Trellis White paper Ad 770 Spot #6
share TWEET PIN IT share share 0
The Friday Five

Upside-Down Thinking

By Merrilyn Astin Tarlton

Everybody’s talking (and talking) about innovation. It’s become the buzzword du jour—and losing much of its meaning via overuse. Well, maybe it’s time to stop thinking so hard about innovating and try some creative problem-solving instead. The truth is, no matter how you label it, you have practice, career and even personal problems that cry out for a new approach.

So for this Friday Five, we’re taking a few leaves from the creativity professionals’ books with five ways to think differently about what’s bugging you—or holding you back—and generate some solutions.

The Power of Upside-Down Thinking

Author and speaker Dale Dauten is quoted as saying, “The history of ideas is just a long, banana-peel hallway.” And that says it all. It’s risky. You could get hurt. But it’s also classically humorous. So let’s have a little fun and figure out how to flip the creativity switch in your head and launch into problem-solving mode.

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

  1. 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!” It doesn’t work. And it ticks off the people you ask. Go have a latte instead. Draw on napkins. Make paper airplanes. Pass notes.
  2. Make hamburgers of sacred cows. Figure out which parts of that tough nut problem situation are ironclad, carved in stone and unchangeable. Then change them. Or play with the concept of changing them. Just see what happens. Shaking loose those sacred cows may be the most inspiring thing you ever did. Next thing you know? “Aha!”
  3. Find fresher minds. Give your eight-year-old and his friends some chocolate milk, paper and markers. Describe the problem to them in simple terms. Ask them to draw pictures of what they would do if it was them. Nine times out of ten, they’ll go straight to the heart of the matter. (While thinking about kids, go watch this. 10,734,589 people can’t be wrong.)
  4. Behave like a kid yourself. Daydream. Draw pictures. Pass notes—sharing ideas leads to collaboration. Question authority, even your own. Set up a flip chart in your office and scribble on it whenever the spirit moves. Leave it there. Add. Refine. Toss. Frame.
  5. 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 previously unfindable answers. Looking at things from different perspectives raises brand-new ways of solving them.

And if you still want to talk about Innovation, here’s a pretty good invitation.

Merrilyn Astin Tarlton is Partner/Catalyst with Attorney at Work. She has been helping lawyers and law firms think differently about the business of practicing law since 1984. She was a founding member and past President of the Legal Marketing Association, past President of the College of Law Practice Management and an LMA Hall of Fame inductee. She blogs about innovation at

This post was inspired by an article written by Ms. Tarlton for the July/August 2002 issue of Law Practice magazine.

Subscribe to Attorney at Work

Get really good ideas every day: Subscribe to the Daily Dispatch! (No charge … lots of updates.)

Categories: Daily Dispatch, Friday Five, Innovation
Originally published June 8, 2012
Last updated June 1, 2020
share TWEET PIN IT share share
Merrilyn Astin Tarlton Merrilyn Astin Tarlton

Merrilyn is the author of “Getting Clients: For Lawyers Starting Out or Starting Over.” She has been helping lawyers and law firms think differently about the business of practicing law since 1984. She is a founding member of the Legal Marketing Association, an LMA Hall of Fame inductee, and a past President of the College of Law Practice Management. Merrilyn was a founding partner of Attorney at Work. 

More Posts By This Author
MUST READ Articles for Law Firms Click to expand

Welcome to Attorney at Work!

Sign up for our free newsletter.


All fields are required. By signing up, you are opting in to Attorney at Work's free practice tips newsletter and occasional emails with news and offers. By using this service, you indicate that you agree to our Terms and Conditions and have read and understand our Privacy Policy.