Introduction and Definition

The conventional way of thinking that is applied globally is a cause-and-effect thinking. It is very widespread because children learn it in their early age. This thinking approach teaches that a given action leads to a given result. For instance, if one touches a red-hot rod, he or she will get burned. However, such a simplified way of thinking may not be the most ideal way of solving managerial problems. As stated by Quinn, Faerman, Thompson, McGrath, and Bright (2015), the main thinking approach adopted by most people perceives the world in terms of simple one-way cause and effect reasoning, which asserts that specific actions cause specific outcomes.

In order to delve more into the concept of paradoxical thinking, and develop an explanation of its importance and applicability within business entities, this paper focuses on different aspects of the topic and provides clear examples. Moreover, it explains the traditional cause and effect thinking approach and why it is not always the best approach to be adopted by successful managers in the contemporary world. The paper also defines the phenomenon of paradoxical thinking, which is presented as an alternative for the management of organizations to adopt instead of the cause and effect thinking and as a way of promoting mastery. Based on examples, the way how paradoxical thinking has influenced the organizational performance and sustainability is researched. The question of whether paradoxical thinking can be learned or not, as well as what steps one should take to master the skill, is also discussed. The reason for why paradoxical thinking is the least commonly applied among the eight intelligent skills is also studied. The conclusion of the paper provides a recommendation of how leaders and managers can use paradoxical thinking for the improvement of their organizations’ performance.

Epstein (2009) states that the analysis of the cause and effect relationships can be a vital way of understanding complex situations, but it is also the foundation for most misconceptions, which mainly result in conflicts, discords, and struggles all over the world. The cause and effect approach of though puts into consideration only two variables: the cause and the resultant effect. It leads to the limitation of the world perspective as the decision makers only put into consideration those variables that have a linear relationship. Through the limitation of the possibilities, which are considered, the cause and effect thinking impedes the decision making process. In the end, it results in a limited understanding of the situation, its contributing factors, and consequences. Additionally, it impacts mastery due to the linear relationships followed by decision-makers. When considering the concept of mastery, it is worth noting that it needs a deep understanding of any situation. Moreover, it requires an individual to analyze numerous interrelated factors, as well as how they can be addressed with effectiveness and in a way that creates a balance. Paradoxical thinking enables the achievement of a broader understanding, which results in making comprehensive decisions and increasing effectiveness, which are essential for developing mastery.

Paradoxical thinking comprises a paradigm shift in the manner, in which people perceive the ways of behaving and thinking. It is the thinking that makes a person face contradictions and allows two ostensibly contradictive conditions to be true at the same time (Quinn et al., 2015).

In essence, the ability to perceive all assumptions of clashing ideas as both valid and real simultaneously reveals the deep truth. Therefore, it has an ability to produce creative solutions to a dilemma, which used to be problematic in the past. Paradoxical thinking calls for an open and flexible approach of viewing and cognizing the world. It involves adopting the opposite of what the conventional reality uses and recognizing that the two seemingly opposite circumstances can be true at the same time (Quinn et al., 2015). The existence and success of a business entity that is known to use the paradoxical thinking approach become a clear example of what should be adopted by others. It provides modern organizations with a way that they can follow in order to solve their problems and increase opportunities, which will also result in a comprehensive decision-making approach. In its turn, it will also promote mastery. Therefore, paradoxical thinking entails the ability to combine, reverse, synthesis, and manipulate the opposites.

Google as a Company that Has Demonstrated Paradoxical Thinking

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Google is one of the most profitable companies in the world, and it is also a market leader in its sector. It has been successful in the creation of a virtual world through the Internet. Today, millions of people globally rely on it for a variety of daily queries, both work-related and personal ones. Since its foundation, the company has been growing rapidly by providing numerous web-related services, and products. It has also been quick in reacting to the demands of the clients and identifying the existing niches in the market. The company’s leadership has always adopted the paradoxical thinking approach, which also explains its success in different operations (Stoltzfus, Stohl, & Seibold, 2011). It was started as a search engine and grew into one of the most diverse companies in the world. The paradoxical approach of thinking is based on the idea that employees need to have an open and innovative mind, which will enable them produce a variety of extraordinary and compelling ideas. It offers an opportunity to develop products and services that are new to the market. This feature of being innovative and thinking differently has been in the culture of the company since its foundation.

Google is among the pioneers in the search engines that assist people to search for different things available on the Internet. During the time of developing the initial idea, the company faced resistance from other companies that used traditional approaches to searching items as they found the idea to be unrealistic and ineffective. Such a resistance is common when innovations are introduced for the first time. The management and leadership of the company faced these challenges but launched their product, which has contributed to the flourish of the company up to date. In order to satisfy the demands of the customers, as well as present new and unique products and services, Google has created a friendly working environment that enabled fun, enthusiasm, and relaxation in order to motivate employees who feel comfortable and are interested in innovations every day. As a result of the appealing job conditions, the staff usually employs paradoxical thinking. The company gives its employees the freedom to act and think in a way that promotes innovativeness. As a result, people share their ideas with the employer as a way of demonstrating their creativity; the most compelling initiatives are implemented or modified for the further implementation. Employees are given autonomy, but they are expected to comply with the unified philosophy of the company (Korn & Silverman, 2012). All Google’s products are results of paradoxical thinking. Therefore, innovation has been well-embedded in the culture of the company in order to make sure that it always has something new and pioneering for its clients.

Google has developed and implemented some initiatives that demonstrate its paradoxical thinking approach in its operations. In 2005, the company launched a mentorship program the Summer of Code, which focused on the students who were eighteen years of age or older. It meant to engage them in the sector of the free software. It has made a significant contribution to the open-source community as even though these individuals were not Google employees, they were encouraged to come up with new ideas. The company also launched the Google MentalPlex, which offered to use one’s mental power in searching the web. It was the April fool’s day project. In 2007, the company made an announcement and introduced the Toilet Internet Service Provider. As they asserted, one could easily obtain connectivity by flushing the end of an optic fiber cable down a toilet. In the same year, the company also began making adverts about Google paper that could be used by individuals who have Gmail accounts to print and ship their email messages. In 2010, the city of Topeka changed its name to Google for a short period with the aim of swaying the company’s decision regarding its Fiber Project. In its turn, Google has also changed its name to Topeka for a limited period. The image below shows how the search engine’s home page looked like.
Google changes its name to Topeka for a limited time in 2010.

The company’s search engine also added some new language selection features of the Swedish Chef including Pig Latin, Hacker, Elmer Fudd, and Klingon, among many others (Steiber, 2014). The Google Map, Notebook, and various other services prove the paradoxical way of thinking applied by the company. As such, the innovation is a part of Google’s culture, which will promote its customers’ experience in the future.

Can Paradoxical Thinking Be Learned?

The traditional model of thinking follow a cause and effect paradigm, and children master it throughout their school and university years. In its turn, paradoxical thinking can also be learned. The key requirements for the development of paradoxical thinking include open mindedness, experimentation with new ideas, and courage to take risks. It is vital to be aware of incongruous ideas, which occur at all times. There is a possibility for an individual’s frame of reference to be changed with the assumption that there is a chance to unfreeze the way people perceive the world. It can be done by triggering the notion of the inadequacy and erroneousness in the traditional approach, and these individuals should adopt the paradoxical approach. The change begins with the events that show that the traditional way of thinking does not work anymore. By challenging the same, these individuals are able to understand the role of the paradoxical approach in the success of organizations. However, it is noteworthy that paradoxical thinking relies primarily on the ability of an individual to be open to new ideas and have willingness to learn, as well as change own perception of the world and approaches to doing various things. These individuals require courage in order to overturn the status quo with the aim of achieving an improved understanding of the issue, which will result in an effective solution. However, the process may be difficult for some people.

It is important for schools and institutions of higher learning to incorporate the ideas of paradoxical thinking in their courses. Although people are acquainted with the cause and effect way of learning from a young age; once they enter the higher learning stage, it is more likely that they can learn and understand how to apply principals of paradoxical thinking. People consider colleges and universities sources of new concepts and ideas that are meant to revolutionize the world. The adoption of the paradoxical thinking at these levels can make other people be interested in understanding what it entails and adopt it. There should also be widespread popularization of the concept and how it may be useful for the management and leadership of different organizations. Employees also need to be encouraged in order to play with all forms of ideas regardless of how vague they may seem because, through such a practice, they may end up generating unique propositions that may benefit the company (Gobert, Boener & Kearney, 2010). One needs to improve own skepticism at all times; it means that people ought to consider things from different perspectives. For example, when they look at a product, they should think about how it can be changed and improved in order to be more attractive, or how to change its styling, or how to make it more appealing to other markets. As such, it is possible to learn paradoxical thinking by changing one’s way of observing things in order to allow finding a new perspective (Smith, Binns & Tushman, 2010).

Why Paradoxical Thinking Is the Least Used Intelligence Skill?

Ravi (2010) describes eight skills that are related to intelligence; they include memory, logic, judgment, perception, intuition, reason, imagination, and paradoxical thinking. As people grow, they learn that each and every action has a specific result. However, they do not learn about interrelationships that exist between different resultant factors of the same action, or the same factor resulting from different actions, and how all these elements interrelate. One of the main reasons for the reduced adoption of the paradoxical thinking is that it goes against the conventional frames of reference, as well as the common ways of solving problems (Boardman & Sauser, 2008). Therefore, paradoxical thinking is the least applied approach among the eight skills related to intelligence mainly due to its complexity. Moreover, it requires substantial commitment of time, as well as extensive research, analysis, and reviews, in order to draw conclusions concerning some issues from numerous angles (Balaram, 2010).

As considerations are made on the complexities and restraints of the paradoxical thinking approach, it is easy to understand why the cause and effect thinking is frequently adopted by human beings. It is also easy to use the cause and effect thinking because people have practiced how to create a list of outcomes of a given behavior. It is easier than getting into detail about the interrelations of these effects. Therefore, people are used to solving problems, but, as a rule, they do not get to the root causes of these problems. In fact, the presentation of such findings appears as though it is the true reality of the issue in question. Ravi (2010), states that the paradoxical thinking is a skill that may make someone feel uncomfortable; thus, it requires a person to pool, separate, redress, and controls the inverses. It is necessary for one to change the traditional way of thinking, open up to new ideas, and embrace flexibility. Therefore, the process requires learning. Although it may seem irrational and may be difficult, it is the main reason for its being the least used skill related to intelligence.


Paradoxical thinking is a practice that is different from the traditional cause and effect thinking. It involves being more inquisitive about the problems that require solving. Moreover, it also entails projecting all the factors that could result from a given action, and how they interrelate. As people grow and develop, they learn to use the cause and effect approach of thinking; this phenomenon makes it difficult to adopt the paradoxical thinking. It integrates contradictions and can assist in understanding the root causes of problems, as well as identify different possible solutions and results. The basic requirements of paradoxical thinking include an open culture at the workplace and ability to withdraw from the traditional way of doing things in order to introduce the innovativeness.

Therefore, it is necessary for companies and organizations to integrate these elements into their working environment. It is vital for the leadership and management to appreciate the efforts of their staff when they present their ideas and imaginations, which will ultimately motivate them to be more productive in the future. Employees should also become an integral part of the entity’s decision-making process. In order for an organization to benefit from the paradoxical thinking, all involved parties have to adopt the strategy. It means that both the leadership and employees need to adopt paradoxical thinking. As shown by Google’s example, an appealing working environment encourages people to adopt the paradoxical way of thinking. Results show that the company succeeds by simply incorporating innovation, openness, skepticism, and creativity. Therefore, in the contemporary competitive business environment, which is affected by numerous factors including globalization and dynamism, organizations need to remain vigilant to all challenges that may arise. It is the responsibility of the management and leadership to foster the innovative environment at the workplace, which will increase the productivity of the staff.

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