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Philosophy News Posted on Aug 26

Yin and Yang in Business

The Chinese are up to something

In life and according to the ancient Chinese philosophers, yin-yang (commonly referred to as ‘’yin and yang’’) represents the idea that opposing concepts can co-exist together in a complementary way, and actually enhance each other’s qualities. Yin and yang can be found in all areas of our physical reality: feminine vs. masculine, darkness vs. light, warmth vs. cold, strength vs. weakness, logic vs. emotions. Moreover, not only can yin not exist without yang, but they actually make the whole greater, comprising an inseparable union of two different, yet cohesive parts.

Business is just another part of our greater lives, and there, too, we are often faced with yin-yang on a daily basis. Do we improve the working environment of employees at the expense of having less budget to invest in innovation? Do we advance in our careers, at the expenses of precious time we could be spending with our families, or travelling?

If time is the new currency, why is society always there to remind us that being successful means being financially well-off and having as much stuff and funds as possible? Many fall into the trap of the physical wealth race, only to realise one day that without the time to enjoy it, money in the bank account amounts to nothing more than a few virtual zeros that you can look at occasionally. Finding the equilibrium in life and in business is a sophisticated art form and one of the greatest challenges of our generation.

Remedying conflicting priorities

No matter what decision we make, we are only right half of the time, and that’s something we need to come to terms with. No decision is perfect, yet it is the best decision at the time, given the knowledge, priorities and resources we are working with. And that’s just good enough in most cases. In hindsight, we often wish we did things differently but that is an unproductive exercise that is sure to result in anxiety and regrets. Just like yin and yang are neither good, nor bad, so are decisions that are perfect and those that are less than informed. The conflicting priorities and desires we have at work and in our personal lives, are in Taoist philosophy, not something we should dread and try to escape, rather, they are natural events that we need to embrace and appreciate. Without hard work, vacation wouldn’t taste so sweet. Without challenging goals, achieving them wouldn’t be so rewarding. Without research and investigation, solutions wouldn’t be so complete.

Redefining success

Happiness and success in modern day terms have come to mean financial prosperity, career achievements and status in society, while in nature, positive energy is generated from contributing to our environment, bettering ourselves and finding balance between working and resting, learning and reflecting, giving and taking. The Millennial generation and those who came after it no longer value material possessions as much as free time to pursue one’s interests and passions. They are able to sense, more than their parents or grandparents ever did, how fleeting possessions and status can be, and are thus more keen to collect memories and experiences above things.

Applying yin-yang to leadership

When it comes to traditional leadership models, the prevalence of male (yang) energy is considered the winning model. Leaders have been expected to be stern, logical and unemotional. Thus, today there is a disproportionate number of men in the highest corporate and political positions. Women are considered weak, emotional, and thus unreliable. Their qualities are discounted, creating a disbalance in how most large corporations are run today. The result? Unscrupulous hiring, manufacturing and sourcing practices whose aim is efficiency, speed and cost savings above all, often at the price of disrespecting labour laws or unfairly treating factory workers or local suppliers. In a nutshell, much taking takes place without giving back in return, in the form of reinvesting profits into bettering local communities, education, environmentally sustainable practices and fair trade + wages.

This trend, fortunately, isn’t sustainable and emotionally intelligent leaders around the world are slowly acknowledging this. To reconcile it, a model of integrated leadership is being adopted – one that recognises and seeks to remedy gender bias by including women on management boards and changing decision-making styles from unilateral to consensus-based and management styles from forceful to empowering. We don’t have to give up on logical thinking entirely, as long as we also remember to be compassionate and consider the greater impact of our actions. The unified circle of yin and yang means that neither of the two parts is dominating, rather they are both useful and important, existing interdependently of each other and contributing to a perfect whole with their own distinct strengths and characteristics.

Balancing yin and yang in the long run

In the east, many cultures have based their business governance principles around the concept of achieving equilibrium, be it yin-yang, karma, or simply put – balance. Managers are recognising that happy employees achieve better long-term results for companies and their customers. There is a paradigm shift in the concept of what constitutes the perfect leadership, leading to a heightened focus on quality vs. quantity, long-term vs. short-term gains, satisfaction vs. profit, goodwill vs. mercantilism, and gradually changing mission statements. More and more employees are being trusted with results rather than physical presence or time worked, allowing them to contribute remotely, set their own working hours, take as much vacation as needed, and be involved only in projects they are passionate about. Happy, rested employees deliver better results, produce more innovative work, and are more likely to stay with the employer who cares about their well-being.

Striving for daily equilibrium

Yin and Yang also apply to work activities – some of our daily tasks are more creative and others are more rule-based and mundane but both need to be done. Being creative 100% of the time would be simply exhausting, and isn’t realistic. Dealing with paperwork or contracts non-stop, on the other hand, is a clear path to boredom and burnout.  

It is the same with our colleagues. Some of them help bring the best in us and challenge us to try new solutions to problems, while others prefer the more conservative, safer route. If we only work with the dreamers, we’d probably end up wasting a lot of time trying to implement solutions that weren’t well thought out and wouldn’t work in the end. Yet, if we never take risks or try anything new, we’d never invent new products, features or services.

On one of your (hopefully relaxing) breaks from work, take a look around and think about who might be the yin to your yang at work and reflect on how you complement each other. You might then want to schedule a lunch or coffee break with that person so you can mutually benefit from your very different attitudes and ways of approaching life and work situations. Even if this comes at the price of the occasional debate or argument, it would still prove worthwhile, as long as it is done in constructive, positive way and results in greater openness to new ideas.

Copywriter: Ina Danvoa