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How to Expand Your Business Beyond Binary Thinking

Business.com / Last Modified: July 10, 2018
Image credit: Flamingo Images/Shutterstock

Set your employees and your company up for success by looking beyond "right" vs. "wrong" logic.

The tendency exists in human nature to reduce the world into binary states. You see this type of thinking in the opposites of good or bad and wrong or right.

Binary thinking feels safe. This logic is helpful in certain situations; however, if you are looking to build a more comprehensive approach to problem-solving in your company and a better office culture, then there are benefits to moving beyond a binary mindset. 

Ryan Long suggested in his article "The Good, Bad and Ugly of Binary Thinking," that binary thinking is helpful for humans as we need to make snap decisions for survival, yet binary thinking is not conducive to conflict resolution nor is it helpful with the long-term planning that is necessary for creating a successful company.  

Charles Cobb supported this idea in his recent book, "The Project Manager's Guide to Mastering Agile: Principles and Practices for an Adaptive Approach," in which he said that individuals who revert to binary thinking look for simple cause-and-effect answers. However, this thinking limits one's ability to make more informed decisions. There is a gray area between the two opposite views that holds a host of options and opportunities. As Daniel Priestly, entrepreneur and author, suggests, organizations should learn to be okay with the gray areas.  

To expand the opportunities and options that exist as potential solutions for your organization, take time to incorporate the four activities below into your week. These activities help expand the mindset within your company beyond right and wrong. 

1. Make learning a part of the workday. Give employees a set time to read from a list of diverse topics related to work. Lifehack recently discussed the value of reading, which included mental stimulation, knowledge, analytical thinking, improved focus and concentration. Another alternative type of learning is sharing informational videos with employees and asking them to find one possible solution that could improve the overall efficiency of the organization and/or the work environment. Discussions could include topics about corporate culture, engagement or current trends in the business.

Have a process (either online or perhaps an office whiteboard) where people can post their comments about the different topics you've covered. Remind your team that there is no wrong idea; there are different ideas. The goal of the reading and videos should be to expand thinking and find new ways to incorporate ideas into your organization. Another benefit is that it increases tolerance for different ideas and fosters more inclusive behaviors that draw people toward a broader set of solutions.   

2. Have monthly activities that expose people to a variety of life situations in your community. Volunteering as a company helps employees see other perspectives not related to their daily work, and it opens their perspective of the world. Volunteer efforts could include activities like reading at the local Head Start program, helping at a food pantry or helping out at a domestic violence shelter.

A recent study from Deloitte found that employers who encourage and promote volunteering boost morale, workplace atmosphere, and brand perception. Eight-nine percent of employees believe that organizations that sponsor volunteer activities offer a better overall working environment. Additional benefits of volunteering as a team include increased empathy and greater cohesion.

3. When a conflict arises, have employees sit down and write at least five potential solutions. This activity helps employees develop problem-solving skills, and it expands their perspective. On each side of a whiteboard, write down each person's proposed solutions and then see which solutions closely align. The goal of the activity is for the individuals in conflict to first understand the different ways of viewing and solving a problem, then they can learn how to compromise. 

4. Train employees on critical thinking skills. Critical thinking skills reduce fear-driven behaviors and improve interpersonal relationships among your employees. Individuals learn that co-workers can disagree with one another without such disagreements negatively impacting team dynamics and productivity. Improving critical thinking skills also creates a more open environment for diversity and problem-solving.   

The overall benefits to your business of this more expanded way of thinking include a greater acceptance of diversity, better problem-solving skills and more effective conflict resolution. You also create a culture that embraces the complexities that challenges present, which gives your organization the ability to respond positively and effectively to headwinds. 

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