Have you ever experienced a creative block or run out of ideas to solve your problems? Indeed, it is exciting to be an entrepreneur and running your own business, but it is challenging to stay inspired and productive all the time.

You might be tired from brainstorming already. After all, you wouldn’t be doing so much brainstorming if you know how to solve or prevent a problem. Often, it is the definition of a question that limits your thinking.

So why not approach this from a different perspective? Reverse brainstorming might be what you need.

What is Reverse Brainstorming

Reverse brainstorming is a technique that generates reversed ideas and helps you develop solutions. It is also called negative brainstorming due to the negative answers it brings out. 

Reverse brainstorming identifies potential problems before you encounter them. It is different from traditional brainstorming and gives you direct solutions to a problem. You don’t ask yourself how to overcome a predicament, but instead, what ways would jeopardise your work and make a goal impossible to achieve. 

With this technique, you know what not to do and what risks you might face in the future. Once you know what project is not working or what strategy sets your company back, you know how to improve. 

When to Use Reverse Brainstorming

Of course, there is no particular reason to avoid using reverse brainstorming. You can use it anytime you need. Nonetheless, here are some situations where you can incorporate reverse brainstorming to your brainstorming session. 

  • Burnout. After a long brainstorming session, you and your team have drained all of your ideas. When it comes to the brainstorming phase, quantity is more important than quality. If you run out of ideas, the only way to trigger your creativity is put in another perspective.
  • Low morale. Sometimes the project gets so tricky that nothing seems to be working. Participants become less enthusiastic and employee morale  plummets as a result of a burnout and lack of advancement. Doing something different can light up the atmosphere.
  • A more serious or cynical team. For a glass half empty kind of person, it might be easier to identify ways to cause a plan to fail rather than succeed. If this sounds like you and your colleagues, reverse brainstorming might bring smiles to your group.
  • An underperforming product or service. If a product or service is not generating enough profits as planned, you need to pinpoint the cause of it. Using traditional brainstorming can help you come up with ways to boost sales, but it cannot tell you what you have been doing wrong. Ask yourself what makes a shopping site difficult to navigate, then you might just find out your shopping site is too unorganised.
  • Entering a new market. When you have limited knowledge about a new market, it is better to use both brainstorming techniques. This way, you ensure you have well grounded ways to sell your products or services, but also know what might discourage your new customers. 
  • Introducing a new product or service. You need both techniques here too. You probably understand your existing customers well enough, but you are not sure if the new offering appeals to them or not. With both techniques, you get your solutions and eliminate obstacles. 

How to Do a Reverse Brainstorming Session

Think of a regular brainstorming session where your teammates come up with the usual ideas and the strategy that does not seem to be working well any more. Yet, you cannot think of a better suggestion, so you have to go with it. To turn the tide and bring fun to the workplace, all you need is give reverse brainstorming a try. Here, you can find out how to generate the most ideas in five steps.

Step 1: Define Your Scope and Objectives

Before you start the session, make sure you have an outline for your goal. Usually, you need as many reversed solution ideas as possible. Even though some ideas might seem ridiculous, you still need them all. 

Both regular and reverse brainstorming sessions value quantity over quality. That’s because a multitude of thoughts give you more options to analyse and compare. Thus, all participants can work on flipping the negative suggestions and turn them into valid solutions. So let your thoughts flow and don’t reject anything just yet. 

Next, you need to set the objectives of the session. Are you trying to penetrate a new market? Or are you trying to develop a sales strategy for your new product? Essentially, you have to know what questions to ask in order to begin a brainstorming session. It is good to have a set of questions ready before starting the process. 

Step 2: Introduce the Technique 

You can use reverse brainstorming as your primary technique, or convert to it when traditional brainstorming gets laborious or unproductive. Be sure to explain the concept of this technique to the participants. Providing an example would be a great way to help your colleagues familiarise with the process and get the brainstorming session started.

Similar to traditional brainstorming, you should try to limit each team to under 10 members. This way, everyone gets the chance to participate and share their ideas. 

Step 3: Ask Questions and Generate Ideas

Remember, you are not trying to find a direct solution here. You are trying to identify problems that worsen your company’s performance. So instead of asking “how can we sell our new skin care products to college students?” you should be asking “what prevents college students from buying our new skin care product?” Instead of asking “how can we retain customers” ask “how can we lose more customers?” 

Then it is the time for the participants to brainstorm individually. This way, you ensure everyone can participate in the process and contribute to the team. You can type the ideas in a document or simply write them down on a piece of paper. So when all participants are finished, it is easier to share the ideas and that everyone can see each other’s suggestions.

Step 4: Gather Ideas and Narrow Down the List

Once all participants have come up with their own ideas, gather them and proceed to the team discussion. At this phase, you probably have a plethora of reverse solutions at hand, so you need to narrow them down. You can combine ideas with similar suggestions or eliminate those that are less likely to occur.

The list should only contain three to five suggestions, depending on your goal. After all, it would take a very long time to tackle all problems identified at once. Thus, only the major ones that fit the outline of the goals make it to the list. 

Step 5: Flip the Negative Suggestions

When the list of terrible solutions is ready, you can flip them into positive suggestions. For instance, the idea is to set a very high price for our new skin care product. Chances are, the pricing is a major problem that prevents you from achieving success. So you know you should lower the price and find out what causes the problem. You might find out it is because you use extravagant packaging to attract customers, making the production cost higher. 

A way to solve the problem is to redesign the packaging and maintain a good relationship with suppliers. There you go, a positive solution to your predicament.


Reverse brainstorming is a great technique to think outside the box and bring creative ideas. You can incorporate it into a brainstorming session when you experience a block or need to identify problems or obstacles. Make sure you follow the basic rules of reverse brainstorming. Now use the five steps mentioned in this article to develop solutions!

If you want to learn about traditional brainstorming, click here.

About the author

EWOR is a school conceived by Europe’s top professors, entrepreneurs, and industry leaders. We educate and mentor young innovators to launch successful businesses.

Sign up to our Newsletter