12 Examples Of Why Doubt Is Innovation's Secret Ally

By Paul Lavoie on May 16, 2011

Although he lives in a world where he is shunned by pop song lyricists, grandmothers, big-box shoppers, house cats, classic rock radio programmers, and all left-brain-thinking people, Doubt continues to throw dynamite at history and use his outlaw thinking to move us all forward. Some love him. Others hate him. But nobody ignores him.

In the following excerpts from Doubt: Unconventional Wisdom From The World's Greatest Shit Disturber by Paul Lavoie, the cofounder and chair of ad agency TAXI, we learn why that all too common emotion can lead to uncommon results.


Most of the structures that underpin our society are based on a system of logic that remained virtually unchallenged since Aristotle's time. In its practical, concrete way, it insists that things are either true or false, with no room for contradiction. So in 1973, when Lotfi Zadeh first proposed his theory of fuzzy logic, which asserts that there is no absolute truth but only degrees of truth, it was greeted with skepticism-- even hostility. Oddly enough, non-Western countries like Japan embraced it, incorporating it into the design of many appliances and technologies. Through fuzzy logic, they could program systems to take into account less predictable, more random variables like sudden temperature drops, traffic accidents, and other events beyond our control. So, although people might have trouble accepting fuzzy logic, things like thermostats, bus schedules, and autofocus on cameras would be lost without it.


The things that seem sacred are like too many Kleenexes flushed down your imagination. They crap up the pipes of freethinking until the whole thing backs up in a mess of yesterday's ideas.

A serial doubter keeps the what-ifs flowing. Battle the inevitable firehose of self-appointed critics and naysayers. Buck endless scrutiny with blinders on, because you know that old standards can't measure new ideas.


Curiosity is my best friend. He pisses me off but I respect him. He asks why and then I doubt the answer--so I guess I piss him off, too.

But the more Curiosity asks why, the deeper we bore into the problem and the closer we get to the idea we are looking for. Yeah, it's heavy lifting. And yeah, everyone runs and hides when they see Curiosity coming with another question.

And then Curiosity asks if he's been asking the right question.

And then he starts to question whether we should be doubting at all, and whether the status quo might actually have been the best solution. And that pisses me off. But hey, I have to respect the questioning of everything. Only Curiosity will find you the answers no one else ever imagined were there.


The word "circus" used to conjure up three rings, animals, and the name Barnum & Bailey. When Guy Laliberté and his street performer friends created Cirque du Soleil, it had none of the above--not because they deliberately set out to redefine the circus, but because they simply couldn't afford animals and the other conventions of a traditional circus. They had to work with what they had: buskers and their imagination. What's that old saying-- necessity is the mother of invention? Now, to most of us, the circus no longer means animals--it means gypsy carnivals, underwater epics, and saucy cabarets. It represents daring, magic, and childlike invention. It stands for 4,000 employees entertaining over nine million spectators on five continents.


Sad clown. No one takes him seriously. Awesome. If you are willing to abandon your ego and play the idiot, you'll be instantly liberated and beyond scrutiny.

On the social scale, you'll be demoted to somewhere between a dining room chair and a hand towel. And, like them, you'll overhear nitty-gritty truths galore.

You're egoless and not self-censoring in the pursuit of innovation. So call 'em like you see 'em. The village idiot gets away with challenging conventions in a way the zealot on a soapbox never can.


The middle. So comfy you won't even know you're suffocating in it. Want some oxygen? There are only two ways to go. Make something really, really good or something really, really bad.

Anything in between is lost in the clutter of "average" and "seen it before." So shoot for spectacular, or spectacularly "what the fu@k?!" Nothing else will get noticed.


HomeHero fire extinguishers are ugly, awkward, and needlessly complicated to use--to the point where we tend to hide these clunky contraptions away, which can have tragic results. Not only is the HomeHero fire extinguisher sleek and attractive, it's also simple to use. Step one: pull the safety pin that is clearly visible. Step two: aim at the fire. Step three: press the trigger that's conveniently located on the extinguisher's handle so you can operate it with one hand. And that's it. There's no step four. If still in doubt, there are idiot-proof instructions on the back of the extinguisher. In the words of Men's Health magazine, the HomeHero fire extinguisher is the Natalie Portman of firefighting: smart and hot.


What really stinks is people crapping themselves at the suggestion of change. It's fear--and even you aren't immune.

Fear of the unknown.

Fear of getting hurt.

Fear of hard work.

Fear of making a mistake.

Fear of reprisal.

Fear of ending up worse off.

Fear of being judged.

Or maybe just fear of missing the 5:07 train. To the creature of habit, change is the bogeyman. But you know what's scarier is missing an opportunity.

To be an agent of change, you need to prove your intentions are not really scary at all. Shelve your ego and take the time to understand the root of people's fears. When their fear is put aside, people are ready to listen to the benefits of the kind of change you have in mind.


"No" is a silent alarm. If your idea isn't meeting resistance, you should really start to worry. It's your first hint that it's docile and predictable.

But when "no" is sounding off like a five-alarm fire, it's your cue that you're on to something great.

Make "no" part of the creative process and put it to work.


Oops. You left an idea sitting in the sunshine of your love for too long. It looked so shiny and brilliant, didn't it? But you missed a fatal flaw and now the whole maggot-ridden thing is rotten. Time to unlove your idea.

It doesn't get tougher than doubting your own idea. But without a doubt, every single time, the next idea will be even more brilliant.


It seems absurd, but after flushing, we automatically refill our toilet bowls with water clean enough to drink. One company, Environmental Designworks, finally asked the obvious question: why not first divert the clean water into a toilet-top sink where we can wash our hands, which most of us do anyway after flushing? Then the grey water from the sink can be funneled straight into the toilet tank. The result of their eureka moment was SinkPositive, a small sink that fits onto the back of any toilet and provides a one-two punch: you save both water and money. And yes, it even encourages us to wash our hands after going.


For years the marketing industry has relied on qualitative and quantitative research to better understand purchasing behaviour. Over $12 billion was spent in the U.S. alone on research in 2007. And yet, every marketer can reel off loads of occasions when the focus group failed them. Brand guru Martin Lindstrom has now confirmed through hard science that you can't always rely on people to tell the truth; it's their brains you have to probe--the "ultimate no-bullshit zone," as he calls it. With the help of a roomful of white-smocked scientists, the world's most sophisticated MRI scanner, and over 2,000 subjects worldwide, he studied people's actual brainwaves while "under the influence" of marketing. His results were illuminating. They suggest that persuasion isn't logical but emotional. For instance, when shown a grisly warning label depicting a cancerous tumour, smokers might say it turns them off smoking, while neurons in their brains light up with desire and spark a craving. Lindstrom's "neuromarketing" has managed to overturn some of the longest-held assumptions in marketing, like sex sells. He has, in turn, replaced them with his own scientifically proven ones, like neurons and blood speak louder than words.


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