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On Janusian Thinking

2 min

Janus is a Roman God with two faces, each looking in the opposite direction.

What's common between Janus and world class strategists such as Steve Jobs, Vincent Van Gogh and Picasso?

Janusian Thinking as a mental model involves accommodating two or more incompatible ideas at the same time.

Similar to how the Roman god having two faces in the opposite directions.

Such as being both liberal/conservative or vegan/carnivore at the same time.

It's to be at peace with paradoxes.

Janusian Thinking is difficult as we've to go against our internal wiring to constantly seek patterns.

We process order better than chaos.

A random streak of 1s/0s is difficult to remember. But even a trillion digits of 1s and 0s following a pattern is so easy to remember.


It's also the reason why we see faces in the clouds.

We seek patterns everywhere.


However, some leaders go against this default nature and accomodate contrasting opinions.

They transcend beyond binary tensions and find solutions that are BOTH/AND rather than EITHER/OR.

Steve Jobs, Picasso and Van Gogh are some prominent Janusian strategists.

Devi Shetty, Founder of Narayana Health is a classic example.

He created an unconventional business model in the notoriously inertial healthcare sector by providing high quality healthcare at a fraction of the cost compared to both Western and other Indian health facilities.


Singapore Airline leaders also illustrate this mode of thinking.

They pioneered an unconventional approach in the aviation industry by providing both service excellence AND internal efficiency at the same time.

Janusian thinking has been adopted by not just strategists but also several creatives.

Van Gogh created an art style by combining two different perspectives at the same time in one image (Bedroom of Arles)

Picasso achieved cubist perspective by combining multiple perspectives.


It's also been adapted as a standard practise in businesses for coming up with innovative solutions.

By bringing contraries together, powerful meanings, metaphors, products and even services are created.

For example, igloo + hotel becomes an ice palace.


By making misfits to somehow 'fit', various innovations have emerged right from Pringles potato chips to disposable napkins.

To quickly paraphrase how Janusian thinking could be used in day-to-day life:

  1. Embracing BOTH/AND instead of EITHER/OR
  2. Playing devil's advocate to one's own opinions
  3. Accommodating contrarian forces to build a unique brand


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