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The LinkUp Blog The Industry's Best-Kept Secret

February 27, 2017 / Molly Moseley

How can it be worse? How reverse brainstorming inspires innovation

Mind maps, brain dumps, group discussions and SWOT analysis — there are a variety of brainstorming strategies companies use, but the goal is always the same: Find a solution to a problem.

Traditional brainstorming embraces the idea that “no idea is a bad idea” in an effort to collect many different thoughts. Essentially quantity trumps quality. Those thoughts are then evaluated, often blended into hybrid ideas, and then the best ones are applied to the issue at hand. It’s a scientific approach that requires loads of creativity on the part of the participants.

The problem is the actual brainstorming process is bland and boring. You sit in a conference room (sometimes for over an hour) and make a list. If you’re lucky, you might get donuts out of the deal.

While companies often can’t change the setting for brainstorming sessions, they can change the process to try to stimulate different parts of the brain in order to get more creative solutions. This is exactly why reverse brainstorming is gaining popularity.

Basically, reverse brainstorming is teams getting together to chat about how to make a problem worse. It can be loads of fun because the answers can vary from the interesting to the insane. Plus, unlike traditional brainstorming, you’re likely to get a lot of laughs from your colleagues, which not only makes it an enjoyable process, but further inspires creativity.

So why spend time thinking about how to make a problem worse? The heart of reverse brainstorming is you must find the wrong in order to find the right. Once you have a list of things that make a particular issue that much worse, it becomes readily apparent what needs to happen to make it better.

Want to give reverse brainstorming a try? Here are five simple steps to guide you through the process:

Step 1: Identify the problem.

Step 2: Ask “How can we make the problem worse?” instead of “How can we solve it?”

Step 3: Record all answers without criticism.

Step 4: Review answers and flip each to reveal the fixes for the problem.

Step 5: Evaluate the results to determine the best solution.

Consider a design team evaluating a website that suffers from low user engagement. People are finding the website through online searches, but once they click through they leave quickly without visiting different pages. Why are they be leaving? Reverse brainstorming could reveal ideas like confusing copy, dated graphics, complex navigation and annoying background music straight out of the ’80s.

After coming up with a list of ideas for making the website even more terrible, it becomes clear what must be done to improve it. By asking “How can we make it worse?” you’ll get an entirely different list of thoughts than the tired old “How can we make it better?” And those ideas might be just what’s needed to get the deep insight you need to solve problems once and for all.