Holding Contradicting Thoughts

Contradictory thoughts appear to be cul-de-sacs, promising nothing of value. Counter-intuitively, the introduction of doubt is a key ingredient in evolving outcomes that are beyond simply predictable. Design thinkers are often encouraged to shift or overturn values in order to explore new outcomes*.

This weekend’s Startup Leadership class involved a discussion with Manoj Kothari of Onio Design. He touched upon this important point and highlighted how the mind is a natural synthesizer. Being with contradictory thought allows for the resolution of conflict with time. Time here could be anything from a single night’s sleep, a couple of days or more.

The key is recognizing the cessation of the background, mental ping-pong process on hitting a contradictory thought. At that point, motivation to investigate the thread further, to place your thoughts in a constructive framework, or to seek out additional stimulant is on the low end.

Take the intuitive definition of the word “problem”. It can vary dramatically depending on the specific outlook, or attitude at that given point of time.

In recent customer trials for a product I’m working on, I interviewed parents of students from local private schools that employ English as a medium of instruction. Interviews with two parents of overachievers nudged me towards a discovery. Before the interviews, it never occurred to me that overachievers might have a problem. My predominant thoughts stayed with the visual of class laggards struggling to keep up.

It turns out overachievers do have problems as well and might be more inclined to address them.

My interviews culminated in the following problem statement around second-language acquisition, a well-researched problem:

We acquire our first language by learning from our environment. During that time we’re literally exposed to over a million new words thanks to our parents and caretakers. Acquiring a second language is left to schools that can at best provide an abstract learning environment. For instance, learning to speak the word “water”, or “mother” wouldn’t be valuable if there wasn’t a recognizable, real reward attached. Overachievers who hunger for this same environment are bound to discover richer rewards through participation in debate and other social events in that second language.

* Creativity in Design Thinking, Charles Burnette PhD:

Good designers typically seek satisfaction beyond that required by stakeholders in the problematic situation being addressed. By applying values or criteria not usually applied to a situation or experience, designers may find an unanticipated outcome. By shifting values, even contradicting those they might normally apply in a situation, designers can sometimes arrive at totally unanticipated and creative outcomes. Being highly independent in their judgment creative designers are not usually responsive to group standards and control; they often suspend or override judgment in their search for originality.