Reverse Brainstorming

Have you ever felt like you are ‘banging your head against a wall’ when trying to solve a specific problem? If you have spent any amount of time working in the professional business world, the answer to that previous question is almost certainly ‘yes’. Sometimes, problems pop up in the process of running an organization which are extremely difficult to solve. Of course, you need to find a way around these problems if you are going to stay on a successful track, so you can’t just throw your hands up in the air and give in. When you do come across a particularly tricky problem to solve, the technique of reverse brainstorming just might be the way to find a perfect solution.

Reverse Brainstorming

Most likely, you are already familiar with traditional brainstorming. This is one of the most open and free-flowing forms of creativity that there is in business, as it asks individuals and groups to simply come up with as many ideas as possible. Standard brainstorming is great in a number of different situations, but it might not do the job when you need to crack a particularly difficult issue. Regular brainstorming will often take you in many different directions at the same time, which could lead to you getting off-track somewhere along the way.

Putting It in Reverse

To turn the standard brainstorming process on its head, you may decide to engage in a round of reverse brainstorming. Basically, the idea behind this process is to turn the problem that you are facing around so you are looking at it from the opposite direction. This concept might seem a bit strange at first, but it can open your mind up to allow you to see things from a whole new perspective.

When you are getting started with reverse brainstorming, you actually need to begin just as you would with any other brainstorming session – by clearly defining the problem. At this point, you are going to do things just as you would do them normally.

Standard Brainstorming and Reverse Brainstorming

Take the time necessary to clearly define the problem that you are facing, and write that problem down at the top of a sheet of paper. If you are going to be trying to solve this problem in a group setting, make sure that everyone involved has a very clear understanding of the problem at hand.

It is at this point that the ‘reverse’ part of the process comes into play. Now that you have clearly highlighted the problem you are facing, you are going to totally turn that problem around in the other direction. When you do this, the problem will no longer make sense as a business issue, but you will be able to view it from a perspective that you have not considered previously. With any luck, a new crop of ideas will quickly come to mind when you reversed the problem successfully.


This concept is best highlighted by the following examples:

  • If the problem at hand is ‘what can we do to increase sales?’, you will flip that problem around and ask ‘what could we do to intentionally decrease sales?’. Obviously, you would never take action that would intentionally cost you sales, but you can benefit from looking at the problem from this reverse direction. While you are thinking about what you could do to intentionally sabotage your sales numbers, you just might stumble across actions that can be taken to have a positive effect.

Reverse Brainstorming Example

  • Another potential problem that you could have is the issue of too many of your employees leaving for other jobs. If there has been a mass exodus from your organization in recent months, the question of ‘how can we keep our employees?’ is sure to be on your mind. To use reverse brainstorming, you would ask yourself what you could do to chase employees out the door. What would you do if you wanted your employees to quit? Things like lowering pay, offering less time off, micromanagement of the staff, and more are likely to come to mind.

Obviously, those are just two examples of problems that can be turned around when using reverse brainstorming. If you think about this process as it would relate to your business, you can almost certainly think of many more examples.

Reversing the Reverse

To bring this process back to a point where it can help you solve the original problem that you were facing, you are going to need to reverse the answers that you developed (when addressing the reversed problem). To continue with the example of having employees leave your business, you might have the results of your brainstorming session look something like this –

  • Paying less would drive employees away, so increasing salaries would be likely to retain a higher percentage of your staff
  • Offering fewer vacation days would have people look for other opportunities, meaning extra vacation days would be a boon to your team
  • Micromanaging your team would be likely to send people off, meaning you should be able to keep more of your staff by trusting them to get the job done independently

Reversing the Reverse

As you can see, the opposite of the answers you found during your reverse brainstorming session is likely to be something that can be seen as a solution to your original problem. By turning the problem around, you can see the issue from a new perspective – then, when you return to the actual issue, practical solutions may be clear. The examples provided above are relatively simplistic, but this process can work even when challenging and complex matters are in play.

Most likely, you aren’t going to need to turn to reverse brainstorming with great regularity. The majority of the problems that you face during day-to-day operations are going to be able to be solved through traditional methods. However, when you find that you are stuck on an issue that is particularly tricky, try putting this system into action to see what it reveals. By turning your usual way of thinking on its head, you just may wind up finding the solution that you have needed all along.

You can read more about Reverse Brainstorming in our free eBook ‘Top 5 Brainstorming Techniques‘. Download it now for your PC, Mac, laptop, tablet, Kindle, eBook reader or Smartphone.

Key Points

  • Brainstorming is one of the most open and free-flowing forms of creativity that asks individuals and groups to simply come up with as many ideas as possible.
  • Regular brainstorming will often take you in many different directions at the same time, which often leads to wasted time as it is easy to drift away from the original problem.
  • Reverse brainstorming begins by clearly defining the problem and writing it down on a sheet of paper.
  • The ‘reverse’ aspect comes from the next step which is to phrase the problem or issue the opposite way around.
  • You then brainstorm the reversed problem in order to come up with as many ideas as possible, even though they will have the an entirely detrimental effect on the original problem.
  • The final stage is to reverse these ideas and apply them to the original problem.
  • This may seem convoluted but turning your usual way of thinking on its head can often result in genuinely new ideas being considered.

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