Asia Pacific Journal of Management

, Volume 36, Issue 1, pp 17–32 | Cite as

Is “Yin-Yang balancing” superior to ambidexterity as an approach to paradox management?



In promoting indigenous management research in China, Peter P. Li has repeatedly asserted that Yin-Yang is superior to all other cognitive frames in dealing with paradox in general and that his “Yin-Yang balancing” solution is superior to ambidexterity as an approach to paradox management in particular. Disagreeing with Peter P. Li, this paper debunks the “Yin-Yang balancing being superior to ambidexterity” assertion by making three critical points. First, at the philosophical level, Peter P. Li’s notion of “Yin-Yang balancing” is an inaccurate interpretation (or incomplete version) of the Confucian principle of Zhong-Yong that is largely compatible with Aristotle’s doctrine of the mean. Second, at the practical level, his “Yin-Yang balancing” solution, while being different from the structural ambidexterity approach, is compatible with the contextual ambidexterity approach. These first two points imply that Peter P. Li’s “Yin-Yang balancing” solution is not necessarily superior to the ambidexterity approach in particular and the Western thinking in general. Third, Robert Blake and Jane Mouton, in their 1964 book The Managerial Grid, provide a variety of approaches to managing a fundamental organizational paradox (i.e., the production-people conflict). Their analysis not only covers different ambidexterity approaches, but also offers much more insights on paradox management. More significant is that Blake and Mouton made explicit that those ambidexterity-type approaches only deal with the problem at the level of symptoms rather than root causes. This third point implies that some Western scholars have had much deeper thinking on paradox management than some Chinese colleagues may have imagined.


Yin-Yang Zhong-Yong Paradox Ambidexterity Indigenous China 



This work is partially supported by the Danish Carlsberg Foundation’s grant No. CF15-0270. I thank Professor Mike Peng (Consulting Editor) and two anonymous reviewers for constructive criticisms and guidance. All errors remain my own.


  1. Ananthram, S., & Chan, C. 2016. Religiosity, spirituality and ethical decision-making: Perspectives from executives in Indian multinational enterprises. Asia Pacific Journal of Management, 33(3): 843–880.Google Scholar
  2. Andriopoulos, C., & Lewis, M. W. 2009. Exploitation-exploration tensions and organizational ambidexterity: Managing paradoxes of innovation. Organization Science, 20(4): 696–717.Google Scholar
  3. Barkema, H. G., Chen, X. P., George, G., Luo, Y., & Tsui, A. S. 2015. West meets East: New concepts and theories. Academy of Management Journal, 58(2): 460–479.Google Scholar
  4. Bartunek, J. M., & Rynes, S. L. 2014. Academics and practitioners are alike and unlike: The paradoxes of academic-practitioner relationships. Journal of Management, 40(5): 1181–1201.Google Scholar
  5. Bennis, W. G., & O’Toole, J. 2005. How business schools lost their way. Harvard Business Review, 83(5): 96–105.Google Scholar
  6. Birkinshaw, J., & Gupta, K. 2013. Clarifying the distinctive contribution of ambidexterity to the field of organization studies. Academy of Management Perspectives, 27(4): 287–298.Google Scholar
  7. Blake, R. R., & Mouton, J. S. 1964. The managerial grid. Houston: Gulf Publishing.Google Scholar
  8. Blake, R. R., & Mouton, J. S. 1970. The fifth achievement. Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 6(4): 413–426.Google Scholar
  9. Blake, R. R., & Mouton, J. S. 1978. The new managerial grid. Houston: Gulf Publishing.Google Scholar
  10. Chai, D. S., Jeong, S., Kim, J., Kim, S., & Hamlin, R. G. 2016. Perceived managerial and leadership effectiveness in a Korean context: An indigenous qualitative study. Asia Pacific Journal of Management, 33(3): 789–820.Google Scholar
  11. Chen, M. J., & Miller, D. 2010. West meets East: Toward an ambicultural approach to management. Academy of Management Perspectives, 24(4): 17–24.Google Scholar
  12. Chen, M. J., & Miller, D. 2011. The relational perspective as a business mindset: Managerial implications for East and West. Academy of Management Perspectives, 25(3): 6–18.Google Scholar
  13. Daft, R. L., & Lewin, A. Y. 1990. Can organization studies begin to break out of the normal science straitjacket? An editorial essay. Organization Science, 1(1): 1–9.Google Scholar
  14. Daft, R. L., & Lewin, A. Y. 2008. Rigor and relevance in organization studies: Idea migration and academic journal evolution. Organization Science, 19(1): 177–183.Google Scholar
  15. Duncan, R. B. 1976. The ambidextrous organization: Designing dual structures for innovation. In R. H. Kilmann, L. R. Pondy, & D. P. Slevin (Eds.). The management of organization: Strategy and implementation, vol. 1: 167–188. New York: North-Holland.Google Scholar
  16. Einstein, A., & Infeld, L. 1938. The evolution of physics: The growth of ideas from early concepts to relativity and quanta. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  17. Fang, T. 2012. Yin Yang: A new perspective on culture. Management and Organization Review, 8(1): 25–50.Google Scholar
  18. Gibson, C. B., & Birkinshaw, J. 2004. The antecedents, consequences, and mediating role of organizational ambidexterity. Academy of Management Journal, 47(2): 209–226.Google Scholar
  19. Gilbert, C., & Bower, J. L. 2002. Disruptive change. When trying harder is part of the problem. Harvard Business Review, 80(5): 94–101.Google Scholar
  20. Gottlieb, P. 2009. The virtue of Aristotle’s ethics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  21. Heisenberg, W. 1958. Physics and philosophy: The revolution in modern science. New York: Harper.Google Scholar
  22. Horak, S., & Klein, A. 2016. Persistence of informal social networks in East Asia: Evidence from South Korea. Asia Pacific Journal of Management, 33(3): 673–694.Google Scholar
  23. Horak, S., & Taube, M. 2016. Same but different? Similarities and fundamental differences of informal social networks in China (guanxi) and Korea (yongo). Asia Pacific Journal of Management, 33(3): 595–616.Google Scholar
  24. Jing, R., & Van de Ven, A. 2014. A Yin-Yang model of organizational change: The case of CBG. Management and Organization Review, 10(1): 55–80.Google Scholar
  25. Kieser, A., Nicolai, A., & Seidl, D. 2015. The practical relevance of management research: Turning the debate on relevance into a rigorous scientific research program. Academy of Management Annals, 9(1): 143–233.Google Scholar
  26. Landsman, N. P. 2006. When champions meet: Rethinking the Bohr-Einstein debate. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science (Part B: Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics), 37(1): 212–242.Google Scholar
  27. Leung, K. 2012. Indigenous Chinese management research: Like it or not, we need it. Management and Organization Review, 8(1):1–5.Google Scholar
  28. Lewin, A. Y. 2014. Emerging economies open unlimited opportunities for advancing management and organization scholarship. Management and Organization Review, 10(1): 1–5.Google Scholar
  29. Li, P. P. 2012a. Toward an integrative framework of indigenous research: The geocentric implications of Yin-Yang balance. Asia Pacific Journal of Management, 29(4): 849–872.Google Scholar
  30. Li, P. P. 2012b. Exploring the unique roles of trust and play in private creativity: From the complexity-ambiguity-metaphor link to the trust-play-creativity link. Journal of Trust Research, 2(1): 71–97.Google Scholar
  31. Li, P. P. 2014a. The unique value of Yin-Yang balancing: A critical response. Management and Organization Review, 10(2): 321–332.Google Scholar
  32. Li, P. P. 2014b. Chinese philosophy of wisdom and the research on Zhong-Yong [中国智慧哲学与中庸之道研究]. Chinese Social Psychological Review [中国社会心理学评论], 8: 237–255 (in Chinese).Google Scholar
  33. Li, P. P. 2015a. The economic-social duality for executive rationale: The interplay between resource pool and game rule for sense-giving and sense-making. Management and Organization Review, 11(2): 211–216.Google Scholar
  34. Li, P. P. 2015b. Both converging toward and diverging from global paradigms: The perspective of Yin-Yang balancing for the unity-in-diversity duality. Management and Organization Review, 11(4): 807–813.Google Scholar
  35. Li, P. P. 2016. Global implications of the indigenous epistemological system from the East: How to apply Yin-Yang balancing to paradox management. Cross Cultural & Strategic Management, 23(1): 42–77.Google Scholar
  36. Li, P. P., Leung, K., Chen, C. C., & Luo, J.-D. 2012. Indigenous research on Chinese management: What and how. Management and Organization Review, 8(1): 7–24.Google Scholar
  37. Li, P. P., Sekiguchi, T., & Zhou, K. Z. 2016. The emerging research on indigenous management in Asia. Asia Pacific Journal of Management, 33(3): 583–594.Google Scholar
  38. Li, X. 2012. Alternative solutions to the agency conflict in the firm: Aspiration facilitation and internalization. Paper presented at the Strategic Management Society (SMS) China Special Conference, Guangzhou, China.Google Scholar
  39. Li, X. 2013. An aspirational community theory of the firm. Paper presented at the 2013 Annual Academy of Management Meeting, Lake Buena Vista, Florida.Google Scholar
  40. Li, X. 2014. Can Yin-Yang guide Chinese indigenous management research?. Management and Organization Review, 10(1): 7–27.Google Scholar
  41. Li, X. 2017. Zhong-Yong as dynamic balancing between Yin-Yang opposites. Cross Cultural & Strategic Management. Scholar
  42. Li, X. 2018. How emerging market resource-poor firms compete and outcompete advanced country resource-rich rivals: An asymmetry reversing theory. Cross Cultural & Strategic Management. Scholar
  43. Li, Y., Peng, M. W., & Macaulay, C. D. 2013. Market-political ambidexterity during institutional transitions. Strategic Organization, 11(2): 205–213.Google Scholar
  44. Lin, D., Lu, J., Li, P. P., & Liu, X. 2015. Balancing formality and informality in business exchanges as a duality: A comparative case study of returnee and local entrepreneurs in China. Management and Organization Review, 11(2): 315–342.Google Scholar
  45. Liu, T. Q., & Stening, B. W. 2016. The contextualization and de-contextualization of Confucian morality: Making Confucianism relevant to China’s contemporary challenges in business ethics. Asia Pacific Journal of Management, 33(3): 821–841.Google Scholar
  46. Losin, P. 1987. Aristotle’s doctrine of the mean. History of Philosophy Quarterly, 4(3): 329–341.Google Scholar
  47. Luo, J. D., Cheng, M. Y., & Zhang, T. 2016. Guanxi circle and organizational citizenship behavior: Context of a Chinese workplace. Asia Pacific Journal of Management, 33(3): 649–671.Google Scholar
  48. March, J. G. 1991. Exploration and exploitation in organizational learning. Organization Science, 2(1): 71–87.Google Scholar
  49. Markides, C. C. 2013. Business model innovation: What can the ambidexterity literature teach us?. Academy of Management Perspectives, 27(4): 313–323.Google Scholar
  50. Mathews, J. A., & Tan, H. 2015. Zhu Xi’s neo-Confucian school: An organizational studies reading. Asian Business & Management, 14(3): 227–246.Google Scholar
  51. Meyer, K. E. 2006. Asian management research needs more self-confidence. Asia Pacific Journal of Management, 23(2): 119–137.Google Scholar
  52. O’Reilly, C. A., & Tushman, M. L. 2004. The ambidextrous organization. Harvard Business Review, 82(4): 74–83.Google Scholar
  53. O’Reilly, C. A., & Tushman, M. L. 2013. Organizational ambidexterity: Past, present, and future. Academy of Management Perspectives, 27(4): 324–338.Google Scholar
  54. Pais, A. 1991. Niels Bohr’s times: In Physics, philosophy, and polity. Oxford: Clarendon Press.Google Scholar
  55. Peng, M. W. 2005. From China strategy to global strategy. Asia Pacific Journal of Management, 22(2): 123–141.Google Scholar
  56. Peng, M. W., Li, Y., & Tian, L. 2016. Tian-ren-he-yi strategy: An Eastern perspective. Asia Pacific Journal of Management, 33(3): 695–722.Google Scholar
  57. Raisch, S., Birkinshaw, J., Probst, G., & Tushman, M. L. 2009. Organizational ambidexterity: Balancing exploitation and exploration for sustained performance. Organization Science, 20(4): 685–695.Google Scholar
  58. Redding, G., & Witt, M. A. 2015. Advancing indigenous management theory: Executive rationale as an institutional logic. Management and Organization Review, 11(2): 179–203.Google Scholar
  59. Schad, J., Lewis, M. W., Raisch, S., & Smith, W. K. 2016. Paradox research in management science: Looking back to move forward. Academy of Management Annals, 10(1): 5–64.Google Scholar
  60. Smith, A. 1937/1776. The wealth of nations . New York: Modern Library.Google Scholar
  61. Smith, W. K., Binns, A., & Tushman, M. L. 2010. Complex business models: Managing strategic paradoxes simultaneously. Long Range Planning, 43(2): 448–461.Google Scholar
  62. Smith, W. K., & Lewis, M. W. 2011. Toward a theory of paradox: A dynamic equilibrium model of organizing. Academy of Management Review, 36(2): 381–403.Google Scholar
  63. Smith, W. K., & Tushman, M. L. 2005. Managing strategic contradictions: A top management model for managing innovation streams. Organization Science, 16(5): 522–536.Google Scholar
  64. Sundararajan, L. 2013. The Chinese notions of harmony, with special focus on implications for cross cultural and global psychology. Humanistic Psychologist, 41(1): 1–10.Google Scholar
  65. Sundararajan, L. 2015. Understanding emotion in Chinese culture: Thinking through psychology. New York: Springer.Google Scholar
  66. Tsui, A. S. 2004. Contributing to global management knowledge: A case for high quality indigenous research. Asia Pacific Journal of Management, 21(4): 491–513.Google Scholar
  67. Tushman, M. L., & O’Reilly, C. A. 1996. The ambidextrous organization: Managing evolutionary and revolutionary change. California Management Review, 38(4): 1–23.Google Scholar
  68. Vermeulen, F. 2005. On rigor and relevance: Fostering dialectic progress in management research. Academy of Management Journal, 48(6): 978–982.Google Scholar
  69. Wei, H., Zhu, Y., & Li, S. 2016. Top executive leaders’ compassionate actions: An integrative framework of compassion incorporating a Confucian perspective. Asia Pacific Journal of Management, 33(3): 767–787.Google Scholar
  70. Zhang, L., Deng, Y., Zhang, X., & Hu, E. 2016. Why do Chinese employees build supervisor-subordinate guanxi? A motivational analysis. Asia Pacific Journal of Management, 33(3): 617–648.Google Scholar
  71. Zhang, W. R., Peace, K. E., & Han, H. J. 2016. YinYang bipolar dynamic organizational modeling for equilibrium-based decision analysis: Logical transformation of an indigenous philosophy to a global science. Asia Pacific Journal of Management, 33(3): 723–766.Google Scholar
  72. Zhang, Y., Waldman, D. A., Han, Y. L., & Li, X. B. 2015. Paradoxical leader behaviors in people management: Antecedents and consequences. Academy of Management Journal, 58(2): 538–566.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Copenhagen Business SchoolFrederiksbergDenmark

Personalised recommendations