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Paradox Thinking: Taking the Scum Off Your Mind

By Peter Jeff
The Leadership Mints Guy

Here are a few ideas to help you stay balanced in your ironic topsy-turvy world. Reading time: 5:34

         The 4-year old girl stabbed her long thin spoon into the mountain of ice cream. She tasted the hot fudge, pursed her lips and said “Oh, that’s hot.” Then she swallowed, tasting the ice cream chaser.

        Her shocked tongue delightfully beamed “Oh, that’s cold!” Hot fudge sundaes are hot. And cold. At the same time. They’re a composite of opposites.

        So are leaders.

        Chances are you feel like you are in a tug-of war-every day with your feelings and thoughts, actions and behaviors. You’re not alone. Read on to gain some solace in realizing that parlaying paradox is a leadership skill that you develop over time.

                After all, the most effective leaders I’ve known are exemplars of opposites. They use their strength to create peace. They know only the strong can be gentle. They know they don’t know.

            They’re so proud, they’re humble.  They work in “exciting serenity” as artist Paul Cezanne characterized his working style.  Leaders, oozing in the hot fudge of innovation smothered over the cold ice cream of the bottom line, perform paradoxically.

        They are “quick but never in a hurry” as former UCLA basketball coach John Wooden exhorted his players. They persist paradoxically. They get up even when they can’t (as boxing champion Jack Dempsey‘s paradoxically defined a champion.)

        Like champions, effective leaders embrace the paradox that the “new consistency in the world is a lack of consistency,” as former military leader and Secretary of State General Colin Powell observed.

        Reflecting the hot and cold nature of a hot fudge sundae, the most effective leaders intuitively understand the irony of the world around them where a curve is really a series of straight lines or where a bucket of water will freeze faster if  it is heated first. That’s why:

  1. Robert Moses, who never personally learned to drive a car, built the expressways around New York City.
  2.  Joshua Slocum, who never learned to swim, sailed alone around the world in 1898 and
  3. Mel Blanc, who was alergic to carrots, became the voice of Bugs Bunny.

Sharpen Your Thinking with a Paradox

      Former Chief Justice Wendell Holmes once observed: “There’s nothing like a paradox to take the scum off your mind.” So in the spirit of helping you take the scum off your mind, ponder these paradoxes that leaders in a variety of fields face every day:

  1. A doctor cuts a little piece of the human heart to strengthen it.
  2. A citrus farmer sprays his grove with water to coat his oranges with a sheet of ice to protect his oranges from freezing.
  3. A firefighter conquers a forest fire in part by starting another fire— a fire wall.
  4. A carpenter uses something rough (sandpaper) to make something smooth.
  5. The shot-putter knows that 70 percent of his strength comes from his legs not his arms.
  6.  And a homeowner must conserve water during a major flood.

     To stimulate your thinking on the power of the paradox in effective leadership, consider these 10 paradoxes from everyday life:

 1. Stay Apart to Stay Together — Poet Kahlil Gibran notes that the roof of a temple is strong because its pillars are far apart.

 2. Less is More — The body has more strength when it has less air in the lungs. That’s the reason you hear the grunts from karate practitioners or tennis players. And human bones are hollow to withstand greater pressure.

 3.    To Relax, Tense Up — muscles need to contract to relax.

 4.    To Build It Up, Break It Down– Just like you crack an egg to make an omelet, body builders know you must break muscle down to build it up. To make copper stronger, you hammer it and to make paper stronger, you beat it.

 5.   Step Farther Back To See Closer In— Impressionist artists step back away from the canvass to appreciate the impact of their blending and pointillism.

 6.  To Know is Not To Know — Poet T.S. Eliot said: “All our knowledge brings us nearer to our ignorance.” And famed scientist Albert Einstein noted: “As the sphere of light increases so does the darkness surrounding it.”

 7.  Be Smart, Play Dumb — Cast yourself in the role of Columbo, the disheveled always seemingly confused police detective in the TV series, eventually solved the case.

 8.  Be Weak To Be Strong— Dare to be humble: “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong,” said Mahatma Gandhi.

 9.  Die to Live — Whatever you live for be willing to die for.

 10.  Look Back to See Ahead — “The farther you look back, the farther you can see ahead,” reads the inscription over the entrance to the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Mich.

 11.  To Be Certain Be Uncertain — As M.Scott Peck writes in his book The Road Less Traveled: “We are often most in the dark when we are the most certain and the most enlightened when we are the most confused.”

 12. The Bigger It Is the Smaller It Is—The larger the musical bell the lower the note. The shorter the wind instrument the higher the notes.

     Now that you have parlayed your Paradox Power and taken the scum off your mind, you are now more ready than ever to spoon your future success out of the hot fudge sundae known as the hot and cold marketplace. Sink your teeth into the hot fudge sundae of business.

      And lick your competition.

Today’s ImproveMINT

Parlay paradox in every day life to keep your leadership thinking in mint condition.

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9 Responses

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