Design Thinking Ideation Technique: Challenging Orthodoxies

Sometimes we get so caught up in the feasibility trap, even when we’re trying to be creative and divergent in a brainstorm setting. Sometimes, simply turning an orthodoxy on its head can unlock a ton of possibilities that we had brushed off as non-starters. 

Try this tool at the next brainstorming session with your team:

Challenging Orthodoxies to Unlock Possibilities

  1. State a fact or assumption about your industry or problem
  2. Ask yourself why the above is true? Should you challenge it?
  3. Now answer, what would be the opposite of that assumption?
  4. Create possibilities based off this new idea

Let’s say we were trying to re-imagine a bikeshare service for college campus (a recent challenge I led at University of Maryland’s Social Enterprise Symposium). It could go something like this:

  1. Assumption- Bikes have to be locked in public spaces
  2. Why?-  Because bikes get stolen when they aren’t locked
  3. Opposite- Bikes can be left anywhere without fear of theft
  4. Some Possibilities- 
    • keep bikes in nooks and crannies in parking garages (leverage unused spaces)
    • what if bikes were used as classroom seats and universities didn’t have to purchase fixed seating in a classroom?
    • take idea A and charge for bike permits as a revenue source for the campus

Okay, so maybe these aren’t the best ideas in the world, but the point is that challenging orthodoxies stretches a team’s thinking to find nuggets of hidden opportunities, revenue streams and ideas – possibilities that might not have been uncovered if we’d held onto the assumption that “bikes have to be locked in public spaces.”

Often, when leading innovation projects in large organizations, we see our clients get stuck in constraints too quickly. Ideation techniques such as the “challenging orthodoxies” exercise are a great way to create new possibilities during a brainstorming session.

Okay… so you tell me. What other possibilities come to mind if bikes didn’t have to be locked in public spaces? Drop us a line at

We use this method to unlock possibilities for Opportunity Analysis and Experience Design. Learn more here!

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