In Episode 86 of Seinfeld, George is lamenting his miserable luck and life to Jerry and Elaine over lunch at Monk’s when Jerry crystallizes for George what should be his guiding principle: “If every instinct you have is wrong, then the opposite would have to be right”. A light bulb goes on, a flame is ignited, and George embarks from that point forward on a new mission. “I will do the opposite.”
And it works. Meaningful work, beautiful women, money, success all flow to George once he does the opposite. Dan Pink, in his exclusive Flip Manifesto available only to loyal subscribers to his newsletter, argues that this philosophy could work in the real world beyond the sitcom, and I am starting to understand his point.
Pink discusses 16 pieces of advice in his manifesto (maybe it’s a mission statement), but today I share with you only 5. These are the 5 that I believe have the greatest general application to everyday life, and these are the five that I will begin to focus on over the next several weeks.
Start Doubting Yourself –Self-help gurus have encouraged us to repeat positive inner monologues that will help us to succeed in any situation. As Stuart Smalley taught us, “I’m good enough. I’m smart enough. And doggone it, people like me.” But what if Stuart was wrong, and these mantras are counterproductive?
It turns out that there is compelling research that those who approach problems and challenges with doubts more like Bob the Builder (“Can we fix it?”) and question themselves first achieve better results than those who never question their own abilities. It could be that questioning ourselves first allows our subconscious to work through all of the variables and contingencies in a particular situation, better preparing us to succeed.
Constructive self-doubts can be better than self-delusional certainties.
Keep a To Don’t List – Everyone from time to time creates a list of things that need to get done in order to meet a goal or finish a project. Equally important for success in our lives and far less utilized is a To Don’t List. A To Don’t List reminds us of all of those habitual behaviors that keep us from achieving our goals or detract from our daily focus. Items on a To Don’t List could include “Don’t check Facebook before 12 noon” or “Don’t stay up past 11 PM on a weeknight.”
Sometimes what you don’t do can be as important as what you do do. When the clutter of unproductive habits is eliminated (neutralized), real purpose and focus can come through.
Give Up Trying to Find Your Passion – It’s a fool’s errand, according to Pink. I once heard a speaker say that his favorite ice breaker question in a social situation is, “What do you do when you aren’t working?” His feeling was that the answer to that question told your more about the other person and what made them unique than any questions about their employment. What you do when you can do anything you choose – that’s your passion. Be careful, however; passion can be white hot and fleeting. Finding your purpose by observing what it is you do in your spare time is more valuable in the long run.
Passion is fleeting while purpose is sustainable. Stop looking for your passion. Look at your actions.
Pass Your Problem to Someone Else - Giving advice to others is always easier than taking our own advice. Recognizing and then solving someone else’s personal problems is always easier from a safe objective distance. So try that on yourself. I call this the Jimmy Method, so named after the Seinfeld character Jimmy who loved to refer to himself in the 3rd person, a technique that George adopted from time to time. (“George is getting’ upset!”) Describe your own problem, challenge, issue to yourself as if the problem, challenge, issue belonged to someone else. Remove yourself. What would your advice be to that person? More often than not, when you give the problem to someone else, the solution becomes clear.
Maybe this is why Herman Cain always refers to himself as Herman…or maybe he’s just crazy.
Do the Reverse – This is a tough one, but I am going to try it. Do the Reverse refers to turning a regular, standard method of doing something on its head by flipping the process backwards. Here is an example from Dan Pink. A school teacher in California improved learning results by flipping the school day. Now, kids watch his lectures on You Tube at home in the evening and do their homework in the classroom while he is there to coach and assist. He flipped the concept of school work and homework, so now kids can pause his lectures, jot notes, replay a section, and then work in groups to apply the learning during the day.
Here’s another example of doing the reverse. Pink tells the story of a company that no longer throws farewell parties for departing employees. They throw welcome parties when the new employee starts. He details another do the reverse approach, this time in book sales. The historical practice in book selling was to produce a hard cover that sold at a high price, and slowly discount the cost down until you released the cheap paperback version. Seth Godin recommends releasing a short inexpensive version of the book, and allow popularity to build – then sell a more expensive hard cover limited edition. See? It’s the reverse.
So how will I apply the new (old) philosophy of Do the Opposite in my life? More on that in later blog posts. The question tonight is what will you do in reverse to achieve surprising results?
Pink’s 11 remaining ideas have more direct application in the workplace, but these 5 struck me as universal for everyday life. I hope they caused you to think the way they caused me to think – differently.
"My name is George. I'm unemployed and I live with my parents." Yeah, that could work.