The Power of Joining Dissimilar Things

Christopher - Fort Collins, Colorado
Entered on March 26, 2009
Age Group: 30 - 50
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I believe in the power of joining dissimilar things.

When I was small and taking things apart to better understand them, my grandfather gave me an old thermostat. I was amazed that the main part of it was simply a thin coil of metal. I’m sure I asked my grandpa something like “This can’t be all there is – how can this help the house know to keep us warm?” It seemed too primitive and simple and besides, how could something as un-alive as metal possibly “know” what temperature it is and take action to tell the furnace to start?

Through some patient teaching, my grandfather helped me understand how the thermostat worked. The coil was made of two different metals – each bonded tightly to the other – to create something that moved with changes in temperature. As the coil moved it would cause a switch set by us humans to turn on and off at certain temperatures, keeping us warm and comfortable.

Later I was fortunate to spend several of my childhood years in a foreign country, and took in understanding, practices, and perspectives of the host culture. When I returned to the United States, I was amazed at some of the things that seemed so rigid and different about how we Americans do things. I experienced culture shock coming back into my own culture, and struggled choosing which way was right.

Somehow over time I managed to create something within myself that was similar to that old thermostat. I tightly bound the two different cultures within myself and created a way for me of being even more alive and responsive to the situations that occurred around me. This was the first of my many bindings of dissimilar things.

I studied engineering and then leadership. Binding those left- and right-brain activities tightly together enables me in my work to help leaders and organizations thrive. Systems and people may seem like opposing forces, yet tightly integrating the two allows both to grow and succeed.

I married a person with similar values yet very different approaches and strengths. Our success in responding to the ever-changing demands of parenthood, work, and running a household are directly related to how closely we hold each other while at the same time being our own individual selves.

It’s the tension between two different things, when bound tightly together, that enables movement and a way to respond to changing environments. If the two items were completely similar, the only response would be a little growing or shrinking but no reaching out into new territory or directions.

So now whenever I’m faced with two opposing views or ideas or perspectives I picture that old thermostat and try to see how those opposites might be held together tightly instead. If I can manage to do so I believe that I create a living system which enables responsiveness and movement that the two individual perspectives would never be able to reach by themselves.