Negative Brainstorming

Frankie Kemp

19 March 2023

Break it to create it.

That seems to be the approach of the Mechanical Engineers I’ve worked with.

Some of them even use this on people, trying to break them down.

This is not, as may be assumed, out of hostility.

Conversely, it’s within their training to break something so that they can see how a mechanism or being works and understand how to interact with it.

These are the people that took apart their toys for curiosity, and not for some nihilistic urge.

It is, in fact, the need to create that steers this behavour.

This leads me on to flipping how you’d usually approach creative problem solving.


Negative Brainstorming – what is it?

Negative Brainstorming looks at how not to do something, or how to destroy it, in an effort to boost creativity or improve something.

Let’s say a group or individual is looking at developing a product:

You may explore the following ways to:

  • make the product or service less attractive
  • make it less useable
  • have it environmentally damaging (not hard, so many examples there!)
  • create an expensive supply chain
    1. Have each of these questions in columns or use a mindmap
    2. Put the timer on for 20 minutes – the optimum block of time for brainstorming.
    3. Have people slap their ideas down, using Post-Its or digitally with something like a Miro board.  Use columns, mindmaps, or simply slap the ideas down, organising them and groups afterwards. That way, it’ll be easier to record what you’ve done after the event.
    4. Have a break.
    5. Regather everyone (if it’s a group you’re working with) and…
    6. FLIP IT!

You’ll find those ‘How not to’s’ generate a myriad of way to do something.


Add to the main session after the event:

Now some great ideas will come assynchronously.  If you can display the board somewhere, all well and good.  Ideas can be added as they surface.

Using a digital platform such as Miro means concepts can be captured in that format.


Your Action

  1. Determine what your issue is as a question, beginning with “How do I / we…”.  For example, how do I make this really difficult for myself, how do we lose customers, how do we make an unviable product.
  2. Sometimes it’s easier to brainstorm ideas, slap ’em down, THEN, if necessary, have the categories, as above.  Alternatively, note your ‘flip it’ ideas next to the ‘how not to’s.

As long as you what each of your solution refers to and it’s easy to record, it’ll work.


You may already be aware of my courses, coaching, one-off sessions to help people unlock their COMMUNICATION SUPER POWERS, whether it’s Creative Problem Solving, Story Telling in Tech, Presenting or Influencing.
If not, look here and click ‘Book a Call’ on the page for your free 15 minute Discovery Session.  (No strings attached.  If I can’t help you, I’ll say).


Photo by Cindy Shebley on

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