Reverse brainstorming is a technique that flips typical techniques upside down, allowing you to approach complex problems from a different perspective.

In traditional brainstorming, people will focus on collecting ideas for how to solve a problem. In reverse brainstorming, you instead look at what could make the problem worse or why the problem can’t be solved. Then, you reverse those ideas to discover new things you didn’t see before, allowing you to look at the problem, the cause and the solutions in a completely new way.

As an example, Linda manages a doctor’s office. The doctors want her to improve patient satisfaction with their visits. She prepares by writing down the problem statement:

“How do we improve patient satisfaction?”

Then she reverses 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. Linda helps ideas flow freely, ensuring 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.
  • Discuss patient’s problems in public.

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. Well-resulting discussions are quite revealing. For example:

  • “Well of course we don’t leave patients outside in the car park – we already don’t do that.”
  • “But what about in the morning, there are often patients waiting outside until opening time?
  • “Mmm, true. Pretty annoying for people on first appointments.”
  • “So why don’t we open the waiting room 10 minutes earlier so it doesn’t happen”
  • “Right, we’ll do that from tomorrow. There are several members of staff working already, so it’s no problem.”

And so it went on. The reverse brainstorming session revealed many improvement ideas that the team could implement swiftly and Linda concluded: “It was enlightening and fun looking at the problem in reverse. The amazing thing is, it’s helped us become more patient-friendly by stopping doing things rather than creating more work”.


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