Open Your Mind and Generate New Ideas by Reversing Everything

SimonAndrea Simon recently spoke to my Vistage Peer Advisory Groups. She is a certified Blue Ocean Strategist. A “Blue Ocean” is a new market space with no competition where demand is created rather than fought over.

Andrea says that the key to finding our Blue Ocean is “to ‘see with new eyes’ and force our brains out of their comfort zones. But the brain hates change. If it is really going to ‘see, feel and think’ in new ways you have to get it to relax, open up to new ideas and allow it to ‘play games’.”

Our brains are naturally categorizing, dualistic (black or white, wrong or right, good or bad) and pattern-making machines. Although this type of thinking conserves our energy and make us efficient, it also creates filters that prevent us from seeing situations in new ways. Games help to break our filters and let us see with new eyes. In other words, games help us to go beyond our pre-conceived concepts and engage in non-dualistic, paradoxical thinking (both black and white, right and wrong, good and bad) and integrative thinking.

During her presentations, Andrea led my groups through a couple of innovation games. In this blog I am sharing her “Reverse Everything” game. Here is an example of it, using a restaurant.


The major components of a restaurant are listed in the first column, their opposites are listed in the second column, and some new options are brainstormed in the third:

Today Opposite New Element
Menus No menus Owner comes out and tells us what he found at the market today for our meal.Same thing is served every day.
Serve Food Don’t serve food Bring your own food and we entertain you.You bring the food and cook in the restaurant’s kitchen.


Pay for Food Don’t pay for food Rent the space for a period of time and we give you free food.Bring your food and rent a chef.


Sit at tables Don’t sit at tables Chairs set up like a stadium and you watch oversized TV’s with exclusive entertainment on them.


Do the new elements sound implausible? A restaurant in Chicago called “Next” invented a new dining experience. It decided that the most valuable thing it has to sell is time and it does so via two-hour slots online. Customers buy time and Next serves them food and wine. There is no refund, but customers can resell or trade their times, typically costing $450 or more, on everything from Facebook to Craigslist.

With an example in hand, my members broke into small groups and tried the exercise on one company in each group. At first it was challenging for them to imagine their businesses dramatically different. Once they realized that the key to generating new ideas is not to evaluate or judge them, but to list as many options as possible no matter how crazy they seem, new ideas flowed. Members walked away with some creative options to further explore.

Not only does this game work as a strategic tool, it also works on smaller problems and opportunities. For example, one of my members used the game to generate new thinking on new employee orientation.

The biggest benefit of playing the “Reverse Everything” game is transcending our personal bias filters and enabling fresh new thinking. It is too easy to become stuck in the ruts of our habitual thinking patterns thus limiting our personal and business growth. Give reverse thinking a try and experience the benefits yourself!


Note: I am thrilled to be a guest blogger for Andrea.

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