Early in my career, I ran the direct response program for a nonprofit that received 15% of their income from receipt returns. When we sent a receipt out for a donation, we sent a thank you letter and attached a tear away for someone to send in their next gift. My boss decided that these weren't "donor-friendly" and told me to get rid of them. I told her that was a terrible decision and we'd lose all of the revenue we got from the receipts, without any way to get it elsewhere. She told me I was "being negative."

It's a silly example, but turns out the practice of thinking through the consequences of decisions in the context of what might go wrong isn't negative. It can be a very valuable tool for problem solving and innovation - called inversion thinking.

James Clear writes this about the power of inverted thinking:

Inversion is a powerful thinking tool because it puts a spotlight on errors and roadblocks that are not obvious at first glance. What if the opposite was true? What if I focused on a different side of this situation? Instead of asking how to do something, ask how to not do it.

Great thinkers, icons, and innovators think forward and backward. They consider the opposite side of things. Occasionally, they drive their brain in reverse. This way of thinking can reveal compelling opportunities for innovation.

How can you use inverted thinking for the project or campaign you're working on now? Take a few moments and think about the future - 6 or 12 months from now. Your project has failed, your campaign results were disappointing. Why?

By thinking through what might go wrong, you can take steps to prevent it. Or think about solutions to potential pitfalls.

In my case, sure enough we lost that revenue. And went back to our old receipts after a few months. If only someone had foreseen that ...   

 

 

 

Written by: Polly Yakovich
Category: Strategy
June 19, 2018
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