The Eclipse and Creative Juxtaposition

“In Chinese tradition, there is the idea in Yin and Yang, that contrasting concepts, light and dark, sunny and shady, sun and moon, combine to create a whole picture”


The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” John 1:5

Roger Martin, author of the leadership book “The Opposable Mind”and the strategy book “Play to Win” talks of a similar concept, “creative synthesis”,   in a recent Harvard Business Review:

“Research in cognitive science has demonstrated that the core engine of creative synthesis is “associative fluency”—the mental ability to connect two concepts that are not usually linked and to forge them into a new idea. The more diverse the concepts, the more powerful the creative association and the more novel the new idea.

With a new metaphor, you compare two things that aren’t usually connected. For instance, when Hamlet says to Rosencrantz, “Denmark’s a prison,” he is associating two elements in an unusual way. Rosencrantz knows what “Denmark” means, and he knows what “a prison” is. However, Hamlet presents a new concept to him that is neither the Denmark he knows nor the prisons he knows. This third element is the novel idea or creative synthesis produced by the unusual combination.

When people link unrelated concepts, product innovations often result. Samuel Colt developed the revolving bullet chamber for his famous pistol after working on a ship as a young man and becoming fascinated by the vessel’s wheel and the way it could spin or be locked by means of a clutch. A Swiss engineer was inspired to create the hook-and-loop model of Velcro after walking in the mountains and noticing the extraordinary adhesive qualities of burrs that stuck to his clothing.

Metaphor also aids the adoption of an innovation by helping consumers understand and relate to it. The automobile, for instance, was initially described as “a horseless carriage,” the motorcycle as “a bicycle with a motor.” The snowboard was simply “a skateboard for the snow.” The very first step in the evolution that has made the smartphone a ubiquitous and essential device was the launch in 1999 of Research in Motion’s BlackBerry 850. It was sold as a pager that could also receive and send e-mails—a comforting metaphor for initial users.”

(From the Sept-Oct issue of Harvard Business Review, an article by Roger Martin and Tony Golsby-Smith entitled: “Management is Much More than a Science”)

Extract from the book “Risky Strategy” by Jamie MacAlister

We understand that a passion for winning creates both an appetite and a need for some risk. But what happens when working in collaboration becomes a more useful paradigm for positive social change than beating competition? How do we bridge the tension between competition and collaboration, and what does it do for our readiness to make risky choices?

When we look at the exploits of apparently successful leaders, we notice a strange dichotomy between risk taking and risk avoidance, an ability to embrace both, keep both in tension, to be able to find those right risks to take and avoid the others. We enquire of those who appear to have risked all to achieve significant victories, and hear that they are preoccupied with avoiding risk wherever possible.

What is happening here?

I believe what is happening is a phenomenon I call Creative Juxtaposition. It’s the idea that entities with apparently very different or even opposite polarities come together to bring creative and often positive results. Knowledge that comes from different sources, possibly referring to different subjects, combines to form great ideas – a breakthrough in new knowledge, a great strategy or even a new sense of victory. So much great new positive creative stuff seems to come to us in this way.

The origin of our tigers and elephants story sets the scene for this idea. A fast and effective global launch of an electronic games product was achieved through the combination of methodical elephants and impetuous tigers somehow managing to work together to achieve business victory.

…. I see this idea of Creative Juxtaposition at the heart of all sorts of different forms of creativity. The atoms of hydrogen gas and oxygen gas combine to form the most unlikely and miraculous of molecules, the water molecule. Animals of different genders combine to create new life. Animal and plant combine in pollenization to create new plant life and food for animals. There’s Gilbert & Sullivan, Morecambe & Wise, Flanders & Swan, Marks & Spencer, Procter & Gamble. In Chinese tradition, there is the idea in Yin and Yang, that contrasting concepts, light and dark, sunny and shady, sun and moon, combine to create a whole picture. This book explores a number of yin and yangs that combine to create something bigger than the sum of its parts: risk and strategy, tiger and elephant, danger and opportunity.