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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.

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4 Comments to Why We Should Contradict Ourselves

On Mar 26, 2009, kid commented:

This is a very interesting topic though I would say only lightly touched in the article.Trying to be consistent can really damage a person’s life – attempting to be consistent with what we did or said in the past (because other people know about it) can make you blind to what you really feel, need, have opportunity to do now. On the other hand, do not the reasonable, intelligent poeople see through your contradictions, you change your mind, you change the context in which you say things, so it’s all ok…

Still I am not comfortable with a contradiction as a good thing. Couple of examples: how can you lead a discussion, in particular if it is supposed to be ended by some practical conclusion, well, how can you write a meaningful article if it’s full of contradictions. Or how can somebody rely on someone’s else word. Or how about the situation when someone criticise what you do, not necessarily with contempt but in a very firm way and they do the same thing as you did the next day praising it in the way as if you were a dilletante and never have heard about it. Can’t they just say, well I it’s better to contradict yourself rather than try to be consisntent, so what’s the problem.

I must say I’d be most grateful if someone could sugests me a resource where this topic is discussed a little deeper :)

On Mar 26, 2009, by Tim commented:

Kid, thank you for a very adult comment.

We can’t indeed conduct a thoughtful discussion or write a coherent article if we contradict ourselves in the next breath, or sentence. I’m thinking longer-term, like … a day or so. :-)

And while my point is to accept, rather than encourage, contradiction, in retrospect the final line in this piece seems a bit glib. I’d like exposure to deeper thinking on the subject, too.

On Mar 27, 2009, Darcy commented:

The art of contradiction. A very interesting topic. One the one hand, is it possible to contradict yourself in speech and still hold true to your beliefs. In other words, Mr. Sakai writes that what he has said at the beginning of the speech contradicts something he has said at the end. Is it a true contradiction or a misunderstanding on the part of the listener or an intended paradox? If it is a true contradiction, can Mr. Sakai truely believe both? Aristotle would say no-his true belief lies in one or the other.

On the other hand, he also states the life is full of contradictions which is also true. Dan Millman writes: “Life has just three rules: Paradox, humour and change.” Have you ever had something happen to you that was the best thing and the worst thing that ever happened to you at the same time?

Did I just contradict myself?

On Mar 30, 2009, by Tim commented:

Wow — thanks for deepening the discussion, Darcy. I think I’m over my head now — you can take charge if you like. :-)

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