Commentary

When Assumptions Aren't Bad

A colleague recently handed me a copy of The Medici Effect by Frans Johansson. The book is about creativity; about finding "a place where ideas from different industries and cultures collide, ultimately igniting an explosion of extraordinary and new innovations."

I found the book extremely inspiring and useful, especially in a time and a category where it feels like there are simply no new ideas left to be had. There are many ideas and exercises in it, but one stood out for me, and has quickly become a tool I use. The exercise is fairly simple -- take a concept, a category, or simply an idea and then list all of the assumptions about it. Then take each assumption and list the exact opposite of that assumption. And then use those reverse assumptions to ideate.

So in our category for example, let's take the concept of a vacation. What's the core assumption of a vacation? You go away. So the opposite of that assumption would be you stay home. So ideas about how to make a vacation at home ... perhaps it was an exercise just like this that got us to the "staycation" trend in the last few years.

The truth of this exercise is that most ideas born of it may not be feasible or even good. But the beauty of this exercise is how it forces you to ideate around something that may seem ridiculous but in actuality could be groundbreaking.

Just for the fun of it, I've taken a stab at a few more. To be true to the exercise these are not vetted nor researched nor reality-checked -- just brainstormed as thought-starters and hopefully as a way to demonstrate how this exercise might help those of us in Travel/Tourism disrupt the sea of sameness.

Category: Airline
Assumption: You use an airline to get to your destination.
Reverse Assumption:
The airline is your destination.
Idea: Turn airplanes into flying lounges where three-hour flights begin and end in the same place, and include a nice meal and a movie, or live entertainment. Think dinner cruise in the sky.

Category: Hotel
Assumption: A hotel is a place you stay when you're not at home.
Reverse Assumption:
A hotel is a place you stay when you're at home.
Idea: Create a mid-week "Night Off" promotion that encourages locals to indulge themselves with a night off from their routine each week, at a price point competitive to what they'd spend for simply a high-end dinner or spa treatment.

Category: OTAs
Assumption:
OTAs are sites you use when planning travel
Reverse Assumption: OTAs are sites you use everyday
Idea: Your OTA homepage would feature content specific to the city you live in to keep you abreast of events and happenings you might be interested in, encouraging you to add activity and interest to your everyday life just like you do on vacation.

This assumption exercise is most definitely amplified when you take another lesson from the book -- bring new, perhaps unexpected and even unrelated people to the brainstorming table. I work at an advertising agency where we often take this particular suggestion to heart. A cross-discipline team for a specific account's brainstorm isn't simply the team's creative, planning and media teams. It means people from other accounts and a range of specialties from the expected (account management, digital, strategy, research) to the unexpected (business affairs, accounting, production), resulting in a truly varied group who think and solve problems very differently.

Upside-down assumptions. Disparate thinkers at the table. Imagine the possibilities.

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