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You are Already Halfway There

Zeno's Paradox

September 11, 2023

The Greek philosopher Zeno created several paradoxes to support the idea of monism, or that all change is impossible; basically, that there is no distinction between two different types of attributions, measurements or causes — everything is because of one thing, and that thing is the same no matter what.

The most famous of these paradoxes is that of Achilles and the tortoise. Achilles is in a race with a tortoise that has a head start on him. The tortoise obviously moves slower, and you’d think that Achilles would be able to catch up to it almost immediately. But not so when a dichotomy is applied through a lens of monism.

This is the dichotomy (in this case, splitting a distance into two parts) argument: in order to travel a distance, you first need to travel half the distance, but before you get halfway (or Achilles gets halfway to the tortoise) you need to get a quarter of the way there, but before that, an eighth, and so on. The idea is that you need to travel an infinite number of fractional distances to reach the next one; the distance to the destination will never be zero. Achilles will always be “halfway” behind some measurable distance to the tortoise.

Additionally, there is no initial distance to walk, as it would need to be divided in two and then divided again and again. Therefore, you cannot even start to move forward, as there is never any established “first” distance to cover or arrive at the end of.

How this is directly appliable to strategy is this: it is easy to get into a situation where you feel you are making progress, but the goals or objectives you are trying to reach are seemingly continually farther away or out of reach regardless of the amount of work you are doing. Monism’s — attributing everything that occurs (or does not) to the same thing rather than a contributing set of interrelated factors that are constantly changing — flaws are directly exposed when applied in this way.

Applying the logic model of the paradox above, you can see that it is a matter of creating more and more complexity in the analysis rather than moving forward (creating “motion”) through execution.

In this case, the singular focus on analysis of the distance the motion is meant to cover (the intended progress) rather than the momentum itself (the actual progress) is paralyzing. It creates the paradox of doing a fair amount of work trying to resolve something that seems to directly apply but does nothing but create an unintended barrier to the result.

Unfortunately, the paradox itself seems to make sense — at least at a surface level. There is obviously a halfway point to any destination until you get there, but separating the analysis from the execution is the key difference in achieving success.

Moving Without Preventing Progress

Motion is possible. It’s not a theoretical construct of a growingly complex series of incremental measurements that are impossible to start making progress on. The distance you travel — be it with regard to executing strategy or walking — is measurable and divisible in an infinite number of ways. However, motion is not; it is the measurement of a change in location over a set amount of time. It’s a fixed point in space that changes as a function of locomotion or ambulation. Energy. You and your strategy are “somewhere” if you have made forward motion. Yes, there is still at least “halfway” to go, but that halfway is less because you are moving an established point or benchmark in your progress, as you move forward in time.

Rather than getting stuck thinking that you will always have more ground to cover and analyzing and dividing that ground up in infinite ways — preventing progress — move forward knowing that the distance yet to cover is where your strategy learns, grows, develops and flows.

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Joe Benesh

Joe Benesh is the President and CEO of The Ingenuity Company, located in Des Moines. The Ingenuity Company specializes in Strategic Planning, Diagramming, Organizational Design Thinking, and Leadership/Change Facilitation. He also teaches strategic planning at the University of Iowa in the MBA Program.