Dr. Albert Rothenberg, a noted researcher on the creative process, has extensively studied the use of opposites in the creative process. He identified a process he terms “Janusian thinking,” a process named after Janus, a Roman God who has two faces, each looking in the opposite direction.  Janusian thinking is the ability to imagine two opposites or contradictory ideas, concepts, or images existing simultaneously.

Rothenberg found that geniuses resorted to this mode of thinking quite often in the act of achieving original insights.

In physics, Einstein was able to imagine an object in motion and at rest at the same time. To better understand the nature of this paradox, he constructed an analogy that reflected the essence of the paradox. An observer, Einstein posited, who jumps off a house roof and releases any object at the same time, will discover that the object will remain, relative to the observer, in a state of rest. The unique feature of this analogy was that the apparent absence of a gravitational field arises even though gravitation causes the observer’s accelerating plunge. This was the analogy that Einstein said was his happiest thought in life because it pertains to the larger principle of general relativity. (He was looking for an analogy in nature that would allow him to bring Newton’s theory of gravitation into the theory of relativity, the step making it a general theory.

Another Nobel prize physicist Niels Bohr is considered by many to be one of the most influential scientists in the twentieth century. Bohr, believed, according to Rothenberg, that if you hold opposites together, then you suspend your thought and your mind moves to a new level. The suspension of thought allows an intelligence beyond thought to act and create a new form. The swirling of opposites creates the conditions for a new point of view to bubble free from your mind. This ability to hold two opposites together led to Bohr’s conception of the principle of complementarity. The very claim that light is both a particle and a wave is inextricably self-contradictory.

To think in terms of simultaneous opposites, convert your subject into a paradox and then find a useful analogy. Foundries clean forged metal parts by sandblasting them. The sand cleans the parts but the sand gets into the cavities and is time consuming and expensive to clean. We formulates the paradox as that the particles must be “hard” in order to clean the parts and at the same time “not hard” in order to be removed easily. An analogue of particles which are “hard” and “not hard” is ice. The solution was to make the particles out of dry ice. The hard particles will clean the parts and later turn into gas and evaporate.

Here are some of the paradoxes in  creativity:

To create, a person must have knowledge but be able to think naively,

must be able to make the familiar unfamiliar,

must be able to make the unfamiliar familiar,

must expect the unexpected,

must look at the same thing as everyone else but see something different,

must make connections between dissimilar things without being mentally disturbed,

must be aware of experts but know how to ignore them,

must work hard but spend time doing nothing,

must learn how to fail in order to succeed,

must create many ideas with most of them bad,

must be certain about uncertainty,

must fantasize while still have rooted sense of reality,

must be confident while afflicted by self doubt.




YES or NO. Answer the following question out loud and truthfully?

Will the next word you say be “no?”




Lean the creative thinking techniques and strategies that creative geniuses have used throughout history.  Review Michael Michalko’s books and articles at



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