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Product Pinocchio

Object of Play

Quite naturally, most of us don’t think of products or services as being alive and animate.  But there are a lot of benefits to imagining a product as a friend rather than an instrument. By pretending that a product has come to life, we can personalize and evolve its features in a way that is not accessible to us when we think of it as inanimate. Product Pinocchio is a game designed to establish, refine, and evolve the features of a product or service so that it becomes more valuable to the end user. By personifying it, we can better relate to it and better craft it into a “friend” that a consumer might want to take home.

Number of Players

5–20

Duration of Play

1 hour

How to Play

1. For this game, a “scene” is any simple situation in which the character (the product or service) is required to make a decision or take action. Scene examples might be “someone attempts to steal an old lady’s purse” or “a driver encounters a hitchhiker on the way to a party”. Before the meeting, invent four scenes and write them on index cards, one scene per card.

2. Also before the meeting, write each of the following five questions on the tops of flip-chart paper, one question per sheet:

  • What am I like?
  • What are my values?
  • What is my community?
  • What makes me different?
  • What is my fight?

3. Starting with “What am I like?” draw a picture of the product/service in the middle of the sheet of paper with arms, legs, and a head. (This character should be used throughout the exercise, but in different poses.)

4. Ask the group to imagine that the product or service has come to life and is now a fully developed character that they know well. Ask them to call out adjectives and phrases that describe that character and write their responses around the picture.  During this step, you can also ask players who the product/service would be if it were a cartoon character or a celebrity and write down those responses as well.

5. When you have enough information to adequately describe the character, ask the players to dot vote next to the three to five adjectives that best describe the character.  Circle or highlight the information that got the most votes and make a note of it with the group.

6. Move to the “What are my values?” flip chart and draw a picture of the character.  Divide the group into four small groups and give each group an index card describing a scene (or work with all four scenes as one group if you have seven or less players).  Ask the players to read their scene quietly and discuss in their groups what the character would say or do in that situation.

7. Bring the groups back together and give each one an opportunity to share what they agreed their character would do. Write each response down and then ask the group as a whole what the behaviors suggest about the character’s underlying values.  Add their responses to the flip chart.

8. Move to the “What is my community?” flip chart and draw another picture of the character in the middle of the sheet.  Ask the group who the character spends her time with. What groups does she belong to? Where does she volunteer? Who needs her the most? What do her friends have in common? What are the qualities of her community? Write down the responses.

9. Move to the “What makes me different?” flip chart and draw a picture of the character in the middle of the sheet. Ask the group how this character is different from other characters in her community.  What makes her stand out? What are her strengths? What could she do better?  Why would someone want her on a team? Write down the responses.

10. Move to the “What is my fight?” flip chart and draw a picture of the character in the middle of the sheet.  Find out the character’s mission in life. What motivates her? What keeps her up at night? What does she do for people? What is she trying to prove? What obstacles are in her way? Write these responses down.

  • Optional activity: Ask people to toast the character as though they were at her wedding. Alternatively, ask them to give a eulogy to a competing product or service as though they were at its funeral. Or ask the players to share a true story from the character’s life, something that happened to her that makes her who she is.

11. Summarize the overall findings with the group and reflect on the personality and identity of the character the group created. Discuss the implications of the character traits, values, and behaviors on the features—current or potential—of the related product or service.

Strategy

This game works best when the players suspend disbelief and jump into the idea that a product has a personality, a value system, and a life. For some players it will be a hard leap to make, which is why the picture you draw is important, as are the questions you ask: they both force responses as though the “it” were a “he” or “she.” Be receptive even to character names suggested during the group’s interactions. Calling it “Cameron” makes it easier to imagine the product or service as a person rather than an object or a process.  Encourage storytelling during this game to flesh out the character’s identity based on the scenes you concocted;  for example, “What would Cameron do?” Don’t discourage the group from creating outlandish characters or personality traits, because the actions taken by a zany character may lead to an innovation in the way people perceive of the use of a product or service. Let the players go as far out as they want; if need be, you can move them toward consensus on a more believable character as the game closes. Just be sure to discuss with the group the parallels between the character traits they created and the benefits those traits may have on the next version of the product or service.

The source of the Product Pinocchio is unknown.

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Pain-Gain Map

Object of Play

The object of this game is to develop an understanding of motivations and decisions.

Number of Players

3–10

Duration of Play

10–15 minutes

How to Play

Many decisions often boil down to one’s basic choices between benefit and harm.  By capturing these specifics for a key person, your group may uncover the most relevant points to bring up in presenting or influencing the key person’s decision. This key person may be the ultimate user of a product or may be the leader of an organization whose approval is sought.  Start by writing the key person’s name or creating a quick sketch of him on a wall.  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?

Strategy

Summarize and prioritize the top pains and gains from the exercise. Use them when developing presentations, value propositions, or any other instance where you are trying to influence a decision.

The Pain-Gain Map game is credited to Dave Gray.

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Campfire

Object of Play

Employees spend hours sitting in training sessions, sifting through orientation manuals, and playing corporate e-learning games to learn the know-how for their new positions.  But the reality is that the bulk of employee knowledge is gained through storytelling.  Employees train each other by sharing their personal and professional experiences.  Campfire leverages our natural storytelling tendencies by giving players a format and a space in which to share work stories—of trial and error, failure and success, competition, diplomacy, and teamwork. Campfire is useful not only because it acts as an informal training game, but also because it reveals commonalities in employee perception and experience.

Number of Players

8–20

Duration of Play

30–45 minutes

How to Play

  1. Before the meeting, brainstorm 10–20 words or phrases you can use as trigger words to start the storytelling session. Write them on sticky notes.  Keep the ideas positive or neutral: partnership, venture, first day, work travel, fun project, opportunity, and so forth.
  2. Post the sticky notes in the meeting room in a space visible to all the players and give them access to markers and more sticky notes. Tell them that this is a workplace “campfire” and the only thing they’re invited to do is share stories back and forth as an informal “company training program.” Show them the “wall of words” and ask them to take 1–3 minutes to look them over and recall a story associated with one of them. To help the group warm up, start the storytelling session yourself by removing one of the words on the wall and posting it in a space nearby. Then tell your introductory story.
  3. Ask for a volunteer to continue what you started by peeling another word from the wall and posting it next to yours. This begins the sticky-note “story thread.”
  4. Before the first player begins his story, ask him to read aloud the word he chose and then instruct the other players to listen carefully to his story and to jot down a word or phrase on a sticky note that reminds them of another work-related story.  If no words in the player’s story jumped out at them, they are welcome to pull a sticky note from your original “wall of words.”
  5. After the player concludes the first story, ask for another volunteer to approach the wall and to either post her own sticky note or take one from the “wall of words.” Ask her to read her word aloud and to then share her story.
  6. Repeat this process until the players have created a snake-like “story thread” which acts as an archive of the campfire conversation. Use your best judgment to determine when to end the storytelling session. Before you “put out” the fire, ask the players if there are any lessons learned or final thoughts they want to add.

Strategy

Your role as the meeting leader is simply to encourage the sharing of work-related stories.  If you find a lull in the storytelling thread, refer the employees back to the “wall of words” or ask someone to throw out a “wild card” story. You can also share work-related stories of your own that are triggered by stories from the players. You can let the stories drift toward less positive or neutral topics if you think the players need some catharsis, but be prepared to manage what may come up and don’t let the meeting conclude on a sour note.

The point of Campfire is simple but powerful. It encourages sharing, shows the many things employees have in common, and leverages the natural tendency of employee training to take place through informal dialogue. Humans want to tell stories; you’ll likely find that the players linger to share experiences even after the meeting ends.

This game was inspired by Tell Me a Story: Narrative and Intelligence (Rethinking Theory),by Roger Schank and Gary Saul Morson.

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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.

Number of Players

Works best with small groups of 5-10

How to Play

Divide each group into two teams. One team, the “solution team” silently brainstorms features and strengths of the product or solution. The other team, the “challenge team” silently brainstorms potential problems or challenges and writes them on index cards, one problem or challenge per card.

When play commences, the two teams work together to tell a collaborative story. The challenge team picks a card from the deck and plays it on the table, describing a scene or event where the issue might realistically arise. The solution team must then pick a card from their deck that addresses the challenge. If they have a solution they get a point, and if they don’t have a solution the challenge team gets a point. The teams then work together to design a card that addresses that challenge.  Play continues in this fashion, challenge followed by solution followed by challenge, and so on, until the story or scenario reaches a conclusion.

Strategy

The goal of this game is to improve a product or strategy by thinking through various scenarios and alternatives. By turning the exercise into a competition as well as a storytelling game, players are more likely to get engaged and immerse themselves in the scenarios. Keeping it lighthearted and fun will increase the energy. It shouldn’t feel like work.

Michelle Ide-Smith wrote a great blog post called Playing with Challenge Cards where she shares some insights into how to use this game to generate ideas and insights.

This game emerged spontaneously during a Gamestorming workshop in London in 2010.

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Customer, Employee, Shareholder

Object of Play

The object of this game is to imagine possible futures from multiple perspectives.

Number of Players

1–10

Duration of Play

1–3 hours

How to Play

  1. Divide your group into three roles: Customers, Employees, and Shareholders.
  2. Ask the players to step into their roles and imagine their business five years from now. What will they value? What will their experience be like? What events or trends emerge? What specific, tangible things are different?
  3. Have the players draw their visions of the future and share them.
  4. Ask the group to identify themes and new possibilities. Capture them and consult the group on next steps.

Strategy

In this exercise, the group is given a chance to relate intuitive knowledge about the business that may not surface otherwise. If possible, allow the group to cycle through multiple roles by reshuffling the roles and repeating the exercise.

The Customer, Employee, Shareholder game is based on the Stakeholder Framework developed by Max Clarkson in “A Stakeholder Framework for Analyzing and Evaluating Corporate Social Performance” in the Academy of Management Review (1995).

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Virtuous Cycle

Object of Play

The goal of this game is to discover opportunities to transform an existing, linear process into a more valuable and growing process by taking a different viewpoint. This is useful in examining processes that are deemed “worth repeating,” such as the customer experience.

It might be a good time to play through this exercise if the current process is transactional,compartmentalized, or wasteful. Other indications are a group that is “navel gazing” and focused primarily on its internal process, or when there is a sense that after the process is complete, no one knows what happens next.

Possible outcomes include that the group may uncover new growth and improvement opportunities in an existing process by “bending it back into itself.”

Number of Players

3–10

Duration of Play

1–3 hours

How to Play

You will need a high-level understanding or documentation of the current state of things. Any existing, linear process will work.

  1. Introduce the exercise by “black boxing” the current process. This means that during the course of the exercise the group’s focus will be on what’s outside the process,not the fine detail of what’s going on inside the box.
  2. To make this visual, give each step in the process a box on the wall (medium-sized sticky notes work well) and connect them with arrows in a linear fashion.
  3. To start the exercise, ask the group to think about, to the best of their knowledge, what happens before the process: Who or what is involved? What is going on?  Repeat this for the end of the process: What comes after the process? What are the possible outcomes?
  4. You may ask them to capture their thoughts on sticky notes and post them before and after the process.
  5. Next, draw a loop from the end of the linear process back to its starting point. By doing this you are turning a linear process into a life cycle. Ask: “To get from here,and back again, what needs to happen? What’s missing from the picture?
  6. The group is ready to explore possibilities and opportunities. Again, sticky notes work well for capturing ideas. Have the players capture their thoughts along the line and discuss.

Summarize or close the exercise by generating a list of questions and areas to explore.  This may include looking at the internal, defined process for improvement ideas.

Strategy

Pick the right process to do this with. A process that warrants repeating, such as the customer experience, works well.  Knowledge creation and capture, as well as strategic planning, are also candidates.

Get the right people in the room. Some awareness of what happens outside the process is needed, but can also hamper the experience. One of the biggest potential outcomes is a visceral change in perspective on the participants’ part: from internal focus to external focus.

This game is credited to James Macanufo.

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Flip It

Object of Play

Often, a change in a problem or situation comes simply from a change in our perspectives.  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.

Number of Players

5–20

Duration of Play

30 minutes to 1 hour

How to Play

  1. Before the meeting, hang four to eight sheets of flip-chart paper on a wall (as shown in the following figure), and on any sheet in the top row, write the name of the game.
  2. On the bottom-left sheet write the word “FEAR”.  If you’d like, spend time drawing a representation of fear on the sheets beforehand or cut out an image from a magazine that embodies it. Tell the group that Flip It is about the future—of their department, their organization, their product/service, whatever topic you have agreed on beforehand.
  3. Ask the players to quietly spend 5–10 minutes writing concerns, issues, and fears about the topic on sticky notes. Remind them to be honest about their fears because this game gives them an opportunity to reframe their fears. Collect and post the sticky notes on the FEAR sheets, which are all the sheets along the bottom row.  Discuss the content with the group and ask for volunteers to elaborate on their contributions.
  4. On the top-left sheet write the word “HOPE”. Ask the players to survey the content in the FEAR row and try to “flip” the perspectives by reframing in terms of hope.Give them 10–15 minutes to generate sticky notes that respond to the fears.
  5. With the group, collect and post the second set of sticky notes on the HOPE sheets along the top row.
  6. Discuss the content with the group and ask for volunteers to elaborate on their contributions. Ask the players to dot vote next to the hopes they can take practical action on. With the group, observe the hopes that won the most votes.
  7. Write the word “TRACTION” on another sheet of flip-chart paper. Rewrite (or remove and restick) the hopes that won the most votes on the TRACTION sheet.  Ask the players to brainstorm aloud any actionable items related to each hope. Write them down and discuss.

Strategy

Because Flip It starts with FEARS, as the meeting leader you’ll need to reassure folks early on that they’re not going to wallow in their fears. They just need to spend sometime generating fears in order to gather information and get the game moving. You can model the flip-it behavior by opening the game with an example of a situation you chose to perceive one way or the other. Once the group writes down their fears and posts them on the wall, let them air any related thoughts and then spend the majority of the time flipping the fears into positive outcomes. You want the group to see concerns (even if it’s a momentary view) as a chance to be hopeful and get motivated around action.

If you’re working with a larger group or if the group generates an abundant amount of sticky notes, use the sorting and clustering technique and generate representative categories for each cluster. Then ask the group to vote on those categories and use them during the TRACTION activity. Unless directed otherwise, the issues provided by the group will likely focus on both internal and external factors. If you don’t want the play to be that all-encompassing, establish a boundary going in.

  • Optional activity: Ask for volunteers to write their initials next to the practical actions they could support. Tell them it’s not an intractable commitment, just an indication of where their interest lies.

The source of the Flip It game is unknown.

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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.

Number of Players

2, plus observers

Duration of Play

30 minutes or more

How to Play

If a group is testing an existing design, they should prepare a script that outlines the responses and actions that the machine can take. The “wizard” will use this—and only this—to react to the user. For example, a group that is designing an ATM interface would write a script of information presented to the user and the responses that it understands in return.

If a group is improvising, they can just get started. To open the exercise, the two players should be visually separated from each other. This is the “curtain” that keeps them from inadvertently passing cues or other information to each other. They may be separated by a piece of cardboard, or they may simply turn their backs to each other.

The easiest way to play through the exercise is for the user to initiate some task that she wants to accomplish. As the two players play through the experience, they should look for problems, frustration points, or opportunities to do the unexpected. Essentially, the user should challenge the machine, and the machine should stick to what it knows.

Strategy

This technique’s application has grown beyond voice control, as the “curtain” simultaneously eliminates assumptions about the machine and surfaces what the user wants to do and how she wants to do it.

The technique was pioneered in the 1970s, in the early design and testing of the now-common airport kiosk, and in IBM’s development of the “listening typewriter.” In these cases, the technique is taken even further: the person playing the machine would interpret voice commands from a user and manipulate a prototype of the system accordingly, like the invisible “wizard” in The Wizard of Oz.

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World Café

Object of Play

What’s the difference between a business meeting and a conversation at a café? The World Café is a method for improving large-group discussion by borrowing concepts from the informal “café” conversations that we have all the time: round tables, cross pollinating ideas, and pursuing questions that matter.

As a conversational process, the World Café may take on many forms. Here is a “quick start” flow to consider, which focuses on the basics.

Number of Players

24–30 participants in groups of 4–5 at round tables

Duration of Play

1.5 hours

Setup

As the leader, you will need to find the “questions that matter” which will guide the rounds of discussion. A powerful question will be evocative and simple; it should be immediately tangible and relevant to a challenge the group faces. The group may focus on one question or move through a group of subsequent questions. For example, “How might we start having more real conversations with our customers?” may be enough to sustain three rounds of discussion.

Develop your questions that matter, and then focus on creating an inviting and hospitable environment for the event. This may not be an easy task in typical conference spaces.  Some things to keep in mind include the fact that round tables are better for conversation than square tables, and each table should be equipped with drawing supplies such as markers, flip charts, and/or paper tablecloths.

How to Play

The event consists of three 20-minute rounds of group discussion at tables, followed by a group synthesis. After each round, one person stays behind to serve as a “host” of the next round, while the rest travel to other tables as “ambassadors.” In this sense, participants have a chance to go “around the world” and bring their ideas with them from table to table.

During the rounds of discussion, encourage participants to link ideas from one round to the next.

Here are some things to consider:

  • Spend the first few minutes talking about the last conversation. The “host” can present ideas left at the table, and the “ambassadors” should talk about what they’ve brought from their respective places.
  • Leave evidence. Draw key ideas out on the table. For the next group to appreciate the previous conversation, they will need some artifacts to respond to and build on.
  • Connect diverse viewpoints and respect contributions. If needed, use a “talking stick” or button to manage each other’s input.
  • Look for patterns. By the second and third rounds, themes and larger patterns will emerge in the discussion. Encourage participants to look for these and make them evident by drawing or writing them toward the middle of the tables.

After the last round, it’s time for a town hall discussion to synthesize what the groups have discovered. Referring back to the questions that matter, ask what the answers were at the different tables, and how they are connected.

A community of practitioners maintains the evolving methodology, process, history, and design principles at www.theworldcafe.com.

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Ethos, Logos, Pathos

Object of Play

The goal of this game is to channel Aristotle’s assessment of your argument.

Number of Players

1–10

Duration of Play

10 minutes to 1 hour

How to Play

Aristotle laid the groundwork for persuasive communication in the 4th century. Although the times have changed, effective communication hasn’t. Evaluate a communication, such as a value proposition, by using the three elements of rhetoric.  Role playing as your audience, score your message from 1 to 10 on these categories:

  • Ethos/Credibility:  Who are you, and what authority do you have on the topic?
  • Logos/Logic:  How clear and consistent is your reasoning? How do your facts measure up against my facts?
  • Pathos/Emotion: How vivid, memorable, and motivating is your message?

Look for areas of improvement or imbalance.

The Ethos, Logos, Pathos game is credited to James Macanufo.