Go upside down to be rightside up

"People only see what they are prepared to see."         - Ralph Waldo Emerson


I attended a conference once and was given an opportunity to take a painting class.  Other than drywall and fingernails, I’ve never painted anything in my life. I LOVE art and secretly wish I had majored in Art History, but I’ve never confused my appreciation of artwith any sort of ability to create art.

My husband, who holds a degree in architecture, is routinely shocked by my inability to draw a perfect square. If you know me, please don't ask me to draw you anything. Even my doodles are decidedly free form.

Still, I jumped in and I learned much more than some basic skills.  The biggest lesson was how to make the brain think creatively.

In case you can't make it to the end of this post, here's the secret: to see and think creatively, turn things upside down.

Yep. Flip 'em.

Don't look at your problems straight on, but literally turn them over and have a look from a different angle.

In the painting class, it worked this way: our instructor (who happened to LOOK like a caricature of an "Art Guy") had everyone pick out a picture from a stack of images.

Then he had us turn the picture upside down to"fool" our brain into seeing something different. Art Guy said that the brain sees different things when an image appears upside down.

Next, he showed us how the brain trick worked.  He made us draw and paint a copy of the photograph while the image was still upside down. We kept our work in this flip-flop position until we were ready to add the final details.

Ridiculous, right?

However, before long I realized I was seeing differently. I no longer looked at the entire scope of the picture, but instead I saw new details. I saw new angles and transitions. I wasn't distracted by the beauty of what I wanted to capture; I was focused on what it took to translate the image for someone else to see.

The image became "translatable" because I saw it differently.

Ultimately, what was most shocking was how good everyone's first attempt with a brush and canvas was when they painted from an upside-down view.  My brain wasn't the only one being fooled.  The "trick" was working on everyone.


Since this experience, I've read all sorts of activities that are supposed to strengthen your brain: take a new route to work, write with the opposite hand, read sentences out of order.

Imagine this exercise for getting unstuck with a work challenge. If you stare at a dilemma from the same angle for a long period of time, chances are you'll struggle to find new insights. The facts of the challenge are too obvious; the scope is too broad. If you want to translate the dilemma into something different, you have to change the angles. You have to make sure you don't look at a challenge "rightside" up, but upside down.

If you can do this consistently, you will be more likely to create a masterpiece.