Archive for March, 2016

As part of a current project to revisit the Personal Development aspect of the Henley DBA (Doctor of Business Administration) programme, I’ve been forced to start to think about the concept of paradox. Let me tell you – it’s painful, mind-twisting stuff. And I blame my mentor, Professor Jane McKenzie for everything!

So, what is a paradox, and why does it matter for the DBAs? Good question. Answers on a postcard please. In the meantime, here is what I think.

First of all, a paradox must be both self-contradictory and not self-contradictory and it must be (or appear to be) both at the same time. When it is, it isn’t. And when it’s not, it is. Commonly cited examples of this include the Liar Paradox. A logic paradox sets up a kind of warp-speed oscillation, whereby you have to jump instantly from one side to the other as soon as you have comprehended either.

It’s rather like in the diagram below (maybe you see a smaller box in the corner of a room, then you see one large cube with a cube-shaped chunk missing (or vice versa), but you cannot see both simultaneously):

Box illusion cube

The cube illusion doesn’t usually occur to us as a paradox, though, because there isn’t a pressing need for us to understand one way over the other. We can grasp that it’s both, and neither. The sky does not fall on our heads. In fact, without a conflictual aspect or consequence, most paradoxes – like sleeping dogs – should be let to lie.  We’re often quite unaware of the paradoxical nature of much of our perception and sense-making. The sorting out and sifting of all the possible double and contrary meanings happens mostly at an unconscious or habitual level – leaving us free to get on with the business of  whatever we think our business ought to be. Paradox matters only when we are involved in some kind of change or learning process.

In the pure sciences such as mathematics paradoxes have been seen as non-axiomatic and can exist only in theory (in other words, in the imagination) and not in reality. That doesn’t prevent paradox being talked about a lot by mathematicians. Paradoxes appear a lot in philosophy, too. The eye, our organ of sight, can never see itself. In fact, the one thing none of our senses can do is sense themselves. And a statement such as “today is the only day that is not different”  is self-referentially impossible because if it’s true that today is the only day which is the same as the others, then it instantly becomes different, which instantly makes it like all the others, so not different, which…

Near the beginning of the 20th century Bertrand Russell infamously dealt with paradox in mathematics by means of a the deus ex machina  of the hierarchy of logical typing. Is the set of things that are non-cats itself a member of the set of things that are non-cats (i.e. a member of itself)? No, was the answer, because a set is always of a higher logical type than its members. This is very useful, as it turns out that this is why it is logical not to eat the packaging of your pizza but the contents inside, even though the package says “pizza”.

And yet, psychologically, socially, zoologically and aesthetically there are some nice paradoxes of identity and we do seem able to bend, twist and break Russell’s rule when it comes to social interaction. In fact, it may be necessary for us to do so. One famous example is the Ship of Theseus, which is the ancient question of whether a wooden sailing ship which over time, piece by piece, has every bit of wood, every rope and every scrap of sail replaced is still the same ship? A more modern and terribly funny equivalent is “Trigger’s Broom” from the British sitcom “Only Fools and Horses”:

I suppose one of the tensions present in the identity paradox is that between permanence and change, and this seems one of the interesting aspects for the DBAs as they are there on the course precisely because they wish to attain both, and this is surely contradictory. There are others they will find – the dichotomy of perceived gaps between “research” and “practice”, or “rigour” and “relevance” (and so on… and on) which social identity via membership of practitioner or academic communities prizes and demands. These sorts of paradox are experienced as real mainly because the oscillation between one side and the other is made possible by the passage of time.

No doubt it’s a paradox that will resolve itself – sooner or later. In the short run, a person is free to enlighten themselves and shake off the need to resolve a paradox at all (better to dissolve it through awareness), while in the long run – as Keynes reminds us – we’re all dead. This last view I take to mean that we should relish living in the present, not that we should feel helpless or gloomy about it.

“If the fool would persist in his folly he would become wise.” William Blake



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iPhone 4 import September 2013 009

Subject: Group Announcement – A total mystery [160317-005516]

This was the subject line on my message (see “Message #1, below) sent to the Linkedin Group help center this week. What was my total mystery? Well, something and nothing, really. I had written an announcement for all members of one of the Henley groups I run, sharing a bit of information/updates and a request to take part in a short survey on Graduate attributes.

In the old LinkedIn Group area, this would be sent to everyone in the group via email (unless they had opted not to receive such up-dates) and posted as a discussion. But under LinkedIn’s improved group area (notice I have ironically resisted putting quotation marks around the word improved. A sort of double irony, if you like) it is LinkedIn that decides how many of the group should get it. Since I never received my own announcement to the group I’m the owner of via email, I wanted to find out who did.

So I wrote to them to ask. Surely they would know.

Little did I know I’d be entering the Twilight zone…. below is the short exchange I’ve so far had with Ravi. He has what at first sight seems useful job title, but I failed to find the specialism useful. See what you think.


Message# 1 (sent by me)

Member (03/17/2016 10:39 CST)

Issue Type: Groups

Subject: Group Announcement – A total mystery

Your Question: I’m the group owner for “Henley Business School – post-experience”. We have almost 9,000 members. I have just written and sent an announcement. So far, so normal.

Then you’ve made it weird.

I get a message telling me you (LinkedIn) have decided which members will get this as an email. Who? Who not? Why? How would you know? How do I know who? Huh!?? Since I have not received my own announcement as email, I conclude that LinkedIn thinks the group owner is not interested in their own announcement! So, please let me know how many of my group were sent this message. Please, please, please do not include in your reply a stock message along the lines of “we’ve passed this great feedback on to the team developing this part”, as no-one thinks this about LinkedIn any more. Sadly.

Thanks, Chris Dalton


Message #2 (the reply)

“LinkedIn Response (03/18/2016 06:50 CST)

Hi Chris,

Thank you for reaching out to me.

When an Group announcement is sent, it will be sent to all the members on the Groups. We do not sent it to specific members.

Can you please send us the email you have received from us regarding the announcement.

I look forward to hearing your response in order to further assist you.


Consumer Support Specialist”


I have to say here that I wasn’t really expecting them to fix the issue, just re-assure me who was emailed, and why. What was their rationale? I had drawn a blank there, but Ravi’s answer had also drawn a little bit of ire. I know that this isn’t completely reasonable as I’m writing to someone who is employed at a non-decision-making level of the company, BUT this is an online, technical organisation, one with a reputation built on building reputation. So…


Message #3 (my reply)

Member (03/18/2016 09:10 CST)

Hi Ravi,

Thanks for the response, which I’m going to have to say I don’t fully understand – for the following reasons:

It didn’t answer my question (which was, by the way, who in my group were emailed the announcement I made?)

According to your own web site, not everyone in the group is sent the announcement. I know this partly because I haven’t received it via email, and partly because there is a message reading:

“You sent an announcement. You can send another one
in 6 days.

You sent “Newsletter from Henley Business School – post-experience,” Mar 17, 2016. We’ve figured out which members of the group are most likely to open and be interested in announcements like this, and sent it just to them.
The announcement was emailed to 7,764 group members.”

From this I would deduce that you DO send it to specific members, and not to the whole group. Which is annoying. “We’ve figured out…” How?



Message #4 (the template reply, which prompted this post)

LinkedIn Response (03/19/2016 01:22 CST)

“Hi Chris,

I’ve sent your information to our product team for consideration. When many of our members ask for the same improvement, they try their best to get it done. However, due to the large number of suggestions they receive, they usually don’t provide a timeline.

In the future, you can send suggestions to us by clicking any  “Feedback” link on the right side of your homepage. This will send your comments directly to the appropriate team. You can also keep up with the latest product news and enhancements on our official blog, http://blog.linkedin.com, and check https://members.linkedin.com/we-heard-you for additional feature updates and fixes.. It’s our way of keeping you informed on all the exciting work we’re doing behind the scenes.

Again, we appreciate the feedback and believe that together we can create great products for everyone!



Consumer Support Specialist


I have to note that LinkedIn is not devoid of a sense of irony, as they have included in their stock responses suitably placed “inverted commas” around the work Feedback.

I give up!

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