Using contrast—comparing opposites—to transfer knowledge is not new. The Chinese philosophy of the I Ching, written during the early Han dynasty to identify the principle workings of the Universe, put forth the concept of the Yin and Yang. Much more recently, twentieth century French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss, in his influential book The Raw and the Cooked, discussed how people best understand concepts presented in opposite pairs. Lévi-Strauss looked at the power of metaphor and saw that the basic patterns were the same: the contrast of life and death, hard and soft, loud and quiet. He showed that myths are the same stories across all cultures, and all have structures based on opposites, which allow us to understand the fundamental lesson more easily. Our myths shape our social, national, and corporate cultures and the way we think about ourselves.
The greater the contrast of these opposites—the more obvious the distinction—the easier it is to understand something. For instance, a police car uses red and blue lights because these two colors create the maximum contrast during the day and night, as well as in relationship to each other. Imagine what would happen if traffic signals used red lights for stop and pink lights for go – the colors red and pink contrast one another to such a small degree that they would be difficult to distinguish from one another, and they’d be dangerous.
Historically, leadership has most often been contrasted with management. However, management is not the opposite of leadership, but drama is. Management is in many ways a poor contrast to leadership, like contrasting red and pink stop lights. The distinction between the two would be difficult to identify and understand. We’ve all known managers who are also good leaders.
Drama, however, creates a high contrast with leadership and is the complete opposite. We believe that as one begins to really understand drama, they are on the quickest and most productive road to learning about leadership because the law of contrast accelerates learning. People are always trying to make sense of things, and when doing so, they don’t actually think about something by itself, as it is. Instead, they compare it to something else. You can apply the idea of contrast by thinking about these two questions: Who has taught you the most about effective leadership? In contrast, who has taught you what poor leadership looks like? You can learn more about leadership by thinking about both of these questions.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Charlie Sheppard is the founder and CEO of Sheppard Partners, a company on the forefront of unleashing the full potential of people and teams through superior training and consulting methodologies. He is an internationally recognized leader in executive and team development. His courses and trainings have been delivered around the world. He is a highly engaging speaker and is in constant demand for his Leadership is a Choice(r) and “Eliminating Drama” keynotes. He is also a professor at Hult International Business School teaching leadership and management. He is also the founder and CEO of KnoNow, a pioneering e-learning and social networking platform. This online tool accelerates both learning and measurement of the transfer of knowledge in an organization. KnoNow is pioneering the field of knowledge as a service (KaaS), creating for organizations a competitive advantage. He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.