Can you handle a paradox
A paradox is defined as a seemingly absurd or contradictory statement or proposition which when investigated may prove to be well founded or true. It can also be a person or thing that combines contradictory features or qualities. Each of us is a paradox, some more paradoxical than others. If I had not called it The Daily Paradox, I might have called it The Enigma. That means a person or thing that is mysterious or difficult to understand. We are all enigmas, too. Both paradox and enigma spring from our ability to think beyond a simple reflect of our instincts. It is the gift and curse of humankind. We decide how to use it.
Ever since I first heard Elgar’s Enigma Variations, played in the Malvern Hills in Worcestershire, England, on which they are based, I have wanted to be ‘an enigma’. Some of my friends are kind enough to say I have achieved it. Not quite yet, I think.
All creative thought depends on our ability to stretch our mind beyond the logical to the absurd. The absurd happens often and causes great upheaval to lives and societies. Those who think this way – contrarian, if you like – won’t always win but they will always be ahead of the herd. The Queen is reported to have once said ‘for the monarchy to survive it must keep up with society’s changes but always be a half-step behind them’. If true, it was a very wise observation about both a paradoxical institution and the timing of change.
Why should a good paradox push you ahead of ideal commercial timing if you are in business or even simply social? Because the person expounding the paradox is trying to get you to think ahead, well ahead. You can choose your timing of adopting new ideas but if you want to succeed you will pay attention to a forecast paradox and weigh its likely impact.
The paradoxes you are faced with tempt you to try to make a lineal decision. They appear to have ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ options. Action certainly needs decision and no paradox should delay that – even if the decision is not to act hastily. The manager who succeeds will keep the alternative s/he didn’t opt for at the front of his or her mind. Writing realistic roleplays for clients I usually pose an event that seems unlikely to happen but is possible within their situation. More than 50% of the time the absurd roleplay comes true.
First rule of understanding a paradox is to identify the two competing, and ‘right’, goals. These two points put you on the horns of a dilemma. That dilemma is all about timing. But first you must consider what is right and what is wrong about the two options. Each will have good and bad points. Critical question then is ‘what if we focus wholly on one option to the exclusion of the other?’ Understand the downside of ignoring the less favoured one.
Now you aim to achieve both goals presented in the paradox. That is impossible, which is what gives rise to the existence of the paradox. So, in aiming to achieve both goals postulated, work out which is the upside of each and see how you can maximize that. This is where your creative thinking, plus that of your colleagues, comes in.
At this point what determines your actions are the triggers that make you think yours was a wrong choice. Triggers will come whatever decision you have made. React immediately or pause before deciding what to do next? And here’s the balancing act between creativity and logic. Your internal risk analysis will guide you, your prejudices will constrain you.
What you do next is for you to decide, of course. If it were me I usually went for the demanding – and therefore inevitably risky – option of what I really want to happen. Short term it sometimes damaged me. On balance it enabled me to win.
Courage is not about show. It is about determination.