Brainstorming Technique 1: False Faces (Problem Reversal)

The first technique that we are going to learn to up our brainstorming game is called False Faces.

False Faces, also known as problem reversal or assumption reversal, is a very powerful brainstorming technique, that challenges the norms. It challenges the way that we think.

The problem with human beings is that we are fed assumptions and we tend to live with these assumptions that are historical. Things have always been done a certain way, and they are so simple and so familiar that we never think to challenge these assumptions. We assume that these assumptions are true, and that they will always remain true. But assumptions can be tricky and they can definitely send us down the wrong track.

You cannot keep doing the exact same things you have always been doing and expect something different to happen. Let’s examine how our brain tricks us by using a few examples.

The concept of false faces is based on two truths:

  1. All human beings have some assumptions
  2. All assumptions can be challenged.

Let’s look at a famous experiment conducted with a group of people as an example. A facilitator divided the group into sub-groups and gave them all a challenge. He gave them three things: a candle, a book of matches and a box of thumbtacks to fasten the candle to the wall, on the condition that the candle can be lit and that the wax must not fall down. The participants tried several different ways, tacking the candle to the wall by it’s wick, puncturing holes in the candle’s body, but they struggled and none of them could get it right. Until the facilitator removed all the thumb tacks from their box and put it aside as another tool.

To the participants, he had provided three things, and none of them could look at the box of the thumbtacks as a tool to hold the candle and be fastened to the wall. By saying that he is giving them three tools, the facilitator had already created an assumption in the mind of the participants that there were in fact only three things that they could use. They looked at the box only as the thumbtack holder, but with all thumbtacks removed, they could now look at it as a tool to complete the challenge. They changed assumptions.


We can say that all assumptions are false faces.

Our assumptions limit us, and using this brainstorming technique helps us in identifying these assumptions, questioning them and creating new ideas by breaking paradigms.

So how do we employ this technique effectively?

Well, here are some simple steps that you can follow:

  1. Write down your main idea, challenge or problem

Let’s say, for example, that you want to start a new business. Let’s say you want to open up a boutique, because you love fashion and you want to spread this love. You want to stock and sell the best brands.

  1. List all your assumptions about a certain idea or problem
    Some common assumptions about a boutique may be:1. A boutique is a physical store
    2. A boutique sells products
    3. A boutique is open throughout the day
  1. Reverse each assumption that you made:

The next step is to state the opposite of the assumption you just made. For example,

  1. Your boutique is not a physical store
  2. Your boutique does not sell products
  3. Your boutique is never open
  1. Figure out how you can make each one happen.

Turn your reverse assumption into an actual idea. Get creative. Every reverse assumption is doable, if you just think about it.
Your boutique is not a physical store

 Maybe your boutique is an online store, a website or an app. Imagine the amount of costs you will save on rent and workers to man the boutique.
Your boutique does not sells products.

Maybe your boutique sells services instead. Maybe it is a delivery service that buys products from other places and gets it straight to the customer. Maybe you love to sell clothes, but buying them, stocking them and paying for warehouse storage may not work for you. Since part of the reason you wanted to open up a boutique is because you love fashion, you can still fuel that passion by shopping for others.
Your boutique is never open

An online shop has no working hours. It is never open yet always being open at the same time.

  1. Select one assumption and make it into a realistic idea

You don’t have to work with all your reverse assumptions, but at least one of them can create a spark. For example, your boutique can be a delivery service only. Or it could just be an online boutique. Or it could be a combination of any of your assumptions.

This was a very simple example, but the same technique and steps can be applied to literally any problem, or challenge. It can be used to create a cavalcade of brilliant ideas. You can state as many or as less assumptions as you want. There are not limits.

Imagine doing this technique in a group of great minded people. Not only does this technique broaden the mind, but it opens up a pathway to ideas and concepts that you wouldn’t have imagined in any other way.

Some of the great minds have been challenging assumptions. In a time when more and more mobile phone companies were adding full keyboards to mobile phones, one man challenged the assumption of a physical keyboard, and created a phone with a single button. That is how Steve Jobs gave us the first iPhone.

So, my friends, that was the first technique that you should definitely use in your next brainstorming session.

Next time when you are stuck on a problem or just can’t get that idea to evolve, just remember, any assumption can be reversed. Nothing you know is absolute, and everything you know can be challenged. So challenge those false faces away!