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The Anti-Problem

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Object of Play
The Anti-Problem game helps people get unstuck when they are at their wit’s end. It is most useful when a team is already working on a problem, but they’re running out of ideas for solutions. By asking players to identify ways to solve the problem opposite to their current problem, it becomes easier to see where a current solution might be going astray or where an obvious solution isn’t being applied.

Number of Players: 5–20

Duration of Play: 30–45 minutes

How to Play
1. Before the meeting, find a situation that needs to be resolved or a problem that needs a solution.

2. Give players access to sticky notes, markers, index cards, pipe cleaners, modeling clay—any supplies you have around the office that they could use to design and describe solutions.

3. Break large groups into smaller groups of three to four people and describe what they’ll tackle together: the anti-problem, or the current problem’s opposite. (For example, if the problem is sales conversion, the players would brainstorm ways to get customers to avoid buying the product.) The more extreme the problem’s opposite, the better.

Optional activity: Bring a list of smaller problems and decrease the amount of time allotted to solve them. Make it a race to come up with as many solutions as the group can churn out—even if they’re outlandish.

4. Give the players 15–20 minutes to generate and display various ways to solve the anti-problem. Encourage fast responses and a volume of ideas. There are no wrong solutions.

5. When the time is up, ask each group to share their solutions to the anti-problem. They should stand and display any visual creations they have at this time or ask the others to gather around their table to see their solutions.

6. Discuss any insights and discoveries the players have.

Strategy
This game’s purpose is to help teams evaluate a problem differently and break out of existing patterns, so make the anti-problem more extreme than it really is, just to get people thinking. And don’t worry if the players don’t generate many (or any) viable or actionable solutions. Obviously, those would be a boon to the game, but the intention is not to eliminate a complex problem in 30 minutes. The intention is to give people a new approach that can lead to a solution when they have time to think after the meeting is over. Or, since this game tends to naturally segue into a conversation about the real problem, you could use any extra time to start that conversation while the players’ ideas are ignited. Note: there may be some unexpected “aha moments” as people could discover that they’re applying a solution that’s actually contributing to the current problem. Whoops!

The Anti-Problem game is based on an activity called Reverse It, from Donna Spencer’s design games website, http://www.designgames.com.au.

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3-12-3 Brainstorm

Enrique writing

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. Given its short duration (30 minutes total for 10 participants), 3-12-3 Brainstorming can be used as an energizer before diving into a longer exercise or as a standalone, zero-prep activity. It works equally well in generating new ideas as improvements to existing ones.

Number of Players
This is a fast exercise that gets slower as more participants are added. With up to 10 participants working as partners, the speed of the exercise makes it an energy builder. Working beyond 10 may require creating groups of three instead of pairs to keep from getting slowed down.

Duration of Play: 21–30 minutes, depending on number of participants

How to Play
You will need a topic on which to brainstorm ideas, boiled down to two words. This could be an existing problem, such as “energy efficiency,” or it could be focused on creating something new, such as “tomorrow’s television.” Although the two words could be presented as a full challenge question, such as “How
will tomorrow’s television work?” it is best to avoid doing this right away. By focusing on two words that signify the topic, you will aim to evoke thinking about its defining aspects first, before moving into new concepts or proposing solutions.

To set up the game, distribute a stack of index cards and markers to all the participants. Everyone should have a fair number of cards available. The game should begin immediately after the rules have been explained.

  • 3 Minutes: Generate a Pool of Aspects. For the first three minutes of the exercise, participants are asked to think about the characteristics of the topic at hand and to write down as many of them as they can on separate index cards. It may accelerate the group’s process to think in terms of “nouns and verbs” that come to mind when thinking about the subject, or to free-associate. As in all brainstorming, no filtering should be put on this phase, in which the goal is a large pool of aspects in a small window of three minutes.
  • 12 Minutes: Develop Concepts. At this point the group is divided into pairs. Each team draws three cards randomly from the pool. With these as thought starters, the teams now have 12 minutes to develop a concept to present back to the larger group. If the two topic words are sufficient to explain the challenge, the clock starts and the teams begin. If there is any doubt, reveal a more fleshed-out version of the topic’s focus, such as “How will we become more energy-efficient next quarter?” In developing concepts to present, teams may create rough sketches, prototypes, or other media—the key is in preparing for a short (three-minute maximum) presentation of their concept back to the group.
  • 3 Minutes: Make Presentations. When presenting to the larger group, teams may reveal the cards that they drew and how the cards influenced their thinking. Again, tight time keeping is critical here—every team should have a maximum of three minutes to present their concept. After every team has presented, the entire group may reflect on what was uncovered.
  • Strategy
    Speed is key. Many traditional brainstorming techniques can be slowed down or fouled entirely when time is not of the essence, despite the best intentions of participants. Additionally, speed helps prove the value of what can be accomplished in short bursts—often the important aspects of good ideas can be captured very quickly and do not require laborious discussion before first coming to light.

    After presenting concepts back to the group, teams may do a number of things. They may dig deeper on an individual concept or try to integrate the ideas into each other. They may vote or rank the concepts to decide on which to spend more time developing. Often, concepts coming out of this exercise are more memorable to the participants, who are bonded in the time-driven stress of creating together.

    The 3-12-3 Brainstorm game is credited to James Macanufo.

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    Image-ination

    Object of Play: To generate new ideas about a topic you feel stuck on.

    # of Players: 5-7 per group

    Duration of Play: 15 minutes ‑ 1 hour

    How to Play:

    1. Before the meeting, assemble a collection of photographs and images that do not contain words. You can cut them out of magazines, catalogs, or junk mail. Don’t look for pretty pictures; instead look for the widest variety of pictures. Try to collect 3-5 pictures per person.
    2. Put a large sheet of paper on the table; a piece of flip-chart paper is ideal. In the center, write out a one- to three-word description of the topic you want to generate new thinking around (e.g., Finding New Customers).
    3. Place the pictures face down around the edges of the paper.
    4. Give each person a pile of sticky notes or index cards.
    5. Tell the participants that the goal of the game is to encourage thinking as widely as possible. The idea is to go beyond what they already know. Demonstrate this by showing an image and quickly state several ways it relates to the topic.
    6. Have each participant randomly select an image, turn it over, and write on the sticky notes or index cards as many ideas as they can come up with about how the image relates or could relate to the topic. Ask each participant to put one idea on each note or card and put it on the flip-chart paper around the topic.
    7. Allow five minutes for participants to work silently. Have people select other images and repeat the process until you either run out of images or time.
    8. Ask the group to collect the notes and cards with all of the ideas and re-arrange the ideas in clusters that relate to each other. For each cluster, ask the group to find a photograph to illustrate the idea and create a short title for it. Write the title under the image.
    9. If you have more than one small group, ask each one to share the photos and titles of each of their clusters with the other groups.
    10. Have a conversation about how the titled photos can inform the groups’ thinking about the topic. Make a list of possible actions they could take in response to the ideas.

    Strategy:

    Images have the ability to spark insights and to create new associations and possible connections. Encourage people to allow themselves to free-associate and see potential new ideas. In this type of play, you are asking people to move back and forth between using their visual and verbal skills. When done in rapid succession, as in this game, this switching offers the possibility for more ideas and approaches to emerge.

    When leading the game, some participants may need to be reassured that the goal is not to come up with a design or specific answer. Keeping Image-ination time frames short reduces this ability and requires people to allow associations to emerge from a less-considered space. After all, if what everyone was already thinking could readily solve the problem, the group would not feel stuck. The idea is to move beyond the stories people always tell and to surface something new and different.

    You may hear that people can’t find the picture they want to describe their ideas. That’s actually a good sign! That “problem” actually means the participants have the creative opportunity to find another kind of association.

    Imagine-ation is adapted from the Visual Icebreaker Kit, one of several image-based games and tools from VisualsSpeak. It is © 2010 VisualsSpeak LLC.

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    Show Me Your Values

    NAME OF PLAY: Value Tease
    Object of Play:
    To unearth employee perception of the deep values that underly an organization, an initiative, a system-wide change, or any other topic.
    # of Players: 5 – 10
    Duration of Play: 30 minutes
    How to Play:
    Before the meeting, decide the topic around which you want players to share stories. Set-up a flat surface area in which you can write and they can post their images. Write the name of the topic in this area.
    Provide the players with tape and several magazines of all genres—enough magazines for each player to rifle through three or four.
    Tell the players that the goal of the exercise is twofold: First, they’ll describe in pictures what they perceive to be the values underlying the topic. Second, they’ll share a work-related story that’s indicative of those values. (Example: an image of a turtle may represent patience and longevity, so the player may share an anecdote in which an attractive but high-risk project was not pursued.)
    Give everyone 10 minutes to cutout one or more images that represent their perception of the underlying values.
    Ask them to tape their image(s) in the designated area and then quietly reflect on a story associated with the value(s) they represented.
    Ask for volunteers to take turns sharing both their images and their associated story.
    Pay attention as the players describe the values they perceive and write them in the space beside the appropriate image.
    Go over the values you captured and ask the players to look for overlaps and gaps in their perception. Ask follow-up questions about the content and stories to generate further conversation. Let the group absorb and discuss the perceptions they share as well as those they don’t.

    NAME OF PLAY: Show Me Your Values

    Object of Play: To understand employee perception of the values that underly an organization, an initiative, a system-wide change, or any other topic.

    # of Players: 5 – 10

    Duration of Play: 30-45 minutes

    How to Play:

    1. Before the meeting, decide the topic around which you want players to share stories. Set-up a flat surface area in which you can write and they can post their images. Write the name of the topic in this area.
    2. Provide the players with tape and several magazines of all genres—enough magazines for each player to rifle through three or four.
    3. Tell the players that the goal of the exercise is twofold: First, they’ll describe in pictures what they perceive to be the values underlying the topic. Second, they’ll share a work-related story that’s indicative of those values. (Example: an image of a turtle may represent patience and longevity, so the player may share an anecdote in which an attractive but high-risk project was not pursued.)
    4. Give everyone 10 minutes to cutout one or more images that represent their perception of the underlying values.
    5. Ask them to tape their image(s) in the designated area and then quietly reflect on a story associated with the value(s) they represented.
    6. Ask for volunteers to take turns sharing both their images and their associated story.
    7. Pay attention as the players describe the values they perceive and write them in the space beside the appropriate image.
    8. Go over the values you captured and ask the players to look for overlaps and gaps in their perception. Ask follow-up questions about the content and stories to generate further conversation. Let the group absorb and discuss the perceptions they share as well as those they don’t.

    Value-Tease_BW2

    Strategy:

    A notable benefit of using pictures to elicit values statements and stories is that imagery is simultaneously one step removed from a straight, verbal declaration yet one step deeper than what you may get when you ask players to share their “intellectual” thoughts. And using pictures gives the players a sort of comfort zone to express themselves, since they can choose pictures that represent the whole spectrum of comedy and tragedy around a topic. So if someone prefers truth through humor, they can find images that allow them to use it. And if someone else prefers truth through hyperbole, well, they have that option too.

    As the group lead, realize that some players will think immediately of a value representing a topic and go hunting through the magazines until they find a suitable representation. Others will surf the images, looking for something that resonates with a vague notion they have in their minds. Either approach is suitable and you can discuss these approaches when you set up the play.

    Most importantly when you introduce the game, encourage people to share the values they perceive as honestly as they can. Tell them that it’s okay to believe that an underlying organizational value is territoriality and to represent that with an image of a lion. Not only is this behavior appropriate, but it’s also desirable—since beliefs that drive behavior often go unstated in public but are repeated and spread through huddles within the organization. And as people share stories, if someone is having trouble thinking of a story to match their image, give them more time (or let them bow out completely) and let someone else offer a story. Often people will have stories triggered based on anecdotes that others share.

    Finally, let people be creative with the storytelling section of the play. If two or more participants want to share a story together, encourage them to do so. They can even go so far as to role play an event that unfolded. Your job is to create a space in which people can say something that may be taboo but that everyone is thinking.

    Fun, optional activity: Ask the players to cutout images that represent what the values are NOT. So if a player believes expediency is NOT one of the values around a project,  she may choose the aforementioned turtle as a representative image.

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    Show and Tell

    Geneva workshop

    While it’s enjoyable and worthwhile to discuss the ideas behind Gamestorming, it’s more useful to experience them. The image below represents output from a visual-thinking game that you can “play” with your employees.

    Caution: Adults have a tendency to link Show and Tell to child’s play. This is a learning faux pas. It’s right up there with underestimating the value of doodling. And now we know what’s wrong with that: Take Note: Doodling can Help Memory.

    OBJECT of the GAME: To get a deeper understanding of stakeholders’ perspectives on anything—a new project, an organizational restructuring, a shift in the company’s vision or team dynamic, etc.

    HOW TO PLAY:

    1. A few days in advance of a meeting, ask employees to bring an artifact for Show and Tell. The instructions are to bring something that, from their perspective, is representative of the topic at hand. If possible, tell them to keep the item hidden until it’s their turn to show it at the meeting.
    2. In a white space visible to everyone, write the name of the game and the topic. If you wish, draw a picture of either.
    3. When everyone is assembled with their show piece, ask for volunteers to stand up and show first.
    4. Pay close attention to each employee’s story of why she thought an item represented or reminded her of the topic. Listen for similarities, dif­ferences, and emotional descriptions of the item. Write each of these contributions in the white space and draw a simple visual of the item the person brought next to her comments.
    5. Summarize what you’ve captured in the white space and let the group absorb any shared themes of excitement, doubt or concern. Ask follow-up questions about the content to generate further conversation.

    WINNING STRATEGY: Show and Tell taps into the power of metaphors to reveal players’ underlying assumptions and associations around a topic. If you hear a string of items that are described in concerned or fearful terms, that’s likely a signal that the employees’ needs aren’t being met in some way. As the team lead, encourage and applaud honesty during the stories and write down every point an employee makes that seems important to him or her. Keep the rest of the group quiet while someone is showing and telling.

    As the group facilitator, if you feel intimidated by drawing a representation of a show item in the white space, get through it: attempt to draw it anyway and let the group tease you about your efforts. Show and Tell can be a vulnerable activity for employees—particularly the introverted type—so show some team spirit by being vulnerable in your leadership role.

    Show-and-Tell