The Power of Upside-Down Thinking (2002)

by Merrilyn Astin Tarlton

Want to do things differently in your firm but can't figure out how? Have a tough practice management problem that just won't give in to your relentless efforts to think your way to a solution? Thinking "like a professional" won't get you out of this hot water. Instead, try some of the tricks used by creativity experts--designers, writers, inventors, performers--to get the ideas flowing.


(WARNING! These exercises are guaranteed to produce interesting ideas. Some good, and some really, really bad. The quality of any idea--and its ability to transform your practice--rests with you.)

o Cancel the Meetings.

Asking a creative person to produce a good idea in a large meeting is like putting a comedian on the spot by insisting, "Say something funny!" Go have a latte instead. Draw on napkins. Make paper airplanes.

o Crank Up the Stimuli.

Thumb through a magazine backward or upside down. Randomly pick out words from the dictionary. Go for a walk. Decorate your office walls with pictures of what you want "it" to look like once you have your solution. Experience "it." (Call your office and pretend to be a client. Hire your competitor and see what being a client feels like.)

o Take It Apart and Put It Back Together.

Remember the kid's activity books that reduced you to giggles when you created funny face after funny face by flipping new eyes, lips and noses into place? Do that with your practice management problem.

o Make Hamburgers of Sacred Cows.

Determine which parts of your tough nut are ironclad, carved in stone and unchangeable. Then change them. Or play with changing them. Just see what happens. Aha!

o Find Fresher Minds.

Give your eight-year-old and his friends some chocolate milk, paper and markers. Describe the problem to them. Ask them what they'd do in response. Nine times out of ten, they'll go straight to the heart of the matter.

o Behave Like a Kid Yourself.

Daydream. Draw pictures. Pass notes--sharing ideas leads to collaboration. Question authority. Set up a flip chart in your office and scribble on it whenever the spirit moves. Leave it there. (Add. Refine. Toss. Frame.)

o Look at It Upside-Down.

Think this doesn't work? Next time you do a crossword puzzle, switch it around halfway through and see if you don't find seemingly unfindable answers. Looking at things from different perspectives raises brand-new paradigms.

o Okay, Steal Others' Ideas.

But not other firms' ideas in your profession or industry. Learn how dot-coms handle compensation. Explore the hiring practices of your corner drugstore. How does an ad agency staff and manage client work? That hotdog seller that's got 'em lined up down the street? Find out how her business practices might inspire yours.

o Ask Great Questions.

Forget about figuring out the answer. Figure out the question--what is it that you're really trying to do? Then try to figure out answers. Lots of answers. One of them will be right for you.

Merrilyn Astin Tarlton ( is a principal of Astin Tarlton, consulting with legal professionals to enhance their management practices.

Copyright 2020. All Rights Reserved.
Patrick J. McKenna Ashridge House 11226 - 60 Street Edmonton, Canada T5W 3Y8
Site produced by Austin PR