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Right-versus-Right versus Right-versus-Wrong

Right-versus-Right versus Right-versus-Wrong

| On 27, Mar 2018

Darrell Mann

TRIZ tells us there are three basic kinds of contradiction – technical, physical and administrative. The third of which usually finds itself ignored because it in effect all about those situations where we know what we want, but we don’t really know what’s preventing us from achieving it. It’s a definition that’s always felt like a bit of a cop-out to me. Not that the non-TRIZ world does much better. Although at least it offers up a few clues in terms of right-versus-wrong and right-versus-right situations. Contradictions can appear, in other words, if two people have a different opinion about a situation, one of which is a difference built on the fact that one of the two is wrong, and the other – more interesting – where both are right. This right-versus-right situation (‘you want equality, I want equity’, for example) offers up the biggest opportunity for breakthrough if we’re able to somehow break the contradiction. Right-versus-right situations are important enough, I think, to benefit from a more granular definition.

One distinction which seems to be useful is that between the tangible and the intangible (i.e. emotional). Useful in the sense that it’s highly plausible that I can be scientifically right about a situation and simultaneously be wrong emotionally (think Richard Dawkins!). Figure 1 is an attempt to describe the four scenarios that emerge when we split the tangible and intangible, right and wrong:

Figure 1: A Tangible/Emotional Right/Wrong Domain Map  

Both dimensions are probably best thought of as a continuum. There are degrees of ‘right’ness in the same way that there are degrees of ‘wrong’ness about a situation. In a scientific sense, we often hear the aphorism, ‘all theories are wrong, but some are useful’. In the emotional domain, the distinction between right and wrong is likely even more nebulous. In which case the border between ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ drawn onto the figure is perhaps more theoretical than practical. Although, that said, the boundary between the two is often a matter of degree rather than an absolute. Most people, for example, would agree that democracy is ‘better’ than dictatorship as a form of government, but almost everyone has a different position along a left/right political spectrum that they would vote for as the ‘right’ form of democracy.

Fortunately, the degree of rightness is not nearly so important an issue as that of identifying and solving contradictions. Arguing about Democrat or Republican is ultimately a futile exercise. Treating the Democrat-Republican difference as a contradiction to be solved would be a much more fruitful use of all of our – and our elected politicians’ – time.

The Figure 1 domain map, then, offers up a way to help examine different types of contradiction. If we can imagine placing two individuals’ points of view ‘A’ and ‘B’ about a situation somewhere on the map – as in Figure 2 for example – it ought to be possible to imagine stronger contradiction solution strategies.

Figure 2: Example A-versus-B Contradiction Scenario  

Given the four different quadrants present in the map, and two people, we will find ten different combinations as described in Table 1:

Person A Person B Contradiction Type Comment
RR RR Congruent, Transcendent genuine progress potential
WR WR Rational-Scientific(‘Autistic’) ‘technology is ethically and morally neutral’; scientific progress potential
RW RW Ideological Dogma e.g. religion 1 versus religion 2.Emotional understanding/progress potential
WW WW Babel Nonsense-versus-nonsense
RR WR Reductive e.g. physicists looking for theory of everything
RR RW Fact-poor e.g. ‘New Age’ thinkers with no appreciation of scientific reality versus those with
RR WW Banging-Head-Against-Wall ‘It is useless to attempt to reason a man out of a thing he was never reasoned into’ Swift
WR RW Downward Spiral e.g. Dawkins-versus-religious/spiritual community
WR WW Fact/Fiction e.g. Social Media & ‘there are no such things as facts, my opinion is as valid as yours’
RW WW Psychiatry ‘blind leading the stupid’

Importantly, in only three of the ten combinations is the contradiction between the two people a genuine one, and in only the first case is there an opportunity for genuine, holistic breakthrough solutions to be derived. In the majority of cases, the situation is one of ‘right-versus-wrong’ and as such the only meaningful way of creating progress is for the two people to correct their collected assortment of errors and mis-conceptions.

In terms of the technically right-versus right contradiction, the technical version of the Contradiction Matrix is the appropriate place to begin solving the differing needs of the two participants. In terms of the emotionally right-versus-right situation, that’s where the latest version of the Business Matrix has been designed to operate. Particularly regarding the large increase in awareness of the ‘intangible’ factors that can very easily come to dominate people and process type contradiction problems. We all want autonomy, belonging and competence, but we also see, I think, that more often than not, one person’s ABC is in direct (right-versus-right) conflict with the ABC desires of the person they’re talking to.

Figure 3 illustrates where the two difference Contradiction Matrix tools are ‘best suited’…

Figure 3: Contradiction Types & Contradiction Solving Tools

…this is not to say that either Matrix tool is unsuitable for situations where we have a truly right-versus-right contradiction up in the top-right quadrant of the Figure. More like we need both. Or we find ourselves heading into the realms of trilemma-solving. Which – one day – will be a whole new toolset… same 40 Principles; different way to use them. In the meantime, i know that whenever I find myself in an argument with someone these days, my first mental port of call is to work out where we both are on the right-wrong Domain Map. More often than not, the argument isn’t about a true contradiction at all. Which, when I think about it, is scarier than if it was.