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Why We Should Contradict Ourselves

— Because the true self is never a fixed thing —

There are successful entrepreneurs and there are what I call Entrepreneurial Thinkers, people who don’t necessarily start new enterprises, but who consistently pursue opportunity regardless of resources currently controlled (more on this in upcoming posts).

Kuniyasu Sakai is both.

Almost unknown outside Japan, the remarkable Mr. Sakai founded several dozen successful manufacturing companies, then wrote a series of books describing bunsha, his overarching business method apple_and_orange.gif(bunsha refers to spinning off growing operations into new companies before they become too big; today we would call it intrapreneurship).

Mr. Sakai briefly drew international attention in 1990 with a stunning article in the Harvard Business Review entitled “The Feudal World of Japanese Manufacturing.”

The article revealed that, contrary to popular perception, Japan’s diversified technology conglomerates are essentially industry overlords heavily dependent on low-status manufacturing subcontractors — like Mr. Sakai’s many bunsha firms — for their much-vaunted technological expertise. Nearly two decades later, “The Feudal World still reveals more about the true nature of Japanese industry than many self-styled Japan experts will ever know.

But I digress. Apart from his stunning insights into entrepreneurship and Japanese manufacturing, what I really love about Mr. Sakai is his enthusiastic, jovial embrace of contradiction. Here’s what he wrote in one book:

Occasionally one of my listeners will point out that what I have said at the end of a speech contradicts something I said at the beginning. Or that what I said on Wednesday contradicts something I said on Monday. Or that what I wrote last week contradicts something I wrote ten years ago … every now and then I run across somebody who intends this comment as a criticism of my whole system. The implication is that because my ideas seem contradictory, they must be worthless.

Mr. Sakai sees a world that is often unclear and confused — sometimes even contradictory (as with the perception and the reality behind Japan’s technology giants). But, he asks, should this stop us from living our lives?

… the charge that what I say is full of contradictions is one that has never bothered me. To me, the whole world is full of contradictions and so it is only natural that human beings are full of contradictions. Any system of ideas that is logically perfect in every place and time belongs in the world of mathematics, not the world of people.

What a relief to hear such an accomplished person say this! Maybe a writer’s task is to articulate truths readers believe are forbidden.

Here’s Brenda Ueland in If You Want to Write:

… remember always that the true self is never a fixed thing. And do not try to be consistent, for what is true to you today may not be true at all tomorrow, because you see a better truth.

‘Nuff said. Let us march forth, and gladly contradict tomorrow what we say today.

(This post comes from the Soul Shelter archives)

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2 Comments to Why We Should Contradict Ourselves

On Jul 12, 2010, neal b commented:

Great post, reminds me of one of my favorite Walt Whitman quotes: “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.”

On Jul 15, 2010, Tim commented:

Very cool Walt words – thanks for the spot-on inspiration, Neal!

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