From Misunderstanding to Opportunity

Misunderstandings happen. As much as you try to avoid them, they’re inevitable. But here’s the silver lining: in both ideation and in life, misunderstandings are often opportunities in disguise. It’s all in how you respond to the situation. 

Allow me to explain. In resolving a misunderstanding with another company in the innovation industry, the CEO and I started talking about our two companies and how in a way, they offer complementary services. Unexpectedly, he invited me to come to an innovation conference to meet him and interact with others interested in innovation. I decided to go, and I met fabulous people and potential clients.

Here’s another example from the same conference. One morning at breakfast I filled a plate at the buffet, sat down at a table, and realized everyone seated there was wearing a different lanyard color than I was. They were all from the same company.  In my confusion, I asked, “Are you sponsoring the conference?” As it turns out, they were attending a different conference going on at the same time. How embarrassing! Thankfully we were able to laugh about it, so I then introduced myself, shared what I do and passed out business cards. Who knows—maybe we’ll work together in the future.

In both instances, I could have taken a different approach. I could have declined the conference invitation, and I could have slunk away from the breakfast table. But as a result of the original misunderstandings, both situations turned into opportunities.

So why am I telling you this? Because just as these misunderstandings led to opportunities, misunderstandings during ideation lead to new creative opportunities as well. You see, in an ideation session it’s not uncommon for someone to share an idea, and for another person to interpret the idea differently. When that happens, we call it constructive misunderstanding and capture both ideas, instead of letting the second idea go. The “misunderstood” idea becomes a new stand-alone idea and can spark a whole different line of creative thinking.

For example, my colleague Cynthia was working on a project involving fastenings. She shares, “During the session, a Creative Consumers® associate said, ‘This is a chore that makes me grit my teeth.’ Her phrase was initially misunderstood and ultimately became an idea for a closure device using ‘teeth that grip.’”

Outside of ideation, other misunderstandings lie with how a product is used.  When a company becomes aware of a “misuse” of a product, they have 3 choices: ignore it, correct it, or capitalize upon it as an opportunity.

For example, consumers sometimes carry fabric softener sheets while golfing or hiking, saying the sheets are an effective bug repellant. Others use them as dusting and cleaning cloths, because grime sticks to the waxy coating. Though these are not uses intended by the creators, how can they be upset when their product is found to be even more useful than they initially thought?

So the next time you have a misunderstanding of any kind, don’t dismiss it. Instead, ask yourself, “What good can come from this?” You may be surprised with the opportunities that present themselves.

©2013 Ideas To Go, Inc. All rights reserved.

Beth Storz

Beth Storz is President and Innovation Process Facilitator at Ideas To Go. She co-authored the book, "Outsmart Your Instincts: How the Behavioral Innovation™ Approach Drives Your Company Forward." Beth has been a guest on many innovation podcasts and her work has been featured in media outlets such as HuffPost and Fortune. Beth holds a BS in Business Management from Cornell University and a MBA from New York University’s Stern School of Business, and has worked in brand management at some of the premier consumer packaged goods companies—including Unilever, Kraft and Nabisco. Since joining Ideas To Go, Beth has established herself as a leader in the Innovation landscape and designed and facilitated projects for hundreds of companies—from CPG to financial services to pharmaceuticals.