There is no shortage of headlines claiming that the world is facing dark and turbulent times after recent events, like the Trump election and Brexit. The sentiments are equally palpable in the U.S. as in the EU. In discussing recent trends with executives, we’ve seen worries, uncertainty and a fear that the ‘great divide‘, proposed by Stiglitz, will become a reality. This fear is strengthened by an analysis done by Pew Research Center showing a clear gap between democrats and republicans in belief systems: people seem strongly drawn to one pole of a multipolar world.

From a psychological angle these outcomes are intriguing. They represent a dichotomy-based mental model where only one outcome can be right, and synergy between the dimensions is overlooked. Dichotomies are attractive mental models for a simple reason: they offer and effortless logic based on what Kahneman would call ‘system 1’ processing; fast, intuitive, emotional thinking. The problem with dichotomies is twofold: first of all, most dichotomies cease to exist when deeper analysis is applied. So, when a person can be coerced into more reflection (‘system 2’ processing, which takes time and effort) about a particular dilemma, he or she would likely come to doubt the initial dichotomy. Secondly; dichotomies tend to fuel division. The ‘gaps’ they create are ideal for hate, in-groups vs out-groups and psychological distancing. That this can result – and has resulted – in horrors needs no further explanation.

So, in a multipolar world – with brains that automatically seem to favour dichotomies – where do we go? How do we embrace ambidexterity as leaders? Company leaders face apparent contradictions (examples in title slide) on a constant basis in their decision-making; with ‘long term vs short term’, ‘explore for the future vs  exploit what you have today‘, ‘purpose vs profit’, and ‘local vs global’. The same rule applies here  as in global politics; believing in polar opposites often leads companies astray: it puts them in a position which is too extreme based on a belief system. The ultimate balancing trick is to be more in the middle: to know about both poles, but to not get carried with one side or the other. It is no wonder that HBS now teaches their new leaders to be ‘ambidextrous’: capable of embracing both poles.

30 January 2018

The Next Frontier

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14 June 2017

The Great Divide

Hello all! As we’re approaching summer time, the world is in the grip of what be seen as ‘entertainment politics’. Theresa ...

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08 May 2017

Changing the Game: The 3D Company

Hello all! It has been a while since the last post. Meanwhile the world has seen lots of political news come by, with populist insurgent Trump ...

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07 February 2017

Organisations: Designing for the Future

Hello all! One month into the new year, and challenges for the free world are mounting. Political turmoil continues to dominate headlines – and ...

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