How to get original ideas: do the opposite

A vegetarian butcher, an agency for ‘ugly’ models and a ‘silent disco’… ideas that initially seemed absurd. Until someone implemented them and proved how valuable these curious initiatives can be. The lesson? If you’re curious how to get original ideas; try to do the opposite of what seems logical.

It’s a question that many would-be innovators ask themselves: How to get original ideas? The simple answer is: use thinking techniques. On our website, we’ve written about many different creative thinking techniques that will help you find original ideas and remarkable solutions. In this article, I’ll describe an easy, yet effective trick: simply do the opposite.

Doing the opposite of what people expect can be incredibly powerful. Even thinking about such a counter-intuitive action often leads to new insights and unexpected benefits. Simply follow the steps below to find new and surprisingly useful innovations.

Doing the opposite to get original ideas – a step-by-step approach:

Step 1. Describe the normal situation

Think about the situation you want to improve and write down what happens under normal circumstances. What is the usual sequence in which things take place and how are things related to each other? Try to write it down in one clear sentence.

Step 2. Do the opposite

Think about what would happen if the opposite were true. You can do this in different ways:

Switch the place of the subjects in your sentence.
For instance, if you’ve described the normal situation as ‘the police visits the suspects‘, you could rephrase your situation as ‘The suspects visit the police‘. See the video at the bottom of this page to see what that might look like.

Do the opposite of what is considered ‘normal’.
If the assumption is: ‘top models are good-looking’ your thought should be: ‘top models are ugly’. This might seem crazy, until you realize that the British modelling agency Ugly Models became very successful with the ‘characteristic’ faces in their portfolio.

Step 3. Visualise what this would look like

Picture the new situation. How would it look? What would it mean if the opposite were true? 

Step 4. Identify the benefits

Ask yourself what the benefits of this new situation would be. Who would find this interesting? In what scenarios would this be valuable? And how could it help you solve a problem?

Did you find value in the strange idea? Go to step 5. Can’t you possibly imagine any situation in which this would be useful? Pick another element of the current situation and try again.

Don’t give up too easily though. Thought experiments like these often take some practice. At first, doing the opposite of what is ‘logical’ will seem absurd. Don’t give in to your urge to dismiss the strange thought straight away. Keep pondering what might be positive about the new situation for a while. You’ll be surprised how often you’ll find hidden benefits after all!

Step 5. Enrich the idea and create an action plan

How might you be able to realise the strange new situation? Can you implement the changes directly? Or do you have to adapt some things to make it possible… If the idea is not feasible in its current form, could you simplify it? What would be an easy way to make it happen?


Some innovative examples to illustrate this principle:


Faced with a long list of outstanding arrest warrants, the Chandler police force decided to try something creative. They sent their suspects a letter, informing them they’d won a prize. The ‘lucky winner’ just had to come to a specific location to claim their prize. Eager to get their hands on a new DVD player, and oblivious to what actually awaited, the suspects one-by-one walked straight into the hands of their captors.

How can we SPEED UP our checkout process? –> How can we SLOW DOWN our checkout process?

A Dutch supermarket introduced a ‘take it easy’ checkout. In one of the lines, the checkout-process is deliberately slowed down for those customers (mainly the elderly living in the retirement home next door) who don’t like to be rushed. This leaves time to have a friendly chat with the cashier.


WE move through THE OCEAN to clean up plastic –> THE OCEAN moves though US to clean up plastic

Inventor Boyan Slat figured that he could use the ocean’s currents to clean up the plastic that’s floating in it. The Ocean Cleanup uses a floating construction to ‘catch’ bits of plastic that drift in the water.


How could you challenge the odds and do the exact opposite of what seems logical?

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