Of course, you could make your thinking 90° different, or 10° or 17/4° different. And, yes, those might be fresh pathways of thought. But I like 180° Thinking because it's usually easier to determine the exact opposite of something than to find 10° of difference. The opposite of a soft bed is a hard bed. Easy. What's 10° from soft? I'm not really sure.
Show, Don't Tell
We were looking for a good promotional handle to introduce a new customer service idea for a major client, a supermarket chain down South. It was a play/babysitting area where children could be left off while their parents, or other adult chaperone, shopped. The final idea was to use "eye-level signage" to attract kids and show parents how sensitive we were to their little darlings. The idea was developed using 180° Thinking, where we asked ourselves, "What's the worst way you would ever want to promote something to children?" The answers: You'd never want to hurt them in any way, maim them, poke the little bastards' eyes out.
Well, those less-than-pleasant thoughts led to "eye-level signage," cute little signs at the entrance and around the store that stood three feet high and pointed the way to the kiddie play area.*
John Zimmerman President, o2ideas
V Lobotomized 1995 J
* A moral to John Zimmerman's story is that you don't always need to know where your ideas come from.
180° Thinking isn't so much a place to take your finished thinking as it is a place to begin your exploration of new ideas.
When your thinking takes you from soft to hard, "hard" is a new place to start your creative process. Could the bed be hard for your legs, but soft for your body and head? Might the bed be adjustable in its firmness, like my car seat? How about a bed that gets increasingly firmer in the moments before waking, a sort of gradual alarm clock that rouses you progressively instead of a screeching buzzer?
Is that final idea really 180° from how beds are currently manufactured? Well, no. But I arrived at it by starting in the opposite direction of conventional beds. As you can see, 180° can easily be the fresh, uncrowded territory where few thinkers tread. Might I have come up
Timeline of a great idea (continued)
Timeline of a lousy idea (continued)
"Wasn't yesterday bonus day? Hmm.
with this idea if I just decided to think of different ways to make beds better? Perhaps. I don't really know. I do know, however, that I did come up with this idea using 180° Thinking. And I did it quite quickly.
Many ideas appear to have been arrived at using 180° Thinking, whether or not the thinker knew he or she was using the technique: the shampoo bottle with the cap on the bottom, the sewing machine needle with the eye at the "wrong" end, the engine in the front of the car (it started in the back, contrary to what old Volkswagen lovers may like to think). There are also many ideas that have been developed using 180° Thinking at some stage in the process, even though the results of this opposite mentality may not be apparent in the final results.
What I like about 180° Thinking is how easy it is to get your mind out of the predictable patterns and into new places. Even if you just use it as a thinking blockbuster and the final idea bears no resemblance to the initial 180° thought, it doesn't matter as long as it shakes you from your predictable rational process and your final result is good.
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