Ideation: Negative brainstorm


  • Time

    10-20 mins
  • Level

    2 (out of 5)

The “Ideation: negative brainstorm” is one of our favourite ideation tools, as it has proven itself over and over again- offline as well as online. 

Idea generation techniques such as the Negative Side, offer clear and simple formats to encourage collaborative creativity. When facilitating these exercises it’s your job as facilitator to ensure that everyone has a clear understanding of the task, and that they feel equally involved as you guide them through each step. The goal is to empower the group to come up with as many creative and bold ideas as possible in a short amount of time. 

👉 This method encourages you to explore new solutions through negative thinking. In the first phase, the attendees brainstorm negatively about their key-question, in the second phase they flip the script and use the negative hooks to inspire their solution mindset; triggering positive ideas.


Start with an idea generation question. Re-frame an opportunity or challenge as a ‘How might we…’ question. If this is the first time the group experiences this exercise, opt for a simple intro round using a basic question such as ‘How might we make our city more awesome?’

1. To begin the negative, ‘flip’ your HMW question into the opposite negative version. For example, ‘HMW make our city awful?’

2. Draw a line down the middle of a flipchart paper or whiteboard splitting it in two, marking one side as negative and the other as positive. 

3. Arm everyone with a pack of (digital) post-its and a pen and then invite them to come up with as many ideas for the negative HMW question as possible, one idea per post-it. Kick them off with a few examples, e.g.: ‘There is a law to kick every puppy you see.’, ‘colour is banned from the city’

4. Encourage them to fill it up with ideas, speaking them out loud as they put them up to avoid repeats. 

5. Once the negative side is full (at least 20 post-its) stop the team. Tell them you are flipping the HWM question back to the original bright version

6. Invite them to pick negative post-its at random. They should attach a post-it on the bottom and write an idea, triggered by the negative.

Note: these are creative ideas to answer the HMW - not just opposites. For example:

  • ‘Law to kick puppies’ should not become ‘don’t kick puppies.’ 

  • It should trigger a creative concept such as ‘puppy week in schools, promoting how to care for animals.’

7. Stick the ideas to the bright side. Once all or most of the negatives have been transformed, stop and ask participants to share their favourite ideas.

Materials // Remarks

Offline: flipchart, post-its, markers/pens

Online: online whiteboard


Top tips:

  • Make sure you prepare some examples beforehand, to use while you introduce the rules 

  • You’re in charge of keeping the energy high and motivating the group to come up with as many ideas as possible. Consider using music, time-boxing and words of encouragement 

  • Repeat or speak out loud ideas which are bold, encourage people to think bigger, wider, faster 

  • Lead by example, joining in with out-there ideas 

  • Remind and reiterate the ‘bright ideas’ can not just be opposites 

  • Encourage people to keep the ideas coming, they don’t need to work one by one. It’s ok for ideas to be going up over the top of one another - energy should be high and playful. Enjoy it being a little messy and chaotic

  • Don’t let people over-think. These are first sparks of ideas, early seeds. It’s ok if they’re out-there - it’s the divergent phase without restraints


Collaboration, guide to working better anywhere, information techniques mindset methods dynamics

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