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What is the Headstand Technique?

Smartpedia: The headstand technique is a brainstorming format in which questions to be answered are formulated negatively and consolidated answers are reversed into positives.

Headstand Technique – finding ideas with a negative question

There are various alternative names for the headstand technique: inversion technique, flip-flop technique or provocation technique. In some publications it is also referred to as the headstand method, the inversion method, etc. Regardless of the favoured name, it is a brainstorming format for problem solving or idea generation.

What is special about the headstand technique is the reversal of the question to be answered. Instead of a neutral or even positively formulated question, the question is formulated negatively or flipped into the negative. The collected answers are then consolidated and reversed or flipped into the positive.

Example: How do we design the newsletter sign-up form so that it is sure to scare away any prospective customer?

Answers: It should have many mandatory fields so that we ask for everything we always wanted to know in addition to the email address. It is also very useful to divide queries over several pages, because once the prospect has provided some information, he won’t mind answering more questions. Ideally, he should navigate between fields by mouse click and not by tabulator; this gives him more time to think. Auto-complete should also be deactivated.

Consolidation and reversal into the positive: Our online form for newsletter registration consists of a single field in which the email address is entered.

Procedure of the Headstand Technique

The headstand technique follows a clear sequence with

  • preparation,
  • implementation with idea generation and idea evaluation, and
  • follow-up.

At the beginning, the brainstorming rules, the process and the timebox should be discussed and agreed upon. This is followed by the presentation of the problem or the question to be answered by the facilitator. However, as usual, it is not about achieving but losing. It is not about satisfaction but dissatisfaction, not about success but failure. Accordingly, the moderator formulates the question negatively:

  • “What do we have to do to make the new advertising campaign fail?”
  • “How do we drive prototyping safely to the wall?”
  • “How can we hinder the onboarding of new employees?”

Together, answers to the question, the problem to be solved or the idea to be found are sought and documented. The brainstorming is followed by the joint idea evaluation. For this purpose, the collected answers are consolidated and turned into positive ones. The goal in the headstand technique is reached when a list of ideas has been compiled, ideally with the best of them being realised. The idea evaluation should also be limited with a timebox.

In the follow-up, for example, ROTI feedback could provide information on how useful the participants found the exchange and what possibilities for improvement they see for a future exchange.

The three main advantages of the Headstand Technique

Brainstorming offers several advantages such as easy-to-understand rules, manageable effort, collaborative idea generation and fun. The headstand technique offers three major advantages over “conventional” brainstorming:

  • The reverse formulation eliminates established thought patterns and promotes unexpected insights.
  • Often – contrary to the actual brainstorming rules – answers are evaluated by participants. In fact, the headstand technique enables associative brainstorming. Unusual answers invite to find more unusual answers. The evaluation of answers during the search is practically eliminated. Thus, the participation of introverted employees increases and the quality of the answers rises.
  • And last but not least: the format and the idea generation are really fun.


Headstand Technique - finding ideas with a negative question

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Should the headstand technique aka flip-flop technique aka inversion technique be included in the Liberating Structures as a brainstorming format?

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