For many years nineteenth century English physician Edward Jenner worked to find a cure for smallpox. After studying many cases, he reached an impasse in his thinking. Then he reversed his perception of the problem. Instead of focusing on people who had smallpox, he switched his attention to people who never had smallpox. He found that dairymaids rarely got the disease. It turned out that most dairymaids had had cowpox, a similar but usually nonfatal affliction. Cowpox had served to «vaccinate» its victims against the more dangerous small pox. This led to Jenner’s concept of «vaccinating» people.
You might also try reversing the order in which you do a particular operation or project. Designer Christopher Williams tells the following story about an architect who built a cluster of large office buildings that was set in a central green. When construction was completed, the landscape crew asked him where he wanted the sidewalks between the buildings.
«Not yet,» was the architect’s reply. «Just plant the grass solidly between the buildings.» This was done, and by late summer the new lawn was laced with pathways of trodden grass, connecting building-to-building and building to outside. As Williams put it, «The paths followed the most efficient line between the points of connection, turned easy curves rather than right angles, and were sized according to traffic flow. In the fall, the architect simply paved in the pathways. Not only did the pathways have a design beauty, but they responded directly to user needs.»
Doing the opposite of what’s expected can also be an effective strategy in such competitive situations as sports, business, warfare, romance, etc. In most endeavours, we build up certain expectations about what the other side will or won’t do. In football, for example, a third and one situation will typically cause the defense to prepare for a plunge into the line. In retailing, stores bet heavily that advertising between Thanksgiving and Christmas will pay big dividends. In politics, most candidates will have a last-minute media blitz. In these situations, trends get established. When you do the opposite of what people are expecting, chances are good that you’ll catch them off-guard and be more successful in reaching your objective.
As a creative exercise, make a list of what you could do to be less successful and go in the opposite direction of your goals. This can be both hilarious and revealing. Think of ideas that are impractical. Come up with as many unusual and unorthodox ideas as you can. When freed from normalcy and «reality» expectations, you might come up with a few gem ideas that you wouldn’t normally have thought of.
So don’t be afraid to be different and try something radical now and then. Whether in love, business, sports, any endeavour for that matter, fortune often favours the bold.