Thinking in Paradoxes

Harmonize the opposite times by Román P.G. on Flickr

Harmonize the opposite times by Román P.G. on Flickr

It’s not that long ago. An ordinary evening on my couch at home surfing my streams as they flow through Twitter, LinkedIn, Gmail, Feedly etcetera. I was reading a post shared by @roosvanvugt: “5 things digital CMO’s do better“.

Push or Pull?
The 5-thing-list starts with “Shift from finding customers to getting found” which is another way of saying that marketers should shift their strategies from push to pull-mechanisms. At the same time the article states that digital CMO’s “Use data to target precisely and measure relentlessly”. That’s opposite directions, a contradiction, I thought.

But, as the internet expands with data and content and will further increase the pace in which it does so, it is not automatically becoming easier for Consumers to find what they want.

With billions of connected people, devices and businesses there is literally opportunity for everyone in the long tail. At the same time though, there’s an increasing chance there is not an optimal match of Customer need and the solution (regardless in what phase of the Consumer Journey), just because of the sheer volume and options available.

It is therefor imperative that companies tap into the data/knowledge-flows to really understand what jobs people are trying to get done and use that knowledge to help them do it. This may well require seamlessly offering different options and or content to different Customers. This of course requires targeting techniques.

Capabilities or Positioning?
A couple of days later I stumbled into John Hagel’s post “Where Do You Stand? The Shifting Ground of Strategy“. Hagel argues that where strategies were once all about position (and entry barriers to defend that position), that fell out of vogue when core competencies and agility came into it. Why not use your core-competencies in adjacent territories or even markets? was the key thought for long after.

But, Hagel argues, position is now back at center stage, as it matters to a great extent in what market with what dynamics you are currently positioned. If you’re positioned in a fragmenting part of the economy (and many, many businesses are) you’re up to make some tough choices (yet, if you do successfully you can end up really well still, transformed, but well).

If you’re positioned in the concentrating parts of the economy you’re outlook may be better. Yet at both ends of the scale there’s a specific set of capabilities to be developed and choices to be made to put you into your desired position in your desired market and with your desired Customers.

And then it hit me: There’s a trend here. A trend of paradoxes. And I started seeing more.

Inside or Outside The Building?
What about the lean start-up movement advocating a “get out of the room asap, test and iterate mentality”, essentially stating that traditional Customer research methodology doesn’t help you understand what will work and what not.

To the contrary the same understanding resulted in the development of neuromarketing research where we don’t go out and test business models and products in the marketplace, but where we go deep inside the Consumer’s brain, trying to understand if our idea can work in the marketplace.

Quite a contradictory development one could say. Behavioral economics can possibly be seen as middel ground here as they define “rules” based on human behavioral patterns and biases derived from academic research (performed both in lab-setting as in real-world environments). But are they heading in opposite directions? I don’t think so.

The linking pin here of course is to not trust what Consumer’s say, but to trust the data based on what we see they actually do. There is no contradiction between neuromarketing and the lean start-up way of doing things. It just looks that way.

Faster Horses or Jobs-to-be-Done?
Another paradox I hear a lot originates from one of the most famous quotes from Steve Jobs where he said that Customer do not know what they want, so why bother listening to them. A statement hijacked by innovation guru’s that would want us all to forget about the voice of the customer and just do cool stuf.

A statement that is even used to emphasize that companies should not bother about being Customer centric at all. But Steve Jobs did not at all agree with that. See this video where he clearly states that it is very important to start innovation from the Customer Experience and than work your way back. Sounds like a contradiction with the other statement, but it isn’t.

For innovation purposes Jobs (and Apple) just doesn’t trust what Customers say they want, but he does care a lot about what people want to accomplish. That’s why the entire Apple portfolio is enriched with content, apps etcetera etcetera, because Apple knows people need more than a computer to get their jobs done. And frankly, he knew that Customers were not getting their jobs done very easy and well before. So he found several innovative ways to solve the problems Consumers were encountering on their journeys.

Conclusion: Yes, one can be Customer centric without asking Customers what they want.

A Paradox of Paradoxes?
So, does it all just look like a contradiction? And is it all not that at all? Paradoxes, is that all there is is too it? It may look like that from what I’ve written above, but I’m also not so sure.

Because what I also see in these paradoxes is that we are currently undergoing transformation in society. We are experimenting new approaches, sometimes to meet the same old goals, sometimes to define new ones. And we really don’t know where we’ll end up. These apparent opposites can well be a consequence of us trying to figure that out.

And thus are we trying to keep as much from the world we know and at the same time – as we are moving along – we are trying to understand what to do next. Every now and then we see proof that a new way of doing things actually produces better results, but still old habits are all around us and they continue to produce results too, at least for some.

My take? It takes time to shift the paradigm and our beliefs, and in between we’ll see more of these apparent paradoxes.. or what are they?

Do you see these paradoxes too? How do you interpret them? I’m curious to know what you think!


3 thoughts on “Thinking in Paradoxes

  1. Wim,

    I too see more and more paradoxes and also oxymorons. For example, managed serendipity and brilliant mistakes, and many more.

    I think this is because the old definitions of many concepts are outliving their usefulness and the new definitions are contradicting them.



  2. Hi Wim,
    It was Niels Bohr (Danish Nobel Price winner) who said: “How wonderful that we have met with a paradox. Now we have some hope of making progress.”
    Kind regards,


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