The Worst Solution

If you want to come up with creative ideas, you have to be willing to think outside your comfort zone. You can find original and useful ideas everywhere. But…usually they are easier to find in uncharted territory.

Imagine you’re a manager in a big organization. The entire company, including your department, has just moved to a new office building. Simultaneous with the relocation ‘Alternative Workplace Strategies’ have been introduced: a policy to stimulate new collaborations and reduce office costs. Consequently, nobody has a fixed desk. Everyone can work anytime, anywhere. Your employees love the changes, but express one big concern: the noise.

People are walking in and out. Employees from other departments are getting their coffee nearby, talking loudly on their phones. Animated gossip, laughter and the tapping of high heels on the adjacent stairs are dominating the space. The well-intentioned policy is making it impossible for your team to stay focused, which has terrible consequences for the overall performance: a lack of concentration and a decrease in productivity.

Of course, the architecture of the building cannot be changed easily. Neither can the senior management’s decision to make use of flexible workers be revoked. You will have to come up with a creative solution to resolve the situation.

Creativity is the ability to notice different things and to think differently. One way to challenge yourself to think in another direction, is to use a simple thinking technique called ‘The Worst Solution’. As the name suggests, the method is all about finding ideas that will worsen the situation completely. It’s a fun thing to do and it helps to map out different starting points, that can be used later on for idea generation.

Come up with bad solutions
Ask the simple question: How can we make this situation worse?

People will come up with all kinds of ideas to aggravate the problem. Such as:

– We set up an alarm that will go off whenever someone makes noise
– We set up our offices even closer to the coffee corner
– We oblige everyone to wear tap dance shoes
– We set up amplifiers so we can hear everything clearly
– We remove the walls so the sound waves cannot bounce away

There are always a lot of ways to worsen a situation. That’s why this tool is easy to work with for everybody. As you can imagine the ideas themselves are not very useful, unless we do something with them. To make the ideas usable we can do the following.

The first thing to do is easy: reverse the idea. We look at the idea and we do the total opposite.

“We set up amplifiers so we can hear everything clearly” will become “We place dampers for noise abatement”.

“We set up our offices closer to the coffee corner” will become “We move the coffee corner further away from our desks”.

It works immediately. But of course not every idea is suitable for direct reversing. Sometimes you need a little more thinking to make an idea useful. By looking at the goal behind the idea you’re able to liberate a concept. This concept can be used to generate useful ideas.

“We set up an alarm that will go off when people make noises”.

If we would flip this idea it still would not make any sense. However the concept behind this idea is crystal clear. Alerting people about their own noise. You don’t even need to reverse this concept to make use of it. You could for example place a simple device next to the coffee corner that visualizes the nearby sound activity. This way, rowdy employees are subtly reminded of their volume.

If you use the Worst Solution technique, challenge participants to come up with extreme ideas. Ask for provocative ideas. You are looking for ideas that captures people’s imagination.

The hunt for the Worst Solution is a cool way to kickstart a brainstorm. It’s a good warm up tool and helps to get the creative juices flowing. It’s fun, will make people laugh and sets a nice atmosphere. Because you ask participants to come up with bad ideas, it takes the pressure off. They won’t be stressed out about finding that one good idea.

The Worst Solution is a lovely way to find original ideas. The big advantage of this technique is that you can easily map out different focus areas. It leads you right to perspectives you wouldn’t have discovered otherwise.

Have you ever tried this technique, or something similar in your brainstorm? And did it work for your challenge? Please let me know in the comment box below.

Was this article helpful?
If you enjoyed reading this article, feel free to share it with your network by hitting one of the buttons below. This way other people can benefit from the article as well.

Photo © Murilo Cardoso

Don't miss out

Receive our biweekly email with our latest articles on business creativity.

We respect your privacy.
Recommended Posts

Leave a Comment

Start typing and press Enter to search