The Themes

One typical challenge of Strategy Practice is dealing with structural tensions which are often represented with a pair of themes.
Bob De Wit and Ron Meyer collected a series of strategy paradoxes and offered suggestions for making situational decisions in their 2005 text book . The below is quoted from the book.
Life Strategy Activity faces a set of similar opposite themes. On Jan 25, 2022, I made a list of for discussing life strategy.
This page shares the list with readers. I also encourage you to write your own list in order to develop tacit knowledge about life strategy.


1. An Example of Opposite Themes

2. How to Think with Opposite Themes?

3. The “Present - Future” Fit

4. Personal Innovation as Career-fit

5. A List of Opposite Themes

1. An Example of Opposite Themes

The pair of theme of “Exploit - Explore” is inspired by James G. March’s “”. You can read the following piece to get some ideas.
In an echo of more general theories of adaptation, theories of the adaptation of a scholarly field describe a process involving struggles between a core establishment committed to a relatively coherent conception of truth and various peripheral challenges to that conception. The struggles reflect a necessary tension between the developments, refinement, and exploitation of existing knowledge and methods and the exploration of possible new directions. A hallmark of effective knowledge refinement and exploitation is a tight network among researchers. Such networks thrive on easy communication, and communication thrives on unified understandings. Consensus on the fundamentals is essential. Exploration, on the other hand, involves the examination of numerous possibilities, many of them dubious. It thrives on diversity and deviance. Because the efficiencies of coherence are useful immediately, they dominate local adaptive processes of learning. However, they are invitations to long-run stagnation. With exploratory diversity, disciplines, cultures, and languages turn in upon themselves. Thus, the emphasis in adaptive theory on maintaining a mix of both exploitation and exploration. (Explorations in Organizations, James G. March, 2008, p.329)
There is no theory for finding the optimum balance. It all depends on practical situations. According to James March,
“It is clear that a strategy of exploitation without exploration is a route to obsolescence. It is equally clear that a strategy of exploration without exploitation is a route to elimination. But it is not clear where the optimum lies between those two extremes. The problem is partly one ignorance about the distribution of costs and benefits, but it is only partly that. A deeper problem is that specifying the optimum requires comparing costs and returns across time and space. An exploitation/exploration balance that is good in the short run is likely not to be good in the long run. And a balance that is good for the individual actor is likely not to be good in the long run for the community of actors. Thus, although we cannot specify the optimum balance, we know that that optimum depends on the time and space perspective taken. More specifically, the longer the time horizon and the broader the space horizon, in general, the more the optimum moves toward exploration.” (Explorations in Organizations, 2008, p.109)
For the Life Strategy Activity, I also adopt the concept of Emergence for dealing with the pair of themes of “Exploitation - Exploration”. I was inspired by Henry Mintzberg’s ideas on strategic planning.
Source: The Rise and Fall of Strategic Planning (Henry Mintzberg, p.359, 1994)
According to Henry Mintzberg, “…we believe, is that the concept of strategy formation has always been misconstrued, forcing strategic control to bypass one critical aspect — the possibility of emergent strategy. As shown in Figure 6–5, there is certainly the need to assess the performance of deliberate strategies (shown as B on the figure), and, stepping back (A), the need to assess the degree of realization of the strategies that were formally intended in the first place (in the words of Schended and Hofer’s book on strategic management, “whether (1) the strategy is being implemented as planned; and (2) the results produced by the strategy are those intended” [1979:18]). But before these must come another activity ( C ), namely the assessment of whatever strategies were, in fact, realized, whether intended or not. And the last activity must be enlarged (D) to encompass the assessment of the performance of all those strategies. In other words, strategic control must assess behavior as well as performance. Once again it must be appreciated that there is more to strategy formation than planning.”(1994, p.359)
By adopting the concept of Emergence, we can make a good balance between Exploitation and Exploration.

2. How to Think about Opposite Themes

There are many ways for thinking about Opposite Themes. I have developed several tools for this challenge.
The Dialectic Room
Theme U
The Mandala Diagram

2.1 The Dialectic Room

The Dialectic Room is a meta-diagram for applying dialectic logic to cope with structural tensions.
The Dialectic Room is a spatial metaphor. We can consider a tough situation with structural tension as a room with two windows and one door.
a tough situation = a room
a structural tension = a pair of Opposite Themes = two windows
a final action = a door
A room is a container which separates inside space and outside space. There are some actions people can do within a room. I pay attention to one special type of action: connect to the outside space from the inside space. Let’s call it “Process”.
The two windows are interfaces which refer to two “Tendencies”, Window1 refers to “Tendency 1” while Window 2 refers to “Tendency 2”. Each window has its own view of the outside space.
Finally, there is a door which allows people to actually go out of the room. The door refers to “Orientation” which represents a direction of a real action of going out of the inside space.
Once you get into the outside space, you can consider the new space as a new room and repeat the diagram.
This is a special type of spatial logic. The terms such as “Process”, “Tendency” and “Orientation” are placeholders of texts for describing the spatial logic. From the perspective of my diagram theory, the pure meta-diagram doesn’t need texts. For instance, the Yin-yang symbol or is a meta-diagram, can you find one text from it? However, we can add some texts as placeholders to a pure meta-diagram in order to better describe it.
We can adopt Hegel’s Dialectic (see the diagram below) to understand the Pairs of Opposite Themes. We can consider Theme 1 as Thesis and Theme 2 as Antithesis. By adopting Hegel’s Dialectic, the Fit between Theme 1 and Theme 2 means finding the Synthesis between Thesis and Antithesis.
The dialectic room is another visual layout of the dialectic logic. Now let’s adopt Hegel’s theory of Concept to understand Themes.
According to Andy Blunden, “As Hegel explained, every concept exists as Individual, Particular and Universal. These three moments of the concept are never completely in accord. There is always a measure of dissonance between them, and this is manifested in the dynamics of the concept. What an individual means when they use the word is never quite the same as the meaning produced in any other context.” (2012, p.295)
Themes are Concepts too. If we want to fit a pair of opposite themes, we can fit them in three sub-dimensions: Individual dimension, Particular dimension, and Universal dimension.
You can find more details in .

2.2 Theme U

Theme U is a meta-diagram for displaying three pairs of themes with a special spatial structure. Three levels can be used to define three Dimensions. For example, the diagram below shows an example of using Theme U to display Pairs of Opposite Themes. For each dimension, you can select two themes that form a pair. For example, Theme A1 and Theme A2 are a pair of opposite themes which share Dimension A. ​
I use the above diagram to discuss my . I defined the following dimensions for curating three pairs of opposite themes of my career experience.
Dimension A: Cross-cultural work & life
Dimension B: Cross-discipline knowledge
Dimension C: Cross-domain cognition
You don’t have to use these examples of dimensions since you have your unique career experience.
In addition to three dimensions, the Theme U diagram also uses Left Field and Right Field to group themes.
By combining Dimensions and Fields, you can make a configuration of your themes with the Theme U diagram. The about diagram shows some examples of dimensions and fields. You can define your own dimensions and fields too.
You can find more details about Theme U in .

2.3 The Mandala Diagram

The Mandala Diagram is based on the Hubhood meta-diagram. See the picture below.
The Hubhood meta-diagram is designed with two dimensions, four thematic spaces, and four connected Hubs. It is a perfect container for containing pairs of opposition themes.
On Jan 4, 2022, I made a Mandala diagram for modeling a life development program with the Hubhood diagram. See the diagram below.
The name of the above diagram is The Sailor’s Mandala which refers to a metaphor: Life as Sailing.
Life: it is a journey such as sailing at sea.
Boat: social container such as family, team, group, project, company, community, etc.
Sea: social context and social environment.
The diagram was designed with the following two dimensions:
Individual Psychological Intervention
Social Practice Acceleration
From the feedback and our discussion, we learned a lesson that Life Transition is not only about individual psychological situations, but also about a person’s social practice and work activities. So, I suggested that the program should expand its service to consider social practice acceleration.
Based on the above two dimensions, I identified four thematic spaces:
Psychological: Cognition and Emotion
Social Practice: Opportunity and Resource
The program is successful on Individual Psychological Intervention. We found the feedback is pretty positive.

3. The “Present - Future” Fit

Life Discovery is a “cross-the-gap” activity which aims to explore a new place in a certain direction. There is a spatial distance between the existing place where we are and the expected place where we want to be.
We can consider Life Discovery as Boundary Innovation because it is about a dialogue between Present (the existing place) and Future (the expected place).
Now, let’s apply the ECHO Way (v2.0) to the “Present — Future” fit for the Life Discovery Activity. We can roughly use three phases for this process:
Life U: Think with the Theme U diagram.
Project I: Act with the Developmental Project model.
Echo Z: Reach the end of the journey: an expected place.
The ECHO Way (v2.0) is a practical framework for knowledge curation and boundary innovation. We can consider Life Discovery as Boundary Innovation because it is about a dialogue between Present and Future. The Developmental Project model is an abstract framework, you can adopt it to design a real developmental project for your Life Discovery Activities.
The above picture is the standard diagram of the Developmental Project Model. It uses eight elements to describe a developmental project:
Purpose: Why do you want to initiate or join the project?
Position: What’s the social structure of the project?
Program: Does the project have formal organizational processes?
Social: How do you connect with others due to joining the project?
Content: How do you acquire new information and knowledge due to joining the project?
Action: What actually do you do due to joining the project?
Theme: Do you find some new and interesting themes for your career development?
Identity: How do you perceive your identity before and after joining the project?
If we turn these elements into Project I and combine them with Life U, then we get the diagram.
The final diagram can be considered as “an ecological approach” of career development because it refers to the structure of “organism (personal themes of career) — action (fitting) — environment(impact projects)”.
The eight elements of Project I form three groups as a process of transformation.
The first group is defined as Situational Context which highlights three important aspects of Developmental Projects: Purpose, Position, and Program.
The second group is defined as Developmental Resources which highlights three types of potential opportunities of Developmental Projects: Social, Content, and Action.
The third group is defined as Impact by Projects which considers personal development caused by joining Developmental Projects from two dimensions: Theme and Identity.
The three-phase structure of the “Present - Future” Fit emphasizes “Think — Act — Reach” actions. The last phase is the most important phase for the whole journey. Let’s look at the Echozone of the Activity U project. The diagram below only shows the Echozone with some notes for discussing the process of fit between career themes and developmental projects.
The above diagram presents fits of two pairs of opposite themes. The “Theory v.s. Practice” fit is described with three movements:
Practice-based Reflection: building rough models with intuition.
Theory-based Reflection: improving models with theoretical resources.
Theory-Practice Dialogue: turn models into frameworks and test it with cast studies.
The article offers a real example of these three steps.
It’s a challenge to share complex personal knowing within the Echozone. I try so hard to design visual diagrams and write a book. The second part of THE ECHO WAY uses 76 pages to describe what I experienced with the Echozone. It’s all about deep thinking, personal reflection, boundary dialogue, etc.
You can find more details in .

4. Personal Innovation as Career-fit

The Career-fit framework has four key words: Experience > Themes > Projects > Opportunities. It roughly suggests the following five steps for personal innovation:
Reflect on career experience
Discover pairs of opposite themes
Fit all pairs of opposite themes
Join or initiate relevant projects
Fit career themes with career opportunity
The above diagram shows three Pairs of Opposite Themes of my career experience.
China v.s. America
Theory v.s. Practice
Concept v.s. Diagram
The core of the Career-fit framework is Structure and Dynamics of career themes. The idea of Pairs of Opposite Themes refers to significant differences between career themes. The idea of Meta-themes refers to using one high level theme to curate similar career themes. The idea of Development of Themes refers to the transformation of career themes.
If we want to explore personal innovation, the great starting point is Pairs of Opposite Themes because they could lead to Structural Tensions such as boundary, distance, difference, heterogeneity, contradiction, and complementation. If we can turn one or more structural tensions into creative opportunities, then we could find the way of personal innovation.
In May 2021, I used the Concept-fit framework to reflect on my career experience. I’d like to share my story as an example of the framework.
I found three major Pairs of Opposite Themes from my past over twenty years of work experience. The first Pair of Opposite Themes “China v.s. America” refers to cross-cultural work & life experience. There are significant differences between China and America. The second Pair of Opposite Themes “Theory v.s. Practice” refers to cross-discipline knowledge experience. There is a huge gap between academic knowledge and practical work activities. The third Pair of Opposite Theme “Concept v.s. Diagram” refers to cross-domain cognitive experience. According to Cognitive scientist and psychologist Barbara Tversky, Concept is about linguistic thought while Diagram is about spatial thought.
Career Themes are abstract concepts for curating various career activities. It’s hard to understand my career themes without knowing my work stories. The following sections share relevant details from my career experience. Readers can skip these details and directly jump to Part 2.

4.1 When China meets America

I was born in Jianyang which is a small town in China. My two sons were born in Houston which is a large city in America. We are a born global family.
I have over twenty years of work experience which can be divided into three stages: creative stage, strategic stage and innovative stage. At the creative stage, I worked for the advertising and media industry as a creative copywriter and designer. At the strategic state, I worked for pre-IPO stage enterprises as a business strategist and fundraising consultant. At the innovative stage, I worked on making brand new digital tools and platforms as a researcher and designer.
My first stage of career (1994–2001) was about advertising, marketing, and communication. At that stage, I worked on creative advertising campaigns, corporate visual identity design, brand management consulting, and marketing communication activities.
From 2001 to 2007, I worked for several private investors who are active in investing in mainland China, Hong Kong, and the United States. Following first-round investments, I helped start-ups raise successive rounds of funds from venture capital firms and then raised funds from public markets through IPOs. As an authorized representative of the start-ups, I was a principal channel of communication with professionals, including sponsors, financial advisors, local and overseas lawyers, auditors, and surveyors. I also assisted presidents of start-ups in strategic planning, brand management, and investor relations.
At the end of 2007, I moved to the U.S. and joined the world of web/mobile startups and became a product strategist and an interaction designer.
As a product strategist, I used to work with founders and CEOs on product concept development including idea generation, market research, competitor analysis, and users research. As an interaction designer, I work with software programmers to turn product concepts into real web/mobile applications. At this stage, I work on product development plans, user interface design, visual brand identity system, test, etc. After product launch, I work on product growth, user research, new feature development and product redesign.
I was the Chief Information Architect and lead UX designer of which is an early web content curation tool. We launched the site in 2010. I was responsible for the information architect design and the user interface design. BagTheWeb services global users from various domains such as content curation, educational teaching, personal study, etc. This project inspired me to research the general approach of curation and the outcome is a book titled Curativity and a framework for Knowledge Curation.
After 2017, I moved the direction of social apps and social curation. I tried to apply my theoretical frameworks to digital work activity and structured engagement activity. framework is one of these frameworks.
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