Most people understand the benefits of brainstorming: it’s a great way to gather ideas to solve a problem, it’s relatively easy to execute, and it usually generates a large number of useful ideas. This technique can sometimes fall short, however, when trying to solve more complex or deep-seated problems within your organization. In these cases, where traditional brainstorming just isn’t cutting it, the right technique to solving a problem might be to turn that process on its head. That’s where the concept of reverse brainstorming comes into play.
Reverse brainstorming flips traditional brainstorming techniques upside down.
Instead of trying to solving a problem, reverse brainstorming generates ideas to make the problem worse. Then, you reverse those ideas to discover new ideas for solving your original problem.
There are many reasons why this might happen, such as:
- It’s difficult for people to “be creative” on command for a scheduled meeting.
- Ideas presented in brainstorming sessions can sometimes be too broad and lacking in the specifics needed to take action.
- Depending on the problem, not everyone will have enough knowledge and expertise to contribute to a possible solution.
- For complex problems, the result of a brainstorming session is often a lot of ideas but not the right ideas.
In these cases, reverse brainstorming might be the way to go. But what exactly is reverse brainstorming?
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What is reverse brainstorming?
Reverse brainstorming is a technique that flips typical brainstorming techniques upside down, allowing you to approach complex problems from a different perspective.
In traditional brainstorming, people will focus on collecting ideas for how to solve a problem. In reverse brainstorming, you instead look at what could make the problem worse or why the problem can’t be solved. Then, you reverse those ideas to discover new things you didn’t see before, allowing you to look at the problem, the cause and the solutions in a completely new way.
So when is a good time to use reverse brainstorming instead of traditional brainstorming?
- When people have trouble coming up with good ideas quickly;
- When people are stumped on how to solve a problem;
- When you want people to let go of their pre-conceived ideas about a topic; or
- When you want people to step out of their comfort zone and find new ways to problem-solve.
Like in traditional brainstorming, the key to a successful reverse brainstorming session is quantity over quality. The more ideas you have, the more perspectives you have to work with when refining a solution.
The reverse brainstorming process
Like a traditional brainstorming session, reverse brainstorming typically starts with some sort of problem. Where it differs though, is that you then take that problem and reverse it to focus on the opposite of what you want to do.
From there, you and your team brainstorm ways to solve that reversed problem. Once you have a list of ideas, you then reverse those as well.
What you’re left with is a collection of ideas that can potentially be applied to your initial problem. Then it’s just a matter of analyzing and combing them to find the best solution.
Here’s an example of reverse brainstorming
Step 1: Define your problem.
Let’s take the lofty goal of improving team alignment during projects as an example. The problem to be solved would likely look something like this:
“We need to be better aligned as a team during projects.”
Step 2: Reverse the problem.
Depending on the complexity of your projects and processes, you may find that fixing “team alignment” is a problem that is too tricky to solve through traditional brainstorming.
In such a case, a reverse brainstorming session may be just what the doctor ordered. Step 2 is to take your problem and flip it on its head. Here’s what your new problem would look like:
Step 3: Collect Ideas.
Together, with your team, you can then start to brainstorm ways to ensure that you’re all completely misaligned for all projects going forward.
Some ideas that might come up could include:
- Do not communicate project goals to the team.
- Start working on the project without defining scope or desired results.
- Start working before assigning roles.
- Don’t share any files or research with the team.
- Make key decisions without informing the rest of the team.
- Constantly change the goals of the project.
- Never, ever provide feedback or encouragement to the team.
With a group of people in a room, you’ll likely be able to collect dozens of these “great” ideas to keep your team utterly misaligned for every project for eternity. And that’s great! The more of these you collect, the better the outcome will be.
Step 4: Reverse the ideas.
Once you’ve exhausted all those great ideas for team misalignment, work with your team to reverse each of them like you did with your initial problem.
In the case of the list in Step 3, this would look something like this:
Step 5: Evaluate the ideas and identify the solutions.
Once you’ve gone through the exercise of reversing your bad ideas back into good ones, you can now analyze them to determine which are the best. With your team, go through each idea and prioritize them in whatever way you see fit. You’re now ready to take action and work on keeping your team aligned.
If you’re interested in learning techniques to improve team alignment during your projects, you may be interested in our free eBook titled 5 Ways to Drive (and Accelerate!) Project Team Alignment Using Mind Maps. Click here to download a copy!
How can MindManager help?
As a digital mind mapping, information visualization, and mind mapping software, MindManager is uniquely qualified to facilitate any traditional or reverse brainstorming session much more effectively that whiteboards or flip charts.
With a variety of pre-made templates and layouts, MindManager allows you to collect, edit and move ideas around a digital canvas in real time, keeping pace with your high energy reverse brainstorming session.
Once you’ve collected all of your ideas – and reversed them to good ones, in the case of this blog post – you can use tags and icons to prioritize the best ones.
Depending on the topic of your reverse brainstorming session, there are also templates for SWOT analyses, onion diagrams, swim lane diagrams and more to help you make sense of your ideas and priorities.
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