When I was in business school I was preparing for an interview and one of the career counselors gave me this piece of advice – “beware of the false dichotomy”. The example she used was a typical interview question – “are you creative or analytical?” It’s easy to fall prey to the trap and pick one. It’s particularly easy as we often place ourselves in these traps ourselves – even though there is absolutely no reason one cannot be both creative AND analytical. I see this with children as well – Mary is the “studious” child and her brother John is “athletic” or “social”. Of course we know perfectly well that there is no inherent conflict between these traits and, in fact, they can be mutually reinforcing.
I see this phenomenon in the workplace. A person or team has multiple priorities they need to juggle – perhaps projects for multiple customers or different products – and of course not enough time and resources. When we are problem solving the situation I will often hear the request for me to choose one of the competing projects for them to do. While I may be able to indicate which has higher priority, the reality may be that all the projects on the employee’s plate need to be done to meet the business need. Few businesses are successful with one customer (or customer segment) or even one product. Success requires this juggling of multiple priorities. That does not mean we do not set limits. Too much juggling and our attention and therefore quality of work lets down. Nevertheless, managing competing priorities is part of life – we can fight it or embrace the variety and challenge.