The Integrative Thinking Process

There is no sure-fire recipe to resolve the tension between opposing ideas or models, even less so when your task is to solve a wicked problem. But, there is a process you can follow – a process that gives you a better shot at coming to a great, integrative answer. This process is a heuristic – a rule of thumb to help you as you work through the problem. There are four key stages, with steps within each stage.

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Step 1: Articulating Opposing Models

The first step requires the Integrative Thinker to lay out her models - this step often involves turning the issue at hand into a two-sided dilemma, where each side is an extreme and pure expression of, and solution, to the core issue. Going to extremes helps us avoid starting our problem solving process from a place of compromise.

We then set out the two ideas with enough resolution that a friend could understand the essence of each model. Lastly, we identify the three key players important to our issue and articulate how each player benefits from each model.

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Step 2: Examining models

The second step asked the Integrative Thinker to consider the models together - a departure from the individual model analysis in Step 1. Integrative Thinkers must now explicitly hold the models in tension, exploring connections and differences.

We provide a set of six questions for the Integrative Thinker to consider during this step in the process. With the incorporation of select tools (causal modelling, for instance), we often see Integrative Thinkers reframe the problem in this step, as new information is discovered and new connections forged.

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Step 3: Creating possibilities

As the Integrative Thinker emerges from the weeds of Step 2, she now moves to building prototype integrative solutions that resolve the tension between the two models - and create better answer than would have been possible before. While we provide guided questions to promote possibility generation, this step is all about exploring what better answers might look like.




Finally, a new idea! The world often demands, however, that we "prove" our new-to-the-world idea before endorsing it. This last step asks "what would have to be true" for our solution to work and be implemented. Considering our solution in this frame explicitly generates testable conditions that help all problem solvers and decision makers alike gain confidence to move from idea to action.

Video resources for the Integrative Thinking process

Integrative Thinking Process

A step-by-step summary of the Integrative Thinking process, and why it is important.


Student examples of the Integrative Thinking process

An example of how students use the Integrative Thinking process to assist their thinking, and to approach and solve challenges.