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Pioneers of Integrative Thinking

World-class business leaders: from our Speaker's Series
World-class business leaders: from our Speaker's Series

Laying the groundwork for the future of the MBA

Since 2001, we have invited world-leading academics, business leaders, entrepreneurs and social innovators to take part in our Integrative Thinking Speaker Series. Some, like business guru Peter Drucker, went on to sing the praises of Integrative Thinking. Browse through a sampling of these foundational talks. Get a glimpse inside the minds of some of the world's foremost integrative thinkers.

Peter Drucker, renowned business scholar and author of 30 books, June 2002

"For the first few years of one's career, people must work as specialists, but if they don't learn to integrate what they are doing with the organization's goals, they will do damage along the way."

What the Rotman School is doing may be the most important thing happening in management education today. The truth is, there's no such thing as a 'tax decision' or a 'marketing decision' - there are only business decisions. Most people don't think in terms of the enterprise, but in terms of their own specialty. For the first few years of one's career, people must work as specialists, but if they don't learn to integrate what they are doing with the organization's goals, they will do damage along the way.

Education must ensure that students don't view themselves as 'future marketing experts', but as 'future executives' who will make decisions that impact an entire organization. Finance teachers will always teach financial models, but they must consider the impact of these models on the total organization by relating their specialty to others. Students must be taught to ask, 'what does this decision mean for the rest of the organization? What do I need to know about taxes, manufacturing and people in order for this to be a good business decision?’

Without the functional tools, you won't be productive. But you're not just learning to use the tools for the sake of using them - you are using them to build something. Education must be specialized, but it must also accept that there are no specialty decisions or results - only business decisions and business results.

The effects of on integrative education will not be visible overnight. The first job a graduate gets will be a skills job. So it is vital to convey a fundamental mindset that encourages integration. In the long run, this is even more important than the functional skills learned in business school. This is why the efforts underway at the Rotman School are so critical.

Malcolm GladwellMalcolm Gladwell, author of The Tipping Point, April 3, 2006

"Conceptual artists, such as Picasso, continue to innovate with ground-breaking new ideas throughout their career, while experimental types like Cezanne have one key idea for their whole career..."

How many best-selling authors would begin a public presentation by announcing that they don’t want to discuss their books? And of that small group, how many would tell the audience that they would much prefer to talk about a now-defunct 70s rock band? The answer is, one: but then, Malcolm Gladwell is an original. The best-selling author of Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking and The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference was featured in the 51st session of
the ongoing Rotman Integrative Thinking™ Seminar Series on April 3rd.

Many people refer to ‘the story of rock and roll’ as if it were a singular story, Gladwell told the crowd, but it is actually two stories. “In the 1960s and 70s, Fleetwood Mac went through a dizzying array of lineup changes, relationship issues, and drug problems. If you listened now to their first few albums, you would have no idea who it was – they sounded nothing like the band we have come to know.” At the other end of the spectrum is The Eagles, who came about their success in a much different manner. “Their very first album, Desperado, sounds unmistakably like the Eagles we have come to know, and they hit it big immediately. Only three years later, they released their first ‘Greatest Hits’ compilation; and then came Hotel California – which remains one of the best-selling records of all time.”

The main difference between the two groups? “It took the Eagles just four years to create their greatest artistic achievement, while Fleetwood Mac took 16 years to make Rumours. As University of Chicago Professor David Galenson has shown in his research, creative people don’t mature at a consistent rate: they can be either ‘experimental’ (like Fleetwood Mac), or ‘conceptual’ (like the Eagles.)”

Conceptual artists, such as Picasso, continue to innovate with ground-breaking new ideas throughout their career, while experimental types like Cezanne have one key idea for their whole career, which they continue to chip away at. “This distinction is important,” says the UofT (Trinity College) graduate, “because in modern business, we tend to favour one kind of innovator – the Picassos – and turn our backs on the Cezannes.And there are major implications.”

Take the U.S. auto industry, which isn’t known for being very innovative. “In fact, it has made several conceptual innovations – the muscle car, the SUV – that revised the very notion of how we drive.” The Japanese, on the other hand, have not created new categories of cars; their focus has been on experimental innovations. “They work on things like reliability and low cost, over years and years.”

Detroit is always looking for big ideas, says Gladwell.The problem? “The Cezanne model takes time; but North American managers want results now!”The same bias can be found in Silicon Valley, he says. “Show me a VC firm that will stick with a project for 10 years. Today, Picasso would be circled by VCs, while Cezanne would be ignored. It takes longer for us to warm to experimental ideas.”

The trick for today’s firms is to find a balance, he says. “It’s no coincidence that the pharmaceutical, music and auto industries – all of which are wedded to the Picasso style of innovation – are in crisis at the moment.They need to change the way they think about innovation, and realize that there isn’t just one story of rock and roll: there are two.”

by Karen Christensen

 Bruce Mau, Founder Bruce Mau Design, November 2, 2004

"It's all about distributed potential - the image is broken into a million pixels, but it all fits into a broader mosaic..."

by Karen Christensen

Design has emerged as a powerful global force, says Canadian design guru Bruce Mau, placing us at the beginning of "a new period of human possibility, where all economies and ecologies are becoming relational and interconnected. " This is the premise behind Mau's exhibition, Massive Change: The Future of Global Design, which is taking the design world by storm. Mau visited the School in November to speak at the ongoing Rotman Integrative Thinking™ Seminar Series.

The basic idea for the exhibition was simple, he says. "The Vancouver Art Gallery asked us to put together a show about 'the future of design.' That seemed too broad at first, but as we looked around, some very clear patterns began to emerge." Among them was a clear desire to improve the world through design. "The human race now has the capacity to do just about anything; but with that ability comes a key question: 'what should we do?' This requires a whole new kind of stewardship of our resources."

Massive Change is about moving away from the visual aspects of design, and focusing on design as a capacity to make change in the world: it's not about the world of design, but the design of the world, says Mau. "Lester B. Pearson once said that the 20th century would be remembered as 'an age when human society dared to think of the welfare of the whole race as a practical objective.' We believe the 21st century will see this idea turned into action, and we see it as a design objective."

Mau believes that big, societal decisions should be part of "a broader discourse." Sounding like a textbook integrative thinker, he says "it's all about distributed potential - the image is broken into a million pixels, but it all fits into a broader mosaic."

The Massive Change project organizes the world into 11 types of 'design economies'. For instance, there's the 'urban economy'. "We think of architecture as a series of single projects, but it's really a plural entity." A critique of the singular runs through the Massive Change project. "Cities aren't stand-alone objects- they are part of an integrated economy." A second type of economy is the 'market economy.' "We think of' the economy' as always being there - but it's a design project, too. Market 'designers' decide what's in it, every day." Mau spoke about the estimated $ 9.3 trillion of 'dead capital' in the third world. "We need to work on releasing that. It's sitting right underneath the people who live there - but they need an infrastructure for its regulation and circulation."

We have an unprecedented capacity to plan and produce desired outcomes through good design, says Mau. "There is no longer an 'exterior' to our economy or our ecology - nothing has a 'fence ' around it. It's all interrelated." That, says Mau, is both the scariest and most exciting thing about Massive Change.

AG LafleyAG Lafley, Chairman, President & CEO of Procter & Gamble, April 21, 2003

"We accepted change, and rather than trying to resist it, we committed to leading it..."

Moses Znaimer, Co-Founder, President & ED of Citytv, April 10, 2002

"I much prefer memorable people to smooth people. It gives our stations character..."

At Citytv, we pay attention to things that others have chosen to ignore. The methods of television production are messy and uncertain–which is why mast stations hide them. Not us. Many would say, 'people don't watch stations, they watch programs.' But that's because most stations aren't there. Stations can speak–through everything they produce themselves, through the space between the programs. I believe that the character is in the delivery. The nature of TV is flow, now show. Our employees are a diverse, eclectic group. I'm not drawn to people with obvious connections. Most broadcasting graduates come out of school thinking the same. I look for the unexpected, for an urgency to communicate. At Citytv, we have maitre d's, PhDs, and some people with no education whatsoever. I much prefer memorable people to smooth people. It gives our stations character.

Michael Dell, Founder & Chairman, Dell Inc., September 21, 2004

"If you wait for all the data to come in, you’re usually too late, so you have to go with your intuition and make adjustments along the way..."

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