A Backwards Approach to New Ideas

I just finished the entire airline magazine before lifting off from San Francisco for Tokyo – it takes that long to get going. Although 400 people can board a train in minutes it takes about two hours to load an airplane – so they supply magazines instead of finding a better way to move people.

I’m putting the magazine back in the seat pocket and noticing that I went through it from back to front; I always do that. Magazines are surely meant to be read from the front. This issue begins with some ridiculous perfume I should buy, then an index, a message from the CEO of United Airlines, (probably explaining why I should read this issue), then several full page photos and big headlines introducing the main articles, which continue on page 147, or somewhere. I already read page 147 and it didn’t make much sense.

Do you read magazines from back to front? This doesn’t work well with books and it’s hopeless with movies, but backwards through a magazine, or any other problem, could be helpful.

Three things I gain from reversing:

1. A new perspective. A new perspective sparks new ideas and creativity. To solve a difficult problem, try defining the perfect result and then working backwards toward the solution. The steps become clear.

2. The advantage. Make every game a home town game; turn the tables by researching and preparing ahead of time. Whether making a purchase, hiring a service, or holding a meeting, do your homework first. If you read the magazine back to front you’ll see the little cheap ads first, then the big flashy ones will be ho hum.

3. Avoid the mistakes of impulsiveness. Use rules (pre-made decisions) to stay above responding to pressure. For example, when buying equipment, one of my rules is to never buy the extended warranty – it’s a scam (just do the math) and hard to say no to, unless you’ve already decided.

So I scan my magazine backwards to read the parts about cars and digital devices, and see if I can learn something useful.

Know what I learned today? McLaren just built a new sports car that uses variable right/left brake pressure to help steer (if you grew up on a farm tractor you know how this works). This technology was banned by Formula 1 racing in 1998 because it gave drivers an ‘unfair advantage’ but now you can get it in a street legal sports car. How did McLaren think of this while everybody else remains convinced that better steering is a bad idea? They read the story backwards.

Has backwards benefited you in some way lately?

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3 responses to “A Backwards Approach to New Ideas

  1. Look back at situations and gleaning information is like 20/20 vision to me. I ask God and myself, “What do you see?” What can I learn from this? When some kind of incident arises that is the first question I ask myself. “Have I been here before and what did I learn. What did I do right and what did I do wrong.” I call this wisdom. This brings a story to mind. I just went to my doctor the other day, he has been practicing for 29 years, and he told me how he does the same thing. When a patient comes to him and starts talking about their illness he said to me, “I ask myself have I seen this before? And how did I treat it?” Many reoccurring challenges and problems could be avoided or at least minimized if we apply this “reversal” technique. So wise Dr. Al.

  2. Rules..per- made decisions….like that. Helps me understand the reason for them…and why I balk at them at times. Because some decisions need to be revisited.

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