Wendy Smith is the Dana J. Johnson Professor of Management and faculty director of the Women's Leadership Initiative at the Lerner College of Business and Economics, University of Delaware. She earned her PhD in organizational behavior at Harvard Business School where she began her intensive research on strategic paradoxes, how leaders and senior teams effectively respond to contradictory yet interdependent demands. Working with executives and scholars globally, she received the Web of Science Highly Cited Research Award in 2019, 2020, and 2021 for being among the 1% most cited researchers in her field and received the Decade Award in 2021 from the Academy of Management Review for the most cited paper in the past 10 years. Her work has been published in such journals as Academy of Management Journal, Administrative Science Quarterly, Harvard Business Review, Organization Science and Management Science. She has taught at the University of Delaware, Harvard University, and the University of Pennsylvania, Wharton, while helping senior leaders and middle managers all over the world addressed issues of interpersonal dynamics, team performance, organizational change, and innovation. Wendy lives in Philadelphia with her husband, three children and the family dog.
Life is full of paradoxes. How can we each express our individuality while also being a team player? How do we balance work and life? How can we improve diversity while promoting opportunities for all? How can we manage the core business while innovating for the future?
For many of us, these competing and interwoven demands are a source of conflict. Since our brains love to make either-or choices, we choose one option over the other. We deal with the uncertainty by asserting certainty.
There's a better way.
In Both/And Thinking, Wendy Smith and Marianne Lewis help readers cope with multiple, knotted tensions at the same time. Drawing from more than twenty years of pioneering research, they provide tools and lessons for transforming these tensions into opportunities for innovation and personal growth.
Filled with practical advice and fascinating stories—including firsthand tales from IBM, LEGO, and Unilever, as well as from startups, nonprofits, and even an inn at one of the four corners of the world—Both/And Thinking will change the way you approach your most vexing problems.
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Resources Mentioned in the Episode with Wendy Smith:
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When making a decision, we often find ourselves stuck between choosing one option over another, creating a vicious cycle that limits our capabilities and creates consistent tension. But what if there were a better way?
Hey, it's Dustin and you're listening to The Burleson Box. On today's episode, I'm honored to speak with Wendy Smith, author of Both/And Thinking: Embracing Creative Tensions to Solve Your Toughest Problems. Wendy Smith is the Dana J. Johnson Professor of Management and faculty director of the Women's Leadership Initiative at the Lerner College of Business and Economics, University of Delaware. She earned her PhD in organizational behavior at Harvard Business School where she began her intensive research on strategic paradoxes, how leaders and senior teams effectively respond to contradictory yet interdependent demands. Working with executives and scholars globally, she received the Web of Science Highly Cited Research Award in 2019, 2020, and 2021 for being among the 1% most cited researchers in her field and received the Decade Award in 2021 from the Academy of Management Review for the most cited paper in the past 10 years.
Her work has been published in such journals as Academy of Management Journal, Administrative Science Quarterly, Harvard Business Review, Organization Science and Management Science. She has taught at the University of Delaware, Harvard University, and the University of Pennsylvania, Wharton, while helping senior leaders and middle managers all over the world addressed issues of interpersonal dynamics, team performance, organizational change, and innovation.
Wendy lives in Philadelphia with her husband, three children and the family dog. I'm so excited to welcome Wendy Smith to the program today, inside another episode of The Burleson Box.
Hi everyone, it's Dustin Burleson and I'm so honored to have on the program today, Wendy Smith. Wendy, thanks for being here.
Thanks, Dustin. Thanks for having me.
What inspired you to write a book specifically about embracing creative tensions? That seems like a really, really complex topic.
Well, thank you. And I was inspired because I and my colleague, Marianne Lewis, who wrote the book with me, have been surrounded by an amazing group of colleagues who have been researching this topic. So our goal was to take an idea that has been so instrumental in the research that we do, but also so helpful in our own personal lives and try and make it palatable, if you will, make it accessible to a broader audience.
Can we go back in time, because your research really is pioneering? I think, if I understand correctly, there was some research in the '70s and '80s on paradox and organization theory, but you've brought it back to the forefront in a big way. Take listeners back to what did we used to think about organization theory and how has your research changed that?
Yeah, thank you. When I got started, there were a lot of people who told me not to do this research. Don't go there. The core idea, just to give your listeners a sense of what we're talking about. The big idea here is that we face lots and lots of tensions in our lives, lots of competing demands, whether it's what we should eat for breakfast or how we should structure our organizations and our strategies and how we should think about our competing demands in the leadership that we do. It's not if we face tensions, but how.
And for a long time, and still today, the way that we teach leaders to think about competing demands is to pull them apart, make a clear choice, and be really consistent in that choice. We call that either/thinking. We suggest that that is limited at best, or detrimental at worse, and we can talk about why.
But this idea of both/and Thinking as an alternative rests on this concept of paradox. And Dustin, I'll just say very briefly, one of the things that I loved in the book and the chapter that didn't get published really says, this is a concept that we have almost rediscovered in organizational theory, but it's a concept that comes from 2,500 years ago. We're drawing on Buddhist philosophy, we're drawing on Greek philosophy, we're drawing on ideas that popped up around the world around 500 BC, and bringing that back into the conversation about how we now think about organizations and leadership.
So it is both something that we are engaging more recently now, but something that really we are standing on the shoulders of giants from a very long history.
And I want to highlight for the listeners that that research, your research is actually the most cited in your field over the last decade. So I want to encourage the residents listening in medical and dental school, if someone tells you, "Don't go there with your research," Wendy's an example, you can go there and do some really cool stuff. So I love that. It's usually where the best and most interesting answers come from. So thanks for not listening to whatever advisors told you not to go there because it has transformed really management theory.
And I'm curious, what was that like to do? I know we're kind of on a tangible, what was that like to do research that really everyone kind of told you like, "Don't go there"? And did anything surprise you in the process of then working with big companies like IBM and other examples we'll talk about in the book?
Well, what encouraged me was that the more I talked about paradox, the more I talked about both/and, the more that people said, "Oh my gosh, yes, I see this. I get this. This is the world that I live in." So that was encouraging. And in fact, when you asked the question, what inspired us to write the book? For so long, Marianne and I were having this conversation with colleagues about how we needed to move from either/or to both/and. And then we saw this explosion of people talking about the both/and. We see it in some of our, some, not all, of our politicians, we see it in leaders talking about both/and, there's consulting companies that talk about how leaders need to live in paradox.
And so we've seen this progression of conversation around moving from either/or to both/and. So then the question became, how? How do we do this? How do we shift in our thinking, because it's sounds so easy and as soon as you peel back the curtain, if you will, it's complex and it's emotionally hard. It is cognitively hard. It's hard to do in a group and in a team. It's hard when you're leading an organization. So how can we create some tools that help people get there better?
Yeah, you've brilliantly identified some patterns that emerged when navigating these paradoxes, but I just want to highlight for listeners, because I see this, I saw it on our own business before we exited through private equity. Often in our mission statements we have paradox, right? We're saying we want to maximize shareholder value, but we also want to provide great customer service. Or we want to be competitive, but we also want to do good by the environment and social justice. There's all these paradoxes. And even the mission we set out as organizations, I just thought it was fascinating that we're finally waking up to it.
You are way ahead of the curve. So can we talk about those patterns that emerge? You talk about them in the book, and they often lead to vicious cycles when we start to navigate some of these. And maybe an example I'd see this a lot with our members is trying to be really efficient in clinical practice, but also flexible and provide customized treatment for every patient. What are some of those trends that you've discovered?
Yeah. Here's what we find. First, I love the examples that you're giving because one of the things that I do when I do workshops with leaders, with owners, with business owners is start by asking people what some of the challenges that they're facing. And as soon as we talk about those challenges, we can then look underneath those challenges and say, "Okay, what are the competing demands?" And notice that those competing demands... And this is what we mean by paradox. Those competing demands are bumping up against one another. They're creating this tug of war. They feel like a lot of internal tension, but if we look at them more closely, they're also interdependent with one another. You need them both.
So in organizations, it's things like if you're going to be a small entrepreneurship and you're going to try and scale up, you both need that energy, that entrepreneurial energy that creates the enthusiasm of we're trying something new, we're doing new things, we're exploring new opportunities, and you need the stable practices that allow you to be more efficient and to be more organized and to be more planful. And you both need to be emergent in your thinking and you need to be more structured in your thinking. You need to be stable and change. You need to think about how you can be big and small.
Or to your point, how do you think about who your clients are and what their needs are and how to provide the best customer service, and at the same time worry about cost efficiencies? So these things bump up against one another in a small moment in time, but in the big picture, in the long run, you need both. And what we find is that because our brains want to make a quick decision when we're facing these kinds of decisions, they open up all kinds of uncertainty. We don't like uncertainty. I like to say that if we want to remind ourselves that we don't like uncertainty, we can just go right back to March, 2020 when there was a ton of uncertainty and all we wanted was clear decisions and spaces that there weren't clear answers and clear decisions. So we don't like uncertainty.
What we do in the face of these decisions is try and impose a certain amount of clarity, certainty and consistency by making a decision and going forward. But as you say, they lead to these detrimental patterns. So I'll just say very briefly, the first of these patterns is we make a decision, we get stuck and we can't shift our point of view. So for any of your listeners that are small and looking to grow large, one place you could see yourself getting stuck is in that entrepreneurial small organizational patterns. And as soon as you start to grow, it's hard to pull out of that and be more structured and efficient and planful in your organization, as I was saying before.
Or it might be, and actually a colleague of mine did some research around veterinarians who own small practices, and this cost versus care attention. It might be that you see yourself as the person who's always providing superior customer service, and that's amazing, but then you get stuck in that and always your customers or your clients, in this case, end up waiting in the waiting room for so long because you're spending so much time with each client that you actually aren't getting and moving along quickly enough.
And so we go down one path thinking that this is the way that we are and this is our identity and this is our approach, and we end up losing or getting down a detrimental path where we can't switch. So we call that the rabbit hole. And then briefly, I'll just say the other two patterns, and again, we can unpack this more. But often what happens is we go down a rabbit hole, we focus on one point of view, it's time to switch, and we totally make the opposite switch. And we call this the wrecking ball because you end up over-correcting, you throw out the good with the bad. And I like to say that the wrecking ball, if anyone's ever been on a diet, they know what this is like. You're disciplined, you're disciplined, you're disciplined, you end up having a croissant one morning because they look so good, and that's it, you throw out the discipline. You just sort of move into, okay, everything's off the table at this point.
And the third pattern, and maybe it's the most pernicious, is that when we tend to be in either/or mindset, we tend to then reinforce we're right, we surround ourselves by others that are similar to us. And then when we are in confrontation or in relationship with someone who has a different point of view, if we're right, they must be wrong. And we get into these conflicts that we call trench warfare because the image is that we dig ourselves deeper into our own trenches, surround ourselves by people who agree with us and sort of shoot out at the other side without really taking the time and really deeply understanding the other side.
It's so good. And thank you for using this terminology. It helps readers like me remember because moving forward, I love that you use mules and tightrope walkers. It gives me a crystal clear picture of how to navigate some of this. Can we talk about that? What is creative integration? What is consistent in consistency and why should we pay attention to this?
Yes. As you had mentioned, I had started studying this at IBM. And I was looking at how the leaders of these teams were navigating an ongoing and persistent challenge around innovation. And again, as you were saying earlier, organizational theory, my colleagues, people would look at the innovation challenge and say, "Okay, the problem is is that we get stuck in the present and in an inertia of what we do. How do we push out of that so that we can experiment, explore, and do things that are new?" And it was sort of framed as you got to rip the Band-Aid, move to the new world really quickly so you don't get stuck in the old world.
That's not the challenge that the IBM senior leaders that I was studying were facing. The challenge that they were facing was that they had to explore, experiment, try new things, change, and at the same time, had to manage their existing customers. And they had millions, billions of dollars wrapped up in their existing clients. And so they had to live in this world of both innovating, changing, trying new things, experimenting and maintaining their existing world and their existing operations along the way.
And what I thought was that the great leaders who could live in... So the first piece of this, just to say, was moving away from it's one or the other, into both. So what I thought was that the great leaders who did both, the sort of classic idea of doing both is that there's a win-win out there, that there is this creative integration that is able to bring together their old and their new into some ideal synthesis, the Hegelian synthesis. And that's what we call the mule because the mule is one of the oldest living hybrids that we as humans have been breeding for millennia. And it's stronger than a horse, smarter than a donkey. You bring it together, you've got a stronger, smarter thing, animal and these win-wins happen.
They happen sometimes, but what I was finding when I was studying this with IBM is that they didn't happen as often as I was expecting. And that great teams who were in the long-term living into the both/and, being able to live into their today and their tomorrow, their existing world and their new world, were doing something different. What they were doing is that they were considering each of their decisions as one part of a broader portfolio composite of decisions over time. And so they were looking out into the future and saying, "Okay, so long term, we both need to bring our existing customers along, so we need to be able to attend to them today and we need to be changing and moving." And so they were making decisions that were making these sort of, what we call micro shifts or these small changes between sometimes investing in their existing product and sometimes investing in their new product.
The issue was that they were not, or the companies or, sorry, the leaders that were not doing this well, were making these big swings to focus on the future and forget the present, or that we're really stuck in the present and couldn't focus on the future. The ones that were doing this well, were making these sort of small shifts and that's what we call tightrope walking, because the idea is that a tightrope walker looks out to the future. They're never fully balanced on the tightrope. They're always balancing by making these micro oscillations along the way. And that's how the leaders were navigating the both/and.
For some people, the challenge of work-life balance is really salient in this space because in the work-life balance challenge, it's rare that we find this ideal work and life come together. It's like take your kids to work day and show your kids what work is like. And there's this ideal win-win, but those moments are rare. Most of the time what we're doing is this tightrope walking, where tonight I am staying late at work because I have deadlines or I have late night patients or whatever it might be, but tomorrow I'm home and having family dinner. And it's that micro shifting along the way that can be challenging, but that enables us in the big picture to say, "I am accommodating both just not at every moment and with every decision."
It's so smart. Did you see any downsides to staying on the tightrope too long? Any burnout or were they well-adjusted leaders who were able to still play the mule role from time to time?
Yeah, well that is a good point, which is that the mules come up on the tightrope. So indeed that does happen. I think the downside is that it's not easy. I mean, living on the tightrope requires ongoing challenge. Somebody said to us, "Well, standing is the same thing. You're never really fully balanced. You're always kind of making these shifts." And that's true. And so if you want to think about it as standing, that's great.
And I think we use the tightrope metaphor to remind ourselves that it's not easy. Other people use the juggling plates metaphor or what have you. It does feel like sometimes this all comes crashing down on you and it's hard to do. And that's where being in community and having other people remind you of the benefits of the both/and, and remind you of the value of living into this space is useful.
I love that you brought up work-life balance because I think everyone listening, if they're honest, struggles with that and moving from an either/or to hopefully some version of both/and. And you provide really great tools in the book. And again, for readers like me, you've made them A, B, C, and D. So I'm going to talk about some of the tools in your paradox system because it's really brilliant. Can we talk about the first one, shifting assumptions and adopting a certain mindset and why that's so hard?
Yes. Well, first I just have to say, when we do workshops and workshops for companies, and I say to people, "Well, what's a tension that you're facing?" What I find is that often people will say, "Work-life balance." And here I am thinking, well, what's the tensions that you're facing at work because you're bringing me in to do a workshop about work? But work-life balance came up so often that we wrote so many of those examples into the book.
Our editor finally said to us, "Okay, enough work-life balance examples. Enough of this." But indeed. And so thank you. It also, we spent a lot of time, Marianne and I at different tables, coffee tables where we would sit and brainstorm trying to figure out A, B, C, D.
It's just perfect. I was like, "Wow, this couldn't be better."
Thank you. Yeah. The idea here is that as we brought together these tools, there's not just one tool. And we bucketed it into four categories of tools and really built the book around those categories. So we can start with A, so it's assumptions, boundaries, comfort and dynamics. And assumptions is where most people think, no pun intended, but think, it's sort of our mindsets, how we think, how our cognition, how we frame the problem. And here we would say that we like to quote Paul Watzlawick, who is a psychologist and who said, "The problem is not the problem. The problem is how we think about the problem."
And I find myself doing this all the time. It's almost professional hazard, which is noticing how often people present us, or life presents us with our tensions as an either/or and invites us into, asks us almost like sort of there's this inertia that asks us just to make a decision between these options. And if we can pause and notice the either/or question as it comes to us almost passively and actively change the question to a both/and, it opens up all kinds of new creative thinking and possible outcomes.
And so this just happened to me the other day. I lead a Women's Leadership Initiative at my university and my team that I lead often jokes because it will come up so often. Just the other day we were having a conversation about our strategy. We support and provide programs for students. We support and provide programs for executives and leaders in the community. And we had this either/or moment, we've got limited resources, should we be supporting students or should we be supporting and providing programs for executives?
And indeed, even as resources feel limited, which is often when these either/ors come up, they looked at me, they rolled their eyes because they knew exactly what the next question would be, which is what is the both/and? How can we, with the resources that we have, support both the student population and the executive population? And by the way, help the students learn from and engage with the executives and the executives support and enable the students so that these communities can reinforce one another?
So I do think that shifting the question really helps along the way. I'll just say one more thing, which is that I have three kids, I have two 16-year-olds and an 11-year-old, and now they will say, "Oh, Mom, but what's the both/and?" Of course rolling their eyes as they do. So the question could be powerful, but also somewhat in a parental sense, painful.
That's great. Yeah, they will come to appreciate having a world-class PhD in the house, but maybe not when they're teenagers.
That's great. Let's talk about boundaries. And I'm curious if... It is a two-part question, we can kind of opened up the conversation there. But have you seen this become more difficult in the era of hybrid work where I feel like when I'm working, there are days when I'm in the clinic, there's days when I'm at home, I feel like work is always with me? Have you seen that and why are boundaries so important?
Yeah, such a great question. Yes, it's hard to hold boundaries when those boundaries have sort of dissolved because our space has dissolved those boundaries. Indeed, absolutely. So when we say boundaries, we mean the scaffolding, the structures, the context that we build around us in order to hold us into both/and thinking. And so that could be everything from creating the context where we have a bigger purpose, what we call a higher purpose statement that holds us into why we're doing these competing demands. It is things like we talk about the importance of separating, pulling apart, like you said, having clear boundaries on opposing ideas so we know what's at stake with each one. And then finding the points of connection. And hybrid work has challenged that.
The pandemic certainly challenged that because it was hard to create these separations and say, "Here's where I need to have space for this agenda, maybe my family and what they need, and here's where I need to have space for that agenda, my work and my career and what that needs." And in fact, one of the things that we know about boundaries is that we need to pull them apart. Oftentimes, people will make this mistake, this sort of logical mistake that what we're trying to do is bring these things together, let's find the perfect integration.
And just as there are false dichotomies where we pull things apart but don't see the points of integration and points of synergy, we argue that there's also false integrations where we try and lump things together, but by not understanding what's at stake for each one, we're not really getting to a better synergy. One of the sides is going to win, it's going to take over, it's going to be more powerful. So we need that pull apart, understand, distinguish, in service of bringing together and finding points of connection.
Is there a correlation here with measurement? I'm thinking it's baseball season, so I love sports. And I'm thinking a lot of teams, well obviously everyone measures every statistic in baseball, it's a very scientific sport. And one way to measure who's going to make the All-Star team is who's got the best batting average, who's got the lowest ERA, and another way is to ask the fans, "Who do you like?" And let the fans vote.
If we shift the boundaries in the business on how we measure things, I'm thinking particularly of practice owners, is that a way we could be more true to this concept of boundaries? Is there any correlation with measurement there on how we are measuring our outcomes?
Well, Dustin, you're speaking to my husband's space because he is a statistician. And here we speak and connect. So I feel like I should pull him into the conversation. It is true that our measurement narrows us. One of the things that we know about measurement and assessment is that no one assessment, no one measurement tool is going to tell us all the information that we need about everything. And so we spend a lot of time arguing over how to measure our outcomes and our success, whether it's in baseball or whether it's in our practice or in our organizations and in our dental practices, for many of your listeners, or whether it's in academia, how do we measure somebody's output and effectiveness?
What we know is that actually bringing together a composite, a portfolio of measurement tools is much more rich and robust because it points to different types of outcomes that can reinforce one another. So here too, I would say maybe it's not an either/or, maybe there's a both/and in how we think about measurement.
Yeah, I love that. I've worked with leaders who seem to have that concept of boundaries much broader. And I always use the water-skiing analogy, they'll let you kind of swing around the front of the boat and you're kind of both leading for a moment, to borrow a phrase from a gentleman that used to work at Hallmark here in Kansas City. I just love that. And it's just so succinctly described in the book.
I mean, all of the book is fantastic, but these tools to really have a system on how to get to both/and are fantastic. So I highly encourage everyone to get through that section. Can we move on to comfort? It's probably, I think where I first realized that navigating paradoxes is paradoxical, right? So what happens if we avoid our emotions in this process? I was like, "Aha, this is where the tension comes in for me." What can we share about comfort?
Yes. So comfort is the emotion side. I love that you said that we probably repeat the refrain throughout the book. I don't know how many times navigating paradox is paradoxical. Part of that is noticing, for example, that people will say, "Well, you just have to change your mindset, and it's all about the head and the assumptions and our cognition." Well, we know that our cognition and our mindsets are defined by our emotions, and our emotions are informed by our cognition. So it's not one or the other, it's both/and in that as well. And importantly, in the both/and of comfort or emotions, we talk about finding comfort in the discomfort.
And here it's noticing that we can't just sweep away the... What we like to do, or let me just take a step back. The reason that emotions are important is because when we are confronted with these either/ors, as I said earlier, all kinds of emotions pop up. So we feel uncertain. It creates anxiety. It might create fear because of the unknown. And when there are things that are unknown, we populate that unknown in our minds with the worst possible options. And it might create defensiveness. And that in part comes up. We were saying earlier that both ending is particularly poignant and relevant when you have two different people with different points of view that are battling with one another.
And it might come up, we might get defensive that if you have a different opinion than me, I defend my point of view and hold tight. So all of these emotions come up. What we know from research is that if we sweep all of those under the rug, or let me say it differently. What we tend to want to do is just pretend they don't exist and move beyond them. Oh, I can just let go of the anxiety. I can just let go of the fear. I can stop being defensive. And that strategy, often by pretending they don't exist, just makes them come back even more powerfully.
I love the concept of being comfortable with the uncomfortable. And I wrote up the margins of the book, I hope you're not offended, even though it's a hard cloth-bound book, I still write all over it. In page 116, you talk about the difference between managers and leaders. And you say, quote, "Managers seek control in the face of uncertainty and leaders learn to cope," end quote.
And that really stuck with me. And I don't think I had that early in my career. I wanted to control everything when times were uncertain, and it's just such a powerful concept. I just wanted to highlight that and say, thank you for including that.
You're welcome. Thank you for saying that because this is where we move from saying, "Oh gosh, just change the question, it's super easy," to, "Ooh, this is a lifelong practice of consistently reminding ourselves that we can, everything will be okay if we let go." That holding on trying to control is not about managing the situation, it's about managing our emotional experience of the situation.
Huge. That's huge. That's great. Sorry to interrupt and get on a tangent, but I just wanted to highlight that for the listeners. It's so, so great. Can we talk about dynamics? I think this is where, for me, I started to bring everything together in the book that maybe there's things we can do to avoid falling down our rabbit hole in the first place or emerge out of it more quickly. And then finally, what is the purpose of exploration in this dynamic world we live in?
Yeah, again, one of the reasons that paradox is hard is that they're constantly changing. So what we really want is not just to make a decision and be clear, we then want that to be stable and we want to know that we can rely on it. And this is where the control comes in. And that's not the case. So this is where I, again, offer up some empathy to the fact that living into this paradoxical world is hard. Living on the tightrope is about constantly being vigilant in the shifting winds of the world, to be responsive and be able to stay upright. Dynamics is a response to that. It says, "Look, even as we can put some boundaries into place, some stable boundaries, some clear long-term vision, we can have some clarity in where we want to go with things, we've got to continually experiment, try new things, shift our approach, explore whether the way that we've always been doing something is the way that will continue to help us go forward."
And so we talk about dynamics as a set of practices that allow for this kind of change, for ongoing experimentation, for being open to serendipitous moments. They talk about serendipity comes to the planned mind, that we have to plan for and create the conditions that allow new possibilities and luck to come our way. So how do we create the conditions where we can be able to shift and to try new things along the way? And part of that is constantly being in an experimental mindset.
I'll tell you, you mentioned that I am calling in from, or maybe you mentioned this, but I am calling in from Sydney where I am on sabbatical at the moment. And one great opportunity that I have as an academic is to pop up and say, "Gosh, what's next for me? What's the next round of research? What's the next book? What's the next leadership challenge? What am I doing next?" And I'm not sure that I have an answer to that, but the answer for me is, okay, what small experiments can I take into a variety of different places that I am interested in moving so that I don't just have to sort of pop into an answer and all of a sudden there it is, it's ready, but that I'm trying out new possibilities of what is next for me in the next five years and can sort of shift into that through those experiments?
That's huge. And I think, I mean, I'm part-time academic, but I think I see this in some departments and it's so easy to kind of become that hammer where everything's a nail, or it's just another iteration. I think a lot of times in engineering or biomechanical kind of stuff in my world, it's like, "Let's test it with this variable and then that variable." And 20 years later, like, "We've only looked at one teeny tiny sliver of the entire pie."
You give an example of that in the book, and I actually laughed out loud. I was like, "Oh, that's brilliant." In the creative integrations with mules, you're like, "Don't forget, mules are infertile. You can't use them to solve the next problem." I thought, "Oh, that's brilliant. I'll remember that."
Do you see that in academia where it, I guess, I don't know if it's common, but is it easy to get maybe convinced that we could stay in one narrow focus as opposed to your approach, which is let's step back and ask really what's next in a new way thinking dynamically?
Absolutely. We get so stuck in our expertise and we then rely, we lean into our expertise, which is a good thing. I mean, it's good that we have academics that have expertise in a particular area. But we sort of start shutting out other voices because that requires us to really try something completely new and it can be scary. It brings us back to square one. It invites us into thinking about our ways of thinking that might be wrong.
And so I think a great practice is to invite in colleagues that completely disagree with us and try and explore what are they saying and how does this shift or invite me into thinking about things in a new way? It's challenging to do that because it challenges our expertise and it brings us back to this learning mentality that makes us feel like we're no longer performing. But again, how do we live into ongoing learning along the way? I mean, I think this is one of the beauties of having doctoral students and junior colleagues because they're constantly challenging the norms and bringing fresh ideas as long as we listen to them and don't try and define them and bound them too quickly.
Yeah. I was laughing the other day with watching the NBA finals at the time of this recording. LeBron James, he is like 38, and apparently he's like a quote, "old man in that sport." I'm going like, "Well, what other industry, in academics or in law or medicine, would a 38-year-old be deemed to be old?" And we were just joking, saying, "We should require that all of our leaders in our associations are actually under the age of 40 and let's just see what happens." That would be wild to see how that introduced a huge paradox into most associations are very stable, very slow moving, and just to rapidly introduce that amount of change would be wild.
And we see in those kinds of professions. I have a colleague who's done work on musicians and dancers who have some sort of injury and can no longer do that work. And really sort of high-level professional musicians and dancers. We see this with that or with athletes that have really had to so focus in on their sport or their talent, but that when they're no longer able to, that's no longer the core of their world, either because they are the old man at 38 or because they have some sort of injury and can't do it, how do they make that transition?
Well, that becomes really hard for some people. We've seen many people do it really beautifully and effectively, but it requires them to give up an identity and a whole set of colleagues and friends and a set of activities. And that's where you've gone down the rabbit hole of expertise, that there's no longer that sense that I can draw on this talent for a different outcome. And so we can see that sort of rabbit hole-ing with that kind of a population.
Oh, absolutely. And highly applicable to a lot of listeners in this group where artificial intelligence is rapidly changing how we move teeth with clear aligners and 3D-printed appliances. It's really amazing. So I think a good place to start, if you're listening and you say, "Hey, I'm curious, how will I navigate a transition? Or when I retire, how could I still contribute and not lose my identity or pivot?" There's a great paradox mindset inventory in the book. It's on page 260. I'll put a link to the tool online. You can also get that, and I'd love to just encourage readers to get through chapter 10. There's a wonderful kind of, I shouldn't say case study, but a wonderful example of Paul Polman and his time at Unilever that you share that's just really inspiring.
And I could talk for days and days and days, but we'll post a link to Paul's book, "Net Positive," about their journey from near collapse in 2008 to really a model of sustainable business. And I just love, love, love your book. I do want to give readers and listeners a chance to learn more about you, what's next, and where they can find you and follow you on social media or get the book. So I'd just like to leave the last few minutes for final thoughts and how we can find more about you.
Great. Well, we have a whole lot of resources connected with the book online at bothandthinking.net. There's more about myself and my colleague and co-author Marianne, also about the book. There's a book discussion guide there if anybody wants to read the book in conversation with other colleagues and think about how it applies to your work, that's up there. There's other videos. So that's probably the first stop to learning more about Both/And Thinking and how to use the book.
And I welcome any feedback from people who are reading the book. One of the things that I find as an author is it's so rewarding when you get an email that says, "Here's how these ideas have struck me and what I'm doing with that." And I find it so interesting that people will hesitate to send an email like that. So we welcome reactions, thoughts, how we can make this and help bring these ideas to be alive and relevant to people in the work that they're doing.
Excellent. Wendy, thank you for being here. Thanks for writing the book. It's brilliant. And we're so honored you got to spend some time on the program.
Thank you. Thanks, Dustin.
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