In Two Minds

Some time ago, when I worked for a multi-national company, I used to end my “out-of-office” message with four or five quotes concerning innovation. Originally, this was just to give the recipients something to think about, but latterly I turned it into a challenge.

One of the key factors in creative thinking is the ability to see situations and issues from different viewpoints and suspend judgement of which viewpoint is correct. The important thing is where the view takes you. Does it move you forward? I challenged the recipients of my out-of-office reply to use the quotes to practice doing this. I suggested that they take each quote and write down three reasons why they agreed with it, three reasons why they disagreed with it and three new thoughts that these six comments had provoked E.g. take the quote:

“The guy who takes a chance, who walks the line between the known and unknown, who is unafraid of failure, will succeed.” (Gordon Parks)


I agree because:

1)      Failure is a good way to learn how to succeed.

2)      Doing something new is always a risk so if you don’t take chances you will not do anything new.

3)      Being afraid of failure is one of the biggest blocks to creativity.


I disagree because:

1)      Past failure is no guarantee of future success.

2)      Being afraid of failure in not the problem – allowing that fear to prevent action is.

3)      The value of success must pay for the costs of the failures, otherwise, success is just failure in disguise.


New thoughts:

1)      Think about the difference between driving with your eyes open and with your eyes shut – both are risky but one (eyes open) manages the risks while the other ignores them.

2)      How can the guy guarantee that he will learn the right things from the failures?

3)      Most people nod their heads wisely when they hear a quote like this but still do everything they can to avoid risks in case they fail. Why?


There are some rules:

1)      You must give exactly three answers for each viewpoint. If two come quickly you cannot say “I can’t think of a third” and move on.

2)      You do not judge the answers that you write. You should use both sets (agree and disagree) to see where they take you.

3)      You must pick the quote at random. You can fix the topic (in this case innovation) but you must pick the actual quote randomly. You cannot say “I don’t like that one” and pick another.


I have found that this exercise has helped me not only look at different viewpoints but also to accept viewpoints that I disagree with as being useful for moving a problem forward.

To give you a start, here are some quotes to practice with. I have given the attribution that was on the web site where I found the quote (apart from the Terry Pratchett quote – that came directly from the book) but remember, as Abraham Lincoln said, “90% of the quotes on the internet are wrongly attributed”.


All of the books in the world contain no more information than is broadcast as video in a single large American city in a single year. Not all bits have equal value.” Carl Sagan

“The conventional view serves to protect us from the painful job of thinking.” John Kenneth Graham


“Non-creative behavior is learned.” George Land


“Creativity is not escape from disciplined thinking. It is an escape with disciplined thinking.” Jerry Hirschberg


“…when you’re falling off a cliff it’s too late to wonder if there might have been a better way up the mountain…” Terry Pratchett (Sam Vimes in Night Watch)



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