“If wool shrinks when you wash it, why don’t sheep get smaller when it rains?” ― Ron Brackin

As a young teen, I spent hours thinking about paradoxes, that is, statements that are both true and false. The idea that something could be both true and false blew my mind. How? What? Why?

Recently, I was thinking about thinking. I like coming up with new strategies for being creative and paradoxes were at the forefront. I realized paradoxes are more than just philosophical tools, they can also help you come up with new breakthrough ideas.

The Opposite Strategy is this: think of a product or service. It can be something you use, something you’re working on, whatever. Now examine one of the characteristics of the product or service – it could be cost, security, speed, audience, etc. Finally, think about the two extremes of that characteristic and hold those two extremes in your mind as you think about your product or service. For instance, if you thought about cost, think of your product or service as both free and super expensive. Or if you thought about the audience, maybe your product or service is being used by 80-year-olds and 8-year-olds.

Here’s the best part: let your mind drift and come up with wacky ideas as it tries to reconcile these two opposite ideas. How can something be both free and super expensive? How can your audience be two wildly different demographics?

It turns out that some of the best ideas are exactly that – they are a combination of different (often wildly different) ideas. Here are a few examples I can think of off the top of my head:

  • How can a product be sold at a loss and generate profit at the same time? The Sony Playstation and the Microsoft XBOX consoles were both sold at a loss. The two companies made up the loss in selling games and subscription services.
  • How can a freezer be both hot and cold? Typically, a freezer is cold, but have you ever tried to clean the inside of the freezer when everything is frozen? It is hard to clean AND it’s not pleasant for your hands. What if you could take everything out of your freezer, hit a button, and have it heat up? It would melt everything inside, allowing you to clean up anything that has frozen, thawed and refroze.
  • How can a phone be both large and small? Samsung has prototypes of foldable phones. Small and compact when you stow it away, large and wide when you need to view videos, type emails, etc.

Want to come up with a breakthrough idea? Take two opposite characteristics, hold them in your mind, and let your thoughts wander as it tries to make sense of something that is one characteristic and another opposite characteristic at the same time. Play around with time, space, or even other related products or services.