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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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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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Heart, Hand, Mind

Object of Play

The object of this game is to examine an issue from another perspective, and find significance in the issue.

Number of Players

1–10

Duration of Play

10 minutes to 1 hour

How to Play

1. Look at an issue, product, or course of action using these three lenses:

  • Heart: What makes it emotionally engaging?
  • Hand: What makes it tangible and practical?
  • Mind: What makes it logical and sensible?

2. List the characteristics or features that appeal to each lens.

3. Score the categories from 1 to 10. Evaluate strengths and weaknesses.

Strategy

Significant products, activities, and experiences appeal to a whole person; they “feed the heart, hand, and mind.” Use these three lenses as a means of finding, clarifying, or diagnosing the meaning of any endeavor.

The Heart, Hand, Mind game was inspired by Swiss educational reformer Heinrich Pestalozzi.

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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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Make A World

Make a World by @benry

Object of Play

The Make a World game appeals to visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learners because of its layers of interaction. It’s useful (and downright fun) because it lets players imagine the future and take action to create a first version of it. All successful ventures start with a vision and some small, initial effort toward crystallization. Alexander Graham Bell’s vision for the telephone started as highly rudimentary sketches. The purpose of Make a World is to create a three-dimensional model of a desired future state.

Number of Players

8–20

Duration of Play

45 minutes to 1.5 hours

How to Play

  1. Before the meeting, determine a meeting topic. It can be any topic that would benefit from the group advancing it to a desired future state (e.g., “Our new branch location in Austin” or “Our future marketing strategy”).
  2. Tell the players the meeting topic and give them access to flip-chart paper, markers,sticky notes, pipe cleaners, modeling clay, magazines, index cards, tape—any art supplies available to help them “make a world.”
  3. Break the players into groups of three or four and give them 10–15 minutes to agree on a shared vision to make into a three-dimensional world. Explain that the world can include people, scenes, buildings, products and features, and anything they deem necessary to show an idealized version of the topic.
  4. Give the players 20–30 minutes to brainstorm the attributes of the world and physically create it using art supplies.
  5. When the time is up, give the players five minutes to create a slogan or tag line to summarize their world.
  6. Have each group showcase their “Eden” and give the others insight into what it offers. Make note of any recurring themes or parallel features in these “fantasy lands.”

Strategy

Any desired state can be visualized. The game isn’t confined to creating 3D models of widgets or parks or products or real estate. The “world” that players create could be anew landscape for a video game, a happier and more aligned team, a globally distributed supply chain, and so forth. The challenge for each group will be in the process of ideating and creating without shutting out possibilities. Encourage them to be expansive in their thinking. In this game, players are limited only by their imaginations and their art supplies.

The title of this game was inspired by Ed Emberley’s book, Make a World.

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Mood Board

Mood Board

Object of Play

The object of this game is to create a poster or collage that captures the overall “feel” of an idea. The mood board may be used throughout development as a frame of reference or inspiration. It may be composed of visual or written artifacts—photos clipped from magazines, physical objects, color swatches, or anything that communicates the overall flow and feel of an idea.

Number of Players

1–10

Duration of Play

30 minutes to 2 hours

How to Play

Although mood boards are common in design disciplines, creating a mood board does not require professional expertise. Any group that is at the beginning of a project may benefit from creating a mood board; all they need is the raw material and the idea to interpret.

Gather visual material from stacks of magazines, the Web, or even corporate presentations.Everything else—scissors, tape, blank paper, and flip charts—can be found in most office supply closets. Bring the group together around the materials and the theme that they will be interpreting. Here are some to consider:

  • “Our Culture”
  • “Next Year”
  • “The New Product”

Small teams may co-create a single mood board from individual contributions; larger groups may interpret the theme separately and then share them with each other. It’s Important that every participant gets a chance to contribute elements to the board and to explain their imagery.

Strategy

When participants are selecting and contributing elements to a board they are best advised to do so “from the gut” and not to overly rationalize their choices. A mood board is an artifact that captures the “feel” of an idea, not a comprehensive description or a requirements document!

The game is complete when the board is complete, but the board should live on after the process. It is invaluable to keep the board visible and persistent throughout development.

Mood boards are a traditional design practice and are often a feature in the architectural practice called charette—an intense period of collaborative group design activity around a shared goal.

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The Blind Side

Object of Play

Every human being has blind spots and every company does, too. Knowledge openness can enhance businesses and relationships while knowledge blindness can make things unnecessarily more difficult. In other words, what we don’t know can hurt us. The military refers to this as “the fog of war.” The premise of this game, therefore, is to disclose and discover unknown information that can impact organizational and group success in any area of the company—management, planning, team performance, and so forth.

Number of Players

5–15

Duration of Play

30–45 minutes

How to Play

  1. Before the meeting, decide on a topic for discussion. Draw a large-scale profile of a person and draw four arrows coming out of the top of the head. Label those arrows “Know/Know”, “Know/Don’t Know”, “Don’t Know/Know”, and “Don’t Know/Don’t Know”.
  2. Give the players access to sticky notes and markers and tell them that the purpose of this game is to try to make explicit the knowledge they have, and the knowledge they don’t have but could use.
  3. Start with the Know/Know category. Elicit from the group all information about the topic that they know they know. This category should go quickly and should gener- ate a lot of content. Ask the players to write one bit of knowledge per sticky note and cluster them near the arrow pertaining to that category. (They’ll do this for each category.)
  4. Next, tackle Know/Don’t Know. This category will go less quickly than the first but should still generate plenty of content. Again, ask them to cluster the sticky notes near the related arrow.
  5. Move to Don’t Know/Know. This information could be skills people have that are currently not used to solve problems or untapped resources that have been forgotten.
  6. Last, move to Don’t Know/Don’t Know. The group will be stopped here, possibly indefinitely. This category is where discovery and shared exploration take place. Ask the players provocative questions: What does this team know that your team doesn’t know it doesn’t know? How can you find out what you don’t know you don’t know?
  7. Ask the group what they can do to proactively address the distinct challenges of each category. Discuss insights and “aha’s”. Even if the players’ only revelation is that they have blind spots, this in itself can be a fruitful discovery.

Strategy

This game works best with a familiar team when the participants cross disciplines and responsibilities. Having a diverse group enhances the feedback loop for the Don’t Know categories, which are where the players are going to get stuck. They’ll be confident about what they know—and even about what they know they don’t know—but without an outside perspective, it’s next to impossible to declare what we don’t know we don’t know. The nature of this question warrants discussion and the solicitation of others’ observations.

Because this game has an obvious trust-building component, start by sharing easy information and move toward more substantive information depending on the players’ comfort level. Keep the group on business- or project-related topics and away from personal evaluations. Although The Blind Side can be used as a psychological assessment, the self-help applications of this game should be conducted outside the business setting, unless you’re dealing with the rare group that’s into that.

The Blind Side is inspired by and adapted from the Johari Window, a communication model developed by Joseph Luft and Harry Ingham.

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Making The Game Come Alive

The most exciting thing about gamestorming is the creativity it allows me. I’m essentially freed to create an experience perfectly suited for my audience. Because while the games the folks at Xplane have created are effective, they are still just “old standards.” They are like Monopoly® or Scrabble®. Everyone can play and everyone can enjoy. But when a game is created specifically for a situation or an audience, it can be truly magical and memorable

Recently I went to run a gamestorm for a friend. After years at an agency he helped found, he allowed his partner to buy him out and was now questing for the 2.0 of his career. So while many of the suggested games may have worked, the personal nature of his need to uncover his true passion and brand demanded something more.

Now this friend is also a musician. Okay, let’s face it — He’s an old hippie musician. He used to play in bands in the 70s, still shreds a mean guitar and quotes lyrics from America and stuff. So I knew that a game involving music would both intrigue and inspire him.

But music was just a mechanic. The game still needed structure. That’s when the idea of creating a game structured around a comeback album came to me.

Just like when creating songs, we would start out with what inspired us. We’d stay focused on business, but we’d talk about both our personal and professional inspirations. And from that we would derive the basis of song ideas or “riffs”. Then we’d group these elements into “chords” (artifacts), arrange our chords into “progressions” (nodes), create  “songs” (pattern recognition and door closing) and then identify our formula for a hit song (end game or goal).

Here’s a glimpse of the game we worked from:

The Comeback Album of The Decade Game

Object:

Famous rockstar agency principle and creative god, [redacted], has had a long and distinguished career in the classic rock powerhouse group, [redacted]. Now he finds himself out on his own ready to recast himself into the next chapter of his career. He’s in the planning stages of his big comeback album and we need to help.

The game will be broken into five distinct parts.

  • We will determine what riffs we want to hit (one hour)
  • We will establish “chords” for those life notes (half hour)
  • We will arrange the “chords” into hot progressions (half hour)
  • We will play with possible “songs” (half hour)
  • We will identify our formula for “hit” songs (half hour + after game assessment)

Part I:

Finding our Riffs: We put on post-up’s everything that we love in life and in marketing, whether we have done it or not. These will form our riffs for the song. This is beyond expertise. This is about the expanse of what we want stand for in life and work. (60 min)

Part II:

Next we will group the ideas into common themes and see what initial patterns are observed. We will also identify outliers and eliminate them from the discussion. Then once grouped, major idea groups will be assigned major power chords, while supporting idea groups will get minor chords. (30 min)

Part III:

Next we will arrange our chords into logical progressions and test to make sure that the chords work well together. As a mnemonic we will use actual guitars to test the chords and make sure the progressions make sense musically and make adjustments as necessary. (30 min)

Part IV:

We will then take items from each grouping to form our songs, mixing and matching across each progression to understand how each progression works and what it means to the song as a whole. Guitars may be used to play our songs. We will then test how one progression leads to the next and arrange the progressions in order of importance or impact. (30 min)

Part V:

We will finally have our discussions to start closing off the loops and identifying what is working best in an attempt to create our hit formula. Will use star-shaped post its to boil down the intent of each progression into an even simpler idea. The result being the “anthem” or brand essence of this new band will be. (30 min + after-session assessment)

Out of respect for privacy, I won’t share many details about how the game ran. But I can tell you that the day was a phenomenal success.

Using off-the-shelf post-up notes, post-up letters (to represent the chords), markers, star-shaped post-ups (to indicate our “hits”) and guitars, we were able to set aside the concerns of what he should be doing and get focused on what he should be feeling. In fact, the biggest patterns that emerged had nothing to do with the services he wished to offer. Instead, we found themes about ethics and employee relations that defined his personal fulfillment as coming more from being a leader than a doer.

Now I don’t want to fool you here. This game did not run perfectly. It was the first time I ran it and I changed plenty on the fly to keep it fresh and alive. When running a new game you have to expect things not to work. It also felt like there was a dead spot during the song writing because my own energy was flagging. (Note to self: afternoon pot of coffee and maybe skip lunch.)

But ultimately the game’s success is determined by the players enjoyment, not the game master’s sense of accomplishment. And on that front, it was a raving success. My friend could not tear his eyes off the wall. He wanted to keep it up for a few weeks just to contemplate it. And after I wrote my assessment and emailed it to him, I could see why. There was real direction hiding there in terms of what his next steps should be.

I also learned a valuable lesson about gamestorming. Since the concept was developed by artists, the examples of play given in the book lean toward the visual. But there are all kinds of games. And in our case, the game was auditory.

During our game there was a lot of repeating themes out loud and listening to them in musical form. The visual was still present, but the game was designed to stimulate the ears. And the resulting insights were things that needed to be said, rather than seen.

For me, this understanding of game structure helps me understand that there are five senses present with any player. Taking advantage of these senses in game structure and leveraging the most applicable ones, will always make the game more relevant and memorable.

Bob Knorpp is a marketing and advertising strategist. He is host of Ad Age Outlook and The BeanCast Marketing Podcast.