Looking for positive forms in negative spaces

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Fantastic Four #72 (March 1968). Cover art by ...
Fantastic Four #72 (March 1968). Cover art by Jack Kirby and Joe Sinnott. The pseudo-fractal nature of the red light comes from the negative space created by the Kirby dots. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In art, in drawing and painting, perceiving the shape of a space is important. You are trying to change your perspective so that you see the positive aspects of negative space. As Betty Edwards, “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain” says, we tend to focus on objects rather like in some cultures where working “within the space of a problem” is common practice. In drawing, recognising negative spaces is just as important as identifying positive forms.

Negative spaces and positive forms is a good metaphor for new business ideas. We tend not to make it a habit to look with a different perspective at problems for opportunities. In our culture the word “problem” seems “negative” and we tend to use euphemisms such as “challenge”. But by looking for problems we are able to see the positive form or solution emerge.

It is in this negative space or problem area that small business people and entrepreneurs are able to identify opportunities. Just think of all of the solutions that have come about and been turned into products and services that help potential customers to solve their problems. Compressing music into smaller and smaller digital forms has, for example, brought about storage and play devices such as the iPod that make transport and listening to music easy, faster and cheaper.

Where would you look for such negative spaces or problems? How would you go about it in a more deliberate and systematic process?

The two main skills for wide-ranging problems are observation and listening. Through observing what other people are doing you are able to see for yourself what problems they encounter. These problems provide the source for potential opportunity. Someone, for instance, may be battling to clean greasy tiles where most products on the market don’t really do an adequate job and this may lead to further exploration for possible solutions.

Listening is a skill that we could all do better at. When it comes to problems and the search for new ideas we need to listen to problems from people we know, existing customers or potential customers to understand these struggles, the pain and anguish. Customers complaining about an existing level of service or a product that is not effective or doesn’t perform well is a rich source of opportunity. Some entrepreneurs have made fortunes when they have found a complaint big enough and shared by many people and have been able to come up with a solution.

Switching from your logical, abstract and linear thinking mode to a more creative, open and exploratory mode is difficult unless you have had some training or teach yourself to think differently. Opportunities in so-called “negative spaces” are there for the taking for those entrepreneurs who wish to put solutions into positive form.

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