Paradoxical Cognition

What is and what is not create each other. Difficult and easy complement each other. Tall and short shape each other. High and low rest on each other. Voice and tone blend with each other. First and last follow each other.” – Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching, From CH.2

We believe many things. Oftentimes they are helpful in some way, perhaps not in others. It is increasingly difficult to make absolute statements about what we “know” as it seems to be a moving target. Consider for a moment the “standing desk.” Desks and chairs were originally created to allow the user to rest while working on things, but we have come to find that perhaps it’s harder on the body to sit all of the time than to stand. As we learn, our understanding shifts.

The “truth” then, may find less resistance as we come to adopt paradoxical cognition. To give that a simple definition, it is the capacity to hold two concepts simultaneously that are apparently in contradiction with one another. While logic would dictate that this would be the opposite of fact, it has far more to do with perspective and the understanding of fact.

There is a good bit of discussion on business circles about the fact that strategic management can benefit a from applying paradoxical cognition. Business strategy isn’t something that I am particularly well versed in, but it does stand to reason that those who look at how the state of something may change across time would be more open to altering their methods to change with the tides.

I recall Thich Nhat Hanh speaking to a group of children and asking them regarding his tea cup. “Do you see the cloud in the cup?” His reference was to the fact that clouds make rain, which is collected to boil and make tea with. There’s a certain wisdom to this perspective, and it has value in that while something may not be one thing right now, it will perhaps be that in the future, or has been it previously.

By embracing possibility, we may not only un-trap our thinking, but the results as well.

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