People brainstorm the best ways to fail at achieving their real objective. This is important because too often we think in routine ways, which blocks creativity; this activity helps people come up with new solutions they might never have seen before.

Group Size
  • Any Size
  • None


  1. Start by giving a short introduction. You can say something like this: “In the TV show Seinfeld, there’s a funny episode in which George Costanza, one of the main characters who is famous for complaining, realizes that everything he has ever done in his life has been a mistake. He decides that going forward, he will do the opposite of his instincts. For example, when he goes to a job interview, he typically is meek and deferential; this time, he denounces the boss. Remarkably, the boss admires his honesty and hires him immediately. Indeed, every time George does the opposite, fortune turns in his favor. There’s a similar way to encourage creativity by ‘doing the opposite.’ In reverse brainstorming, everyone comes up with the worst ideas possible. This helps people overcome their fear of bad ideas, and self-criticism and judgment.”
  2. Give an example to the group for them to brainstorm together. Using that same Seinfeld episode, you might ask participants, “If you were going into a job interview, and you wanted to make the worst possible impression, what would you do?” Let them shout out answers. Participants often come up with funny answers, including: Show up 20 minutes late Show up naked Insult the interviewers Do no research into the company beforehand, and ask them what they do Get into an argument with the boss Start the interview by asking how much money they will give you Show up drunkThere’s usually a lot of laughter as the group does a rapid-fire brainstorm. But you can show that this is actually a helpful way to do brainstorms with the next step:
  3. Reverse everything that they just said if you want to find out how to do a great job interview: “Show up on time; be professionally dressed and groomed; be respectful and deferential; do your homework and know everything there is about the organization and the people interviewing you; etc.”
  4. Now encourage people to do the same thing with any other topic: Have the participants reverse brainstorm any challenge for which they need an innovative solution.
  5. Before they come up with good ideas, they should come up with the worst possible ideas, and then flip them. Surprisingly, people report that this yields new insights – discoveries and innovations that they never would have considered previously.
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Ask the participants whether they came up with any innovative solutions that might have eluded them when they were doing more conventional brainstorms. Ask them why such an unorthodox approach might lead to more innovations.


This activity might seem silly, but it’s actually powerful and based on evidence. For example, take hospital infections. They are the #1 killer of patients in America; people can enter the hospital and end up even more sick than when they came in! Moreover, this is costly, hurting the health care system to the tune of $35 billion each year. According to Michael Gordon, Professor of Social Innovation at Michigan Business School, one hospital did a reverse brainstorm: “If we wanted to create the most hospital infections possible, what would be do?” When they did the activity, they realized that they were actually doing many of the terrible practices in the hospital, even though they were supposed to be in the business of saving lives. This activity was able to shine the light of awareness for them to be able to dramatically reduce the number of patient deaths.


Transformative Action Institute, based on improv