Lunch and Keynote – Upside Down Thinking: Heresy as a Catalyst for Transformation

Upside Down Thinking is about breaking out of, or breaking through, conventional thought. It’s about refusing to be limited by logic or “what’s been proven.” The status quo is its enemy.

At its core sits the courage, the will and sometimes the audacity to embrace the heretical, those ideas and perspectives and “what-ifs” that dramatically challenge our sacred cows, our cultural norms, our biases, and our collective allegiance to the status quo rally cry: this is how things are done around here.

Upside Down Thinking is deliberate in its contrariness. You actually do it on purpose. Its intent includes unsettling habitual opinions or positions in order to determine if what we are doing still makes sense, still fits our visions and goals.

Upside Down Thinking is a disciplined and alternative approach to inquiry. It requires more than a renegade spirit and a passion for stirring the pot. While it may seem at first like a negative way to think and engage, it is meant to be constructive in its disruption, helping us to get past what may be holding us back. It is also a tool we can deploy when we know we need to come up with a new or better service or practice.

Upside Down Thinking calls for people to address heretical propositions or proposals that typically they would not even think of, much less entertain. Some examples from past speeches and workshops delivered include:

  • Funders should apply to agencies to deliver their funding.
  • The minimum wage should be set by low income workers.
  • The purpose of subsidies is to make those who don’t need them feel good about themselves.
  •  We create systems to keep people marginalized and demoralized.The Child Tax Credit is a subsidy to employers and allows them to keep wages low and maximize profits.

People are then asked to prove these statements to be true, to come up with all the reasons why the statement is correct. The purpose is not to argue against them, but by proving them to be true identify barriers, biases, problems, and issues that are getting in our way of effecting needed change. The purpose by proving such a heretical proposition to be true is to force ourselves to face and address those aspects of our work we tend to avoid and then undertake actions to address them.

My key note will cover what Upside Down Thinking is, its principles, and how it fits with, and differs from, wicked questions, and disruptive innovation. In 75 minutes, participants will also have 20 to 30 minutes to actually work with a heretical proposition, in order to get a taste of how it can work. In the context of the theme of your conference, a couple heretical propositions I might address are:

  • Our diversity programs tend to further divide people into us and them categories.
  • Social inclusion is more about tolerating one another than connecting meaningfully as human beings.

I will also spend time on articulating what disruptive innovation looks like, and provide a proven method for creating innovations that disrupt the market place or the status quo.

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