strategy performance management organizational behavior


Thought Leadership & Strategy

Dealing with Dilemmas

Managers and consultants are obsessed with analysis. We think that if we have all the data, and are smart enough, we can solve all problems. Why is analysis so important? Analysis is only one style of dealing with problems. We seem to have forgotten all about synthesis, the opposite approach. Where analysis focuses on working within the boundaries of a certain domain (taking one big thing into smaller pieces), synthesis connects various domains. This is particularly useful when being confronted with something more fundamental than a straightforward problem, such as a dilemma.

Why are there no people calling themselves ‘synthesist’?

With this thought, I started writing on my new book: "Dealing with Dilemmas". Three years of research, many case studies, and a global survey are the result.

There are many ways to describe the difficult choices that we face. A dilemma can be defined as a situation requiring a choice between equally undesirable alternatives. It’s a state of being in which evils or obstacles present themselves on every side, and it is difficult to determine what course to pursue. It comes from the Greek terms “di-“ (two) and “lemma” (premise). If there are three options to choose from, this would be called a trilemma, and more than three options would lead to a polylemma. In practice, however, dilemma can be used to describe more than two options as well.

Although it means something entirely different, the term paradox is often used in relation to dilemmas.  A paradox is a self-contradicting statement or proposition that contains some truth. “I always lie” would be a paradox, or “One must sometimes be cruel to be kind”. The term paradox also has a Greek background. Para means ‘contrary to’ and doxa means ‘opinion’. In other words, a paradox represents something other than what you would normally think. Contrary to a dilemma, a paradox doesn’t force you to choose, it is more of a conceptual exercise.

A catch-22, from a military regulation in a novel of the same name (1961) by U.S. novelist Joseph Heller, is a frustrating situation in which one is trapped by contradictory regulations or conditions. For instance, safety regulations may require the use of certain materials in the kitchen of a restaurant, while health regulations clearly forbid it. Or, think of needing a physical address to open up a bank account; while the land lady requires you to show that you have a bank account before she accepts you as a tenant. Although not correct, a catch-22 is often referred to as a dilemma. Close to the term catch-22 is a Mexican stand-off, a strategic deadlock or impasse, in which no party can act in a way that ensures victory. In the western-movie cliché, it is portrayed as multiple people each pointing a gun to each other. The dilemma that it poses is what to do. Doing nothing doesn’t resolve the situation, lowering the gun creates vulnerability, while shooting leads to likely being shot as well.

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“Frank excels in taking a broader view on performance management, and in being able to formulate his inspiring ideas and observations in a clear and understandable way. A formidable combination.”

—Dr. Carsten Bange, Founder and Managing Director of Business Application Research Center (BARC)

“Buytendijk challenges best practices and offers a new view on decision making in business and public sector."

—Dr. Edmund Stoiber, former Minister-President, Bavaria, Germany

”Dealing with dilemmas is an integrated and perpetual challenge when developing an international business. This book takes an interesting and thought provoking deep dive into the intricacies lying behind all the important decisions we have to make every day.”

—Steen Riisgaard, CEO & President, Novozymes A/S

 “All executives face dilemmas. Frank Buytendijk, a performance management expert, does a terrific job of combining research, executive perspectives, and a practical view to improve our leadership skills and help us reconcile dilemmas.”

—Heidi Melin, Chief Marketing Officer, Polycom

"Dealing with Dilemmas is important reading for anyone involved in the development and implementation of corporate strategy. This book explains why most companies, using a purely analytical approach, fail in these endeavors. It provides keen insight into how to identify, understand, and address the dilemmas companies face. By following the innovative framework presented in this book, a company can increase its chances of success."

—Dr. Raef Lawson, Vice President of Research and Professor Emeritus, Institute of Management Accountants

"Frank Buytendijk's new book takes us on a personal, cultural, and organizational journey into the nature and art of decision making and strategic planning. Rather than reiterate time-worn treatises on these subjects, truly out-of-the-box thinker Buytendijk takes a different perspective, borrowing from philosophy, psychology, economics, and strategy management, and in the process shakes up our preconceptions until we see things in a new light."

—Wayne Eckerson, Director of TDWI Research

"How to deal with dilemmas is an important part of effective leadership. Strong leaders have a moral compass to guide them through difficult decisions. Buytendijk not only describes the strategic aspects of dilemmas, but also addresses the moral aspects of decision making.”

—General (ret.) Dick Berlijn, former Commander Dutch Armed Forces

"Frank has captured the essence of what confounds management today—a lack of willingness of senior leaders to encourage their teams to bring real issues to the executive suite.  Until leaders are willing to listen and help their companies solve complex dilemmas, they will be suboptimizing their organization’s full potential to meet customer needs."

—Bill Fitzsimmons, Chief Accounting Officer, Cox Communications, Inc.

"Analytics are really important for optimizing the business, but for reaching real breakthroughs where you optimize and innovate at the same time, you need more than crunching the numbers. Buytendijk provides many practical examples and new ways of thinking on how to achieve that."

—Jeroen van Breda Vriesman, Member of the Board, Achmea