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R & D Creativity & Innovation Handbook by Edward Glassman Ph.D.
Edward Glassman : A Paradigm Shift – The Sound of One Hand Clapping

A Paradigm Shift: The Sound of One Hand Clapping

By Edward Glassman, PhD

If you always think what you have always thought,
Then you will always do what you have always done,
And you will always get what you have always gotten.

A paradigm is a belief structure within which you think and act. The paradigms within which you operate affect your creativity. Usually they box you in and produce tunnel vision. A paradigm shift is a change in your belief structure that changes your perspective and allows you to see things differently.

An old Zen riddle asks, "How do you get through a gateless gate?" Do you mean how do you accomplish the impossible (a paradigm shift)? Well, you start by defining the problem creatively and shifting paradigms, by listing many ideas, and by combining them innovatively into creative trigger-ideas and workable solutions. Committed action plans and the real work follow.

A Riddle: How Do You Get Through a Gateless Gate?
You mean, how to do the impossible at work?
(Note the paradigm shift)

Well, you start by defining the problem creatively, shifting paradigms, generating ideas abundantly, and combining them innovatively into creative solutions. After that comes committed action plans and the real work.

At the beginning of my creative thinking workshop, I often ask "What is the sound of one hand clapping?" Most people give no answer. Some answer the "sound is silence," a breakthrough in realizing that the answer does not have to be clever.

When I ask children this question they look puzzled. Sometimes they wave one hand through the air listening for the answer. Actually, the waving of one hand is one answer to the question. This is hard for some people to understand.

In some Zen training, this riddle of the "sound of one hand clapping" is given to novices starting to master Zen. The novice meditates on the meaning of the riddle, and makes daily visits to the Zen master for about three years to absorb the riddle's teachings.

According to Yoel Hoffman in "The Sound of One Hand: 281 Koans with Answers," the acceptable answer is for the novice to face the Zen master, take a correct posture, and silently extend one hand forward. This answer embodies much of Zen philosophy. It is immediate, nonverbal, spontaneous, and intuitive, and so is creative thinking.

The Zen answer has many nuances that we need not pursue. Suffice to say that three years of meditating on the "sound of one hand clapping" produces a paradigm shift in the novice's view of reality.

Shift Paradigms to Achieve Quality Solutions

My purpose in using the riddle about the "sound of one hand clapping" is to produce a quick paradigm shift to help creative thinking. Paradigm shifts help creativity.

I want to jolt people into realizing that the way we perceive a problem limits our thinking. Almost immediately, some participants discover some creativity-spoiling habits that block their creative thinking. This discovery prompts a change in perception of creativity, and how to enhance it. These people discover that ideas can be expressed nonverbally, as well as in writing. They see the value in being spontaneous and intuitive, as well as rational. They see the need to be immediate, as well as reflective. They see that creative thinking can be helped by changes in perception.

All this is triggered by a Zen riddle. This book is also like a Zen riddle in that it is intended to change your perceptions, produce paradigm shifts, and enhance your creative thinking with advanced creativity techniques.

A True Story: This chapter is the result of trigger-ideas and paradigm shifts sparked by reading about a dozen books on Zen. These trigger-ideas and paradigm shifts evolved into ideas that I incorporated into the design and activities in my creative thinking workshops and throughout this book. I did not interrupt the text to point out Zen applications because I did not want to distract from the flow of ideas presented and because the Zen trigger-ideas usually evolved into outcomes unrelated to its Zen origins.

What is the Sound of One Hand Clapping?

Well, it's like the sound of one brain thinking creatively (note this paradigm shift).

Oh, you mean it is a silent explosion in the universe. •

Excerpted from the R&D Creativity & Innovation Handbook, © 2011 by Edward Glassman. All rights reserved.

Edward Glassman, PhDEdward Glassman, PhD was the President of the Creativity College®, a division of Leadership Consulting Services, Inc., and Professor Emeritus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he headed the Program For Team Effectiveness And Creativity. More »