Consider for a moment these self-contradictory innovations:
- The solar-powered flashlight
- The inflatable dartboard
- The underwater hairdryer
- The waterproof teabag
- The concrete liferaft
At first sight they look silly but each contains the germ of an interesting idea.
- You can charge up a solar-powered flashlight in daylight and then take it into a cave.
- The inflatable dartboard is easy to transport and works well with velcro darts.
- A hairdryer in a submarine is an underwater hairdryer.
- A teabag which stayed waterproof at room temperatures but let in boiling water would stay fresher for longer.
- You could make a concrete liferaft if it had large air pockets.
I recently heard about a contradictory innovation which has become popular – the silent disco. It sounds ridiculous. But the dancers wear headphones – each with their own favourite tracks – while onlookers can chat without being drowned out. It is a clever innovation.
Try this brainstorm method; the Contradictory Innovation – also known as the Waterproof Teabag method. Take your leading product or service and everyone has to describe a version which completely undermines or contradicts one of the main properties of the item. The more ridiculous the better. Then you take each useless idea and see if it leads anywhere useful. Like a silent disco.
Everyone at Sony thought the chairman, Akio Morita, was crazy when he proposed a tape recorder which could not record. It became the Sony Walkman – a world-beating consumer success.
Dulux make white paint. They thought of a contradictory idea – white paint which is not white. They came up with a paint which is pink when you apply it but which dries to a beautiful white. So it is easier to see where you have applied the paint as you go over an older white background.
The contradictory innovation brainstorm method is lateral thinking in action. It challenges your basic beliefs and assumptions and then takes you into unexplored possibilities. Let’s develop some waterproof teabags and inflatable dartboards!
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Paul Sloane writes, speaks and leads workshops on creativity, innovation, and leadership. He is the author of The Innovative Leader and editor of A Guide to Open Innovation and Crowdsourcing, published both published by Kogan-Page. Follow him @PaulSloane