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Why You Should Try Reverse Brainstorming

by Taskworld Blog Team / June 21, 2016

When you think of brainstorming, what comes to mind? In our collective managerial brains, we think of something similar to a commercial advertisement, with a team all sitting around a meeting room, firing off amazing, innovative solutions and ideas on-call.

As many of you have likely experienced, this is rarely, if ever, how brainstorming works.

The current brainstorming model is nearly 60 years old. Neuroscience has long since figured out that our brains cannot be creative just because we’ve been told it’s time now. We are much more likely to think through problems spontaneously, perhaps while brushing our teeth or travelling to work, than we are under pressure.

It is an understatement to say it is a challenge to put a large group of people with different or sometimes worse, similar personalities, into a room and expect them to sporadically innovate.

The idea of equal and creative participation does not work. There are some on the team who may be passive or don’t feel like participating or some personalities that are strong and will take over. In the process, the group can become fixated on one idea and block out other possibilities. This cognitive fixation is also not healthy for brainstorming sessions and can lead to groupthink.

Despite this knowledge, many companies and academic organizations cling to brainstorming as the decision-making and problem solving model. They ask direct questions, such as, “How do we solve X problem,” locking the team into one plan thinking which often loses viable solutions in the process. Rather, brainstorming teams should be encouraged to ask questions and approach the problem from different perspectives.

What is Reverse Brainstorming?

When you brainstorm in reverse (also called “negative brainstorming”), instead of asking what would prevent or solve the problem, you begin by asking your team what would cause the problem. For example:


  • Regular brainstorming - How can I increase customer satisfaction?
  • Reverse brainstorming - How can I make customers angry and dissatisfied?


Regular brainstorming - How can I increase customer satisfaction?

Reverse brainstorming - How can I make customers angry and dissatisfied?

Once you have found the problems and criticism, listing steps within the process where breakdowns occur, you then go about working backwards to analyze how to prevent problems within those steps.

Reverse brainstorming is found to be a more effective as a process because many people find it easier to be judgemental or analytical, as these methods are widely taught throughout education and business. This approach also shifts perspective and can lead to new, fresh ideas.

It is especially useful for teams who are lacking energy, cynical or even hostile about a project and can sometimes bring smiles to a group that has struggled with new ideas to old, challenging problems.

8 Steps To Brainstorming Magnificence

Here is a procedure recommended by software company Autodesk based on research by the business training experts at and the NY: American Management Association:

1.  Develop a question or issue for brainstorming and convert it to a negative question.

2.  Let the team know about the question and generate a few ideas of “how to cause the problem before the meeting or session.

3.  Write the questions on a board or inside of Taskworld

4.  Lay out the ground rules for the meeting or session:

  • Don’t criticize other’s ideas
  • New and wild ideas are welcome
  • Keep idea listing brief, don’t delve into long, negative past experiences
  • Identify the facilitator and only one person can speak at a time

5.  Warm-up with an unrelated negative question to familiarize the group with the process. Answer any questions about the process

6.  Begin Reverse Brainstorming!

7.  After you generate ideas, schedule a conversion meeting where you conver the negative ideas into positive ideas or solutions. Each negative idea may include more than one positive idea.

Here are a few examples from a brainstorm about improving a online web application like Taskworld:

Reverse Brainstorming NEGATIVE IDEA: Make it hard to log in.

Converted POSITIVE IDEA/SOLUTION: Eliminate log-ins; if the person is an intermittent user, provide an easy way to get passwords and usernames.

Reverse Brainstorming NEGATIVE IDEA: Ask for lots of personal information.

Converted POSITIVE IDEA/SOLUTION: Minimize the amount of personal information required to sign up or purchase and explain why information is needed.

8.  Once you have the positive ideas and solutions, prioritize the ideas and  create action items in Taskworld to assign the work as projects or tasks to specific teams. Archive the negative and positive ideas and tag them for future use.

Neuroscience has shown that traditional “on-call” brainstorming is ineffective and limits teams to one-dimensional solutions that lack innovation and sometimes block production. Reverse brainstorming is often easier, requires less training and can be more fun, especially for teams who may be tired, cynical or even hostile.

Facilitated well and broken up into an initial “negative brainstorm” meeting and a follow up conversion meeting - to take the negative ideas and turn them into actionable solutions - can revolutionize the way teams in your office create and innovate.

To start turning brainstorming ideas into action items, sign up for your free trial of Taskworld.

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