Paradox: Reframing an Abilene Yes While Working Beyond Icarus, Well-Living World 0718

well-living world 0718

A Story from an Office

“Come on,” Jamie Rictman said as she walked with Harold Beskfird to her office.“

"You are telling me, the VP actually said: Do more with less and the rest of the group said yes?”

Jamie was standing beside her desk chair.

“Well actually,” Harold said scratching the back of his ear, “No one said anything. They shrugged their shoulders and walked out. Jim and I stayed and asked more questions. And we still didn’t get any further.”

“However, I finally figured out what you meant about paradox when you shared the Abilene Paradox story, I didn’t get it. Now I do.” Harold reached for his cell phone as it vibrated on his hip.

“Best go – I have to do less with more.” Harold was chuckling as he walked down the hall to his work station.

Jamie smiled. He had a quick wit.

***** Background

Harold has been a manager for two years and willingly admits he still has a lot to learn. He appreciates Jamie’s 10 minute presentations at the monthly managers’ meeting. Also, he is her frequent lunch partner so he can learn even more. 

In her new role as human resource specialist, Jamie had found a way to share her management-leadership learning from 12 years in the operations department.

Also, she was putting into practice ideas gleaned from her masters in leadership, which had taken her just under three years to complete.

During her transformational leadership course - she coined the Alchemy of Leadership  - she was introduced to terms and concepts of paradox and its livingness in organizations.

Now, thinking back on what the VP had said – do more with less – it had her think about her paradox presentation the previous week.

Sitting in her chair she found the folder marked Paradox. And began to reread her notes:


Paradox is an apparently true statement that seems to lead to a contradiction or to a situation that defies intuition.
Examples include:
• Fight for peace
• More haste, less speed
• People can have it [the Model-T] in any color, as long as it's black. 
Henry Ford

Abilene Paradox

Abilene Paradox is a paradox in which the limits of a particular situation force a group of people to act in a way that is directly the opposite of their actual preferences. It is a phenomenon that occurs when groups continue with misguided activities which no group member desires because no member is willing to raise objections.

A short story:
Abilene, TX. 
A family is sitting on the porch. It is a hot day, and the father suggests they drive into Abilene for ice cream. The family look at each other, and say okay. After the drives in and back, no one feels more refreshed. In chatting they find no one really wanted to go; they went because that is what they thought everyone wanted to do.

Saying yes when you really mean no! 

Looking up from the page, Jamie thought about how everyone said yes to the VP’s statement by walking out at the end of the meeting. She knew from lived experience that the managers, the organization, and the clients would be better served if they had stayed and said no.

Then, she remembered what a manager had said at the follow-up meeting to her presentation about “how your strengths can become your weaknesses.” And she also remembered him saying something about Icarus.

Turning to her computer, she searched for Icarus and added the following notation and question to her folder:


Icarus, of Greek mythology, was given wings made of wax and feathers. It is told, he became exhilarated with his wings and flew too close to the sun. In doing so, the wax melted and Icarus fell into the sea and drown.

That is, the strength of his wings was the weakness that contributed to his death.

The same thing happens in organizations.
In doing business, how do we succeed, yet not allow success to go to our heads?

As a sidebar notation, Jamie wrote:

"If we do more with less, our strength will affect us in negative ways. People will burn out and cost us in absenteeism or we will eventually deliver inferior products because something has to give."

In bold print she wrote, “There must be another way to frame the situation, another way to do business!”

Clicking on the email program, she sent a note to the VP requesting a meeting to chat about the paradox he was asking his staff to work through.
She knew she had to intervene for the well-being of everyone involved.


In Closing Well-Living World 0718 ...  insights similar to above will unfold in the months ahead. They support the Eco_Creation of the Well-Living World through co-creating the well-living workplace and living an extraordinary life.

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