Brainstorming is a creativity technique which involves coming up with ideas to overcome existing challenges. Reverse or negative brainstorming applies the same concept, but with problems instead of solutions. It aims to help identify obstacles before they are encountered.
For example, before launching a product in a new country, a marketing team uses reverse brainstorming to highlight challenges, like language barriers and cultural differences. By doing so, they can devise alternate strategies to adapt their promotional material for the new market. Reverse brainstorming enables them to avoid any potential negative feedback.
While this technique isn’t discussed as widely as brainstorming, it comes with a few significant advantages in a business setting. We discussed how to use it effectively in this previous article.
3 Advantages of Reverse Brainstorming
Identifies Key Issues
As shown in the previous example, reverse brainstorming directs attention to potential challenges and flaws in a concept. This paves the way for additional brainstorming to produce solutions to resolve these issues. As a result, business owners and their teams can construct more robust strategies for success.
Acts as a Creative Outlet
Like traditional brainstorming, this technique allows users to construct a range of situations that could happen during or because of the project. The challenges they come up with will then inspire them to brainstorm solutions, thus providing a complete mental workout.
Reduces Stress in the Long Run
Forewarned is forearmed. By producing a list of potential problems, a business owner and their team become prepared for worst-case scenarios. Should these occur, everyone involved will face the challenges head-on and emerge triumphant. Reverse brainstorming takes a lot of the pressure off anticipating failure.
Businesses have a lot to gain by implementing reverse brainstorming into their overall strategy. Hence, it’s important for them to understand exactly how to do so.
Reverse Brainstorming in Action
To have the best reverse brainstorming session possible, you should try to do the following:
- Define The Project Goals – It’s important to have a clear idea of what is to be achieved before creating a blueprint for how to achieve it. Setting SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Timely) goals provides a good estimate of what a business owner can expect to accomplish in a specific timeframe.
- Gather a Team – While reverse brainstorming can be performed by one person, it reaches its full potential when used by a diverse team. In a large company, the latter can comprise representatives from each department involved in the project. By collecting different viewpoints, the team leader can glean what the key challenges are, as well as how to resolve them.
- Ask Questions – Mind Tools suggests starting with one of two ‘reverse’ questions: “How could I possibly cause the problem?” or “How could I possibly achieve the opposite effect [of good results]?” These are straightforward enough for the participants to immediately understand and answer in a series of elaborated bullet points. Additional questions can be asked as each answer progresses.
- Identify Commonalities in the Answers – The team should keep track of any common threads that emerge in the challenges brought up and in the resolutions. For example, the high cost of importing raw materials is a key issue, alongside that of importing the required machinery. The solution would be to look into local sources for the materials and local machinery sellers. This also indicates that the project might need more funding.
- Evaluate the Solutions – Again, the team leader can work with the same team or a different one to gain different perspectives. This process can be repeated until all possibilities of negative outcomes are exhausted. The team can then refine their strategy and either proceed with the project launch or go back to the drawing board.
It’s also important to remember, while reverse brainstorming has its pros, it comes with its own unique drawbacks.
3 Disadvantages of Reverse Brainstorming
Requires More Time and Mental Energy
Unlike traditional brainstorming, reverse brainstorming requires a detailed breakdown of a project’s components. If a project manager needs a thorough evaluation of the processes at hand, they will need to assemble an entire team and make time for more meetings. A keen focus on every aspect of the project is essential.
Doesn’t Necessarily Produce New Ideas
Although reverse brainstorming is a good springboard for solutions, it might not reap any groundbreaking new ideas. It is best used with traditional brainstorming to ensure that the team makes the best use of their time. Again, this involves more mental energy to plan efficiently.
Finding Solutions Might Prove Difficult
While it may be easy to come up with potential problems, providing solutions isn’t as simple. The project manager or business owner might have to decide whether proceeding with a project is worth the risk of encountering challenges for which they never found solutions.
Overall, reverse brainstorming is a catalyst for inspiring solutions for problems which may not have been previously envisioned. With good planning, its full potential can be unlocked to reap long-term benefits within a short period. While it takes a great deal of time and effort, its effective usage greatly mitigates the challenges a business would otherwise encounter.