At the American International Toy Fair in New York City one year – the year the Cabbage Patch Kids were the hot new toy – my boss (a former Hasbro executive) and I were standing in a knockoff importer showroom looking at (no kidding) Broccoli Patch Kids.
I made a predictably sarcastic remark, but in return my boss grinned.
“You’re missing the point,” Jack said. “Intellectual property theft is what the toy business is all about. Yes, this is a stupid knock off, but there’s a brilliant Cabbage Patch knockoff at the show. See if you can find it.”
Armed with the challenge, I peered at every doll and piece of plush in the show. I found plenty of other knockoffs, but none I would call “brilliant.” I gave up eventually.
“You’ve got to understand what the retailer wants,” Jack said, “He wants a brand-new and completely original product that’s just like everything else.”
"Huh?" I said. It still didn't make much sense to me.
“It’s got to be brand-new and completely original, or the retailer can’t sell it,” he continued. “But if it’s not like everything else, he doesn’t know where to merchandise it.”
“Okay,” I said slowly, “so how exactly do you do that?”
“What’s the essential Cabbage Patch gimmick?” he asked.
“You adopt them,” I said.
“What else do you adopt?”
And with that, the lightbulb finally went off. “Pound Puppies!”
He nodded. “They’re just like Cabbage Patch, only completely different. That’s the essence of business creativity.”
Apparent paradoxes exist many places. Because they appear unresolvable, people naturally ignore them. But at least some of these paradoxes can be resolved, and the way to do that is by facing them.
What, for example, would a perfect test look like? Well, a perfect test provides an honest, complete evaluation – and never fails anything. An apparent paradox, but look again.
We don’t want to cheat on the quality of testing because we need to know that the product or service is of good quality. However, we don't really want things to fail testing, because it's costly to do the rework.
Can these apparently contradictory aims be resolved?
Asking this question can lead one to a powerful insight that’s at the core of the modern quality movement: moving incremental testing far further up in the chain so that errors are caught and corrected long before the final test is performed.
We are frustrated because our business environment forces us to do more and more with less and less. “Paradox!” screams our common sense, and morale plummets. But what if we faced the question head on? Try thinking “both-and” rather than “either-or.”
That’s SideWise thinking.