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Gamestorming

Gamestorming by Dave Gray, Sunni Brown and James Macanufo

Gamestorming is about creating game worlds specifically to explore and examine business challenges, to improve collaboration, and to generate novel insights about the way the world works and what kinds of possibilities we might find there.

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While a business process creates a solid, secure chain of cause and effect, gamestorming creates something different: not a chain, but a framework for exploration, experimentation, and trial and error. The path to the goal is not clear, and the goal may in fact change.

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In a paper titled “Radical innovation: crossing boundaries with interdisciplinary teams,” Cambridge researcher Alan Blackwell and colleagues identified fuzzy goals (they called it a pole-star vision) as an essential element of successful innovation. A fuzzy goal is one that “motivates the general direction of the work, without blinding the team to opportunities along the journey.”

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To define a fuzzy goal you need a certain amount of ESP: fuzzy goals are Emotional, Sensory, and Progressive.

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The importance of these artifacts as an aid to thinking can easily be illustrated if you imagine yourself playing a game of chess while blindfolded. It’s possible to hold the positions of all the pieces in your mind’s eye for a time—and most chess masters can do it for an entire game—but it’s much easier to have the pieces displayed on a board in front of you.

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When people are finished generating ideas, ask them to take turns going up to a flip chart or whiteboard and sharing their ideas with the group, as follows: read each sticky note aloud and place it on the board where everyone can see it. Notice that this Post-Up process is a version of break out/report back.

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Affinity mapping is a common method that uses meaningful space to sort a large set of nodes into a few common themes. It is a way to rapidly get a group of people aligned about what they are working on together. First, generate a set of nodes using the Post-Up game or some other node-generation method (see Chapter 4). Next, create a meaningful space by dividing a whiteboard or other visual area into three columns. Ask people to sort the sticky notes into three columns that “feel like they belong together” without trying to name the columns. It’s important that they not try to name the columns. Naming the columns too early will force them back into familiar, comfortable patterns. Remember that in creative work we are trying to help people generate and see new patterns. While people are sorting, you may ask them to try to eliminate redundancies by placing similar sticky notes on top of each other.

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We are so good at finding patterns that once we find one, it can be difficult to see anything else. Creating randomness is a way of fooling the mind so that you can more easily search for new patterns in familiar domains. By shuffling the deck, reversing the order, or reframing the familiar, you create enough space for new ideas and opportunities to emerge.

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Here are some examples of examining questions: “What is it made of?” “How does it work?” “What are the pieces and parts?” “Can you give me an example of that?” “What does that look like?” “Can you describe it in terms of a real-life scenario?”

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Here are some examples of experimental questions: “What else works like this?” “If this were an animal (or a plant, machine, etc.), what kind of animal would it be, and why?” “What are we missing?” “What if all the barriers were removed?” “How would we handle this if we were operating a restaurant? What if it was a hospital?” “What if we are wrong?”

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You can think of this as a matter of altitude. When people are getting too caught up in the details, spark the imagination and bring them up a level with some experimental questions. If they are up in the clouds and need a bit of grounding, bring them down with some examining questions.

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Most people draw a stick figure by starting with the head and adding the body afterward. This way of drawing a stick figure will almost always result in a big-headed, stiff stick figure. When drawing a person, you will get a much better effect if you start with the center of gravity and work outward.

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In GameChangers: Improvisation for Business in the Networked World, improv expert Mike Bonifer reminds us that all of life is improvisation: from a conversation at the dinner table to the way we respond to unexpected situations, improv is natural; we do it all the time.

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Before you can start to improvise, you need characters, goals, settings, and props. Let’s start with goals. You could brainstorm a list of situations in which people would need public transportation: one person needs to do her grocery shopping, another needs to visit a friend, another wants to see a movie or get to work. Next, you could brainstorm a list of characters. One person is retired, another is a surgeon, and so on. Now, settings: one person is at home, another is in a park. Finally, props: one person has a mobile phone, another does not. Now, imagine that you color-code four sets of index cards so that the goals are one color, the characters are another color, and so on. You could shuffle the cards and ask people to choose one card of each color. Once everyone has his objective, you could take turns acting out the scenes. After each scene, you could have a short discussion about its implications.

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You can assign a person to videotape the scenarios as you act them out, or ask someone to take notes or even make some storyboard sketches to capture the essence of the things you have discovered.

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we can discuss practice in the sense of an ongoing commitment that involves not only study but also ongoing activity to develop, hone, and maintain the skills that are necessary within a discipline.

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Bodystorming is simply brainstorming, but done with the body. It may look different depending on the preparations and location, but in the end all bodystorming is fundamentally about one thing: getting people to figure things out by trying things out.

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Who do you want to do what? Almost any endeavor of substantial impact requires seeking help from others. Developing a WHO + DO list is a simple way to scope out the undertaking. Start with the vision. Write out or visualize the big goal. Draw a two-column matrix and write “WHO” on the left and “DO” on the right. Ask: Who is involved in making this happen? Who is the decision maker? Who has needed resources? Who may be an obstacle? Whose support is needed? These individuals or groups are your list of WHOs. The DOs are often harder. For each WHO, ask: What do they need to do, or do differently? What actions will build toward the big goal? Sharpen each WHO in the list until you have a desired and measurable action for each.

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3-12-3 Brainstorm OBJECT OF PLAY This format for brainstorming compresses the essentials of an ideation session into one short format. The numbers 3-12-3 refer to the amount of time in minutes given to each of three activities: 3 minutes for generating a pool of observations, 12 for combining those observations into rough concepts, and 3 again for presenting the concepts back to a group. Essential to this format is strict time keeping. The “ticking clock” forces spontaneous, quick-fire decisions and doesn’t allow for overthinking. With this in mind, a group that is typically heavily measured in its thought process will benefit the most from this exercise but will also be the hardest to engage.

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30–45 minutes HOW TO PLAY In a space visible to the players, write the topic around which you need to generate ideas and draw a picture of it. An example of a topic might be “Employee Recognition Program.” Distribute index cards to each player and ask them to silently generate ideas related to the topic and write them on the cards. As they complete each idea, ask the players to pass that idea to the person on their right. Tell the players to read the card they received and think of it as an “idea stimulation” card. Ask them to add an idea inspired by what they just read or to enhance the idea and then pass again to their right. Continue this process of “brainwriting” and passing cards to the right until there are various ideas on each card.

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20–30 minutes HOW TO PLAY Each participant should have a large index card or letter-sized piece of paper. After introducing the topic of the meeting, ask the participants to think about the problem they are here to solve. As they do so, ask them to write a list of items helping to explain the problem. For example, they may think about a “day in the life” of the problem or an item that represents the problem as a whole.

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The History Map game shows you how to map moments and metrics that shaped your organization. It’s also a great way to familiarize new people with an organization’s history and culture during periods of rapid growth

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Low-Tech Social Network OBJECT OF PLAY The object of this game is to introduce event participants to each other by co-creating a mural-sized, visual network of their connections.

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Mission Impossible OBJECT OF PLAY To truly create something new, we must challenge constraints. In this exercise, participants take an existing design, process, or idea and change one foundational aspect that makes it “impossible” in function or feasibility. For example: “How do we build a house…in a day?” “How do we create a mobile device…with no battery?” “What would a browser be…without an Internet connection?”

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In cases where processes are slow or overloaded, the “fire drill” question of “How would we do this in a day?” can be a powerful framing device.

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A pre-mortem is best conducted at the project’s kickoff, with all key team members present and after the goals and plan have been laid out and understood. The exercise starts with a simple question: “What will go wrong?” though it may be elevated in phrasing to “How will this end in disaster?”

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Show Me Your Values OBJECT OF PLAY Employees’ perceptions of a company’s values, whether they’re conscious or not, contributes to their morale and their willingness to go the extra mile to support the mission. To get a sense of how employees perceive the values that drive an organization, an initiative, a system-wide change, or any other topic, play Show Me Your Values.

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Introduce Spectrum Mapping by stating that the purpose of the game is to illuminate the team’s range of perspectives and to organize those perspectives into a continuum so that everyone gets a view of it.

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Welcome to My World OBJECT OF PLAY Many of us make the mistaken assumption that others see what we see and know what we know. No one in the world shares your internal system map of reality. The best way to compare notes, so to speak, is to actually draw an external representation of what you think is happening. Welcome to My World gives players an opportunity to better understand other players’ roles and responsibilities. It helps chip away at silos and introduces the novel idea that we may be seeing only one reality: ours. It helps immensely to show what we see to others so that we can start to share a reality and work on it together.

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The 4Cs is deliberately quick (and slightly chaotic) to avoid a situation in which people simply list information about what they know related to the topic. In this game, the players gathering information may already have a lot of detail about the topic, but they’ll inevitably learn something new through the process of interviewing others. Interviewing allows people who may not interact much the opportunity to do so.

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Based on guidance from the players, sort the ideas into columns (or clusters) based on relationships. Involve the group in the process as much as possible. Have the players approach the wall to post their notes—it saves time—and allow them to do an initial, general sorting in columns or clusters. Create a sticky-note “parking lot” close to the display for ideas that don’t appear to fall into a natural category. Redundancy in ideas is OK; don’t discard sticky notes because they’re already represented. It’s helpful to leave repeated ideas posted since it indicates to the group how many people are thinking the same thing. At this stage, ask the players to try to avoid searching for higher categories and simply to focus on grouping the information based on the affinities.

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The Blind Side is inspired by and adapted from the Johari Window, a communication model developed by Joseph Luft and Harry Ingham. The game variation of the model is credited to Sunni Brown.

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Challenge Cards OBJECT OF PLAY To identify and think through challenges, problems and potential pitfalls in a product, service or strategy.

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When creating something, it’s easier to think in the affirmative. We think in a vector of taking actions and building things, and can forget that over time undoing those same decisions can be just as important. Do, Redo & Undo asks a group to focus on this, and to think through the implications of dismantling and altering.

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The facilitator asks the group to rate their level of consensus on a topic from 0 to 5, with five fingers meaning “absolute, total agreement” and a fist meaning “completely different points of view.” This is particularly useful in managing breakout groups, where different topics may be discussed simultaneously. A group that holds up a variety of ones, twos, and threes may have more work to do.

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Flip It! is a quick game designed to show players that perspectives are made, not born. We can choose to see the glass as either half full or half empty, but often when we perceive it as half full, we get better results. This game is at its best when players begin to see challenges as opportunities and to make doable suggestions around solving problems rather than just rehashing them.

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In a large white space visible to all the players, write the topic of the meeting and the following words as headers across the top: “WHO?”, “WHAT?”, “WHEN?”, “WHERE?”, and “HOW?”. Give all players access to sticky notes and markers. Tell the players that the goal of the game is to let leadership understand and be responsive to any and all questions around the topic. Start with the question “WHO?” and give the players five minutes to silently write down as many questions as they can that begin with the word WHO.

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Ask about this person’s pains first by prompting the group to step inside his mind and think and feel as he does. Capture the answers on one side of the person: What does a bad day look like for him? What is he afraid of? What keeps him awake at night? What is he responsible for? What obstacles stand in his way? A persona’s gains can be the inversion of the pain situation—or can go beyond. Capture these on the opposite side by asking: What does this person want and aspire to? How does he measure success? Given the subject at hand, how could this person benefit? What can we offer this person?

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A recurring challenge in group work is managing discussions so that every individual has a chance to contribute, and no individuals dominate the meeting. By using simple “talking chips” as a currency for contribution, a group can self-manage the flow of participation.

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The object of this game is to clearly define a set of terms so that a group has a common vocabulary. It’s not in our nature to admit ignorance. When greeted with an unknown or abstract term, many people find it easier to pretend they understand than to ask for clarification. This is dangerous in knowledge work, where a common understanding is necessary to work together. Groups that make time to define their terms visually will work faster and more effectively by starting on the same page.

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Wizard of Oz OBJECT OF PLAY In this role-play exercise, two people prototype a machine–human interaction. The user talks to another who is “behind the curtain,” playing the role of the machine. They may use a script to uncover breaking points in an existing design, or improvise to work out a completely new idea.

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The 20/20 Vision game is about getting group clarity around which projects or initiatives should be more of a priority than others.

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Ask the players challenging questions about their comments: Does this have to happen first? Can these two steps be combined? How are steps related across projects? Do steps in one project affect the progress or outcome of another? Ask hard questions to help the group get to the best place and write any food for thought on a flip chart nearby.

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On a flip chart or whiteboard, create a matrix that outlines WHO / WHAT / WHEN. Although instincts may be to start with the “WHAT” (the tasks and items that need to be done), this approach starts with the “WHO” (the people who will be taking the actions). Put every participant’s name into the matrix in this column.

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