Make it worse and do the opposite

It’s time to write, but, again, no topic.  This writing-once-a-week thing is tough.  I drop my son off at the hockey rink and walk back to the parking lot to write in my car (I’m telling you, this is a good place to write). Before I get to my car, my cell phone rings. It’s a teacher friend of mine. He’s the guy at the high school who helps kids work out issues with substance use/abuse and related topics. He’s a real pro – every high school should have a person of his caliber. Without introducing himself, he says, “You want to go for a hike tomorrow?” “I have to work,” I say. “It’s Veteran’s Day,” he says. “Yeah, I know, and I have to work,” I reply. “Oh ya, I forgot about that,” he says with a chuckle.

My mind clicks and I remember a discussion we had the previous week while on a walk.  I ask, “Do you remember talking about that trick to break intellectual inertia?” “Ya, we talked about how I used it to help a kid work himself out of some destructive behavior. Make it worse and do the opposite,” he says. “I love it; it works great,” he says. I now have my topic. We talk for a while and he helps my thinking converge. This one is a joint effort.

Here’s the problem: problems are stressful. We have a physiological reaction to problems; adrenaline rushes through our veins; our blood pressure increases; our heart rate increases; we get flushed. This is real. It’s run or attack, flight or fight. Our mental processing is all about survival. And there is real reason for concern; there are real consequences to not solving a problem – your reputation, your authority, your job.

There is a certain type of performance anxiety around problem solving. “Solve this problem” makes our thinking mushy. It’s like the deer-in-the-headlights. Problem solving is mentally trying; it’s hard work; it’s a chore.  So, just when it’s most important to have our thinking together, our bodies betray us and tear apart out thinking. Don’t know what I’m talking about? Here are some problems for you: fix our healthcare system; fix our banking system; change your behavior so you don’t use drugs.  Well, have you solved them yet?

While studying TRIZ with Victor Fey, I learned a simple method to overcome the stress-induced blockage.  It’s based on the notion that it’s simple and fun to make problems worse. Here’s the method – make the problem worse and do the opposite. We have a natural ability to make problems worse.  It’s easier to sabotage than to solve, and it’s actually fun. People are energized when asked to make a problem worse.  No stress, just laughing, and a sea of ideas to make it worse. With the “make it worse activities” in hand, the “do the opposite actions” come straight-away.

I am not exactly sure why the method works, but it does. I think has something to do with lowering expectations of a solution and eliminating the associated stress and mental binding. Somehow, the method takes advantage of our little known natural ability to make a bad situation worse.  And I am unsure why it’s pleasurable, but it is.

Remember those tough problems – healthcare, banking, drug use?  I bet you can come up with ideas on how to make them worse, I mean really bad. Go ahead. How can you make healthcare worse? Do the opposite. How can you make our banking system worse? Do the opposite. What behavior makes drug use worse? Do the opposite.

I urge you to have some fun with the method, and try it on your toughest problem.  Break the mental binding and solve your problem. It works.

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Mike Shipulski Mike Shipulski
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