Persona is a tool we use to describe a semi-fictional ideal customer or user of your product or service. The tool lives under “Understand User” category and serves as a vital way to understand or empathize with their perspective, opinion, or point of view.

Personas help a project team understand their users’ needs, motivations, limitations, and capabilities, acting as a focal point and reminder throughout the project, ensuring the final product is something a human being would actually need or want. Personas accelerate the process of developing and validating solutions, are a useful component of thought-experiments, and help increase the clarity and realism of the project team’s pitches and presentations.

Envisioning a persona can be challenging, especially when starting with a blank sheet of paper. What do they like? What do they do? What are their responsibilities? What are their values? Ideally, you want your personas to be built off existing user research to help answer these questions. But what if you don’t have existing users? Sometimes it’s easier and more impactful to start by outlining an anti-persona – or PersNOna – that you want to target. Identifying what falls out of scope can be just as important as identifying what falls into scope. Using reverse thinking, this exercise clarifies, refines, and builds consensus among your team.

We’re no strangers to reverse thinking or brainstorming here at Innovation Toolkit. If you’re familiar with our Premortem tool, you know that through defining failure, we inversely define success. Sometimes it’s easier to think negatively about all the things that could go wrong and where we may misstep, than what we actually need to do to succeed.

Oftentimes, thinking about the reverse can be freeing and allow ideas to flow more openly than solution-oriented brainstorming, removing the pressure to be “right” and encouraging failure. Once you’ve brainstormed all of the ideas for failure, you reverse them into solutions. Reverse brainstorming is a good technique when it is difficult to identify solutions to the problem directly. It could be used in standard solution brainstorming, too (challenge: fill out a Lotus Blossom with anti-ideas!).

You may want to create a PersNOna for several reasons:

  • You think everyone could be a target user / your persona is too broad
  • You don’t know where to start with a persona
  • You feel strongly about the qualities that would NOT fit your target user/customer
  • You want to work by process of elimination

Sometimes it’s easier to start with the “definitely nots” than the “definitely’s.” That was the case when we were discussing adding new members to Team Toolkit. We couldn’t quite put our finger on the qualities of someone we would want to join the team, but it was much easier to write down what we did NOT want. Some examples of the “thanks, but no thanks” category were ego driven, fixed mindset, did not want to collaborate or learn, and traditional/set in their ways. The team got passionate about this discussion, especially because we all agreed we wanted to maintain the cultural attributes of the team when adding training new folks.

Have you put off creating a persona or solving a problem because landing on the “right” solution felt too daunting? We encourage you to try flipping the script and flexing your reverse thinking muscles to define the “nope’s” before getting to the, “Yup, that’s it!” We all deserve to be off the hook for thinking of the “right” thing every now and then, we can finally get to a truly innovative solution – something different that makes a difference.