“If this is good, that must be bad.”
“If that is right, this must be wrong.”
“There is only one way to do this, and that is the way we do it.”
“It is black or white. There is no gray area.”
One of the patterns in human thinking is the tendency to identify—and cling to—polarities. These polarities exist in all areas of our thinking, our values, our politics, and structures of our consciousness. Polarities exist in some of our general dispositions, like believing you are conservative or liberal. But they also show up in lesser matters, like Inbound or OutBound as a sales approach.
Throughout human history, the brain has worked to keep human beings alive, dividing things into two categories: 1) Beneficial, and 2). Harmful. Blueberries are good, hungry predators are bad. My people are safe; strangers are dangerous. People who believe what I believe are part of my tribe, and people who believe something different are the enemy. These dichotomies have served to keep us alive. They have also created false choices and limited thinking that have kept us trapped with a set of problems that appear to be intractable.
The truth is that blueberries are sometimes good, and hungry predators are also useful. Your people are sometimes safe, and strangers are often safe (everyone you know was once a stranger, and you may have had reservations upon meeting them). People who believe what you believe are part of your tribe, and defining that category to something as limited as, say, political beliefs, produces a different outcome than a broader, more inclusive class.
There are some areas where the dichotomies require a choice, like integrity or dishonesty. In more domains, however, polarities extract a price when it comes to your success and your results.
Elimination of Optionality
If there is only one right answer, all other answers are necessarily wrong. If all other answers are wrong, then you have effectively eliminated your options. If what you believe is good, and right, and beautiful, and everything else is terrible, wrong, and a lie, then you have removed any new choices or options. These kinds of purity tests often end up destroying results. When there is only one belief and one right course of action, when it doesn’t produce the desired effect, you are stuck.
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The first tablet computers with a touchscreen hit the markets in 2000. They were mainly a computer with a touch screen. The experience wasn’t great, and no company produced anything that was remotely considered a success, and the ideas were virtually abandoned. Steve Jobs believed that a tablet computer was not only possible but that it was something different from a computer. His vision, his creativity, and his beliefs about what was possible made the market for tablets.
Unnecessary and Incorrect Assumptions
Much of the time, we make unnecessary and incorrect assumptions. We assume that what we do cannot be improved, and we accept a stasis that doesn’t serve us rather than exploring the new choices and new options. It can be challenging to believe that what we have done for a long time is no longer the right thing to do, and if you think in polarities, it means admitting that you are now wrong. The need to be right and a decision to be correct for the rest of all time is how people and collections of people get hurt.
You don’t have to believe that other choices are wrong. Nor do you have to think that you are right. When you are hardened and unadaptable about what you think and your options, because your beliefs are set in concrete, you have set yourself in place while the world moves past you.
How do you free yourself from polarity thinking? How do you get past mutual-exclusivity and see new beliefs, new actions, and new results?
My challenge here is to share this idea without using polarities, even though, like all generalizations, they are useful.
Whenever two or more ideas or courses of action exist, there is value in both the competition of these ideas and the integration of those same ideas. Most of us hold beliefs so firmly that we often refuse to explore their opposite.
For some time, the people who fell passionately in love with inbound marketing suggested that any cold outreach (cold calls) was a violation of what is right. Because they held their beliefs so firmly, they limited the choices that salespeople and sales organizations might pursue. The result was detrimental to the vast majority of the people who held this belief, resulting in the being opportunity-starved. It did, however, improve the outcomes for some, mostly thought leaders and content creators.
Those who fared the best chose to use both inbound marketing and cold outreach, integrating the two into a comprehensive approach. They refused the dichotomy, removing the “or” offered, replacing it with “and,” reaping the benefits of both.
When I was young and first fronting a rock-n-roll band, we played only originals, a decision that was lauded by our small group of fans and followers, as well as other bands. The bands who were succeeding in building bigger audiences were playing mostly covers, something we refused to consider. At some point, we changed to playing covers, and our audience grew. At some point, we integrated the two, playing both and realizing greater success.
Context matters. If you only accept competition, then one idea or choice wins, and all others lose. In eliminating ideas with which you disagree, you allow yourself to get stuck, as it pertains to your results your personal and professional growth. There are good reasons to explore the poles, including your values. It is never right to lie, except when doing so does nothing but hurt another person’s feeling.
Accept the Threat
You will not grow if you are unwilling to change your beliefs and your behaviors. To improve your ability to free yourself from your polarized thinking, you have to be willing to explore opinions and ideas with which you disagree. You must also be willing to take new actions. The greater the threat of the idea, the more you need to look at it.
Exploring ideas you disagree with doesn’t mean you blindly accept them. Instead, it means you evaluate it in light of your circumstances, that you consider it, you give it a fair trial. Not all ideas are equally valuable for all scenarios — the context matters. But if you aren’t even willing to look at something different because it threatens what you know and believe, you cut yourself off from breakthroughs and transformation.
One of the ways you can break free from being trapped on the poles is to look at people occupying the opposite pole. Because this is thesalesblog.com, if you believe “only inbound,” how do you explain the results of those who “mostly inbound?” If you are “only-outbound,” you are leaving communication channels out of your approach, even if we might disagree about the value and strategies for using these mediums.
Exploring the opposite of what you believe means asking the question, “Why do these believe this is valuable?” If you think that other people’s beliefs and strategies are wrong while they are producing results, you understand the limiting nature of absolutist thinking. If there were no value, if it wasn’t useful in some context, one of two things would be true: 1). They would keep doing it even though they are not producing a result, or 2). They would stop doing something and do something different.
If you are going to grow, change, and improve, you are going first to need to enhance your perspective.
Trade Judgment for Discernment
Breaking free of a fundamentalist mindset isn’t easy. It requires you to eliminate the tendency to judge something and explore the opposite pole with discernment as to the goal. There is value in the tension between the poles. You only know dark because you know light. You know cold because you know hot. Both of these examples demonstrate a continuum from one pole to the other. Instead of looking at the opposite pole with judgment, you ask, “When and how might this be useful?
You want discernment, not judgment. What discernment offers is new beliefs, new behaviors, new courses of action, and new results. By seeing the value in context, you can integrate the opposite pole, when it makes sense to do so.
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