Contradictions: A Pathway to Creativity

Innovation Training: The Leadership Elixer
March 23, 2015
Innovation Sighting: Tales of Things
April 6, 2015

Contradictions: A Pathway to Creativity

A contradiction exists when a particular situation contains features or ideas that are connected yet directly opposed to one another. When we call something (or someone) inconsistent, we typically mean that a contradiction exists. In the case of the Spanish Civil War, the contra- diction was the conflict between parachuting more supplies (needed by the troops) and the requirement to use fewer parachutes (because of the shortage).

Some people regard the Spanish Civil War as a romantic war, one in which many idealistic men and women were prepared to sacrifice their lives for what they perceived as the social good. But as Hector, Prince of Troy, said, “There is nothing poetic in death.” In less than three years (from July 17, 1936, to April 1, 1939), an estimated five hundred thou- sand people lost their lives. In addition to the actual combatants, tens of thousands of civilians were killed for their political or religious views. Even after the war, the victorious Fascists persecuted sympathizers of the vanquished Republican regime, driving up the death toll further still.

This bloody war is often called “the first media war” due to the fact that so many writers and journalists—many of them foreigners— observed and wrote about it firsthand. Some even participated actively in fighting alongside the anti-Fascist forces, including, most famously, Ernest Hemingway, Georges Bernanos, George Orwell, and Arthur Koestler. For this reason, we know many more details about this war than about earlier wars. One story in particular is striking because of what it teaches us about people’s resourcefulness when faced with a seemingly unsolvable challenge.

At one stage during the war, the Fascists took control of southern Spain, driving the Republicans into the hills outside a town called Oviedo. A group of two thousand Republicans, consisting of both civilians and civil guards led by Captain Santiago Cortés González, re- treated to the monastery of Santa Maria de la Cabeza, located on a hill overlooking Andujar, a small town near Córdoba.

The Fascists were led by a “tough and murderous” officer who was notorious for taking no prisoners. As the enemy troops closed in upon him, Cortés González knew better than to surrender. Instead, he fortified the monastery, ed his people into it, and prepared to fight to the death. The Republican forces endured a long, hard siege that lasted for months. Initially food, ammunition, and medicine were parachuted into the monastery by airplane. But soon this supply lifeline was threatened by a shortage of parachutes. Imagine this situation: You’re surrounded by enemy forces, with no way out and no way in. The only method of landing necessary supplies is by air. Yet you have no para- chutes. What do you do?

We have no documentation on whose flash of inspiration led to the unconventional solution. But we do know that at a certain stage, the pilots flying the supply planes began attaching supplies to live turkeys. That’s right: turkeys. The birds flapped their wings as they fell, slowing their descent and assuring safe delivery of the supplies—as well as fresh turkey meat—to the men under siege.

This story had a happy ending, as war stories go. Colonel Carlos García Vallejo raised twenty thousand Republican troops who marched upon Andujar and successfully crushed the Fascists, ending the siege. Although Cortés González himself died of wounds inflicted during the battle, today he is regarded as one of Spain’s most celebrated heroes.

War stories are a tragic and dark legacy of our ancestors’ past follies. But they also provide rich material for understanding human resourcefulness—especially resourcefulness under highly stressed and constrained situations. We can analyze the structure of these creative ideas while still praying that one day our knowledge of war will be confined to history books. In the example above, the solution came from inside the Closed World. Task Unification was used in a clever and unexpected way. The turkeys’ primary task was to be consumed. But their additional task was to flap their wings carrying medicine and supplies to the ground softly.

A contradiction exists when a particular situation contains features or ideas that are connected yet directly opposed to one another. When we call something (or someone) inconsistent, we typically mean that a contradiction exists. In the case of the Spanish Civil War, the contra- diction was the conflict between parachuting more supplies (needed by the troops) and the requirement to use fewer parachutes (because of the shortage).

Our typical reaction to a contradiction is, understandably, confusion or dismay. We become perplexed, anxious. We usually feel that it is impossible to get around the contradiction because it signals a dead end. And because this reaction to contradictions is so intense, we have a strong desire to avoid them, to purge our lives of them. After all, a contradiction is an acute signal that something is completely wrong.

Paradoxically (here’s a contradiction for you!) spotting a contradiction within a Closed World is a very exciting moment, because it fuels enormous creativity: contradiction is a blessing. It is a pathway to creativity.

One of the goals of our book is to help you swiftly transform your negative reaction to contradictions to one of delight. You’ll learn how to identify contradictions and why you should always consider yourself lucky when you discover one. As you’ll see, behind every contradiction is an untrodden path that leads directly to options and opportunities that may not have been considered.

 

From “Inside the Box: A Proven System of Creativity for Breakthrough Results