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The role of integrative thinking in mechatronics problem-solving

role of integrative thinking in mechatronics

The idea of integrative thinking has been around for over 30 years. First established by Graham Douglas in 1986, integrative thinking challenged critical thinking by encouraging creativity and focusing on making unexpected connections.

Integrative thinking was further refined by Roger Martin with his 2007 book, The Opposable Mind: How successful leaders win through integrative thinking. In his book, Martin defined integrative thinking as “the ability to constructively face the tension of opposing models and, instead of choosing one at the expense of the other, generating a creative resolution of the tension in the form of a new model.”

Integrative thinking is often included as a part of design thinking. Design thinking encourages mechatronics engineers to look at the product from the viewpoint of the customer (empathy), utilize outside perspectives (collaboration), leverage creative thinking (experimentalism), and find common solutions (integrative thinking).

“Integrative thinking is the ability to take two opposing ideas and produce a creative solution that is a union of the two, but superior to both,” says Kyle Maxey on

By its nature, mechatronics engineering integrates multiple fields, including electronic, control, robotic, system, and computer engineering. This makes it an obvious choice for integrative thinking – it’s what helps mechatronics engineers come up with unique solutions to an existing problem.

Standard electrical engineering processes may have once resulted in a solution to a problem, such as the advent of a wall thermostat. Applying integrative thinking in mechatronics that combines electrical engineering with control engineering and computer engineering and more and you end up with a home thermostat that you can control from your phone while on vacation. Integrative thinking feeds innovation.

Maxey outlines three ways that mechatronics engineers can effectively use integrative thinking:

  1. “Look Deeply – Don’t believe that what you know about a problem is the one and only reality of a situation. Opposing views should not be thrown away, they should be leveraged. Whatever your problem might be, there is an unseen solution.
  2. Be Open to Complexity – Let’s face it, simplicity is desirable. However, simplicity can get in the way of finding an innovative solution in Product Development. Embrace the complexity of your problem and mine every angle to build new ideas.
  3. Give Yourself Time – Like most things that are worth doing, integrative thinking can take time. Give your products an advantage by setting aside time for research and thought.”

The key, Maxey says, is that part of a design doesn’t have to be compromised in order to make another work. Implementing integrative thinking will help you find a solution that uses both.

Capitol Tech students studying mechatronics are able to apply integrative thinking to a variety of courses in electronics and instrumentation, fluid mechanics, automated systems design, and mechatronic systems design.

Capitol Tech offers bachelor’s degree programs in mechatronics engineering and mechatronics and robotics engineering technology. For more information, contact

Tags: Mechatronics Engineering