Individual Creativity Exercise

False Rule


Brief description of creativity technique

False rules is a provocation technique that uses the free association process our mind triggers trying to connect a problem situation with a rule or restriction that has no obvious connection with it. Thus, it stimulates breaking the rules, which is the hidden origin of creativity, and draws attention to the organizational challenges to creativity. Its essence is in applying a random rule to a situation that has nothing in common.

The main goal of this technique is to support creative thinking by “getting out of the box” assumption in combination with random stimuli (the rule has no obvious connection to the problem to be solved).

The technique may be used to support participants to change their initial perspective and facilitate flow of ideas. It may be challenging for people without previous experience in the field of creativity.


Exercise for skills at the level of:






Learning objectives of the exercise

The False rules technique supports students to change their initial perspective and facilitate the flow of ideas. It may be challenging for people without previous experience in the field of creativity.

This technique promotes thinking out of the box, innovation, and problem-solving. It helps students gain self-confidence and realise that providing working solutions to problems is more valuable in working life than strictly keeping to the rules.


The application of the False rule technique does not depend on the level of competence of the students and there is no problem including students from different levels in one brainstorming session.


Skills developed/enhanced by the exercise









Tolerance of ambiguity, uncertainty and complexity

Others, please specify



Critical Thinking

Divergent thinking skills


Negotiating skills


Strategic thinking




In person: the duration may vary depending on the case and the specific problem to be solved.


Online: same as in person


How many people are needed?

Teams of 5-7 students each.


Materials required

In person: a sheet of paper/dashboard and stickers to write ideas or a collaborative diagramming tool (Mural, Realtime board, …)


Online: a collaborative diagramming tool (Mural, Realtime board, …)


Instructions for conducting the exercise

Step 1. Facilitator divides students into teams

Step 2. Facilitator writes and explains to teams a well-defined and realistic problem


Step 3. Facilitator chooses a rule that does not match the problem. For example: “Refrigerate after opening”, “Shake well before using”, “Applicants must be over 18 years old”, “Flush after use”, “Keep out of reach of children” are just a few examples of false rules that can be applied to boost creativity thinking.


Step 4. Facilitator asks each team to see what happens when they apply the rule to the problem they are facing. This is not an easy process, so this is the step, in which some people would give up the technique and stop the process. Connecting the rule to the problem might seem impossible at first. However, this is the goal and this makes the technique so powerful. It forces the team to make a connection that would usually not even consider. The key is not to limit oneself to one-on-one applications of the rule, but apply the rule as inspiration, associate freely and use what is suitable.


Step 5. Facilitator asks each team to take a close look at the reason this rule was introduced in the first place, at the benefits of using the rule or the principle of it. Why was the rule created? What does it mean to follow the suggestion? Why should people under normal circumstances follow this rule? What is its goal? Could this principle be used in this situation? This is the stage of looking at the reason why the rule exists, seeing if there is something similar, and asking whether a similar principle could be used.


Case study from desk research

The following are example situations of using this creativity technique in the management process. 

  • The manager has noticed that some of the employees spend many hours of the day gossiping around the coffee machine. He doesn’t want to be that sourpuss who constantly monitors people's every move, but he also realizes this behaviour is costing the company money. He’s looking for a way to subtly prevent people from taking lengthy coffee breaks. A rule he could pick is ‘refrigerate after opening’. This rule does not apply to the situation, and therefore an excellent choice.

  • How can you apply ‘refrigerate after opening’ to this situation? Well, perhaps he should cool down employees as soon as they reach the coffee machine… By turning off the heating in the hallway where the coffee machine is located you can make it unpleasant to linger there for too long. He could even place a fan with cool air next to the machine, preventing people from staying there longer than necessary. Or maybe the machine should be placed outside? For instance, there are many more ways to make being around the coffee machine less pleasant. He could start playing annoying music around the machine. Maybe some of the ideas are good, some not – the ideation process must be started and even ridiculous thoughts can lead to a good solution to the problem. 

  • The reason behind ‘refrigerate after opening’ is clear enough; its goal is to prevent food from going bad. How could this logic be applied to the challenge with the employees? He could think of ways to prevent employees from turning ‘bad’ (in this case: unproductive). Maybe he can facilitate productivity around the coffee machine. Perhaps he should introduce an idea wall next to the machine, enabling people to write down any good ideas they have (or problems they struggle with). Or have stand-up morning meetings by the coffee machine. After all, this is a place where people meet and exchange ideas.

  • The same rule ‘refrigerate after opening' could be used in a totally different situation. For example, in developing new ideas for using a telephone system. To stop people from using the phone for too long, you could make the phone not accept calls for the same period that it has just been used for, ie. if you have spent ten minutes on the phone then you cannot make another call for ten minutes.