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Thursday, June 28, 2012


How to get ideas by reversing your assumptions.

Years back, chemists had great difficulty putting a pleasant-tasting coating on aspirin tablets. Dipping tablets led to uneven and lumpy coats. They were stumped until they reversed their thinking.
Instead of looking for ways to put something on the aspirin, they looked for ways to take something off the aspirin. This reversal led to one of the newer techniques for coating pills. The pills are immersed in a liquid which is passed onto a spinning disk. The centrifugal force on the fluid and the pills causes the two to separate, leaving a nice, even coating around the pill.

You can provoke new ideas by considering the opposite of any subject or action. When bioengineers were looking for ways to improve the tomato, they identified the gene in tomatoes that ripens tomatoes. They thought that if the gene hastens ripening maybe they could use the gene to slow down the process by reversing it. They copied the gene, put it in backwards and now the gene slows down ripening, making vine ripened tomatoes possible in winter.


Suppose you want to start a new restaurant and are having difficulty coming up with ideas. To initiate ideas, try the following reversals:

1. List all your assumptions about your subject.

EXAMPLE:  Some common assumptions about restaurants are:

A. Restaurants have menus, either written, verbal or implied.

B. Restaurants charge money for food..

C. Restaurants serve food.

2. Reverse each assumption. What is its opposite?

EXAMPLE: The assumptions reversed would be:

A. Restaurants have no menus of any kind

B. Restaurants give food away for free.

C. Restaurants do not serve food of any kind.

3. Ask yourself how to accomplish each reversal. How can we start a restaurant that has no menu of any kind and still have a viable business?


A. A restaurant with no menu.
IDEA: The chef informs each customer what he bought that day at the meat market, vegetable market and fish market. He asks the customer to select items that appeal to him or her and he will create a dish with those items, specifically for that customer.

B. A restaurant that gives away food. 
IDEA: An outdoor cafe that charges for time instead of food. Use a time stamp and charge so much for time (minutes) spent. Selected food items and beverages are free or sold at cost.

C. A restaurant that does not serve food. 
IDEA: Create a restaurant with a unique decor in an exotic environment and rent the location. People bring their own food and beverages (picnic baskets, etc.) and pay a service charge for the location.

4. Select one and build it into a realistic idea. 
In our example, we decide to work with the "restaurant with no menu" reversal. We'll call the restaurant "The Creative Chef." The chef will create the dish out of the selected ingredients and name the dish after the customer. Each customer will receive a computer printout of the recipe the chef named after the customer.

Reversals destabilize your conventional thinking patterns and frees information to come together in provocative new ways. For example:

  1. Drivers control the parking time of their cars. Reverse this to cars control parking time. This triggers the idea of parking anywhere as long as you leave your lights on.
  2. Dentists have dental tools. Reverse this to dentists do not have dental tools. How can a dentist do dental work without tools? This provokes the idea of patients buying their own tools, which are stored by dentists in sterile compartments, to help prevent the spread of disease.
  3. A chair has height. Reverse this to a chair is flat. This inspires the idea of a piece of thick padding material that you could lay over something else to make it a chairC like a large rock or downed tree. In effect, you could place the pad over anything in nature to make it a chair.

Suppose two boys of different ages and skill levels are playing badminton. The older boy is much better than the younger one and wins every game. The younger boy is discouraged and refuses to play. Since this spoiled the fun for the older boy, it posed the problem of how to keep the younger boy playing? A conventional thinker would suggest offering the younger boy a handicap or to exhort him to be a good loser. Competition is the crux of the problem. The reversal of competition is cooperation. One idea to keep the boys interested is to change the game into a cooperative game with the goal of seeing how long the two boys together could keep the bird going back and forth.

by Michael Michalko

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