Life is full of paradoxes, and businesses most certainly are.
A paradox is when there are two seemingly conflicting concepts which both appear to be true. Business is full of paradoxes.
How can I optimise the price I charge and still provide excellent value for money? is a paradoxical question. Someone once defined genius as the ability to hold multiple paradoxes in mind at the same time.
For business leaders to perform at the highest of levels I believe they need to be able to think clearly, to have a clear and cohesive philosophy about how things work, to have clear and appropriate mental models and this inevitably means being able to cope with the many paradoxes businesses present. Being able to ride several paradoxes is another example of thinking at a higher level, and is a key skill for the most effective leaders.
“I can either be popular or successful” might be an example of a paradox. It is defined by the either/ or choice in the middle, which suggests that it is one or the other. To think at a high level we need to reconcile these two apparent opposites. Is it possible to be both popular and successful I wonder? What would we need to do and to be in order to achieve both?
“Can we ask our price and still provide great value for money?” If any business can ride that paradox it is surely in a position to be more sustainably successful.
“Can I have a happy and cohesive, empowered team, while still having the discipline and the rigour that the business demands?”
“Can I be a effective leader at the same time as I being a compassionate person?” These are just some often many paradoxes the very best business leaders are able to ride without compromise.
As people we are able to deal with and ride paradoxes, quite naturally.
If we think about being a parent for a moment one of the paradoxes we face is how we reconcile the unconditional love that we have for our children with the knowledge that as parents we must be able to provide an environment of discipline, structure and rigour. Can we love our children and still impose the discipline and structure that they need to grow into responsible adults?
The best of parents manage to ride this paradox. You see unconditional love does not actually preclude discipline and rigour and nor does rigour preclude love. It is not either/or it is both….And. Sure it is easier to believe it is one or the other. Being able to ride a paradox is always more effort than the more simplistic view. It requires a higher level of thinking, and a higher more difficult level of execution.
The best leaders manage to ride multiple paradoxes in their businesses without compromise. The best business leaders are so because they think and execute at a higher level.