At the recent Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting, best-buddy-billionaires Warren Buffett and Bill Gates snuck out to grab lunch and work a short shift at a local Dairy Queen (Berkshire Hathaway bought the restaurant chain in 1998). The DQ manager patiently trained the dynamic duo to dispense soft-serve ice cream into cones, work the register, and interact with customers (all while the icons traded barbs with one another). Gates recorded the fun on video for his gatesnotes blog.
Dairy Queen has a signature way of serving their ice cream treats (known as "Blizzards," for the uninitiated). They hand you the treat in a cup, upside down. It's a form of performance art wherein they can demonstrate what makes the Blizzard so special; it's really thick. So thick, you can serve it, well, you know -- upside down.
Gates, having taken all this in, ruminated on his blog that his friend Buffett and this trademark serving trick were very much alike. Wrote Gates: "Every time I get to see Warren, I'm struck by his surprising, insightful, 'upside-down' view of the world. He thinks differently -- about almost everything."
Gates went on to give examples of his friend's upside-downness, saying that if Buffett wanted to, he could credit his unparalleled success to many things he can do that others can't. Instead, he attributes his success to sitting in his office and reading all day. Which is something anyone can do. Upside-down thinking.
Gates went on to write: "In a time when instant gratification is craved in all aspects of life, Warren is one of the most patient people I know, willing to wait to get the results he wants. As he once said, 'Someone's sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.'"
More topsy-turvy thinking.
Gates said Buffett even thinks upside-down about his diet by beginning his day with dessert, rather than ending it that way (counting Oreos and ice cream as a breakfast food).
All of this got me thinking.
Why turning your thinking upside-down is so powerful.
When you intentionally consider something in the opposite way you might normally, it's a great way to unearth a solution you would never have thought of otherwise. It mentally forces you to say, "I know most people would think of it this way, but what if I flipped it on its head and thought of it in opposite terms?" Sometimes the answer to that question is unhelpful or impractical, but quite often it unlocks insight.
Uber founder Travis Kalanick looked at the taxi industry and said: instead of buying more taxis and expensive taxi medallions and putting those vehicles on the road, what if we flipped this thing on its head and got everyday people to use their own cars to give rides to each other?
The World Wrestling Federation (WWF) offered "real" wrestling matches for years, not wanting to admit it was all staged. Then, founder Vince McMahon and team had an epiphany. What if they turned it on its head and not only admitted it's all fake, but then built storylines and characters all embracing the theater that it is? The WWF changed its name to WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment), and it catapulted the company to the billion dollars in revenue it enjoys today.
When I was in the corporate world, spending ungodly hours helping Conglomerate Inc. make millions of dollars off consumers, I had an epiphany. What if I flipped this thing on its head and used the countless hours I spent at the company to help me build a business for myself, where I could serve something bigger than me?
With the flip of a switch (while still doing my day job to the best of my ability), I began
honing my speaking, coaching, and writing skills. By the time I left the company to start my own keynoting business, I already had a best-selling, award-winning book on the market, had given a hundred keynotes, and had poured my heart into coaching hundreds of individuals.
While I served the company, I had an intentional upside-down plan to make sure it served me, too.
You get the idea.
So, before you head down a traditional line of thinking, stop and ask yourself, "What if we flipped this on its head?" The result just might turn heads.