Managing Different Thinking Styles in Organizations

April 2nd, 2006

My father, Mayer Spivack, has written an interesting piece on managing thinking styles in organizations. He points out the difference between the thinking styles in early and later stage companies, and the challenge of managing and integrating these two aspects of the organization’s cognitive process. I think that the syncretic-associative mode (curious, inventive, exploratory, enthusiastic, adventurous) tends to be more externally focused, whereas the linear-logical mode tends to be more internally focused (careful, reductivist, analyticial, skeptical, habitual). You could say this is the difference between an organization being extraverted or introverted, and the challenge is for organizations to evolve balanced personalities. This could be an interesting way to approach management consulting — and I wouldn’t be surprised if there are others thinking about organizations in these terms.

The Syncretic Management Process

Understanding The Value Of Associative Thinking In A World Of Linear Decision-Making

Decisions and communications among individuals in organizations are
frequently initiated, managed and concluded almost entirely from within
a framework of linear-logical thinking. Paradoxically, the products and
services comprising the intellectual property and capital creative upon
which most business are founded owe their existence to a non-linear,
but nonetheless logical, syncretic process of associative thinking.
Syncretic thinking is a mental process that makes non-linear, and
therefore often unexpected, connections among seemingly divergent
phenomena or data on the basis of common qualities.

By understanding this paradox between the creative syncretic process
characterizing the founding stage of an organization, and the
conservative linear processes that characterize later stages we can
generate a new mix of creative thinking that effectively includes both
elements. These two modes of thought highlight several differences
between the mind-sets that typify the young innovative start-up phase
of a business compared with that same business at a later more mature
phase, settled into it’s niche. The associative and inventive thinking
that generated a novel product or service and founded an organization
or industry may, at maturity, have yielded to a more rigorous calculus
of risk, competition and strategic analysis. In this later phase of
organization, linear frameworks of thinking that tend to conserve
capital and to advance the organizations goals incrementally within an
established niche are strongly reinforced and rewarded. Thus linearity,
alone, is widely believed to be essential for survival. However,
neither framework in isolation is likely to encourage the growth of new
ideas that may form the future of the organization. Nor could an
organization develop far beyond the initial concept stage without the
benefit of both modalities operating together.