reverse brainstorming

I ran an innovation workshop the other day and knowing that Valentines day was just around the corner I thought it would be a good idea to combine the Valentines day theme with some customer relationship innovation.


A simple but effective ideation (idea generating) technique that I like working with is called reverse brainstorming. What makes reverse brainstorming so effective is that it's a technique that tricks the brain so that you can't help but find opportunities for new ideas.

Simply asking a person to come up for a great idea is a recipe for disaster, yet asking someone to think of something really easy like "what's the worst thing you could do to …………?" is relatively easy and becomes a goldfield for new ideas.

This is how I briefly framed up the activity.

"We all know that valentines day is coming up. Our clients in many ways are kind of like a 'lover' in a relationship. We would hope that we can maintain a relationship with them for a long time to come, not just have a one night stand. Let's see how we can apply the reverse brainstorming technique to the customer as a 'lover'."

"We all know that no one really likes being lonely on Valentines day, but what would be all the things you could do to lose a lover?"

After framing up the activity you can imagine there were some laughs and a good time had as the audience looked at a myriad of ways to loose a lover.Now I'm not going to share all of them right here (some were a little bit to risque) but here's a list of some of the suggestions below.

St Valentines day - Ways to lose a lover

  • ignore them

  • only talk to them when you want something

  • sleep with someone else

  • never tell them you care

  • forget about them

  • always take and never give

  • farting in bed

  • telling them they look too fat

  • continually telling them that they're not good enough

  • not giving them constructive criticism

  • putting yourself first everytime

  • forgetting their birthday

  • forgetting your anniversary

  • not taking the time to just listen

  • not taking the time to just be with them

  • not connecting with them on a deeper level

  • resenting their success

  • not going shopping with them

  • not giving them a surprise from time to time

  • not inviting them out with your friends

  • checking out other people when they're around

  • not getting them flowers

  • eating all of their Tim tams without replacing them

Now that we've got a list we can start forcing our brain to reverse these ideas for our application. Reverse brainstorming involves looking at the worst case scenario or the opposite of what we want so that our mind is free of our usual limitations to enable us to join new possibilities and combinations to our focus area.

Now I'm not going to share every idea that came from the list but here's a few that caught my eye.

Ignoring them - having a 'keep in touch' list (K.I.T) that reminds you of your client, their industry, their needs and their interests. Actively look for something that would be of interest to them that you can send to them.

Always take and never give - Sending them chocolates when you invoice them.

Forgetting their anniversary - Sending a note to remind them of the good times you had working with them on that special date.

Not inviting them out with your friends - if you're ever going out to celebrate, invite some of your clients too so that they can be a part of the celebration. Alternatively if you're going to a professional development conference invite a client along as a guest.

Not giving them a surprise from time to time - if you're buying yourself a good business book to read, buy a few copies and send one to your lover/s.

There was a stack of other great ideas in the activity that I'm not a liberty to share, yet I'm sure you get the gist of it. If you're looking to apply the reverse brainstorming technique simply ask your team to think of all the things that you need to do to make something fail or not work. For example:

  • All the ways to waste time

  • All the ways to stop innovating

  • All the ways to lose a client

  • All the ways to confuse a customer

  • All the ways to waste money

Give it a go, this is a fail safe technique that's lots of fun.

Keep on reverse brainstorming!



Nils Vesk

Founder of Ideas with Legs | Innovation speaker | consultant | author

nils vesk