Wendy Smith Transcript

Wendy Smith is a professor at the University of Delaware and Co-founder and Co-director of the Women’s Leadership Initiative. Mrs. Smith has recently concluded, alongside her co-author Marianne Lewis, her brand new book ‘Both/And Thinking: Embracing Creative Tensions to Solve Your Toughest Problems‘.

The Concept of Paradox

Mrs. Smith wrote the previously mentioned book because of her academic engagement with the concepts of paradox and ANDing. The idea of paradox stems from eons ago in Ancient Greek Philosophy, and its groundwork lies in the teachings of Socrates.

Socrates is the founder of Western philosophy and introduced the concept of ethics in thought and dialogue. His well-known phrase, “The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing”, paved the way for introducing paradoxes in Philosophy and Science.

Mrs. Smith addresses the concept of paradox by bringing forth the notorious liar’s paradox. The latter entails the idea that if someone lies and explicitly states the action of lying, he ends up telling the truth.

These mind games can go forever and have a tremendous effect on all aspects of life, personally or professionally-wise. Paradoxes are abundant in all the contradictory ideas arising from our heads, and Mrs. Smith believes that our decisions should incorporate both aspects of a contradiction.

Mrs. Smith states that our decisions should not only derive from the either and or aspects of a dilemma, and we should include a both/and’ way of thinking. From this notion emerges the process of ANDing that Mrs. Smith is very fond of and has used repeatedly throughout her career.

The Incorporation of ANDing in Leadership

Leaders often opt for the more uncomplicated and popular solution instead of the proper one. The latter would give them headaches, and the possible condemnation from the crowds would prevent them from acting decisively.

The inability to act decisively and according to their ethical code is the opposite of authenticity. Mrs. Smith believes a Leader should exude authenticity, take a stand in essential conundrums and offer a diplomatic solution. All the above are feasible only by adopting the practices of ANDing.

Upon a difficult decision, a leader should reflect on all the aspects governing the issue at hand and employ a meticulous approach to his solution. Mrs. Smith addresses the matter eloquently with the following slightly paraphrased phrase: “The more a leader thinks about ideas, the more effectively he can implement them and raise novel questions”.


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The Four Types of Paradox

According to Mrs. Smith’s latest book, there are four types of paradoxes: Performing, Learning, Organizing, and Belonging. The explanation of these types of paradoxes is in the following paragraphs:

1. Performing Paradoxes

Mrs. Smith has a to-the-point definition of performing paradoxes: They are the tensions emerging due to competing outcome demands. A prominent example is a contradiction of what should be the primary role of a person in his/her life. Should someone be an exceptional provider or a caretaker for the family?

Another characteristic example stems from the wake of the recent pandemic. The public was divided on which topic governments should prioritize: The economy of their countries or their people’s physical and mental health? As it turned out, both of these aspects of life are significant, and one reinforces the other.

2. Learning Paradoxes

The learning paradoxes are tensions comprising the short- and long-term actions. Many people struggle to decide when is the ideal time to invest in their future while dealing with a demanding everyday life. The same also applies to businesses.

Mrs. Smith claims that many companies concurrently organize their current affairs daily while investing in the future. Several people view this concurrent planning as a contradiction, but Mrs. Smith insists that today’s effectiveness mirrors an equivalent success in the future, as one action reinforces the other.

3. Organizing Paradoxes

The organizing paradoxes comprise the Modus Operandi of an individual or a team. Some people prefer to sort things out independently, while others opt for a collaborative approach. The individual process usually entails the exhibition of competitiveness.

Colossal companies find collaborating difficult, even on worthwhile causes, such as adopting Environmental Initiatives. For instance, Oil companies implement different policies regarding reducing their carbon emissions. These differences originate solely in their hunt for maximum profit, and abiding by a joint Environmental Initiative contradicts their competitive nature.

Mrs. Smith believes that organizing paradoxes stem from the tension between collaborating and competing. The exact analogues on an individual level are the tensions between giving and taking and the tendency to be reactive or proactive.

4. Belonging Paradoxes

Belonging paradoxes mainly comprise existential questions referring to a person’s identity. Many people build their identities based on a sole quality, such as an excellent parent or a flawless professional.

They cannot 9compartmentalize their personality into different sections and allow themselves to experience the occasional failure. This behavior is predominant in politics, where Conservative and Liberal politicians follow only their myopic views without realizing that an opposing stance is occasionally beneficial to the public. Therein lies the problems of either/or thinking.

The Problems of Either/Or Thinking

There are three vicious cycles encompassing the either/or thinking, which are the following:

1) The cycle of intensification, where people are entirely set in their ways and continue implementing the same course of action. The aftermath of such behavior is getting stuck in an unpleasant situation; for instance, staying in a dead-end job.

2) The second vicious cycle entails the slow deterioration of the situation for the individual as the world around changes rapidly.

3) The third vicious cycle occurs during the last part of the deterioration process, where the individual loses the sense of direction. The latter usually includes the adoption of the opposing view and the abolition of qualities of the former self.

The Both/And Thinking and the Paradox Traps

The loss of someone’s qualities is not the scope of both/and thinking. Introducing this novel way of thinking requires rewiring someone’s brain to classify an alternative approach as a possibility. Both/and thinking recognize that life is full of options, and identifying paradoxes is essential in adopting this innovative way of thinking.

The implementation of an innovative way of thinking is not as straightforward as it seems, though. People tend to be highly egotistical in their thinking process and detest the idea of being erroneous. Therefore, they fell into the emotional part of ego and tendency to always be right.

The only way to circumvent this destructive thinking process is to develop empathy for other people’s tensions. Mrs. Smith states that the ability to comprehend the perspectives of others is a fundamental step in practicing both/and thinking and experiencing identity transformation.

In Wrapping Up-The Paradox System

The Paradox System is a framework developed by Mrs. Smith and her peers comprising the assumptions, boundaries, comfort, and dynamics of individuals in their way of developing both/and thinking.

The assumptions are the hypotheses and stances people have on different subjects, while the boundaries are the extents an individual is willing to follow that contradict his/her worldview. The exact opposite of boundaries is comfort, and dynamics consist of all the changes occurring throughout the ongoing process of solving a problem.

Mrs. Smith concludes with the notion that paradoxical mindsets comply with the following conditions:

1) They operate effortlessly in an environment with tensions

2) They are willing to abide by both sides of the tension and adjust to the most efficient solution.

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