aradoxes can also help us explain and resolve misunderstandings and conflicts. Take a look at the following map of the world. The map appears to have been printed upside down. It hasn’t: this is an Australian map of the world designed by Donald Blygh , who said, "I am sick and tired of seeing my beautiful country stuck in the bottom right-hand corner of world maps. I want a map with Australia at the top and in the middle.”

At first sight the Australian view of reality looks wrong, but when you think again it’s as valid as any other. Who says that north should be at the top? Blygh reminds us that this is only one viewpoint among many, and that conflicting viewpoints can co-exist if we change our perspective.

In intercultural misunderstandings, saying "that crazy foreigner" is often a sign of an inability to see the other "point of view". From a US viewpoint, German "order" may look like "bureaucracy", whereas from a German viewpoint the American "do-it-now" attitude, could suggest recklessness. If we can accept that these forms of behaviour look different when looked at from another direction, then the conflict disappears.

If you find yourself confronted with a misunderstanding in business, try standing above the content and communicate about the communication. Discuss the process of the communication by addressing issues such as agenda, timing, language, protocol and personal feelings. For example: "Before we start the final negotiation with Mr Yamamoto, I'd like to quickly review our understanding of the final contract clause. I'm still not sure we are talking about the same thing."

Maybe you want to go beyond the issues of new business acquisition and conflict resolution. Maybe you want to fundamentally change the way your business is done. How can you check if your idea is likely to be good enough? Ask yourself these questions. How many can you answer with a ”yes”?

  • Is the idea counter-intuitive, surprising, or paradoxical?

  • Does the idea lead to incredulity from experts?

  • Is the idea described as "a waste of time"?

  • Is there a risk that the realization of the idea could have "legal consequences"?

    Björn Femtén, the innovative director of F.U.N., Stockholm’s leading business school, says: "Nowadays, whenever I hear a project idea I really like, I tell myself to be very careful, this idea can’t be any good." Femten has learned from being overenthusiastic: "I am much more positive to those ideas where I am most sceptical."

    In the end, however, everything is a question of execution. Having a great idea is one thing; having the courage to execute it is another. The final key question behind any initiative for significant change is:

  • Is the paradoxical idea being sponsored by a "young Turk"?

    The term "young Turk" entered the English language as a result of Ataturk’s revolution; it refers to a revolutionary thinker who wants to change the established order.

    Napster founder Shawn Fanning was 18 when he wrote the code that changed the world by allowing Internet users to exchange MP3 music files. His hacker friends and other "experts" thought he was crazy, telling him: "It's a selfish world, nobody wants to share."

    The experts were wrong. Fanning's program is among the greatest Internet applications ever, up there with e-mail and instant messaging. The Napster site is the fastest-growing in history, passing the 25-million figure in less than a year of operation. And, as Fanning said it would, his program does everything a Web application is supposed to do: it builds community, it breaks down barriers, it multiplies itself like a virus, it disintermediates — cutting out the "middleman", in this case the music industry — and it may also be illegal.

    On the other side of the fence, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) did the logical thing and sued Napster. Meanwhile, Thomas Middelhof, the entrepreneurial CEO of Bertelsmann, chose a paradoxical option. Last year, Middelhof offered Fanning a deal which shocked the entertainment industry and threatened to position Bertelsmann as the dominant industry player.

    Everything about the Napster-Bertelsmann partnership had the hallmark of revolutionary, paradoxical change: it is counter-intuitive, iconoclastic, and so bold as to be regarded with derision and anger by its competitors.

    However the Napster saga ends, one thing is for sure, the music industry will never be the same again.

    "The times they are a'changing" said Dylan. In an increasingly crazy world, maybe paradoxical behaviour will become the norm.

    Paul Smith
    (This article first appeared in Business Spotlight in March 2000)

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  • © Copyright by Paul Smith 2001