How are you reversing your provocations?

Finding a needle in a stack of needles

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I recently read a story about an conceptual artist whose latest exhibit was to literally find a needle in a haystack.

The president of the art museum hid a single silver needle in a massive stack of hay. The artist was given twenty four hours to find the needle by hand. And the entire event was broadcast on television.

Sachsalber’s method was simple. He would take a small handful of hay, fold it, bend it, and if the need was in that handful, he’d feel it. The search took him eighteen hours.

Not exactly the most efficient or effective use of an entire workday, but then again, I never did understand conceptual art.

But the original riddle is an interesting one. How do you find a needle in a haystack?

One option is to set the haystack on fire. That way, only the needle is the only thing behind.

Another option is to drop the haystack in a basin of water. That way, the needle sinks to the bottom.

Of course, the most sustainable, least messy and cost effective way to find a need in a haystack, is by using a magnet. Because instead of killing yourself trying to sort through the pile for eighteen hours, you simply hold up the magnet and wait for the needle to find you.

That’s what makes this particular answer so interesting. The question is a reframe. The language is inverted. And that forces your thinking into unexpected directions.

Debono dubbed this lateral thinking technique reverse provocation, which is to see the opposite of the question at hand. It may appear ludicrous at first, he writes, but it may also lead to original perspectives, particularly in situations where an established order has evolved over a long period of time.

And so, if your company has a history of asking the same tried and true marketing questions, i.e., how should we target our customers, consider the inversion. Ask yourselves the question, how should our customers target us?

Maybe that approach will not only find the needle, but move it too.

How are you reversing your provocations?

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Scott Ginsberg
That Guy with the Nametag
Author. Speaker. Strategist. Inventor. Filmmaker. Publisher. Songwriter.

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