In a photograph by Marc Riboud,
"Eiffel Tower Painter" (1953), a worker in overalls makes a
whimsical, ballet-like stroke with his brush while perched on a girder
high above Paris. Meanwhile, he's challenging what many would consider
to be a "given" about painting the Eiffel Tower -- suggesting
that it's not work at all, but fun.
No matter how logical, gotta-be-true,
no-doubt-about-it your assumption, STOP: Ask yourself if maybe it "ain't
necessarily so." 1) It's fun, and 2) it often leads to great solutions.
When people use a stapler, they leave it on their desk. Maybe yes,
maybe not often.
Inspired by research that indicated
that 80 percent of Americans pick up their staplers to use them, in 1997
Hunt Manufacturing Co. debuted a new kind of stapler, designed with an
ergonomic grip and intended for hand-held use. Not only did questioning
an assumption -- Do people use their stapler while it sits on their
desk? -- lead to winning various awards for the hand-held design,
it also brought new attention and incremental sales to an otherwise flat
Meanwhile, Hunt questioned another
assumption -- Must staplers lay lengthwise on a desk? Realizing
there wasn't a rule, per se, Hunt decided to make its new stapler -- the
Boston StandUP -- stand vertically, ready to be gripped and put to use.
It takes up less room, looks like a small piece of art, and neatly sets
itself apart from the crowd.
Home buyers want basements. Mr. Homebuilder, you sure about that?
According to surveys by Kaufman
& Broad Home Corp., when given a choice many buyers prefer doing without
a basement. Losing a basement dramatically cuts costs and benefits both
builder and buyer. Glen Barnard, K&B's division president in Colorado,
admits: "The preferences about basements were probably there for
years, but we never bothered to ask." Ask questions, learn about
life -- specifically yours.
You can't let people return used cosmetics. Can you?
At Rite Aid you can. When Rite
Aid introduced its money-back guarantee, cosmetic sales shot up by about
25% -- more than offsetting the occassional return.
A credit card is the shape and size of, well, a credit card. Until
2002 that was true. That's when Discover Bank broke a time-honored
mold by introducing its Discover 2GO Card. Shaped somewhat like a painter's
pallet, it features its own protective case, even a key-ring option. Ever
leave home without your American Express Card? If you took your keys,
you're probably still in the money -- assuming you signed up for a Discover
Vodka is clear. Or is it?
Introducing, Blavod vodka, double-filtered,
triple-distilled, and totally black. At Flints, a supper club in Santa
Monica, California, owner Dodd Harris explains: "People wear black
in this town -- it's the color they use to project their power."
What's next? A credit card in
black? Actually, American Express already has one. Considered by some
the ultimate status symbol, the black card, with no credit limit, is offered
to customers on an "invitation only" basis. You can't even apply
for one. One just shows up in your mailbox one day. (Or it doesn't.)
When designing a restaurant, lighting is important. While this may
be true nearly 100% of the time, still, it "ain't necessarily so."
Welcome to Invisible, Berlin's
no-lights, no-sights restaurant. Here, patrons are escorted to their tables
by blind waiters. And the entire meal is served -- and enjoyed -- in the
At a casino, security guards -- unless undercover -- should be dressed
as security guards. A "no brainer," perhaps? Not for
Steve Wynn. At Wynn's Caesar's Palace, the figures standing guard are
security gladiators. How intimidating is that!
How do you get
a great, new idea? First, clear the deck of your old ideas by listing
your assumptions -- everything you "know to be true" about your
product, service, or problem du jour.
Let's say you're a manufacturer who's impressed by the example of the
StandUP Stapler and you want to create a new kind of stapler. First, make
a list of everything you "know to be true" about staplers. No
matter how "obvious" the assumption, write it down. For example:
1. They use
2. When they run out of staples,
you need to put new ones in.
3. They lay flat on a desk --
until recently, that is.
every assumption you can think of, now go back and challenge each assumption.
1. Do staplers
have to use staples?
2. What if you had a stapler
with an endless supply of staples? Or a stapler that was disposable --
you just threw it out when it ran out of staples?
That's how you
do it. You list each assumption, then rigorously challenge each of your
assumptions -- no matter how obvious the given or ridiculous the alternative.
Let's look at
our first assumption: Staplers use staples. Here's a "given"
that's so obvious on its face, what can you say but: Of course they
Now stop -- ask yourself if
maybe it "ain't necessarily so."
A stapler that doesn't use
staples, you ask? How can that be?
Easy -- with the Staple Free
Stapler from Made By Humans. How does it work? It cuts out tiny tabs of
paper that somehow fold over and clasp together. It's a neat little trick,
no doubt about it. ("Never run out of staples again - ever!")
But the real trick was questioning that most basic assumption: Do staplers
have to use staples?
As the founder
of Visa, Dee Hock, puts it: "The problem is never how to get new
innovative ideas into your mind -- but how to get the old ones out."
Rid yourself of "that's how it is" -- Of course staplers
use staples! -- and new ideas have a chance to grow.
Whether it's painting the Eiffel
Tower or designing a stapler, remember to counter intuitive and long
held beliefs by questioning your assumptions. You may just awaken
a new and exciting How'd-they-come-up-with-that-one! solution.
[Editor's Note: For more examples of why it pays to question
your assumptions, see:
by Michael Lewis.]
Joel Saltzman is a speaker, facilitator and
consultant who teaches people in business to Shake That Brain!®
and discover solutions for maximum profit. A former comedian and best
selling author, he can be reached Toll Free at 877-Shake It! (877-742-5348)
Visit his website www.shakethatbrain.com/wow