How the middle ground could be your gold mine


I had a discussion with a colleague recently who discovered he had a leaning towards the stronger end of black-and-white thinking. In other words, there wasn’t a lot of middle ground for him. It was a bit of a revelation. Not so much a revelation to realise he had that thinking style, he was already aware of that - but a revelation to uncover what it meant for him and his team at work.


For those with a black-and-white thinking style, their language and thoughts, are either one or the other end of the continuum. Good/bad, happy/sad, right/wrong, inspiring/boring etc. It can leave little room for perspective or ponder. And if the issue presented is an emotional one, then this thinking style could trigger an over-dramatic response. Constructive criticism from your boss, may lead to thoughts of “I’m hopeless” or “he/she’s an idiot” - rather than “thanks for your feedback - I’d love to discuss further to make sure I’m really clear on your requirements”.


Our language and thoughts are a mirror into our beliefs, and our beliefs are the lens through which we perceive reality. This means you view events and experiences either at one end of the continuum or the other. Is that a bad thing? You could say that quite often the middle ground is actually a little bit … well, grey. A bit in between. Kind of no-man’s land. Boring?


I actually think you’re missing out. The middle ground opens up a whole new world of possibilities. New conversations that travel down interesting roads. Blue Ocean strategies aren’t created with black-and-white thinking. Blue Ocean strategies require thinking that initially asks more questions, than gives answers. Black-and-white thinking doesn’t ask questions. It gives answers that are absolute.


Back to my colleague. If you have a black-and-white thinking style and you lead a team of people, you will no doubt be making decisions throughout your day. Some decisions will simply require your specialist expertise, so you’ll be tapping into that well of knowledge for a factual response. Other decisions will require creativity. A new idea may be presented to you that could change the course (and success) of a project. If you’re a black-and-white thinker and you’re operating under pressure, the chances are you’ll make a quick decision based on your habitual thinking style such as “no, that idea won’t work”.


And that’s exactly what my colleague discovered. He suddenly realised that he wasn’t considering the possibilities of the grey. The idea didn’t have to fall into the “will work/won’t work” category but instead the “let’s explore that idea further” category. He was able to put this self-insight into action immediately and gain better results.


And you never know, it may not end up being grey, but instead a fantastic new black-and-white-striped-with-red-spots idea.