Integrative thinking

As described above, multiperspective and integrative thinking are important parts of the development of professional expertise. Kallio argues, in Chapter 2, that integration itself is a multi-dimensional concept. Integration presupposes differentiation, that is, separate objects to be integrated (at least two separate objects that are interrelated in one way or another). Etymologically, integration means “rendering something whole”. The word integration comes from the Latin integratus, the past participle of the verb integrate (“to make whole”), which in turn stems from integer (“whole” or “complete”, figuratively “untainted” or “upright”, and literally “untouched”). Literally, the etymological meaning of the word is to “put together parts or elements and combine them into a whole” (Integrate, 2019).

However, whenever we are putting something together from parts, something new emerges that is more than the sum of the parts. According to Kallio (2011), the integration of different objects of thinking goes beyond merely adding or linking things together. Integration, from this perspective, presupposes renewal and something that has not existed before. Thus, in integration, the mental objects are fused together so that the outcome is a synthesis. As the number of related objects increases, the level of complexity increases at the same time. The integration of different viewpoints, angles, perspectives, or objects is not necessarily just cognitive. For example, Labouvie-Vief (1990, 2015) has emphasised the integration of emotions and intellect in adult thinking. Similarly, practical action and theoretical knowledge may be integrated as in the Integrative Pedagogy model described above. These objects of thought may or may not be contradictory, but it is also possible that viewpoints complement each other or at least do not have any contradictory elements. The key outcome in each case is the fusion and synthesis of different elements.

In her review of research on adult thinking, Kallio (2011) has suggested that the integration of different viewpoints or objects of thinking is the key to the development of various forms of higher-order thinking, such as relativistic-dialectical (Marchand, 2002) or postformal (Kallio, 2001) thinking. Typical features of higher-order thinking include understanding the relativistic nature of knowledge, acceptance of contradictions between different viewpoints, and integration of contradictory views (Kramer, 1983).

Based on research findings on expertise, on the one hand, and on adult thinking, on the other hand, we can hypothesise that there is a relationship between the development of thinking and the development of expertise, and that both are related to the quantity and quality of knowledge acquired as well as to the way in which knowledge is processed. In an ideal case, an individual has opportunities to participate in diverse communities of practice (see Wenger, 1998; Wenger-Trayner, Fenton O’Creevy, Hutchinson, Kubiak, & Wenger-Trayner, 2015) where he or she can acquire and utilise different forms of expert knowledge: 1) conceptual or theoretical knowledge that helps him or her understand the topic better, 2) practical or procedural knowledge that develops through experience and improves skills, 3) self-regulative knowledge that develops when an individual reflects on his or her experiences, and 4) socio-cultural knowledge embedded in the social practices of the community. While acting in communities — which may be professional, educational, hobby-related, or personal in nature - an individual encounters what are more or less complicated problems, diverse knowledge, and multiple perspectives, which lead him or her to actively and critically ponder problems from different angles. In this process, an individual realises that knowledge is relative to the angle from which a problem is considered, and thus dualistic thinking is replaced by relativistic thinking. With more experience of ill-defined problems, people come to understand that there are no straightforward solutions for complex problems, and that they need to find solutions with which different, even opposite, approaches can be reconciled. In other words, integrative thinking is needed (Kallio, 2011).

Sometimes, unexpected solutions to complex problems are found when they are considered jointly by different people from various backgrounds. Combinations of experts can be arranged intentionally for this purpose, thereby creating conditions for emergent systems. The deliberative collaboration of experts from different backgrounds may generate results that are greater than the sum of the elements involved. These kinds of combinations of experts can constitute conditions for high-performance collaborative processes that nobody has planned and no one can actually plan beforehand or manage alone. This kind of playful and creative collaborative work enabling creative and free combinations of thoughts has also been called bricolage (Denzin & Lincoln, 2005). The word “bricolage” comes from the French language and refers to a kind of work in which materials of different types are put together. Bricolage presupposes divergent thinking that allows one to combine and play with things in an unprejudiced way. Breakthroughs in science, technology, and society often involve this kind of emergent thinking, which is best achieved by enabling conditions for creative playfulness (Salo & Heikkinen, 2018).

So far in our analysis, we have examined the concepts of expertise and integrative thinking. Both of these concepts seem to have a close connection to the concept of wisdom. For example, Kitchener, King and DeLuca (2006, p. 73) define wisdom as expert knowledge involving good judgement and advice in the domain of fundamental pragmatics of life, and emphasise the uncertainty of knowledge. According to Baltes and Staudinger (2000), relativistic-dialectical thinking — which Kallio (2011) redefines as integrative thinking - is an important component of wisdom. Similarly, Kunzmann and Stange (2007) see a close link between wisdom and higher-order thinking, and suggest that the integration of knowledge and character, mind and virtue is at the core of wisdom. In the same vein, Staudinger and Gluck (2011, p. 217) see the core of wisdom as consisting of understanding and reconciling contradictory ideas, such as the “dialectic between good and bad, positive and negative, dependence and independence, certainty and doubt, control and lack of control, finiteness and eternity, strength and weakness, and selfishness and altruism”. Furthermore, integrative thinking seems to be an essential element of professional expertise, as is wisdom. In the next section, we discuss the concept of wisdom and its relation to expertise.

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