Fish or Cut Bait

You’re very black and white.

Somehow I know this unsolicited comment isn’t a compliment. I consider the possible replies.

You’re a fuzzy thinker.

No, responding in kind would not be kind. Or prudent.  In a marketing environment where there are only shades of grey, my tendency to say that some things are binary — true or false, feasible or not — is not a good cultural fit, even though it’s part of what enables me to shepherd a gaggle of marketers through a hard-deadline procurement process where the customer tends to be a little, umm, black and white.

Maybe that’s why I found one of Seth’s blogs this week so interesting.

When a project appears to be in limbo, in a permanent holding pattern,
where sunk costs meet opportunity costs,
where no one can figure out what to do”¦
Cancel it.
Cancel it with a week’s notice.

Ouch. Talk about your black-and-white thinking. Fish or cut bait, guys.

Seth goes on to say that one of two things will happen:

  • The threat of cancellation will generate a groundswell of support and renewed effort, and the project will get moving again.
  • The threat of cancellation will become the actuality, and at least you won’t be stuck any longer.

There’s lots of room in work and in life for both/and, especially when it comes to attitudes. For integrating different points of view. For accommodating multiple objectives, even if none of them completely. For recognizing that nothing – no one, no process, no product or service – is all good or all bad. Even for being a little less dogmatic about what can be accomplished. For, you know, a little nuance.

But equally, there’s lots of room for either/or, especially when it comes to actions. For getting off the fence. For not playing around. For not being satisfied with staying stuck. For deciding what things I want to commit to. For, you know, a little black and white.

Try not.
Do or do not.
There is no try.
– Yoda


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8 Responses to Fish or Cut Bait

  1. Jim Taylor says:

    In geological circles, “black or white” is called “dualistic” thinking. It’s marked by “either/or” sentence constructions. Non-dualistic thinking uses “both/and”. That is, everything is shades of grey (no, not the novel). Intellectually, I incline towards the non-dualistic pattern, but my gut says that there are distinctions: black/white, right/wrong/ true/false… Maybe there’s room for, and need for, both kinds of thinking.
    How’s that for a non-dualistic conclusion?
    Jim T

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Jim – Yes, I’d agree with that. Both kinds of thinking are needed. The challenge I find is when to use which . . .

  2. John Whitman says:

    Isabel – This reminds me of the old saying “Lead, follow, or get out of the way!” which seems to allow for duality in the action required; however the thought expressed is “Make a decision”, which is pretty black and white to me.

  3. Tom Watson says:

    I too read that blog of Seth’s. Forcing the issue by threatening cancellation may well cause a black or white reaction—either a groundswell of support or cancellation. But what if the reaction is somewhere in between, in that huge grey area where you still have to decide what to do about your product?

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Tom – Well, I guess he thinks that, lacking a groundswell of support, the project will be cancelled, and the product with it. Forcing the issue is harsh, in some contexts, but an interesting thought experiment, if nothing more.

      • Jim Taylor says:

        I’ve had a few occasions in my life when support for an organization seemed pathetically low. So we called a meeting to disband the organization, and got huge turnout. An example was the CBC Vancouver Staff association. No volunteers, no activities…. The meeting to shut it down had to be moved to the biggest studio, with almost 300 people out! I don’t know how long the enthusiasm lasted, but it was still going when I left Vancouver for other locations.
        Jim T

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