Scott Fitzgerald Space, Paradox and Conflict

I have always like the F. Scott Fitzgerald observation in his essay ‘The Crack Up’ in 1936:

‘The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.’

And I was reminded of it by today’s great posting from our fellow blogger Creating Reciprocity, where she said: ‘Two things can be true at the same time.’

The Scott Fitzgerald quote led me to create the fifth stage of the Creative Conflict Model: Getting Stereoscopic by entering Scott Fitzgerald Space. In this mental space we hold both sides of the conflict’s perspectives to be true, to be valid in order to better explore them and the creative tension between them. We enter a sort of conflict 3D, and the two very different competing takes on reality, on positions, on interests, on mindsets, ideologies, religious beliefs whatever, give us a much deeper appreciation of the conflict seen  from outside or as Bill Ury calls it: ‘from the balcony‘.

This is not a permanent stance or some sort of ‘anything goes’ Post-Modernism. It is a temporary tactic to gain fresh and more creative perspective, and to power really creative, breakthrough thinking. It tries to stop us jumping to conclusions or more likely, it helps us unpick the self-righteous, self-serving conclusions we may have already jumped to.

We can do it alone or if trust has been built, with the other side, when the ideas of David Bohm on Dialogue (separate post to come on that) can also be applied, for very free-form unstructured exploration of the conflict space.

So how do we do this? I guess there are no rules but this sort of process might get you started:

  • First we try to see both sides of the conflict simultaneously and
  •  Let the tension of the paradox do its work:
  •  Healthcare reform is essential AND healthcare reform is monstrous tyranny!
  •  This land is a natural paradise AND this land would make a great mall!
  •  This where conflict needs deep creativity using the power of paradox: like the sound of one hand clapping!
  •  It is another way to break the Elephant’s pattern recognition and self righteousness
  • Some of the techniques that might help your creativity in conflict, and could be used to navigate Scott Fitzgerald Space include:
  • Setting out all you know about the two sides perspectives, side by side on a large piece of paper as honestly as possible
  • Mind Mapping both sides of the conflict to add to this side by side approach
  • Free-form improvisation around all aspects of both sides of the conflict and all aspects of the interests of both sides
  • Build really powerful alternative stories about the future from both sides
  • Start loose and wide, and then tighten and focus the alternatives
  • Explore ‘what ifs’ or ‘why nots’ around barriers, downsides and upsides
  • Look for humor and paradox
  • Look at things upside down: literally and metaphorically
  • Be open to continuous improvement and learn as you go
  • See the brainstorm as a learning session to strengthen the final rounds of negotiation

These are all ways to break out of Jon Haidt’s Elephant mind-set: our automatic pattern recognition and positional self-righteous box. Though I have never seen this approach set out formally, it seems to me to lie behind some of the breakthrough peace processes, such as happened in South Africa powered by Nelson Mandela’s intense but tough minded ability to empathize with the enemy. He really could see the ANC interests AND the Afrikaners’ at the same time, and creatively find a way to build trust and get both sides to see a very different future.

I will be posting a Scott Fitzgerald Top Ten Conflict Tips shortly.

Here’s F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940) and see also:

Footnote: the full Creative Conflict Model (of which this Step #5) can be seen at the head of the Home Page of this Blog and its seven steps are:

  1. Getting Real about the conflict you face
  2. Getting Clear about your interests in the conflict
  3. Getting Empathetic to understand the other side’s interests in the conflict
  4. Getting Creative to develop solutions to the conflict
  5. Getting Stereoscopic to see the conflict from both sides
  6. Getting Specific to make a good agreement
  7. Getting Wise to learn from the conflict through After Action Reviews

The whole point of the Seven Step model is to use it as a disciplined process in writing rather than just cherry pick the odd idea. You don’t need a first class intelligence to navigate this process, though it is a process to improvised around and improved.

About creativeconflictwisdom

I spent 32 years in a Fortune Five company working on conflict: organizational, labor relations and senior management. I have consulted in a dozen different business sectors and the US Military. I work with a local environmental non profit. I have written a book on the neuroscience of conflict, and its implications for conflict handling called Creative Conflict Wisdom (forthcoming).
This entry was posted in Conflict Book Reviews, Conflict Humor, Conflict Processes, Creativity and Conflict, Uncategorized, Ways to handle conflict and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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