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Published on April 23, 2018

Creative Problem Solving: Create Meaning from Contradictory Ideas

Creative Problem Solving: Create Meaning from Contradictory Ideas

Those who succeed in an unending changing environment are able to do one thing really well:

Create meaning from contradictory ideas.

We can create meaning by determining the factor of the interaction between contradictory ideas. We can do this through what is known as the Dialectic Method. This method was constructed mainly by Karl Marx, yet it heavily built on the ideas of the Hegelian dialectic.

In this article, I will explain to you what exactly the Dialectical Method is and how you can apply it in life to be a more creative problem solver.

Creative problem solving: the Dialectical Method

    Dialectic implies a process of evolution, where dialectical logic is a system identifying the structure of thought and was initially intended to replace the laws of formal logic. Nevertheless, I do not intend to dive into the history of the Dialectical Method.

    My intent here is to propose this method as a way to create meaning and create something new in our contemporary chaotic world by examining the three stages of development within the Dialectical Method:

    1. Thesis
    2. Antithesis
    3. Tension resulting in Synthesis

    All thought is based on pieces of a previous thought:

      Before you start diving into any of the stages, you need to first understand the meaning for each stage.

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      Just like anything else, you must understand what each stage is before an understanding of the topic is reached.

      Stage #1: Thesis

      First, you have your thesis, known also as a proposition. This is the starting point or the status-quo giving rise to the reaction (antithesis).

      Stage #2: Antithesis

      Second, the antithesis is the reaction or the contradiction. This is the counter-proposition.

      Stage #3: Synthesis

      Third, the tension between the thesis and antithesis is resolved by synthesis.

      In other words, this is where meaning is created and where the new thesis comes to be.

      What’s important to understand here is the meaning of synthesis and how it differs from analysis:

      • Analysis is an examination of the elements of something (think of breaking something apart or analyzing each individual piece of a puzzle).
      • Synthesis is the combination of ideas to form something new (think of putting the pieces of a puzzle back together, yet you see something completely new).

        Want to know the best part of the Dialectical Method?

        This process is unending. Your synthesis is your new thesis, for which it too will possess a counter-proposition (antithesis).

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          Watch the following video for a deeper understanding of the Dialectical Method:

          Destructive deduction and creative induction

            According to John Boyd, famous Air Force Colonel, we are constantly breaking apart old paradigms and putting the pieces back together creating a new perspective better matching our current reality. Essentially, we orient our self to a rapidly changing environment. This ultimately led to Boyd’s creation of the OODA Loop.

            Check out this article to find out more on the OODA Loop: A Fighter Pilot’s Secret to Surviving Wars: Making Right Decisions Fast

            Boyd described this through a thought experiment in a presentation called Strategic Game of ? and ?. Through the process of Destructive Deduction (analyze and pull apart mental concepts into discrete parts) and Creative Induction (using these elements to form new mental concepts) we can create a new mental model that more closely aligns with reality.

            Moreover, Boyd illustrated this thought experiment in an interesting way. Let’s see if you can figure it out.

            Part 1 of his question:

            “Imagine that you are on a ski slope with other skiers…that you are in Florida riding in an outboard motorboat, maybe even towing water-skiers. Imagine that you are riding a bicycle on a nice spring day. Imagine that you are a parent taking your son to a department store and that you notice he is fascinated by the toy tractors or tanks with rubber caterpillar treads.”

            Part 2:

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            “Now imagine that you pull the skis off but you are still on the ski slope. Imagine also that you remove the outboard motor from the motorboat, and you are no longer in Florida. And from the bicycle you remove the handle-bar and discard the rest of the bike. Finally, you take off the rubber treads from the toy tractor or tanks. This leaves only the following separate pieces: skis, outboard motor, handlebars and rubber treads.”

            Sounds crazy right?

            Yet, what do you imagine would be created from these parts?

            The answer:

            a Snowmobile!

            How to apply the Dialectical Method (Step-by-step guide)

            Step #1. Identify your thesis

            Your Thesis is your starting point or status-quo. This is where your thinking exists today.

            Step #2. Identify the antithesis

            The Antithesis is the mechanism for change. This is the opposing group or ideas that do not support the status-quo (your Thesis).

            In order for things to change, we must have some form of opposition. These ideas bring about change by clashing with the Thesis.

            Step #3. Synthesis (new thesis)

            When a Thesis and Antithesis clash, we get progress. This is a meeting of two groups bringing about a new and better process. However, this process never ends.

            Let’s examine two examples of this method:

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              Example #1

              • Thesis: Being
              • Antithesis: Nothing
              • Synthesis (New Thesis): Becoming

              Example #2

              • Thesis: People need to go to the bank to draw cash.
              • Antithesis: It’s not necessary to go to the bank to draw money.
              • Synthesis (New Thesis): Develop ATM to dispense cash at convenient locations.

              The reality behind this method

              The dialectical method becomes a continuous and unending mechanism for building on ideas.

              The truth is:

              The strongest ideas survive through the continuous dialectical process.

              “Truth is found neither in the thesis nor the antithesis, but in an emergent synthesis which reconciles the two.” – Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel

              This method shows us why we should never get stuck living in our comfortable lives. We should continue to evolve and adapt; continue to challenge our hidden biases and assumptions.

              After all,

              “It is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive but those who can best manage change.” – Charles Darwin

              Featured photo credit: Pixabay via pixabay.com

              More by this author

              Dr. Jamie Schwandt

              Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt & Red Team Critical Thinker

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              Last Updated on March 21, 2019

              11 Important Things to Remember When Changing Habits

              11 Important Things to Remember When Changing Habits

              Most gurus talk about habits in a way that doesn’t help you:

              You need to push yourself more. You can’t be lazy. You need to wake up at 5 am. You need more motivation. You can never fail…blah blah “insert more gibberish here.”

              But let me share with you the unconventional truths I found out:

              To build and change habits, you don’t need motivation or wake up at 5 am. Heck, you can fail multiple times, be lazy, have no motivation and still pull it off with ease.

              It’s quite simple and easy to do, especially with the following list I’m going to show to you. But remember, Jim Rohn used to say,

              “What is simple and easy to do is also simple and easy not to do.”

              The important things to remember when changing your habits are both simple and easy, just don’t think that they don’t make any difference because they do.

              In fact, they are the only things that make a difference.

              Let’s see what those small things are, shall we?

              1. Start Small

              The biggest mistake I see people doing with habits is by going big. You don’t go big…ever. You start small with your habits.

              Want to grow a book reading habit? Don’t start reading a book a day. Start with 10 pages a day.

              Want to become a writer? Don’t start writing 10,000 words a day. Start with 300 words.

              Want to lose weight? Don’t stop eating ice cream. Eat one less ball of it.

              Whatever it is, you need to start small. Starting big always leads to failure. It has to, because it’s not sustainable.

              Start small. How small? The amount needs to be in your comfort zone. So if you think that reading 20 pages of a book is a bit too much, start with 10 or 5.

              It needs to appear easy and be easy to do.

              Do less today to do more in a year.

              2. Stay Small

              There is a notion of Kaizen which means continuous improvement. They use this notion in habits where they tell you to start with reading 1 page of a book a day and then gradually increase the amount you do over time.

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              But the problem with this approach is the end line — where the “improvement” stops.

              If I go from reading 1 page of a book a day and gradually reach 75 and 100, when do I stop? When I reach 1 book a day? That is just absurd.

              When you start a habit, stay at it in the intensity you have decided. Don’t push yourself for more.

              I started reading 20 pages of a book a day. It’s been more than 2 years now and I’ve read 101 books in that period. There is no way I will increase the number in the future.

              Why?

              Because reading 40 to 50 books a year is enough.

              The same thing applies to every other habit out there.

              Pick a (small) number and stay at it.

              3. Bad Days Are 100 Percent Occurrence

              No matter how great you are, you will have bad days where you won’t do your habit. Period.

              There is no way of going around this. So it’s better to prepare yourself for when that happens instead of thinking that it won’t ever happen.

              What I do when I miss a day of my habit(s) is that I try to bounce back the next day while trying to do habits for both of those days.

              Example for that is if I read 20 pages of a book a day and I miss a day, the next day I will have to read 40 pages of a book. If I miss writing 500 words, the next day I need to write 1000.

              This is a really important point we will discuss later on rewards and punishments.

              This is how I prepare for the bad days when I skip my habit(s) and it’s a model you should take as well.

              4. Those Who Track It, Hack It

              When you track an activity, you can objectively tell what you did in the past days, weeks, months, and years. If you don’t track, you will for sure forget everything you did.

              There are many different ways you can track your activities today, from Habitica to a simple Excel sheet that I use, to even a Whatsapp Tracker.

              Peter Drucker said,

              “What you track is what you do.”

              So track it to do it — it really helps.

              But tracking is accompanied by one more easy activity — measuring.

              5. Measure Once, Do Twice

              Peter Drucker also said,

              “What you measure is what you improve.”

              So alongside my tracker, I have numbers with which I measure doses of daily activities:

              For reading, it’s 20 pages.
              For writing, it’s 500 words.
              For the gym, it’s 1 (I went) or 0 (didn’t go).
              For budgeting, it’s writing down the incomes and expenses.

              Tracking and measuring go hand in hand, they take less than 20 seconds a day but they create so much momentum that it’s unbelievable.

              6. All Days Make a Difference

              Will one day in the gym make you fit? It won’t.

              Will two? They won’t.

              Will three? They won’t.

              Which means that a single gym session won’t make you fit. But after 100 gym sessions, you will look and feel fit.

              What happened? Which one made you fit?

              The answer to this (Sorites paradox)[1] is that no single gym session made you fit, they all did.

              No single day makes a difference, but when combined, they all do. So trust the process and keep on going (small).

              7. They Are Never Fully Automated

              Gurus tell you that habits become automatic. And yes, some of them do, like showering a certain way of brushing your teeth.

              But some habits don’t become automatic, they become a lifestyle.

              What I mean by that is that you won’t automatically “wake up” in the gym and wonder how you got there.

              It will just become a part of your lifestyle.

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              The difference is that you do the first one automatically, without conscious thought, while the other is a part of how you live your life.

              It’s not automatic, but it’s a decision you don’t ponder on or think about — you simply do it.

              It will become easy at a certain point, but they will never become fully automated.

              8. What Got You Here Won’t Get You There

              Marshall Goldsmith has a great book with the same title to it. The phrase means that sometimes, you will need to ditch certain habits to make room for other ones which will bring you to the next step.

              Don’t be afraid to evolve your habits when you sense that they don’t bring you where you want to go.

              When I started reading, it was about reading business and tactic books. But two years into it, I switched to philosophy books which don’t teach me anything “applicable,” but instead teach me how to think.

              The most important ability of the 21st century is the ability to learn, unlearn, and relearn. The strongest tree is the willow tree – not because it has the strongest root or biggest trunk, but because it is flexible enough to endure and sustain anything.

              Be like a willow, adapting to the new ways of doing things.

              9. Set a Goal and Then Forget It

              The most successful of us know what they want to achieve, but they don’t focus on it.

              Sounds paradoxical? You’re right, it does. But here is the logic behind it.

              You need to have a goal of doing something – “I want to become a healthy individual” – and then, you need to reverse engineer how to get there with your habits- “I will go to the gym four times a week.”

              But once you have your goal, you need to “forget” about it and only focus on the process. Because you are working on the process of becoming healthy and it’s always in the making. You will only be as healthy as you take care of your body.

              So you have a goal which isn’t static but keeps on moving.

              If you went to the gym 150 times year and you hit your goal, what would you do then? You would stop going to the gym.

              This is why goal-oriented people experience yo-yo effect[2] and why process-oriented people don’t.

              The difference between process-oriented and goal-oriented people is that the first focus on daily actions while others only focus on the reward at the finish line.

              Set a goal but then forget about it and reap massive awards.

              10. Punish Yourself

              Last two sections are pure Pavlovian – you need to punish bad behavior and reward good behavior. You are the only person who decides what is good and what is bad for you, but when you do, you need to rigorously follow that.

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              I’ve told you in point #3 about bad days and how after one occurs, I do double the work on the next day. That is one of my forms of punishments.

              It’s the need to tell your brain that certain behaviors are unacceptable and that they lead to bad outcomes. That’s what punishments are for.

              You want to tell your brain that there are real consequences to missing your daily habits.[3]

              No favorite food to eat or favorite show to watch or going to the cinema for a new Marvel movie- none, zero, zilch.

              The brain will remember these bad feelings and will try to avoid the behaviors that led to them as much as possible.

              But don’t forget the other side of the same coin.

              11. Reward Yourself

              When you follow and execute on your plan, reward yourself. It’s how the brain knows that you did something good.

              Whenever I finish one of my habits for the day, I open my tracker (who am I kidding, I always keep it open on my desktop) and fill it with a number. As soon as I finish reading 20 pages of a book a day (or a bit more), I open the tracker and write the number down.

              The cell becomes green and gives me an instant boost of endorphin – a great success for the day. Then, it becomes all about not breaking the chain and having as many green fields as possible.

              After 100 days, I crunch some numbers and see how I did.

              If I have less than 10 cheat days, I reward myself with a great meal in a restaurant. You can create your own rewards and they can be daily, weekly, monthly or any arbitrary time table that you create.

              Primoz Bozic, a productivity coach, has gold, silver, and bronze medals as his reward system.[4]

              If you’re having problems creating a system which works for you, contact me via email and we can discuss specifics.

              In the End, It Matters

              What you do matters not only to you but to the people around you.

              When you increase the quality of your life, you indirectly increase the quality of life of people around you. And sometimes, that is all the “motivation” we need to start.

              And that’s the best quote for the end of this article:

              “Motivation gets you started, but habits keep you going.”

              Keep going.

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              More Resources to Help You Build Habits

              Featured photo credit: Anete Lūsiņa via unsplash.com

              Reference

              [1] Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Sorites paradox
              [2] Muscle Zone: What causes yo-yo effect and how to avoid it?
              [3] Growth Habits: 5 Missteps That Cause You To Quit Building A Habit
              [4] Primoz Bozic: The Lean Review: How to Plan Your 2019 in 20 Minutes

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