As an avid reader, anytime a book can provide a paradigm shift in thinking, it becomes an instant resource on the shelf. Jennifer Riel and Roger L. Martin’s book, Creating Great Choices: A Leader’s Guide to Integrative Thinking brought intrigue and attention from the beginning. Problems are meant to be solved—creatively, collaboratively and successfully.
Riel is an adjunct professor at the Rotman School of Management and an established advisor to successful leaders of Fortune 500 companies. Martin is a notable strategy innovator and advisor for CEOs, an author, and business school professor. Together, Riel and Martin, again, combine and express their passion and expertise regarding strategic thinking. Working with the likes of Jay-Z and the Vanguard Group’s founder, Jack Bogle, makes Creating Great Choices an inspiring and encouraging read.
Divided into two parts: theory and praxis, Creating Great Choices provides a lot more practical insight than theoretical jargon. Riel and Martin present a “how-to-book rather than a know-what-book”. As a person who seeks praxis and implementation more than theory, a serious confession exists that Riel and Martin’s theory had the gears of the mind turning at a high rate of speed.
Creating Great Choices answers the dilemmas of stalemates and stuck organizations—regarding a broad swath of areas, including mergers, business acquisitions, crafting a new vision or untimely decision-making.
The book begins with the story of the LEGO empire and the CEO’s dilemma concerning extreme solutions required to rebrand the company. Riel and Martin utilize the LEGO company’s integrative thinking as an example—describing the blockbuster hit, The Lego Movie, as a transformation from a problem to super success.
The first chapter examines how to develop decision-making tools, away from deeply seated biases that manipulate the usual solution models. By demonstrating how formulated opinions and beliefs alter models for a solution, Riel and Martin cultivate a good foundation for the book. The reader should begin to associate how past experiences played out and could have been framed differently.
The second and third chapters round out the theory side of the book. Both chapters focus on how people’s mental presuppositions influence decisions and limit better solutions. For Riel and Martin, leadership makes bad decisions because of an “insular mindset”.
Leaders can overcome the limitations of compromise and bad decisions with the use of three specific components: metacognition, empathy, and creativity. With the three components, Riel and Martin, develop a working thesis throughout the remainder of the book to illustrate that better outcomes can and will occur.
The second part of the book leads the reader through a step-by-step process of integrative thinking, creative problem-solving, and shared solutions. Riel and Martin explain how leaders and companies cultivated new possibilities from non-existing solutions. Illustrating proven techniques with tools, templates, and practical stories of success, Creating Great Choices offers hope to organizational leadership stuck in opposites.
While Riel and Martin’s book is not exhaustive in every situation, it is comprehensive regarding discovery and implementation of decision-making. As an ex-business owner and current director of operations, sometimes life seems to be about crisis management. This resource provided some excellent insight into how to take two polar opposite opinions for a solution and creatively produce a common team-decision.
As the writers express thoroughly, most of the time organizations are stuck and fail because they only foresee two viable options. Riel and Martin’s book is not about a third choice, but utilizing existing choices in new ways.
Creating Great Choices is easily readable and quite compelling. With a myriad of applicable stories—assuredly some which will match problems of the reader. It was difficult to put down and a probable read-through in a few hours.
Regarding the applications of real accounts and stories, Jay-Z’s comment (while not censured) concerning decision-making was inspiring. Jay-Z conveyed a proverbial a “fork in the road” considering the only two choices in life. One choice provided “pockets of dope” and the other, “poverty.” Jay-Z chose neither and “went straight” (p. 64). Like Jay-Z, a positive aspect of the book is the ways and means in which leaders are presented with irreconcilable decisions and breakthrough with a paradigm shift in thinking.
As a writer, it is comprehended that every book has some type of flaw. Without sounding too cliché, Creating Great Choices did not show signs of weakness—it was well thought out and structured.
Perhaps the only argument would pertain to the aspect of too many stories for application, but as the writers stated in the beginning, it is a “how-to-book” (p. xii). Granted, the latter part of the book, into chapters seven and eight, are overly laden with illustrations and templates, which could be perceived as book filler, or interactive integration, depending upon how one reads books. Regardless, Creating Great Choices contains fewer negatives than most books.
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