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Paradox Management: Definition & Example

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Scott Tuning

Scott has been a faculty member in higher education for over 10 years. He holds an MBA in Management, an MA in counseling, and an M.Div. in Academic Biblical Studies.

Paradox management occurs when businesses balance competition and collaboration. Explore the definition, framework, and examples of paradox management, and learn about change, transformation, and how to manage paradoxes and problems. Updated: 01/24/2022

Change, Transformation, and the Paradox

Although they may sound similar, change and transformation are different. In the context of business, change is a modification to an existing procedure or practice designed to increase efficiency or effectiveness. Transformation, on the other hand, is a change in mindset that is so significant that the modification doesn't simply alter an existing process, it creates an entirely new entity. One thing that frequently initiates transformation in business is a paradox.

In the context of business leadership, a paradox refers to a pair of characteristics that appear to be so different that they really couldn't exist together. They seem to be two things that offer an ''either/or'' choice. For example, you might think of your employees as either being collaborative or being competitive. This appears as a paradox because the use of ''or'' makes it sound as though we can have competition or collaboration, but not both - in other words, it makes it seem like these two concepts are paradoxically opposed.

Paradox management describes how a great manager can successfully balance these paradoxes. By using paradox management, a business can simultaneously encourage both competition and collaboration, rather than being able to have only one of the two.

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  • 0:00 Change, Transformation…
  • 1:13 Paradox Management Framework
  • 2:41 Managing Paradoxes & Problems
  • 3:41 Lesson Summary
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Paradox Management Framework

To illustrate the common paradox of competition and collaboration, let's consider an organization like a local radio station. Because all the stations in its region are vying for the same advertising dollars, each station is in direct competition with the others. However, many of those local stations are members of the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB). The NAB represents the interests of all member stations when lobbying lawmakers, advocating for the profession, and educating people about the role that terrestrial radio plays in an increasingly internet-driven word.

This means that the radio station's leadership doesn't have to choose between being competitive or being collaborative. Instead, they compete with other stations in one dimension, while knowing how to collaborate when a unified voice is important. That balance is the essence of paradox management.

When managing organizations, the best leaders learn how to allow control and empowerment to coexist. They are able to facilitate healthy competition and collaboration, and they can be innovative and structured at the same time.

Leaders often need do nothing more than take a mental walk through their offices to see paradoxes in action. One common paradox that's easy to see in almost any organization is the relationship between staffing and the budget. The staffing paradox goes something like, ''We need a workforce with top-notch talent, but we also need a workforce that will accept a wage that is less than market rate.'' You won't get top-notch talent for nothing, but you can manage the paradox well enough to get great talent at a reasonable cost.

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