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01.22.10

Can You Pass the Fitzgerald Test?

Can You Pass the Fitzgerald Test

IN HIS CLASSIC self-analysis, The Crack-Up, F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.” For example, he added, one should “be able to see that things are hopeless and yet be determined to make them otherwise.”

More and more we are called upon to function in a world full of paradoxes; not only function but possess an ability to take action in the face of conflicting ideas and norms. Bruce Piasecki writes in The Surprising Solution, that paradox “almost seems too mild a word to describe the challenges facing the social leaders of today.” He adds, the best leaders “thrive on differences and ambiguity, and find solutions amid this large tolerance for social complexity.”

In his innovation playbook for uncertain times, The Silver Lining, Scott Anthony writes, “Existing systems, structures, and development programs that were sufficient for leaders to thrive in an era of ordered capitalism are proving to be inadequate in today’s increasingly turbulent times. Most leaders just aren't ready to grapple with the paradoxes that will increasingly characterize their day-to-day lives.” He lists, for example, these seemingly paradoxical requirements facing leaders:
  • I have to focus on running operations with laserlike precision without stifling creativity.
  • I exist because of my big business, but “small saplings” are critical for long-term success.
  • Data drives my decisions, but I have to trust intuition and judgment when data doesn’t exist or is vague.
  • Attention to detail and focus on numbers has allowed me to progress in my career, but too much focus on details or numbers can crowd out innovation.
  • The people I trust the most are people who deliver short-term results and never surprise me, but innovation almost always involves some kind of surprise.
  • I have to leverage my capabilities to win today’s battles while walking away from many of these capabilities to win tomorrow’s battles.
To this we might add the ability to look at solutions to problems that have more than one solution or seemingly opposing goals—serving shareholders and our communities, to grow and be good stewards. If you have a low tolerance for opposing thoughts you are less likely to look for other alternatives. This greatly limits your ability to adapt to changing circumstances.

Anthony reports that it has been estimated that no more than 5 percent of the manager population can truly grapple with paradox. Why? He says that “Michael Putz from Cisco has studied this problem for the past decade. His perspective is that the problem isn’t a lack of basic intelligence, desire, or capacity. Rather, managers haven’t developed the ability to grapple with paradox because they haven’t needed to.”

But the capacity to deal with paradox, to work with opposable ideas, is learnable. Again, self-awareness is key. Understand how you view the world. Then, creating a specific developmental program to help you take a broader view, to integrate multiple perspectives, to view solutions as both/and instead of either/or, will help you pass the Fitzgerald Test.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 12:12 AM
| Comments (0) | Personal Development , Thinking



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