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How to Think Like George Costanza

Maybe George was onto something with his 'think the opposite' approach


Have you seen that Seinfeld episode where George vows to go against his instincts and do the opposite?

There’s something powerful about this approach:

  1. It stops you from knee-jerk reactions; you must pause and think before you act

  2. It’s a gateway to creative thinking; you open yourself up to new ways, getting yourself out of a thinking rut

We remember using the ‘opposites’ approach with a client leading an innovation project. We challenged him to identify all the characteristics of his category and then turn them upside-down. If the category is retail, and a key characteristic is high-touch customer service, why not offer self-serve options? If the product is refined flour made by grinding wheat, why not grind a banana for flour?

There are lots of examples of companies that break established category rules by leaning on the ‘opposite’ creative thinking approach. Here are a few:

  • Retail: in retail, most stores have a layout that allows shoppers to navigate as they wish, even if the set up encourages you to cover as much square footage as possible. Then there’s Ikea: if you don’t go directly to the Marketplace, you are forced onto the one-way path to the finish line. Along the way, you pick up way more than you planned – some irresistible aqua-marine coloured napkins, a set of 5 wonderfully scented block candles, some Swedish meatballs.

Ikea plays the opposite card on store layout, and it pays off in loads of incremental purchases.

  • Fintech: when you think about banks, words like slow, bureaucratic, traditional often come to mind. Then Fintech happened. Today, tons of financial tech options are at your fingertips and they are designed to turn the financial industry on its head: think fast, simple, modern.

  • Bottled Water: when you think about bottled water, you might think single-use plastic, mountains of landfill, and well, of course, bottles. Here comes Flow: the company uses spring water that's naturally alkaline, the packaging is 100% recyclable and 68-75% renewable, and the cap is plant-based, made of renewable sugarcane. Oh, and instead of a bottle, they use a responsibly-sourced paperboard container shaped like a rectangular cube.

And once again, doing the opposite paid off for Flow: in 2019, Gwyneth Paltrow’s company Goop, announced Flow as their exclusive water brand for the year and Gwyneth starred in their campaign; in 2021, Flow was the highest growth brand in the premium water category, with a whopping 94% growth in the US and 76% growth in Canadian channels.

So, it seems George Costanza was onto something with his ‘think the opposite’ approach.

What challenge might you turn on its head for bigger, better outcomes?

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