Reversal – change your perspective and solve your problem

It’s often the initial problem definition that limits you in finding a suitable solution. Creative solutions require a change of perspective. A great way to do this is by ‘reversing’ your problem statement.

Rephrasing your challenge is the best way to find creative solutions. If you find that a problem statement doesn’t inspire you to generate creative ideas, try changing the question.


The Reversal technique is a creative thinking technique that is based on the thought that to change your perspective, you sometimes need to change the question. By changing the order of the words in your problem definition, you will be forced to look at the situation differently. While a ‘reversed’ challenge sometimes sounds odd and illogical, it often sparks much more creative solutions.

How you change the order of the words in your problem statement doesn’t matter much, as long as the key words are reversed. For instance, imagine you are responsible for limiting the traffic congestion in your area. Your challenge is ‘How do we make sure that fewer people take the car to their work?’. Swapping the key words, you could rephrase this challenge as ‘How do we make sure that fewer cars take people to their work?’ Where the first statement will make you think of alternative means of transportation, like trains or bikes, the second statement will probably make you think of solutions like carpooling (fewer cars for the same number of people).

traffic congestion

How do we make sure that fewer people take the car to work? (Flickr Creative Commons Image via Michael Loke) 

Let’s look at another example. Imagine you are dealing with a shortage of staff in a nursing home. The problem definition ‘How might we make sure there is enough nursing staff to help out the elderly people in our nursing home?’ could become ‘How might we make sure there are enough elderly people to help out the nursing staff in our nursing home?’ The second problem statement is much more interesting and will probably spark more creative solutions. Maybe vital seniors could be allowed to live in the nursing home for free, as long as they help out with the chores and interact with the less fortunate housemates. Interaction with energetic peers might be good for the well-being of the occupants. Or perhaps pensioners could take care of the smaller chores like making coffee, doing laundry or cooking dinner, in exchange for a small supplement to their pensions.

Clever police work

For another example, imagine you are an understaffed and overworked police force. You have a list of suspects you need to bring in, but hardly any time to do it. Your challenge ‘How can our officers visit all of these suspects in a short period of time?’ Could be reversed to: ‘How can all of these suspects visit our officers in a short period of time?’ This refreshing new problem definition could lead to a clever alternative approach. Why not send all the suspects a letter that informs them they’ve won free tickets to a popular sports match? When the suspects show up to claim their prize, police officers can easily apprehend them.

Reversal: suspects voluntarily visit the police

How to make arrests more efficiently? (Flickr Creative Commons Image via Shirley de Jong)

Not all problem statements are equally suitable for reversal

Not every problem statement is suitable for a reversal. Sometimes using this technique requires you to first rephrase the question altogether. Often it helps to add one more key word to the sentence. For instance, the question ‘how might we sell more washing machines?’ is not easily reversed (there is no key word to swap places with ‘washing machines’). Yet, when you rephrase the question to ‘How might we sell more washing machines to young parents?’ you can easily change it to ‘How might we sell more young parents to washing machines? Granted, it is a very unusual challenge, but it might just spark a creative thought. You could interpret this last sentence as; the washing machine pays the young parents to try it out. This might lead to ideas for money-back guarantees that exceed the initial purchase price. If buyers get a coupon for more than the amount they paid, to be used in the same store, it might be an interesting deal for both parties. You could also start communicating to potential buyers how much they will save each year when they choose your remarkably energy efficient washing machine. ‘This machine will pay you for letting it into your life!’

As this last example shows, some reversals will require a very flexible way of thinking, to be useful. Not everyone will be able to move from a totally ridiculous statement to a useful solution. However, looking at the tiny amount of time it will ‘cost’ you to try out a reversal, you have very little to lose (and, potentially, lots to gain).

What challenges are you currently struggling with that could be reversed?


Hungry for more?

The Reversal is but one of the many thinking techniques you can use to tackle a challenge creatively. If you’re interested in more examples of creative problem solving, or if you’re curious what creativity can do for you, be sure to download our FREE EBOOK on business creativity, or contact us via We’d be more than happy to help you out.

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