Early in my career, I had the wonderful opportunity of working in the research and development of photographic sciences for 3M Company. One day I was playing with a new negative emulsion that I had developed, and it was behaving poorly. Nearly all the emulsion was washing off except where I had over-dried it, and the areas I had over-dried were exhibiting tendencies of a positive emulsion (if you remember the days before digital cameras, think back to what negative film looks like and you’ll have some idea of what I’m talking about). Frustrated by my failure to make a good negative emulsion, I was about to throw the whole mess into the trashcan when I stopped a moment to shift my perspective. It occurred to me to consider, why is this little area going positive? I thought that if perhaps I could discover why I was causing this portion of the image to appear in positive, I might make a better negative emulsion, my primary goal. So I tried to accentuate the positive area. In this case, I tried to make things go bad. And I succeeded. I came up with a system that would make either a positive or a negative photographic image depending on how the film was processed. Something of unique value, since it could serve two purposes.
In our overworked email deluged lives, it seems to me that we very often just keep trying to solve the same old sales and marketing problems the same way, with greater effort. We don’t take the time to stop and ask… what if I thought about this problem backwards? Since my experiment with the photographic system, I’ve been trying to add “thinking backwards” to my repertoire.
So, if the standard question is, “How can I get more customers or clients?” What would happen if instead you asked the question, “How can I get fewer customers?” I realize, it sounds slightly absurd. Who wants fewer customers? But thinking backwards might lead you to ask, “Which customers do I want to get rid of?” And then, “Which are the most profitable, and what could I do with the effort spent to sustain less profitable customers?” Customer triage is a well known tactic, but that’s not the point. The point is that looking at things from a different perspective can often lead to worthwhile insights. “What if I could get more customers of this type?”
Instead of asking, “How can I give my customers more support?” what if you asked, “How can I give them less support?” Could this lead to online help or better designed products and services?
Or what if instead of asking, “What do I have to do to keep my customers happy?” you asked, “What would I have to do to really piss them off?” then made a list of those things and tried to change them? You understand the drill. Take the negative and make it positive. Or vice versa.
Now how can you get less done?