… but you can shape your participation in it.” This is a quote from Roger L. Martin.

You might have heard of him as author, strategist, influencer and/or lecturer. We, meaning Arjan Visser and myself came across his work while working on designing a new workshop and challenging ourselves to look at a business question in a different way. Actually, the accurate phrase here would be ‘thinking’ in a different way.

It therefore wasn’t coincidental that we came across “Opposable Minds”. The idea things are opposed to each other, might be a bit misleading. This book we refer to is actually a thorough introduction into the world of Integrative Thinking, the human brain’s ability “to hold two conflicting ideas in constructive tension”.

Back to our designing challenge.

We worked already for a while on the idea of designing a different approach on strategic questions. One of the big traps of strategy we experienced is, it becomes a great framework of intentions. So, we had to make sure, it was not only about the thinking, but also the doing.

An opposing thought of both theory and practise came to our Mind. Based on the timeless phrase of Kurt Lewin, we developed an Integrative Guiding Principle for our Design Process: make theory practical.[1]

We started listen opposing themes of Strategy, like: Analytical and Creativity, Intentional and Emergent, Future and Present, Red and Blue, Thinking and Execution. Working on these -apparently- opposing themes, we experienced the immediate human urge to start solving these issues. Some themes felt conflicting, some an intellectual challenge, others not that different and one or two where indeed hard to crack. Reflecting on our process and the solutions we came up with, we felt there was quite some analytical thinking involved, leading to conventional insights which didn’t differentiate and had the risk of main stream or biased solutions.

This was not meeting our ambition. The result we were aiming at was to create REAL choices.


And so, reflecting on our opposing themes, we started thinking about a Paradox (De Wit and Meyer) as a phenomenon to sharpen our thoughts. A paradox as a figure of speech. Consider the elements separately, they seem logical. Create a relation between them feels weird and irrational. Only the clue is that at the same time the paradox involves related elements, it is an apparent contradiction.

Paradoxes usually lead to four kind of responses, like: uhhhhhhh…. Or the response: or this – or that. Those responses are not very helpful when you want to create a REAL choice in a strategy process. But … we still have response number 3 and 4 on the paradox, as in: asking … and what if …, and what when …, the and-and response. Or the very challenging 4th response is about the “more-than” one, challenging us to see what becomes of real importance for the opposing thoughts. (Vermaak, 2019).

It became obvious for us that in developing a different approach for strategic challenges, we wanted to embrace the feeling of tension. We wanted to challenge ours and others mental models, as Peter Senge calls them, to stretch and hold the creative tensions, as Roger Martin so eloquently explained. This has helped us to find new strategic approach based on Integrative Thinking and using the paradox to frame a challenge.

Great Choices

And so we developed a roadmap of REAL CHOICES which we turned into GREAT CHOICES, leaving us with one more challenge, namely:

How do we create WINNING MOVES out of GREAT CHOICES?

With this lovely paradox we entered the final stage of development for STRATEGIC DESIGN.

We stretched the magical effects of the LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® Method to new limits. The result is a tangible, challenging and engaging workshop where a business will be able to immerse themselves in a serious challenge shaping their strategic position in an uncontrollable future.


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[1] Kurt Lewis phrase: ‘there is nothing more practical than a good theory’ (1952).