The Paradox of Paradox

I find the word paradox fascinating.

Definition: A paradox is a statement that apparently contradicts itself and yet might be true. Most logical paradoxes are known to be invalid arguments but are still valuable in promoting critical thinking.

A paradox I’ve noticed in my own writing is how sometimes I will knowingly contradict myself.

One of the advantages (or disadvantages, depending on your point of view) of writing articles read by the intellectual elite (that would be you in this example) is that anytime I make a logical or computational “error,” oh, do I get an earful.

Sometimes, these errors are genuine errors. Other times, I seemingly contradict myself and upon further review, stand by my previous statement. How can this be?

How can two opposing ideas both be true?

Here’s the key difference:


Definition: a subtle difference in or shade of meaning, expression, or sound.

If I had to boil down the key difference between the academic world and the real world, it’s due to nuance.

To thrive in the real world, it’s vital to notice the nuances.

This is true in business, relationships, careers and more.

Let me give you a recent example.

As of late, I’ve been writing a lot about happiness and the value of chasing dreams. I’ve argued that giving yourself permission to dream has value in and of itself.

I dream of going to outer space one day. I’ve had that dream since I was about 11 years old. It’s fun to contemplate and consider. Anytime I do, I can’t help but smile.

Given that dream is only a thought, a few seconds of neuron-firing activity in my brain, it’s a pretty inexpensive way to put a smile on my face.

Dreams don’t have to be practical. In fact, some of the best dreams are the best precisely because they aren’t practical.

At the same time, I would also strongly argue that there is a big difference between someone who is a dreamer as opposed to a doer.

There are those who only dream, and there are those who DO.

I firmly believe that between the two, it is the doer that succeeds, and I encourage you to be a doer and not just a dreamer.

Wait a minute...

Didn’t I just contradict myself?

I just said it’s okay to give yourself permission to dream.

Then I argue you should be a doer rather than a dreamer.

How can both be true?


Notice the nuances.

In my first statement, I never said you should only dream. I simply said it is okay to give yourself permission to dream, even if you never take action on it.

For crying out loud, a dream is a thought. It's okay to have thoughts, people. It’s 3 seconds of neuron activity, it’s not the end of the world. If someone comes down hard on you for having a dream... 3 seconds of neural activity in your brain... tell them to take a hike.

I mean come on. It is your brain. Your neurons. And your dream.


If you want to dream a dream, by all means, dream it -- no matter what anyone else says.

Now, if you want to succeed and achieve, which is an entirely different matter, then a more optimal strategy is to do, not just to dream.

I have many dreams that I really do nothing to pursue. I use these as forms of fun intellectual entertainment. Here’s a simple example.

I remember when I was at McKinsey, the local multi-state lottery had reached a record jackpot of $335 million dollars. Of course, everyone at McKinsey did the statistical math and clearly, it’s a logically bad idea to buy lottery tickets.

At the same time, everyone at McKinsey —- even all the partners —- snuck out to buy some lottery tickets. In the words of one partner, “Hey, $335 million is life-changing money, even for a McKinsey partner.” Of course, nobody dared to admit they did this because it’s totally illogical.

I remember sitting in a very long line for a chance to win 1/3 of a billion dollars, and it was honestly one of the most fun times I’ve ever had. People in line were deliriously giddy and happy.

New Yorkers are not always known for being the friendly welcoming crowd. But on that day, in that line, we were all sharing our dreams.

"Hey, if you won $300 million dollars, what would you do?"

“Tell my boss I quit!” was a very popular response.

"I would buy a house."

"I wouldn’t buy a house. I’d buy ten houses. Yeah!"

"I would buy a yacht."

"I’d buy the New York Yankees."

"I hate the Yankees, I’d buy the New York Mets."

"I’d travel around the world for two years."

"Why two years... why not five years?"

"Yeah… why not?"


It was fun. People were genuinely excited for one another (another trait New Yorkers are not normally known for). So, for those 30 minutes, we had a grand old time... and all it cost was $1.

(And yes, I know the statistical expected value of that $1 ticket is $0.80... but ya know what? It was still worth it for the entertainment and emotional value!)

It’s okay to dream. It’s your life. It’s your brain. Do what you want with it.


If you actually want to achieve a dream, well you need to take the extra step to DO... not just to dream.

That's the nuanced difference and the key to uncovering the paradox behind the paradox.

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6 comments… add one
  • Chetan Nov 4, 2014, 8:33 am

    I loved the simplicity of emotions in the article, great read and it brought a smile on my face too :)
    On a different note, I think all consultants end up being philosophers, and pretty good ones at that !

  • Volha Nov 4, 2014, 1:17 am

    There is nothing wrong with contradiction.

    This brings us back to Hegel’s philosophy which basically says that all things are contradictionary, and the contradiction itself facilitates all kind of development – be it social, individual, etc.
    The concept of contradiction works in scientific reasoning. Dialectic contradiction assumes mutually exclusive tendencies in one object or phenomenon, which urge kinetic energy.
    Therefore, nuance, in my view, is something completely different and does not fully explain how contradiction works.

  • Siddhartha Nov 4, 2014, 1:11 am

    Yep, agree with the nuances. If you only dream, you will be in bliss all the time but will have nothing to show for your efforts. If you only do, you do miss on the little things in life. Depending on your profession, you need to make a balance. As a consultant it may be 2% dream and 98% doing, as a painter may be 60% dream and 40% do.

    Eg. I may fly down later this month for a friends wedding. Since it is a weekday I will take a late evening flight and come back the next day early morning. Economically does not make any sense at all. The chance to meet friends that haven’t seen for over 3 years is way more.

  • Chap Micua Nov 3, 2014, 2:39 pm

    Hi Victor

    I once told my friend my dreams and he began cutting it down by saying this and that are too expensive and not achievable in both our lifetimes. I told him “hey it is the only part of me that is not on budget or boundaries, please let it be”. He told me I was right. If we put boundaries on our dreams based on what is possible now, we would probably not reach the best of our own potential by not chasing higher…I dreamed of being an astronaut too but I believe you already know that it is statistically easier to become the U.S. president than becoming an astronaut… it is still cool to be an astronaut though…

  • Marc Kitten Nov 3, 2014, 10:51 am

    Dear Victor

    great post as usual. Wait a minute… Didn’t you just contradict yourself? Perhaps it’s a nuance. You wrote: “Of course, nobody dared to admit they did this because it’s totally illogical”.

    I would have said: “because it could appear illogical”.
    Even rational people pay $1 for an expected value of $.8 PLUS the value of the dream. Others may pay $1 for the value of the dream only, which doesn’t seem much for THE record jackpot (as opposed to a less impressive number)

    Which is what you end up saying: “It was still worth it for the entertainment and emotional value”.

    Sorry, couldn’t resist…

  • Naylia Nov 3, 2014, 10:22 am

    Thanks! :) You’re amazing! I love your articles. Life is a paradox because we are “allways” between two “absolute ideas”, even if we think that only one of them is worth pursuing.

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