I want to recap a MIMA leadership webinar I was a part of recently “Courageous Leadership In Difficult Times.” by Sara Wachter-Boettcher. She encouraged me to explore binary thinking which led to reading a few articles that consider 2 patterns of thought:

1. Binary thinking

This focuses on the right/wrong, yes/no, perfect/flawed, start/finish. Binary thinking is the stuck mindset that says, “I don’t have a seat at the table. I’ll never change my organization.”


2. Directional thinking

This is moving forward, a step closer, lighter grey/darker grey, an experiment, an opportunity to learn. This involves the “possible mindset” which conversely asks the question “What can I do from where I am sitting now to make a change?”

Binary thinking feels safe; it is comfortable and it keeps us stuck. It is a world where only black and white exist. Something is right, or it’s wrong. A person performs well or isn’t performing. There are sequential start and finish dates that are linear in this world. This is the part our brains love, but not how the world works.

On the contrary, directional thinking-lives in the domain of uncertainty. This type of thinking keeps all the cogs of a business moving towards a desirable outcome. Directional thinking doesn’t resolve any tension. It doesn’t feel safe or complete. Therefore, it requires emotional intelligence.

So, what does success look like? It is the cumulation of all the side projects you’re working on that come together over time. High-performance decisions are never easy and involve tradeoffs. Look at a few of the most successful people in your circle. I bet you that a FEW of their decisions were black and white-and fall into the “safe” category. Why? Because safe decisions don’t pay off.

How to move forward in 2021

To move forward in this transitional time, focus on making decisions that are mostly right and sort-of right based on the information you have. You might have to back out of a course of action that seemed like a great decision a month ago or have tough conversations on why your course of action has changed. But all of these directionally oriented decisions are better than the regret of not making a decision.

It’s okay to be okay with grey. The best decisions are not always black and white.

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