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Integrate your thinking

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When planning high-speed train service along the busy mid-Atlantic corridor, Amtrak asked IDEO to design the interior of its new passenger coaches. Amtrak’s executives wanted cars that were both user-friendly and attractive, more like airplanes.

That wouldn’t have been hard.

But it also wasn’t what IDEO had in mind. Its “integrative thinkers” said Amtrak missed the point. Customers chose flying not because they hated Amtrak’s cars. They were flying because they hated Amtrak’s everything. The new coaches could have been lushly appointed; it wouldn’t have mattered.

IDEO persuaded Amtrak to look at “the whole thing.” It broke trips into 10 steps and redesigned not only rail cars but stations, including kiosks and workstations, and even the brand itself.

Bottom line: Instead of dwelling on what leaders do, try to copy how they think. In this case, it was a matter of looking at the forest instead of the bark on the trees.

—Adapted from The Opposable Mind, Roger Martin, Harvard Business School Publishing.

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