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....and many other thoughts about facilitation, coaching ( teams & individuals) and learning


  • David

‘Diversity’ from Ancient Chinese

When I hear the following Chinese saying idiom from a radio broadcast, it rings the bell.


This one is extracted from a conversation between a Tang Emperor and his ‘Prime Minister’ over 1,300 years ago.     The literal translation is:

You will be enlightened if you hear different opinion.   You will be muddled if you just hear opinion from one side.

This piece of advice is rather straight-forward.   We all know that we should hear different viewpoints.   But it is easy said than done.   We are so tempted to side toward opinion we would like to hear or those similar to ours.     In a way, it is a common sense but not a common practice.

There is another layer of connection for myself especially in the frame of Adaptive Leadership – If the problem is a technical one, we do not need much of different opinions.   We just need to identify who the expert is, and then follow the best practice.    Not necessarily easy to implement but we can be rather efficient in knowing what to do.    But if the situation is adaptive by nature, we need different interpretations on what is going on and ideas on how to approach the challenge.   More importantly, we need to create space for the people involved to air and hear different opinions.    This allows both emergent practice and people (and their thought to be exact) to change.

As an example, if the problem is about how to perform a successful heart surgery or produce the best credit analysis report, it is technical.   It is not easy but we can go to the experts.    But if the challenge is about how to make the patient live a healthier life or install sustainability as a company value, it is adaptive.   There is no best practice but just emergent ones.   The ‘leader’ (not necessarily the one in the authority position) need to listen to the people involved and mobilise as well as allow them to experiment.

I think in a way the challenges a Chinese emperor faced were largely adaptive by nature.   As such, cultivating diverse opinions was generally the way to go.

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