Polarity Management: Identifying and Managing Unsolvable Problems

by Barry Johnson. Human Resource Development Press, 2014.

Have you ever had an organizational problem that could never seem to be resolved and somehow shouldn’t be? That’s the intriguing premise raised in 'Polarity Management: Identifying and Managing Unsolvable Problems' by Barry Johnson. Leaders will find an essential skill in problem solving by recognizing problems that are polarities needing to be managed. The book changes leaders’ views of issues by analyzing dynamic polarities that are part of community life, including relevant case studies and applications. One such application is the current fad to decentralize decision-making. Understood as a dynamic, the trend toward participatory decision-making will always be in tension with the pole of centralized authority and accountability. Polarity management includes developing five skills to help address such tensions: identifying the poles, understanding the positive and negative aspects of each pole, recognizing how people experience the polarities, maximizing the upside and minimizing the downside, and coaching leaders in language that mediates rather than exacerbates problems. Everyone will appreciate the readily usable diagrams for committee and group work. Polarity management is an essential tool for congregations in conflict—especially congregations that get stuck on a particular issue. It could be used for a variety of settings from a governing board retreat to an adult education discussion.