In a speech defending an increase of troops in Iraq, George W Bush famously stated: "either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.'' This statement is a classic false dichotomy. Two options are presented as if two and only two options exist. In this example, the implication is that if you are not in support of additional troops in Iraq, then you must be a supporter of terrorism. Clearly, there are other alternatives. Hence, the dichotomy is a false one.
The danger with false dichotomies is that they can be very persuasive. We can easily be led to believe that two and only two options exist, where in fact there may be many other options. A person who wants to guide you into a particular decision, may deliberately avoid showing you the other options that are available. Before making a decision, it's important to ensure you have considered multiple options, to avoid falling into this trap.
In business, a popular false dichotomy implies that you need to choose between formulating strategy or implementing it. There can often be an element of snobbery on either side of the equation. In reality, strategy and implementation are integrally linked. Business owners don't have a choice to focus on one or the other. Of course, you need to think ahead and scan your external environment to set your direction for the future. But clearly your strategy isn't going to get far if you don't have the resources and motivation to see it through. So, strategy and implementation go hand-in-hand and need to be considered together, not separately.
It's a bit like watching a live concert pianist at work. What you notice about professional pianists and other musicians, is that they play the music from memory. Performing great music is about more than just playing the notes. Not only have they memorised the score, but they've internalised the music, its nuances and its meaning, so that they can tell the composer's story with passion and energy.
When we see people perform in the business world, there's often a disjunct between what the composer has written in the score and what the player performs on the stage. Strategies and plans may be written down, but not internalised. Systems and processes may be cumbersome, overly complex and unwieldy to implement. Musicians can memorise music because music has patterns and harmonies that make sense. Music is not a random collection of disjointed notes.
Likewise, in business, your strategies and plans need to make sense. They need to be in harmony with your vision and values and clear enough for everyone to internalise. A random hotchpotch of systems and processes that don't work together, or don't work towards the overall vision, will never help the business progress and will inevitably be abandoned while people revert to playing the tunes they know.
To avoid being trapped by false dichotomies, take the time to stop and think critically before you respond to a situation where you're given only two options. Ask yourself:
Are these two things really mutually exclusive, or are they interlinked?
Are these two options really the only ones, or could there be others?
If you want your business to perform at its best, you need to design your business the way a composer writes music, with an overall vision for the story to be told, with patterns and themes that fit that vision and with harmonies that make sense. To do this, you need to look beyond the obvious choices and avoid the double jeopardy that could hold your business back.