Paradoxical Thinking (part of creativity)



"..are uncomfortable as they challenge your thinking, assumptions and your thinking to a whole new perspective of decision-making and solving problems..."

Shereen Hijazi, 2017

Our traditional education system focuses on 'cause and effect' thinking, ie it is

"...a relationship between things, events or actions (cause) which one of them will make another one happen as a result (effect)..."

Shereen Hijazi, 2017

Paradox comes from the Greek word 'paradoxon' which means 'contrary to expectations, existing belief, perceived opinion'.

" is a statement that appear to be self-contradictory or silly, but may include a latent truth. It is also used to illustrate an opinion or statement contrary to accepted traditional often used to make the reader think of an idea in an innovative way..."

Shereen Hijazi, 2017

(for more details see 'Po' concept in creative thinking in this knowledge base)

There are times when an organisation needs to 'think outside the box', be creative, be curious, takes some risks, etc. This is paradoxical thinking is

"...A way of looking at a situation or a problem from a various range of perspectives and carry out in-depth analysis to understand the problem completely..."

Nageshwar Das, 2019

A classic example of this is Apple in the way it deals with clients and constraints. For clients, it is 'here's our product, take it or leave it, you will love it'. Apple provides no guarantees as they don't promise anything. They also try to minimise constraints, like government regulations, so that staff can just concentrate on work and not worry about other things. Furthermore, their internal policies are very simple and minimal but strictly enforced. Yet in a normal business relationship, promises and constraints are handled differently.

Characteristics of paradoxical thinking

It means creating the environment that encourages

- taking nothing for granted

- being open-minded

- extending the learning boundaries

- not accepting the routine

- taking the opposite direction from the normal

- being contradictory

- looking for absurd ideas

- being sceptical

- being curious

- thinking differently

- challenging the status quo

- thinking beyond the obvious

- looking for things that are not usual

- using your imagination

- involving irrational thinking

- embracing creative destruction

- tolerating controlled chaos

- being willing to experiment, etc..

Thus paradoxical thinking is linked with creativity.

NB behind every usual thing there is something unusual!!!!

To be a paradoxical feature, you need to use at least 4 leadership styles, ie

i) visionary (What would be an extraordinary outcome?)

ii) empowering (What is the right thing to do, especially for others?|)

iii) rational (What are the facts, expectations, etc of those affected?)

iv) commanding (What are the consequences of your options?)

(source: Shereen Hijazi, 2017)

Paradoxical thinking is 1 of the 8 skills as part of intelligence; the other 7 are judgement, perception, reason, intuition, imagination, logic and memory. However, paradox is the least practised.

Many traditional thinkers, specialists and experts feel challenged by paradoxical thinking, ie

"...seems senseless, logically unacceptable or self-contradictory and involves risks..."

Shereen Hijazi, 2017

As organisations become larger, there is a tendency to standardise things. This can work against paradoxical thinking, ie learning to deal with contradictions and embracing compatible forces.

"...the art of managing is to have the ability to manage rationally and to be a paradoxical thinker......should have the skills to deal with ambiguity through mindset; one that combines and optimises rather than splits apart and differentiates..."

A. T Belasen as quoted by Shereen Hijazi, 2017


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