Canada, the Martin Paradox, and The Opposable Mind

A fascinating consideration of the “Martin Paradox”, Roger Martin’s observation that Canadians are incredibly creative and innovative as individuals, but often not creative in groups. (Hat tip: Kevin Stolarick at The Creativity Exchange)

My guess is that what is happening here is that Canadians suffer here from the devotion to consensus. Much more than Americans, Canadians think they have to agree. Much more than Americans, Canadians think they have to approve. One of the things I love about Americans is their pragmatism. You will be hammering away at a problem in a boardroom and it becomes clear that we are not looking for a consensus, we are looking for something that is “good enough for television. Let’s get on it.”

[From This Blog Sits at the Intersection of Anthropology and Economics: Canada, the Martin Paradox, and The Opposable Mind]

My thoughts after the jump…

I think Grant McCracken is onto something here. In the Toronto context, I have observed a tremendous pull towards consensus as well as a fear of causing offense. Canadians appear to take ideas very personally, and are quick to reject the unfamiliar other in a way that disengages rather than taking those ideas on directly. It is a fear of conflict, a fear of the other that we wallpaper over with the well-intended boasting of our diversity. Getting along is more important than making something happen. The dominant social mode of criticism appears to be passive aggressiveness – whispering in the shadows rather than direct action in the light of day.

At the Toronto Board of Trade this past summer, I lost it as yet another room full of self-congratulating white Toronto businessmen praised the wonders of Toronto’s diversity. That diversity is a tremendous untapped resource, no doubt, but we cannot reach it because we do not engage with it. The Toronto multicultural experiment worked well during the industrial age because people withdrew their differences from the public sphere and kept them inside the confines of invisible gated communities, permeated with occasional Disney-fied public festivals, while the work sphere ran quite well on a mollified mediocrity where everyone had a nicely separated and distinct role to play.

McCracken’s observations as an anthropologist doing ethnographic work has validated my own experiences. It reinforces in my mind that one of the most important avenues for the reinvention of the Toronto region as a place where innovation thrives is cultural. Not just cultural as in Arts & Culture or ethnocultural, but in the personal and shared spaces that engage the expression of our individual and shared values.

We need to enable the changemakers, the social entrepreneurs, the cultural activists, the tricksters who bring us out into the third spaces where these conflicts and intersections can happen. We need social intermediaries and coaches who can help us embrace conflict and its expression as a way to improve our individual and shared destinies. Conflict is good. We need it. But because of our tremendous diversity, we need to be the most sophisticated people in the world in terms of our ability to use and manage conflict in creative work practices.

1 thought on “Canada, the Martin Paradox, and The Opposable Mind”

  1. You mean inside every Canadian there’s an American trying to get out?

    Seriously, Canadians (in this context) suffer from a kind of insular elitism. Either its the culture of government-coddled entitlement or the privileges of UCC and Bay St. Wanna see a shake up? Open the border. Better yet, erase it.

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