The Opposite of a Good Idea Is Not Necessarily A Bad Idea
The antonym between words is often thought of in the same way as the antonym among ideas. The antonym of the word “good” is “bad”. However, the antithesis of a good idea is not necessarily a bad idea because this line of thinking assumes only two choices exist.
The electric fan was a good idea. It was invented in 1882 by placing a two-bladed propeller on the shaft of an electric motor. The mindset used to build the first fan was also applied to its revisions such as the addition of more blades, the material improvements used to make the blades, tweaks to the blade’s geometry, and the use of different motors. Despite all of the modifications made to the electric fan over the past 139 years, its most salient characteristics and primary components remained relatively unchanged.
Fast forward to 2009 when Dyson reimagined the fan’s original design, features, and functionality. Dyson’s vision of what a fan could be was the opposite of what Schuyler Wheeler dreamt of when he invented the first fan. The initial release of Dyson’s fan did not have any spinning blades in sight, and subsequent models offered features to purify, humidify, and even heat the air, making it a product for year-round use.
During brainstorming sessions, it is important to remember the notion that the opposite of a good idea is not necessarily a bad idea. Consider the marketing strategies of scarcity and abundance. While the definitions of these terms (scarcity and abundance) are diametrically opposed, both ideas are equally effective. The scarcity of a capped supply suggests it is highly prized and in great demand. An abundance of a product signals the need for massive inventory to keep up with demand. The final conclusions are the same, but the logic used to make the argument is different. This line of reasoning also holds true when brainstorming on ways to improve a company’s performance. It is just as effective to implement practices that are universally embraced, i.e., best practice, as it is taking the opposite approach by implementing practices that no one is doing, i.e., differentiators.
The shift in paradigm is driven by context. Context influences perceptions, judgments, and decisions. It is used to make sense of incomprehensible situations and determines how people think, behave, and act. A change in context puts past assumptions and current beliefs into a new perspective which helps make hidden connections between the seemingly unrelated visible.
So, is the opposite of right, “wrong”, or is it “left”? The mode of thinking and frame of reference people use to respond to this simple question may determine if the outcome of their next brainstorming session will lead to a bust or a breakthrough.
In a black and white world, there are only two choices – right and wrong. But by shifting focus from finding the right answer to developing multiple alternatives, the number of options expands exponentially, along with the possibilities of discovering what would have previously been overlooked.