Beyond Binary Thinking

In 1941 the world’s most famous cat and mouse first appeared in a cartoon under the names ‘Tom and Jerry’. This year they are 78 years old.

Generations of children have watched Tom’s numerous attempts to capture Jerry and all the mayhem that follows. There’s something iconic about the conflict between the bad cat and the good mouse that engages us. In fact, it seems to be human nature to reduce the world to a binary view of good or bad, true or false, right or wrong. In organisations we can easily get stuck in ‘cat and mouse’ thinking, especially when under pressure; black and white, them and us, my way or their way.

However, in a complex, uncertain and ambiguous world, leaders and teams need to move beyond binary thinking to develop more agile thinking. In agile thinking we open our minds to ideas and options beyond the two most obvious opposite paths. To do this we need to consider the best of both existing options while also entertaining outrageous and seemingly impossible ideas. Some useful questions to stimulate agile thinking are:

·     What are all the things we could do?
·     What would we do if we had no fear?
·     Whose perspective is missing?

So next time you’re under pressure and find yourself slipping into binary thinking for a quick solution, stop and breathe, and choose to move beyond an endless game of cat and mouse.