Problem Reversal

From "What a Great Idea" by Charles Thompson.

The world is full of opposites. Of course, any attribute, concept or idea is meaningless without its opposite.

Lao-tzu wrote Tao-te Ching which stresses the need for the successful leader to see opposites all around:

The wise leader knows how to be creative. In order to lead, the leader learns to follow. In order to prosper, the leader learns to live simply. In both cases, it is the interaction that is creative.

All behaviour consists of opposites...Learn to see things backwards, inside out, and upside down.

The method

  1. State your problem in reverse. Change a positive statement into a negative one.
  2. Try to define what something is not.
  3. Figure out what everybody else is not doing.
  4. Use the "What If" Compass
  5. Change the direction or location of your perspective
  6. Flip-flop results
  7. Turn defeat into victory or victory into defeat

1. Make the statement negative

For example, if you are dealing with Customer Service issues, list all the ways you could make customer service bad. You will be pleasantly surprised at some of the ideas you will come up with.

2. Doing What Everybody Else Doesn't

For example, Apple Computer did what IBM didn't, Japan made small, fuel-efficient cars.

3. The "What-If Compass"

The author has a list of pairs of opposing actions which can be applied to the problem. Just ask yourself "What if I ........" and plug in each one of the opposites. A small sample:-

4. Change the direction or location of your perspective

Physical change of perspective, Manage by Walking around, or doing something different.

5. Flip-flop results

If you want to increase sales, think about decreasing them. What would you have to do?

6. Turn defeat into victory or victory into defeat

If something turns out bad, think about the positive aspects of the situation. If I lost all of the files off this computer, what good would come out of it? Maybe I would spend more time with my family?! Who knows!
Last updated 5th October 1996