Two Quick Thoughts: Reverse Thinking

Spoon-billed Sandpiper © Kajornyot Wildlife Photography

“.. A famous zen master koan says, ‘In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s mind, there are few.’ When we give ourselves permission to have bad ideas, we often uncover the best ones ..”

Ayse Birsel, a well-respected Creative Director, recently published an HBR article sharing some of her favorite creative tools and lessons learned working with Herman Miller, General Electric, Tiffany & Co. and others. The article also summarizes some more detailed techniques from Mickey McManus, AutoDesk research fellow and Chairman of Maya Design, a BCG company. Well worth a read. I shared key insights and two core Reverse Thinking (RT) techniques from the article. Think of these as a couple of new ideas to try. Lastly, I provided an example of an RT culture. I hope this summary helps you unlock new ideas as well… /Josh

UNLOCKING BETTER IDEAS

Wrestling with complex, intransigent problems requires abundant creativity, persistence and horsepower. And yet, just as important, is disengaging, backing up and reflecting on the best course of action. Fine tuning your own push — pull balance is critical.

Bias for Action: Speed matters in business. Many decisions and actions are reversible and do not need extensive study. We value calculated risk taking.

Anyone who grew up as a competitive scholar athlete and became an entrepreneur knows that having a strong bias for action can give you a reputation as a charging rhinoceros. What you initially thought was a small hazard actually turns into a sinkhole. As an action-oriented builder myself, disengaging a bit before taking action on critical flows always serves me well. And I am on a constant hunt for useful new tools.

Reverse Thinking (RT) techniques encourage you to step back, focus on your worst conceivable ideas/approach and use them as anti-patterns and inspiration to fuel your creative process and back into much better ideas.

RT encourages you to invert your typical approach by thinking of ridiculous, impossible ideas and working backwards. Once you have a bad idea, an anti-pattern to the conventional solution, you can use it to stretch your mind out to the place where you can freely imagine disruptive, new ideas, outside of the bounds of your own biases and preconceptions.

TWO HIGH IMPACT CHANGES

1 — Rethink Roles | Grant Authority + Ignore Hierarchies. Empowering those on your team involves everyone in innovating and developing solutions. Instead of holding onto the leader/boss role, try out the role of enabler/unblocker. Empower junior team members as superheroes, step outside of your conventional self, and actively learn. If you listen rather than directing people on what to do, it gives them the prerogative to investigate, apply their ideas and draw their own conclusions.

2 — Rethink Process | Reverse the Flow + Embrace a ‘Beginner Mindset.’ Using the RT approach, you must not only reverse your process; You must also take on ‘a beginner mindset.’ Acting the art of a beginner reboots our perspective and opens up our mind to possibilities. Have the humility to ‘become the intern,’ open up to learning from everyone, including those who are younger or have less experience.

Put both together, and breakthrough ideas rise to the top.

If you have experimented with any of these Reverse Thinking techniques, please share your experience, lessons learned and what you have gained.

A CULTURAL EXAMPLE

To wrap up, I wanted to provide a tangible personal example. There are a bunch of Rebel Innovators that celebrate Reverse Thinkers and dominate their markets by continuously cannibalizing their best ideas and reinventing themselves. Just three that come to mind are Apple, Virgin, Dyson, etc.

However, since this is about unconventional Reverse Thinking, I decided to drill down on a hypercar company in Sweden called Koenigsegg Automotive Though it may seem like an odd anti-pattern, I think you’ll appreciate why Koenigsegg’s innovation culture is such a match.

  • The Koenigsegg Automotive brand centers around a team culture of excellence, technical innovation, efficiency and relentless, unwavering improvement. Christian von Koenigsegg is one of the most innovative manufacturers on the planet and his path has been unconventional you could say even headstrong and cavalier from the beginning. He has spent his entire life and career devoted to making the perfect supercar.
  • The Koenigsegg team has made breakthroughs in materials science, manufacturing, component design and revolutionary new approaches such as the Koenigsegg Direct Drive transmission (KDD). They haven’t gotten where they are by iterative evolutionary thinking. Christian talks about their teams informal sometimes confrontational and meandering ways in the short introductory video just below…
An Introduction to Koenigsegg
  • The Koenigsegg team’s latest hypercar, the Regera, launched in 2016. It is a brilliant 1500 BHP hybrid racing machine, “…designed to be a luxury megacar alternative to Koenigsegg’s traditional extreme, lightweight, race-like road cars…”
  • “The Koenigsegg Direct Drive transmission (KDD) was invented by Christian von Koenigsegg and developed for the Regera by the Koenigsegg Advanced Engineering team. The patent-pending KDD replaces the combustion engine’s traditional transmission — the gearbox as you know it is removed from the car. In its place, the KDD provides direct drive to the rear axle from the combustion engine, without the need of multitude gears or a variable transmissions, all of which have inherently high energy losses…”
  • For those of you with an engineering background and any interest in supercars you know how rare these kinds of breakthrough new drivetrain ideas are. I have included a diagram of the driveline in Exhibit 1 below which was highlighted in this excellent ‘Engineering Explained’ teardown. For even more, you can review this detailed KDD walkthrough with Christian Koenigsegg.
  • Koenigsegg has also invented a camless timing design called FreeValve

The Koenigsegg team’s latest hypercar model, the Regera, launched in 2016. It is a brilliant 1500 BHP plug-in hybrid racing machine, “…designed to be a luxury megacar alternative to Koenigsegg’s traditional extreme, lightweight, race-like road cars…”

All 80 Regeras have already been sold. No surprise, at all.

RECAP

Reverse Thinking (RT) techniques encourage you to step back, focus on your worst conceivable ideas/approach and use them as anti-patterns and inspiration to fuel your creative process and back into much better ideas. 1) Grant Authority + Ignore Hierarchies 2) Reverse Flow + Embrace a Beginner Mindset. Invert your typical approach by thinking of ridiculous, impossible ideas and working backwards.

Exhibit 1 — How The Koenigsegg Regera Drives Without A Gearbox