After my book on 'Life in Organizations - Paradoxes, Dilemmas and Possibilities' got published, I received multiple queries on how to correctly identify paradoxes in business organizations. This is a very important question, as not all the problems that we face in organizational life are paradoxes.
Many of the problems that we find in organizational life can be solved using regular problem-solving methods. Categorizing a simple problem as a paradox can complicate our lives unnecessarily. Some problems are to be solved, some problems are to be swamped out (by putting them in the broader context) and some problems are to be approached through paradoxical thinking.
To me, the easiest way to spot a paradox is to look for problems that refuse remain solved. If an organizational problem is indeed a paradox, it cannot be solved in an algorithmic or prescriptive manner. If such a solution is attempted, it will create new problems. There are many fundamental problems in management that have not yet been ‘permanently solved’ - even after decades of efforts by managers, consultants and management gurus. So, when you encounter such a problem that refuse to remain solved, you are likely to be in the presence of a paradox.
The domain of people management is rich in such paradoxes. A paradox occurs when there are multiple points of view on an issue, each of which are true and essential, but they appear to be in conflict with one another. That is why basic aspects of people management like hiring, employee engagement, performance management and rewards have become renewable resources, where solutions to the problems will create new problems to solve, and they will continue to provide opportunities for 'management' and 'thought leadership'. The good thing is that this phenomenon has sustained an entire ecosystem of ‘HR Professionals, People Managers, Consultants and Thought Leaders’ for many decades!
Paradoxical thinking is not about about endless analysis. In organizational life, decisions have to be taken, and often quickly. Paradoxical thinking is just about enabling better decisions - by developing a more nuanced understanding of the conflicting perspectives, wrestling with them for a while and taking a decision based on that higher level of awareness. Yes, it is highly context-specific, as the attempt is essentially to find the best possible equilibrium point of the conflicting forces(pushes and pulls) acting on us at that moment in the given context!
Yes, managers are paid to manage, and paradoxes can indeed be managed, if we use the term 'manage' the sense of 'to cope with effectively' instead of 'to fix it permanently'. If we approach paradoxes with the respect they deserve, they can reveal profound truths, spur creativity and help us to actualize the immense possibilities that come along with the inherent contradictions in organizational life. Yes, it is this very process of identifying, understanding, wrestling with and responding to the paradoxes that opens up possibilities for creative living at the workplace (and in life)!
The book is available on Amazon India, Amazon UK and Amazon US in both paperback and Kindle versions. It is also available in other eBook formats like Kobo and Google Books.