Embracing Conflicting Truths

Can you read a book while you drive a car? If I pose this question to any audience, the initial response will be “No”, then if I pause for no more than two seconds, someone will say “Not safely, but,” If I wait in silence two seconds more someone will tell a story of seeing someone read a book while driving.

The answer is of course No, because we won’t be doing either action well. But the conflicting truth that reveals that the part of your brain that processes words isn’t involved in driving is what gave us audiobooks.

“Well that’s not reading!” Settle down, audience. That is a conflicting truth.

Here’s something to think about: If I were to randomly select ten people each from ten companies and put them in a room, I would argue that those 100 people working together would be more innovative than 100 handpicked individuals from one company.

I often conduct workshops for the companies I consult to. The typical question from someone that is confronting conflicting truths goes something like this, “Tom, earlier you said that customers are less sensitive to price changes than we expect. But, wouldn’t you agree…” Whatever comes next is the other half of a conflicting truth.

When we meet someone that has the ability to take any side of an argument – that’s a contrarian. Experts (and know-it-alls) often use contrarianism to express the importance of embracing conflicting truths. They are embracing the intellect of conflicting truths. The discussion will eventually boil down to a perspective or set of circumstances – a choice that needs to be made. If we reject conflicting truths, then the inevitable result is that we create barriers. The opposite of a Contrarian is an Obstaclist. It’s a made-up word that means “Someone that cannot reconcile conflicting truths.” They manifest as the individual that consistently identifies why something cannot happen, but fails to accept alternatives.

I was working with a company that submitted extremely detailed proposals to their customers and argued that it’s what their customers wanted and that it made the seller look smarter than the competition. My next question might be, “Do you win 80% of your proposals?” If not then I would argue that your presumptive truth is incorrect. The customers you win happen to like detailed proposals.

The reason my team of 100 random employees from ten companies is smarter than your handpicked 100 from one company is this: The random group will be quicker to reconcile conflicting truths and will therefore come up with better ideas. The only way for the handpicked group to be smarter is if they are picked for their ability to argue both sides of the same point. Whether they would be more creative as a group is questionable.

I want to share one last conflicting truth anecdote that came out of that earlier sales team discussion. They agreed on two seemingly indelible conflicting truths: The conflicting truth #1 was that, “Customers don’t read proposals but proposals are what convey value.” Truth #2 was that “Proposals delivered and explained in person were more effective, but that customers generally refused to make time for such a presentation.” Fortunately there were some individuals who were new to sales in the group.

What if… a new person piped up…what if we video recorded the salesperson pitching the value of the proposal and…?

I don’t need to tell you the end of the story other than to say that the group spent the next thirty minutes being much, much smarter.

Look for the conflicting truths and embrace them. If your team thinks it has found a truism for every situation, then it is high time you introduced the other half of the story.

Tom Stimson MBA, CTS helps owners and management teams rediscover the fun and profit that comes from making better decisions about smarter goals. He is an expert on project-based selling and a thought leader for innovative business processes. Since 2006, Tom has successfully advised over two hundred companies and organizations on business strategy, process, marketing, and sales. Learn More at TRSTIMSON.COM