How to Avoid the Dire Consequences of ‘Either/Or’ Thinking

In a recent interview with my friend, Chris Cuomo, journalist and news anchor on CNN’s Cuomo Prime Time, we talked about one of the biggest challenges we face today – ‘either/or’ thinking. Chris shares an example that illustrates this grave issue and the dire consequences that result when we don’t look for common ground and work together to solve our common problems.

Marshall: I’m here with my wonderful friend Chris Cuomo. Chris, I love your work. And I love the idea of your show, Cuomo Prime Time. What I like about it is really looking for a solution rather than just throwing stones. Can you give me an example of where you walked into a situation and really looked for common ground that you think would kind of illustrate the point?

Chris: School shootings. We’re all so frustrated by the sameness. It seems inexorable, we can’t stop them. That’s because our approach is ‘either/or’. Either you’re for getting rid of guns or you’re against it. We are frozen in that moment. However, if we could shift to a thinking of both instead of ‘either/or’, now we’ll start to move toward solutions. Everybody wants the schools to be safer. How do we do that? Everybody wants to be able to identify people who are going down these dark roads and get them help. Why don’t we work on that? Because we’re stuck in ‘either/or’ mode. For example, I think that if I give you safe schools, then I’m losing an opportunity to get better gun checks. So, I don’t want to do that. I give you nothing. It’s ‘either/or’. We have to move towards both to solve the issue. Personally, I can do that because I’m not tied to a partisan perspective.

Marshall: Give me an example of that one, where you can look at both perspectives usefully.

Chris: Well, as we’re seeing with that issue, when you have multiple components of safety, that’s going to require a holistic approach. That’s why shootings fall into it. But when you look at any fiscal enterprise, one of the biggest things to deal with in government is the ‘more versus less’ problem. Whereas partisans are either in favor of more of something, or of less. The answer always winds up becoming selectivity. More of what, versus less of what? We never get to that. Why? ‘Either/or’. It’s always about who wins and who loses to a very common malady that Marshall Goldsmith must diagnose. But if you had policymakers, if you had people who had different ideas think about where they are similar, if there was a reward for that, we might get somewhere. Because what do we know about power? Power acts out of fear of consequence more than it does out of conscience. So, if they knew that there was a reward to finding that common ground, they would seek it, so I’m trying to do that on my show.

Marshall: I love it. Thank you!


On June 20th, I was honored to be inducted into the Thinkers 50 Hall of Fame – whose members include the top management thinkers of our time.