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Reverse Brainstorming: the Key to Better Problem Solving?

Reverse Brainstorming: the Key to Better Problem Solving?

As a creative thinking process, it’s easy for brainstorming to hit a wall and make you wonder if you've exhausted every possible idea. That's when you should consider turning the brainstorming process on its head using reverse brainstorming. 

Reverse Brainstorming: the Key to Better Problem Solving?

You've gathered your team, set up the whiteboard, and even armed yourself with an idea management tool. You're all set for a productive brainstorming session, ready to churn out groundbreaking ideas like a well-oiled idea factory. 

But then, you find yourselves stuck, circling around the same tired concepts, and your brainstorming session starts to feel like a broken record.

As a creative thinking process, it’s easy for brainstorming to hit a wall and make you wonder if you've exhausted every possible idea. That's when you should consider turning the brainstorming process on its head using reverse brainstorming. 

In this article, we’ll explain what reverse brainstorming is and how you can implement it into your brainstorming sessions to get your team out of a creative rut. 

What Is Reverse Brainstorming?

Reverse brainstorming is a creative thinking technique that can come to your rescue when your brainstorming session feels like crawling through quicksand. As the name suggests, reverse brainstorming is the opposite of traditional brainstorming. 

In a typical brainstorming session, you’d ask questions like “how can we improve our customer service so customers rate us higher.” Framing a question this way is a logical approach to problem-solving. 

In reverse brainstorming, however, you’d ask the opposite question. Instead of framing the question positively (how can we improve something), you’d frame the question negatively (how can we worsen something). 

So, in the above example, instead of asking, “how can we improve our customer service?” you’d ask, “how can we make our customer service so bad that all customers leave us?” 

Once you come up with ideas on how to cause a problem or make it worse, you reverse those ideas back into positive ones to find a potential solution to your original problem. 

While it may seem pointless and counterintuitive, this unusual approach allows brainstormers to see the problem they’re trying to solve from an entirely new perspective, which can often lead to coming up with solutions they haven’t thought of.  

By coming up with as many ideas as possible to make your customer service bad, you may realize that it already has some of these issues - and that’s where the core of the problem lies. 

Reverse brainstorming works exceptionally well due to a simple psychological rule - the fact that we always see problems much more clearly than we see solutions.

Problems are easier to find. Solutions are sometimes invisible to us as our brain tends to focus on the negative. Neuropsychologists call this the Brain’s Negativity Bias and blame our ancestors for it. After all, they needed to be constantly alert to survive.   

While brainstorming rule states you can’t start your sessions with reverse brainstorming, it’s usually implemented once the traditional techniques hit a slump or when participants run out of ideas.   

How to Use Reverse Brainstorming to Innovate 

Reverse brainstorming can be broken down into five steps:

How to Use Reverse Brainstorming to Innovate 

Step 1

Identify the problem that needs to be solved. 

Step 2

Reverse the problem. So, instead of asking, “How can we solve this problem?” you’ll formulate the questions in one of the following ways: “How can we cause this problem?” or “How can we make this problem worse?” 

If you’re looking for ideas on how to achieve a specific goal, you can reverse that by asking, “How can we achieve the opposite effect of what we want?”

Step 3

Brainstorm the solutions to the reversed problem. At this stage, most ideas will sound crazy, but it’s important not to discredit any idea too quickly. Collect all ideas with an idea management tool like Ideanote. 

Step 4

Reverse the ideas your brainstormers came up with to find the solutions to the original problem. If you’ve collected all ideas with Ideanote, you’ll be able to easily manage them during this stage. 

Step 5

Evaluate the solutions you came up with during the process. At this stage, participants collaboratively review each reversed idea based on its alignment with identified problem-solving criteria and try to select the most feasible ones. 

This reverse brainstorming process can be used in any situation - whether you’re running your brainstorming session in-person, online, or asynchronously. 

If you opt for asynchronous brainstorming, simply create a dedicated reverse brainstorming thread within your idea management system. To facilitate the process, you can reverse the problem and ask your employees to propose solutions to the reversed problem first and then reverse them. 

Also read:

The 11 Best Online & Offline Brainstorming Techniques

The 10 Best Brainstorming Tools for Innovative Companies

Give Yourself an Edge: Strategize Before Brainstorming

Reverse Brainstorming Examples In Real Life

To illustrate how reverse brainstorming can be used in a real-life scenario, let’s assume you’re an eCommerce company that wants to improve store conversions. You’ve recently noticed visitors leave your store after browsing it for only a few seconds, and only a handful of people place items in the cart. 

Here’s how you could apply reverse brainstorming to address this issue: 

🎯 Identify the problem

In this case, you’d want to find ways to make your store easier to browse so that more people check out. 

🔀 Reverse the problem

The reversed problem, in this case, would be how to make your online store as difficult and uninviting to browse as possible so visitors quickly abandon it without making a purchase. 

Some possible solutions to this reverse problem could be: 

  • Clutter the homepage with flashy banners.
  • Slow down the website's loading speed.
  • Hide the search bar.
  • Make product categories counterintuitive.
  • Provide inaccurate product descriptions and blurry images.

🔄 Reverse the solutions of the reversed problem

To find the answer to your original problem, you’d simply reverse the ideas you came up with for the reversed problem. 

For instance, if one of the ideas was to clutter the website with flashy banners, the solution would be to remove all unnecessary elements from the site and make the design as clean as possible. 

If another idea was to hide the search bar and make product categories counterintuitive, the reversed solution would be to make the search bar more visible and the product categories more specific and clear. 

💡 Applying reverse brainstorming in this scenario can help you find hidden solutions to improve your store's user experience, reduce bounce rates, and increase conversions.

This approach encourages creative thinking by making you dig below the surface to uncover issues that you may not have noticed before. 

Alro read:

Help Your Team Brainstorm Bold & Creative Ideas

How to Run Your First Brainstorming Session [Guide]

How to Do Structured Brainstorming the Right Way

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