Speech presented at 8.10.2015, MinneapolisToastmasters Club 75
Janusian Thinking. by Fan Ouyang
You might wonder who is this weirdo with two faces? He is a Roman God called Janus who has two faces, each looking in two different directions. If I ask you right now, do you wanna be him? You might answer, why I wanna be him, with two faces? For ladies, you might say: I have got enough work to do with my one face! I don’t wanna waste more makeups! After this speech, you might change your mind.
I have experienced this kind of contradictory life myself, in many ways. As a Chinese young generation, I have confronted the same public norms and standards of the society, taking same gaokao exams to college, striving for a stable job, getting married in the similar age, having 1-2 kids, hoping kids could take care of our later life. I have tried my best to get rid of this sameness. In contrast, Americans are more proud on their individuality, their non-conformity. In a society with the variety and diversity, like United States, I have met more people who do not bow too much to the conventions, and people who are more open and respectful to this diversity.
I also have experienced boredom and zest. Sitting in an office is boring, living in the suburbs is boring, attending endless meetings is boring. Creating new projects is exciting, practicing swimming is exciting, reading a new book is exciting, preparing for a speech is exciting. I feel passionate particularly when I pursue something difficult yet possible. As Russell wrote in his book – The conquest of happiness “The human is adapted to a certain amount of struggle for life [and] the mere absence of effort from his life removes an essential ingredient of happiness”.
The consciousness and unconsciousness are another kind of yin and yang I have undergone in my life all the time. I have written some papers recently. I have found, for example, when I have to write upon some difficult parts or topic the best plan is to think about it with very great intensity for a few hours or a few days, with my restless conscious. In the meantime, quickly write down whatever I have thought. After that, I don’t consciously concentrate on the topic any more but my mind still works in some unconscious level, and for me the best ideas and solutions come up in unconscious moment, particularly when I am taking a shower, driving my car, or drying my hair.
When it comes to our thinking, how to take advantage of it? A psychological researcher Albert Rothenberg identified a creative process called “Janusian thinking,” a process named after 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. A person who can combine two contradictory ideas together is considered as a more creative person.
The traits that distinguish creative people are complex. They contain contradictory extremes – they are both aggressive and cooperative, they have a great deal of physical energy and also being quiet at rest, they are playful and hardworking, they can combine reality and fantasy together, they can swing between inner reflection and social interactions, they are modest and at the same time express a sense of self-assurance, they experience suffering and pain yet also a great deal of enjoyment in the creative process.
Creative individuals to a certain extent escape rigid gender role stereotyping. Research demonstrated that creative and talented girls are more dominant and tough than other girls, and creative boys are more sensitive and less aggressive than their male peers. Creative individuals are more likely to have not only the strengths of their own gender but those of the other one too. “creativity, by its very nature, requires both sensitivity and independence.”
In leadership, well-rounded leaders are those with the skills and personal attributes needed to adapt, act with flexibility, and combine what appear to be opposites: toughness and compassion, self-confidence and humility, strong individuals and good team players. Even Steve Jobs admitted at the end of his life, “I was hard on people sometimes, probably too hard.” If he had lived longer, he might have mellowed a little without losing his power, being demanding towards work and being soft with his people.
Janusian thinking also fit for a good friend. What kind of friends would you like? You want to have a friend being tough or nice, demanding or accommodating? In a friend, I am not looking for a person who will agree with everything that I say; rather what I am looking for is a person who will challenge me, a person who will push me, a person who will help me get the truth. On one hand, being tough, rough, demanding, honest, on the other hand, also being soft, accepting, nurturing , nice. A real good friend is a beautiful enemy.
Now it’s our time to think about how can we develop ourselves with Janusian thinking, as a friend, as a leader, as a coworker, as a parent, as a kid? how can we being ourselves and in the meantime building connections to people who we care about?
Thank you. Janusian Thinking.