A company wants to be known for innovation at the same time customers embrace it for its stability, to thrill shareholders with strong short-term revenue results and concurrently take actions to ensure long-term health. From those two examples alone, it should be easy to see how failure to manage a critical pair of opposites results in the company stumbling and, perhaps, failing.
Paradox thinking is “and” thinking. It is thinking that identifies pairs of opposites and determines how they are interdependent relative to a key goal. In the previous examples, one pair of opposites is “short-term revenue and long-term health.” They are interdependent because both are vital in achieving the goal of a thriving organization. Failure to manage the pair of opposites may result in the company going out of business; at the very least, it will result in its slow decline.
Affirm Health (real company with name changed) has ascended to the summit of its industry during its 100+ year history. It is one of the largest hospital systems in the United States, and in staying true to its aim to provide care regardless of ability to pay, it is a top provider of care to people who are uninsured and underinsured.
Affirm Health has a corporate structure that inherently involves two set of needs because it is a health-care system and a collection of hospitals. Affirm Health’s mission is to serve the healthcare needs of all people, including those who need assistance with paying. At the same time, the organization’s vision statement refers to a strong, vibrant health care business, which is something that cannot be accomplished without decent margins. The analogous tension between addressing needs of the community and corporate, or hospital, needs is also central for Affirm.