Exploring Possibilities

22.08.2018 |

Episode #8 of the course Integrative thinking: A practical guide for leaders by Jennifer Riel


We’re on Lesson 8 of Integrative Thinking: A Practical Guide for Leaders. We are midway through the integrative thinking process and are about to start generating possibilities for new and better solutions.


Three Pathways

Generating possibilities requires creativity, insight, and some luck. You can certainly begin by reflecting on any insights that emerged from stage two of the process and asking: What might a better answer look like? If you are struggling to imagine a better answer, the task can be made easier by exploring three guiding questions.

How might a new model be created from one building block from each opposing model, while throwing the rest of the models away?

What if you were to take one component from each model, one aspect you truly value, and combine those two little gems in new and interesting ways? Could you throw the rest of the models away and design a new solution based on the aspects you most value from each of the opposing answers? What might that look like?

Imagine your tension was between spending your resources to expand to new geographies versus creating new products for your existing markets. You might take one benefit from each model (e.g., entering new markets lets you think like a disrupter; investing more in existing markets lets you benefit from scale) and explore what a new model could look like that starts with those benefits as its core (e.g., how might we build a model that lets us operate with a disruptive mindset, at scale?).

Under what conditions could a more intense version of one model actually generate one vital benefit of the other?

Imagine taking one model and extending it in order to capture just one important benefit from the opposing model. Say that you were struggling between centralizing training and decentralizing it. In this case, perhaps you love almost everything about decentralization (agility, local accountability and autonomy, customization to context), and you also value one key benefit from centralization: the way centralization can reinforce a common culture across the firm. In this case, you could explore how you might extend the decentralized model in such a way that it begins to reinforce the company’s culture. Could a highly decentralized model, for instance, help create and reinforce a culture of individual autonomy?

How might the problem be broken apart in a new way, such that each model could be applied in whole to distinctive parts of the problem?

What if you were to think differently about the problem itself? Could you break the problem apart along an important fault line and apply each of the two opposing models to its distinct parts? For instance, if you were struggling between whether to offer a standardized product or a customized one, you might break the problem apart by type of customer (e.g., could small customers get a standard product and large ones a customized one?) or by stage of production (e.g., could some aspects of the product that benefit most from economies of scale be totally standardized, while other aspects that customers value most be customized?) or by age of product (e.g., could new products be treated differently than established ones?).

Teams are ready to move on from generating possibilities when:

• They have made a genuine effort to work through the three questions.

• They have generated several possibilities that feel as if they have the potential to create more value than either of the original opposing models.


Trying It Out

Going back to your own challenge, explore the three questions for your opposing models.

At this stage, try to remember that all ideas are good ideas. Turn off the instinct to judge possibilities too harshly. Capture all the ideas that are generated and encourage individuals to share all the ideas that occur to them, even those that seem silly or off the point. You never know where those ideas might lead.

Once there are potential integrative solutions ideas on the table, the next stage is to think about how the ideas might be built out, explored, and tested. We are still not ready to choose a single possibility and move on. Instead, we will take several possibilities to the next stage and assess these prototypes via testing and experimentation. We’ll talk about this tomorrow.


Recommended book

Smart Choices: A Practical Guide to Making Better Decisions by John S. Hammond, Ralph L. Keeney, and Howard Raiffa


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