Paradoxes arguably are the stuff great philosophy is made of. In business, though, paradoxes can end up blowing holes in your ship, making it harder to stay afloat. Let's take a look at some of the most egregious cannonballs workers fire off and look a little deeper at why they pull companies under water.


1. Get rest, but run on fumes.

Sure, we point out the science that says a lack of sleep threatens health. We even highlight studies that prove productivity generally goes down as work hours go up. We even stress delegation. But then we also insist that the best entrepreneurs get up before the sun, hold up Elon Musk's example of a 100-hour week and don't take vacation time even when it's offered to us.

2. Give consumers what's familiar, but constantly do something new.

Marketers often note that nostalgia branding works incredibly well, evoking positive emotions from the recall of good experiences. Deviation from "sameness" interferes with this brain-based response. But companies also operate under the assumption that sticking with tradition is a death sentence, and that companies need to innovate for consumers to see them as productive and relevant.

3. Be a vicious competitor, but always be willing to contribute to a team.

Smart people always look out for number one. They don't take no for an answer. But two heads are better than one, and of course, there's no "I" in team. So are we supposed to be self-focused so we can reach the top rung of the ladder, or are we supposed to use group synergy to be more than we could be alone?

4. Speak up, but leave your feelings at the door.

On the one hand, we're told that it's critical to acknowledge how we're feeling in the moment. We need to be empathetic and emotionally intelligent and to encourage each other to acknowledge need. Those things help us bond and work better. But on the other hand, tears aren't professional. We can't let feelings get in the way, we have to suck it up, and the office simply isn't the place to air personal discomforts.

Why paradoxes in the office are such a ginormous issue

Within paradoxes like those above, there are values or priorities. In the first example, for instance, underlying values might include preservation of health, contribution/usefulness and diligence. In any environment, value sets are a major driver of human behavior. That's why businesses put so much effort into goal setting, creating vision statements and clarifying what the company culture should contain.

If you present two conflicting value sets, people can feel uncertain about how to act, what's expected or what they're representing. That can lead to general feelings of dissatisfaction or lack of purpose. Alternately, you can end up with people who are constantly in conflict, such as when a no-nonsense team lead won't give a coworker a moment to regroup after a worrying discipline call from their kid's school. Either way, there's inconsistency that can affect retention, performance and your bottom line.

Allowing certain paradoxes also can undermine you as a leader. Because you don't take a real stand, workers might subconsciously accept that you're wishy-washy as a whole, and that you don't have the strength to draw a line in the sand when you have to. They might even believe that "the system" is rigged against them and that it's impossible to get ahead. This fatalistic attitude can lead to resentment and an unwillingness to put in maximum effort.

Life isn't totally black and white. But clarity means direction. And if you want to move forward as an individual or company, it's best to have a path that's a straight line, rather than a path that looks like a kindergartener's drawing of spaghetti. Decide what you believe in, reiterate it in every platform and don't look back.

Published on: Oct 19, 2017
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