Paradoxically competent: from contradictions to both-and thinking

28 November 2019

digital flow
digital transformation

For a long time, we were convinced that you have to make choices, first focusing on one and then on the other. We are faced with so many challenges in the world of business today that making choices has become something of a lost art. Cruising speed is only reached when the best of each world comes together and there is a smooth transition between opposite aims.

During the final day of our Masterclass Digital Flow in Paris, we started off with insights from philosopher and management consultant Ivo Brughmans. He inspired about Paradoxical leadership and 'both-and' thinking, and we explored how this framework can be applied through a Digital Flow in the context of digital transformation.

Paradoxes have to be dealt with

There is an opposite to every feeling, movement or idea. Of course there is often a continuum of possibilities between two extremes, but the two extremes – which are diametrically opposed to each other – can feel like an irreconcilable combination. There are also many paradoxes to be found in your company. In the context of the digital transformation, for example, we can see the following areas of tension:

  • Speed vs. stability
  • Resistance vs. commitment
  • Chaos vs. structure
  • Reactive vs. proactive
  • Short term vs. long term

These contradictions provide diversity but can also have a delaying or even destructive effect if you allow the pendulum to swing too far. Too much stability and the organisation does not move and falls hopelessly behind; too much speed and employees and customers do not join in the story or put their heels in the sand. In short, everything and everyone is full of paradoxes and, depending on the context, it is best to move through the continuum of possibilities. One thing doesn't happen without the other. By meting out the extremes and bringing them together in a stable mix, both gain traction.


Embracing both-and thinking

All this may sound logical, but it is often not so obvious in practice. Historically or culturally speaking, a company often has the tendency to go more towards one or the other. It is a question of evaluating conflicting points of view and linking them together. In the meantime, do one AND think about the other, make a decision now BUT don't lose sight of the long-term consequences of that decision. Forcing yourself to think like this requires effort. At the top, for example, dual leadership could be an (intermediate) solution. Putting a creative CEO to work with a strict, bottom line oriented CFO will create a powerful combination and an impact that one person could not achieve alone. It is important, however, that both persons, although they keep their own role and focus, recognise the importance of each other's contribution and are able to enter into dialogue about it with each other. Incorporate a counterforce to every force so that each idea or movement can be nurtured by feedback and influences from the other side of the spectrum. It is important that organizational polarities are made explicit and that professional dialog is stimulated in order to be able to transparently deal with the tension caused by a contradiction.

Switching capability provides a Digital Flow

Even in full digital transformation, it is important to strive for a healthy balance between keeping the existing technology running in the short term on the one hand, and on the other hand also giving a place to innovation and the long term. When you invest mainly in keeping existing technologies operational, think of ways to keep these technologies optimised: not only technologically, but also financially, operationally and from a human perspective (use, maintenance). Or dare to be inspired to build in real novelties. This is the only way to challenge the status quo and to accelerate in relation to your competitors. And maybe you are already experimenting with innovative technologies, but are you thinking about how to integrate them and how to ensure that they become a stable force within your company? In other words, use the prevailing paradoxes and tensions as an engine for a continuous flow between the existing and the new... After all, by constantly switching within a paradox, it is possible to keep moving in a stable way. Not unimportant in this VUCA world. Enjoy the ride.

Do you already believe that both- and thinking is enriching?

Find out how a Digital Flow can provide an optimal balance.

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