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If you do not adapt, if you do not learn, you will wither, you will die.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

A dichotomized and classified world

“Do you like this shirt or that shirt better, mom?”

“Who do you think is the best player, A or B?”

“Should I go there or not, what do you think, dad?”

Children, especially young children, live in a dichotomized world. It helps them make sense of the world and choose from the many different options that are available, just like they make sense of their lives and world by playing things out in their own fantasy world. They dress up and act like adults and how they perceive us (which can be a shocking eye-opener), they play kitchen or office, they mimic grown-ups and what not.

Yes or no, good or bad... the notion that there are always opposites in all things and that each cannot exist without the other is at least as old as Taoism. My 'yes' means nothing if I didn't have the option of 'no'. We wouldn’t and couldn’t know beauty without knowing ugliness. We wouldn’t know large without small, there is no high without low, no good without evil. So in that respect, the dichotomy is not just a given, it also works well for us.

By dividing their world in black and white, in yes and no, in this or that, children, but too often adults are included, simplify and at times over-simplify (this mostly goes for adults) their world. By doing this, we often do life, business, politics, and many other areas injustice. If you exclude certain crisis situations and the world of agreed upon rules and regulations like traffic, then you’ll find there is more grey – and numerous shades of grey for that matter – than there is black and white.

As adults we’ve had enough experience with life as to not need to simplify things by dichotomizing, or do we? We all classify in order to answer the question: “What is it?”
Let’s look at dichotomies and classifications in the world of business. For a manager or business leader, the question is not so much whether you focus more on relationships or more on tasks, but whether you are aware of your preferences and whether you control your emphasis depending on what the situation requires. Are you in charge? Do you consciously choose? Are your choices based on values and goals? For a manager or business leader, the question is not so much whether you do more asking or more telling, the real issue is whether you know which to do when and for what purpose. The real question is whether you have learned the value of both, and whether you have learned to perform whichever was represented less in your original tool box. But the biggest question of all, way above how to classify you into what category of leadership, might be: Are you willing and capable of receiving (and asking!) feedback on your style, your behaviors, and your choices to continuously improve for the benefit of your business, and for the benefit of your own growth and the satisfaction derived there from.

You can learn a lot from children. You can learn from their relentless questioning, from their timeless play, from their (sometimes brutal) honesty, from their eagerness to discover and learn, but in most cases you are better off staying away from all that dichotomizing and classifying business and life. Go for the nuances, the shades of grey, for creating options rather than stalemates, and above all, for the challenge of questioning yourself and learning from experience, feedback, and the many people around you. 

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