Thinking in opposites: a workshop idea

One of my favourite tasks is finding and designing activities for workshops that will get participants thinking and working together. The more workshops you run, the more you’ll look for inspiration from all places to create these.

You might come across a story or case study, a game or an interesting question that gives you an idea for an activity you can run with your team or client to stretch their thinking.

It’s exactly what I thought when I read an article from Roger L. Martin, top management thinker (and author of The Opposable Mind) on Harvard Business Review – The First Question to Ask of Any Strategy. Martin looks at what happens when a company defines two aspects of their strategy: a) where to play, and b) how to win, and explains:

“If the opposite of your core strategy choices looks stupid, then every competitor is going to have more or less the exact same strategy as you.”

Martin gives the example of a wealth management firm that decided to:

a) “target wealthy individuals who wanted and were willing to pay for comprehensive wealth management services”, and

b) “provide them with great customer service across the breadth of their wealth management needs”

He describes how the opposite of this would be to target individuals on a lower income who are not willing to pay, and provide them with terrible customer service – not somewhere many wealth management companies would place themselves. So the core strategy isn’t smart enough.

This makes a great workshop exercise

A key factor of great creative collaboration is to encourage conflict. But it often needs framing to stay healthy and productive. You could use this question – “does the opposite of this look stupid?” to challenge people to critique and strengthen each others’ ideas.

One possible way to run the workshop is like this:

  • Split your workshop participants into smaller teams and ask them to address a problem  – existing or new – giving them two or three factors to brainstorm against (e.g. where to play, how to win)
  • After each team has presented their initial ideas, shuffle them around so each team has an idea that is not their own
  • Challenge each team to identify the opposite of the idea they have received
  • If the opposite of the idea looks “stupid”, they can find ways to develop the original idea. If it doesn’t, they can look for more alternatives
  • Each team presents their developments back to the rest of the group, with the aim of showing the “smartest” result

This workshop activity could be an interesting way to encourage a team go beyond the obvious first idea. Getting small teams to challenge each other in a fun, constructive and non-confrontational way can generate new questions and identify new opportunities to be explored further.

Where do you find inspiration for your workshop exercises?

Image credit: Kirsty Hall on Flickr

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