A Different Approach to Brainstorming
Reverse brainstorming helps you to solve problems by combining brainstorming and reversal techniques. By combining these, you can extend your use of brainstorming to draw out even more creative ideas.
Instead of thinking about direct solutions to a problem, reverse brainstorming works by identifying ways you could cause or worsen a problem. You then reverse these ideas to find solutions you hadn't thought of before.
Reverse brainstorming is a good technique to try when it is difficult to identify solutions to the problem directly. It is often an engaging process, and can highlight hidden faults in a process or product.
How to Use Reverse Brainstorming
To use this technique, you start with one of two "reverse" questions:
Instead of asking, "How do I solve or prevent this problem?" ask, "How could I possibly cause the problem?" And instead of asking "How do I achieve these results?" ask, "How could I possibly achieve the opposite effect?"
Then, brainstorm answers to generate reverse solution ideas. Allow the ideas to flow freely – do not reject anything at this stage.
Once you have brainstormed all the ideas to create the problem, now reverse these into solution ideas for the original problem or challenge.
Finally, evaluate these solution ideas. Can you see a potential solution? Can you see attributes of a potential solution?
Like normal brainstorming, you can reverse brainstorm on your own but you will likely generate more varied ideas as part of a team.
Example of Reverse Brainstorming
Luciana is the manager of a health clinic and she has the task of improving patient satisfaction.
There have been various unsuccessful improvement initiatives in the past and the team members have become rather skeptical about another meeting on the subject.
So she decides to use some creative problem solving techniques she has learned. This, she hopes, will make the team meeting more interesting and engage people in a new way.
Perhaps it will reveal something more than the usual "good ideas" that no one has time to act on.
To prepare for the team meeting, Luciana thinks carefully about the problem and writes down the problem statement:
"How do we improve patient satisfaction?"
Then she reverses the problem statement:
"How do we make patients more dissatisfied?"
Already she starts to see how the new angle could reveal some surprising results.
At the team meeting, everyone gets involved in an enjoyable and productive reverse brainstorming session. They draw on both their work experience with patients and also their personal experience of being patients and customers of other organizations. Luciana encourages the free flow of ideas, while ensuring that people do not pass judgment on even the most unlikely suggestions.
Here are just a few of the "reverse" ideas:
- Double book appointments.
- Remove the chairs from the waiting room.
- Put patients who phone on hold (and forget about them).
- Have patients wait outside in the car park.
- Put patients who need an appointment on a six-week waiting list.
When the brainstorming session runs dry, the team has a long list of the "reverse" solutions. Now it's time to look at each one in reverse to think about a potential solution.
- Prevent double booking appointments by investing in an improved booking system.
- Add more chairs so that no one has to stand while waiting.
- Aim to keep patients on hold for no longer than three minutes.
- Open the waiting room 10 minutes earlier, so that patients don't have to queue outside in the mornings.
- Invest in new software so that patients can have virtual appointments, easing the backlog of patients waiting for an in-person appointment.
The reverse brainstorming session revealed many improvement ideas that the team could implement swiftly. The process was enlightening and fun for the team, and it helped them to become more patient-focused. It took a little longer than regular brainstorming would have, but it generated more innovative solutions.
Reverse brainstorming is a good technique for creative problem solving, and can lead to robust solutions. Be sure to follow the basic rules of brainstorming to explore possible solutions to the full.
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