6 important contradictions in life and work

Most of us find it difficult to simultaneously hold in our minds two or more contradictory beliefs. 

Nonetheless, sometimes one idea and its opposite are both true.

Here are several examples:

1. Plan carefully and persist in doing what’s important to you and to others, but be prepared to improvise because of unanticipated events. Plan, but hold those plans loosely.

2. Recognize the value of expertise and research, but also understand their limitations. Be open to new learning while simultaneously inquiring about the evidence upon which recommendations are being made.

3. Trust yourself, but ask respected colleagues and friends to offer their perspectives on your experiences and point of view.

4. Know that one person or a small group can change the trajectory of an organization, but don’t underestimate the power of systems and processes to affect what we think and do each day.

5. Conventional wisdom may offer guidance, but don’t unconditionally follow its dictates. In fact, make it a habit to surface and thoroughly examine the often unexamined assumptions that guide our lives.

6. Aim big. There are situations that require large, seemingly impossible goals to stretch us out of our comfort zones, but remember that such stretch goals are achieved and celebrated in incremental steps.

What contradictions would you add to this list?

4 Responses to “6 important contradictions in life and work”


  1. 1 Lois Easton January 16, 2019 at 3:41 pm

    I really enjoyed reading your true contradictions, Dennis. Thought of another one, for me at least, between process and product. Process is necessary but not enough to create a worthy product. Conceptualization of product is necessary but not enough if there’s no suitable process for achieving the product. (P.S. The more I work on it, the more these contradictions don’t seem to work! Oh, well.)

  2. 3 rickrepicky January 17, 2019 at 7:03 am

    Dennis, all six points can be head-spinners for school administrators. Here is some context for your Point #6. In his article, “The Myth of Buy-In,” Doug Reeves shows how trying to achieve staff buy-in for a significant change (such as writing across the curriculum or revising grading practices) is contradicted by jumping into small scale, practical steps followed by examining the results.

    I found his short article about big change in a Dec 20, 2018 email from Solution Tree. The email is entitled “Must-Read article from Doug Reeves.” It is part of a series of free articles and a worthwhile read for leaders of significant change.

    In his conclusion, Reeves writes, “In the excellent ne book by James Clear, Atomic Habits (2018), the author makes a powerful evidence-based approach about how individuals and organizations change. It is not through massive change, but through incremental improvements with measureable results. . . . No bizarrely complicated strategic plans. . . . It’s frequent actions—like writing once a month or small improvements in grading practices that are widely accepted as reasonable and that can show results in a single semester. So, let’s drop the illusion of buy-in and just have respectful and evidence-based discussions with our colleagues.”


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