing models may seem to be all tension. How can we possibly be inclusive and exclusive, centralized and decentralized, standardized and customized at the same time? As we dive deeper, though, we can start to see what specifically about the opposing models is truly at odds. For example, the tension between centralization and decentralization might really be a tension between control and agility. Explore this question and ask how you might think differently about that tension.
Assumptions: An assumption is just a belief, one that we hold without consciously considering the evidence to support or contradict it. So, it stands to reason that reflecting on our assumptions can push us to explore the proof points behind our beliefs and what might be possible if the assumptions did not hold. Explore the assumptions you have made about your opposing models and ask: What if each assumption wasn’t true? For example, if your choice was between offering a standardized service or a totally customized one, an assumption might be that standardization always drives cost savings. What if that were not true?
Cause-and-effect: Understanding causation has predictive power; if we can see cause-and-effect in action, we can better predict outcomes. Plus, thinking through causation can help us explore alternative ways in which outcomes could be produced in future. Pick a few of the outcomes you really value. Sketch out a map of the cause-and-effect forces that produce those outcomes today. Explore how they might be produced in different ways. For example, if you really care about customer loyalty, explore how entering new markets with existing products and offering new products to existing customers might work to produce greater loyalty.
What’s the Problem?
As you play with these questions, it is easy to transition to problem solving. Don’t do this too quickly or you will short circuit your thinking process. If new answers start to appear as you think through these questions, note them, but don’t abandon your consideration of tensions, assumptions, and causality too quickly. Give yourself time to really examine and explore your thinking. Then, before shifting explicitly to the next phase, pause to reconsider the problem you are trying to solve.
The questions in this stage are not meant to be a checklist. Rather, they are intended to spur conversation and challenge thinking. It is in this second stage that we lay the groundwork for the creative task that follows: finding a superior integrative solution to the tension between our existing models. We’ll do that in the next lesson.
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