Requiring a new mindset

Dilemmas occur when we are committed to two (apparently) incompatible goals. Efforts toward one side of the paradox seem to compromise or negate efforts toward the other side. There is often a sense of frustration and even mystery within a dilemma. For example, people in Sales do not understand why people in Engineering complain so much about new contracts. After all, it's money .. profit .. success! In contrast, people in Engineering wonder what's wrong with those people in Sales. Don't they understand that too much work means a poor quality delivery, which harms our reputation, which undermines future sales. It seems that there is more competition with departments down the hall then with true competitors down the street.

If no one is watching the trends, dilemmas can lead to painful and costly oscillation between two extremes. One year the company pushes for centralization to control costs and establish a consistent customer interface. The next year executives tout the value of customizing to local market conditions and having corporate services "on site" where they can be more timely and targeted. And the next year the company rediscovers the virtue of cost controls and standardization; companies can sometimes swing through several cycles before someone notices the bigger picture.

Dilemmas are never finally resolved, they are merely managed more or less well. The proper integration of the two sides of a dilemma can shift dramatically, requiring a reconsideration of the best path in the current situation. A newcomer to a market may need to push for innovation to "make a splash" and get some initial market share. As their position stabilizes, they may need to shift to cost controls and standardization to shore up their profit margins.


  • Personal freedom vs. Social order
  • Customization vs. Economies of scale
  • Centralization vs. Decentralization
  • Time for career vs. Time for Relationships
  • Teamwork vs. Individual initiative
  • Competitive costing vs. Healthy profit margin
  • Engineering innovation vs. Ease of manufacturing
  • Short-term problem solving vs. Long-term strategic planning
  • Sales volume vs. Ability to deliver on promises

The Present
  • An enduring tension
  • If one side loses, all sides lose!
  • Sometimes oscillation between extremes
  • Often shows up in conflict between departments
  • Every good solutions prove temporary

Likely Actions
  • Cultivate a new mindset
  • Build new relationships among players who are more used to be adversarial
  • Instill orientation to continuous learning
  • Capture the process more than the outcome

The Future
  • Constant experimentation
  • A sense of shared destiny
  • A robust process for exploring options and experimenting with new solutions


Common Typing Errors

Dilemmas and Disputes are the most common mis-typing in the entire set of 6 types. Both present with two or more groups in conflict; the groups are pursuing different goals and are frustrated by the actions or demands of the other group(s).

The critical distinction is that in a Dilemma, all sides must win! In a Dispute one side might fare poorly, and even lose outright, but the enterprise would still continue. In the fight between shareholder profit and increasing employee wages (a dispute), the employees might lose out in some economies; they would most likely stay with the company for the sake of having a job at all. In the battle between low price and high quality (a dilemma), either option -- by itself -- would probably bankrupt the company. High quality at unbearable prices will lead to product envy, but not to sales. And low prices without an acceptable level of quality would lead to the same disastrous outcome.

< Copyright 2003 by Jerry L. Talley [ Home Page ]