“A woman is a foreign land,” asserted poetess Coventry Patmore, “of which though there he settle young, a man will never quite understand, the customs, politics, and tongue.” The French have acknowledged metaphorically contrasting territories and celebrate them in the three-word phrase, “Vive la difference!”
Gender differences aside, embracing opposites is a grand way to stimulate creative thought. Yes, doing so often requires you to visit foreign cerebral lands, to give careful and extensive thought to your creative forays, to explore differences you might not ever fully understand. But, as every leader knows, if you wish others to be influenced by your words, to tell you later they’ll never forget what you said about one issue or another, you have to choose your expressions carefully. One way to achieve memorability is to place opposites together in the same sentence. Here are examples for you to study.
Arab proverb: “You may forget with whom you laughed, but you will never forget with whom you wept.”
John F. Kennedy: “Too often we enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.”
Anonymous: “It’s easy to know all the answers if you don’t bother to listen to the questions.”
Japanese Proverb: “To live long, keep a cool head and warm feet.”
Earl Wilson: “Success is simply a matter of luck. Ask any failure.”
Tombstone in Celano, Italy: “As you are, I once was. As I am, you will be.”
Opposites frequently appear as contradictions in the workplace. I refer to them as “organizational oxymorons.” One of the organizational oxymorons facing managers/leaders is the need to lead (or to envision the future) while at the same time acknowledging present circumstances. (This is the basis of Lewin’s Force Field Analysis, in fact, which analyzes the Current state of affairs in order to reach the Ideal state of affairs.) When Max DePree tells us, in Leadership is an Art, that the first responsibility of a leader is to define reality, he is encouraging us to find the conditions that need remedy.
POETS, JOHN WAYNE, & PROJECT MANAGEMENT
DePree also encourages us to ask how poets would lead organizations. We’ll take it one step further: think about any famous person you admire–in any field at all: an athlete, a head of state, a military officer, a religious figure, or a movie star like John Wayne. Then think about the principles that probably govern that person. Use your image of that person running your projects. Apply his or her style to your own circumstances.
Pablo Neruda, Chile’s premier poet/diplomat, asserts that poetry is an act of peace. Resolving the opposites that confront us in both our personal and professional lives may very well mean applying the wisdom to be found in the language of poets.