Both/And Thinking Book Summary - Both/And Thinking Book explained in key points
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Both/And Thinking summary

Wendy K. Smith

Embracing Creative Tensions to Solve Your Toughest Problems

3.7 (43 ratings)
8 mins
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    Both/And Thinking
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    Use simple techniques to train a both/and mindset.

    Let’s get acquainted with two methods for approaching paradox: the way of the mule and the way of the tightrope walker.

    Mules are the offspring of horses and donkeys, bred to be more patient than a horse and smarter than a donkey – the best of both. In the both/and mindset, your mule is a strategy that lets you synergize two opposing elements of a paradox to create a win-win. Say you have a calendar clash between a leadership retreat and a family wedding. You could cancel one. Or you could breed a mule. For example, you could offer to plan part of the retreat – putting in the hours ahead of time to demonstrate your commitment to your work – but spend the day itself at the wedding. 

    Other times, you might want to try the tightrope walker method. Here, you’re not trying to integrate competing priorities, but disperse your attention across them. How might a tightrope walker respond to that dilemma of the calendar clash? They’d examine how well they’re balancing the opposing poles of work and family, and decide what shifts are needed to keep things in an overall equilibrium. If the tightrope walker had been putting in long hours at work, they might decide it’s time to give their family more attention and opt out of the retreat – making a note to correct the balance at work later.

    Whether you want to try breeding a mule, walking a tightrope, or just freestyling in the face of paradox, always remember the ABCs – and D! – of embracing a paradox mindset.

    A is for assumptions – more accurately, challenging assumptions. Facts are facts, but truths can be different for everyone. Recognizing that different truths can coexist is a key pathway into both/and thinking.

    B is for boundaries. You shouldn’t embrace tension purely for the sake of it. What’s your mission statement? Where do your limits lie? What are your must-haves and your deal-breakers? Questions like these will help you set the boundaries you need to engage with tension in a sustainable way.

    C stands for comfort. Paradoxes breed uncomfortable feelings. Accept discomfort when it arises. And try to lean into the positives of uncertainty – excitement, potential, and wonder.

    And D? That’s for dynamism. Both/and is a mindset, not a one-off strategy. Ensure you’re constantly tweaking your patterns, seeking feedback on your actions, and letting go of assumptions that no longer feel fresh.

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    What is Both/And Thinking about?

    Both/And Thinking (2022) offers a new framework for decision-making. With an either/or mindset, your world appears full of complex choices and difficult sacrifices. By adopting a both/and mindset, you can transform tough choices into fruitful opportunities – no sacrifices necessary.

    Who should read Both/And Thinking?

    • Anyone who thinks sacrifice is the only path to finding success
    • Busy professionals struggling to prioritize professional and personal obligations
    • People whose lives are full of complications – but who want to thrive anyway!

    About the Author

    Wendy Smith is a professor of management at the University of Delaware. Marianne Lewis is the dean of the Lindner School of Business at the University of Cincinnati. Both are thought leaders in the field of organizational paradox and have studied how brands, corporations, and governments can effectively respond to paradoxical situations. 

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