Break the rules – why challenging assumptions leads to truly unique ideas

When trying to solve a problem, people tend to come up with the same ideas over and over again. Most people find it hard to generate truly unique ideas. They keep thinking about the same ‘logical’ and boring solutions.

The more experience people have, the more they are hindered by their knowledge of ‘what should be done’. After years of excelling in a particular field, you know exactly what works and what doesn’t. Consciously or subconsciously you’ll decide to stick to best practices and you’ll certainly try to avoid repeating past failures. Experienced professionals are masters in avoiding mistakes and repeating what works.

While understandable, too much conservatism is dangerous. Written and unwritten rules might be useful in everyday life, they can be nasty limitations when trying to solve a tricky situation. Tough problems are generally not solved with conventional means. Often a new, original approach is required. The kind of clever and surprising solution you won’t find just by using your experience.

To find truly remarkable solutions you need to challenge your assumptions. What rules (both written and unwritten) are in place? Can you break through the framework of your perceived boxes? Ask yourself what assumptions you make about your current situation. Can you cut one of the main assumptions? Perhaps you can think of an alternative, or maybe you can work around the presumed requirement altogether…

Successful entrepreneurs are often masters in challenging assumptions. They know that some rules are meant to be broken. Or like Timothy Ferris says in his best-selling book The 4-Hour Workweek: “Outside of science and law, all rules can be bent or broken.”

Tax-free suits

A couple of years ago, I heard the fascinating story of a Dutch vendor of expensive tailor-made suits who was faced with a tricky business problem. His customers, mainly businessmen, were very satisfied with the quality he offered. What they were not happy about, was that they could not treat the expenses as a business investment. For obvious reasons, businessmen are keen on tax reductions. Unfortunately for them, Dutch law does not allow tax deduction of tailored suits (or any other piece of clothing that is not undeniably ‘work clothing’). More and more often the poor salesman heard potential customers say “I’m sorry, your suits are wonderful, but just too expensive. If I could deduct the expenses from my earnings it would be different.”

This got the salesman thinking “Can I possibly challenge the assumption that the tax authorities will never see my suits as a business investment? Is there a way to make my services fully deductible?”

What the sly salesman did next is as brilliant as it is cunning. He announced to the world that he stopped selling tailor-made suits. Instead, he would become a personal styling coach.

Mind you, in the Netherlands a coaching session can be considered as study expenses – which makes it fully tax deductible!

Of course, the coaching session would ‘coincidentally’ be the exact same price a tailored suit used to be. And here comes the kicker… at the end of the fully deductible coaching session, the client would get a ‘free’ tailored suit to take home…

What assumptions do you make about your situation? Are the assumptions really as inevitable as you think?

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Flickr Creative Commons Image via Paul Goyette.

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