So much of the time in our lives we are struggling for balance. Do we work late or early to try to catch up because otherwise we feel pursued at work? Do we start our morning with exercise or with writing? Do we spend time with friends or with family? So many decisions.
A manager once shared an approach for reflecting on decisions with what he called the paradox model. He loved this model and once shared it with a room of over 200 people – which I did not witness – the model is a little delicate and, from what I heard later, people were a little confused. But when I asked about it later, and he explained it one on one, I found it useful.
Here’s how it goes:
Picture a figure 8 turned on its side – a symbol for infinity, as the little girl said in the old School House Rock. The point of balance is in the center, where the two loops meet. That is your starting point.
Now let’s say you want to do something – in his example, spend more time with customers. You ask employees to spend their time with customers and, as they do and sales increase, you move out the upper loop of the right loop. A little is good, so they spend more time with customers and more, and move further and further out the loop – how could spending time with customers be a bad thing? Only other things are not getting done because your team is spending more and more time with customers instead.
And eventually it’s too much and sales begin to fall because the store isn’t ready for customers. You’ve reached the limit and things are out of balance. So you begin to ask people to spend time on other tasks – putting out inventory, cleaning up the store – and you move from the outside top of the right loop to the outside bottom of the right loop and back towards the center. As you do, sales begin to pick up again, and you realize how far behind you’ve fallen. So you keep moving back towards the point of balance, eventually reaching it.
But as you look around, you realize that incoming shipments have piled up in the Receiving Room; old inventory needs to be pulled. You spend more time and more doing tasks, catching up.
As you do, you move further out the top of the left loop, focusing more and more on tasks, until you reach the point where you realize that you’ve pulled all your resources off customers and sales have fallen again. So then you move around the outer edge of the loop and move back towards the center, back towards balance.
Part of this model is understanding that there is a point of balance. Part of it is an encouragement to watch for the point when you need to turn the corner and head back towards the middle. Part of it is awareness of a cycle, like the cycle of breathing in and breathing out, we move our focus and resources around to address issues, then move them the opposite direction to balance out as needed. And that is the point of balance.
When you do balance poses in Yoga, you often beat yourself up because your weight is shifting around and you feel out of balance. You feel like you should be perfectly still. But as your weight shifts around, the tiny muscles in your legs, your ankles, are working, keeping you in balance, and that’s what is supposed to happen.
Balance is not about perfect stillness – perfect stillness held too long is in danger of becoming stagnation – balance is about the center holding while the edges move along a continuum of change.