radical Insights.

Weekly Research and Commentary on the Future of Business and Technology.

Navigating Polarities.

Dec 13, 2022

Dear Friend,

The final few weeks of the year are upon us — and with that, the release of our book Disrupt Disruption: How to decode the future, disrupt your industry, and transform your business. Currently slated for a January 30th launch, we are in the final stretches of design and will invite you to an exclusive preview in mid-January. Stay tuned!

Read all the way to the end to debunk a spy drama myth.

Decode. Disrupt. Transform.

Recently I was reminded of the power of thinking and operating with a heightened understanding of polarities. Polarities appear in those pesky situations where you find yourself confronted with two or more outcomes that are both desirable but seemingly at odds with each other. Classic business school examples include speed versus quality. Both are desirable but at odds with each other: You can be fast (very fast indeed), but the quality will give. Or you can provide superior quality, but it will take time. China currently faces a polarity of controlling the spread of COVID-19 (in a largely unvaccinated population) while keeping its citizens happy and the economy going.

Barry Johnson wrote the excellent book Polarity Management: Identifying and Managing Unsolvable Problems about the subject — advocating for leaders to (a) distinguish between problems (issues which can be fixed once and for all) and polarities, and (b) adopt an appropriate strategy to manage polarities.

The challenge with dealing with polarities is that we often treat them as problems to be solved — which leads to wide swings from one side of the polarity to the other: You desire speed and lean heavily into it. You get faster and faster as you adopt more and more speed-enhancing measures — meanwhile, you start paying the price for your speed-fixation in declining quality. As quality gets worse, the quality advocates in the organization take over and pull the pendulum back toward their side of the polarity. Eventually, the quality-enhancing efforts come at the price of speed — to a point where the organization realizes that it needs to prioritize speed again. And so the story repeats itself.

To navigate polarities effectively, leaders need to learn to identify polarities (not confusing them with problems), gain an empathetic understanding of the hopes and fears each side brings to the table, negotiate common ground between both sides, and acknowledge that polarities are inherently tensions to be managed, not problems to be solved. (via Pascal)

What We Are Reading

🥷 San Francisco lawmakers vote to ban killer robots in drastic U-turn Killer robots are street-ready; thank goodness common sense is, for now, prevailing! San Francisco lawmakers vote to ban killer robots in drastic U-turn. JaneRead

🫡 The Risks of ‘Yes, and’ Leadership An unpredictable business environment has pushed executives to deepen their thinking on management, scrapping outdated approaches. But when things are uncertain, and leaders begin ‘winging it,’ workers can pay the price. MafeRead

🏗️ Concrete Built The Modern World. Now It’s Destroying It. Building for the future will require us to reimagine not only the designs and processes but the very materials we used to build the world that we know. JeffreyRead

📝 The College Essay Is Dead The chasm between technical and social studies is undeniable but crucial to be crossed. As perfectly illustrated by new tech possibilities and a witty professor setting the example. JulianRead

📵 Apple’s new AirDrop rules will limit viral protest memes in China Coincidence? Conspiracy? Or Complacency? Airdrop, the sharing file system for iPhones, was one of the only channels Chinese people had to protest anonymously. The new iOS update is changing that. PedroRead

🙅 I Don’t Want to Be an Internet Person We are entering an era where people can live their lives (and all the drama which comes with it) completely within the Internet. Is this something we actually want to do? PascalRead

The Thin Wisps of Tomorrow

🧬 Revolutionary therapy clears a girl’s incurable cancer.

💸 Another day, another crypto-exchange. There surely is nothing to worry about…

👓 The thin wisps of the future of AR might happen at Snap.

👨‍🏫 AI legend Andrew Ng in conversation with ChatGPT.

🚘 Disputing a parking ticket using ChatGPT. Finally a killer-app for AI.

📠 You know the shark has jumped the gun when The Economist is writing about it. AI is real.

🥁 Always fun to see robots do weird stuff — like playing the drums.

Internet Finds

Love a good spy thriller (we are enjoying season 2 of Slow Horses on Apple TV at the moment)? Sorry to say, but the cyanide tooth is a cold war fairy-tale. 🦷

In Case You Missed It

🏴‍☠️ The Heretic: It Pays To Be Early

🧨 Disrupt Disruption: In our latest episode, we chat with Barak Berkowitz, former Director Operations and Strategy Director at MIT Media Lab (and a long, storied career in Silicon Valley). It is a fascinating conversation about all things innovation and disruption. Listen here.

Radically yours, take good care, friend!

— Pascal, Mafe, Pedro, Vivian, and the three Js (Jane, Jeffrey, and Julian)