You’ve probably encountered the famous image “My Wife and Mother-in-Law” before.
Which woman do you see first: the young or the old?
Our minds initially fixate on one interpretation, and it can be difficult to recognize the other. You might need someone to point out to you that the necklace on one is the mouth of the other, and the ears are the eyes. Eventually, you get it. With a little practice, you can train yourself to switch back and forth between the two, but it takes effort.
“My Wife and Mother-in-Law” is what’s called a multistable image, and the funny thing our minds do when looking at it is called multistable perception.
Multistable Perception in Business
Management involves similar multistable perception. You can look at an organization and see a system of quantifiable resources: machines, software, cash, and human resources with skills and a level of morale. As a manager looking through the resource lens, you can imagine yourself in a cockpit, with a bunch of levers and buttons. You feel that you are pulling and pushing controls, shifting resources into different configurations to maximize quantifiable outcomes like sales, profits, and customer acquisition costs. But you can also look at an organization and see a web of relationships, with connections between people forming, strengthening, and sometimes rupturing. You can nurture those connections, but you cannot control them, both because you yourself are one of the nodes in the web and because the other people are just as busy nurturing and pruning connections as they see fit.
You can always argue that one perspective is more important than the other, that one serves the other, but only from within one mode of perception. Do managers leverage relationships in order to optimize resource allocation? Absolutely. That’s exactly what the organization looks like when you’ve resolved the image to the resource system. Alternatively, do the resources serve to sustain relationships? Sure they do, when your mind is looking at things through the relationship frame.
Each interpretation comes with its unique expertise — expertise you can learn, apply, and master. You can optimize resource allocation with expertise in finance, operations management, data science, Six Sigma, Lean, Kaizen, and a hundred other frameworks and tools. And you can learn more about the human heart — how to be an active listener, how to persuade with both reasoned argument and empathy, and how to inspire with words and deeds. In fact, in management, you won’t get very far without developing expertise in both domains.
Mastering Management: Resources and Relationships
You won’t truly master management until you’ve trained your mind to rapidly switch back and forth between the two modes of perception, resources and relationships. Rapid switching is what running an organization demands — recognizing when to use each toolset and turning on a dime. From project-planning an ambitious initiative to selling it; from assigning a human resource to nurturing a valued person. Switching takes effort, and the more you practice, the less effort it takes.
How Team-based Business Simulations Can Bridge the Gap
At Abilitie, we believe an underrated management skill is switching between interpretations. That’s why we are committed not just to simulations as the core learning methodology for our leadership development programs, but to team-based simulations. Some of our solutions are designed to train the skills for one perceptual domain, some for the other. Whether we’re training resource or relationship management skills, in our simulations, you can’t help but use both modes of perception. As a participant, you’re constantly going back and forth between the perceptual domains, building the switching muscles that real-world management responsibility demands.
The demands on your switching skills only increase as you rise in an organization. Many leadership and talent development learning journeys develop skills for both perceptual domains. However, all too often those domains involve training and practice separately, with few integrative activities that train not just domain-specific skills but the multistable perception switching that comes at great effort until systematically practiced. Whether that practice comes from team-based simulations or group projects that demand both resource allocation and relationship nurturing, it’s a crucial step in the process of developing effective managers and decision-makers.
If you are interested in learning more about Abilitie programs and simulations, click here.