University president Steve Sample writes in his book The Contrarian’s Guide to Leadership
that conventional wisdom prizes quick and decisive judgments between opposing options: friend or foe, good or bad, true or false.
If you’re facing an emergency or a clear threat, these instant and binary judgments are often the right move.
But Sample notes that outside of those situations, binary thinking comes with at least three risks:
Ignoring useful information: Forming an opinion too quickly can shut out additional arguments or facts that may subsequently come up.
Flip-flopping: committing to one perspective and then needing to change it later can lead to the impression that you’re confused or opportunistic.
Herd mentality: there’s a natural tendency for people to believe “what they sense is strongly believed by others.”
Sample argues that instead of rushing to judgement, an effective leader needs to be able to “think gray.”
Thinking gray means not forming an opinion about an important issue “until you’ve heard all the relevant facts and arguments, or until circumstances force you to form an opinion without recourse to all the facts.”
It encourages patience and an appreciation for nuance.
You may think a given issue is black or white, but the truth is often somewhere in between.