Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Balancing Opposites Using a “Redefined Value Equation”

For those of you who have been following my blogs closely perhaps would have noticed a follow-up question that was asked within the context of my last week’s blog– how does this concept of “balancing opposites” work in the real world from strategy execution standpoint? Although, I had answered the question at a high level within the comments section (http://strategywithapurpose.blogspot.com/2010/09/strategy-is-it-marathon-sprint-or-both.html), the more I thought about it- the subject of “balancing opposites” is a much deeper one -and so decided to write a separate post.

As I started reading more on this subject- to my amazement, I quickly learned that the philosophers of yester-years from both the west and the east alike (Yin-Yang, Ayurvedha, Feng-Sue, UMO, Greek basic elements, Qur’an’s tenets, Sun Tzu’s art of war, and Solomon’s wisdom etc.) have not only used this concept to explain the ultimate meaning of life, but also, have used them to explain the ultimate reasoning behind the existence of human race - which clearly suggests that “balancing opposites” is a mystical process that is filled with enlightenment and wisdom -and so, leveraging their work to explain the relevance of this concept within the business world (using a “redefined value equation”) is more appropriate within this context.

Although, these opposites are distinct things on their own right, it is important to recognize that each of these opposites coexists by consent of their other half. For example, as we saw earlier in one of my previous blogs - the “concept of seasons” is what gives us the confidence that every opposite or down cycle in life or business has a beginning and an end. In other words, happiness cannot exist without sadness; therefore if we seek happiness, we are also destined to encounter sadness (in another season) because both depend on each other for their existence. Analyzing these interdependency of opposites with a key natural principle “Like repulses like and opposites attract each other ” – will clearly help us to come to the conclusion that “balancing the opposites” within the context of their respective seasons is critical for us to maximize life or business’s outcome.

For example, on the surface, cost containment (bottom line focused) and innovation (top line focused) strategies might sound like seemingly opposites -very much like the opposing pairs of Solomon. But, if we think about them within the larger context or objective (say, to turnaround and grow the company) — cost containment (for a season) is indeed a stepping stone for innovation (for a new season) – which kind of implies that “balancing opposites” within the context of the larger objective is the way to go, as long as we do not mix them up within the same season– in the words of Solomon. In other words, both of these strategies might sound like polar opposites when we weigh them in isolation- but, when we look at them within the context of the larger purpose governing those seasons — we can clearly recognize that they are complimentary to each other provided they are executed within the context of their respective seasons as a stepping stone for each other.

The question however is – why most corporations, still struggle to balance these opposites? What is preventing them from balancing these opposites? The answer in my opinion is “misplacement of value components within the value equation”. In other words, the value equation, in its current form, in most corporations create divisions by dissecting businesses into opposites –the core and edge, the stars and the dogs, purpose and profit initiatives so on and so forth -from the standpoint of achieving quick wins. Don’t get me wrong, that these structures and quick wins are absolutely necessary for better manageability and for meeting the quarter numbers; however, in most situations we get carried away with this short sighted quick win focused mentality and fail to recognize the larger context or purpose wherein these opposites (e.g. core and edge) are part of a cohesive whole. In other words, we cannot have an edge without a core and cannot have a core without an edge, therefore, to try and label a particular facet of business as being more important than the other half is illogical and self-defeating – and, so, corporations must redefine their value equation with an end goal of arriving at that mystical centre point where these opposites are balanced and executed within their own respective seasons.

However, arriving at that mystical centre point (where these complimentary opposites are balanced) is both an art and science - and so, we may have to get some additional inspirations from the following five underlying natural elements that were used by the philosophers to represent our universe’s value equation.

Water soaks and descends; Fire blazes and ascends; Wood bends and straightens; Metal holds its shape and is malleable; Earth takes seeds and gives crops”

As we can see from this causal chain, it contains natural elements that are representative of different stages of an ongoing process of transformation within this universe’s seasonal causal chain as discussed earlier in one of my previous blogs (http://strategywithapurpose.blogspot.com/2010/09/transforming-what-aboutso-what.html). On a deeper philosophical level, these transformations are balanced on a continuous basis by the dynamic interplay between complimentary opposites within their respective seasons. Interestingly enough- Sun Tzu leveraged inspirations from these five natural elements as well, while forming his five strategy system elements – i.e. mission, ground, climate, command, and methods.

With this prelude- let us leverage the inspirations from both “five nature elements” and Sun Tzu’s “five strategy element system” to redefine our value equation to help balance these complimentary opposites: i.e. with “purpose & profit," at the center of the equation balancing the remaining four opposites with a causal chain based creation and destruction cycles. The remaining elements are imagined to be part of a circular causal chain similar to the natural element causal chain, as outlined below.

Water creates wood by growing trees. Wood creates fire. Fire creates earth by transforming wood to ash. Earth creates metal, which is why metal, is mined from the earth. Metal creates water, as we can see by condensation on metal surfaces”.

Likewise, within our redefined value equation,

Environment or competitive advantage analysis” creates winning strategies, and then, those strategies in-turn transform the “current state business” in to “Purpose-profit balanced future state business”(center) using the execution focused leadership skills, strategic positioning and expert knowledge. And then, those renewed execution leadership skills, propel forth newer visions and continue the transformation process of turning the environmental conditions in to winning strategies”.

And, the cycle continues – and, gets refined every iteration- by continuously balancing these complementary opposites – thus creating the ultimate business harmony (or optimal outcome) as outlined in the picture at the top of the page.

Bottom line: The ultimate success of businesses lynch on this key principle of “balancing opposites” within the context of their respective seasons using this redefined value equation. However, to reach that success in reality, we need to be practicing this principle on a daily basis using our redefined “causal chain based value equation” –which not only will help corporations to become the experts in this balancing act (of opposites), but also, make them the purpose leaders of tomorrow -in accordance with the purpose, wisdom and spiritual principles of the world renowned philosophers.

Source: Scriptures, Ancient literatures and Sun Tzu's art of war


  1. Hello Charles,

    I am glad that my comments brought up this juicy post. It is deep and creative. You see, my original question on "balancing the Opposites" would not have generated this post if you were a conventional thinker, and certainly you are not. As you correctly stated, the "For example, on the surface, cost containment (bottom line focused) and innovation (top line focused) strategies might sound like seemingly opposites -very much like the opposing pairs of Solomon. But, if we think about them within the larger context or objective (say, to turnaround and grow the company) — cost containment (for a season) is indeed a stepping stone for innovation (for a new season) – which kind of implies that “balancing opposites” within the context of the larger objective is the way to go”. Likewise; I would say by working backwards that this creative post was initiated from a humble and innocent question.
    I am just thinking of the four seasons. They do not exist together and also hold the concept of opposites. Summer is the opposite of winter and by definition autumn is the opposite of spring. Every season is needed and it provides the right environment for the next season. I would say that a year bifurcates into four opposing seasons that do not coexist simultaneously and yet they lead to each other.
    Companies have their seasons as well. A season is for dropping old leaves (old products and beliefs). Having got rid of the excessive luggage they are ready for the next season. Next come winter (water) to irrigate seeds (new ideas). This is followed by spring where plants (companies) blossom with new varieties. It is the harmonious movement of seasons that lead to renewal. The iteration continues and the cycle of four seasons repeat (successful companies reiterate to learn and develop).

    Charles, I congratulate you for writing such a deep post.

  2. As always, great value-add insights, especially your point around "causal chain based summer-winter-spring-autumn seasons" is very good. Just a point of clarification around seasons -

    Seasons, (although primarily are defined with a time dimension), also have other dimensions (like place, money, opportunity etc.), and so, our concept of seasons should take in to account rest of the dimensions in a holistic manner.

    For example, under the time dimension of seasons – relatively speaking it might be difficult to balance opposites simultaneously when they are executed within the same time span whereas under place (or opportunity) dimensions- balancing can be done simultaneously within the same time span provided they are done in different business segments/places or different opportunity spaces. Hope this will help us to understand when balancing works simultaneously vs. when it does not.

    “Balancing works well “simultaneously” when the seasonal dimension is anything other than time”!
    This dimensionality of seasons itself is a separate topic and time permitting we can cover it in a separate post.

    Over all very constructive insightful comment Ali.