Future "Thinks Wrong" to Encourage Creativity

Two things that keep us in the status quo are biology (it’s how we’re wired) and cultural norms. Anything outside of the norm is weird or impermissible. It’s fun to think of things you can’t do and play outside convention. The things you think shouldn’t do are the things that you probably should be trying, which is where “thinking wrong” comes in. — Greg Galle, Co-Founder, Future

Even the best teams can struggle to break through the status quo, but Greg Galle, co-founder of Future, believes “thinking wrong,” can overcome creative blocks. “Thinking wrong” is a brainstorming technique created to challenge biases and shift the starting point of a team’s thought process to a new place that’s never been explored. In order to successfully “think wrong,” the team must first possess three traits:

  1. A growth mindset. Creativity is a skill that is developed and maintained by training and practice. Not only that, it should be recognized as a skill anyone can and should learn, rather than the role of a sacred few "creatives."
  2. A safe-to-fail environment. Organizations need to create a culture of trust, in which people can have bad ideas without fear of punishment. Instead of only testing ideas to confirm a hunch, teams should be excited that the results of an experiment might not be what they expected.
  3. Collaboration. For centuries we’ve romanticized the notion of the heroic solo inventors—think Galileo, Darwin, Jobs—but even those famous names had help. Encourage a "collective brain" that brings together diverse backgrounds, and support bringing new ideas forward.

Once this context has been put in place, use these two brainstorming exercises to teach your team how to “think wrong.”

Try the “Be Stupid” Exercise

  1. Pair up. This exercise works best when teams form smaller groups of two or three members.
  2. Define the problem. On a whiteboard, have the facilitator write down a moonshot or challenge to be solved.
  3. Be stupid. Using post-it notes, brainstorm as many bad solutions to your problem as possible in five minutes. The only feedback you may give your partner is, “Not stupid enough”. For example: how might we cure cancer in 10 years? Free cigarettes for everyone.
  4. Share. Each pair should take turns sharing their ideas with the rest of the group and stick their post-it’s on the board.
  5. Vote for the stupidest idea. Each person votes for their top three favorite bad ideas by placing a dot next to it.
  6. Tally the results. The idea with the most votes is deemed the Supreme Stupid Idea. This is the new starting point for solving the problem.
  7. Use the new perspective. Ask the team, “Now how might you solve your moonshot or challenge,  starting from this stupidest of ideas?”

Hold a “Verboten” Exercise

  1. Define the problem. The facilitator should write down on a whiteboard the problem to be solved.
  2. Start by “thinking right.” Using post-its, each team member should write down all the “right” ways they would normally approach the problem, one idea per post-it.
  3. Verboten! After all ideas are generated, inform your team that those solutions are all forbidden from being used.
  4. Solve again. Restart the brainstorming session using Post-its to capture how your team might solve the challenge if they were unable to use any existing solutions.

Be Wrong the Right Way

How do you know “thinking wrong” is working? Ask your team these questions:

  • Did we generate a portfolio of unexpected solutions?
  • Are these solutions on a bold path that we wouldn’t have gotten to without this exercise?
  • Do we want to use these drills/tools again in other areas of our work?

You may be surprised to find yourself on the right path after all.

Takeaway: Given that people's brains are wired to find the most obvious path to a solution, coupled with the fact that culture emphasizes being right, it’s no wonder thinking creatively is so daunting. Tricking their brains into overriding fears and biases will help the team break out of the status quo.

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