Some examples of paradoxes that affect our daily lives:
- Writing paradox: In writing for yourself, you write for others. — Adapted from Rick Rubin, Shangri-La (s01e03, 50:22)
- Speed paradox: Slow is smooth, and smooth is fast. — Navy Seals
- Paradoxical performance: The more you try, the worse you do. (See also ironic effects.)
- Mindfulness paradox: “Strictly speaking, any effort we make is not good for our practice because it creates waves in our minds. It is impossible, however, to attain absolute calmness of our mind without any effort. We must make some effort, but we must forget ourselves in the effort we make.” —Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind
- Spontaneous sincerity paradox: “If you try to be filial, this is not true filiality; if you try to be obedient, this is not true obedience. You cannot try, but you also cannot not try; trying is wrong, but not trying is also wrong.”—Guodian Corpus, via Edward Slingerland
- Expectation paradox: Make what you want. People might not care what you think they want, they want what you want. — Adapted from Eat a Peach, by David Chang (p. 58)
- Fear paradox: When driven by fear, inaction or action can often set you back. — Adapted from Hustle Harder, Hustle Smarter, by Curtis Jackson (p. 19)
- Paranoia paradox: Only the paranoid survive, as long as the paranoia doesn’t kill the person or product first. — Adapted from Andy Grove and David Heinemeier Hansson
- Belief paradox: “To believe is to know you believe, and to know you believe is not to believe.” — Jean-Paul Sartre, via Finite and Infinite Games by James P. Carse (p. 14)
- Strength paradox: “I am not strong because I can force others to do what I wish as a result of my play with them, but because I can allow them to do what they wish in the course of my play with them.” —James P. Carse, Finite and Infinite Games (p. 31)
Please send me more examples, preferably with one (or more) primary sources.
What’s Going On?
As Mihnea Moldoveneau and Roger Martin write in Diaminds, remarkable minds are able to think dialectically and dialogically. Invoking F. Scott Fitzgerald, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.” Roger Martin has since developed a term for this, known as integrative thinking. Another phrase, the paradox mindset, also describes this emerging trend.
A great mind can stretch through the typical discomforts of ambiguity, difference, conflict, and tension, towards new insights and plans of action. Great organizations are built this way as well. For example, in High Output Management (p. 18), Andy Grove writes about pairing up quantity and output indicators with indicators of quality of work (e.g., number of errors, partially subjective and partially objective ratings of quality of work assessed by senior manager, etc.). This is where ideas such as Amazon’s “disagree and commit” emerge.