Sometimes, you need to reverse before you can move forward…

Do you have any “stale” challenges hanging around at your office? You know the kind, things like how can we ‘build stronger client relationships’ or ‘break down silos between practice groups’ or even just ‘how can we encourage people to attend meetings on time’.

As a lawyer, you’ll be very used to solving complex legal problems using advanced logical thinking. Probably an expert, in fact.

But sometimes, logical thinking is not enough. This is especially so with those stale problems, ones that you have already done ten rounds with, but which never seem to disappear (if you could solve this type of problem with logical thinking alone, they’d be sorted already). You need a different way of looking at dilemmas like this, but it can be hard to break out of your usual thought channels to find that new creative approach.

Enter [What does acronym stand for?] LAOGs (reverse goals).

The LAOG strategy is a great way to jump-start your ideas on stuck problems. It works like a double negative (you remember, a negative plus a negative equals a positive), and interrupts brain patterns to force you into coming up with some new ideas. It is also fun, which of itself encourages the brain to be creative. You can use it on your own or as a group technique, whichever suits your needs.

It goes like this:

1. Start with a goal:

Let’s take the simple example of encouraging people to attend meetings on time.  The goal might be ‘To start all our meetings on time’.

2. Write it as a reverse goal:

‘No meetings should start on time.’

3. Brainstorm strategies for reaching the reverse goal (not the real goal):

The list for our meetings example might include:

Don’t include meeting times with agendas

Make everyone wait for the last arrival
Make it clear that time is not a priority for meetings
Encourage people to double-book meetings
Make sure you arrive late yourself most of the time
Give the last arrivals a special reward for their lateness
4. Now, try to reverse all the strategies:

It may not work with some, and others like the last one in my list, may work in two or more ways. My list looks like this:

Emphasise meeting times on agendas

Start meeting exactly on time, don’t wait for the last arrival and don’t fill them in on what they have missed
Make it clear that time is a priority for meetings
Punish people who double-book meetings
Never arrive late yourself
Give the last arrivals a punishment for their lateness (or reward early arrivals)
5. Review your list of reversals, looking for good ideas:

In our example, I like the idea of rewarding early or on-time arrivals, as well as the one about starting on time no matter who has still not arrived.

Why not give LAOGs a try? It has made a remarkable difference to many of my clients, who have used it to solve problems in areas from client relationships to marketing – even dealing with a noisy office neighbour.

At the very least it will give you a fresh, fun way to look at ‘that’ problem, and you may even find you never have to wait for meeting attendees again…


Joanna Maxwell is a lively and inspiring keynote speaker, accredited coach and trainer, who has long been fascinated by the power of creative thinking and how to harness it to help individuals and businesses. After recovering from her first career as a corporate lawyer, Joanna decided to use the rigour and analytical skills she had learned in a more creative and unstructured environment. She founded her business, Work In Colour, in 2002.

Joanna has survived walking on fire and climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, and while she wouldn’t necessarily want to repeat either of those adventures, she is a keen traveller with journeys through the Middle East, India, Africa, Borneo, Burma and Tibet under her belt. She is hopelessly addicted to obscure sci‐fi shows like Jericho and Firefly.


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