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Polarity Management™ Executive Summary – Barry Johnson PhD

The research is clear - leaders and organizations that manage polarities well out perform those
that don’t. The key is in tapping the “Genius of the ‘AND’.” We have all been educated to be
good at problem solving. It is essential. And, it is not enough. Chronic, ongoing dilemmas
(paradoxes, polarities) need to be managed over time. Treating these issues as if they were
problems to solve only makes things worse.
Because of this truth, it is important to be able to distinguish, in the midst of messy situations,
which of these difficulties are essentially problems to solve and which are polarities to manage.
When you have a polarity (dilemma, paradox) to manage, the Polarity Map® and principles are
the best resources available for converting this potential source of frustration into enhanced
When you can see polarities and manage them well, it will increase your effectiveness in 5 areas:
1. Complexity – the more complex a problem, the more useful it is to see a few, key
underlying themes and interdependencies rather than being overwhelmed by a large
number of variables without being able to see how they fit together.
2. Change – all change is best seen in the context of an ongoing self-correcting process
within a Polarity Map®. When seen in this context rather than as a solution to a
problem, the polarity perspective increases the attainability, speed and sustainability of
the change goal.
3. Conflict – most conflicts are wrapped around one or more key polarities. With each of
those polarities it will be absolutely necessary to intentionally empower both poles. If
these key polarities are addressed from an “Either/Or” problem solving mindset, no
matter who “wins” the organization will lose.
4. Chronic Issues – the reason some issues in organizations persist for years is not for a
lack of problem solving skills. It is because the issues are based on polarities which are
unavoidable, unsolvable, and indestructible. You can stop being hard on yourself or
others for not solving these issues. Seen through the lens of Polarity Management™
they become a source of potential synergy and competitive advantage.
5. Cross Cultural Issues – Hofstede’s “5 Dimensions of National Culture” are all
polarities to manage. When you look at tapping diversity within a culture or between
cultures, a polarity perspective is extremely useful. Seeing these issues as problems to
solve is a set up for resentment and failure.
The polarity map becomes a knowledge organizer for leaders and teams. We have all been
managing polarities all our lives because they are such a central part of life. Because we have
been dealing with the phenomena of polarities, we have each developed a certain amount of
intuitive understanding and tacit skill from our experience. What the polarity map and principles
allow us to do is to go from individual tacit ability to collective, explicit understanding and skill.
This shift radically increases our ability to intentionally manage polarities together.

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