What Is Reverse Brainstorming? Reverse Brainstorming In A Nutshell

Reverse brainstorming takes advantage of the natural human tendency to more easily see problems than solutions. What’s more, many individuals when placed in a traditional brainstorming environment will find it difficult to become creative on command. Reverse brainstorming is an approach where individuals brainstorm the various ways a plan could fail. 

Technique OverviewReverse Brainstorming is a creative problem-solving technique that flips the traditional brainstorming process on its head. Instead of generating ideas to solve a problem, participants focus on generating ideas to cause or exacerbate the problem. It encourages participants to think from unconventional perspectives, uncover underlying issues, and ultimately identify innovative solutions. This approach is particularly useful when a problem seems entrenched or when traditional brainstorming methods yield limited results.
ProcessThe Reverse Brainstorming process typically involves the following steps:
1. Problem Identification: Clearly define the problem or challenge you want to address.
2. Reverse the Problem: Encourage participants to think about actions or ideas that would worsen or create the problem. This involves considering what not to do.
3. Idea Generation: Participants brainstorm ideas for causing or exacerbating the problem. They can be as creative and unconventional as possible.
4. Analysis: Examine the reverse ideas to identify any underlying assumptions, constraints, or overlooked aspects of the problem.
5. Idea Reversal: Reverse the reverse ideas. In other words, transform the negative ideas into potential solutions by exploring how the opposite actions might lead to solutions or improvements.
6. Traditional Brainstorming: Finally, engage in traditional brainstorming to generate positive ideas and potential solutions based on the insights gained from reversing the problem.
BenefitsReverse Brainstorming offers several advantages:
1. Unconventional Thinking: It encourages participants to break free from conventional thinking patterns and explore new angles.
2. Problem Deconstruction: It helps break down complex problems into manageable components.
3. Creativity Boost: By considering negative actions, participants often stumble upon creative solutions.
4. Assumption Identification: It reveals hidden assumptions and limitations that may be constraining problem-solving efforts.
ApplicationsReverse Brainstorming can be applied to various fields and industries, including product development, process improvement, marketing, and innovation. For example, in product design, it can help identify potential flaws or user pain points to improve the design. In marketing, it can reveal strategies to avoid marketing pitfalls and target audiences effectively.
ChallengesWhile Reverse Brainstorming is a valuable tool, it may face challenges like resistance to thinking negatively or difficulty in transitioning from negative ideas to positive solutions. Skilled facilitation and a supportive environment can help overcome these challenges.

Understanding reverse brainstorming

Instead of asking the individual to solve a problem, reverse brainstorming asks them to consider the cause of a problem and then determine how to achieve the opposite result.

Reverse brainstorming is useful in situations where:

  • Ideas put forth in a traditional brainstorming session are too broad and lack enough detail to be put into action.
  • There is a general lack of knowledge or expertise among team members.
  • Complex problems generate a lot of unviable or unrelated solutions.
  • Particular individuals with dominant personalities are making it difficult for others to express their ideas.
  • A business has a product or service performing poorly in the market and can’t pinpoint why.

How to conduct a reverse brainstorming session

Below is a general approach to conducting a reverse brainstorming session:

Identify the problem

Start by clearly defining the problem as a goal that needs to be met by a specified time or date.

Reverse the problem

In step two, the team takes the goal and reverses the expected process. Instead of brainstorming ideas to solve the problem, stakeholders are encouraged to think about how they can make it worse.

For example, a team looking to improve customer service might consider how they can make customer service so poor that the customer walks away from purchasing.

Gather ideas

The team then brainstorms ideas concerning the question posed in the previous step.

A good facilitator is essential in ensuring the team does not revert to offering solution-based ideas.

Examples of poor customer service include ignoring customer complaints, criticizing customers, dishonoring warranties, and not greeting shoppers as they walk through the door.

Reverse the gathered ideas

Once the team has exhausted their creative potential, the gathered ideas themselves must be reversed.

To improve customer service, the team may suggest store representatives give a warm welcome to shoppers instead of ignoring them.

Evaluate ideas and identify solutions

With every bad idea now transformed into a good one, the team can evaluate them and determine the best way forward.

Ideas can be prioritized in any way the business sees fit.

Key takeaways

  • Reverse brainstorming is an approach where individuals brainstorm the various ways a plan could fail.
  • Reverse brainstorming is useful in situations where traditional sessions yield broad ideas lacking sufficient detail to be put into action. The approach can also be used to tackle complex problems or where certain dominant team members hinder a collaborative effort.
  • Reverse brainstorming can be performed in five steps: identify the problem, reverse the problem, gather ideas, reverse the gathered ideas, and evaluate ideas to identify solutions. Reversing or reframing the solution as a problem is paramount, and a good facilitator ensures the team remains committed to the process.

Key Highlights

  • Reverse Brainstorming Concept:
    • Reverse brainstorming capitalizes on the human tendency to identify problems more readily than solutions.
    • Traditional brainstorming might struggle to generate creative solutions on demand.
    • In reverse brainstorming, participants focus on generating ways a plan could fail or how to achieve the opposite of the desired outcome.
  • Purpose and Applicability:
    • Reverse brainstorming is effective when traditional brainstorming yields broad, vague ideas lacking actionable details.
    • It suits situations where team members lack expertise, complex problems produce unviable solutions, dominant personalities stifle collaboration, or when a product or service underperforms without clear reasons.
  • Conducting a Reverse Brainstorming Session:
    • Identify the Problem: Clearly define the problem as a specific goal with a set time frame.
    • Reverse the Problem: Instead of solving the problem, reverse the process by considering how to worsen the situation. For instance, in customer service improvement, think about making the service so poor that customers walk away.
    • Gather Ideas: Brainstorm ideas based on the reversed problem. Facilitators play a critical role in preventing participants from offering solution-oriented suggestions.
    • Reverse the Gathered Ideas: Reverse the generated ideas themselves. For customer service improvement, consider having store representatives give warm welcomes instead of ignoring customers.
    • Evaluate Ideas and Identify Solutions: Assess the now “reversed” ideas and determine the most suitable course of action. Prioritize ideas as per business needs.
  • Importance of Reframing:
    • In reverse brainstorming, the focus shifts from solving a problem to imagining how to create that problem.
    • This shift in perspective helps identify underlying issues and innovative solutions.
  • Role of Facilitator:
    • A skilled facilitator is vital to ensure participants remain committed to the process and avoid slipping back into conventional solution-oriented thinking.
  • Key Takeaways:
    • Reverse brainstorming involves generating ways a plan could fail or how to achieve opposite outcomes.
    • It’s applicable in scenarios where traditional brainstorming falls short, and it helps to tackle complex problems or mitigate team dynamics.
    • The five steps of reverse brainstorming are: identify the problem, reverse the problem, gather ideas, reverse the gathered ideas, and evaluate ideas to find solutions.
    • The technique’s success hinges on effectively reframing problems as opportunities for creative solutions, and facilitators play a crucial role in maintaining the process’s integrity.

Connected Analysis Frameworks

Failure Mode And Effects Analysis

A failure mode and effects analysis (FMEA) is a structured approach to identifying design failures in a product or process. Developed in the 1950s, the failure mode and effects analysis is one the earliest methodologies of its kind. It enables organizations to anticipate a range of potential failures during the design stage.

Agile Business Analysis

Agile Business Analysis (AgileBA) is certification in the form of guidance and training for business analysts seeking to work in agile environments. To support this shift, AgileBA also helps the business analyst relate Agile projects to a wider organizational mission or strategy. To ensure that analysts have the necessary skills and expertise, AgileBA certification was developed.

Business Valuation

Business valuations involve a formal analysis of the key operational aspects of a business. A business valuation is an analysis used to determine the economic value of a business or company unit. It’s important to note that valuations are one part science and one part art. Analysts use professional judgment to consider the financial performance of a business with respect to local, national, or global economic conditions. They will also consider the total value of assets and liabilities, in addition to patented or proprietary technology.

Paired Comparison Analysis

A paired comparison analysis is used to rate or rank options where evaluation criteria are subjective by nature. The analysis is particularly useful when there is a lack of clear priorities or objective data to base decisions on. A paired comparison analysis evaluates a range of options by comparing them against each other.

Monte Carlo Analysis

The Monte Carlo analysis is a quantitative risk management technique. The Monte Carlo analysis was developed by nuclear scientist Stanislaw Ulam in 1940 as work progressed on the atom bomb. The analysis first considers the impact of certain risks on project management such as time or budgetary constraints. Then, a computerized mathematical output gives businesses a range of possible outcomes and their probability of occurrence.

Cost-Benefit Analysis

A cost-benefit analysis is a process a business can use to analyze decisions according to the costs associated with making that decision. For a cost analysis to be effective it’s important to articulate the project in the simplest terms possible, identify the costs, determine the benefits of project implementation, assess the alternatives.

CATWOE Analysis

The CATWOE analysis is a problem-solving strategy that asks businesses to look at an issue from six different perspectives. The CATWOE analysis is an in-depth and holistic approach to problem-solving because it enables businesses to consider all perspectives. This often forces management out of habitual ways of thinking that would otherwise hinder growth and profitability. Most importantly, the CATWOE analysis allows businesses to combine multiple perspectives into a single, unifying solution.

VTDF Framework

It’s possible to identify the key players that overlap with a company’s business model with a competitor analysis. This overlapping can be analyzed in terms of key customers, technologies, distribution, and financial models. When all those elements are analyzed, it is possible to map all the facets of competition for a tech business model to understand better where a business stands in the marketplace and its possible future developments.

Pareto Analysis

The Pareto Analysis is a statistical analysis used in business decision making that identifies a certain number of input factors that have the greatest impact on income. It is based on the similarly named Pareto Principle, which states that 80% of the effect of something can be attributed to just 20% of the drivers.

Comparable Analysis

A comparable company analysis is a process that enables the identification of similar organizations to be used as a comparison to understand the business and financial performance of the target company. To find comparables you can look at two key profiles: the business and financial profile. From the comparable company analysis it is possible to understand the competitive landscape of the target organization.

SWOT Analysis

A SWOT Analysis is a framework used for evaluating the business’s Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. It can aid in identifying the problematic areas of your business so that you can maximize your opportunities. It will also alert you to the challenges your organization might face in the future.

PESTEL Analysis

The PESTEL analysis is a framework that can help marketers assess whether macro-economic factors are affecting an organization. This is a critical step that helps organizations identify potential threats and weaknesses that can be used in other frameworks such as SWOT or to gain a broader and better understanding of the overall marketing environment.

Business Analysis

Business analysis is a research discipline that helps driving change within an organization by identifying the key elements and processes that drive value. Business analysis can also be used in Identifying new business opportunities or how to take advantage of existing business opportunities to grow your business in the marketplace.

Financial Structure

In corporate finance, the financial structure is how corporations finance their assets (usually either through debt or equity). For the sake of reverse engineering businesses, we want to look at three critical elements to determine the model used to sustain its assets: cost structure, profitability, and cash flow generation.

Financial Modeling

Financial modeling involves the analysis of accounting, finance, and business data to predict future financial performance. Financial modeling is often used in valuation, which consists of estimating the value in dollar terms of a company based on several parameters. Some of the most common financial models comprise discounted cash flows, the M&A model, and the CCA model.

Value Investing

Value investing is an investment philosophy that looks at companies’ fundamentals, to discover those companies whose intrinsic value is higher than what the market is currently pricing, in short value investing tries to evaluate a business by starting by its fundamentals.

Buffet Indicator

The Buffet Indicator is a measure of the total value of all publicly-traded stocks in a country divided by that country’s GDP. It’s a measure and ratio to evaluate whether a market is undervalued or overvalued. It’s one of Warren Buffet’s favorite measures as a warning that financial markets might be overvalued and riskier.

Financial Analysis

Financial accounting is a subdiscipline within accounting that helps organizations provide reporting related to three critical areas of a business: its assets and liabilities (balance sheet), its revenues and expenses (income statement), and its cash flows (cash flow statement). Together those areas can be used for internal and external purposes.

Post-Mortem Analysis

Post-mortem analyses review projects from start to finish to determine process improvements and ensure that inefficiencies are not repeated in the future. In the Project Management Book of Knowledge (PMBOK), this process is referred to as “lessons learned”.

Retrospective Analysis

Retrospective analyses are held after a project to determine what worked well and what did not. They are also conducted at the end of an iteration in Agile project management. Agile practitioners call these meetings retrospectives or retros. They are an effective way to check the pulse of a project team, reflect on the work performed to date, and reach a consensus on how to tackle the next sprint cycle.

Root Cause Analysis

In essence, a root cause analysis involves the identification of problem root causes to devise the most effective solutions. Note that the root cause is an underlying factor that sets the problem in motion or causes a particular situation such as non-conformance.

Blindspot Analysis


Break-even Analysis

A break-even analysis is commonly used to determine the point at which a new product or service will become profitable. The analysis is a financial calculation that tells the business how many products it must sell to cover its production costs.  A break-even analysis is a small business accounting process that tells the business what it needs to do to break even or recoup its initial investment. 

Decision Analysis

Stanford University Professor Ronald A. Howard first defined decision analysis as a profession in 1964. Over the ensuing decades, Howard has supervised many doctoral theses on the subject across topics including nuclear waste disposal, investment planning, hurricane seeding, and research strategy. Decision analysis (DA) is a systematic, visual, and quantitative decision-making approach where all aspects of a decision are evaluated before making an optimal choice.

DESTEP Analysis

A DESTEP analysis is a framework used by businesses to understand their external environment and the issues which may impact them. The DESTEP analysis is an extension of the popular PEST analysis created by Harvard Business School professor Francis J. Aguilar. The DESTEP analysis groups external factors into six categories: demographic, economic, socio-cultural, technological, ecological, and political.

STEEP Analysis

The STEEP analysis is a tool used to map the external factors that impact an organization. STEEP stands for the five key areas on which the analysis focuses: socio-cultural, technological, economic, environmental/ecological, and political. Usually, the STEEP analysis is complementary or alternative to other methods such as SWOT or PESTEL analyses.

STEEPLE Analysis

The STEEPLE analysis is a variation of the STEEP analysis. Where the step analysis comprises socio-cultural, technological, economic, environmental/ecological, and political factors as the base of the analysis. The STEEPLE analysis adds other two factors such as Legal and Ethical.

Activity-Based Management

Activity-based management (ABM) is a framework for determining the profitability of every aspect of a business. The end goal is to maximize organizational strengths while minimizing or eliminating weaknesses. Activity-based management can be described in the following steps: identification and analysis, evaluation and identification of areas of improvement.

PMESII-PT Analysis

PMESII-PT is a tool that helps users organize large amounts of operations information. PMESII-PT is an environmental scanning and monitoring technique, like the SWOT, PESTLE, and QUEST analysis. Developed by the United States Army, used as a way to execute a more complex strategy in foreign countries with a complex and uncertain context to map.

SPACE Analysis

The SPACE (Strategic Position and Action Evaluation) analysis was developed by strategy academics Alan Rowe, Richard Mason, Karl Dickel, Richard Mann, and Robert Mockler. The particular focus of this framework is strategy formation as it relates to the competitive position of an organization. The SPACE analysis is a technique used in strategic management and planning. 

Lotus Diagram

A lotus diagram is a creative tool for ideation and brainstorming. The diagram identifies the key concepts from a broad topic for simple analysis or prioritization.

Functional Decomposition

Functional decomposition is an analysis method where complex processes are examined by dividing them into their constituent parts. According to the Business Analysis Body of Knowledge (BABOK), functional decomposition “helps manage complexity and reduce uncertainty by breaking down processes, systems, functional areas, or deliverables into their simpler constituent parts and allowing each part to be analyzed independently.”

Multi-Criteria Analysis

The multi-criteria analysis provides a systematic approach for ranking adaptation options against multiple decision criteria. These criteria are weighted to reflect their importance relative to other criteria. A multi-criteria analysis (MCA) is a decision-making framework suited to solving problems with many alternative courses of action.

Stakeholder Analysis

A stakeholder analysis is a process where the participation, interest, and influence level of key project stakeholders is identified. A stakeholder analysis is used to leverage the support of key personnel and purposefully align project teams with wider organizational goals. The analysis can also be used to resolve potential sources of conflict before project commencement.

Strategic Analysis

Strategic analysis is a process to understand the organization’s environment and competitive landscape to formulate informed business decisions, to plan for the organizational structure and long-term direction. Strategic planning is also useful to experiment with business model design and assess the fit with the long-term vision of the business.

Related Strategy Concepts: Go-To-Market StrategyMarketing StrategyBusiness ModelsTech Business ModelsJobs-To-Be DoneDesign ThinkingLean Startup CanvasValue ChainValue Proposition CanvasBalanced ScorecardBusiness Model CanvasSWOT AnalysisGrowth HackingBundlingUnbundlingBootstrappingVenture CapitalPorter’s Five ForcesPorter’s Generic StrategiesPorter’s Five ForcesPESTEL AnalysisSWOTPorter’s Diamond ModelAnsoffTechnology Adoption CurveTOWSSOARBalanced ScorecardOKRAgile MethodologyValue PropositionVTDF FrameworkBCG MatrixGE McKinsey MatrixKotter’s 8-Step Change Model.

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