Let’s make it suck

brainstorm 4865831504_f04abd76d5_bLet’s make it suck! Here’s a great technique that’s a refreshing and creative twist on classic brainstorming, taken from Jono Bacon’s wonderful guide for building and energizing enthusiastic and productive communities: The Art of Community: Building the New Age of Participation. Here’s Jono:

…imagine you wanted to design a cell phone. Traditionally, you would brainstorm the attributes of a great cell phone. Instead, turn everything on its head. What would make the worst possible cell phone? Maybe it ignores all calls? Or maybe it only accepts calls from telemarketing companies? Maybe the buttons are too small? How about really short battery life?

When you ask these kinds of questions in a brainstorming session, it almost always breaks the ice and gets people talking. Such ridiculous questions generate a lot of fun discussion, laughing, and ludicrous ideas. Make sure you write every one of these nuggets of madness down.

After your group has exhausted their initial pool of ideas, you should now invert each idea again. How do we make sure that our phone accepts all calls? How can it avoid calls from telemarketing companies? How can we make sure the buttons are the right size and not too small? How can we improve battery life?

Aside from the benefits of getting your group brainstorming, this approach is an excellent method in building defenses against the infuriation of normal life. It helps to identify frustrating attributes and protect against them, and this will in turn provide better results. I have used this technique for brainstorming websites, processes, products, and more, and it has always been fun, productive, and useful.

The next time I brainstorm ideas with a group, I’m going to give “Let’s make it suck” a whirl. If reverse brainstorming appeals to you too, try it out and report back here how it worked for you.

Image attribution: Flickr user blankdots

11 thoughts on “Let’s make it suck

  1. Adrian,

    Great idea to get those creative juices flowing!

    Here’s an improv take on that idea that helps guard against too much criticism and self editing. You have the group choose a fake invention or product and then have them brainstorm about it twice.

    The first time, have them think of all the worst possible ways to design the product and make sure that everyone greets each idea VERY positively, ei “Wow! Awesome! Brilliant!” adding on to each bad idea.

    The second time, have them think of good ideas and greet them negatively with, “Yeah, but…” “That wouldn’t work” and so on. Then have the group share what they learned and how they felt in each of the instances.

    It can be a real eye opener and at the very least, helps people to become aware of their automatically negative reactions and how they can kill creativity.

    1. Jenise, this is a great way to explore how our preconceived ideas and responses can influence creative process. We are all social animals, and most of us are pretty sensitive to how others respond to our ideas. The exercise you describe lets us really experience these responses in a safe setting. Thank you for another valuable tool from the world of improv!

  2. I’ve been doing this in planning events for years. It’s a great way to brainstorm new ideas for stale meetings. I start by asking, “what would we never do with this demographic.” I list everything that comes to mind and suddenly some great ideas start appearing. I can tell you from experience that this process works. Feedback we got from some of the attendees was along the lines of “this event was not what I was expecting…it was so much more fun”

    Like a CEO roundtable dinner…they were always held in a private room in a high end restaurant. Some of the things you would never do with this group would be Take them to Applebees, Make them eat before coming to the meeting, Make them cook their own dinner. Next thing you know they are in the kitchen of a great restaurant cooking along side the chef and having a blast. When it came time to eat the dinner and discuss business they were so much more open and at ease with one another.

  3. a principle of applied stupidity: “demonstrations of incompetence inspire creativity and confidence in others.”

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