Problems & Polarities

Barry Johnson is a pioneer in polarity management. His groundbreaking article outlines the incredibly important distinction between problems and polarities.  Problems have one right or several independent right solutions. Lost keys and navigating highway detours are problems. 

Polarities have two or more right interdependent approaches. Polarities are opposites like inhale-exhale, self-other and save-share, control-empower, support-challenge. Polarities are well managed when we leverage the strengths of both poles, not when we try to decide which is right. Polarity management implies validation of the necessary complements of opposites.

When an issue is a polarity and we treat it as a problem, it gets worse, every time. This explains why societies, institutions and organizations can do poorly with chronic problems that by definition are polarities rather than problems.