(What's the "OPPOSITE" of your question?)
Plain and simple, the Opposites Theory is this: When searching for a solution, ask yourself, "What's the 'opposite' of my question?"
Why? Because it forces you to think in unexpected ways and often leads to one or more outstanding solutions. The original "opposites" thinker was Tom Sawyer. When faced with the question, "How am I going to do all this work?," he turned the problem on its head, coming up with the provocative "opposite":
How are you going to do all this fun?
The result? No more work for Tom and lots more "fun" for his unsuspecting friends.
Will every question you face have an absolute "opposite" that instantly wins the day? Hardly. You'll discover that a particular question may reveal any number of "opposites." And not all of them will lead you to a wise and wonderful solution. But in looking for as many different "opposites" as possible, you'll discover more and more different ways of searching for your solution.
Suppose you're a Family Court Judge searching for a solution to truancy. Starting with the question, How do I get truant kids to go to school?, the Opposites Theory calls for your creating as many variations or "opposites" as you can:
How do I get truant kids to not go to school?
How do I get truant adults to go to school?
How do you get truant kids to go to school?
How do you get truant kids to not go to school?
(And so on.)
Take a moment now to study the "opposites" above. Do any of them suggest to you a winning solution -- a "Yes, that's it!" visceral response? If not, look again.
While many -- or even all -- of your "opposites" may seem to point you nowhere but down a dead-end street, usually, with a bit of mental prowess, you can work at least one of your "opposites" till sense -- and solution -- finally appear.
In fact, let me share with you a real-life solution that seems to have sprung from the second "opposite" on our list:
How do I get truant adults to go to school?
As reported in 2002 in the Los Angeles Times, Orange County Judge Robert Hutson debuted a new solution for combating truancy when he "punished the father of a 9-year-old who must now attend his son's fourth-grade classes ... at least once a month."
There's solution that might just do the trick! Elegant. Easy. And economical.
Remember: Not every "opposite" will lead you to a "Eureka!" response. It's a numbers game -- as dependant on the number of "opposites" you're willing to entertain as on your ability to see the process as a game.
That said, allow me to entertain, and enlighten, you with a series of "opposites" that did do the trick.
Consider the fifth grade teacher who used to loan out her pencils to unprepared students but seldom got them back. Starting by asking, How do I get them to return my stuff?, she turned the question on its head, asking:
How do they get me to return their stuff?
Again, it might have taken her a minute or two to figure out what-the-heck that question meant, but sure enough... she discovered her solution: Now, in fact, whenever her students borrow one of her pencils, she makes sure they leave one of their shoes by her desk. "You want your shoe back? I want my pencil back!"
In business, the Opposites Theory works much the same. Jeff Hawkins, creator of the Palm Pilot, started out trying to write software for a small hand-held device that was sophisticated enough to recognize millions of different handwriting styles. Pretty soon, however, he found himself posing an opposite question. Instead of asking, How do I teach this device lots of different handwriting styles?, he wondered:
How do I teach the users of this device
The result? Graffiti. (And lots and lots of money.)
Another true story: A woman owned a toy store by a local park. As luck would have it, dog walkers started making it a habit of congregating right in front of her store, blocking her entrance, obscuring her display window from passerbys and, she figured, costing her money. Her first question, naturally enough, was How do I get them away from my store? But faced with the prospect of yelling at them or calling the police, she just couldn't bring herself to the task.
How did she solve her problem? She put a sign in the window that read: "Free Dog Biscuits." Dog walkers came in for a treat for their dogs, spotted impulse items or greater, and generated new sales. Taking an "opposites" approach, the store owner turned her problems into prospects.
was the man who visited high-end clothier Malcolm Levene and bought a
four-thousand-dollar overcoat. What's the problem, you ask? Next day,
the man's wife sent her husband back to return it. Not only did Levene
persuade the man to keep the coat, he took the opportunity to sell him
two suits -- for an additional sale of two thousand dollars.
"A return is not a return -- it's an opportunity."
Need a solution? Take the Opposites Theory to heart. You'll have fun, find new ways of examining your plight, and greatly increase your chances of finding your own "Eureka!" moment.
Joel Saltzman is a speaker, facilitator and
consultant who teaches people in business to
He can be reached Toll Free at 877-Shake It! (877-742-5348) or