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Reverse Brainstorming

> Explore and brainstorm together

In the catastrophic scenario exercise (aka reverse brainstorming or negative brainstorming), you’re seeking all the ideas that play into project failure. The goal here isn’t to think about reasons for success – like in most creativity techniques – but rather to focus on the opposite: the elements that could lead to disaster.

Pre-requisites

Identify the situation, goal or problem in the form of a question, if possible. Next, reword it to be a challenge or disaster...don’t tiptoe around it, be direct, or even exaggerate. - ‘How can we improve user satisfaction with customer service?’ would become ‘How do we offer the worst customer service user experience?’.

Prepare a Board in round by round mode, with point voting and a 10-15 min limit.

Provide a second Board for finding solutions, in direct mode and also including a point voting session.

Activity settings Board

  • Activity format: Round by Round (board 1) and Direct (board 2)
  • Vote: by points (3 to 5 per participant)
  • Time management: timer or stopwatch (10 - 15 min)

Process

1

Presentation

Present the issue to the group and explain the method. Make sure they all understand the purpose of the exercise.

2

Exploration

Quietly and individually, each person will write down their disastrous ideas in their notepad.

Insist on the worst situation, but remind everyone it has to be realistic! This will avoid generating too many ridiculous ideas.

3

Collection

Participants move their ideas to the Board so that they are visible to everyone. Before moving on to the selection phase, you’ll have to sort the ideas and clean off your Board:

  • create categories for the themes identified and move the ideas into them

  • group the ideas by likeness using the group

  • gather similar ideas together: keep just one idea and add a marker over it to indicate it was suggested multiple times.

  • For example:

Idea: ‘There are no documents for process X’ was sent 5 times, so you keep one idea, which you rename to:

- ‘No documents for process X (5)’ or ‘No documents for process X (*****)’

4

Selection

Move to the voting session so the group can select the priority catastrophes on which to work.

5

Discussion

Go over the initial ideas selected with the group and make sure everyone is in agreement.

Move to your second Board.

Create one category per ‘catastrophe’ selected and ask the group to send 1 to 3 solutions each. Insist that these countermeasures be concrete.

6

Selection

Move to the voting session so the group can select the best solutions to implement.

7

Summary

When the activity is finished, you’ll have a list of possible project pitfalls and potential remedies. You can enter the actions directly in the discussion space so that they’ll show up in your meeting notes.

Suggestions and variations

There are two ways this activity might veer off course (depending on your group and their dynamics).

  • Make sure not to generate too many ideas or ideas that are too off the wall. Limit the volume!

  • Encourage people to cut loose if suggestions are too ‘kind’!

Activity Board
30 to 60 min
2 to 50
Intermediate
Exploration
Predicting difficulties, obstacles or criticism facing a project in order to transform them into positive opportunities.
“The worst possible idea” to drum up innovative ideas.