Reverse thinking means solving a problem using an approach different from the traditional ones. Sometimes, difficult problems might be solved in a surprising way if reverse thinking is adopted. Reverse thinking means looking at the problem from the opposite way around.
Some people advocate flipping the problem, looking at the negative, and reversing it to create the solution. An example could be “people cannot contact me… because I don’t have business cards; the solution is to carry business cards.” However, the following examples illustrate creative ways reverse thinking can work.
5 examples of reverse thinking
1. Sima Guang
Sima Guang (1019-1086) was an officer in the Song Dynasty in China. In his childhood, while playing with other children, a boy fell into a water tank. All the children ran away except Sima. He broke the water tank with a piece of stone and saved the boy.
Usually, people would save the boy by taking him out of the water, but in such an emergency, Sima broke the water tank to “keep the water away from the boy” and thus was able to save him.
2. Factory workflow
In the past, workers in a factory usually moved around machines and components to finish the work. It was laborious and the efficiency was low.
Later, the workflow was changed. Workers stayed in a fixed workplace while components were moved in front of them. Using this mindset, the concept of assembly lines was developed and efficiency was substantially improved.
3. Another man’s wife
A young man stayed on the roof of a building proclaiming that he wanted to commit suicide. A crowd gathered below.
The police asked him why he wanted to do this. He said: “My girlfriend of eight years ran away with a rich man and wants to marry him right away. Life is meaningless for me.” An old man who was nearby said: “Another man’s wife stayed with you for eight years, what’s the suicide for?” The young man thought about it for a while and admitted that it was sensible. He smiled and walked down from the roof.
There are numerous things in life that bother us. But if we think about them from a different angle, those troubles might not be such a big deal. Reverse thinking might make a difference.
4. To catch a phone thief
A young man’s cell phone was stolen at a railway station. He asked his friend to send a message to his cell phone: “Hi Brother: the train is leaving, I have to take it and I cannot wait for you any longer. The $20,000 dollars I owe you is in the railway station locker A21, the password is 1685.”
Half an hour later, the man who stole the cell phone was caught in front of the A21 locker.
Solving a problem with reverse thinking can often be easy.
5. The $2,500 IOU
A businessman borrowed $2,000 dollars from Hassan with an IOU. When the deadline was near, Hassan realized that he had lost the IOU. He worried about it because he knew that the businessman would not return the money without the IOU.
Hearing about it, his friend Nasreddin suggested that Hassan write a letter to the businessman, reminding him to return the $2,500 dollars he borrowed before the deadline. Hassan was confused. He had only lent $2,000 dollars to the businessman, not $2,500 dollars. He was unsure how, as he had lost the IOU, he could get the $2,000 back, not to mention $2,500 dollars. But he wrote the letter as Nasreddin suggested.
He soon received the response from the businessman after he sent the letter: “I owe you $2,000 dollars, not $2,500 dollars. I will return it on the date we agreed.”
This is reverse thinking. It can serve as a tool to open the gate leading to a whole new world.