Investor’s Business Daily Challenges Us to “Try Thinking About Both/And for Breakthroughs”

By Amy Alexander of INVESTOR’S BUSINESS DAILY – Posted on April 22, 2014 IBD

When this year’s Corvette Stingray rolled out, critics lusted. The slick GM (GM) sports car, they wrote, has throaty vroom and plenty of zoom. Plus the ride gets 28 miles to the gallon. A fuel-efficient muscle car? It’s possible, if businesses can tackle more than one vision at once.

At Excel Leadership Solutions, CEO Deborah Schroeder-Saulnier points to the latest Stingray as an example of a new brand of broad thinking. Her lesson to executives: You can have it all — if you’re willing to stretch your mind.

“People achieve the impossible by striving for goals that don’t seem as though they belong together,” she wrote in The Power of Paradox.

Try twisting either/or thinking to both/and strategy. “If you see an opposite that is right in front of you, grab it,” she told IBD.

Start with these tips:

Explore. Schroeder-Saulnier urges executives to take a candid look at their companies. Profit-charging polarities hatch when you ask probing questions:

How are things going with you?

What’s working well?

What do you want long-term?

How will you get there?

Stabilize. You can be level and still bring the sizzle. Listen to cynics and traditionalists. Their chorus will steer your insights, Schroeder-Saulnier says. “It’s not just looking at what we are moving away from, but it’s also ‘What’s the as-is we want to hold onto?'”

Map the gap. Disagreements spark new conversations. So Schroeder-Saulnier encourages colleagues to keep talking — with an eye on possibilities.

For example: One corporate hotel chain she advised was lagging. The issue? Inns held tightly to unique character. Customers liked that. But to survive globally — and go after big goals — the chain had to have some standard procedures.

Harness. Schroeder-Saulnier taught the company to understand that its corporate coordination didn’t need to trump the charming, local flair of each inn. Balancing between global and local was an ideal way to work, she told leaders.

Equalize. “The team immediately had a fresh focus,” she said. “They now saw a situation in which their company had a strong presence around the world both because of the standards established at the corporate level and because general managers at the individual properties had the freedom and creativity to manage that presence as they saw fit on the local level.”

Train. Ready to shift? Work daily to boost both/and thinking, recommends Amy Hillman, dean at Arizona State’s business school.

“The key to this is mental discipline,” she said. “Every article or headline you read, make yourself think through the options, either/or or both/and. If you can practice this dispassionately about companies that aren’t yours, then when you need to, you’ll have the discipline to do it regarding your own company.”

Cooperate. “Both/and thinking requires a safe environment that focuses on celebrating and rewarding team achievements,” said Brent Daily, co-founder of the office-culture adviser RoundPegg.

Campaign. Idea drivers: Leverage both/and thinking to gain buy-in from a variety of key players with different needs, suggests Christian Gaiser, CEO of online shopping platform Retale.

“Have an open and unbiased discussion style,” he said.

Explain. “Either/or thinking would just lead to a loss in acceptance among team members,” said Gaiser, “and ultimately negatively impact execution, which is most important of all.”

Bringing the skeptics on board — and hearing them out when they resist your idea — adds verve to new initiatives.