In July, I teach two weeks at the Graduate School of Banking at the University of Colorado (GSBC). One of my students once showed me a great video called “7 Ways to Maximize Misery.” The idea is to get people to focus on happiness by showing how absurd it is to embrace being miserable. I love this reverse psychology technique.
For this year’s GSBC, I created a new class in which I encouraged the students to challenge the status quo of what it means to be a banker and what services future customers might desire. As a part of the exercise, I broke the class into groups of similarly-sized institutions and, on flip charts, had them brainstorm on the question “How do we get more customers to come into our branches?”
I let them ideate for 20 minutes; then, sensing the ideas were petering out, I offered a spin on the brainstorming exercise. “OK,” I said, “now do this: I want you to start on a fresh page and come up with as many ideas as you can to keep customers from coming into the branch.”
“Huh?” they responded.
“Yup,” I said. “Get on it.” It was slow at first; I could tell they were struggling, but once they were warmed up, they started to go crazy with their reverse brainstorming. Have drug dealers and gangs hang out in the parking lot? That would do the trick. Within five minutes, the buzz in the room had doubled from the first session.
After about another 20 minutes, I stopped them. “Now,” I said, “look at all of the ideas you came up with for keeping customers out of your branches: take the opposite of those answers and see if you can add anything to your initial branch engagement list.” By allowing them to reverse brainstorm, I had freed them to be more open and more creative.
This technique is useful outside the classroom, as well, especially when you are trying to brainstorm how your organization might be open to attack from a competitor. Set up a brainstorming session and have the group imagine they are your biggest competitor with the goal of crushing your company. By giving them a different persona, they can feel free to identify some dirty laundry that might otherwise be uncomfortable to reveal in a traditional brainstorming session. After all, they’re not saying it, the “competition” is.
In order to be truly creative and ignite innovation, you have to have an open mind. You have to be willing to put ideas or revelations on the paper that may be controversial or uncomfortable. That’s OK. If you are a senior leader, make sure you are allowing this creativity to occur. Remember, brainstorming is not the time for judgment nor the time for editing. Gather all ideas and stifle no one. And keep the creativity training rolling.
Also published on Medium.