Einstein said many profound things in his life and for me probably the most significant was: “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” As obvious as this sounds, it is not that easy to understand, because changing our thinking is far more difficult, as we have never been taught to think differently.
Let me give you a little illustration. If I ask you a question ‘What is the opposite of a leader?’ Many people will simply answer ‘follower.’ Is that really the only answer? I could suggest that the first follower is also a leader, and then every follower down the line until we find the last follower. But the last follower is only a follower until someone else follows his example of following – thus he is a leader. This illustrates that we are using the same thinking to try to answer the question; we are thinking about a leader and not using different thinking to solve the problem.
You could indeed say that my question was slightly vague and I would agree. However then why did you not ask another question to get clarity on my question? Or was I simply generalizing, if so, it resonated in some way with you. You may have felt offended by my generalisation and it hurt. I was effectively standing on your foot and you wanted me to change my approach, instead of simply moving your foot. No I am not suggesting I was right, but I am suggesting you move to a position where you are more comfortable and where you can gain perspective.
Now that there is a little more perspective, let’s go back to my original question ‘What is the opposite of a leader?’ The reason why I ask this question is are we able to explore different options to the solution or do we assume there is only one answer?
When we begin to explore the opposite meaning, we should look for the actionable opposite and in the case of leader it could be words like procrastinator, lazy person, inactive and perhaps a few others. When we understand that leadership is about action we notice that a follower is also doing something active and it is the inability to act that determines whether you are an effective leader or not.
Similarly when other challenges arise, we should always ask ourselves if we can understand what people are doing or saying by understanding the opposites of what they are doing and saying rather than trying to figure out why people are doing what they do. We understand more about people if we look for opposites rather than the obvious, because occasionally it is the opposites that motivate them and not the obvious.