This work is co-authored with Dr. Terence Tse
The phrase "50 shades of grey" conjures up non-business images for most of us who have heard or read the book by that name. Those images aside, the idiom is a good reminder that a lot exists between pure black and pure white. Taken further, the world we live is in not binary, just "on or off"; "yes or no". Various considerations like context, priorities, and desired outcomes create many possibilities between black and white.
So it follows that in business, the black and white perspective of "my idea/proposal/product is good, yours is bad" ignores innumerable possibilities between the two extremes. Yet seeing and defining those possibilities can be extremely challenging without a framework for doing so.
Imagine you are a CEO, striving to implement your ideas, yet the organization is unwilling to support your efforts. Do you take an authoritative approach, effectively saying: "my view is good; yours is bad". Do you abandon your plans, suggesting: "mine is bad; yours is good"? Or, is there another way?
To facilitate a solution, we offer three important points:
1) Opposing views are difficult to reconcile. This requires a mindset shift to do so.
2) One view is not necessarily better than another. Two conflicting views can be "correct", or "good". So rather than "good" versus "bad", consider "good" versus "good".
3) When we recognize the "good" of a conflicting proposal, we are more likely to reach a solution and an amicable one.
But seeing the good in conflicting ideas takes effort. One must first take the time to identify their own values--or Goods--before identifying the Goods of others in order to reach a mutually beneficial outcome. To that end, and based on seven years of research across 30 cultures around the world, John C. Beck has identified "Eight Great Goods" that drive our decisions, assumptions and judgments.
Life: For many people this is considered the top Good, understandably. But it also includes items that prolong it, like health and nutrition.
Relationships: People need social interactions as much as they need sustenance; they yearn for family, schools, and communities, even if requires accepting trappings like hierarchy and power.
Stability: Human beings are remarkably good at adapting to change, but that doesn't mean they always like it. Many prefer, and even insist on, the status quo to ensure security.
Growth: This refers to the need for economic well-being and other material gains.
Individuality: People crave and seek human interaction, but also their own "space", desiring to maintain freedom in their personal and work lives.
Joy: Who doesn't like to have fun? Although, there are those who pursue it to a greater degree than others.
Belief: Many people want to believe that there is meaning behind their existence. Religion is one form of belief, but not the only one. Some people hold other qualities and causes in high regard.
Equality: This Good holds that everyone should have the same rights, and follow the same set of rules. No one should be treated differently.
Beck's research revealed that it is relatively easy for people to prioritize personal Goods.
And one more crucial finding: most of us do not prioritize the Goods in the same way.
In Beck's survey of over 2000 Americans, 92% of respondents had completely unique Goods priorities--only a few people shared the same ranking. This difference in prioritization is at the heart of disagreement and conflict, as we've seen in political, social, economic, and religious disputes. And the way we prioritize our Goods (conscious or not) governs our behavior. Therefore, if we want to change behavior, we need to understand how we prioritize our own Goods, and how others do as well.
Prioritizing the Goods may sound too simplistic to be considered useful in a day-to-day business decisions--this is why we believe it has been overlooked. The Goods are helpful in another way: the framework gives us a language that allows us to label what is most important to us, communicate with each other, and finally begin to understand each other.
Because when we don't, the differences can be disastrous. For example, a major US business school inadvertently became the poster child for a badly run institution. How did this happen? It came down to the Goods. A post mortem of events showed that top administrators saw Relationships as the greatest Good of the school; connecting with various stakeholders, and keeping its faculty and staff happy. But faculty leaders were focused on Growth and Individuality.
They advocated for a smaller MBA program to free them from teaching in order to pursue lucrative roles in consulting and executive education. Administrators wanted to keep the relationships with Board members and faculty amicable. In so doing, they allowed student numbers to atrophy from 1500 to 150 in 15 years. A large state university has saved the school from bankruptcy, yet most faculty members have lost their jobs.
When we use the Eight Great Goods to understand why conflict and disconnects exist, they can lead to exceptional outcomes. A business organization introduced its consultants to the framework. The executive team prioritized their personal Goods and compared them to the priorities that drove decision-making and resource allocation in the company. The uniformity of the executives' personal priorities was striking: all but one placed Joy as their top Good.
But there was a disconnect between their personal Goods and those of the organization. (Goods can be determined for any organization, even a nation!) The executive team realized Joy was no longer a top organizational priority. The team had been making decisions based on Growth, Stability, and Relationships instead. Based on their findings, the company's leadership decided to make a large investment in employee education in order to introduce more Joy (the "joy of learning") in their employee's lives. Tens of thousands of employees have taken advantage of the opportunity, resulting in a skills increase and greater loyalty to the company.
The concept of "Good versus Good" is not just a way of approaching business. The Goods allow us to get to the root of our thinking and behavior quickly. They allow us to understand where people are coming from. This allows us to transform our differences into common ground, and make better business. That's when grey becomes a beautiful color. That's when it's all good.
P.S. Special thanks to John C. Beck for having inspired us in thinking in terms of "Goods" . His work is monumental.