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“AND” IS THE NEW “OR” – The Value of Paradoxical Thinking in Business

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Both/And Thinking

Many of us think we live in an “either/or” world. A world colored in black and white, win or lose, us versus them.  Framed in simple dichotomies, this fixed mind-set narrows our vision, limits possibilities, and reduces the number of choices. It affects how we think, solve problems, and make decisions.  A fixed mindset also puts us on the defensive when we hear bad news; it keeps us stuck in a narrow mental box.

This is because we don’t actually live in an “either/or” world.  We live in a world with tensions and opportunities coming to us from all directions.  You know, the world where there is a constant tug of war between today and tomorrow, long-term goals and monthly targets, managing costs and generating revenues, motivating people and managing performance, and balancing our work and personal lives.

What’s “right” and what’s “wrong” is often obscure.  Finding the truth is often complicated.  In this complex world, you need a more agile, penetrating mind that understands a more confusing, interconnected life and workplace. Decisions tend to be many sided: life and work are full of contradictions, and there are more risks and opportunities than ever before.  This is where “both/and” thinking comes to your rescue.  It is a powerful tool that enables us to hold all of this complexity in our heads at the same time. “And” has become the new “Or.”

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The Paradox – Two Opposing Ideas

A paradox exists when two opposing ideas have equal power or truth.  Both are real and have merit and yet they contradict each other like good and evil, right and wrong.  All of the opposites that we experience—health and sickness, wealth and poverty, power and submission—are due to temporary dominance of one principle over another as these forces toggle back and forth. For example, you can’t know happiness if you haven’t known sadness.

When confronted by a paradox, the old “either/or” thinking will get you into trouble.  To Think Big and be more conscious, you must learn to find meaning and energy from both sides of the continuum.  Can you be reflective and decisive, confident and humble, or realistic and idealistic?  You can learn to expand your reasoning process and train your mind to use “both/and” thinking to hold multiple ideas in your mind simultaneously.

Tips for Conscious Living

  • Approach challenges as paradoxes. Problems are to be solved, paradoxes are to be managed. In a changing world, we need to deal with paradoxes with a “more than one right answer” mind-set.
  • Identify and explore opposing ideas. Stay curious when exploring the opposite viewpoint. Asking, “Can you tell me more?” will help to solicit diverse ideas and cultivate deeper understanding.
  • List the pros and cons of both viewpoints.We tend to focus on the benefits of our perspectives and the limitations of other viewpoints. If you become defensive, consider why and learn from the answer.Another’s idea or opinion may broaden your vision or create a new vision.
  • Look for the “both/and” when making decisions.By getting the benefit of opposing viewpoints, you generally will arrive at a better decision. More people will support it, which will help you with execution.

Developing a “both/and” mind-set is part of the Think Big practice in our book CONSCIOUS: The Power of Awareness in Business and Life.  The other steps are Go Deep, Get Real, and Step Up.

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