The problem of strategic choice
Either or thinking in strategy arises from the Aristotelian logic, which requires the elimination of paradoxes and dilemmas. Examples of these dilemmas are competition and collaboration or saving money and creating more value – at the same time. These dilemmas, if not resolved through choice and decision were seen as a sign of faulty thinking. As an alternative one could think of the problem of competition and collaboration or saving and providing a better service as a creative dilemma and a positive paradox. There are many different definitions of a paradox. It may mean a contradiction, a situation in which two conflicting elements exist at the same time. A paradox in this sense can be removed by choosing one side instead of the other or by reframing the problem to remove the contradiction. A paradox may also mean a state in which two opposing needs are simultaneously present, neither of which can be eliminated. There is therefore no possibility of a choice between the opposing poles or possibility of locating them apart without halting the process in time.
What is then required is a different kind of logic, such as the approach of Hegel instead of Aristotle. In Hegel’s thinking, the word paradox means the natural, and necessary, presence of conflicting ideas at the same time. A paradox is then the essential requirement for creativity and transformation. Paradoxes are a requirement of life. We live in a time when we have compartmentalized ourselves into disciplines, using engineered processes. Instead of these separations, we need to cross boundaries and interact to make new connections and insights. Crossing boundaries is always about working with differences. Differences are potentially conflictual in nature, and this is something we should now welcome. Conflicts give rise to the possibility of innovation and the potential for finding new solutions. Another example of this is the mathematical concept of chaos in the sciences of complexity. There the edge of chaos is a dynamic pattern in time that is stable and unstable at the same time. Stability and instability are inseparable. The dynamic is paradoxically both predictable and unpredictable. It is about predictable unpredictability or unpredictable predictability, stable instability or unstable stability. The contradiction and dilemma between stable and unstable cannot be resolved, but gives rise to the potential for creativity and innovation. It is time to refresh our thinking about strategic choice. It is time to embrace complexity and the enormous creative potential of live paradoxes.
Thank you Doug Griffin, Tomi Laamanen and Ralph Stacey