A to Z of
Creativity Techniques
Reversals are a derivative of the idea-generating transformations in Osborn's checklist, and like most of the other conversions in that list (see also Exaggeration) it offers a way of materializing background assumptions, and allowing you to take an alternative view on the problem in hand.

There are various combinations of reversal several of which are listed in the table below (using the problem: ‘I require lots of capacity in my Reprographic Department to manage a few key peak loads, but this means that for much of the time much or it is idle’):

Type of Reversal Example
Turn problem into opportunity Reprographic over-capacity would let us do X, Y, Z, …
Reverse values Could wasting resources be a good thing?
Reverse word order I need peak loads to cope with my capacity
Invert problem The machines are being overused
Reverse phase Worry about the peaks, not the off-peak idle time
Transpose responsibility It is not my problem – it is his
Transpose stereotypes See ‘Bloggs the Bore’ as fascinating
Change of sign (+/-) The service needs to be less cost-effective
Reverse roles Exchange manager and operator?
Reverse direction of flow Instead of jobs flowing into Repro, it flows into them

The 3 ways you can use reversals:

  • Double reversal: Initially the reversal identifies ways to make the situation worse rather than better, you need to recognise why it has been made worse and then re-reverse to identify ways in which the situation could be made better in these respects. We can sometimes be constrained in our thinking for instance putting a lot of thought into ‘how to get rich’ but very little effort into ‘how not to become hard-up’. Thus being forced to think about ‘what would make me hard-up?’ and then re-reversing that to say: ‘and so what would prevent me from becoming hard-up will give a very different perspective than directly addressing: ‘how to get rich?
  • Recognising that you currently do these unhelpful things! If you feel that many of the ‘ways to make the situation worse’ are in fact present in the situation in progress, you ought to attempt generating options by investigating ways to eliminate them.
  • Direct importing of solutions: The general method for any form of alteration is to ask yourself: ‘how would I solve the distorted (in this case reversed) situation, and could some adaptation of this solution be functional to the real situation?’ Because the sign of the problem may have been transformed, this process may not work as well with reversal as with, say, exaggeration.

A unique account of his technique can be helpful in a group situation where people are required to come up with a decision, but are refuse to give in to it in subtle ways. Ask them, in a lighted hearted way to list as many imaginative ways as they can think of to interfere with the meeting. Encourage humour and when they have finished, ask them to reverse all their methods of interference to create rules of good conduct for the meeting, and to identify the most important. Get the group to charge certain people with checking that these rules are observed.