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They say mistakes are key to learning. Having had my share, I couldn’t agree more. But I would say while mistakes are great learning experiences, crises exercise a unique mental capacity for (wicked) problem solving: integrative thinking.

Roger Martin defines integrative thinking as the “ability to constructively face the tensions of opposing models, and instead of choosing one at the expense of the other, generating a creative solution of the tensions in the form of a new model that contains elements of the individual models, but is superiors to each”.

Now in a crisis, the two opposing models are represented by the duality of short and long term perspective taken to an extreme. On one hand a crisis implies there are tremendous short term pressures, and little guarantees for the future. This is when staying true to long term goals, values and principles becomes excruciatingly hard, and the tendency is to put those aside. Eliminating the anchor to the long term future is equivalent to a defensive stance which only exposes one further; it is the anchor to the future than can provide the bridge across the crisis, akin to offensive being the best defense. And so, somehow, the two opposable perspectives have to be reconciled in order that one may successfully traverse the crisis and come out stronger on the other end.

In my own experience the ability to resist the temptation to succumb long term strategy to immediate panic has served me well. It is not that I am not afraid or that I negate the pressures of the short term, but rather than I can separate and compartmentalize the two in my mind so that I can exploit their tension creatively and continue to function effectively. I therefore contend I am a better integrative thinker because of the crises to which I was (unfortunately) exposed.

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