You can be a more innovative problem solver by doing things the other way around. Instead of doing things in the ordinary, logical, straightforward way, you get a new perspective and generate new thoughts by doing the opposite of what would commonly be expected. I recently came across three great examples of this, and I wanted to share them with you.
Reverse Brainstorming is a technique in which you state your problem in reverse. For instance, you change a positive statement into a negative one, you try to define what something is not, and so forth.
Basically, it’s a mixture of the well-known brainstorming technique mixed with the technique of changing your perspective so you can look at the problem or situation from a totally different point of view.
Cyriel Kortleven has a great example of this on his blog. The example he uses is: networking. Instead of asking yourself how you can triple your networking in a month so that you can make more contacts, which could potentially result in more sales, you could ask yourself something like the following:
How am I able to make sure that no one ever contacts me?
One way no one could contact you is if they don’t have any way to reach you due to the fact they don’t have your contact information. And if you never carry business cards with you, people wouldn’t have your contact information. So, how can you ensure that no one ever contacts you? By never carrying your business cards with you.
Cyriel then suggests that you reverse things once again. Therefore, "Never carry any business cards with you" would turn out to be, "Always carry plenty of business cards with you". Then, you just magnify that:
* I’m going to provide a business card to everyone I come across.
* I’m going to have a t-shirt made with all of my contact information on it and wear it to my next networking occasion.
* Every time that I meet someone at a networking occasion I’m going to have my picture taken with that person and send it to them via email after the event with a note saying it was excellent meeting them (of course, in the picture you’re wearing the t-shirt will all your contact information on it).
Although graffiti–performed well–can be an art form, it’s frequently an act of vandalism. A clean wall or surface is defaced with ugly scribbles, profanity written in spray paint, illegal advertisements, and so forth.
Reverse graffiti is the opposite of this. A dirty wall covered in soot and dirt is beautified by cleaning it in such a manner that shapes–often trees, flowers, birds, and so on– are created on the wall.
Reverse graffiti is often a call on government to clean up dirty, neglected public spaces.
The Inversion Technique
The inversion technique is much like reverse brainstorming. Here’s an example of the technique from Josh Kaufman’s book, "The First 20 Hours":
"By studying the opposite of what you want, you can identify important elements that aren’t immediately obvious. Take white-water kayaking. What would I need to know if I wanted to be able to kayak in a large, fast-moving, rock-strewn river?
Here’s the inversion: What would it look like if everything went wrong?
* I’d flip upside down underwater, and not be able to get back up.
* I’d flood my kayak, causing it to sink or swamp, resulting in a total loss of the kayak.
* I’d hit my head on a rock.
* I’d lose my paddle, eliminating my maneuverability.
* I’d eject from my kayak, get stuck in a hydraulic (a point in the river where the river flows back on itself, creating a loop like a washing machine) and not be able to get out.
If I managed to do all of these things at once in the middle of a raging river, I’d probably die – the worst-case scenario. This depressing line of thought is useful because it points to a few white-water kayaking skills that are probably very important:
* Learning to roll the kayak right side up if it flips, without ejecting.
* Learning how to prevent swamping the kayak if ejecting is necessary.
* Learning how to avoid losing my paddle in rough water.
* Learning and using safety precautions when rafting around large rocks.
* Scouting the river before the run to avoid dangerous river features.
* This mental simulation also gives me a shopping list: I’d need to invest in a flotation vest, helmet, and other safety gear.
Now … I have a concrete list of sub-skills to practice and actions to take to ensure that I actually have fun, keep my gear, and survive the trip."
So don’t you think that it's time for you to reverse your thinking? Don’t you think it's time you helped your older clients and family members to think in reverse? Start at the end; think of what you don’t want; flip it on it’s head . . .these are all examples of reverse thinking.