The big idea
Problem reversal focuses on solving an identified problem by turning it on its head and encouraging you to think about it differently. One well-known example of a practical problem reversal is the police ‘sting’ operation. In a ‘sting’, known criminals are selected and told they have won a prize, and are then personally invited to an event to collect their ‘prize’. Once the unsuspecting guests arrive, they are duly arrested. Instead of defining the problem in terms of how to go and catch offenders, the police asked how they might get the offenders to come to them.
The Key to Dreams, Rene Magritte (1935)
In many cases, the problem definition is what limits our ability to generate new ideas. The meaning of the words or their order can put blocks on our thinking. Taking a problem and reframing it in terms of its opposite can change the direction of your thought and generate new solutions. It can throw people slightly off balance and into the unexpected, getting the creative juices flowing.
In his Key to Dreams, Magritte causes us to ask new questions: some of the labels and their associations we recognise but others are disconcerting. He has caused us to consider again what we are looking at and what it means.
The principle of this tool is simple: take a problem and then reverse it. For example, “How do I gain more customers?” becomes “How do I drive customers away?” Now work through a series of steps to see what ideas you can develop. This tool is suitable for any scale of business in any sector and can be done on your own or with a group. It is a technique that can take as much time as you choose.