How to use reverse brainstorming with your team

Written by 
August 17, 2023
A group of people gathered in a meeting room
How to use reverse brainstorming with your team
Written by 
August 17, 2023

The point of a brainstorming session is to facilitate problem-solving through ideation. But not all brainstorming techniques are created equal. 

If you find that you and your team are stuck on a particularly challenging problem, you might discover a solution by first thinking about how you can make the problem worse.  

This method is called reverse brainstorming — a unique approach to producing effective solutions and gaining a new understanding of your team’s potential.

What is reverse brainstorming? 

Reverse brainstorming is a problem-solving technique in which teams come up with ideas on how to make a problem worse, instead of directly solving it. Instead of fighting the tendency to see how things could be worse, reverse brainstorming uses that tendency to your advantage.

This may sound counterintuitive, but this process can help you identify the root cause of the problem you’re trying to solve.

Here’s how it works: 

  1. Identify the problem or challenge, like “increase productivity.”  
  2. Pose a reverse brainstorming question, like “How can we intentionally reduce productivity within our team?” to prompt creative thinking.  
  3. Team members generate ideas that'll make the problem worse.  
  4. Analyze each idea to determine the underlying causes. 
  5. Reverse! Flip the negative ideas into positive solutions.  
  6. Produce effective potential solutions for your initial problem statement. 

The unique thing about reverse brainstorming is that you start by letting go of any pressure to come up with “the best solution.” Once the pressure’s off, you can let your mind run free and be open to innovative possibilities.

Advantages and disadvantages of reverse brainstorming 

Compared to traditional brainstorming, the reverse brainstorming process has a few advantages. 

  • Changes thinking patterns: Reverse brainstorming forces you to think in ways you might not have before. Sometimes, we can be stuck doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results. This process can disrupt that pattern. 
  • Focuses on prevention: Rather than just putting band-aids over current problems, this brainstorming method helps you spot potential issues before they even arise. 
  • Produces innovative solutions: Because you’re thinking outside the box, you’re more likely to develop unconventional ideas that solve your challenge. 
  • Reduces risk of groupthink: Groupthink happens when people agree too quickly on the same idea to avoid conflicting opinions. But solving complex problems with reverse thinking can lead to a wider variety of creative solutions and force you to ask contradictory questions. 
  • Uncovers unexpected insights: As you brainstorm ideas of what not to do, you may end up discovering insights about things you’re already doing well and can capitalize on. 

On the flip side, there are a few distinct disadvantages to reverse brainstorming that you’ll have to look out for.

  • Increases the risk of discouragement: Participants might end up too fixated on the negative possibilities and get discouraged by all the things that could go wrong. 
  • Causes negativity bias: Focusing on negative outcomes or challenges can make it hard to switch modes to focus on positive solutions. 
  • Challenges the facilitator: The facilitator needs to be adept at encouraging negative idea generation and then switching the whole team to positive solutions. 
  • Takes more time: The process of generating negative ideas, analyzing them, and then turning them into positive solutions might require more time and effort than traditional brainstorming.    

Reverse brainstorming can be one of the many brainstorming methods you can experiment with as a team. Trying it out will help you determine if the pros outweigh any potential cons.

Examples of when to use reverse brainstorming

Teams of all kinds can benefit from a reverse brainstorming session. Depending on your goals and how much time you have, this can be a great method to draw out ideas that'll help you reach your goals. 

Let’s look at a few example scenarios of teams using reverse brainstorming.

Marketing teams: Generate more leads 

Marketing teams can use reverse brainstorming to determine what steps they'd need to take to generate fewer leads. For example, the main question you’d ask might be: “How would we intentionally generate fewer leads from our new product page?” 

Some ideas could include: 

  • Remove all CTAs from posts and landing pages, including buttons and forms, to make it harder for people to learn more and for you to capture those leads.  
  • Use boring or confusing language, images, or designs to convey your branding and messaging. 
  • Implement non-user-friendly UX and page design by having poor or non-intuitive navigation. 
  • Use distracting popups and forms that interrupt the customer’s web experience, making them less likely to want to call you.

With these negative ideas laid out, your next step is to spin them into positive ones. Here are a couple of positive new ideas inspired by the negative ones: 

  • Use captivating language and imagery in an interactive guide as users explore your website without popups. 
  • Gamify the navigation and CTA buttons by giving your users points every time they tap on a new link that takes them to another page. 

Sales teams: Book more discovery calls

For a sales team that wants to book more calls with prospects, your reverse brainstorming goal is to come up with ideas on how to book fewer calls. Here are some ideas:

  • Make it difficult to contact your company by hiding the contact info. 
  • Be unhelpful or vague with prospects about what your discovery call is about. 
  • Use lengthy and confusing intake forms that prospects have to fill out before the call. 
  • Don’t follow up with your prospects after the call.
  • Don’t provide a detailed explanation of how your company can benefit them as a customer.  

And here are positive spins on these ideas: 

  • Implement a conversational intake form that's fun and easy for people to fill out. 
  • Create a custom PDF that addresses what'll be covered in the call and speaks to the benefits of your service for that specific customer.

Customer support teams: Handle support tickets faster

The reverse brainstorming question for customer support teams could be: “How can we slow down the rate at which we close support tickets?” Here are some ideas: 

  • Provide incorrect or worthless information that doesn’t help customers solve their problems and leads to more time spent communicating back and forth. 
  • Use confusing language that requires the customer to ask more questions before they actually understand and you can resolve the issue. 
  • Delay your responses so that customers get frustrated and your support tickets start piling up even more. 
  • Focus on the easy customer problems and ignore urgent issues. 
  • Redirect calls or emails to other support agents rather than solving it on your own. 

And here are some reversals of these that the support team could implement: 

  • Use AI bots to send instant responses and assure customers their questions are important and will be answered soon. 
  • Use AI to generate responses and links to helpful resources that customers can look at in the meantime.

Team leaders: Improve team happiness 

For team leaders, reverse brainstorming could involve asking how to decrease their team’s happiness. Some ideas include: 

  • Ignore employee feedback about improving the working environment or implementing new and better systems.
  • Don’t recognize anyone for their hard work and dedication. 
  • Discourage collaboration by getting rid of all teamwork and siloing everyone off into their own work corners.  
  • Give confusing or contradictory instructions surrounding tasks, roles, responsibilities, and goals. 
  • Micromanage every team member’s work so that they feel like you don’t trust them to get the job done well. 

And here are a few ways you can use these ideas and create real solutions: 

  • Implement a recognition system or program with routine celebrations and rewards. 
  • Host frequent open forums or discussions for team members to voice their opinions and concerns. 

These examples are just the tip of the iceberg. With time and dedication to this method, your team can develop many more ideas and solutions.

Using the right tool for the job

When you run a reverse brainstorming session to collect ideas and solve a wide variety of challenges, the key is to use the right tools and techniques. Tools that help you discover possible solutions and enhance decision-making tend to be highly visual and collaborative. That’s where Mural can help.

What is Mural?

Mural is the visual work platform for all kinds of teams to do better work together — from anywhere. Get team members aligned faster with templates, prompts, and proven methods that guide them to quickly solve any problem. They can gather their ideas and feedback in one spot to see the big picture of any project and act decisively. 

That’s what happens when you change not just where, but how you work.

Get started with the free, forever plan with Mural to start collaborating with your team.

About the authors

About the authors