Working Beyond Absolutes

Working Beyond Absolutes

I’m noticing more paradoxes than usual lately. These include living in the intersections of stress and innovation; attention that’s given to global and hyper-local views; caring for others and oneself; leaders who are taking care of what’s directly in front of them and reconfiguring longer-term plans; and entrepreneurs who are pivoting their offerings while keeping the soul of their business intact. 

One of the truest parts to our humanity is that we’re paradoxical. 

We have the unique ability to hold multiple, simultaneous, seemingly absurd, sometimes contradicting truths together. And, from this place, we discover new truths. 

It’s thinking that goes beyond binary either/or, this/that, us/them thinking. Part of our unique gifts is our ability to straddle the tension of yes/and.

Some human paradoxes:

  • We value progress, yet progress requires change and we tend not to like change—especially when it’s forced on us.
  • We need constraints to unearth productive creativity, but we rebel against those same constraints.
  • We expect reason and logic to impact the decisions of others, yet we know that our own decisions are emotional.

It’s worth a reminder that we are built for hard things like holding and living in paradoxes.  Some paradox examples in our work might include: 

  • A business leader that’s both afraid and courageous in the face of the fearful unknowns in their future. 
  • A team of “over-achievers” who also remain open and vulnerable to chance-taking and growth.
  • A new product that’s both quickly created and valuable; or unique to your brand and differentiated. 

So, how do you work with a paradox? 

Envision for a moment you’re holding a strategy meeting with a wide variety of data, concepts, and solutions aimed at a singular challenge. Multiple truths and realities (data, perspectives, and feedback) are being presented. Call your attention, then, to the center of these realities. And, ask yourself, based on all these truths is there a new truth that emerges? A both/and perspective that emerges? A new view, a new approach, a new way forward that the data alone can’t show you?

Only by standing in the center of the paradox can you evolve to a new way of thinking and being.  

Think of the New Deal instigated by FDR (banking, fiscal, securities reform, along with plans to repeal prohibition—all framed in the first 100 days of office). Think of the iPhone. Think of how Airbnb, Lyft, Uber, Tesla, Google, Zappos, and Nike came to be.  

Now, think of the new reality that we’ll create coming out of this crisis.  

By standing in the center of the paradox and choosing to do anew, an evolution will incur. This is where you evolve. 

Maybe next to necessity, paradox is the sibling to invention. Your reinvention is being called forward now.  

Evolution doesn’t ask that you stop being yourself. It invites you to find your way back to the more true version of you or your business. Moving forward often looks like peeling off the stuff that weighs you down and doesn’t matter, to get to the things that do. 

Your evolution asks you to both be true to yourself and serve the new needs of the world now.  

I promise you, it’s worth all the hard work. You are purpose-built for the challenge. The world needs you and your business more than ever.  

Put yourself in the calm center of the dizzying chaos that surrounds and embrace the yes/and possibilities of your work, your business, your culture, your brand. 

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