50 shades of problem solving

Sorry for the cheap reference, but I think it\’s appropriate in this case. Nothing is white or black (except colors, of course) it\’s only our perception.  The simplest way to be frustrated by life is to see things in black or white.  Sometimes, it appears that we have already solved that problem, but then it comes back again.

We tend to think that the way to success is kind of a straight line with some minor detours, when in reality, successful people are the first ones to admit that it took several iterations, a lot of tries and failures and some minor wins here and there.


Before studying my master degree, Polarity was a term only related to batteries. Then, I learned about this Polarity Management theory used in social science to solve problems.  I learned that when people are frustrated with something, they tend to compare their situation with an ideal one, which is the equivalent of comparing your backstage with someone\’s final presentation.   The moment when we\’re more disappointed and frustrated is usually the moment when we compare ourselves with successful people, but we don\’t know all the work it took for them to achieve what they got.

We  also become frustrated when we think in absolute terms and things don\’t work out the way we expect them to. For example, everyone knows that teamwork is a great way to achieve things, as it brings everyone\’s talents to the table and create synergies.  We also know that individual initiative and creativity can generate amazing results. Genius is the work of just one person. However, we cannot resolve every problem using only teamwork or working individually only. If we want to do it, we\’re only seeing nails when we\’re holding a hammer. 

When we\’re solving a problem, we forget the nuances of the problem and we want to stick with just one way of seeing (and approaching) the issue. When we do this, we forget that the two sides are interdependent and that everything has a positive and a negative side.

For example, in an office environment, we have people who are very independent and like to work by themselves, without supervision. We have also the other type of people, who are constantly verifying they\’re doing what is expected by checking with their managers. If we feel constrained by our managers and we say we prefer to be left by ourselves, we tend to idealize the opposite situation,  forgetting that both alternatives have a positive and a negative side.


Polarities are the contrast that help us perceive the complex reality of a situation. Polarity Management is helpful when you find yourself in a “this or that” decision: when you feel the need to choose between two seemingly divergent “poles”.  To manage polarities we need to:

-Identify the two different sides

-List the pros and cons of side A and side B

-Ask ourselves what would we achieve if we could we maximize the pros of both options, and minimize the cons.  That would bring a higher goal, instead of a polarized discussion or analysis.


1. Pick any \”either/or\” problem you\’re currently having.  Use a sheet of paper, draw a line in the middle horizontally, and another one, vertically, creating 4 quadrants.

2. Write the list of positive effects of side 1 in the top left, the negative effects of side 1 in the bottom left, and do the same for side 2.


Disappointment happens when we contrast the negative quadrant of one side, like B, with the positive quadrant of the other one, C.  We always try to move from B to C, but as both poles have positive and negative sides, the contrast and the polarity will always be present in our lives.

3. Try to find an alternative solution that minimizes the negative quadrants, instead of focusing on Pole 2 only; if you do this, the quadrant D will bring again more disappointment. 

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top