Dr. Albert Rothenberg, a noted researcher on the creative process, has extensively studied the use of opposites in the creative process. He identified a process he terms “Janusian thinking,” a process named after Janus, a Roman God who has two faces, each looking in the opposite direction.  Janusian thinking is the ability to imagine two opposites or contradictory ideas, concepts, or images existing simultaneously. Imagine, if you will, your mother existing as a young baby and old woman simultaneously, or your pet existing and not existing at the same time.

In physics, Einstein was able to imagine an object in motion and at rest at the same time. To better understand the nature of this paradox, he constructed an analogy that reflected the essence of the paradox. An observer, Einstein posited, who jumps off a house roof and releases any object at the same time, will discover that the object will remain, relative to the observer, in a state of rest. The unique feature of this analogy was that the apparent absence of a gravitational field arises even though gravitation causes the observer’s accelerating plunge. This analogy and its unique feature inspired his  insight that led him to arrive at the general theory of relativity.

Louis Pasteur discovered the principle of immunology by discovering the paradox. Some infected chickens survived a cholera bacillus. When they and uninfected chickens were inoculated with a new virulent culture, the uninfected chickens died and the infected chickens survived. In seeing the unexpected event of the chickens’ survival as a manifestation of a principle, Pasteur needed to formulate the concept that the surviving animals were both diseased and not-diseased at the same time. This prior undetected infection had therefore kept them free from disease and protected them from further infection. This paradoxical idea that disease could function to prevent disease was the original basis for the science of immunology.

To think in terms of simultaneous opposites, convert your subject into a paradox and then find a useful analogy. Foundries clean forged metal parts by sandblasting them. The sand cleans the parts but the sand gets into the cavities and is time consuming and expensive to clean. The paradox is that the particles must be “hard” in order to clean the parts and at the same time “not hard” in order to be removed easily. An analogue of particles which are “hard” and “not hard” is ice. One solution is to make the particles out of dry ice. The hard particles will clean the parts and later turn into gas and evaporate.


Following are specific guidelines for solving problems based on this thinking strategy which include creating a paradox, finding an analogue and using the unique feature of the analogue to trigger original ideas.

W.J.J. Gordon used this strategy to develop Pringles potato chips. Pringles was a matter of designing a new potato chip and package that would allow for more efficient packaging of chips without the need to fill the bag with more air than chips. The paradox was a compact chip that would not destruct. The book title that captured the essence of the paradox was “compact destruction.”

1. PARADOX. Convert the problem into a paradox. One of the things that distinguishes the vision of genius is its curious relationship to contraries. The question to ask is: What is the opposite or contradiction of the problem? And then imagine both existing at the same time.

EXAMPLE: The paradox of the Pringle’s situation was a chip that would not destruct.

2. BOOK TITLE. Summarize the paradox into a book title that captures the essence and paradox of the problem. The book title should be two words, usually an adjective and a noun. Some examples of book titles are:

Sales target— Focused Desire

Different level employees— Balanced Confusion

Seasonal sales cycles— Connected Pauses

Birth control— Dependable Intermittency

Nature— Rational Impetuousness

Reducing the paradox into a book title makes it easier to work with and comprehend.

EXAMPLE: The book title that captured the essence of the Pringles paradox was “Compact Destruction.”

3. ANALOGUE. Find an analogy that reflects the essence of the paradox. Think of as many analogies as you can and select the most suitable.

EXAMPLE: The analogy they worked with was bagging leaves in the fall. When you try to shove dry leaves into a plastic bag, you have a difficult time. But when the leaves are wet (unique feature), they are soft and formable.

5. EQUIVALENT.  Use an equivalent of the “unique” feature to trigger new ideas.

EXAMPLE: The unique feature is a wet leaf conforms to the shape of its neighbor with little air between them.

6. BUILD INTO A NEW IDEA. The new idea was to make the ingredients of the chips stronger with potato flour and to wet and reshape them into smaller chips so they could be stacked and packed in cylinder style packages. By wetting and forming dried potato flour to make them more compact, the packaging problem was solved and Pringles got its start. Pringles was a matter of designing a new potato chip and package that would allow for more efficient packaging of chips without the need to fill the bag with more air than chips.

In another example, designers developed a flexible battery that can be folded like a sheet. They started with the paradox of a “solid battery that’s elastic.” Their book title was “Concrete Elasticity.” The analogue was “garbage bags,” with the unique feature of “bags are blended with high performance plastics.” This analogy triggered the idea of entrapping a liquid electrolyte within an inert polymer sheet. This created an ultrathin, flexible battery that you can fold or roll up like a plastic bag. The battery will be used in camcorders, cellular phones, laptops, pagers and games. You can even create “battery” clothing that replaces “battery packs” for powering medical devices and so on.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: