Back in 1994, Jim Collins, consultant and author, gained a lot of attention with his book Built To Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies (HarperBusiness 1994), which became a bestseller quickly, and, since then, has been quoted as one of the seminal business books, after Tom Peter’s In Search of Excellence. One concept within the overall narrative of the book, has received perhaps less attention than I think it deserves. It is what Collins called ‘The Tyranny of the Or’. Most strategic frameworks use an OR of some sort. You must choose between cost and differentiation, between A or B, C or B. In other words, you can’t have it both ways. We are under the tyrannical rule of the OR. And it all made a lot of sense for a long time.
We have been accustomed to the OR in business and, frankly, in daily life. One of these dichotomies, for example, has always been speed and quality. Or perhaps, better, speed or quality. You can’t, the conventional strategic wisdom says, have both. Speed will compromise quality. Do you want quality? It’s going to be slow.
In this league of ‘or choices’, the often called ‘Constrain Model’ is another good example. This model is represented by a triangle with a word in each vertex: fast, good, cheap. And a legend says: ‘pick two’. You can’t pick three. If cheap and good, it’s not going to be fast. If fast and good, it’s not going to be cheap. If fast and cheap, it’s not going to be good.
The model is powerful. However, in 2019, one of the key strategic capabilities is to beat ‘The OR Model’. Speed of change, disruptive and unpredictable environments and an incredible technology push, forces us to find ways to break this tyranny of the OR. Abandoning a default position of an inevitable ‘OR’ is key today. Speed and quality may no longer be enemies.
Mastering (a) critical thinking (b) without slowing down decision making and (c) not compromising quality is now a key competence. In historical terms this is squaring the circle. Today, the circle needs to be squared. Or at least, we need to try. The default position is no longer an OR. The tyranny of the OR has been defeated by the inevitability of the AND.