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Upside Down Technique

Posted by Jutta Goldammer from Visionautik Akademie


Group size

1 - 500

Subgroup size

groups of 3 - 5

Is participant experience relevant?

It's okay if participants haven't seen the inside of a classroom in years.

Physical trust needed

Mental trust needed


Material Description

flipchart & markers
pens & paper

Create materials quick and dirty

5 min

Create materials with love and care

5 min



30 minutes - 2 hours

Experience level of the facilitator

taken part OR some facilitation experience

Number of facilitators

1 or more. If you work with subgroups, a facilitator for each 2 subgroups is helpful to enhance quality, especially with an unexperienced group or strong hierarchies.


Level of activation


Hidden curriculum

Ideas you first thought totally absurd can lead to amazing results - this trains us not to judge ideas instantly and helps participants to value value detours and be more tolerant with opposing thoughts.

Woo-Woo Level - How touchy-feely is this method?

From 1.Rationalist-Materialist "No feelings here, folks." to 5.Esoteric-Shamanic Bleeding Heart:

Innovation Phases:

2 Creating an Innovation-Friendly Culture
3 Fostering New Perspectives & Ways of Thinking
4 Idea Generation

Method Category:

Idea generator
Problem Solving


A classic, easy and effective creativity technique that helps you think outside the box.


Reversal, flip-flop, paradoxical intervention, assumption reversal



This thinking process generates ideas about a problem or views a problem in a novel way by reversing assumptions. This tool requires an issue, idea or goal to be reversed or stated in a negative form in order to gain more ideas of what could be causing a given problem. Assumptions structure social reality. When changing assumptions, reality changes. Different assumptions produce different consequences.

The procedure aims to:
-Identify the less obvious ideas for problem resolution,
-Expand the list of ideas developed during a classical brainstorming session,
-Search for additional process or quality improvement opportunities,
-Recover from an unproductive brainstorming effort,
-Further clarify a problem to gain more potential solutions.


We cannot trace this back to the original source, it seems to be in the common good. If you are the originator of this method or know him/her, please let us know.


PREPARATION (excluding materials)

Provide Flipchart paper and markers and set up the room in a communicative setting. If you work with a large group prepare workspaces where small groups of 3-5, max. 7, can work together either around tables or in a small semicircle around a flipchart.

1 Clarify the challenge

State the challenge and write it on the flipchart. Make sure the problem is clearly and simply stated, and that all group members understand it. If needed, clarify questions about the problem.

2 Collect obvious assumptions

Collect assumptions around your problem and write them on a flipchart. Be aware that often we take assumptions so for granted that we forget to think of the simplest things. Encourage the group to also mention those very obvious and fundamental assumptions. Like "a restaurant is a place where you can eat" or "in a restaurant you pay for your food".

3 Reverse the assumptions

What is the opposite? Reverse the assumptions and the direction of the problem statements and write the new statements down. Participants can reverse any aspect of the problem: they may reverse the verb, the goal, or any words in the definition. A reversal in the example of the restaurant could be "A restaurant is a place where you are being eaten up" or "A restaurant is a place where you are allowed to do anything but eat" or "In a restaurant you eat for free".

If you work with a very serious group you might need to remind the participants that in this part things often sound absurd and that it is part of the productivity to permit nonsense. Try to relish the absurdities, laugh a lot and have fun with the process!

4 Collect ideas of how the reversals could become true

Ask the group to come up with ideas about how each reversal can be accomplished. Look at the reversals one by one. Write down all ideas.
In the restaurant example you can ask the question:
How could it be that a restaurant gives away food for free?
An idea could be to charge customers for the time being in the restaurant instead for the food, measured by a time stamp instead of the items chosen. Another idea would be a restaurant where no food is being served. It is just a location with a nice atmosphere and a beautiful decor, the customers pay for being there and bring their food and drinks in picnic baskets.

5 Build a realistic solution

Refer to the original challenge/problem and determine which of the ideas have the potential to be built into a realistic solution. Select ideas you want to think through and prototype.


Harvesting is being done by writing down all ideas in each step of the process. Further harvesting is not necessary.



There is a good example and further readings described in the Leonardo database "Traktor".


Trainers for this method can be hired here:

Visionautik Akademie www.visionautik.de

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