Improvement tools: Inverse thinking

Page last updated: Tuesday, 11 July 2017 - 11:55am

Please note: This content may be out of date and is currently under review.

Inverse thinking is used to think about how to go about achieving a goal or solving a problem. It helps us to be creative and break out of old ways of thinking by getting us to think about the opposite of what we want to achieve.

Instead of asking "How can we achieve our goal?", we ask "How can we make sure we never achieve it, or achieve the exact opposite?"

Instead of asking "How can we solve the problem?", we ask "How can we make it worse?"

Using this tool we learn a lot about both how to achieve a goal and what not to do.

The best way to understand Inverse thinking is to go through the steps for using the tool as you look at an example. The example below the steps is about how to keep people using a website.

Steps for using the tool

  1. Write down your goal.
  2. Write down the exact opposite of the goal. This is the inverse goal.
  3. Think of ideas for achieving the inverse goal and write these down.
  4. When you have finished writing down the inverse thinking use it in the following ways.
  5. Check that none of the inverse thinking is currently in place. These may be things you can stop doing.
  6. Turn the inverse thinking around into things you could start doing to help achieve the goal.
  7. Prioritise which stop-doing and start-doing options you are going to take action on.

Example: Website use

Goal: To keep people using the website and associated applications (apps).

Inverse goal: To discourage people from using the website and apps.

Ideas to achieve the inverse goal:

  • make the website take a long time to load
  • put the most important and frequently used navigation buttons at the bottom of pages
  • ask people to provide lots of information before they can sign up for the website
  • make it difficult to download apps and files
  • charge for every app
  • make sure the website is not compatible with mobile phones.

This thinking helps us rethink what we are currrently doing. What things could we stop doing to improve the situation? Are there things we can start doing?

Stop doing:

  • Stop charging for all apps. Have some free apps.

Start doing:

  • make the important and most used navigation buttons easy to find at the top of pages
  • increase the download speed
  • make the website compatible with mobile  phones
  • reduce the amount of information people have to provide when they sign up for the website.

Some of these ideas may already be in place. Prioritise the new ideas and develop action plans to implement the highest priority ones.

Other tools to use with Inverse thinking

Inverse thinking can be used in Steps 2 and 7 of the CI&I - Continuous improvement and innovation process.

Use the SMARTT goal tool to clarify the goal before using Inverse thinking. This will help to focus the thinking.

The Impact and influence tool, Eight criteria technique and Gross margin analysis can be used to compare and prioritise the options that come out of the Inverse thinking.

Support to use the tool

Please contact us if you would like help to use Inverse thinking.

A worksheet to help you use the tool can be found in the 'Documents' section on the far right.