#154 Beyond Polarities! Why Are We Third Force Blind?

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Links Mentioned in this Episode:

Article Up for a Second Opinion: Every Leader Needs to Navigate These Seven Tensions 

Social Venture Circle webinar



Zac: WELCOME back to Business Second Opinion Podcast. We’re excited to bring you another season in our first episode of Season Four.

But first…WE want to thank our sponsor for Business Second Opinion. Guayaki. I actually just ordered a case of lemon elation, from my local grocery store as it turns out my kids have been swiping from my stash. Through this challenging time, Guayaki continues to brew enlivening beverages from a naturally caffeinated and nourishing leaf from a species of holly, you all know as mate. It contains 24 vitamins and minerals, 15 amino acids, and abundant polyphenols. My daughter actually looked up the background on mate and she goes Zac, did you know this stuff has a bunch of vitamins in it? I actually drink it for the caffeine but the vitamins definitely help! 

We hope you will check out this great beverage with your friends and family. And let us know what you think.

Business Second Opinion Podcast digs deep to explore questions about business and business practice. In the process of examining them, we give you a second opinion, usually a contrarian opinion, but one that is well tested and proven to give the outcomes you really want without the side effects. And by the way, if you want to learn more about how to work more closely with us, stay tuned at the end of the show.

I am Zac Swartout, and always with me is Carol Sanford, our inhouse positive contrarian. Who responds to big and hard questions with a radically different take. 

Hey Carol

Carol: Hi Zac

Zac: So Carol, new season, where we headed?

Carol: We are going to work on really big questions this season. Ones that affect democracy and dealing with climate, racism and more. We will reveal more of what is behind how we think about the articles we critique and the second opinions we give. But we will continue to value your comments and suggestions about articles on which to give a second opinion.

Zac: To start us off, we got an article suggestion for a second opinion from Susan Gladwell. She is one of our Change Agent Community members. The article she sent us is from just this past February’s Harvard Business Review, titled, Every Leader needs to Navigate these Seven Tensions. Carol let’s give people a sense of why we decided to take this one on.

Carol: I would say it explains all the problems that put us in crisis at the moment, Climate, Health, Economic, Biases and many more that are related and unrelated. The entire article is about how we have to choose between two options and how to manage the dichotomies they represent. It is how we are stuck as individuals and institutions in a two terms world, polarities like right and wrong, good and bad, red or blue politics. It is a crazy trap that is unnecessary. 

Zac: And it’s about more than moving from But to And. And in the case of this article, it’s about navigating two management styles instead of one. The authors are Jennifer Jordan, Michael Wade and Elizabeth Teracino. And the article is from the Feb. 20, 2020 issue of HBR for those following along.

Carol: But the tensions they set up are artificial if you change levels, perspectives to view the situation from. And thinking this way in business, means it is spread broadly into family life, education and how we govern. It is bad for business but also bad for democracy and the working of society.

Zac: The First Tension is Expert Versus Learner. They describe this as the tension between needing to have a deep level of knowledge about a certain subject, but also the willingness to know when you don’t know something about another subject and need to learn from others. Seems harmless enough, no?

Carol: Yeah, but what do they say about why it matters and what they recommend as the way to ‘balance’ out and relieve the tension would you say?

Zac: They’re saying that, in the example they give with the cofounder of Pandora, the music streaming platform, he knew the music industry but he didn’t understand newer tech business models. So while he had expertise in developing the music algorithm, he knew he needed help developing the business model to appropriately get it into the hands of customers. Navigating that knowing and not knowing, is how Pandora survived and thrived – at least that’s what the authors claim.

What are they missing Carol?

Carol: Several things. Well let’s talk about where the third force comes from. It comes from a way of thinking that is outside the current situation. In other words you have to put something else in your mind that gives you perspective. That is like a paradigm shift. For example: The epistemology of experts is part of an old paradigm of hierarchies where some know more than most others. And they need to guide the work of others. From a completely different paradigm, everyone is focused on the collaboratively developed and engaged Corporate Direction designed to serve the market. 

Zac: The example here doesn’t give me a clear sense of a path through. I am left feeling that I need to just be self aware enough to know when I have incomplete knowledge about something and ask for help. Really? Is that it? Just ask for help?

Carol: Systems need to reimage the entire business design. They need the third force that only can be seen when you let go of ‘expert’ as the needed path. You shift paradigms to ‘all people are developable’. To be smarter. To connect to the system. We are simultaneously being developed and serving the market and stakeholders. Everyone is doing that as leaders. But the North star they refer to does not come from an expert but a process that involved the Strategy Team that engages in first draft thinking. Then engages the organization and how everyone will play a role. The whole process is infused with development of everyone as you go

Zac: You know, I have heard you describe Seventh Generation’s strategy team which was reflective of the entire organization in levels, functions, and perspectives, while having membership changes over the years. Because of the mix of members, the ideas developed there went immediately into all aspects of the organization at the end of each meeting.

Carol: And those Strategic Thinking meetings were infused with development. The team was engaged with a new framework to do the strategic thinking that stretched each member without regard to rank or title. They worked with it as they went and learned as they engaged. And they did personal and team reflections to build a new way of thinking translated into a new way of working. The process was pushing everyone as learners while they got work done (and each person took accountability for it being understood and evolved across the organization. They each grew personally in the process. Jeffrey Hollender says, “it was work that changed his company, his life and was good for his soul.”

Zac: Most people can’t understand this story. It feels impossible – the idea of development while working at the same time. I think most people think they need to go on retreat or have everyone go into a conference room all day to do leadership training outside of the normal everyday work.

So Carol, what does this way of polarized thinking imply for the people doing that work? And for that matter how does that affect democracy and other systemic challenges?

Carol: For business it makes change slow, incomplete and crippling to the bottom line. They miss so many potential opportunities for people development, supplier ecosystem creativity and innovation for markets. So it is bad for business in every measure. But it is why I say, as a nation, and even world, we are third force blind. We can’t see another way because we are so stuck in our two term world. Two things can’t happen at once. They are trade-offs or you do a little of each as a compromise as the article says. 

Zac: Speaking of the article, let’s look at their Second Tension. The Constant vs. Adaptor. The authors set up the polarization as the idea of “sticking to your guns” as a leader vs. being willing to “change course in response to new information”. 

Carol: This one is particularly interesting since the story ends with an apology for not staying emergent. When emergent is not a very useful idea since it comes from a classical physics worldview modified to be more. It is stuck in the two forces of fixed vs. adaptive can be just as damaging because it is a low level strategic process. 

Zac: So people are looking to the external world for guidance on when and what to pursue. They are watching what is happening and adapting to the external. Their eyes are facing outward to what is changing and then changing themselves. It’s like there is no core or center. What is the third force here, Carol?

Carol: We have spoken about this many times, but given the quadruple crisis we are in and how people are struggling this may be a critical time to make the point again. 

Zac: Right, people are trying to do one of three things. And you spoke about this for a Social Venture Circle webinar we will link to in the show notes. They try to first Adhere: to what’s “known,exclaiming “Get us back to the familiar and —manageable!” If they can’t do that, they try to Adopt: either what is working for others or get others to adopt our way. The third is Adapt: Make changes to fit a new unfolding reality, and seize opportunities to participate in the shifts that are coming. Adapt certainly seems like a better option than sticking to the old way or just adopting a whole new way that others are pursuing. At least they keep some of their own path

Carol: The third path is to have a rudder based on a different place you start so not at the mercy of the changing world. The first shift is to the essence of the person or business (don’t give up our own unique being). Second, keep global imperatives top of mind that can get undermined as we adapt. Adaptation is so self-centered we can forget this. And third finally, our unique positioning in the market based on those two. 

Zac: Most adaptations have nothing to do with those three questions and yet they are shown in our research and practice to be the best direction in a violent storm. And I can see how the global imperatives help us pay attention to the climate crises. How are the others good third force guides for bigger issues?

Carol: Essence is a core foundation to build regenerative economic systems. We want each person to be more able to know and express their essence and overcome the tendency to standardize work. And each business and system. When people are connected to a deeper aspect of themselves, they are strongly self-managing of their behavior without external input and supervision. They also support others in that pursuit and societies, economies and relations with others that don’t meet simple classifications becomes unimportant. Thinking shift to pay attention to each person uniquely

Zac: Adaptation leaves us asking how to change based on a world that does not take Essence into account. If businesses can see how important it is to their own success for the business as a whole and each person in it, it’s likely to spread to families, education and other social systems. As we have discussed before, all of these systems are awash in degraded practices of behavior modification and feedback that undermine healthy societies and humans. 

Carol: So, we can’t look at all seven of these tensions in a short podcast, although we encourage people to take on this third force exercise. If they want help, they can see a few books I have written, that are full of examples of doing that Third Force design with about 50 businesses across my five books, plus dozens of individual examples in all sorts of roles in business and life. Exercise: Look at each story and design and ask, what ‘polarities’ that otherwise set up a tension, get reconciled with what I did with the business or community or even individuals.

Zac: I like that idea and would encourage people to work on this. It takes practice to see a third force at play. In my journey of doing this work there are no simple answers, as many HBR authors seem to imply. For me, it’s been a continual practice of working in this way, at first, not seeing anything – and honestly thinking Carol was crazy. And then, slowly seeing that a new perspective is possible in my thinking. But it takes work to break the habit of always assuming that the frame is a polarity and throwing up my hands. This is a blindness that takes work to overcome, every time. 

Carol: If we all could slow down our tendency to leap to polarities, like ‘that is a bad practice, I will do a good one’, and look for the third force that is greater than either of the others and reconciles both of them simultaneously plus so much more, we could gather and begin to design our way out of the current set of polarities we are buried in. 

Zac: The invitation here is to watch yourself, as your idea to overcome the bad, is usually just a reaction to the bad practice itself. It is not a third force unless it reconciles the polar idea to ours at the same time. And that takes some work to be open to that. It is why people on all sides of an issue join us here and read Carol’s books. The books and our ideas here are filled with third force thinking. 

Zac: We are glad to be back for a fourth season, and linking our business ideas to societal, planetary and bigger human questions here at Business Second Opinion. Check out carolsanford.com under Second Opinion for the show notes. 

Carol: We need you. Four ways: Like Susan Gladwin did by recommending this article. Survey Monkey has a place to do that. Second tell your friends to listen. We want to triple our audience this season. Help us get the word out. Third, give us a review. People read them and it helps let people know what we do. And fourth, if you can help us fund the production cost of our show that would be great. It cost about $10,000/year for technical help, platforms, recording equipment etc. On our website is a way to donation once or pledge via Patreon or just click a button one time

Zac: If you need more of what we give, Carol Sanford Institute has been offering developmental communities, what we call Seed-Communities, for forty years with online versions for a decade, so we are pretty good at it. To start, what we’re offering is a set of FREE Morning Meetings where we look at how to Transform Uncertainty into Action based on Living Systems Thinking approaches . These meetings are designed to inform our lives in times of crisis, your daily decisions and action, and how you help others. Search on Facebook for The Regenerative Life Communities Group. Answer the questions posed and you are in. And join Carol’s newsletter at carolsanford.com to get more information on upcoming events. 

Carol: and keep listening to Business Second Opinion for more ideas on working from Regenerative Paradigms and Practices. And Carol’s new book is out The Regenerative Life with an extensive workbook and Book Club materials, which Carol support with Live online Workshops for Free. More at carolsanford.com.

Zac: Thanks again to our sponsors at Guayaki and your pursuit of Regeneration with high integrity. If you want one of our Get a Second Opinion Mugs, send us your article and topics on practices in business that need a second opinion on. You can email us at carol@businessSecondOpinion.com or find us on Twitter @biz_second_opinion . If we use it to develop an episode, you get a mug. Also, your ratings and reviews on any platform help people find us and spread the word. 

Carol: Thanks to Numi Tea: They sponsor our Business Second Opinion Show Notes and Babson College for sponsoring The Regenerative Business Summit and Prize, annually. Check out the Business Second Opinion website for more info on our podcast. Join Numi Tea as a Champion of our podcast. 


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Business Second Opinion Podcast digs deep to answer questions about business and business practice, you may not know you need to ask. But we believe you should be asking for the benefit of your understanding and your business’s ethics and practice. In the process of answering them, we give you a second opinion, usually a contrarian opinion, but that is well tested and proven to give the outcomes you really want without the side effects. 

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