Tag Archives: contradictions in the mind

The waiting mind

Have you ever observed your mind when you are waiting?

I was in a Supermarket on Sunday with my family. I am not really found of shopping, so I prefer to just wait somewhere taking care of my kid and of course watching people. My wife appears with some goods in hand which goes in to the cart I am guarding and off she goes again. Normally there is a set time (sometimes not explicitly) after which normally I lose my patience. Either we stop the shopping at this point or I swear not to accompany her for another..

But last week I simply stood there watching what happening in the mind ( I am reading book on Mindfulness). As I became impatient, there was a tension building up in the mind. It was as if the flow of thoughts stopped or the thoughts got confined to smaller circles.  The tension in the mind was something similar to what a magnet has on some iron pieces strewn on a paper.

This is what happens in the mind normally when one waits. The thinking becomes unconscious; that’s why many lose temper when they wait. Next time when you are waiting for something and are about to lose your temper, for a moment watch your mind.

But the real revelation was something different. This explains why many of the ideating sessions we conduct in offices do not work. We are there waiting for the idea to come and this waiting makes the mind ‘tense’ which is a non creative state. An idea that arises effortlessly and spontaneously comes from the mind that is not waiting; but at rest. I think this is one of the biggest blocks for creativity; but hard to see because of the contradiction build in to it.

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The beauty of contradictions

Last week, I was in a session discussing about TRIZ (For those who do not know, TRIZ is an inventiveproblem solving methodology which has 40 principles. This is an easy way to solve a problem using these principles : phrase your problem in to a contradiction (there is a parameter that’s improving and there is another one that is suffering) and then using a matrix, you can identify the correct principles to be applied)

That left me thinking a bit about contradictions. Have you wondered what happens in the mind when there is a contradiction? Why is contradiction an important aspect in problem solving?

I think this is because holding two contradictory thoughts in the mind simultaneously, makes the mind bit confused, and there is a moment of uncertainly and stillness. This stillness is where mind is receptive to new ideas, looking beyond the patterns.

Now when I think of it, all the religions used this brilliantly to convey their teachings. The “Bhagawat Geetha“, one of the most popular books in Hinduism begins with illustrating a contradiction. It starts with Krishna telling Arjuna : You are mourning for those not worthy of sorrow; yet speaking like one knowledgeable. The learnt neither laments for the dead or the living. (Chapter 2, verse 11 – This is where the great Shankara starts his interpretation of Geetha). Geetha is conveyed in to the stillness created by this contradiction.

Incidentally Geetha also ends with a contradiction. Towards the end, after the message is conveyed, Krishna contradicts whatever he said in the verse : Relinquishing all the ideas of righteousness, surrender un to Me exclusively, I will deliver you from all sinful reactions, do not despair.(Chapter 18, Verse 66)

Many sayings of Jesus has this contradiction in them. This is a good example: “Whoever has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.”

This is what happens here: there is an immediate compulsive tendency for the mind to respond and this is based on patterns or conditioning. But when there is a contradiction, mind waits for a moment, not sure which pattern to execute. And this is a moment of awareness where you are open to newer possibilities.

I think for the contradictions to really become effective and bring about a new dimension to problems, it needs to be felt by the heart and not the head.

Productivity vs Creativity

          In this world of cut-throat competition (does such a competition really exist in the first place; that’s still a question), every organization is obsessed with several initiatives aimed at improving all sorts of parameters one can think of, whether tangible or intangible. The intangible part is gaining importance now, as companies wants to project themselves not just as mere money making machines, but also as bodies who care for people, surroundings and the environment.

        No one is really sure of what “that magic thing” is, that can take us to the next level or put us ahead of the competition. So they end up trying to improve everything; hoping at least one of them will do the job. One thing that happens in the process is that organizations end up creating contradictions. That is to say they try to improve two (or more sometimes) parameters that in reality cannot really coexist. Any organization that lacks a high level view of things is often left to wonder why things don’t improve.

            One good example I see these days is productivity and creativity. On one side, everyone agrees that people need to do more and more in the given time, do not idle away their time, need to be organized, manage their time effectively and be deadline oriented. This is what we have been advocating and practicing for decades now. We have developed a whole lot of processes, methodologies, trainings etc around this and people have changed their habits, thinking and approach to adapt to this model. But then came the surprise. There was definitely stagnation. Though the efficiency and productivity improved, the organizations did not really get the breakthrough they wanted to. Then came the concept of creativity – people said the stagnation is caused by lack of creativity and that’s what is needed to be successful in today’s world.

            Now the organizations that were so far obsessed with improving the productivity, took up creativity too and said – here is another new parameter we need to show improvement on. C’mon guys, how can we survive without being creative and continuously innovating? Look at Google, Ideo….

            In reality, how well these two can co-exist? I am a firm believer that creativity needs those ‘gaps’ or ‘spaces’ for it to express. The more you pack your schedules, the more you chase deadlines; you are actually doing the reverse – getting rid of those gaps. When organizations push two such contradicting initiatives simultaneously, they neither end up in a creative organizations nor a productive organization. All that will result is individuals (or even groups) that will start exhibiting one of these traits predominantly. And organizations  become an assorted bunch of people who predominantly lean towards one or few of the concepts / parameters.

            Is that bad? May be not really, in the sense that something is better than nothing. But this is no way near to making an organizational identity or culture. The solution sometimes is to drop one of those parameters. For e.g a company in the creative space like advertising, might actually not much focus on productivity, but just on creativity. But this is not the only solution. It could be possible to correlate them. For e.g an IT company for whom productivity is of prime concern, can look at creative ways to improve it. But in that case, this is quiet different from having them as two separate parameters for improvement.

            Why does it happen ? I think primarily because we understand both as ‘concepts’. We know ‘productivity’ as a concept and also know all that’s needed to improve it. Now we know “creativity” also as a concept and there are all these tools and workshops which teach you how to become creative. When we understand anything at the concept level (mind level), we cannot see the underlying inter connection. So it doesn’t occur to the organizations that they need to drop something to embrace something new.

            I think at the root of this is the basic human problem of wanting more and more (of anything) to make the life more meaningful.

            This is actually an extension of our personal life; where in also we create such contradictions. Take for example: We want to be paid well as well as we want to do a job that we love. This creates a contradiction. And mostly we make a compromise. But the compromise comes from the logical mind and soon it stops making sense. Say you decide that money is important for you right now and you don’t really care what trash you do.Fine. For few months, you are happy. But then the deep dissatisfaction starts emerging and you feel miserable. In rare cases (if it is strong enough), miracles can happen. People can drop everything and start some thing they love and still be successful. But normally such contradictions makes life miserable and you start feeling that there is no progress.

            The same contradiction of productivity vs creativity exists in our personal lives too. When you are too busy chasing deadlines one after another with packed schedules and always a short term goal to achieve, there is hardly any creative space. The conditioning in the mind is so strong that if you don’t do anything in office on a particular day, you feel guilty. You have wasted time; that’s a crime.

Because of all that noise that gets created in the mind, you never get to experience those moments of stillness where creativity blossoms.

Also read The ‘void’ for creativity in Organizations