"Fine art is that in which the hand, the head, and the heart go together." — John Ruskin, 19th century English critic, artist and social reformer

Too often, we see the world in narrow binary, either/or terms. Odd or even, closed or open, introverted or extroverted, individual or group, profitable or unprofitable, rational or irrational, right or wrong, real or imagined, hard or soft, emotional or dispassionate, and vertical or horizontal are common examples of how we try to neatly pair contradictory opposites.

But top performers look beyond either/or, to and/also. Instead of seeing just polarization, they see beyond the contradictions that limit most people. They are able to manage the third position that emerges from balancing the two opposites. As professor, consultant, and author, Charles Handy, points out in his book, The Age of Paradox, "paradox does not have to be resolved, only managed."

Five thousand years ago in ancient China, Fu Hsi developed an "and/also philosophy" that is still with us today. His concept of ying and yang taught that much of life consists of two opposite and sometimes opposing forces. As with male and female, the very existence of each may depend on its opposite. In other cases, one may transform or kill the other, such as fire and water, darkness and light, or cold and hot.

Samuel Johnson, the 18th century, poet, essayist, and journalist captured this interdependence of contrasting forces when he wrote, "the lustre of diamonds is invigorated by the interposition of darker bodies; the lights of a picture are created by the shades; the highest pleasure which nature has indulged to sensitive perception, is that of rest after fatigue."

Finding the Right Balance

Improvement Efforts Must...

  • Produce quick, short term results and also... Change long term personal habits and organization culture
  • Expect the best and also... Be prepared for the worst
  • Build consistency, discipline, and a systematic approach and also... Constantly change, experiment, and learn by "mucking around"
  • Respond to and serve existing customers and also... Develop new customers and markets by uncovering unmet needs
  • Amplify the potential pain and also... Focus on the gain
  • Continuously improve in small increments wherever possible and also... Make breakthrough changes

The key lessons of the yin and yang philosophy or of managing paradox, is finding a balance that's right for the conditions and circumstances. That means we need to learn how to deal with the ambiguity and uncertainty of and/also. While many of those balances have always been dynamic and changing, today's hyper speed of change makes them all the more so. The words of Voltaire, the French philosopher and dramatist, ring even truer today than they did in the 16th century, "Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is an absurd one."

Author's Bio: 

Jim Clemmer’s practical leadership books, keynote presentations, workshops, and team retreats have helped hundreds of thousands of people worldwide improve personal, team, and organizational leadership. Visit his web site, http://jimclemmer.com/, for a huge selection of free practical resources including nearly 300 articles, dozens of video clips, team assessments, leadership newsletter, Improvement Points service, and popular leadership blog. Jim's five international bestselling books include The VIP Strategy, Firing on All Cylinders, Pathways to Performance, Growing the Distance, and The Leader's Digest. His latest book is Moose on the Table: A Novel Approach to Communications @ Work. www.jimclemmer.com

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