Embracing Creative Tensions: Wendy K. Smith on Both/And Thinking and Lean Leadership

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My guest for Episode #507 of the Lean Blog Interviews Podcast is Wendy K. Smith, co-author of the book Both/And Thinking: Embracing Creative Tensions to Solve Your Toughest Problems.

She will also be one of the featured keynote speakers at the 40th anniversary of the AME International Conference (the Association for Manufacturing Excellence), being held in Atlanta, Georgia, from October 28 – October 31, 2024.

Enter to win a copy of the book!

Wendy 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 globally, she has been a noted keynote speaker and teacher for audiences worldwide. Her research, published among the top journals in the field, has received numerous awards, including the Web of Science Highly Cited Research Award (2019, 2020, and 2021) for being among the one percent most-cited researchers in her field. Wendy lives in Philadelphia with her husband, three children, and the family dog.

In this episode, Wendy discusses strategic paradoxes and how leaders can effectively navigate contradictory yet interdependent demands. Our conversation covers practical examples from Lean Manufacturing and the Toyota Production System, highlighting how “both/and thinking” can lead to innovative solutions and improved performance. Wendy also shares the emotional and cognitive challenges of embracing paradoxes, offering insights into how organizations can create environments that support dynamic, integrative thinking. This episode is a deep dive into the nuances of leadership, organizational behavior, and the power of embracing complexity in problem-solving.

Questions, Notes, and Highlights:

  • What are strategic paradoxes?
  • The need or opportunity to break paradoxes?
  • Good examples of both/and thinking in different businesses?
  • Origins in lean manufacturing
  • Just-in-time but hold no inventory
  • High quality but also super fast
  • Focusing on both short-term and long-term?
  • Opportunities for startups to exploit new both/and thinking?
  • Process as a dirty word in startups?
  • We can't vs. we haven't figured it out yet?
  • Both/and focus on customers and employees?
  • Connections to Amy Edmondson and Psychological Safety?
  • The Dr. Brian Goldman TED Talk
  • Give us a preview of your keynote talk for AME? A teaser…

The podcast is brought to you by Stiles Associates, the premier executive search firm specializing in the placement of Lean Transformation executives. With a track record of success spanning over 30 years, it's been the trusted partner for the manufacturing, private equity, and healthcare sectors. Learn more.

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Episode Summary / Article

Embracing Creative Tensions: Solving Problems Through “Both/And” Thinking

In today's fast-paced and complex world, leaders and organizations face a myriad of challenges that demand innovative and effective solutions. Traditional problem-solving methods that rely on either/or thinking often fall short, failing to address the nuanced and interconnected nature of most modern challenges. This is where the concept of “both/and” thinking comes into play, offering a more holistic and integrative approach to tackling problems.

The Power of Both/And Thinking

Both/And thinking, as opposed to the conventional either/or mindset, encourages individuals and organizations to embrace the complexity of multiple, often contradictory, demands. By acknowledging that these demands can coexist and are interdependent, leaders can explore more creative and sustainable solutions. This approach is not just a theoretical ideal but is grounded in extensive research and practice, demonstrating its efficacy in resolving what are known as strategic paradoxes.

Strategic paradoxes are the competing yet interdependent demands that organizations face. For example, the need to innovate while maintaining operational efficiency, or the challenge of achieving short-term goals without compromising long-term vision. Both/And thinking empowers leaders to navigate these paradoxes by finding ways to satisfy both sets of demands simultaneously, rather than choosing one at the expense of the other.

Overcoming Barriers to Both/And Thinking

Despite its benefits, Both/And thinking can be counterintuitive and challenging to implement. It requires a shift in mindset from seeing paradoxes as problems to be solved, to viewing them as opportunities for innovation. This shift can be difficult to achieve, as it demands a level of comfort with ambiguity and uncertainty that many find unsettling.

However, the increasing complexity and interconnectedness of the modern world make Both/And thinking more necessary than ever. Organizations that can adopt this mindset are better equipped to navigate the intricacies of their environments, leading to more resilient and adaptable strategies. The key to overcoming the barriers to Both/And thinking lies in fostering an organizational culture that values curiosity, open-mindedness, and the ability to hold opposing ideas in productive tension.

Both/And Thinking in Action: Examples from Industry

The Case of Lean Manufacturing and Toyota

One of the most illustrative examples of Both/And thinking in practice comes from the realm of lean manufacturing, particularly the Toyota Production System. Toyota challenged the traditional trade-offs between quality and speed, efficiency and innovation, by asking how they could achieve both concurrently. This questioning led to the development of practices that improved quality and reduced costs simultaneously, revolutionizing the manufacturing industry.

Work-Life Balance: A Universal Paradox

Another area where Both/And thinking is profoundly relevant is in the quest for work-life balance. This challenge is not limited to executives or industries but is a universal paradox faced by workers at all levels. By applying Both/And thinking, individuals and organizations can explore innovative ways to structure work that allows for professional achievement and personal fulfillment without sacrificing one for the other.

Implementing Both/And Thinking

The journey towards Both/And thinking begins with redefining how problems are approached. Instead of framing challenges as either/or scenarios, the first step is to ask “How can we achieve both?” This simple yet powerful change in questioning can open up a world of possibilities, enabling more nuanced and comprehensive solutions.

Organizations can cultivate a Both/And mindset by promoting a culture of curiosity, where questioning and challenging the status quo are encouraged. Training and development programs can also play a crucial role, equipping teams with the tools and frameworks necessary to navigate paradoxes effectively.

In conclusion, Both/And thinking offers a promising path forward for leaders and organizations grappling with complex, paradoxical challenges. By embracing creative tensions and seeking integrative solutions, it is possible to transcend traditional trade-offs and unlock new avenues for innovation and growth. Continuing from the rich insights provided on the dualities inherent in innovation, customer satisfaction, and organizational flexibility, it becomes evident that embracing a both/and thinking approach is not just beneficial but necessary for sustained growth and impact in today's dynamic business landscape.

Leveraging Customer Insights and Innovation

Innovative Customer Engagement: Beyond Listening

While the voice of the customer is pivotal for incremental innovation, venturing into uncharted territories requires a nuanced understanding of latent needs and future desires. Companies like Apple and Tesla didn't just listen to what customers said they wanted; they anticipated needs customers hadn't yet articulated. This foresight, coupled with a willingness to lead rather than follow, showcases the essence of both/and thinking by blending deep customer insights with bold innovation steps.

Creating Market Niches by Anticipating Future Needs

The ability to anticipate and shape consumer preferences points to a powerful application of both/and thinking. Instead of being trapped in the existing market dynamics, successful companies create new niches where they set the rules. This strategic positioning involves balancing current market demands with the foresight to drive and fulfill future needs, hence expanding the market itself.

Fostering a Culture of Both/And Thinking

Encouraging a Mindset Shift

For organizations to truly harness the power of both/and thinking, a cultural shift is required–one that celebrates curiosity, experimentation, and flexibility. Leaders play a crucial role in modeling this mindset, by demonstrating openness to exploring new possibilities and encouraging teams to think beyond traditional binaries.

Training and Development

Organizations must invest in training programs that equip employees with the skills and frameworks to navigate complexity and paradox. Such programs should go beyond traditional skill sets to include critical thinking, emotional intelligence, and adaptive leadership, thereby preparing teams to thrive in ambiguity and constant change.

Building Adaptive Structures

Supporting a both/and paradigm also means designing organizational structures that are inherently flexible and adaptable. This could mean decentralizing decision-making, creating cross-functional teams, or designing roles that evolve as needs change. These structures allow organizations to pivot quickly, explore new opportunities, and balance competing demands with greater agility.

Striking the Balance: Tactical Moves and Strategic Vision

Dynamic Resource Allocation

Both/and thinking in resource management involves making strategic decisions that oscillate between immediate, tactical needs and long-term, strategic objectives. This dynamic approach–much like the tightrope walking analogy–requires continuously balancing short-term wins with investments in future capabilities, ensuring organizations do not stagnate or lose sight of their evolving goals.

Embracing Failure as a Pathway to Innovation

Learning from failure is an integral part of sustaining innovation and growth. Organizations adept at both/and thinking view setbacks not as deterrents but as stepping stones to success. This perspective fosters a culture where experimentation is encouraged, and lessons from failures are systematically captured and leveraged for future innovation.

Conclusion

Adopting a both/and mindset is not a simple task; it challenges deeply ingrained habits and organizational norms. However, the examples from industry leaders and startups alike reveal that such thinking is not just a theoretical exercise but a practical necessity in today's complex business environment. By fostering cultures that embrace this paradoxical thinking, companies can navigate the present's uncertainties while shaping the future's possibilities, achieving sustainable growth and resilience in the process.

Expanding Beyond Traditional Paradox Management

Integrating Emotional Intelligence with Technical Skills

To further the application of both/and thinking within organizational contexts, integrating emotional intelligence with technical proficiency stands out as a crucial strategy. This integration not merely enhances the capacity for innovation and flexible problem-solving but also fosters environments where psychological safety and openness to learning from failures are prioritized. Employees skilled in understanding and managing their emotions, as well as those of others, can navigate the complexities of both/and dilemmas with greater ease, ensuring that innovative ideas are not stifled by fear of failure or rigid thinking patterns.

Strategic Partnerships: The Power of Diverse Thought

The significance of strategic partnerships, as exemplified by iconic duos in the technology industry, underscores the value of diversity in thought and expertise. Just as visionary leaders often need operationally savvy counterparts to bring groundbreaking ideas to fruition, organizations benefit from fostering internal and external collaborations that blend different perspectives. These partnerships, characterized by mutual respect and shared goals, can be a fertile ground for both/and thinking to thrive, leading to breakthrough innovations and more resilient strategies.

From Failure to Forward Momentum

Cultivating a Learning Environment from Mistakes

Embracing failure as a natural part of the growth and innovation process necessitates a shift towards a culture that sees value in missteps as learning opportunities. Organizations that successfully implement both/and thinking take an approach to failures that distinguishes between different types of errors, recognizing that some are part of the experimental nature of innovation, while others are preventable mistakes requiring system improvements. By cultivating an environment where such distinctions are openly discussed and learned from, companies can turn potential setbacks into forward momentum.

High Reliability Organizations: Balancing Precision and Innovation

High reliability organizations (HROs) operating in contexts where errors can have grave consequences–such as healthcare, aviation, and nuclear power–demonstrate a sophisticated application of both/and thinking. These organizations manage to maintain exceedingly high standards of safety and precision while simultaneously embracing innovation and learning from near-misses. This dual focus demands robust systems for catching and correcting small errors before they escalate, alongside a culture that encourages reporting and learning from these incidents to drive continuous improvement.

Navigating Emotional Layers of Change

Addressing the Emotional Dynamics of Both/And Thinking

The journey toward embracing both/and thinking is as much an emotional process as it is a logical one. Leaders and teams venturing into this territory must acknowledge and navigate the emotional dimensions of change, including the discomfort that comes with challenging ingrained beliefs and the fear associated with uncertainty. Recognizing that emotions play a key role in decision-making and change adoption can lead to strategies that address these feelings directly, facilitating a smoother transition to more integrated and adaptive ways of thinking and working.

Building on Historical Perspectives for Future Innovation

While both/and thinking presents a modern solution to contemporary challenges, its roots in ancient philosophy remind us that the struggle to integrate seemingly contradictory forces is a timeless human endeavor. By drawing on these historical perspectives, organizations can find inspiration and validation for the pursuit of paradoxical thinking as a means to unlock creativity, drive innovation, and achieve sustained success in an increasingly complex and interconnected world.

Through embracing these strategies and acknowledging the multifaceted approach required to navigate the intricacies of both/and thinking, leaders can steer their organizations towards a future marked by resilience, adaptability, and groundbreaking innovation.

Enriching Leadership with Paradoxical Thinking

The Paradox Party: A New Leadership Trait

In the evolution of leadership traits, the embracing of paradox stands out as a groundbreaking addition. Leaders are now being invited to what could be metaphorically referred to as a “Paradox Party,” an invitation to delve into the realm of paradoxical thinking as a core leadership competency. This concept represents a shift from traditional decision-making processes towards a more integrated, both/and approach. It encourages leaders to embrace contradictions and find innovative solutions that embody the complexity of modern business challenges.

Leveraging Diverse Experiences for Creative Solutions

The anecdote of Paradox Wine, a venture by two couples who are all physicians, exemplifies the innovative potential that arises from embracing varied backgrounds and interests. This story illustrates how individuals from highly specialized fields are exploring their passions in ways that intersect unexpectedly with their professional lives, leading to creative endeavors and new business opportunities. For organizations and leaders, the lesson is clear: embracing diversity in experiences and backgrounds can foster unique ideas and solutions that may not emerge from conventional thinking patterns.

Fostering Both/And Thinking in Organizational Culture

Creating Spaces for Innovation and Connection

Encouraging a culture of both/and thinking necessitates creating environments where individuals feel free to explore and express their diverse interests and perspectives. Events like the proposed “Paradox Party” at conferences or within the organizational setup can serve as powerful catalysts for sparking innovative ideas. By facilitating informal gatherings where team members can share their passions and how they interconnect, organizations can promote a culture of curiosity, connection, and cross-pollination of ideas.

Integrating Diverse Interests for Broader Perspectives

The shift towards integrating paradoxical thinking into leadership and organizational practices calls for an openness to the broad spectrum of human interests and experiences. Just as the physicians behind Paradox Wine bring their complex understanding of human biology to their winemaking, leaders can encourage their teams to bring their whole selves to work. This approach not only enriches the organizational culture but also leads to the development of products, services, and solutions that are deeply resonant and innovative.

Enhancing Emotional Richness in Decision-Making

Navigating the Emotional Landscape of Paradox

The journey of integrating both/and thinking is underscored by a rich emotional landscape. Leaders and organizations venturing into this territory must be adept at navigating the emotions that arise from facing paradoxes–ranging from the thrill of innovation to the anxieties of uncertainty. Developing emotional intelligence alongside paradoxical thinking competence becomes crucial in managing these emotional dynamics effectively, ensuring that decision-making processes are not only intellectually rigorous but also emotionally insightful.

Celebrating the Joining of Opposites

As leaders and organizations increasingly recognize the value of embracing paradoxical thinking, the concept of the “Paradox Party” symbolizes a broader acceptance and celebration of this approach. It underscores a commitment to exploring and integrating opposites, whether in decision-making, strategy formulation, or fostering organizational culture. By celebrating the joining of opposites, leaders can unlock new dimensions of creativity, resilience, and adaptability in the face of complex challenges.

By weaving together the insights from paradoxical thinking with the rich tapestry of human emotion and diverse experiences, leaders can shape a future where innovation, creativity, and inclusivity flourish. The journey towards embracing both/and thinking opens up a realm of possibilities for leaders willing to dance with paradox, paving the way for transformative growth and groundbreaking achievements.


Automated Transcript (Not Guaranteed to be Defect Free)

Mark Graban:

Hi. Welcome to lean blog interviews. I'm Mark Graban. Our guest today is Wendy K. Smith. 

Mark Graban:

She's co-author of the book Both/And Thinking: Embracing Creative Tensions to Solve Your Toughest Problems. She's also one of the keynote speakers at the upcoming AME International conference. If you don't know about that yet, it's being held this year in Atlanta, October 28 to 31st. It's the 40th anniversary the AME conference. So you can learn more@ame.org or I will put links to all of everything about the conference in the show notes. 

Mark Graban:

Before I tell you a little bit more about Wendy, let me say welcome. Thanks for being here on the podcast. How are you today, Mark? 

Wendy K. Smith:

It's great to be here. 

Mark Graban:

When you talk about solving your toughest problems. I don't think being on the podcast here is one of the toughest problems. There's probably no calling back to the subtitle or the audience here, no creative tensions here. I think good conversation and you can steer me toward if I veer away from both and thinking, please give me some coaching or a nudge on that. Does that sound okay? 

Wendy K. Smith:

Well, I was going to say I don't know if this is my toughest problem yet, so I guess we can decide that at the end of this conversation. 

Mark Graban:

Fair enough. But hopefully I think we share a hypothesis. We're going to have a great conversation here. We're going to try to have some fun. And let me tell you a little bit more again, Wendy K. Smith. She 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 at the 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. So I think we'll talk about this in the episode here. 

Mark Graban:

Her research, published among the top journals in the field, has received numerous awards, including the web of silence. No, not the web of silence. That's my mistake. The Web of Science highly cited research award three different years for being among the 1% most cited researchers in her field. Wendy lives in Philadelphia with her husband, three children, and the family dog. 

Mark Graban:

What kind of dog is the family dog? 

Wendy K. Smith:

The family dog's a cockapoo who's asleep right next to me, so hopefully he does not have much to say about this topic today. 

Mark Graban:

Okay. But if the dog does, that's welcome. So, Wendy, there's a lot to dig into here. Can you talk a little bit first about strategic paradoxes or maybe give some examples that people might find familiar and or eye opening. 

Wendy K. Smith:

Yeah, Mark, I love that you started right there. We think that this is leadership 101, that this is, and in fact, increasingly, what we're seeing is that in order to be effective leaders, people need to grapple with paradox. Now, to be clear, that word has a double edged sword. Some people really want to embrace this idea of paradox, and some people find it off putting. So just to get us started, by way of definition, we understand the world. 

Wendy K. Smith:

And when I say we, it's myself. And as you said, my co author, Marianne Lewis, who's currently the dean at the University of Cincinnati's business school. We've been studying this for 25 years. And what we really explore is how people navigate, as you said, problems, challenges, competing demands, tug of wars. And the place that we start with people is what are the dilemmas, trade offs, challenges that you are experiencing or the tensions that you're experiencing? 

Wendy K. Smith:

And so, in the world of automotive, this is actually a place that we started on this. It could be everything from navigating tensions of being quality versus time, or quality of time, cost, or being incredibly efficient, but at the same time, really innovative. And those tensions bubble up for us all the time. How do we spend our money? How do we spend our resources? 

Wendy K. Smith:

We argue that underlying those tensions are these competing demands that are both in opposition to one another and also interdependent. And they never go away. They persist. That's what we call the paradoxes, the underlying oppositional, interdependent tensions. And so it might be that a company is navigating the question of, do I open up a plant in a different country? 

Wendy K. Smith:

But underlying that question is a tension of, how do I both be global but remain hyper local? How do I both be expansive and broad and yet deep and focused? So the paradoxes are these tensions that are these interdependent opposites that underlie every single one of our dilemmas and are there. 

Mark Graban:

When I think of lean manufacturing or lean principles in different settings, as I know you've studied, I mean, sometimes some of these trade offs seem to be just so given, or assumed to be given until we prove otherwise, that we can have better quality and lower cost at the same time, or better flow and better quality. Is that one of the key? Like, where do we just need to acknowledge and work with the paradox versus trying to maybe break, break down trade offs or break the paradoxes? 

Wendy K. Smith:

Here's the provocation. Our provocation, or our argument, or our research really finds that what we tend to do when we confront these kinds of tensions is we see them as a trade off. We experience them as an either or. And the first thing we tend to do is we go to a question of which one should I choose? So, you know, time versus quality feels like a big one, and it feels like a real trade off. 

Wendy K. Smith:

Our argument is that that kind of thinking, that either or thinking that we default to, we argue that that's limited at best and detrimental at worst, that it prevents us from getting more creative, more integrative, more possibility, and the provocation, if you will. The argument that we find in our own research is that when people pause and first ask, is there a both? And they can get to better, more creative outcomes. 

Mark Graban:

And that's why, you know, the title of the book is so interesting to me to see both and thinking, it made me jump immediately, like, right, the opposite of either or. We spend so much time talking about either or choices or assuming those. Can you think of some examples, maybe even in daily life or businesses people might interact with that have gotten past the trap of either or thinking, what's a good example of both? And. 

Wendy K. Smith:

Yeah, and I'll offer two. The first is, as I was saying to you sort of earlier, so much of this research around navigating the both and, and living in paradox comes out of lean manufacturing. You guys are like the greatest example. And I know it's a quite pointed to example, well, trod example in your world, but the Toyota production system was the classic of paradoxical thinking. In fact, there's some great research on what does it look like to reframe our goals in terms of things like, we're going to be just in time but hold no inventory. 

Mark Graban:

Right. 

Wendy K. Smith:

We are going to make sure that we are high quality, but also super fast. Right. So what does it look like? And Toyota was the like sort of early adopter of this kind of thinking, a kind of thinking, by the way, that has now become pervasive across manufacturing, or not just manufacturing, pervasive across, you know, leadership and management broadly. And I think that it was in asking those kinds of really seemingly impossible dualities that we have, all of this innovation in process and manufacturing. 

Wendy K. Smith:

So when Toyota asked those seemingly impossible, they developed things like a learning system where they were constantly learning and growing and changing the production system to be faster yet higher quality to ensure every car possible with no inventory. Right. And so that is exactly, you know, the kind kinds of thinking that we are tapping into. Yeah, I was going to say piece that, you know, this comes up whenever I do a workshop in companies and I ask people, talk about your greatest tensions and how those tensions, the underlying paradoxes, the one that comes up all the time, is the tension we feel of work versus life. And in fact, I like to say, you know, people bring us in to do workshops to help with how their employees can be more effective at work. 

Wendy K. Smith:

And essentially they talk about how stressed they are about the navigation of tensions with work. And so, but that one is one that comes up all the time, and in which this kind of paradoxical thinking invites all kinds of new ways of grappling with that very tension. 

Mark Graban:

And thinking of creative tensions. Or maybe even sometimes the tension isn't, doesn't feel that constructive. It's just heavy tension that's got people upset with each other or stuck in the mud. But to build off of Toyota, and I don't know why I was trying to steer it away from lean. This is a podcast about lean, but think of not just Toyota, but a company that was inspired by them in the late eighties, Alcoa under Paul O'Neill's leadership. 

Mark Graban:

As you know, people can read about Charles Duhigg's book the power of habit. And there's a free ebook about Paul O'Neill available online through the firm value capture that he helped start. But Paul O'Neill broke the either or thinking between, let's say, safety and financial performance of demonstrating or telling people, look, we're not going to let budget get in the way of doing what's right for safety. And that led to all kinds of other performance, including the stock price. But it seems like that demonstrated both. 

Mark Graban:

And thinking didn't launch a school of management thought the way Jack Welch in his approach launched a school of people really looking to emulate his approach back in the day at GE. But I mean, you know, is that back to your point of this idea of strategic paradox being off putting to some people, is that a barrier to learning from others who have embraced both and thinking, or is there just kind of other habits involved? 

Wendy K. Smith:

No, it's such a good question. You're saying, look, this kind of either or, which is what Jack Welch was about. Are you one of the top one or two or not? Has really, people sort of have held onto that one tightly. What happened to Alcoa or what happened to lean? 

Wendy K. Smith:

I am, you know what we are finding when we started talking about paradox as a management tool, both and as a leadership skill, people would say to us, oh, paradox, nice idea, but it kind of belongs in a philosophy class, not here in management. 

Mark Graban:

Yeah. 

Wendy K. Smith:

And what we found is over the last 20 years, we have continued to talk about it. Increasingly, people are like, oh, paradox. I got to understand that now because that is really critical. And so I think a couple of things have happened. First of all, and by the way, where we have seen it show up, for example, so there are now consultants, Price WaterhouseCoopers talks about the six paradoxes of leadership that are critical to being a good leader. 

Wendy K. Smith:

You have to be a savvy technical humanist. So you have to understand the technical side and you have to understand the human side, the EQ and the IQ, and you have to bring them together, or you have to be both bold while simultaneously humble. And so you have to be able to, or you have to understand. So we see companies like that talking about paradox in the work that we have done. Increasingly, a number of companies have come to us, gosh, we're mired in these paradoxes. 

Wendy K. Smith:

Help us deal with them, help us live into the both and because they just exist. And so I think one of the things that's happening is that our world has just gotten more complex. We see the complexity, and rather than trying to find the simple, so there is comfort, emotional comfort, in finding the simple either or answers. And I think that in the complexity of our world, we know that that emotional comfort only lasts a very short period of time, that if we really want the long term sustainability we need to deal with. We need to, as we say in the book, find comfort in the discomfort and deal with the complexity of paradox. 

Mark Graban:

And it seems like when you write about, you talk about competing demands, and we've already talked about a few quality and cost, et cetera. One challenge that comes to mind, I think of Jeffrey Leicher's book in point number one of the Toyota way, like number one of the 14 principles is about making decisions based on the long term, even at the expense of the short term. And that doesn't like to me, even at the expense of the short term. That might sound like either or thinking, but it seems like the Toyota is trying to have the both and thinking that, yes, we need short term performance, but what's really important is not making it either or of short term and not long term. Do you see connections or how do you see companies viewing if there's a trade off? 

Mark Graban:

It seems between today and tomorrow, short term and long term. 

Wendy K. Smith:

Margaret, what I love, so again, one of the reasons we wrote this book is because increasingly people were saying, gosh, this both and is important. How do we do it? We've been studying this for 20 years, 2025 years. So the first challenge is, do people actually see the value in both anding? Some people do, some people don't. 

Wendy K. Smith:

And again, we have tons of examples in the book of where the both and has opened up more creative possible thinking. The second challenge is, okay, I get it. How do I do it? How do I do it? And, you know, in the book, what we did was we summarized, we have an incredible community of academics that have been studying this along with us. 

Wendy K. Smith:

We summarized the research that we had been seeing among our colleagues to say, okay, well, how do we do this thing if we believe that there's value and there's more creative possibility in shifting away from our very trade off oriented, dilemma oriented linear thinking and embracing this kind of more complex thinking? And again, it's more complex because in part, what you're looking at is holding these opposite ideas simultaneously. That's uncomfortable. So it is cognitively more complex, and it is emotionally more uncomfortable to do because it raises all this anxiety and defensiveness. And how do we do that? 

Wendy K. Smith:

Most of what we talk about is what does it mean to create an organization that allows individuals to sit into and lean into these tensions? And I'll just say the very first tool, the first step, like baby step into navigating this, we talk about is simply changing the questions we ask. So if people are listening to this and want to walk away with one big idea, what I like to say is noticing how often we ask either or questions, we frame the issues in our world as an either or and just changing that question to how can we do the both? And so, you know, as, by way of example, I started studying this in the context of innovation, and it always felt like there's an either or. Are we focused on our existing product, on maintaining the existing world, or are we changing and shifting and doing something novel and innovative and just focusing on a change of question to, or noticing that we do that, or recognizing it and changing the question to how can we sustain and continue to support our current customers, revenues, products, etcetera, and at the same time completely shift them up, cannibalize them, change them, innovate, experiment, and try new things. 

Wendy K. Smith:

By changing that question, all of a sudden, we open up pathways to new creative possibilities. 

Mark Graban:

Yeah. And when you think about innovation or startups, and some people listening may come at lean. From a lean startup, an entrepreneurship standpoint, it seems like there would be. It's not that I think of. If I had an example, maybe I should go investigate that business. 

Mark Graban:

But we're in the middle of a podcast, but maybe we brainstorm or think. It seems like there would be opportunities for startups or a new player in a market to maybe exploit the fact that there's a lot of old either or thinking, and to come in unencumbered with that habit, with some both and. 

Wendy K. Smith:

Thinking yes and yes. And that's the, that is the beauty, that is the superpower of the startup. Right? So there's a great book by Danny Miller, the Icarus Paradox. And the key idea there is one that we've seen again and again in organizations, which is that the number one indicator or trigger for company failure is success. 

Wendy K. Smith:

The larger the company, the more successful, therefore, the more entrenched you are as a company. Therefore, the more that you are going to hold onto and be stuck in inertia. Some of your listeners might know the s curve of development over time. The idea that like an S curve over time takes lots and lots of resources to get up and get moving. And at some point you go up the curve quickly, fewer resources and much more success. 

Wendy K. Smith:

But the problem is what happens when you're hitting that peak of success, where you're at the top of your market, top of your game. That's when you need to be changing and developing and doing something new to get onto the next S curve, but that is where you are least likely to do it. And so you've got these large companies that aren't willing to shift. And so again, when I started studying innovation, my PhD dissertation was about IBM. And it was the late 1990s, right after IBM, massively lost in the microcomputer or desktop computers wars, because they were the top of their market in the mainframe and lost to what were then the lean startup, entrepreneurial businesses like Apple and Zelle and all of these other companies that could do it faster and quicker and be less encumbered by process and bureaucracy, inertia and all of that. 

Wendy K. Smith:

Okay? So that's the benefit of the startup. And for those listeners that are startups, that is your superpowers, that you can swim into the market quickly and overtake and be entrepreneurial. And, and, and the downside of the startup is that what makes you so entrepreneurial becomes challenging when you start to create more routine and become more exploitative of all of the great stuff that you've done. So many startups, so many entrepreneurial startups can't make the shift the other way because they're so committed to that fast paced sort of new culture where everybody hands on deck and everybody's moving quickly and everything's experimental, that when you have to start introducing routines and roles and process, that then that transition becomes hard. 

Wendy K. Smith:

And so, like the ideal state, the silver bullet, if you will, is when you're able to kind of manage that tension between clear routines, but simple enough rules. But simple enough rules that allow you to still be entrepreneurial without being excessively bureaucratic, but at the same time, have enough process in place that you're not just sort of tumbling all over yourself in entrepreneurial energy. 

Mark Graban:

Yeah, I mean, I come from a background in process. And, you know, I started in the auto industry, so. Okay, fine. Old slow. Yeah, dinosaur Industries. 

Mark Graban:

I noticed Tom Peters, the legendary Tom Peters, who's been a guest here, endorsed your book, and I'm channeling Tom when I use the word dinosaurs there. But, you know, what you say about Dell rings true, because I joined that company in 1999, and that was sort of like at the peak of their heights, and they were really struggling. And there were a lot of us who were coming in, who had backgrounds and different companies, as opposed to a lot of homegrown people from within the Dell fast growing, high growth system. And we would ask questions sometimes about basic process manufacturing 101 things that maybe weren't there. And the answer was always, well, yeah, but when you're growing 30 or 40% a year, every year, blah, blah, blah, it was sort of. 

Mark Graban:

It was. I think that was either or thinking. 

Wendy K. Smith:

Yeah, yeah, yeah, absolutely. And in fact, 1999 was when I was doing my dissertation at IBM, and they were quaking in their boots because of Dell's 30 or 40% growth year over year and trying to figure out how to do that. And by the way, the interesting thing about IBM at the time was that it's not that they didn't see Dell coming along and Apple and deck and all the others, they did. And they actually invested really heavily in innovation. They just. 

Wendy K. Smith:

It took. They couldn't get to the same place as quickly because they were the old entrenched system. And so now the conversation is, what does it take for an entrenched system to also be entrepreneurial? They have intrapreneurial ventures to create the conditions that they can live into. Both PhD advisor Mike Tushman and his colleague Andy Binns and Charles O'Reilly call that being ambidextrous in an organization or essentially holding those paradoxes. 

Mark Graban:

And when you think of the auto industry, a lot of the most for what, a decade, most of the growth in the electric vehicle market was coming from one company, Tesla, a startup, GM, maybe others seem to frame the either or. Well, we can build electric vehicles or high volume products. Like, they viewed EV's as being like these kind of dorky vehicles with a limited range and a limited appeal. Now, Tesla, I think, has a lot of problems as a company, but I think they deserve credit for the both and thinking of electric vehicle and long range electric vehicle and kind of cool and appealing. Electric vehicle and high volume. 

Wendy K. Smith:

Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I don't know how many of your listeners know the Honda story, right? Which is. I love the story of Honda coming into the us market because they came in to try and compete in the us market and couldn't compete because their vehicles couldn't go anywhere in the motorcycle market. 

Wendy K. Smith:

Right. Their vehicles couldn't go. This is the Honda motorcycles, and they couldn't go anywhere near as far as Harley's and other. And so these guys ended up scooting around on these, like, you know, small, little better than a, you know, better than a bicycle, but scooted around quicker than a car into the cities while they were waiting to try and figure out if they could reinvent, re engineer their big, large motorcycles. And that's when they figured out that actually these small little cars, not cars, motorcycles, actually had a very different function and could sell to a very different market than the Harleys of the world. 

Wendy K. Smith:

And that's how they ended up getting into and becoming the number one motorcycle sales in the United States. 

Mark Graban:

And there's something like, there's a long history of companies who did not succeed with their first attempt into a market. I mean, Toyota tells the story and even kind of jokes about how the first car they brought into the US was a big failure in the market because it just wasn't suited to american road conditions and hills. And their first minivan was a big flop. But then they seemed to learn and figure it out. The second, if not the third generation. 

Mark Graban:

Is there an element of both and thinking when it comes to learning from failure or bouncing back? 

Wendy K. Smith:

Yeah, learning from your mistakes. Right. Learn from your mistakes. Along the way, we talk about. So what we find is that part of the both anding is being dynamic, experimenting, trying new things, being able to explore and experiment along the way, living into the serendipity, the moments where you're not even sure that are planned, but just sort of emergent in terms of what's possible along the way. 

Wendy K. Smith:

And part of both anding in terms of being dynamic. And this becomes an important idea for us, is what we call living into the dynamism of the tightrope walker. And here's what we mean by that. So, you know, when it comes to thinking about the both and, and how do you accommodate things simultaneously? The assumption that we make is that there is going to be a win win ideal, creative solution where something could ideally be, you know, more efficient and, and more cost effective at the same time, or more sort of depth and breadth all at the same time. 

Wendy K. Smith:

And that's what I was expecting when I went in to do this IBM study, is that there would be these win wins all the time between their existing product and their innovation, and they could do both. And that happens sometimes. And in that case, we talk about those win wins, that there is some sort of more creative solution to do both simultaneously as finding mules, because mules are the oldest living hybrid that we have been breeding as a species for like 3000 years. And so mules are, you know, they're stronger than donkeys, but they're smarter than donkeys, but stronger than horses. And you bring together donkeys and horses and you have smarter, stronger animals, pack animals, but that doesn't actually happen that often. 

Wendy K. Smith:

And then, in fact, when I was studying IBM and they were navigating these ongoing tensions of do I spend more of my resources with my existing products or do I put more of them into engineering something new and experimental instead, what I found that they were doing, it wasn't that they were finding these ways where their engineers were working on both simultaneously. What they were doing instead was what we call tightrope walking. They were moving their resources frequently, sometimes making decisions where they invested in the existing product, sometimes making decisions where they invested in the innovation, but they were making those shifts. We call it being consistently inconsistent or micro oscillations, because like the tightrope walker, you're actually, you're going forward, you're not stuck. You're focusing on the bigger picture overall, but you are never fully balanced on a tightrope. 

Wendy K. Smith:

You're always balancing, you're always sort of micro shifting between left and right, but you're never overextending to one side that you fall off. So the important idea here, the reason this is important is because living into paradox, both anding, does not necessarily mean that every decision that you make is going to find this ideal, integrative solution. Sometimes what happens is that what you are doing is you are framing your decisions overall. And over time, you're making these choices, that balance between these two options. And that is the way that overall, you're accommodating both options. 

Wendy K. Smith:

And that becomes an important concept because it opens up what's possible to the both. And over time. 

Mark Graban:

I'm picturing, was there a Harvard business school team building, off site event that involved tightropes? Or. 

Wendy K. Smith:

Try this out now, I don't know where that. And we actually started, I'll tell you. That's funny you should say that. We started with the metaphor of sailing because you're tacking back and forth, and then somehow we got to tightrope walking. And the truth is that somebody said to us, you know, that, you know, not everybody knows what type rope, not everybody has a tightrope walker. 

Wendy K. Smith:

And so they said to us, well, what about bicycling? It's the same thing, right, to go forward. And then somebody said to us, well, actually understanding is the same thing. We think we're stable, but we are never fully stable. We're always making these super micro tweaks that sometimes are even imperceptible to us. 

Wendy K. Smith:

And so that notion that there's dynamic change, it happens over time. We're constantly moving. And so that living into this paradox is about constantly moving. 

Mark Graban:

Yeah. Most of us have not walked a tightrope, low one, or I've never sailed a boat. We did some sort of outdoor adventure ropes thing at MIT. Sloan. 

Wendy K. Smith:

Yeah, there you go. 

Mark Graban:

Get us nerds outside. Good for us. But I'm thinking more seriously to some of these either or thinking examples. I think another one that comes up that I don't think we've touched on yet is, are we trying to delight the customers or create a great experience for employees? I would argue that's a great opportunity for both ends. 

Wendy K. Smith:

Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. And, in fact, a great example of that. I don't know how many of you listeners followed the Southwest airlines, and what they realized was that oftentimes what people would say is, we're going to delight the customer to the expense of the employee, and all that does is burn out your employees so that they're no longer delighting their customers. And you realize that if they create an experience where their employees feel taken care of and valued and trusted, that enables them to delight the customers. 

Wendy K. Smith:

And so there's some great research on Southwest Airlines and what it means to find ways in which putting resources into employees enables us to support and advance the customers. And by the way, sometimes. And what it also means is sometimes the employees will therefore make the kinds of concessions or, you know, put themselves out and take more time to support and enable the customers. So for sure, that's a huge one. The other one, by the way, that I thought you were going to go to was when it comes to innovation, there's this tension that happens there. 

Wendy K. Smith:

Here's another paradox, right? There's this practice of voice of the customer. Go out and talk to your customer and hear what they want to say and use that to enable or to inform innovation. This is ideo as a product design firm has that as a core of design practice and at the same time realizing that your customer barely understands if you're going to some radical innovation. So if you're going to go like super radical and novel and creative, that's not something that your customer is going to tell you about. 

Wendy K. Smith:

In fact, you have to train your customer. So that too is one of these tensions where if you just hold with voice of the customer, you're going to be pretty incremental, but if you just hold with super radical innovation, you're never going to sell a product. So you've got to be navigating that simultaneously or balancing those competing demands. 

Mark Graban:

Yeah. And I think it was, might have been Henry Ford who said, if I did what, I'm paraphrasing with something, if I did what the customer wanted, I would have built a mechanical horse. 

Wendy K. Smith:

Right? 

Mark Graban:

And Steve Jobs more, more recently, I think was pretty famously sort of dismissive of the customer always being right, that sometimes you have to lead the customer to where they're gonna realize, oh, I do want to be there. People thought the iPhone was a ridiculous product. A lot of people did. People thought the iPad was a ridiculous product. They probably weren't asking for that. 

Mark Graban:

No one was asking like, hey, I'm going to type a note on my BlackBerry that says what I want is a flat glass screen to type on instead. Yeah, but it's worked out okay. 

Wendy K. Smith:

Although I want to push back a little bit because I think on the, both on the Ford, but certainly with Jobs and the Apple, we give a lot of credit to jobs as a visionary leader, and he was, and that was critical. And he also had Wozniak as his partner making sure that there was implementation to these, you know, wild, creative. And so as long as you can have the visionary opportunities and be super out there with boundaries. Right, we talk about what are the guardrails? Right? 

Wendy K. Smith:

So those wild ideas have to be able to sell. And that was a really famous partnership. I mean, if we go over to Microsoft. So too, Gates and Ballmer were an incredible partnership, in part because Gates was the visionary with the big external vision. Maybe not in the same way as jobs, but certainly, and, you know, Ballmer was the one who was ensuring that this was operationally possible. 

Wendy K. Smith:

And so part of the way they did that, Yin Yang both and in their leadership was to ensure that there was these co partners in these leaderships, each holding a different component of this external, visionary, big picture, internal implementation, operational, really trusting and valuing each other and being able to work together. And that's, I think, a piece of the story that we don't tell enough of. Yeah. 

Mark Graban:

And I'm looking at the COVID of the book. It says the foreword by Amy Edmondson, also of Harvard Business School of Fame. And she's been a guest here on the podcast. I want you to feel safe pushing back on me. So hopefully you're pushed back, feels rewarded and not punished. 

Wendy K. Smith:

Thank you. Psychological safety. There you go. 

Mark Graban:

Now, when you were studying at Harvard Business School, did you have a chance to work directly with Amy? And while she was there, is she still there but with her? In Harvard Business school circles? 

Wendy K. Smith:

Amy was one of my advisors. She was on my dissertation committee. So I am grateful to her for all I've learned from her. I'll tell you a really funny story. So I distinctly remember bringing my committee together. 

Wendy K. Smith:

I think I might tell the story in the book. I don't remember who was edited out or not. I remember bringing my esteemed committee together. You know, working on your dissertation at Harvard Business School, I had brilliant relationships with each of my advisors, but to bring them all together at once was a rare occasion because they were busy people, and I brought them together. And I sat down in a conference room early in my dissertation process, and I said, guys, I think that the whole world is paradoxical. 

Wendy K. Smith:

And my three advisors, all really esteemed, fabulous Harvard professors, looked at me and I thought, oh, gosh, I hope the floor opens up. I just fall through because I don't think I'm graduating anymore, because I have made this radically extreme statement. And the truth is that while it felt super extreme at the time, they also really supported me in saying, gosh, this notion of paradox feels hard for people to embrace, but maybe it's because of that, that there's something really powerful here. And, in fact, Amy and I had long conversations about the paradoxical tensions embedded in psychological safety. So, as your listeners might know, psychological safety is this concept of how do we create the conditions where it's safe for a team to be able to, as you say, surface, notice, learn from your mistakes so that you may able to fail forward and learn quicker and move forward quicker? 

Wendy K. Smith:

Well, the idea is, she says, you know, some people say, well, that sort of opens up this softness on the team, that we're just easy on people. Well, no, actually embedded into psychological safety is the idea of both. Both experimentation or sorry, like, being able to feel comfortable to learn, but at the same time to be productive and, you know, and hit our goals and be able to hit our outcomes and success. And so this tension between constantly learning and performing is embedded into this concept. It's psychological safety is a tool for navigating the tension between learning and performing along the way. 

Wendy K. Smith:

And she was pretty clear with me about that. Like, there is paradox embedded in that idea. 

Mark Graban:

Yeah. So let me ask you about this thing. You spur a thought, and I'll credit Amy Edmondson and others who talk about different types of failure, basic failure, kind of a repeatable process of installing bolts into a car. That's known work. And if everything goes well, that mistake, that failure shouldn't happen. 

Mark Graban:

And complex failures, if I'm paraphrasing it correctly, of known, unique things that happened, unanticipated things that happened in a known setting, and then intelligent failures. Or you think of, like, we're doing things now at the frontiers of experimentation and innovation and improvement. And so, like, the paradox is, like people say, well, we learn from our mistakes. We should embrace our mistakes, but there are some mistakes in a factory that could kill a customer or some mistakes in a hospital that could kill a patient, and that it seems paradoxical that we would be trying to prevent mistakes but then also learn from the mistakes that happen. Is that a paradox, or am I just. 

Wendy K. Smith:

Okay, absolutely. I mean, this to me feels like, you know, Toyota production system lean 101, how do we learn from all of our mistakes and at the same time not make them right? And I think that that is exactly. This is Amy Edmondson's research in hospitals, for sure. But, you know, if you think about, there's some great research by Carl Weich and Kathleen Sutcliffe on high reliability organizations. 

Mark Graban:

Right? 

Wendy K. Smith:

So what are organizations that small errors can cause huge, rippling, detrimental effects? And how do you. And so that would be like the train systems or power plants or where failure is not an option because those mistakes have such huge consequences. Well, then the question is, how do you make small errors and have a system that. So the idea here is you've got to make errors that are small and get caught and have slack in the system so that those errors don't have reverberating effects in, you know, as Charles Perot once said, complex systems that are so interdependent with one another that the reverberating effects cause, you know, the explosion of three Mile island or whatever else, you know, whatever other huge outcome it might be. 

Wendy K. Smith:

So, you know, part of the learning there is indeed, if you ask the question, how do we accommodate mistakes in the system while minimizing the damage or the outcome? Then you get into all kinds of really important thinking about what it looks like to run these high reliability systems. 

Mark Graban:

Yeah, yeah. And if we're not learning from those small mistakes, that seems to bring up a. It might be a different paradox. Like an ER doctor, a friend of mine uses this example. A nurse might catch at the last minute, we almost gave the wrong dose of ibuprofen to that patient. 

Mark Graban:

It's very unlikely that that mistake would have harmed or killed anybody. So then they say, well, that wasn't an important mistake, and it's brushed off and it's dismissed. And that opportunity to learn is maybe not taken advantage of. But then the same failure mode down the line could lead to a dosing error that is harmful or fatal. So it seems like sometimes people, people play the outcome like it wasn't a bad outcome, so there's nothing to learn but correct. 

Wendy K. Smith:

And I love that. Well, Mark, I'm going to give you, like, the little insight. We're working on book number two right now. 

Mark Graban:

Oh, all right. 

Wendy K. Smith:

Part of what we're thinking about in book number two is why we get stuck in these kind of, you know, and more narrow over time in our thinking. And doctors are such, and nurses and hospital systems are such a good example. And this is exactly where I think Amy Edmondson's work is, which is that we make a mistake and then it cycles because we've done something. We then feel horrific about that. We feel shame, we feel embarrassment. 

Wendy K. Smith:

We try and hide it. We try and cover it up. By covering it up, we then spend all of this energy in trying to dismiss or reject and then prevent doing that mistake again. But actually, by trying to prevent doing that mistake again, we get very narrow in our thinking. We don't learn. 

Wendy K. Smith:

And that narrowing only causes us to make more mistakes. And so we're interested in, well, what are the cycles that cause us to be in that more narrow space as a system, a hospital system, you know, manufacturing system, or as an individual? And what can we do to be more expansive? And one of them, you know, as Amy talks about, is talking about the mistake, which is both an intellectual, cognitive, thinking, learning process. It's also an emotional process. 

Wendy K. Smith:

A key piece for us in this book is how emotional these tensions are and how we've got to acknowledge, put front and center, grapple with those emotions. And so in the mistake situation, this is like Brene Brown 101, we feel shame and so we hide it and so we keep doing it as opposed to we feel shame. We talk about it, we let it out. We let the release valve out and we can deal with it. 

Mark Graban:

And that's interesting where even when there's not punishment or there's not even a fear of punishment, that shame factor internally for wherever that comes from, nature nurture. Both previous jobs upbringing, that factor often prevents people from speaking up, too. 

Wendy K. Smith:

And here I would definitely point any listener to read Brene Brown on vulnerability and shame. And she talks about how pernicious, how prevalent and pernicious shame is. But the other thing that really strikes me, and here I'm a big fan. When I used to, there was a long period of time where I taught leadership to doctors in both residents and doctors in the local hospital system. And I used to show this brilliant TEd talk from a doctor in Toronto named Brian Goldman. 

Mark Graban:

Oh, I know who he is. Yes, yes. 

Wendy K. Smith:

And he talked just about how painful it is for doctors. If ever they've, you know, awfully made a mistake or an error, like you would be labeled as that. I mean, it's not even the formal punitive punishment system. It is the informal relationships, the sort of being excommunicated out from your, your colleagues that is so excruciatingly painful for us. And that shame just reverberates against us. 

Wendy K. Smith:

He talks about, like, you know, having made a mistake and then coming back to the hospital and, and one of the nurses said, do you remember pointing to, like, a patient that he had left in some condition thinking she was fine, and then comes back with having had the wrong dosage or the wrong medicine or what have you, in worse condition. Whoa. Like, the shame of that is horrific. And so I think that's something that we have to acknowledge and grapple with along the way. Yeah. 

Mark Graban:

So I'll put a link. I think I have seen the TED talk. I know he also was doing a podcast series on medical error and related topics. The CBC production was how I became aware of him. So I'll put links to that in the show notes as we start to wrap up. 

Mark Graban:

And again, we've been joined. Wendy K. Said Smith, co author of both and Thinking, embracing creative tensions to solve your toughest problems. Available now. I would click preorder on that upcoming new book. 

Mark Graban:

If that were a button I could click. I want the. 

Wendy K. Smith:

I'll let you know, Mark. 

Mark Graban:

I'll let you know immediate gratification of. Yes, add me to your email list. But I do want to ask, though, about the current book and the diagram, the drawing on the COVID There's a story and symbolism behind that to untangle that. For those who are just listening and can't see me holding up the book, please go check out the COVID and the book online. But tell us about that drawing. 

Wendy K. Smith:

Yeah, well, funny. I'm gonna give all the credit to the Harvard Business School press team for designing the COVID We gave them all kinds of ideas that look nothing like this, and it turns out that we love this cover, and it's a bit of a Rorschach test because so many people have given us their interpretation of what they think it looks like. My favorite comes from my, at that time, ten year old son, who said, well, actually, it's M's and W's and so for Mary Ann and Wendy. But, you know, it's some bit of a deconstruct, or somebody said, look, it's these fingers coming together and holding one another up. But I think it's some bit of a deconstructed yin Yang, which is we spend a lot of time thinking about the yin Yang as a symbol of the kinds of provocation of how we want to invite people to be thinking about the world. 

Wendy K. Smith:

So you can, I don't know. What do you see in it, Mark? 

Mark Graban:

Well, now that you've mentioned fingers, I can't unsee that. But I guess I was looking at more conceptually of, like, the tangle of our organizations leads to, I don't know, like, the red and the green dots to me, or, like, the either or. And they're separated and they're stuck and it's not coming together. 

Wendy K. Smith:

Yeah, there you go. That, too. 

Mark Graban:

Or fingers. Fingers. M's and w's for Wendy K. Smith, who's been joining us today. Marianne W. 

Mark Graban:

Lewis, the book again, both and thinking from Harvard Business Review Press. Wendy, last question before we wrap up here. As I mentioned at the beginning, you're giving one of the keynote talks at the AME conference of all the different things you could talk about. Can you give us kind of the quick teaser of what you will be sharing at the event? 

Wendy K. Smith:

Yeah. Well, that's a good question. That means that I have decided that. And there is so much possibility in this conference because it is so. I'm really excited about this upcoming conference because, in fact, as I said, manufacturing is sort of the, you know, the touchstone from where so many ideas about paradox have emerged into the world of organizations. 

Wendy K. Smith:

And maybe I will say this there. I actually, what I find, the more I study paradox is that we're not, this is not a new idea. Toyota didn't create this. This is an idea that is like 2500 years old. It is ideas that the more we delve into it, we see bubbling up in 500 bc, in Buddhism and in greek philosophy and in african philosophy. 

Wendy K. Smith:

And I like to say that we in organizations are kind of late to the paradox party in noticing the ways in which our organizational worlds are paradoxical and our leadership needs to accommodate that. So I'm on a bit of a mission to invite leaders into the paradox party as a core leadership trait. 

Mark Graban:

So maybe I should have reframed that question. It's five months away, the conference here, October 28, literally five months away. So we got. I think you've got a sense, if you've enjoyed the episode, I know you're going to enjoy hearing more from Wendy at the conference. And I'm going to have to pass along to ame. 

Mark Graban:

They're going to have to have some event some evening called the Paradox party. 

Wendy K. Smith:

Oh, my goodness. Right there. 

Mark Graban:

Pastor d'oeuvres. 

Wendy K. Smith:

I'll just do. I don't know these guys well, so I'm doing a little announcement for them. I live in Philadelphia, but down in the Brandywine valley is a winery called Paradox wine. So maybe they'll have to tap into my buddies at Paradox wine. 

Mark Graban:

That's new to me. I like wine. There's another winery called Paraduxx. 

Wendy K. Smith:

Oh. 

Mark Graban:

With two x's from Napa. I don't know. The story on this probably has to do with two ducks and not paradox, but. 

Wendy K. Smith:

Well, actually, this Paradox wine is two couples. All four of them are physicians, and this is their hobby. Pair of docks is happening up there. So all kinds of ways to get to paradox in our world. 

Mark Graban:

Well, a lot of opportunities for both and thinking to visit a winery. Would you like the cab or the merlot? Both and both and both and. 

Wendy K. Smith:

Well, I will just say I am looking forward to the conference. And for any of your listeners that will be there, I welcome the chance to connect there. 

Mark Graban:

Yeah, well, I look forward to. I'm planning on being there. That's my prediction. Five months out. Hope to be there. 

Mark Graban:

I attend most every year and look forward to hearing your keynote and digging deeper into the book again. It's both and thinking. I hope people will go check it out. Thank you for being here, having a great conversation. Really appreciate it. 

Wendy K. Smith:

Thank you.


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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.

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