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The Space Between Things

Part of the concept of looking at things from different vantage points is the idea of opposites. I see things in terms of opposites. I rather worship the space between things, the silence between good friends, the time between the notes of music, the break time during a conference, the space between buildings, negative space. I love the space on my desk better than the objects themselves. It makes me see clearer. It is the yin/yang of things. The opposites of things are just so much more fascinating than the things themselves. It's the way I approach everything. I look for a solution that has a valid oppositeness. Not a different way of looking at things, but an opposite way.

Figure 25

At dinner parties, I always look at the table with the place settings as the focal points; then I blink a couple of times and look at them as the backdrop for the table, which becomes the foreground. I try to look at cities the same way. In Venice, I look at the buildings as the space between the canals. Artists do these kinds of figure/field exercises all the time; we are all familiar with the drawing of the vase that becomes the profiles of two people facing each other. To see the opposite is illuminating.

Barry Diller, when he was the chairman and CEO of Twentieth Century Fox, asked a junior executive why a certain assignment wasn't finished. The young man said, "It's taking so long because I'm trying to do it the right way." Diller replied, "Did you ever consider doing it the wrong way?"

Opposites embrace the unexpected—what you look at every day but never really see or what you expect will never happen but does. With the advent of computers came the prediction of the paperless office, but just the opposite has proven to be the case: We developed desktop computer publishing capabilities. The VCR was predicted to supplant the movie theater, just as television was supposed to take the place of radio. More recent concerns have focused on DVDs, the MP3 music format, and Napster file-exchange software. The people who profit most from these new developments are those who can look at opposites. Only by looking at radical alternatives can you discover new possibilities and solutions—whether it's in architecture, writing, book publishing, graphic design, business, surgery, or science. It's a way of testing what has already been done, a way of finding solutions via the Hegelian formula of thesis versus antithesis yields synthesis.

A learned blockhead is a greater blockhead than an ignorant one.

– Benjamin Franklin

Volvo designed its production process from an opposite. Instead of using the traditional industrial automobile assembly-line process, which calls for one person to perform one task, Volvos are built by small groups of people who each perform different tasks on the same car.

Numerous scientists were researching the possibility of developing a vaccine for polio, believing that it must be developed from a live virus. The Salk vaccine was developed from a dead virus.

Figure 26

Opposites inspire most scientific discoveries and business developments. Looking at opposites is a way of testing an idea to see if it works. It is a way of seeing, listening, and testing.

We recognize all things by the existence of their opposite—day as distinguished from night, peace from war, failure from success.

If a little knowledge is dangerous, where is the man who has so much as to be out of danger?

– T.H. Huxley

This should be the approach to interpreting information. You should ask yourself, "How can I look at this from different or opposite vantage points?" and "How would reorganizing the information change its meaning?" Instead of being bound by the accepted way of organization, what would happen if you mix everything up?

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