contradictions and creative desperation

In my last post on continuous learning for collaboration, I mentioned that one of the primary reasons to promote learning at work is because it is directly linked to innovation. Gary Klein examined 120 case studies and in, Seeing What Others Don’t, identified five ways that we gain insight.

  1. Curiosity
  2. Connections
  3. Coincidences
  4. Contradictions
  5. Creative Desperation

Three of these can be improved through the practice of personal knowledge mastery — curiosity, connections, and coincidences. Seeking in PKM is being curious about the world and wanting to learn more about ideas and people. By developing networks of expertise we increase and diversify our connections. This diversity can lead to seeing more coincidences. The Seek > Sense > Share framework of PKM is one way of developing a disciplined approach to sensemaking and increasing insights.

But what about creative desperation and contradictions? How can we enhance those in order to improve our insights for work?

Creative desperation is what you do when you have run out of time or options. Organizations can be more forgiving of failure and let people experiment. If you cannot fail, you will go with what has been done before. This may be desperate, but it’s not creative. Allowing failure can help develop a library of worst practices — lessons learnt. The organization can collect stories about both the successes and failures. Therefore management can still be demanding in getting work done, but there needs to be an escape valve so that creative desperation is an option. Desperation without creativity is a sign of dysfunctional management.

We can increase the possibility of finding contradictions by being open to seeing them. Marshall Kirkpatrick carries around a notebook to record any disconfirming data he may come across. Adam Kahane has said that  “almost everything I’ve learned is through the disciplined examination of my experience” as well as an approach of “looking for disconfirming data, as Charles Darwin did”.

“I had, also, during many years, followed a golden rule, namely, that whenever a published fact, a new observation or thought came across me, which was opposed to my general results, to make a memorandum of it without fail and at once; for I had found by experience that such facts and thoughts were far more apt to escape from memory than favorable ones.” —Charles Darwin

Steven Berlin Johnson says that, “Chance favors the connected mind.” It also favours  those who can see the disconnects. On writing this, I now realize that improving our ability to see contradictions, by seeking disconfirming data, can easily be integrated into PKM and informal and social learning.

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