The Limiting Belief of Either/Or
I believe it was William James who said that to prove all crows are not black it is not necessary to count all black crows. It is simply necessary to find one white crow. So what follows is a few words about a white crow, or maybe several white crows.
The Personal Mastery chapter of Senge's Fifth Discipline  presents a very faithful representation of Robert Fritz's  concepts regarding creating the future. The point being that the difference between what we have and what we want sets up a Creative Tension. This creative tension promotes action to move us toward what we want, though it takes time, and at the same time produces an Emotional Tension which promotes a pressure to lower vision, which in time it will. If the creative tension is allowed to resolve itself through a lowering of the vision then we accept less than what we want. This scenario is depicted in the Causal Loop Diagram in Fig. 1.
Fig. 1 actually represents a standard Drifting Goals structure. The conflict created by this structure may be represented by the following diagram.
In this structure as we move closer to our vision the tension created by our belief in our powerlessness and unworthiness to achieve our vision makes it more and more difficult to move toward our vision. The opposite is also true. As we move further from our vision because of our belief in our powerlessness and unworthiness the tension between current reality and our vision increases and tends to pull us back in the direction of the vision.
Robert Fritz  identified three generic strategies generally used to cope with conflict.
- Eroding Vision. By allowing our vision to erode we can create a tolerable domain of conflict and simply remain within it. Thus we do not achieve our vision but we are close enough to a reduced version of it so as not to create a conflict we feel we have to deal with. And, we are not far enough away from our belief in our own powerless and unworthiness to create a level of conflict we feel we have to deal with.
- Conflict Manipulation. This is essentially an attempt at a sling-shot effect. By creating artificial conflict and focusing on what we don't want it is believed that this will allow us to overcome our belief in our own powerless and unworthiness and continue to move in the direction of our vision. Yet, as has been repeatedly proven, this just doesn't work.
- Willpower. This is essentially an effort to psych ourselves up to put forth whatever level of effort required to achieve our vision. This has also proven to be an ineffective method for dealing with conflict.
Each of these strategies have repeatedly proven to be ineffective for coping with conflict. There is a structural conflict which sets up an oscillating structure as depicted in Fig. 3. As creative tension moves you toward your vision emotional tension increases. This emotional tension tends to maintain current reality. Remaining in current reality results in increased creative tension which results in actions to move you toward your vision. This is an oscillating structure which essentially produces no end result, except maybe wear and tear on the individual caught up in it.
So what is the answer? The answer finally provided by Robert Fritz  is that one must decide what one really wants, and manage the resulting emotional tension accordingly. The explanation is actually much longer and more involved than this, and yet this is essentially the answer. After much consideration this just seems to be a combination of the previously mentioned low level strategies for dealing with conflict. So is there really an answer?
The fundamental flaw in all of this seems to be a foundational belief in the essential nature of either / or. If we believe that there are two mutually exclusive alternatives then we take actions as though they are in fact alternative choices where we can have one or the other. Consider the possibilities if one is not limited by this belief. Suppose we simply alter the picture, or the model we construct. Consider the following alternative in Fig. 4.
What this diagram is intended to imply is the replacement of the mutually exclusive nature of either / or by an integration of the two. This is not a compromise between the two, for compromise is just another low level strategy for dealing with conflict. This diagram represents an integration of the two in a manner which results in something distinctively unique from the two components which are integrated, much in the same way that hydrogen and oxygen integrate to produce water.
It seems that the real difficulty with this concept is based in the dilemma which arises when trying to think of things for which we have no familiarity, and no words, to describe. There are many instances of integration of this sort where we do have a familiarity. Consider the integration of dependence and independence to create interdependence, the way differentiation and integration integrate to create complexity. For years American business believed that lower cost and higher quality were mutually exclusive alternatives, and the Japanese provided very painful examples of the limiting nature of this belief.
If we change the manner in which we view things, and alter what we believe, it seems that numerous opportunities are presented.
- Integrative Thinking with Jennifer Riel
- Definition of Integrative Thinking from Rotman School of Management
- Organizational Dilemmas
- Root Cause Analysis
- Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly (1994) The Evolving Self: A Psychology for the Third Millennium. Harper Collins
- Fritz, Robert (1984) The Path of Least Resistance: Learning to become the Creative Force in Your Own Life. Ballantine Books
- Fritz, Robert (1996) Corporate Tides: The Inescapable Laws of Organizational Structure. Berrett-Koehler
- Hampden-Turner, Charles (1990) Charting the Corporate Mind: Graphic Solutions to Business Conflicts. The Free Press. London
- Kuhn, Thomas S. (1962) The Nature of Scientific Revolutions. University of Chicago Press
- Senge, Peter M. (1990) The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of the Learning Organization. Doubleday Currency
- MapSys Diagram Source
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Systems Thinking World Q&A * Gene Bellinger