Janusian Thinking – A Creative Approach to Ideas

Janusian Thinking is “bringing two opposites together in your mind, holding them there together at the same time, considering their relationships, similarities, pros and cons, and interplay, then creating something new and useful.”

Two years ago I moved to a new apartment. And, even though it is actually larger than my current home, I made the difficult decision to cut back on the number of books and tapes to keep. My rationale was that there are books that I haven’t read or even looked at in years, tapes that have been collecting dust, and my favorite library will be having a fund raising book/tape sale. I know that there will be others who will enjoy and benefit from purchasing my old friends.

What does this have to do with “Janusian Thinking?” While purging and packing, I listened to some of my old tapes. One that was particularly interesting was a tape series called Entrepreneurial Thinking by Mike Vance. Vance is the former Dean of the University of Disneyland and was in charge of idea and people development for Walt Disney Productions.

When Vance started talking about creativity, he recommended Janusian Thinking. Not being able to find the term in the dictionary, I did a search and was delighted with the number of results (all 507 of them – no, I did not read all of them, but did discover how many groups embrace the use of Janusian Thinking).

Background: Dr. Albert Rothenberg, a noted researcher on the creative process, identified the process in 1979 he terms, “Janusian Thinking”, named for the Roman god Janus, who had two faces that looked in opposite directions. Dr. Rothenberg has identified traces of Janusian Thinking in the works of Einstein, Mozart, Picasso and Conrad. The way to use Janusian Thinking is to ask “What is the opposite of this?” and then try to imagine both opposites existing at the same time.

Great Einstein Story: Rothenberg claimed, after studying 54 Nobel Prize winners, that most major scientific breakthroughs and artistic masterpieces are products of Janusian thinking. He concluded that creative people who actively formulate antithetical ideas and then resolve them, produce outstanding results.

He cites the example of Einstein’s account of “the happiest thought of my life.” Einstein recalled his first thinking of the concept that “for an observer in free fall from the roof of a house, there exists, during his fall, no gravitational field… in his immediate vicinity. If the observer releases any objects, they will remain, relative to him, in a state of rest.” This antithetical idea led to his general theory of relativity. Rothenberg’s point is to advocate reversing or contradicting currently accepted ideas to expand the range of perspectives considered.

Sample: there are many paradoxes all around us and clichés provide the perfect example. Compare, “He who hesitates is lost.” and, “Look before you leap.”

Remember that Janusian Thinking is seeing both sides of an idea, both positive and negative. When you understand why an idea doesn’t work, you can then focus on how to make it work. Let’s all try it together!

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