Activity 2: Turning is learning

Description of the activity: As the name suggests, this is a different way of brainstorming. You don’t think about possible ways to achieve what you want. But you focus your thoughts on what to do if you want to achieve just the opposite. You turn the question around, for example in:

  • How do we ensure that NO ONE really feels like participating in this project group?’ or
  • ‘How do you, as a lecturer, have as little impact as possible on the work of students?’ or
  • How do we ensure that a train station becomes as inaccessible as possible to people with a physical disability?’

By turning the question, you create a different perspective to look at something that keeps failing and that you would like to change. It leads to new insights into situations in which you go round in circles or suffer from tunnel vision, and helps you to think ‘out of the box’.

The reverse brainstorm is light and fast, and especially with tough and difficult questions provides a fun way of generating ideas that can yield a lot. You also train everyone’s agility in thinking.

Materials used and organization:

Group size: groups preferably of 8 students
Time: 30 minutes


  1. Formulate your goal and result in a basic question and then turn the question around.
    The aim is “How can we ensure that the train station is made more accessible for the physically disabled?” change to “How do we ensure that the train station is as accessible as possible for the physically disabled?”
  2. Brainstorm this inverted question: list suggestions and formulate questions. People come with comments like: ‘Make high thresholds and lots of stairs’, ‘Make sure the road in front of the station is broken up for weeks.’, etc.
  3. Write all ideas on a large flipchart.
  4. Think of possible actions and then turn the ideas one by one into the positive opposite (so what exactly should you do?). For example, write the idea with a different color marker: ‘Remove all thresholds’ or ‘Provide elevators.’ …. There are many open doors in between, but always a few gems.
  5. Pick one or a few mindsets that seem most appealing. For example, by voting as a group. Or – if the question is from one person – ask the problem owner.
  6. Then work them out.

Tip: make sure someone holds the argument (why do you think this will work….?).
Tip: all ideas are welcome in the beginning, so don’t order until step 5 into better, good and less good – this teaches students that idea generation and evaluation are two different and separate processes

With this activity you have achieved the following objectives:

  • Students experience that they can think out of the box
  • Students experience how to approach something from multiple angles
  • Students learn that for one problem there are several solutions and that those solutions
    are in principle of equal value
  • Students see the difference between generating ideas, evaluating and assessing ideas.
  • Students can apply this way of thinking to, for example, ‘inventions that failed’ such as the Zeppelin
  • But there are more examples of failed inventions. (Just search the internet)