How Brands Benefit From Janusian Thinking

How Brands Benefit From Janusian Thinking

Janusian thinking is a term coined by the psychiatrist Albert Rothenberg to denote the creative benefits that can emerge from considering opposites simultaneously. Janus was the Roman god of beginnings and transitions, usually depicted with two faces staring in opposite directions. Some of the world’s most creative thinkers, Rothenberg argues, developed their signature ideas in this two-faced way by conceiving of firmly held propositions as “simultaneously true and not true.” This can lead to some extraordinarily creative thinking. (Einstein devised his theory of relativity in part by imagining that a man falling from a roof could be at rest and in motion at the same time.)

Simultaneously pursuing the benefits of the founder’s mentality and the benefits of scale is a classic Janusian endeavor. To create a great insurgency that fuels their brands, founders have to ignore industry boundaries and embrace the notion of limitless horizons, but to acquire the benefits of scale they also have to focus tenaciously on the core business and the hard, detailed work of continuous improvement. Both of those things are fundamental to a successful scale insurgency, and they are fundamentally at odds.

Likewise, insurgent brands need to embrace chaos, so that they can mobilize and demobilize resources rapidly to win and maintain customers. But large brands derive much of their strength from fixed routines and behaviors, and from riding down the experience curve. The leaders of scale insurgents—companies such as LEGO Group, Yonghui Superstores, Olam International, Haier, Amazon, L Brands, Google, and IKEA—have adopted Janusian ways of thinking about these competing demands, and this allows them to become more than just the sum of their parts. They have managed to forge new amalgams of both scale and speed.

Contributed to Branding Strategy Insider by: Chris Zook with the permission of Harvard Business Review Press. Excerpted and adapted from The Founder’s Mentality: How to Overcome the Predictable Crises of Growth.

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