Home Concepts Organizational Theory Journey to Irony II: The Lands of Gamma and Delta

Journey to Irony II: The Lands of Gamma and Delta

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Irony and Polarity: Unlocking the Potential

I appreciate the insights I acquired from visiting the four lands—and in particular the lessons learned in Delta about what it means to make commitments in the midst of relativism. I must, therefore, move beyond the role of learner, if I am to avoid being a hypocrite about commitment. What kind of actions might be taken when living in Irony? How might I translate living in Hard Irony to a pathway forward through action in the world? I will turn to a tool I mentioned earlier that holds great potential in addressing the challenges of Irony. This tool is called Polarity Management (Johnson, 1996). I close this afterword with a brief description of this valuable tool and encourage you, the reader, to find out more about and make use of this tool yourself as a coach, consultant or leader in confronting the challenges of Irony.

Barry Johnson (1996), the “dean” of polarity management, suggests as a first step for handling everyday contradictions that leaders identify two or more legitimate but opposite forces at work in what I am calling a condition of contradiction and Irony. One then analyzes each side’s benefits and disadvantages. Organizationally, the two or more opposing and contradictory forces are often embodied in “camps.” For example, the comptroller’s interest in minimizing expenses is pitted against the marketing department’s need to invest in consumer research. A centralized corporation has the need to standardize its offerings, but the offices in other states or provinces need flexibility in running their daily affairs. Neither position is “wrong.” “Exquisite truth” is to be found in the positions taken by both camps.

The organization is now in the midst of Irony. A coach or consultant who understands polarity management will regularly encourage their client to bring both parties to the table and facilitate a mutual understanding of the respective benefits and possible negative consequences of holding either position to the exclusion of the other. Even without the assistance of a coach or consultant, a leader can bring both parties to the table: a Delta Polis is convened. Interventionists can even invite individuals or groups to take the role that is opposite to their usual one, and describe the pros and cons from that unfamiliar perspective. Enormous understanding and empathy result from this first step alone.

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