Creativity: Resolving 6 Paradoxes

By Shlomo Maital


   Can God make a stone so heavy God cannot lift it?

   A barber shaves all those in the village who don’t shave themselves. Who shaves the barber? (Kurt Goedel).

   These are examples of paradoxes: 2 propositions, sometimes wrapped into one sentence, that are internally contradictory. There is even a fifty dollar word for it: oxymoron. E.g. military intelligence.

   Creativity is often a matter of two things that conflict, and a creative individual who is able to integrate and combine them. And innovation, as a process, often embodies such paradoxes. Here are six of them, drawn to my attention by a colleague, Prof. Ella Miron-Spektor.  

* Passion vs. Profit:   Innovation is driven by passion, as its rocket fuel. But if you focus solely on passion, ignore the hard reality of profit, you cannot build a sustained business. How to resolve?

* Huge hairy challenges vs. build self-confidence:   Innovation builds on huge hairy challenges. But, frequent failure ruins self-confidence, the key resource of creative people.

* Personal empowerment, initiative, vs. Shared goals:   Ideas come from individuals, who are highly motivated. Yet delivery of ideas is done by teams, who need shared goals, where the individual personality is submerged.

* Diversity vs. cohesion.   Diverse teams work best. Yet cohesion is vital for delivery of ideas.

* Learn from history vs. Detach from the past.   You need to learn from the past. But you also need to forget the past, in order to create the future.

* incremental vs. radical innovation: you need to make small improvements to existing things; but you also need to reinvent entire product categories or industries.

And of course, there is another paradox, that overarches the other 6:   novelty vs usefulness.   Creative ideas are novel, new. But they have to be useful.  And what people find useful is what they know, what is familiar.  This is very hard to overcome.

   Innovator: How can YOU resolve these paradoxes? Find a creative way to do so, and make it a key part of your innovation process.   Above all – be aware these paradoxes exist, have to be managed, and have to be somehow resolved, without destroying either of the key two propositions.