Category Archives: Thinking Paradoxically

Why allowing your team to fail can help it succeed

hands-people-woman-workingFrom the mailroom all the way to the C-suite, employees have developed an exceptional capacity for reading between the lines. The boss or the shareholders may say they want innovation, but the unspoken message may be, “but only if it’s risk-free.” If we want innovation, we have to tolerate risk, and we have to make it safe for our employees to take those risks. When corporate leaders make it clear in their words and actions that employees aren’t expected to be perfect–that “mistakes” are not only acceptable, but are indeed just part of the process of getting to winning ideas and products–then employees can relax in a way that supports their own creativity. And when employees get creative, innovations can happen.

Cirque du Soleil, which reinvented the traditional slow-growth genre of the circus and in doing so became a multinational company with four thousand employees, twenty simultaneous shows running worldwide, and one hundred million spectators in less than twenty-five years, embraces risk taking and sees occasional failures as simply part of the creative process. In an interview, Lyn Herward, president of their Creative Content Division, explained that at Cirque du Soleil “employees are offered the protection and support that they need to take risks on the company’s behalf.” Successes and failures are seen as the result of a team effort, and this reduces the fear or shame that is associated with personal failure. As a result, individuals feel encouraged to take risks and even protected from adverse consequences

Making failure an acceptable part of the creative process is also a core value at Mango, a men’s and women’s fashion company. Founded in 1984, Mango now has the biggest design center in Europe in a highly competitive industry, and is present in ninety-one countries, with 1,220 stores and 7,800 employees. Mango explicitly promotes, “the practice of a culture of mistakes” in their written policies, or more explicitly, ”our organization encourages a climate of trust and communication, working in teams, and learning from our mistakes.” They acknowledge that the final design for a dress does not always manifest in the designer’s first draft. And they go as far as to recognize that not every single final design of the eighty million articles shipped out throughout the globe will necessarily become a success. Mango executives know it is essential to acknowledge this important part of their business, because not accepting it and denying the possibility of human error can become very stifling to the creative process of fashion designers.

How can you encourage “failure” in your company to allow your employees more room to innovate?

Intuitive Intelligence Turns the Credit Card Processing Industry on Its Head

Suneera Madhani’s leadership of her game-changing credit card processing company, Fattmerchant, exemplifies three of the four tenets of Intuitive Intelligence (thinking holistically, thinking paradoxically, leading by influence), and it’s paying off in spades. She also honors the millennial generation’s need for transparency, creating 50-75% monthly growth and tremendous customer loyalty, particularly notable because they don’t have to sign long-term contracts.

How to be successful in chaos

We attempt to interact with one another and arrange our institutions in hierarchical pyramids, because we have been taught that the world fundamentally operates according to physical laws that believe that our minds can and should operate in hierarchical way, the reason directing feeling and instinct. But that thinking doesn’t match up with reality.


The hierarchical view of the world only tells part of the story. It is a reflection of the classical physics of the atom: a limited, finite, separate, stable entity that is always precisely identifiable in space and time. But in the 1920s, physicist like Niels Bohr discovered that we cannot describe the reality of subatomic—or quantum—particles. These entities are not separate and stable, but random and chaotic. Subatomic particles cannot be precisely identified in space and time except within certain probabilities, and they area entangled in mysterious ways that Albert Einstein called “spooky action at a distance.”

To describe reality fully, we need both classical Newtonian physics and quantum physics. Likewise, to understand how our unconscious and conscious minds work, we need to account for instinct and feeling as well as reason, for both chaotic thinking and linear thinking. As the second decade of the twenty-first century starts, even many scientists remain only dimly aware of the implications or quantum physics for the nature of reality, from the makeup of the physical world to the operations of our minds and their creative processes. That doesn’t leave much hope for the rest of us.

The good new is you don’t need to fully understand the theory to understand how to be successful in our chaotic world. What you do need is Intuitive Intelligence.

The 4 Tenets of Intuitive Intelligence

Even thought this article was written quite a while ago we really like it because it describes all 4 tenets of Intuitive Intelligence: thinking holistically, thinking paradoxically, noticing the unusual, and leading by influence. Intuitive Intelligence is timeless, as is truly connecting with your customers. Sharpening your skills in each of these areas will help you balance the tension of reason with instinct and play with results throughout your organization.

Bright Ideas: The Creative Power of Groups

Thinking Paradoxically Can Bring True Value Proposition

Screen Shot 2014-07-18 at 3.49.44 PMJonah Straw’s company, LittleMissMatched, understands how to break conventional norms to bring a true value proposition to their customers. Noticing the unusual way some youngsters were wearing missmatched socks, Jonah Straw decided to start a venture providing collections of missmatched socks sold in odd numbers. Even if paradoxical at first sight, his idea proved to be a great success, redefining the way people got dressed every morning.

Innovation 1-on-1: Jonah Staw, LittleMissMatched