Opposites Attract Great Ideas

By Heather Baldwin

You’ve heard the phrase, opposites attract, right? There’s some debate as to whether this is true in relationships, but it’s certainly true that opposites can attract some unique solutions to business problems, says Marlene Caroselli, author of The Big Book of Meeting Games (McGraw-Hill, 2002). Caroselli is talking about perspective – learning to see things backwards, inside out and upside down. She recommends using a game she calls Janus, Unchain Us to consider an issue from opposing points of view and come up with a possible resolution.

First, she says, meeting leaders should explain that Janus was a Roman god whose dual profile was found on Roman coins. “One profile looked back at the year just ending and the other faced forward, looking toward the year about to begin,” she says, noting that the month of January is named after Janus. Next, she suggests handing out a paper with specific pairs of opposites listed, such as young-old, beginning-ending, safe-dangerous, individual-organizational, partial-whole, loss-gain, trust-suspicion, risky-guaranteed, profit-loss and full-empty. Assign a relevant problem to the group, one with which they’ve been grappling or may have to grapple in the future, and encourage them to tackle the problem from the perspective of as many pairs of opposites as they can during the allotted time.

Here are two examples that Caroselli says demonstrate how this opposites thinking can produce some revolutionary ideas. The writers who created Columbo might have used the beginning-end opposites to come up with their unique format that violated mystery-writing tradition. Instead of revealing the murderer at the end of the story, they revealed the perpetrator within the first few minutes. The result was a wildly popular crime drama. Or consider this business example that might have come from brainstorming the opposite words public and private. When a property management firm unveiled a new, upscale shopping mall in New York City, it decided that instead of making the unveiling a private affair for a select group, it would invite cab drivers to the event – the very people who could help direct the shopping public to its doors.

“When we insist on seeing things as we’ve always seen them, we shackle ourselves to hackneyed ideas,” says Caroselli. “It’s only by breaking the chains of tradition and forging new ones that we can move beyond the past, beyond the present and into the future.”