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Use the tension of two hard decisions to generate cool new solutions: award finalist talks integrative thinking

In Creating Great Choices, Jennifer Riel and co-author Roger Martin pinpoint what successful leaders do—and created a methodology that you can follow to get there

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portrait of Jennifer RielJennifer Riel (Markian Lozowchuk)

What do we do when we have a difficult problem at work? We lay out the options, analyze them and then get less enthusiastic about the choices, fearing the trade-off of choosing one over the other. 

But, what if there was another way?

“Let’s start with the two most opposing solutions,” says author Jennifer Riel. “Use the tension between them to generate cool new answers that didn’t exist.” 

This is one of the key concepts in Creating Great Choices: A Leader’s Guide to Integrative Thinking, which was co-authored by Riel and Roger Martin, and picked as a finalist for the 2018 National Business Book Award (NBBA). It also highlights diversity of thought and how our ideas are framed by our own biases.  

Creating Great Choices is a follow-up to Martin’s previous book, The Opposable Mind. [Read an excerpt from Creating Great Choices] “The message of Roger’s book was that this is what successful leaders do, and you should do it too,” explains Riel, who worked with Martin at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management after Mind was published to help people do this in a more organized manner. 

“There wasn’t a lot of structured advice,” she says, “or a methodology that a person could follow if that didn’t come naturally to them.” 

Here, CPA Canada talks to Riel about the application of integrative thinking in the workplace and beyond. 

CPA CANADA: In the business world, are we still making the mistake that there is always one right answer to a problem?
JR: We are. We’re really framed by our own context, our own incentives, our own biases. We often see this play out in organizations when these silos emerge. We care about different things, and it makes communicating across those silos really, really hard. Not just that we happen to be in different departments, it’s that we view the world differently. But there are no decisions that are made purely in a silo in an organization. The best decisions truly engage across function. But instead of just saying, “Let’s vote, and the one that has the most votes wins,” we want to engage in conversations about ideas that actually enable everyone at that table to think together.

CPA CANADA: What can business leaders do to benefit from diversity of thought in a workplace? 
JR: It’s not just a hiring problem. We tend to treat it as a hiring problem, like how do we recruit across the political spectrum, and different backgrounds, different genders, and all the incredibly important dimensions of hiring. But the problem is that you have this wonderfully diverse team and when you put them in a room to engage in productive conversations across that difference, it still tends to be the case that the person with the loudest voice wins. We wind up recruiting for diversity without the tools that enable us to hear those voices that are often underrepresented. So, what we need is a set of tools or methodology that enables us to have a different kind of conversation that separates people from ideas and lets us engage as equals.

CPA CANADA: Do people ask you to help them apply this theory to their own personal decisions?
JR: Certainly when people hear about it, they’re intrigued about the application beyond the boardroom. We have colleagues that work with high school and elementary school teachers, so they can teach it in their classrooms. That’s incredibly exciting because we get to see these children grappling with these tools to create better choices.

CPA CANADA: How does it feel to have your work recognized as a finalist for the National Business Book Award?
It was really exciting. I’m a very proud Canadian, so I was really pleased to be recognized amongst my Canadian peers. 

CPA Canada was proud to support the 2018 NBBA as an award ceremony partner. We congratulate Jennifer Riel and the other fine authors who were selected as finalists. This prestigious program plays an important role in fostering robust Canadian business conversations.