One of the things my brother, Thor, talks about in his new book, Small Business Revolution, is the power of embracing opposites: of the primary reasons people struggle without a correct model of an entire system, is because they fail to understand the interplay between yin and yang, between the opposites within the system.

In other words, if you've chosen sides and are too tightly married to your choice, you'll never see the big picture. Without seeing the big picture...well, obviously, you're going to miss a lot.

Thor continues: effective leader needs to be both authoritative and persuasive, both able to think and able to act, both moral and practical, both principled and flexible, both competitive and cooperative, both partisan and diplomatic. When you understand the range of a behavior, you can apply the appropriate behavior in any circumstance, depending upon your objective.

Okay. Makes sense, right? But just understanding and accepting the idea doesn't mean you're actually going to do it. Until you've established the habit of considering opposites, it's going to require some deliberate effort.

Let's try a little exercise with some "laws of marketing" -- consider the law, grasp the principle it teaches, and then figure out what would have to happen for the opposite to be true.

"Too much choice is no choice at all."

Studies have shown that offering more than two or three options (flavors of jam, colors, service levels, etc.) reduces sales. If you make the decision too difficult or time consuming, prospects will give up and go somewhere else.

That's a valuable lesson. But how might the opposite become true?

  • If choosing between options is fun, then more options = more fun. Not all products are going to lend themselves well to making choosing fun, but if yours does, maybe that'd be a better strategy than narrowing choices.
  • For products used to make a personal statement, variety and customization are necessary. If your only option is to be unique, just like everyone else, that kinda misses the point. If you're going to offer a lot of options, a few things that might help include:
    • Get the easy choices out of the way first so that the customer has some momentum, and feels invested in finishing by the time they get to the more subtle decisions.
    • Enable customers to save their progress toward their decision in case they don't complete the process in one sitting.
    • Be sure that you have a follow up mechanism in place to enable you to pull people back into the process if they leave without buying.

"If you can't be first in a category, set up a new category you can be first in."

If you're the top brand in your category, you're the first brand people think of when shopping on autopilot. You're also the "safe" brand to buy when people are worried about what others will think, or when they don't want to research a purchase for themself.

When might it be better not to be first?

  • When the top brand has a lot of haters. Think Microsoft vs. Apple. Apple didn't have to be #1 to get a lot of sales, because there were plenty of potential customers who hated Microsoft.
  • When the category is huge. If there are plenty of customers to go around, sure, it'd be great to be #1, but #2 can be pretty lucrative too. If you create your own category to dominate, you end up with a smaller category. How much smaller, and how big a slice of the big category you can get are important factors to consider.

"Customer service is king."

Nobody could argue that great customer service isn't critical. Right?


What if you made your product so easy to use that customer service was hardly ever necessary? Powerful idea. And one that you might not give its due if you didn't take time to find a way to make the opposite of the standard rule true.

My brother goes even further, claiming that in some entire industries, customer service isn't an important value. In those industries, other things are so much more important, that customer service simply doesn't come into play that much.

"You have to push the free line back."

According to current wisdom, people are being trained to expect more and more free stuff. Without giving stuff away, you can't attract traffic. And without traffic -- without wowing people with your free stuff -- you won't have anyone to sell to.

How could the opposite be true?

Sell exclusivity. If you're giving a status product away, nobody's going to want it, because it will have lost its status. You might still give something else away to build traffic -- something that doesn't act as a substitute for your luxury item. And you might give stuff away to people with status, who can enhance the status of your product in the eyes of those who don't get anything free from you. But as has been shown plenty of times before, you can sell more of some things by raising prices and limiting availability.

There are plenty of other "laws", and plenty of other opposites to consider. But I'll end with this one:

"The Law of Opposites: Don't try to be better than the leader, be their opposite."

Now I'm confused. Am I supposed to agree with that law, or do the opposite?

Read "Small Business Revolution" for more about the power of opposites