Source: Harvard Business Review

The Big Takeaway: When faced with a tough decision, most people think in terms of either/or. You can only choose one. Many successful people, however, think in terms of both/and. Embracing this mindset has been shown to lead to more creative solutions to tough problems.

The Details:

Whenever we’re faced with a big decision, it always seems like there are two different choices. It’s black or white, right or wrong, best or worst. No matter how we view it, it always feels like there’s an “either/or” choice in the equation. That method of thinking, however, might not be the best way to approach the situation.

Research published in the Academy of Management Journal suggests that thinking in terms of “both/and” instead of the traditional “either/or” can produce more creative and effective results.

The “both/and” thinking is called a paradox mindset. It might seem like both options are at odds with one another, but when you lean into the competing options simultaneously, you can come up with better responses and choices. 

The authors of the research suggest a three-step approach to adopting more of a both/and mentality to solve problems:

  1. Surfacing tensions – Tensions are all around us in our everyday choices. Most people try to avoid unnecessary tension. People with a paradox mindset affirmatively seek it out. Instead of looking for views consistent with your own, seek out those with opposing thoughts. This will help you understand the world and the links between the seemingly either/or choices.
  2. Embracing tensions – Tension isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s how we get to the root of issues and true understanding. Once the tensions arise, most people will choose a side and stick with it. But people with a paradox mindset don’t feel the need for closure and consistency. They think about past decisions (that either they or others have made) and seek other options besides the simple either/or that could provide better outcomes later on. This can lead to some decision-making inconsistency, but it also makes both/and thinkers able to adapt to varying circumstances and make better choices in the long run.
  3. Processing tensions – Just because you make a decision doesn’t mean the related tension goes away. People with a both/and mindset constantly analyze and reanalyze tensions to see how opposing ideas may be different and the same. They look for links and how the options can work together to solve the problem. They’re always seeking a “win-win” solution. 

Tension is never comfortable, but learning to handle that tension and use it to your benefit will make you a more creative and effective problem solver. Next time you’re faced with a decision, don’t jump right to the either/or model. Lean into the tension, consider the links and connections between the choices, and assess whether more of a both/and approach could be beneficial. You might be surprised by the solutions you come up with!



About Erik Garcia

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