Negative brainstorming: using negative ideas to generate change

Most of us have been introduced to the concept of brainstorming. Brainstorming is a tried-and-true way to come up with ideas in a group. It can also be used as an individual.

The method is simple. The problem is stated, and the recorder stands in front of a room with a flipchart or a whiteboard. People in the group say whatever ideas pop into their minds. The recorder writes down all of the comments made.

Brainstorming, or rapid noting of alternatives no matter how silly, is an excellent discovery process.

Applying simple rules ensures that the best of the knowledge and imagination of people are used:

  • Quantity is wanted
  • Free-wheeling is necessary
  • Judgement is deferred
  • Ideas are tagged on one after another.

Brainstorming is a good technique, however it has some drawbacks. Often the focus of the individuals is quite broad resulting in many ideas not closely associated with the topic or problem. Also, it relies on people using their imagination on how to improve things in a positive manner. It requires them to have enough knowledge to come up with solutions.

A potentially better approach to brainstorming is negative brainstorming.

What this technique uses is the human tendency to see the negative side of things. When an topic or problem is put forward, it is often easier to come up with reasons why it won’t work or why the problem cannot be solved rather than looking for what’s good about the idea or solutions to the problem.

So – if we’re good at coming up with negatives, we might as well use this skill!

The problem is defined. Instead of brainstorming for possible solutions the team brainstorms for everything that could make the problem worse.

The output from this brainstorm is then taken and explored to see if any new ideas for a solution are suggested by thinking about how to eliminate the things which make the problem worse.

For example, if as a sales group, we believe we have inflexible credit management policies and we get angry about the policy especially in front of customers and credit officers, don’t communicate with credit about our issues, don’t involve credit in strategic marketing and sales initiatives, don’t communicate credit policies as they are with customers, and don’t build a logical business case backed by data to provide a rationale to change the policy but “whinge” instead.

article - negative brainstorming - process

The question is, if we turned all those unhelpful activities around 180 degrees, would we improve the workings of the credit policies and potentially improve parts of the process which are harming the business to an extent that outweighs the reduction to the probability and potential consequence of risk?

Negative brainstorming is usually more focussed than regular brainstorming and the solutions become self-obvious.

Negative brainstorming also ensures that the stakeholders involved out all of their thoughts of why something will not work or cannot be solved on the table.

So the next time you need to create solutions to a problem or build activities to make an idea work, try being negative to get a positive outcome.

Comments are closed.