Paradoxes and Dilemma’s

July 2, 2014

Last Sunday, for the first time in five years, Qhuba had a Beach Party: we had Beach Volleyball, a Sand sculpture-artist, barbecue, Soccer Championship on a big screen, and… partners and kids.

It was great. Why didn’t we do that before? Company – Family – Party,

Indeed, why did we not? Work life and personal life are interconnected nowadays, we work from home sometimes, they hear the stories, and how much fun is it when your kids and your spouse get to meet the people you work with and talk about? Great Fun! And probably I am the reason it never happened before, because work and home were different worlds me, and I kept them separate. This seemed like a good idea, and now it does not sound like such a good idea anymore. Or maybe for some people it still is, since not every attends these kinds of Parties, and not everyone who does attend brings his family. Not everyone has a family, for that matter.

Trying to think this through it becomes obvious that companies and people are constantly faced with Paradoxes.

This was an example; there are many more, bigger and smaller:

 

  • Work and Private mixed or separated
  • Command & Control, or Self Steering?
  • Customer Focus, or People First?
  • Collective growth or personal development
  • Lean, or Agile?
  • Exploitation or Exploration?
  • Management or Leadership?
  • Focus or differentiation?
  • Short term or long term
  • Cash or Value?
  • Product focus or Market orientation?
  • Network company or traditional Hierarchy?

 

The list goes on as long as you want, but first this: are these Dilemma’s or Paradoxes. I believe the difference is crucial. As far as I am concerned they are Paradoxes. In my definition a Dilemma is an “either-or” contradiction, usually the result of, or the solution to a problem. Good stuff for tough Leaders, because they need to make a choice between two alternatives that appear to be equally attractive or unattractive.

A Paradox on the other hand is an “and-and” challenge, seemingly contradictory and exclusive at first glance.

 

 

But what if the juxtaposition of alternatives is only perceived, and we do not think the challenge through, or we are not open to new possibilities as a result of our background or our worldview? Our opinions are often shaped by assumptions about what is right, and we act in accordance with those assumptions, without questioning where they came from.

If we do this, we turn Paradoxes into Dilemma’s, which we will then solve by making choices that have only losers, leading to polarization, negativism and missed opportunities.

 

Bob de Wit and Ron Meyer wrote about this in their book “Strategy Synthesis – Resolving Strategy Paradoxes to create Competitive Advantage”:

Most people are used to solving puzzles, resolving dilemmas and making trade-offs. These ways of understanding and solving problems are common in daily life. They are based on the assumption that, by analysis, one or a number of logical solutions can be identified. It might require a sharp mind and considerable effort, but the answers can be found.

However, most people are not used to, or inclined to, think of a problem as a paradox. A paradox has no answer or set of answers – it can only be coped with as best as possible. Faced with a paradox, one can try to find novel ways of combining opposites, but one will know that none of these creative reconciliations will ever be the answer. Paradoxes will always remain surrounded by uncertainty and disagreements on how best to cope.

 

So Paradoxes require effort, and learning how to deal with them, rather than killing them by making simple choices. A few simple steps might help, but it is a journey into uncharted waters.

The first step: Acknowledgement: make clear and agree on the fact that you are dealing with a paradox and not with a Dilemma that requires a “yes” or “no”, or a “left” or “right”.

Then: Accommodate a conversation, a discussion or a process. This might be the hardest part; talk about the paradox without all your preconceived notions of “how we do it”, or what is best, but instead look at the alternatives from all sides, seriously considering both their positive aspects as well as their negative aspects.

After that: Acceptance: we need to accept that for most paradoxes there are not simple solutions, and that the outcome is uncertain, as it the future. A change mindset helps. Let’s have that Family–thing and see what happens.

And finally: Creativity: look for workable ways to deal with complex concepts, systems, structures and solutions. Experiment and be prepared to turn the whole thing upside down.

 

And complexity…? If we can give each other the leeway to organize a Beach Party, to attend or not to attend, and to bring spouse and kids are not bring them, and if our kids can build sandcastles together, and decide to destroy them again, or finish them, or to play volleyball or watch soccer then we should be able to deal with the business paradoxes, too. Especially if we are able to admit that we will be wrong sometimes, or even that we want to be wrong.

 

For all who want: another Beach Event next year. With kids, Or without, Or both. I will be there.