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4.4 out of 5 stars
Polarity Management: Identifying and Managing Unsolvable Problems
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24 of 26 people found the following review helpful
on December 10, 1998
Johnson presents a clear path to understanding and managing the dilemmas of our modern and post-modern society. He provides a method of mapping a polarity (or paradox or dilemma) that bridges into systems thinking. Once you get what he is saying, you will never see the world the same. Do not be fooled by the simplicity of this - Johnson shares great truths needed today. I cannot imagine how this book has remained the best-kept secret in management and systems thinking.
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15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on March 13, 2000
Polarity Management is one of my favorite "business" books of all time. Johnson's theory, which explains the dynamics of polarized issues, is so simple yet so comprehensive. This book is a must-read for anyone who wants to understand why major issues can be so divisive and how we can move forward when we seem to be at a standstill.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on March 21, 2006
This book really shows how we become stuck in dilemmas and static thinking, and how we can instead move at one with change. I am finding it tremendously helpful in analyzing entrenched organizational dysfunction that persists in spite of the efforts of well-meaning managers.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
I bought this back in December 2011 when I was scrounging around for books on panarchy (see for instance, Panarchy: Understanding Transformations in Human and Natural Systems. It stayed in my pile as other books moved because my first impression was that it was more complicated than I cared to deal with and might - shudder -- even include mathematical formulas. I was wrong.

This is a very straight forward book that I recommend as a read-ahead or work book for any group seeking to radically evolve their internal decision making processes away from the current standard of "I talk, you listen; I decide, you obey." It has clear charts, the right amount of white space, and I put it down thinking very well of the book.

Panarchy is an evolution of the whole systems approach to anything, with the clarity and integrity of FEEDBACK LOOPS among the elements being the core of any successful system. If everyone does not talk; if everyone does not listen; if everyone does not decide; if everyone does not act in harmonization with all others, system failure is inevitable.

Interesting to me, because Harrison Owen is a friend and mentor, this book is a restatement, in panarchic terms, of his path-finding work, Open Space Technology: A User's Guide--I also recommend his more recent Wave Rider: Leadership for High Performance in a Self-Organizing World.

I focus a lot on INTEGRITY and am well pleased that that single word is the most frequently searched term at Phi Beta Iota the Public Intelligence Blog, yielding my several posts on the subject. The USA specifically, but governments, corporations, academia, non-profits, even civil society elements such as Occupy, labor unions, and religions, have all lost whatever semblance of integrity they might once have possessed.

This book does a very fine job of illuminating how both INDIVIDUALS **and** ORGANIZATIONS must have integrity and must be committed to the panarchic system of connectedness, resistance, release, reorganization, exploitation, conservation, and repeat toward optimal potential in the face of any given set of circumstances.

In other words, Integrity is not about sticking to what you know (all the polarities), it is about being open at all times to inputs, about being engaged at all times with all stakeholders, and about seeking mutually beneficial outcomes. I deal with a lot of people who are arrogant, ignorant, generally have way more authority than they merit, having slimed their way to the top in a system that rewards uncontroversial average--what none of them get is that LISTENING is remedial education for those who stopped learning 20 years ago, and that in LISTENING lies the basis for meeting halfway and understanding that the "party line" is flawed and needs fixing.

The books includes seven supplements, illustrated short stories, and they are one reason I recommend this book as a read-ahead for conferences or meetings.

In an interesting and valuable way, this book sits at the cross section of doing democracy, of evolutionary consciousness, of citizen and indigenous wisdom, of management and innovation, of leadership and political activism. It is generic in its utility, and I say that intending it as a recommendation.

Here are a few other books that come to mind as useful in this book's context, for those who would aspire to nurture the community into the 21st century.

Radical Man: The Process of Psycho-Social Development
The exemplar: The exemplary performer in the age of productivity
The Knowledge Executive
The Tao of Democracy: Using co-intelligence to create a world that works for all
Society's Breakthrough!: Releasing Essential Wisdom and Virtue in All the People
Doing Democracy: The MAP Model for Organizing Social Movements
Conscious Evolution: Awakening Our Social Potential

See my other 1800 reviews, all leading back to Amazon, at Phi Beta Iota the Public Intelligence Blog. See especially my two lists of books reviews, both easily found online:

Worth a Look: Book Review Lists (Positive)

Worth a Look: Book Review Lists (Negative)

Robert Steele
THE OPEN SOURCE EVERYTHING MANIFESTO: Transparency, Truth & Trust
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on April 8, 1999
In this book Johnson provides us with a framework to understand the nature of dilemmas. Easy to read, the simplicity of Polarity Management belies its explanatory power in handling paradox and in so doing transforms our view of dealing with difficulties. This book is an important and satisfying read that does provide the reader with a genuinely new paradigm in thinking rare in these days of overhyped publications.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on April 17, 2014
Initially, when I read the first chapter, I thought this was a very interesting concept. I believe very strongly that many of the decisions we have to make in our personal and professional lives are unfairly categorized as binary...we fund a project, or not...we buy a new house, or not...polarity management (PM) argues that many of the "fixes" that managers implement at work (eg; centralizing decision-making when too much of the decision-making is the field) just set us up for a pendulum of back and forth.

Using PM would have a manager consider the upside for both "poles" and do her best to keep the decision-making in a best of both worlds status, as long as can be managed. In theory, I do think this is an interesting way of discussing pole-based issues. The book is easily twice as long as it should be and I didn't find the examples to be terribly relevant.

Another issue to bring up is that PM exists on the basis that there are two poles. This can limit decision-making and crush creativity.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on January 8, 2007
The invisible fog is trying to solve a problem that can't be solved. It is a fog because the solutions don't work, and it is invisible because focusing on solutions prevents seeing that there isn't a problem to be solved. There is no magic bullet here, and Johnson acknowledges that. What is here are tools for coping with (managing) dualities or polarities inherent in many troublesome situations. Johnson provides the clarity to get above the fog and find a way to address (manage) the situation.

The concepts and underlying explanation are a solid 5-star.

Four stars because I found just a bit too much padding/repetition for a 5 star book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on November 9, 2012
Barry Johnson's book heightens the readers' awareness of polarities that play themselves out in our everyday lives.

If one can accept the notion that there are many unsolvable problems, the reader can take solace in becoming engaged with the author's thorough explanation of how to identify and manage these polarities. By doing so, the vignettes described are energizing and provide teachable moments.

Some of the lessons of the book are:

We are taught to look at both the upside and downside of polarities.
We see and feel what Johnson calls the `tradition bearing' and `crusading' patterns of behavior.
We see and feel that by considering at all sides of a situation, we can participate in a healthy dance between them.
We rush `to be right' rather than becoming `accurate and complete.'

While some of the concepts are at first difficult to grasp, paradoxically, by following the principles of polarity management itself, the lessons learned can be very powerful and worth the journey.
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on December 26, 2013
I have long been familiar with the difference between 'both/and' vs, 'either/or' thinking and its application to leadership development. This book takes an In depth look at how to more fully understand how this plays out in all sorts of ways in life, career, relationships...you name it. My coaching clients are learning to question their assumptions and realizing they have more options than they thought. In today's VUCA world (see Kevin Cashman's Pause Principle), the ability to explore polarities and the cycle we can get wrapped up into is a huge advantage. Easy to understand with great examples. Really don't even need a coach to gain the benefits.
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on January 6, 2015
Clear and concise; the book teaches great concepts for businesses and individuals. It’s worth a read. I find it helpful when working with groups to go through processes described so that we understand what things would actually look like when they are going well. While we all love to lean on our strengths there's an equilibrium that is necessary to keep work moving forward. This book describes that in a very concrete and clear picture.
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