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I like to read two books concurrently.  I choose two unrelated books and find myself discovering connections – or rather the contrasting contents stimulate new ideas. So in a sense I get the content of each book and a third content which my mind discovers or produces from the relationships and dissonance between the two narratives.

The choice of material is obviously relevant and I don’t quite know how I make the selection. Just to give you an example, at the moment I am reading “The Business of Excellence” by Justin Hughes at the same time as the 1970s cult novel, “Journey to Ixtlan” by Carlos Castaneda.  Try it! Read them in parallel – a chapter or so from one alternating with a similar dose of the other.  Hughes says some very pertinent and useful stuff and Castaneda frees my mind from too literal an acceptance of all he says.  I find that the zanie quality of the Castaneda lifts Hughes to another level, producing amazing insights.  At the same time Hughes allows me to gain a deeper understanding of Castaneda’s jaw-dropping ideas.

It is, I suggest, equivalent to binary vision, where two eyes just a short distance apart produce vastly more than twice the amount of information – a whole new dimension is added! Similarly, reading two newspapers with left and right wing bias might get you closer to objective news (a necessary escape from the tyranny of algorithms feeding you what you want to hear). I am not sure two who-dunnits would work so well but certainly a serious text book set against good quality prose or poetry does change your mind if you will allow it. Perhaps it has to do with right and left hemispheres of the brain – something logical and well-argued set against another that is poetic or emotional?

The same principle applies whenever we are open minded enough to bring different perspectives alongside one another. This is where we gain from the diversity of teams; differences of life and work experience; differences of ethnicity or gender; differences of expertise; all have the potential to enrich our thinking and our perceptions if we dare to seek deeper insights. By allowing differences to co-exist we get a richer picture. This is a valuable antidote to dogmatism and chauvinism and a root of the creative thinking that leads to innovation. Whenever I have been called upon to get teams to rise to the challenge of change and innovation I have found great benefit from stretching people’s expectations and taking them into uncharted mind-space.  Apart from being huge fun for everyone it produces out-of-this-world outcomes.

John Varney,  Centre for Management Creativity


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