Develop a Binary Mindset – An Argument Against “Shades of Gray”

Approaching decisions from a binary mindset promotes simplification and provides answers that can be acted upon.

For many years I have been told my thinking is binary, all or nothing, and that I don’t acknowledge all the shades of gray that exist in day-to-day life. For many years I have been left to figure out how I feel about this criticism. Is having this binary thought process – on/off, yes/no, right/wrong – an area for improvement? Should I acknowledge that there are shades of gray in everything?

Recently, my answer to these questions has come into focus. That answer is “NO”. I have decided to double down on this binary thought process, to continue to make binary decisions and put a period at the end of a sentence rather than leave an ellipsis.

To me, acknowledging a gray area is to acknowledge an uncertainty indicative of attempting to make a decision without full understanding of facts.

Adopting a binary thought process will set one up for success in a few ways:

  1. Setting up future binary decisions requires that no stone be left unturned throughout the decision-making process. If expectations of a binary resolution is set, the legwork must be done and the right questions asked in order to establish the best understanding of the question. From here one is able to form such a binary answer. A binary 1 or 0 does not have any understanding of “maybe”, “potentially”, or “what if”.
  2. A binary decision made is a question brought to closure. The lack of a binary decision leaves the question open to further examination, determination, analysis, and remains an open item detracting from the energy that can be put toward other things, namely, following the decided path to the end. A decision made with anything other than a firm “yes” or “no” is not concluded with a period; but rather a semicolon waiting for the rest of the decision to be made.
  3. When maintaining that a non-binary resolution is unacceptable, as is the case when rejecting the gray areas in favor of a binary answer, conversations are driven to either the desired “yes” or “no” OR an actionable, time bound path is defined by which this currently unresolved question is to be resolved. This provides a clear path to the next step; and at the end of the day, that is all a binary decision attempts to accomplish.

And this is all well and good when the correct answer is found the first time. How does this theory work out when it is later found out that that first decision, that initial “1” should have instead been a “0”?

Well, shit, you got it wrong. Nothing else to do but start back at the start of another process. In the simplest of instances, there is only one other alternative solution to the question at hand – the alternative to your first decision.

There is efficiency and simplicity in a binary decision and that’s where its power lies. A complex issue, when driven to a binary resolution, “1” or “0”, becomes a matter of choosing one path or another. Once a decision is made (and truly MADE) all of the focus can be put into exploring the path rather than considering what that other path may have been.

This binary mindset is not an excuse to be arrogant, as may happen if a person believes they are “right” and has the right answers. The purpose of the binary mindset is to simplify the thoughts and decisions and drive more action than theorizing. It is important to know that there is no way to be correct the first time, every time. The driving philosophy is to produce efficient, actionable resolutions based on the best information available. Know that there will be decisions made that are later found to be incorrect. In these instances a quick recovery, course correct, and new direction are all that is needed to right the ship.

Be cognizant of the times in which a question needs resolved. If there is uncertainty in the resolution, dig a level or two deeper and determine whether, with a few more minutes of research and thought, a gray area can be brought to a “1” or “0”, in true binary fashion.

Yours in strength,


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