(updated and revised post)
Strategy is often inhibited by fallacies in thinking. One of the greatest of these is the either/or fallacy. This informs the mindset that when presented with two apparent options, one must choose one or the other and that they are mutually exclusive.
The problem with this kind of thinking – while this may be useful for particular commitments – is that it does not allow for the divergent or even integrated options one may develop.
The Either/Or Fallacy in Strategy
Apple used to be solely a computing company. It was accepted wisdom that computing companies were not telecommunications companies. Apple turned this either/or fallacy on its head when it developed the iPhone. A computer company started making phones and changed the way whole telecom industry works. Now it’s part computing, part telecom, part software, part hardware, part gaming and part entertainment mogul.
Samsung’s chairman urged his staff in 2014 to move beyond solely hardware thinking and development and Samsung’s co-Chief Executive also stated in January 2014 that Samsung was investing a great deal of money and expertise to develop its own mobile and device OS, because, in his words, “I don’t feel you can lead the market by focusing solely on software or hardware” (see WSJ article).
That OS – Tizen – has continued to be developed and applied in multiple devices, allowing for an expansion of product in large markets such as India. Was Samsung on point in developing its OS? By using its expertise to develop the software, Samsung has also since refined its integration and interaction with Android and other apps on its mobile devices, to much consumer praise.
Companies that retain this fallacious thinking become stagnant and unresponsive to trends. Kodak famously remained slow on digital photography, maintaining instead that they were a photographic film company, which excluded digitalisation. They then slid down a rapid decline leading to its US$950 million Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing in 2012 that it is only slowly recovering from.
Employ Divergent Thinking
In order to move beyond the either/or fallacy, employing divergent thinking is important. It’s an element of creativity. The term was coined by psychologist JP Guilford to reflect the idea that an individual could take a concept and generate and follow many distinct and different paths exploring differing potentials, possibilities and paradigms. EP Torrance elaborated these in his categorisation of creative thinking and his assessments thereof, which, if you get a hold of them, help you to think through how creativity works.
But divergent thinking requires removing boundaries and restrictions to the utility of an item, product or process and removing the restrictions on the path one MUST take then, in a relaxed and fluid, open-minded manner, stimulating oneself or a group to begin to aim for the weird and different.
THEN you should employ convergent or integrated thinking to bring things back together. How can you package all this into one or two solutions and not scores of impractical pie-in-the sky ideas?
In other words, first expand out the possibilities and then pare them back to something that will work.
This approach is a vital element of strategic thinking – both individually and organisationally. As a leader – of yourself and others – it’s your job to prompt and push the thinking of others to explore potentials, not to accept the default line of thinking.
Don’t fall for the either/or fallacy. Think instead of the possibilities.
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