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The Tyranny of the OR vs. The Power of the AND

Posted by Chip Block on May 24, 2020 10:10 AM EDT
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Among researcher and author Jim Collins' many books is the very popular one and the first in his series of fine business books, called....

..."Built to Last".  In this initial book, which was precursor to others, Collins presented key findings from empirical research based on the enduring success of 11 businesses that had been in business by more than 15 years before besting the annual returns of the S&P 500 by 15% or more for more than 15 years.  While today only one of those 11 companies (Circuit City) has not endured and was not "built to last", even Circuit City has found continued long-term success through its CarMax business which has proved to continue the Circuit City legacy and key purposes beyond the initial business' long life.

The book offers a number of interesting theories that the research uncovered and these theories are described in interesting ways.  Some examples of this are:  Getting the right people on the bus, the Hedge Hog principle and the Power of the AND versus the Tyranny of the OR.  Of these cleverly presented theories, and in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and all health conditions improvements at scale, I'd like to focus a brief message of support for "the power of the AND vs. the tyranny of the OR.

In political discussions, in the media and as it affects our country, the United States and the world, there is lively and impressive debate around whether solving the COVID-19 pandemic crisis should be the role of the Federal government or is it a Federalist model whereby the solutions are done entirely by the states and the local communities within the states.  (This debate lives on whether it is COVID-19 or chronic diseases in general, substance use disorder, poverty, jobs and civic engagement-and many other socio-economic issues.  The debate has deep roots in the guts of corporate culture and is often seen as centralization versus decentralization, command and control versus open management or business integration versus strategic aligned conglomerates).

Since I do not postulate that I am an expert in either Collins' theories or their applications or in any and all of the large-scale socio-economic challenges of our lifetime, I want to offer a quote from real experts.  The quote is from three professors at Christopher Newport University in an Opinions pages editorial in today's (Sunday, May 24, 2020) edition of The Virginian-Pilot.  According to the newspaper, the piece was authored by William Donaldson who is a management professor and expert on systems thinking, Nathan Harter who is a professor of leadership studies and expert on ethics and critical thinking, and Benjamin Lynerd who is a policitical science professor and democratic theorist.

The three professors' piece essentially made a powerful case in support of the impact of COVID-19 as having a potentially positive consequence of pushing forward more active civic engagement in the causes that matter.  Not just through voting or open discussion, but through action.  They offered three foundations that supported their logical conclusion that the ultimate answers to these vexing, solvable and enormously important types of societal problems lies in having more civic engagement and that more involvement by citizens as members of collaborative efforts to resolve these issues is needed and may be spurred on by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

And the most powerful part of their Op-Ed piece as the final paragraph, and I quote: "Far beyond the immediate crises it has triggered, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought to light a host of long-term challenges that the nation will have to address relating to health, public and private debt, deep social fissures and the functionality of American federalism.  Skilled politicians will not be enough to address these challenges.  We will need citizens who understand the system, who are willing to step up and lead, and who are capable of doing so for the common good".

Extraordinary eloquence in three sentences.  And, as it relates to the theory Jim Collins presented in his writing more than two decades ago....it is not for the government to determine, OR for free enterprise to resolve, OR for the nonprofit community to deal with OR for individual citizen volunteers to manage.  Rather, it is for all sectors to resolve together.  So, it's not Centralization OR Decentralized execution because the concept of the OR can be limiting.  The real Power is in the AND.  Thus, it is for each of the entities that make up the full sprectrum of community health improvement AND the group as a whole to collaboratively develop, implement and manage a better system which leverages the resources each sector brings.  Collective Impact evolves to Community Action.

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