Both/And Thinking - Paradox System (Chapter 5)
I’ve started reading Both/And Thinking and am capturing my thoughts here as I go. Right now these are mostly the raw notes as synthesis comes later. You may find it interesting to start with the first post in this series or to read them all.
Today’s reading, added to our paradox mindset toolbox with a discussion of using boundaries to contain tensions.
Linking to a Higher Purpose
Building the scaffolding around paradox starts with identifying a higher purpose—the overarching reason, meaning, and direction that captures why we do something.
Navigating paradoxes can be taxing. The uncertainty and ongoing conflict can wear us down. Purpose helps energize us. It reminds us why we do the work we are doing and can help us push through day-to-day challenges and find more commitment to the work.
Paradoxes can also be divisive, as competing demands pull in opposite directions. In the face of those divisions, a higher purpose statement can serve to unify.
Finally, a higher purpose allows us to raise our sights toward a far-off horizon which can help us work through short-term tensions. The ongoing struggle between opposing forces can be dizzying and destabilizing in the moment. When we are caught in such throes, the oscillations can feel like being on a boat in a storm, as the boat thrashes from one direction to the next. But looking out toward the distant horizon offers an inner calm amid the chaos.
Critically, this long-term view can help us stay away from the traps we have discussed already and either/or thinking.
Separating and Connecting Competing Demands
There is a long-running story about an IBM GM, which is particularly poignant given that I work for an IBM company. This section focused on how creating either deliberate separation for the focus on the different sides of the paradox can help. Importantly though, you must also maintaining a connection between those efforts and the larger enterprise and the other side of the paradox.
You risk creating false dichotomies if you compartmentalize the sides too much as they can’t then inform each other. You can also fall into the trap of creating false synergies if you aren’t deliberate enough in sharing focus when you try to avoid separations because the short-term concerns will push out the long-term concerns.
Building Guardrails to Avoid Going Too Far
Guardrails serve the dual purpose of keeping you from going to far in one direction and of fostering invention by creating constraints on potential options.
For completeness and my future reference, the authors suggest these takeaways
- Boundaries are the structures, practices, and people that we put in place to support our ability to navigate paradox. We identify three core boundaries to help us engage more both/and thinking:
- Higher purpose: An overarching statement of vision can motivate us to embrace tensions, unite opposite poles, and focus on the longer term to minimize the short-term chaos;
- Separating and connecting: Structures, roles, and goals help us pull apart opposing demands, appreciate each demand independently, and bring them together to value their interdependence and synergies;
- Guardrails: Structures can prevent us from going so far in the direction of one tension that we end up moving down a vicious cycle.
Note: This chapter felt light on notes but was strong on concept. Sometimes you don’t need a lot of words. The narratives were great and felt very applicable. Today was also interesting because I read in a relaxation room in the office. While it worked, I think I prefer cafes.