Inc.: Want to Be More Creative (and Successful)? Science Says Embrace the Paradox Mindset

04 Dec 2020
AOM Journal Research shows that embracing seeming contradictions can make you even more creative, which could help you become more successful.

Originally found at Inc., by Jeff Haden.

While it sounds a little silly, Einstein used to sit around and think about how an object could be at rest and yet also moving -- at the same time. Deciding that the apparent contradiction was possible depending on the position of the person observing the object helped lead Einstein to his theory of relativity.

Einstein was hardly alone in that approach; a 1996 study showed that a number of Nobel Prize winners and groundbreaking scientists all put chunks of time into "actively conceiving multiple opposites or antitheses simultaneously."

Proving that, oddly enough, while we all crave certainty, embracing contradictions can be a better way forward.

Take constraints. Setting out to achieve a huge goal with insufficient resources sounds like a recipe for stress. Anxiety. Conflict.

And eventual failure.

Unless you embrace what social psychologists call the "paradox mindset."

In a 2017 study published in Academy of Management Journal, researchers asked employees to rate their willingness to embrace contradictions using statements like:

  • "When I consider conflicting perspectives, I gain a better understanding of an issue."
  • "I am comfortable working on tasks that contradict each other."
  • "I feel uplifted when I realize two opposites can be true."

The researchers then asked each employee to rate how often they experienced resource constraints at work: Limited time, limited funds, limited resources, limited supplies, etc.

In the meantime, their bosses rated each person in terms of overall performance, creativity, and innovation.

You've already guessed the result. Employees who ranked on the low end of the paradox mindset scale struggled with constraints. When they felt resources were insufficient, their performance sagged.

The employees who embraced a paradox mindset, who thought it was not just challenging but even a little fun to overcome constraints, were the better performers -- especially where creativity and problem-solving was concerned.

Better yet, constraints often caused their performance to improve.

Continue reading the original article at Inc.

Read the original research in Academy of Management Journal.

Also read this AOM Insights summary citing this research.

Check out this infographic and this video based on the original research.

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