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  • Gail Townsend

How can organizations embrace both the high-tech and the "high-touch?"

One of the biggest challenges facing businesses is embracing high use of technology while at the same time experiencing high personal-touch engagement. Dr. Gail Townsend explores how individuals, teams, and businesses can harmonize and optimize this seeming polarity between high-tech and high-touch. Which approach is the correct one? The answer is both.


A man in silhouette looking at a Zoom screen

“Life is born only in the spark of opposites."


Carl Jung, a respected psychologist, advocated for the positive synergy of opposites. This concept can often be a challenging one to embrace since most of us are conditioned to seek simple solutions. If we consider the concept of optimizing polarities, we have a choice to benefit from the "best of both" approaches. There is more opportunity for synergistic approaches when the choice is made to choose the “and” response and minimize the “or” response. Opportunities are present for individuals to create a pathway to harmonize polarities and not to polarize them. Inhaling and exhaling is one example of an important polarity that healthy human systems naturally optimize. Another example is an organization that is both for purpose and for profit.


Polarities exist in productive and creative tensions with one another. They are not solvable because they need each other to exist. Think yin and yang, which is a Chinese philosophical construct that explains opposites and yet interconnected forces. Individuals and organizations benefit from optimizing the polarities. Polarities exist in infinity loops and the opportunity lies in learning how to harmonize so the best of both approaches is achieved.



High-Tech and High-Touch


To explore these interdependent opposites, it is helpful to map the positive and negative aspects of each of the polarities of high-tech and high-touch. Human systems and technical systems need one another to optimally coexist. Let’s explore the upsides and downsides.



A "polarity map" showing the tensions between the need for high technology use and high personal touch engagement.


Individuals involved in the daily strategies and operations of their businesses are the most informed to make decisions about how to optimize and harmonize the polarities of high-tech and high-touch. What choices can be made in your specific personal and business circumstances to benefit from the advantages of the polarities and minimize the adverse impacts? Carl Jung stated that“the individual …creates a tension of opposites that provides the stimulation which culture needs for its further progress.” Individuals, teams, businesses, and societies can benefit from the stimulation of the tensions of high-tech and high-touch. It may be easier to choose one or the other. Imagine the possibilities of living with practices that represent the both/and environment of high-tech and high-touch. Here are some questions to ask yourself and your teams, using the polarity map above:


Can you create an environment where the culture of high-tech and high-touch synergize, harmonize, and optimize their advantages while at the same time manage the potential negative aspects?


Can you create practices that include ways to optimize the polarities so that they remain on the upside of the infinity loop? These included practices that help to harmonize the tensions that exist.


What can you do within your areas of influence to create this enriching and challenging environment of high use of technology and high personal engagement? Think both personally and professionally.


How can you reframe the “or” thinking into “and” thinking?


How can you create polarity partnerships to enable “both/and thinking” with both high-tech and high-touch environments? Polarity partnerships create practices to harmonize the upsides of each pole.


Who can be part of your support system as you embark on this journey to harmonize and optimize rather than deepen the polarities of high tech and high touch?

References:


Johnson, Barry (1992, 1996). Polarity Management: Identifying and Managing Unsolvable Problems. HRD Press, MA


Johansen, Bob (2012). Leaders Make the Future: Ten New Leadership Skills for an Uncertain World. Barrett Koehler Publishers, Inc., CA


Jung, Carl & Campbell, J. (1875-1961). The Portable Jung. Penguin Books, NY


Naisbitt, J. (2001). High Tech/High Touch: Technology and Our Search for Meaning. Nicholas Brealey Publishing Company: England


Smith, W., Lewis, M., et al (2022). Both/And Thinking: Embracing Creative Tensions to Solve Your Toughest Problems. Harvard Business School Publishing, MA


Townsend, G. (2017). The Practical Practice of Polarities. The OD Practitioner. Vol. 49 No. 1 2017.


 

Gail Townsend holds a Masters degree in Organization Development from American University, a Masters degree in Human Development, and a Doctorate degree in Human and Organization Systems from Fielding Graduate University. She contributed as a global OD specialist, as a global HR business partner, and as an internal educator while employed at Gore. In addition to being a business and cultural advisor at MeaningSphere, she is also adjunct faculty at the University of Delaware and at Colorado State University, Global. Her areas of expertise are in leading change; leadership development; team effectiveness; diversity, equity and inclusion; individual development and coaching; communication skills, intentional use of self; and, as an educator in skill development in these areas. Most importantly, she is the mother of two wonderful daughters and grandmother to four beautiful grandchildren.


Image credit: Unsplash (first image) and MeaningSphere (second image).





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