2 THINKING BOOKS: Both/And Thinking & A New Way to Think

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Issue No. 525 of Your Weekly Staff Meeting features two new books on thinking. Contrarian page-turners—with paradoxical thinking. They’ll mess with your comfort zones! And this reminder: click here to download free resources from the 20 management buckets (core competencies), click here for over 500 book reviews, and click here for John’s new blog, Pails in Comparison (PIC), with shorter book reviews of his latest “PICs.”

Enjoy these reviews of two contrarian books on thinking. (Read one and delegate one.) The insights just might launch you out of your status quo chair!


*Here’s an idea. Next year during Berry Season on Fogo Island in Newfoundland, Canada, let’s book all 29 rooms at the innovative Fogo Island Inn—and enjoy a THINKERS WEEKEND RETREAT. Your homework: read these two new books on thinking. (Who will plan this for us?)

THINKING BOOK #1 OF 2: A New Way to Think: Your Guide to Superior Management Effectiveness, by Roger L. Martin


Imagine! You’re the consultant and you’re facilitating a senior team meeting on strategy—pushing the company leaders “to define two mutually exclusive options that could resolve the issue in question.” One option: the status quo which has served you well. But the other option—pretty compelling!

Suddenly, “the president of the company leaped out of his seat and sprinted from the room. When he returned, ten minutes later, his colleagues asked whether he was OK. He explained that the discussion had made him see how logically weak the status quo was. The reason he had raced out was to cancel a multimillion-dollar initiative in support of the status quo—the go/no-go deadline was that day.”

That’s from the contrarian chapter, “Strategy,” in the new book by Roger L. Martin, A New Way to Think: Your Guide to Superior Management Effectiveness. Actually, all 14 chapters are contrarian—and they just might also launch you out of your status quo chair!

I was already a big fan of Roger Martin’s thinking—now even more so! As Professor of Strategic Management, Emeritus, at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, he’s delivered consistent gems. My favorites:
• Playing to Win: How Strategy Really Works (with P&G’s CEO, A.G. Lafley)
• “The Big Lie of Strategic Thinking” (Harvard Business Review)

So I was delighted to read his latest book (May 2022) featuring 14 contrarian insights (based on 14 of his 20 Harvard Business Review articles). I could write 14 reviews, but you’d miss the fun of your own discoveries. Martin summarizes: “Each of the fourteen self-contained chapters compares a dominant but flawed model to an alternative that I argue is superior.” My favorites:
• Chapter 1, Competition: “It happens at the front line, not at the head office.”
• Chapter 3, Customers: “The familiar solution usually trumps the perfect one.”
• Chapter 4, Strategy: “In strategy, what counts is what would have to be true—not what is true.”
• Chapter 9, Planning: “Recognize that it’s no substitute for strategy.”
• Chapter 10, Execution: “Accept that it’s the same thing as strategy.”

Wait…what? Martin gives readers and leaders permission to skip around his 14 chapters and read them in any order. (Who does that?) But warning—you’ll read them all. His wisdom on Culture, Innovation, Talent (“Feeling special is more important than compensation”), and more—all include leap-out-of-your-chair thinking!

Here are a few tantalizing morsels:
• NOT ARROGANT. After a succinct seven-page summary of the 14 chapters/models, Martin confesses that he is “not so arrogant to claim my alternative is the right model or the perfect model.” He adds, “But be assured that in due course your new model, too, will be found wanting and will be replaced by a better model still.”

• NOT STUPID. Martin writes that the 14 dominant models “are in place not because they are stupid. All of them make a lot of sense. So I don’t believe that these one-sentence descriptions of the alternative models will convince you to jettison the dominant model and adopt my alternative suggestion.” Citing his “hero Peter Drucker,” Martin’s simple goal is like Drucker’s: “to help executives increase their effectiveness.”

• MISGUIDED BY THE METAPHOR: Why the metaphor of the brain (top management) and the body (the organization) is all wrong. Must-read: how a bank teller ignored the training manual and discerned that “customers come in three general flavors.” (Brilliant!)

• PRICING. Why a product’s price at “$12.99 was really good, $15.99 not so good, [and] $18.99 great.” (Martin is a big fan of testing any new thinking, and using what he calls “the lazy person’s approach to choice.”)

• WASHING DAY RESEARCH. When A.G. Lafley was CEO of P&G, he “had a rule that whenever he visited another country, he needed the local P&G organization to set up an in-home visit with a local consumer and a store walk-through at a local retailer. His visit to the bank of a river in rural western China to speak to the village women who washed their clothes there became legendary. The message was clear: If the global CEO isn’t too busy to do in-home visits and store checks, how is it that you are?”

• YOUR MIND APPLAUDS YOU! In the fascinating chapter on “Customers,” (and so, so relevant to both nonprofit and for-profit organizations), the author’s contrarian views on customer loyalty may shock you. Using brain research, “Creatures of Habit” discusses “cumulative advantage.” Example: “If the mind develops a view over time that Tide gets clothes cleaner, and Tide is available and accessible on the store shelf or the web page, the easy, familiar thing to do is to buy Tide yet again.” When you do that he writes, “the mind applauds you.” LOL! (And by the way, before you do another expensive and unnecessary rebranding—read this chapter.)

Are you gutsy enough to consider a new way to think in your organization? Check out this 32-minute video interview with Roger Martin—with short summaries of four of his books, including A New Way to Think (starting at 20 minutes in). Martin was interviewed in May 2022 by Tiffani Bova, the Global Customer Growth and Innovation Evangelist at Salesforce. Click here. (Note: Both Martin and Bova are included in “The Thinkers50 global ranking of management thinkers for 2021.”)

To order from Amazon, click on the title for A New Way to Think: Your Guide to Superior Management Effectiveness, by Roger L. Martin. Listen on (7 hours, 58 minutes). And thanks to Harvard Business Review Press for sending a review copy.

View the two-minute video, “Strange & Familiar: Architecture on Fogo Island [Official Trailer].” Read the two thinking books and meet us in Newfoundland next year!

*So…what’s with the THINKERS WEEKEND RETREAT during Berry Season at the Fogo Island Inn in Newfoundland, Canada? (Reminder: someone, other than me, needs to plan this!)

THINKING BOOK #2 OF 2: Both/And Thinking: Embracing Creative Tensions to Solve Your Toughest Problems, by Wendy K. Smith and Marianne W. Lewis

Breaking News! Leaders and managers must move from “Either/Or Thinking” to “Both/And Thinking”—and must be very comfortable with navigating paradoxes. Why? Authors Wendy Smith and Marianne Lewis preach that “…either/or thinking can result in responses to dilemmas that are limited at best and detrimental at worst.” Now after two decades of studying paradoxes, these management profs (with in-the-trenches savvy) warn:

“Navigating paradoxes begin with the understanding that tensions are double-edged swords—they can drag us down a negative path or catapult us toward a more positive one.”

So…pick one: the negative path or the catapult! (Oh, wait. It’s not an either/or question—or is it?) In Chapter 1 of Both/And Thinking, the authors spotlight Zita Cobb who had a vision to re-energize the rural community of Fogo Island, Newfoundland—the island of her birth. Talk about a challenging paradox! A traditional saying in that province is “Onward through the fog.” (That’s going on my office wall!)

So how would you preserve the tradition, the beauty, the culture, and the economy of a small Eastern Canadian island (16 miles long by nine miles wide)—with just over 2,000 residents? (The challenge: keep things kinda the same, but thrive.) With help, Zita Cobb and her brothers dug deep into the paradox research—and launched a charity, Shorefast, and created a spectacular 29-room inn, Fogo Island Inn. (Did I mention it’s perfect for a THINKERS WEEKEND RETREAT? Click here.)

The Fogo Island story is just one of many colorful case studies and insights in this hot-off-the-press (Aug. 9, 2022) thinker’s book from Harvard Business Review Press. The authors also share their personal paradoxes. One word: transparent. Other must-read paradoxes:

THE LEGO WRECKING BALL. Pendulum swings—in response to lagging sales—prompted an unfortunate either/or overcorrection at LEGO. “In this case the pendulum becomes a wrecking ball; an overly powerful swing in the opposing direction creates a new and even greater challenge.” The book features challenges at Starbucks, IBM, and others, plus these insights from LEGO:

The slow and steady LEGO protocol…
   • “In response to a proposal from Lucasfilm, one vice present proclaimed, ‘Over my dead body will LEGO ever introduce Star Wars.’” (RIP! I recommend this LEGO Star Wars model with 1,062 pieces!) 

…was replaced by a “Creativity Above All Else” LEGO mandate…
   • “Whereas it once took nearly a decade for LEGO to introduce the green color, within a few years the toy maker started making parts in 157 colors.”

When a new strategy development champion arrived, he was shocked. “Despite early successes, few of the innovations were actually profitable.” Helpful: the “Polarity map: upsides and downsides of LEGO’s strategy” illustrates the classic matrix: Inspiring the builders of tomorrow vs. Organizational death; and Core business vs. Innovation (page 59).

MULES & TIGHTROPE WALKERS! The memorable metaphors ensure that the complexity and efficacy of paradox thinking is described with a measure of simplicity:

   • MULES. Complementing Roger Martin’s thinking in The Opposable Mind, the authors note that “mules are the offspring of female horses and male donkeys”—and write that leaders must look for “a synergistic option that integrates the opposing sides of a paradox.” They add that notable creatives (Einstein, Picasso, Mozart, and Woolf) had “aha moments” that often started “with noticing the opposing forces in their work.”

   • TIGHTROPE WALKERS. Picture tightrope walker Philippe Petit’s 1974 triumph between NYC’s Twin Towers. That’s the metaphor for the “microshifts between alternative options”—that enable organizations to move forward. This process involves “small either/or choices that constantly move us back and forth between alternative poles, creating a pattern in the big picture that accommodates both options over time.” 

Maybe you’d prefer a terra firma metaphor—like riding a bike. Warning! A true “balanced life” is never achieved.) Or consider Soren Kierkegaard’s description of the “tug-of-war between being expansive…and being constrictive.”

With that context, Smith and Lewis then serve up “Breeding Mules That Walk Tightropes” (that I’d pay to see!). Their quadrant on page 85 is (my opinion) the most helpful one-page summary of the book: “The paradox system: four sets of tools” for both/and thinking. I salute two academics who deliver a very memorable ABCD picture!
   • A: Shifting to both/and assumptions
   • B: Creating boundaries to contain tensions
   • C: Finding comfort in discomfort
   • D: Enabling dynamics that unleash tensions (a big idea: “Learning to unlearn”)

Gratefully, the authors allocate one chapter to each of the ABCD topics—and that’s where you’ll find the meat and potatoes (or just the potatoes, if you’re vegetarian).

CONFLICTING GOALS? With stunning documentation and resources, the appendix (pages 259-302) includes the “Paradox Mindset Inventory” with 16 questions on measuring tensions experienced and comfort with a paradox mindset. Example: “I often have competing demands that need to be addressed at the same time.”

How will your team members score this one? “I often have goals that contradict each other.” (Use these questions at your next staff meeting using the authors’ seven-point rating scale: “Strongly Agree” to Strongly Disagree.”)

There’s so much more—but let me conclude with this comment from Tom Peters of In Search of Excellence fame. “This book is, pure and simple, a masterpiece. And every word and semicolon is backed up by hard research. Don’t skim—dig in, take deep breaths, and reflect.” On tensions in Chapter 7, the authors quote Peters:

“Leaders have to guide the ship while simultaneously putting everything up for grabs, which is itself a fundamental paradox.”

Reminder: I need someone to plan the THINKERS WEEKEND RETREAT next year at the Fogo Island Inn. Bring your books!

To order from Amazon, click on the title for Both/And Thinking: Embracing Creative Tensions to Solve Your Toughest Problems, by Wendy K. Smith and Marianne W. Lewis. Listen on (9 hours, 46 minutes). And thanks to Harvard Business Review Press and Fortier PR for sending a review copy.

BONUS. Read the HBR article, “’Both/And’ Leadership: Don’t Worry So Much About Being Consistent,” by Wendy K. Smith, Marianne W. Lewis, and Michael L. Tushman (May 2016). Click here.  


RISK—IN YOUR FIRST 10 YEARS! Are you coaching an early career woman—in her first 10 years in the workplace? Read this book together: Begin Boldly: How Women Can Reimagine Risk, Embrace Uncertainty & Launch a Brilliant Career, by Christie Hunter Arscott. Read John’s review on the Pails in Comparison blog

. Maybe…you don’t need a six-month rebranding marathon (per Roger Martin), but a rethinking exercise on customer habits? We can help! contact Pearpod Media (Design, Digital, Marketing, Social).

© Copyright 2021. John W. Pearson All rights reserved.

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