We live in a polarizing world of OR. We must decide to…

  • Cheer for Ohio State OR Michigan
  • Identify as progressive OR conservative
  • Support secure borders OR immigration

In each situation, we believe we must choose one over the other.

As a father, I face this challenge as well. When parenting, should I be silly or serious? Firm or fun? Tough or tender? Depending on the day, and often, depending on the moment, I often choose one OR the other.

This OR mindset also permeates leaders’ decision making at work too. They ask questions like, “Do we…”

  • Invest to grow revenue OR cut to reduce expenses?
  • Double down on our core products OR innovate something new and unknown?
  • Focus on the short term OR the long term?

It’s Time to Make Decisions with the AND in Mind

In the ’90s, Jim Collins wrote a book with a red cover that was on many bookshelves: Good to Great. He also wrote another one with a white cover called Built to Last, but that one didn’t get quite as much attention. Good to Great included a two-page “interlude” tucked between Chapters Two and Three where he introduced the concept of the “Tyranny of the OR.”

Twenty years later, it’s more important than ever for leaders to beware the Tyranny of the OR. Because when you let the idea of the OR force you to choose between two ideas, without even considering an alternative, you could be missing out on the best solution of all – the AND.

The best leaders find a way to embrace the AND, not be ruled by the OR. Because life, like business, isn’t always black or white.

For me, the most salient example of embracing the AND emerged outside of work when making a decision about buying a car. We had narrowed the brand down to Honda and we had two seemingly opposed criteria:

  1. Fuel-friendly and fun to drive
  2. Enough space for a possible growing family (and preferably a hatchback with a lay-flat back row of seats)

So, naturally, we wrestled with choosing Option A (a Civic) or Option B (a CRV). But we didn’t want to choose one or the other. We knew we wanted both.

Finally, we experienced our breakthrough. A friend picked us up in their Honda Fit. Eureka! Option A AND Option B were both possible. 12 years later, I still drive it.

Remember the polarizing choices at the top? Personally, I support secure borders AND immigration, identify as a progressive AND a conservative, and yes, even cheer for Ohio State AND Michigan. And as a dad, I often need to be silly AND serious, firm AND fun, tough AND tender.

About embracing the AND, in that short Built to Last interlude, Collins concludes:

“Irrational? Perhaps. Rare? Yes. Difficult? Absolutely. But as F. Scott Fitzgerald pointed out, ‘The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.’ This is exactly what the visionary companies are able to do.”

Fight to Embrace the AND

Avoiding the Tyranny of the OR is difficult. It requires a mindset that rejects the pervasive polarization of society and instead sees new possibilities that can accomplish what seems like two mutually exclusive outcomes. It requires a mindset that fights to find, and embrace, the AND.

When it comes to making decisions by embracing the AND in the workplace, here are just a few examples I’ve recently seen where this mindset has been critical:

  1. Respect personal life AND meet deadlines – How can the team create a high-quality, timely deliverable AND ensure a teammate takes their planned vacation?
  2. Expand talent AND manage people costs – How can the team bring in new talent to drive performance AND effectively manage rising people costs?
  3. Understand the “pulse” AND avoid over-surveying – How can leaders get a sense for the cultural currents throughout the organization AND ensure employees aren’t inundated with surveys?

Where are you being ruled by the tyranny of Option A OR Option B? Where are you choosing between a Civic and a CRV, but haven’t yet found your Fit? Where can you embrace the AND as a leader and drive better results for your organization?

December 4, 2018


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