What does a both/and thinking process look like?

What does a both/and thinking process look like?

1 Expert Answer

Wendy Smith

Professor, Management,  University of Delaware

Both/and thinking enables more creative, sustainable solutions. Valuing opposing sides and seeking connections between them opens us to more creative and sustainable options. Consider Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. He developed this idea by trying to figure out how an object could be at motion and at rest at the same time. Or consider Paul Polman, CEO of packaged goods company Unilever from 2008-2018. He used both/and thinking to craft the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan, doubling the company’s profits while reducing their environmental footprint. Both/and thinking invites us to approach our dilemmas by embracing, rather than resisting, these paradoxes.  If we want to apply both/and thinking, the first step is to change the question. We usually frame dilemmas as tradeoffs. While in college, I asked an either/or question. Should I study and teach ideas as an academic or use those ideas to have impact as a leader and consultant? Rather than wait for divine intervention, I could have just flipped a coin. In time, I came to ask a different question: How can I study and teach ideas to have a positive impact on people’s lives? A whole new world of possible answers starts to emerge.

Imagine if we changed the questions that we ask around political issues. Today, even everyday conversations sound like candidates arguing their case. What if we changed the question? What if we stopped arguing over who is right and who is wrong? What if instead, we assumed that people with different political views have valid and values-based perspectives, just as we do. What if instead of telling them about our perspective, we ask them to share their experiences and understandings, and see what we can learn from them?

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