Cognitive Sciences Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for practitioners, researchers, and students in cognitive science, psychology, neuroscience, and psychiatry. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

I am a manager of a team of software engineers. We often use brainstorming sessions to generate solutions to problems. We use typical cognitive games, e.g. word association, to "warm-up" and facilitate the ideations sessions. These sessions are fruitful.

Tomorrow we are having a brainstorming session to identify problems, not solutions. It would seem that we should prepare our minds with a different technique. Personally, I find that I am best at noticing problems when I am in a negative mindset. Does that hold true against existing research? If so, what would be a good way of getting in to that type of mindset? I would assume causing some kind of mental anguish would facilitate negative thinking. However I don't want to upset my team or do any lasting damage.

Some random ideas that have come to mind include: - Taking a minute to talk about historical atrocities - Having food at the session, but not letting anyone eat

If I go down this road, what would be a good decompression method to get people back in to a positive mindset at the end?

share|improve this question
In the end I opted to do a standard warm up (a word association game). The brainstorm was very productive. Once a few problems were articulated, people naturally got in to a complaining groove. – user3977 Dec 18 '13 at 11:50

I'm wondering if your approach to "identify[ing] problems, not solutions," will include so-called reverse or negative brainstorming, in which participants are directed to consider "what can be done to break something instead of focusing solely on narrow-minded fixes,"1 to be "highly critical, rather than highly creative."2 If this is the case, the group could "warm up" by applying this technique to some other area: their own lives, their favourite sports teams, public policy issues, etc.

1 Stephen C. Harper. How to Solve Problems with Reverse Brainstorming, posted on his TalentSpace Blog, December 14, 2011.

2 Harper. Extraordinary Entrepreneurship: The Professional's Guide to Starting an Exceptional Enterprise (Google eBook), 2005, p.78.

share|improve this answer
Thanks for the info. I'll definitely experiment with reverse brainstorming. – user3977 Dec 18 '13 at 11:55
I messed up the first footnote and have now corrected it. – Eric Sherman Dec 19 '13 at 3:57

I'd like to share an observation from a personal experiment, loosely based on creative thinking exercises I've read about "somewhere".

Over a course of 21 days, I was looking for innovative products in the world around me. I took pictures of them using my iPhone, and then did a short writeup about what problem this innovation is trying to solve and why I think it is awesome. In short, the exercise is two fold: first see solutions applied to problems (like below), then see problems that don't have solutions yet.

For example - looking at cars in a parking lot, I noticed something like this - a roof rack with a little cloth piece in front of it which reduces drag caused by the roof rack. These things did not exist in the 90s:

enter image description here

Another example would be a promotional flag like the one below. The curved top shape means that the flag is always stiff. It's rotating flag base prevents the flag from tangling around the pole: enter image description here

Yet another example would be stackable office chairs like the ones below. Not only does their architecture save storage space, but it allows a single person to move multiple chairs at once:

enter image description here

share|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.