Or why Innovation is full of dilemmas, dichotomies and decisions.
Paradox – defined by Wikipedia thus
“a statement that, despite apparently sound reasoning from true premises, leads to a self-contradictory or a logically unacceptable conclusion. A paradox involves contradictory yet interrelated elements that exist simultaneously and persist over time.”
Contradictions yet interrelated elements feature a lot in work-related innovations. Those innovations that come from necessity (you know, the mother of all invention – until Snapchat I suppose).
And yet we find ourselves sometimes having to innovate in complex and paradoxical situations.
We have to get all digital at work versus We should talk and listen more.
We need to learn quickly about this versus Let’s not make any rash decisions.
We are surrounded by paradoxes at the moment and I won’t even mention the “B’ word that ends in exit.
How we use paradoxical thinking in innovation may be tested really soon with the advent of increased digital automation, robotics and machine learning. How do we use such digital technology to make efficiencies and savings AND give our employees more meaningful work and not displace a whole swathe of people?
Fons Trompenaars is a favourite thinker of mine. He, in the past, has said that in order to simplify things we have to create more dilemmas.
So from multiple variables that cause a cognitive shut-down we simplify it with “well on the one hand we could fully automate, or we could reengineer all our processes and create more added value for customers through person to person interaction on top of automated services”.
Paradox management (which isn’t really a thing but I am determined to see it become one) is, I believe, a true skill for the future. As we face more and more disruptive innovation, challenges to orthodoxies and unsettling elements to our work and lives, I feel we need to be more able to manage paradoxes, and to create dilemmas is perhaps one way to help us narrow our focus sensibly, and to innovative imaginatively.
So how do we manage paradoxes in any of our innovation-led activities?
I think you take a part-engineering; part-artistic stance.
Consider the component parts of both parts your paradox and look at how much you know about them in a forensic way. This will help you decode the paradox from a big, and potentially clashing thing to something made up of lots of things you could look to work on.
Then, think more artistically; about the more esoteric, intangible, emotional aspects of each part of the paradox – so not just WHAT is it, but WHO or HOW is it being?
From this list you may match components to intangibles; from mechanics to feelings and with this you can start to look more at similarities in the paradox rather than contradictions. Similarly, those that are poles apart, you may want to either leave – as they’re just too far apart – or take as disruptive or creatively bold an approach as you can, to bring these to less significance as disablers or barriers to progress.
Let’s take a simple example.
How do we make a create a sensible “bring your own device” approach and be secure with our data.
In the engineering mindsets you look at technical specifications, security software and password controls. In the artistic scenario, you look at how people use devices, where they most use them and what naturally formed habits already look like.
From that you deduce that chat apps are fine, and document exchange apps are not, so you reengineer processes that people can share learning materials and simple updates with each other on their own device but corporate documents are only for encrypted devices. You train people and they can all see how easy it is to be compliant and then voila – paradox managed.
Ok that’s a little simplistic but I hope you get the gist.
After all, if we don’t become adept at managing paradox we might all end up saying something the Sex Pistols used at the end of their iconic album covers “Never Mind the…”