Rheostats

We are surrounded by polarization. Life has become a huge “on/off” switch. You like it or you don’t. You’re with us or against us. It’s my way or the highway.

While I think Obama has been a huge failure—to be polite: has squandered his political capital and original good will—I think Democrats have a great many positive initiatives and plans. I like many Republican positions, but I also find it stunningly dreadful that they can’t find viable candidates for the presidency. I thought “Gravity” was horribly overrated, but still like George Clooney as an actor. I’m not crazy about lima beans, but I generally support vegetables.

These same rigid “on/off” alternatives are found among our clients. “The customer is always right.” No, a lot of customers are often wrong. “We promote from within.” That’s a sure way to create incestuous mediocrity.

What we all need are rheostats that can both brighten and dim the lights (or the music) by degrees and by nuance. We have created single lenses, one-dimensional litmus tests, to decide our positions and who are our “friends.” That’s patently absurd, like having the sound set at a given level despite the music, or the lights at one setting despite the time of day.

If you see issues as simply bi-polar, then you’re not a very good consultant, and you’re not going to be a very interesting person. Imagine the one-sided frenzy of football fans not confined to the stadium or TV set, but exhibited every day in every aspect of life.

That would be intolerable, yet we seem to be willing to tolerate more and more of this polarization in our lives. We’ve become “one-issue” people, which makes us one-dimensional people.

© Alan Weiss 2014

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12 Responses to Rheostats

  1. Dennis Snow says:

    I find that while most clients might initially want a black or white solution (or a magic pill), through intelligent discussion they quickly realize for themselves that nuances play a big part in solutions that can actually be implemented. They come to appreciate a consultant who is aware of the various elements in play in any challenging situation, and who can help them navigate the gray (and often most interesting) areas.

    I love lima beans.

  2. Alan Weiss says:

    We shall call this the “lima lesson”!

  3. Praveen Puri says:

    With all the media outlets (blogs, websites, 24 hour news channels) out there today, political pundits and experts need to attract attention.

    Instead of doing it in a positive manner, by raising the level of discourse and differentiating themselves, many of them take the lazy way and take an extreme position – for example, staunchly conservative or liberal. Either completely defend Obama or vilify everything he does. So they preach to a built-in choir.

    The people who only listen to programs that agree with their opinions reinforce this.

  4. alan WEISS says:

    You’re right. Most people understand their audience, speak only to them, and consequently there is no discourse any more, just bloviation. Margaret Wheatley, who appeared at one of my Thought Leadership Conferences, ACTUALLY said that we should deal only with those who agree with us, because we can’t change anyone else’s opinion. She is a frustrated activist, extremely cynical, and I believe has simply given up. That’s symbolic of too many people, who merely want their own opinions reinforced.

  5. Craig Martin says:

    “…we should deal only with those who agree with us, because we can’t change anyone else’s opinion.”

    I have to disagree with this lady.
    A great number of my ‘A-ha’ moments have been followed by, ‘So THAT’S why they said don’t do that.’ with, on occasion, a drop of blood.
    Ta-daaa. Opinion changed.

    I sometimes enjoy having my mind changed. It forces me consider other things and keeps me on my toes.

    • Alan Weiss says:

      Margaret Wheatley could depress fireworks. She is totally pessimistic and cynical because the world has turned out exactly as she feels it should. Her book on the topic is above #200,000 on Amazon, so people aren’t responding to her gloom.

  6. TimWilson says:

    Alan,

    You’re correct about the rigidness of position so many people take today. While I have an opposite opinion of the president than you, I’m convinced we could discuss it in an amiable fashion without all the histrionics I’ve witness when his name comes up in conversation.

    Being a customer I know that I’m not always right so accepting the fact that my clients are, has always been a bit of an abstract concept for me to embrace.
    Your point about on people becoming “one-issue” focused thus one dimensional is spot on. If all we had were one dimensional people this world would indeed be a dull place to live.

  7. Tim Wilson says:

    Alan,
    You’re correct about the rigidness of position so many people take today. While I have an opposite opinion of the president than you, I’m convinced we could discuss it in an amiable fashion without all the histrionics I’ve witness when his name comes up in conversation.

    Being a customer I know that I’m not always right so accepting the fact that my clients are, has always been a bit of an abstract concept for me to embrace.

    Your point about on people becoming “one-issue” focused thus one dimensional is spot on. If all we had were one dimensional people this world would indeed be a dull place to live.

  8. alan WEISS says:

    Agreed, Tim. If I interacted only with people who shared my views on every issue, I’d live a lonely, poverty-stricken life. And many do.

  9. ed marsh says:

    The “on / off” inclination is akin to the compulsion to distill everything into 7 bullet points. For sure great consultants (and great business people) are expert at identifying and prioritizing factors and pertinent considerations….but the expectation that every complex business issue can be super simplified is folly – and it’s intellectually lazy.

  10. Doug Ringer says:

    Dear Dr. Weiss,

    I have worked with these polarized types and it can be unpleasant. I have to admit that I am recovering from it as well having been diagnosed by my very astute and vocal 15 year-old daughter. Humbled but thankful!

    I now review my beliefs when I strongly disagree with something heard or read. This introspection has been a great tool for my growth. Your books and recorded seminars have challenged many of my long-held beliefs. I am now a better husband, father, and professional for being challenged and learning from the process.

    Best regards,

    Doug Ringer

  11. Alan Weiss says:

    People with various agendas usually find that other fit or don’t fit, and immediately polarize, e.g., you’re either for or against (name the cause).

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