When Desperate, Flip


Shifting perspective on a challenge, the framing of it, can lead to some great insights and ideas.

When truly desperate to get out of the box, one creative tool is to turn the challenge upside down, inside out, or “flip it.”

A former business partner of mine saved our medical software start-up from disaster using this technique. He said “if we can’t sell software to doctors, why don’t we buy the doctors?” Of course we all thought he’d had something to smoke on the way into the office, and we all slammed the idea the instant it came out of his mouth. On further reflection, it was brilliant, and we changed course rather dramatically. His idea, his flip of the problem frame, led directly to our IPO in 1996.

For real world examples, check out Marelisa Fábrega‘s posts, on the Abundance Blog.

A fellow blogger in the creativity space posted a great piece on this concept with several real world examples, check out the Abundance Blog. I like a lot of Marelisa Fábrega‘s posts, this one related to the concept of reversals, or flips, is a particularly good one. She talks about reversals in the context of the TRIZ methodology (and TRIZ is a lot more than just reversals or flips). Now, you can do a flip without knowing TRIZ, but her short intro on the method is worth the read.

Think of a current challenge and try to turn it on its head. It’s a great way to stretch your thinking.

TRIZ is “a problem-solving, analysis and forecasting tool derived from the study of patterns of invention in the global patent literature”. 
It was developed by the Soviet inventor and science fiction author Genrich Altshuller and his colleagues, beginning in 1946. In English the name is typically rendered as “the theory of inventive problem solving“, and occasionally goes by the English acronym TIPS.



Gregg Fraley

Gregg Fraley

Gregg Fraley is an author, speaker, and Chief Solver of London based KILN. KILN offers innovation services, including IdeaKeg, a subscription service for innovation teams. Gregg is an experienced innovation process facilitator; his customers include prominent brands like American Crew, Budweiser, and Nestlé Purina. He’s the author of “Jack’s Notebook,” a well-reviewed business fable related to innovation and structured creative problem solving. Jack’s Notebook is used by business schools like U of C Berkeley and St. John’s University, but more importantly it’s been used by thousands of people form all walks of life to amplify their own creativity. Gregg had a 20 year career in the software industry. His earlier experiences included work in advertising, journalism, and interactive television. Avocations include stand-up comedy, cartooning, and improvisation.

Connect with Gregg
Blog | Twitter: @greggfraley

About Kiln Ideas, Ltd.
Kiln is an innovation products and services company that “fires up corporate innovation.” Kiln is part cultural scanning, part self-drive creative idea generation, complimented by hands-on facilitation and innovation training services. Kiln allows companies to stay tuned to trends, while speeding up the front end of innovation. IdeaKeg™ is their new subscription service than offers innovation teams a kinesthetic experience where objects related to current trends are mashed up with business objectives. This stimulates better questions and generates better, more breakthrough, ideas for new business concepts.

Connect with Gregg at Kiln Ideas, Ltd.
Web Site | Twitter: @kilnco | LinkdIn



Jack's Notebook

Jack's Notebook

If you want to start into more advanced creativity practice, you might consider my book – Jack’s Notebook, a business novel about creative problem solving. It’s done in story form, this is not your typical didactic business book!


Please join the discussion below.

3 thoughts on “When Desperate, Flip

  1. Thanks for allowing me to guest post. Problem flipping isn’t always easy to do, but it’s always worth a try. Re-reading this now I would also advise on another way to shift perspective, which is to simply pretend you are someone else and then look at the challenge.

    How would Abe Lincoln look at your challenge? How would Lady Gaga??

    Best to all!

    • Great post, Gregg. Have received a few of those “what are you on?”-looks myself over the years, so I can certainly empathise with your former business partner! In fact, the one idea that generated many such responses concerned a novel about a guy without a sense of smell and a woman with axillary hyperhidrosis – and ended up being, as you know, my first published novel!

      Actually one of the many reasons why I enjoy writing so much. It DEMANDS that I look at ideas from different angles – the various points of view of different characters. Which is why I especially like your suggestion in your comment that people try to imagine how someone else might approach the problem. As well as providing a fresh perspective, is also frees one of the inhibitions that so often add to the problem.

      Great stuff.

  2. Gregg, I find TRIZ intriguing, and Marelisa Fábrega’s examples of segmentation in marketing are interesting. It inspired me to hunt down more information on TRIZ & TRIP and I found the full list of the “40 Principles” of TRIZ, here. The ones we are probably most familiar with are #22: “Turn Lemons into Lemonade” and #13: ‘The other way round,’ as related to the Treadmill (for walking or running in place) so many of us use for convenience.

    Thanks for this jewel of information, Gregg . . . thinking about it starts to shake loose any cerebral cobwebs.

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