Learn about this brainstorming technique and find resources below.

Sometimes called “negative brainstorming”, “reverse brainstorming” is one approach to problem-solving sessions that can be a useful way to explore different options in an innovation or design thinking project. In this blog post, we’ll go into further detail about what the technique is, when it should be used, as well as share a template and other resources to help you learn about this method for brainstorming sessions.

What is reverse brainstorming?

Reverse brainstorming may feel a little weird at first – and that’s kind of the point! This method goes against the grain by asking you to brainstorm all the ways a plan could fail. It’s a way to criticize and identify gaps in a plan’s effectiveness in the early stages, so you can correct issues before you really invest a lot of time and effort into any one solution. Instead of asking your team how to solve the problem, reverse brainstorming starts by focusing on what causes the problem or how to achieve an opposite result of what is expected.

Generally speaking, the following steps are taken during a reverse brainstorming session:

  1. Identify the problem that needs to be solved.
  2. Reverse the expected process. Ask “how can we make the problem worse” instead of “how can we solve it?” etc. etc.
  3. Collect the reversed solutions. All ideas are valuable at this stage.
  4. After reviewing the ideas, turn these ideas around to identify the best fixes for the problem.
  5. Judge and evaluate the results to reach one best solution.

Here’s a simple example. Let’s say the problem you are facing is a higher than expected number of people leave your website without checking out. In the second step, you would brainstorm how to drive users away from the website and checkout experience. In the third step, you’d collect all of the ideas and methods that can drive a user away from completing a purchase on the site. Answers may be:

  • Complicated and lengthy checkout process
  • Website loads too slow

In step 4, you’d identify how to resolve these issues, such as:

  • Simplifying the checkout process to be shorter and easier to follow
  • Choosing a reliable hosting service and improving website functionality to boost speed loading times

The fifth and final step will help your team determine which of the methods are not applicable and what is needed to improve the abandoned shopping cart problem.

When should you use reverse brainstorming?

This method can be extremely useful if your teams are hitting “mental roadblocks” or are not generating the kinds of ideas you need to really innovate the product, problem, or service you are addressing. It may help them get out of a rut in their own minds to really think about the problem in a new and different way.

Another reason to use this format is if your team has gotten so invested to a particular project or process that they are struggling to come up with alternative ideas. This technique really suits out-of-the-box thinking that is perfect for these type of scenarios.

It may also be used when you are trying to generate ideas quickly and testcase the “worst” situations or roadblocks in the way of success. Focusing on the negatives may lead to a solution that avoids or negates them.

Reverse brainstorming templates

Reverse Brainstorming

The following are a few links to virtual templates from some of the most popular whiteboard tools available. You can simply open the template and customize it to suit your own unique innovation or design thinking challenges. The templates feature space to brainstorm and collaborate during each of the five stages of the process identified above.

Reverse brainstorming training options

If you’d like custom assistance walking through a reverse brainstorming session or facilitating an innovation or design thinking workshop, Innovation Training is here to help! Contact us with any questions you may have!

Looking for more resources and guides? Review these other relevant articles informed by our our experience running hundreds of brainstorming workshops and sessions.