Western cultures are highly diverse, with a multitude of contributing elements. One of the largest and oldest contributors to the culture of the West is found in the teachings of the ancient Greeks. The Greeks took a dichotomous view of the universe (fancy word for either/or). Things existed in discrete opposites – good or bad, right or wrong, useful or useless. This is a very simple and clean way to look at things. The trouble is, it doesn’t work in the real world.
Hence, the creation of the infamous “grey area”. When life doesn’t fit in neat categories we blur the categories. And, in doing so, the either/or model loses much of its usefulness.
Enter the Asians, particularly the Chinese. Yin and Yang is a very complex idea. One way of using it is to describe a more “fluid” relationship between opposites – what Collins and Porras call the “and” approach. Things can be right AND wrong, good AND bad. This isn’t situational ethics in disguise. It is simply an acknowledgment that there is, in every idea, approach or concept, elements of “right” and “wrong”.
It is this “and” approach that is key to resolving the dilemma I proposed in last week’s blog – getting the “rule breakers” and the “rule makers” to work together. You start with a foundation of “and”. That is, you actively recognize that both groups and both perspectives are key to organizational health. You need the stability and scalability the “rule makers” bring and the “innovation and improvement” the rule breakers offer. Lose one or the other and the organization begins to fail.
How do you get these opposites to come together? You find a meeting place for the “and” conversation. That meeting place is found in shared values, shared beliefs and shared goals. Shared doesn’t imply an exact alignment or overlap. Shared is about common ground. Differences aren’t ignored but the key is to start from that which we have in common rather than that which is different. One (in common) encourages us to find ways to work together. The other (different) encourages us to find ways to stay apart.
Our focus, in all of these articles, is on engagement. The principle of “and”, captured in shared values, beliefs and goals unleashes engagement as it emphasizes shared rather than different, what we can agree on versus what we can argue about.