This concept points to the trade offs required when solving wicked problems and the act of bouncing between focal points that are mutually exclusive in order to manage successfully.

A polarity, or paradox, is a situation in which opposing forces within a system, pull at each other to keep things balanced. But, like inhaling and exhaling, each “pole” can’t exist without the other. ~ Larry Clark

Some issues are unsolvable and yet require addressing. By unsolvable, we simply mean not a solitary answer that is right consistently over time. Many complex questions might be better thought of as navigating two or more tensions. Interdependent issues that seem opposite. Neither pole, in its absolute, is acceptable, nor is there is a stable place somewhere between the poles that can be held in an enduring way. We can sense whether polarity management is appropriate with a simple set of questions. If yes, to all four, then we might benefit from using polarity management.

  • Is the problem ongoing?
  • Are these two points of view interdependent?
  • Are there upsides to both points of view?
  • Will focusing on the upside of one point, to the neglect of the other, undermine efforts to be successful?

Thus polarity management is the process of dancing between the polar opposites, aware of the gifts and promises of each pole as well as the loss from straying too far from the other pole and the dark side or expression. For example, Transparency and Privacy might be thought of as poles. Complete transparency might be running around naked with your bank balance tattooed to your skin for all to see. Complete privacy might be making the person invisible to all of society including their friends and loved ones. How do we live into the question of managing the tensions between the poles without suffering from absolutist terms?