The lost opportunities when picking sides

Two new friends were kind enough to grab lunch with me the other day and amongst many fascinating things, we talked about a recent article on Growth I’d written. What we reflected on was that in today’s startup world, many companies are oriented on the growth aspect, which means revenue growth, user growth, you name it. Focusing less on growth, interestingly still doesn’t mean to me to stop focusing on it completely. Growth, has it’s important place and Dick Costolo once put this incredibly well:

“We think of revenue like oxygen. Essential to life but not the first thing you think about in the morning.”

By his definition, everyone would agree, that oxygen is pretty important to our lives. What I realized when uncovering this, is that in most aspects of my life, I’ve been in a situation where I had to pick sides. Where it was either the one thing or the other. Here is are a few examples that I remembered to have been asked to choose between:

For profit or not-for profit

Democrats or Republicans

Revenue and growth oriented or Social Impact oriented

masculine or feminine

Muslim or Christian or Buddhist or another religion

Real Madrid or FC Barcelona

True, false, neither true nor false, both true and false

In Western thinking, thanks largely to Aristotle’s discoveries of logic, we have adopted a right or wrong approach to looking at things. If one thing is right, the opposing thing to that, has to be wrong. In many cases, I’ve found this approach helpful, and also, in many I’ve found it to be quite limiting.

In Zen tradition, I’ve discovered a view of looking at the world, that has completed reversed that. It finds that things can be true. Or they can be false, or they can be neither true nor false. Or they can be both, true and false. I reflected on this for a while and at first I felt like I was making a knot in my brain, it simply didn’t comply at all with how I was seeing the world at the time. How can something be both right and wrong at the same time?

Over time, as I let go of a fully dogmatic view of things, slowly this started to make sense to me.

Embracing both, seemingly opposing sides

One concept that helped me understand this much better was the concept of “wholeness”, which I was introduced to by Frederic Laloux in Reinventing Organizations. It describes what it sees as the most advanced level of human consciousness as one that embraces every element of something, without excluding other elements.

Since then, I realized that one can focus equally on revenue growth, in the same way that one focuses on social impact. One can learn as much from the viewpoint of Democrats as one can from the viewpoint of Republicans. I learnt that observing how non-profits run their organizations (like transparent spending for example) can offer terrific learnings of how one might want to run a for-profit organization.

By reading the Bible, the Koran, the teachings of Buddha, the Gita and many other religious scriptures, I found that I can agree with and find incredible value from each of them and combine them in a holistic view of seeing the world. When seeing a soccer game, I can enjoy the game of both teams, no matter who is scoring more goals.

Oftentimes, when we only choose one side, the incredible amount of learning and wisdom that happened on the seemingly opposing side is lost to us. We block ourselves from any learnings we might be able to take away from it. Avoiding that, and learning from each element is what I understand to be true open-mindedness. It has also opened me to so many new experiences that I would have otherwise, likely never encountered.

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