How to Reverse Brainstorm in 4 Steps

ReverseBrainstormBrainstorming is a known creative process with specific guidelines that must be met for success. However, there are certain conditions that stop even the best at brainstormings, such as a growing level of cynicism within the ranks or an unknown problem that can’t be pinpointed. The quickest way to turn the attitudes and results around is by using the creative technique of reverse brainstorming.

The process focuses on discovering an unknown or futuristic problem. The first phase typically assigned to the task force is figuring out what problem can be identified. The second phase is to facilitate a troubleshooting recommendation that can reveal the needed action steps for change and implementation. Both phases require an understanding of the guidelines used to facilitate the process.

Here are the guidelines for reverse brainstorming:

Figuratively Break the Process

Reverse brainstorming is the opposite of finding a solution. The team must work hard to come up with ways of breaking the system. This holds true regardless of the topic. For instance, let’s say the original brainstorming goal is to find ways to keep customers on the website. The opposite becomes the starting point for reverse brainstorming: Finding ways to drive people away from the website.

Everyone shares their ideas. Maybe the list looks like…

  1. Require user sign-ins every 20 seconds.
  2. When the reader gets to the critical part of the post they’re reading, startle them with pop-up pictures from a horror film.
  3. Don’t allow anonymity.
  4. Blast new music with every page.
  5. Place ads in between paragraphs.
  6. Etc.

Clearly, the list could reach a hundred items in a short period of time.

Flip the List

The next step is to analyze the list. The goal is to discover what real items are directly correlated with its opposite. For instance, “require user sign-ins every 20 seconds” suggests that the site should not require any sign-in unless someone is signing up for a specific offer. The horror pop-up picture suggests that customers will get irate every time the reading of their important article is interrupted.

The flipped list might look like…

  1. Only have a sign-in for specific offers.
  2. Don’t interrupt the reading of an article.
  3. Allow all people to peruse the site.
  4. Don’t play music or have a silent default setting.
  5. Keep ads away from, or to the side of important articles.
  6. Etc.

Evaluate the Potential Solutions

Out of the long list of possible problems and its probable solutions, each item needs to be evaluated. The top three or ten, whatever length of possibilities deemed right for more in-depth exploration, are assessed to determine its value to the company. The goal is recommending the items considered to be low hanging fruit (quick fixes) or bigger bang for the buck (fixes with a greater financial impact) to decision makers. The evaluation process can review the list based on any criteria needed for planning improvements and implementations.

Have Fun without Commiserating

The reverse brainstorming activity tends to be humorous and sometimes sad. Laughter typically comes from those moments when people are surprised that they unknowingly built a stupid problem into the website while attempting to do something positive for the customer. The sad moments come when people realize that they were clueless about problems they didn’t even know existed.

These moments can drive sarcastic comments and enlightenment. Unfortunately, it can also open the floodgates for those who feel the impulse to commiserate, all because the learned problems can be systemic and highly relatable. The guideline is for the team to have fun with the surprises, but to avoid sharing war stories because it changes the tone and focus in the room to something less productive.

Reverse brainstorming is a simple tool to implement and requires the same respect for one’s peers as brainstorming. The key to remember is that all boarded items are welcome, as some are there for the sole purpose of prompting other ideas. No idea is wrong or wasted.

© 2019 by CJ Powers

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