The Reverse Brainstorming Cafe


Coming up with new ideas or insights in a conventional brainstorming session is often hard work and not very engaging. An alternative approach is the so called "reverse brainstorm".

The concept is simple: rather than brainstorm what you want - brain storm the opposite of what you want. For example, if you would like your KM project to be a success don't ask "How do we ensure our KM project is a success?" but ask "How do we ensure that our KM project is a total miserable failure?".

This alternative approach harnesses negative energy such as cynicism, sarcasm and hostility to spark creativity.

So in brief, a reverse brainstorming cafe is a 'reverse brainstorm' where the participants are first asked to discuss and list all the things that should be done to ensure that something is NOT successful.

They are then taken through a process of prioritizing those items and coming up with antidotes i.e. things that if done would ensure the failures would not happen. Next they share these possible responses and insights between the groups.

This is tremendous fun and works exceptionally well as people really engage with the idea of the reverse thinking - paradoxically it is easier and more fun for people to think about why something fails rather then what needs to be done to make it a success - having thought about failure - its is then easy to switch mindsets and reverse things.

This tool can be used to generate and capture ideas for further action or like a knowledge cafe it can be used to improve the understanding of a topic and to draw out the different perspectives of the members of the group.

Possible themes:
  • How do we ensure our profession has no future?
  • How do we ensure that a KM initiative is a total failure?
  • How do we ensure that a project fails?
  • What are the most innovative and creative strategies to decimate key staff in an organization?
An outline of the process:
  • The facilitator talks about the theme and poses the question. He/she also explains the process. (10 mins)

  • The participants break into groups of five. Each Group has a flip chart. They are asked to brainstorm the question and to write on the flip chart as many things as they can think of that will ensure the destruction of their profession. The more outrageous and destructive the better. (10 mins)

  • The facilitator asks people to wander around the room and look at the flipcharts and see what others have come up with. (10 mins)

  • The facilitator asks each group to identify the top three items on their list. (10 mins)

  • The facilitator goes around the room and ask each group to share their items - giving a few more words of explanation behind each. (10 mins)

  • The facilitator asks them to think about their three items and come up with three antidotes to them. i.e. 3 things hat if they did really well would ensure that their profession has a very bright future. (10 mins)

  • The facilitator goes around the room and ask each group to share their items - giving a few more words of explanation behind each. (10 mins)

  • Finally, he/she asks them to sit at their tables and share their experiences and insights from the session in their group. Then they are brought back together and have a large group conversation about the session and what they have learnt. (20 mins)
Timings are a guideline only and at 90 minutes total for about 30 people is tight. Two hours would be a better allocation of time. This works best with about 30 people i.e six groups of five people. More time would be required for a larger group.

Credit: This is a well known facilitation tool but I have adapted this process from one I learnt from Victor Newman

Further Resources: Reverse Brainstorming; Google Search.

If you are interested in Knowledge Management, the Knowledge Café or the role of conversation in organizational life then you my be interested in this online book I am writing on Conversational Leadership
David Gurteen

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