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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?

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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

2 Answers 2

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.

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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

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