August 15, 2008 by  Ashley Guberman

There are some problems that are impossible to solve. For example, is it more important that we have flexibility in a time of rapid change to deal with customer demands, or that we have greater structures to prevent stupid mistakes?

The question itself is contrived, since we clearly need both structure AND flexibility. Yet within almost every IT and software development shop in the world, the battle between these two forces plays out in a variety of ways.

No matter where one sets the imaginary scale between these two poles, there are going to be challenges from the side that gets less attention. In fact, the very notion of “balance” between these two is also an illusion. Instead, it is a perpetually oscillating system, moving between one and the other based on choices.

Some common polarities within IT include:

  • Structure and Flexibility
  • Internal and External focus
  • Short Term and Long Term
  • Speed to Market and Quality

This PowerPoint slide deck represents how I made sense of the structure-flexibility polarity, based on the work of Barry Johnson and Polarity Management Associates.

  • I agree with the essence of your post. I don’t agree that there are any unsolvable problem. Balanced between structure and flexibility should drive an optimal environment where there are no problems at all. I have a company without a structure, without a problem, nowadays. I might have them in the future. But today I don’t have them.

    Good post.

  • I prefer to choose a nonlinear approach to problem solving declaring that there are mutiple available choices to create new paradigms.

    I loved the statement that balance is a perpetually oscillating system, moving between one and the other based on choices.

    The choice aspect is pivotal and can be the point of creation of a new paradigm between polarities. Choice has at its essence both positive and negative polarity. I think polarities are available at the whim of decision which allows the decision to alter creation with a new and unique paradigm. Choice can be influenced, but at any point, individual consciousness can simply change its thinking and the influence is null. The courage to choose comes as each individual’s personal responsiblity.

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