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Thinking in gray scale


Work in Progress

October 19 · Issue #54 · View online
The newsletter about work

Hi there,
Whatever the issue, we’ve often already decided what we think.
Our social circles demand it. Our families seem to expect it. And so we quiz each on our positions: Mandating masks goes a bit far, don’t you think? Do we really need a law for that? Or we judge others: She still eats meat, can you believe it? With everything we know about the industry?
Reality, however, is fuzzier. Things are rarely cut and dried, black or white. Choices are seldom all good or all bad.
Some time back, I heard about the concept of thinking in gray scale. The idea? Give yourself room to NOT have a hard-and-fast position about certain topics for a while. Most issues aren’t binary anyway. There’s usually not one standpoint that’s 100% correct. And it can be liberating to know you don’t have to come out for or against something instantaneously.
Thinking in gray scale is a way to gain new insight and have better conversations. For me, believing in God has fallen into this category for the past few years. I allow myself to not have a definitive stance on the subject, so I can consider it from all angles, and ponder, and discuss.
It’s a welcome antidote for our tendency to develop arguments for the result we’d like to see. You can postpone your decision and try out ideas from all sides, without direct consequences. 
Thinking in grays is an exercise you can apply to big societal issues where there seems to be one right answer. But you can apply it just as easily to controversial topics in your organization or team. Understand that there’s no black or white, only shades of gray, and that when someone claims that their solution is clearly the right one, it often says more about their own agenda than the indisputable rightness of their viewpoint. 
Thinking in grays can help ease your own frustration with policy decisions you can’t get behind. I think this is an undervalued skill. Amid big organizational shifts, or sometimes poorly-communicated changes, being able to go after your own goals is a recipe for good solid work. If you’ve adopted non-negotiable positions on the other hand, that doesn’t make working with other people any easier. Thinking in grays helps you develop the mindset you need in order to accept why choices are made (because that perspective just might be the best one).
When you want to share your own insights, thinking in grays also helps you express your views in a way that’s more empathetic, better supported, and more convincing.
Blendle, the company I worked for until last fall, announced this past August that it’s been acquired by the French Cafeyn – an incredible achievement. My old boss and Blendle founder Alexander Klöpping spoke about the experience on his podcast. (Dutch speakers can listen to the podcast here.) He talked about the struggle involved in turning a product-oriented organization into a marketing-driven one. 
It was precisely this issue that I saw in stark black and white that summer: Product is good, marketing is evil. But thinking in gray scale helped me realize that this wasn’t a bad choice for Blendle at all. In fact it was necessary for the company’s survival. It just meant that my time there, as a product guy, was over. 
Dare to NOT boldly go...
We value clarity. And a strong opinion will generate more response than a nuanced one. And so we’re trained by the people around us (and social media) to take more extreme positions. That’s also true at work. Being bold and direct comes across as confidence, which makes an impression. The thing is, it doesn’t help you a whole lot: Strongly expressing a strong view won’t teach you anything new.  
This week, I hope you manage to take an issue or dilemma that doesn’t sit well with you and approach it this way. Embrace thinking in gray scale. And see what new insight it brings. 
Have a good week,

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