Martin argues that to emulate the world’s best leaders people need to study how leaders think. He argues integrative thinking, is a common feature found in successful leaders. The book gives a working definition of integrative thinking as: “The ability to face constructively the tension of opposing ideas and, instead of choosing one at the expense of the other, generate a creative resolution of the tension in the form of a new idea that contains elements of the opposing ideas but is superior to each”.
Martin notes some of the major differences between integrative thinkers and conventional thinkers. Integrative thinkers: take a broad view of what is salient despite the increase it causes in the complexity of problems, consider multi directional and non linear casual relationships, keep the entire problem in mind while working on individual segments, and search for creative resolutions rather than accept trade offs.
In the second half of the book Martin outlines how to develop integrative thinking capabilities. The three main components that make up the integrative thinkers personal knowledge system are stance, tools and experience; “the tripod supporting the system”. Martin devotes a chapter to each element of the tripod, explaining their significance in the integrative thinker’s development and how they combine to create an effective integrative thinker.
Throughout the book, Martin studies the thought processes of prominent leaders and for each chapter uses several examples outlining how the leader used a particular aspect of integrative thinking to create successful strategy.
The book has been noted for having a strong thesis that understands "that fresh thought processes are required to deal with the world's contradictions and complexities and has been praised for showing how great leaders think rather than what they do.
The main criticism of the book has been its inability "to teach "generative reasoning" or to provide readers with specific conceptual tools and a knowledge system for integrative thinking. However, the reviews on the success of this have been mixed as India’s Business Today argues that his explanation of generative reasoning, casual relationships and assertive inquiry will “almost certainly enable you to go beyond the sort of reasoning taught at most B-schools.”