So. Are you a dog person? Or a cat person?

Hang on. Before you answer, keep in mind that our perception of you is about to be forever locked into one of two categories:

  1. You are loyal, friendly, and willing to learn and perform tricks tirelessly.
  2. You are solitary, independent, moody, and likely to scratch us for no good reason.

Remember, you can only pick one.

“But wait,” you say. “I like them both.”

No, no. Just one. We need strict definitions based on opposing principles. How else will we know exactly who you are?

Ridiculous right? But in life and in business we often try to boil things down into simple opposing principles (don’t get us started on politics); but in search of this categorical simplicity, we forego the bigger, richer picture.

This is where Polarity Thinking comes in. When the preference for one pole (as in “half of a polarity”) overrides its counterpart, we often see conflict, and this polarization can have very negative results. Polarity Thinking isn’t either/or thinking; it’s both/and thinking.

Here are some examples found in workplaces everywhere:

  • Stability & Change
  • Detail & Big Picture
  • Centralized & Autonomous
  • Vision & Reality

Let’s look at “Stability & Change.” If you focus only on maintaining the status quo–on stability–you’re likely to get left behind as the rest of the world innovates and changes. Conversely, if you allow change to be the only driver of your decisions, you’re likely to ignore existing institutional wisdom and end up making some big mistakes. You can’t ignore either pole, at least not indefinitely. They are both ongoing and both have upsides that your long-term success depends on.

Now, back to our question. Dog or cat? If we apply a little polarity thinking, we see that it’s not in our best interest to limit ourselves to just being a tirelessly loyal dog or simply a solitary cat. Why not draw from the best of both? Offer loyalty where it’s deserved, but also be able to strike out on your own and think independently. Polarity Thinking opens up a world of possibilities: imagine a world where cats fetch and dogs can be litter box trained—where cat/dog hybrids (don’t try too hard to picture this) meet the needs of pet owners everywhere. Or I suppose you could just have one of each.

So. It’s question time again.

What kinds of cat-or-dog questions are you asking? And what could happen if you went from thinking either/or to both/and?

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