Hello Confusion, My Old Friend

Suma Joshi

20-08-2018

Simon & Garfunkel must have groaned a million times as lazy scribes, this one included, indiscriminately mangle their songs for cheap twists. Heh heh.

“I’m confused” is a common enough, frequently articulated, sentiment. Most times, it comes with an undertone of embarrassment, even a hint of apology. After all, what kind of an indecisive person looks at a menu card/wardrobe/design options and turns catatonic? Shouldn’t she show conviction and get on with it?

Whoa, whoa, whoa! Not so quick.

What is confusion? I’m presented with three great ideas. I see compelling advantages in all of them. However, choose one and I automatically exclude the others. The mind is, at this confused moment, doing something quite marvellous. It is allowing multiple ‘right’ answers to coexist. It is stepping beyond the easy way out of “If this one is right, the others must be wrong”. It is embracing ambiguity, caressing the gentle Right Brain and reining in the muscular, but domineering, Left hemisphere.

Simplifying a choice to THIS/THAT is tempting, if for no other reason than efficiency. Pick one and you’re done.

Unfortunately, efficiency is tedious. And monotonous. And, frankly, boring. The well-oiled assembly line is unbeatable for efficiency. All it can produce, though, is thousands of identical products. Watch Pink Floyd’s ‘We don’t need no education’. Efficiency emerges, without exception, as a novel solution to a persistent problem. Once activated, it gets set in stone and specifically discourages the non-judgmental whimsy and trial-and-error that created it in the first place.

We live in the times of puzzling contradiction. Mass production of every product and service means that shared experience now spans every historic division. An Android phone, whether in the hands of a forest ranger in Kaziranga, a soldier in Siachen or an equity analyst in Mumbai looks, feels and acts identically. A bag of standardised milk gets into the daily diet in Golf Links and Dharavi. But there hasn’t been a time when we are more desperate to mark out our unique specialness. To that end, the Android device sports our special wallpaper, protective case and caller tune.

As the world pushes us relentlessly to homogenize, we push back, seeking distinctiveness.

Confusing? Sure. And exciting, precisely for that reason.

You may have heard about the scarcity/abundance duality. Scarcity says the difficult THIS OR THAT choice we alluded to earlier. Abundance argues for THIS AND THAT. The path to resolving the duality is transcending it.

Indian mythology offers rich imagery of this contention. Shiva, the very embodiment of the male principle, regularly represented as a Linga, a phallus, is also manifested as Ardhanari Nateshwara, the Hermaphroditic Cosmic Dancer. If this isn’t enough, he sports a third eye in the centre of his forehead, the mystical orb that, when opened, unleashes the creative destruction of the universe. Confusing as this is, it is rich with opportunities for contemplating creation and creativity.

Confusion is the beginning of the Dance of Shiva.

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