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The Low Tech Social Network – an amazing experience

At the recent Design Jam Oxford I was introduced to the Gamestorming book and have been pretty much obsessed with it ever since. Given the slightest opportunity I have been putting its ideas to use and one fantastic success was at a recent event in Nottingham in the UK.

We are a group of artists called Livescribes and we have only just launched ourselves into the world of Visual Thinking, Graphic Recording and Graphic Facilitation. When you begin a new venture – I quit my regular 9-5 web job to do this – you never quite know what might happen. The first event we were due to attend as Livescribes was called ‘Show Off’ at Antenna in Nottingham.

Antenna is a studio and office space for creatives based in and around Nottingham. We decided one thing we wanted to do to show the people there we do things differently was to instigate the ‘Low Tech Social Network’ straight out of the Gamestorming playbook (page 105). We would ask people to take a Post-It, draw themselves, write two things about themselves on it and ‘upload’ themselves to our piece of paper.

The event had businesses associated with Antenna as well as visitors all with stands showing their wares in a large, and very nice, bar area which forms the main networking spot within the building (it does coffee and beer). We unfurled a giant piece of paper and masking taped it to a large wall on a slightly raised area in the bar area. And after politely negotiating with some hairdressers to move their stand so we could be seen awaited the first arrivals.

As it was the hairdressers next to us became our first additions to the social network. We even drew a cartoon of them cutting hair. They went from a bit put out at moving to our new friends. Already the power of the social network was having an effect. We got everyone we could to ‘upload’ themselves and draw connections to other people. You can have a look at the final result on our site here (I have used the cloud zoom JQUERY plugin to create that effect incase you’re interested).

We managed to collar nearly everyone who walked into the room over the course of the day. Not only is this an excellent ice breaker its a fantastic way to get talking to potential clients at an event like this. Once the penny dropped that we were not trying to get their credit card details for some ‘New Facebook’ people smiled, grabbed a sharpie and connected. And once the network had grown into a significantly large collective artwork it became one of the main draws of the event.

My favourite moment was when I accosted a thin slightly stressed individual who was inspecting the work. After giving him the spiel and placing a Post-It and pen in his hand he got to it. Although one odd thing that struck me was, as I was speaking, he looked over my shoulder and made that sort of ‘no it’s ok’ hand gesture to someone. As the gentleman uploaded I noticed he wrote ‘politician’ on his Post-It, I looked around to see a coterie of sharp suited business delegates and political types holding clip boards and a few photographers all looking at us. It turned out I had button holed the head of Nottingham City Council. When he asked me how he should cut £20m from the city budget I immediately thought of the ‘Anti Problem’ Gamestorming session and was about to suggest we figured out how to spend £20m and then not do that – but he was whisked away by his army of followers before I could get him to a flip chart.

My tips are for this are: it’s a highly effective ice breaker, a great way to get talking to people and it can run all day. Get a massive bit of paper to do it if you can, people like the tactile nature of it. And over the course of the day we only met one person who didn’t want to do it, so we drew one for him. I wonder if you can guess who…

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Status Center

What if Status Meetings were like Sports News?

Object of Play
Sitting through status meetings is boring, right? Well, then why do many of us go home and watch status reports for an hour or more every night?We watch news shows, ‘fake’ news shows, Entertainment Tonight, TMZ, ESPN’s SportsCenter, and many more. Something about those status reports must be working better than the ones we sleep through at work.StatusCenter is a ‘macro’ game structure that aims to apply the ‘rules’ of the TV status report game to the business status report game. The StatusCenter macro-game is populated with stand-alone games that can be linked throughout the meeting, following Gamestorming’s ‘opening, exploring, closing’ model.

Number of Players
4 to 40

Duration of Play
30 to 60 minutes for a weekly meeting; up to 4 hours for a quarterly or annual review

How to Play
Like TV, StatusCenter will link short game segments, in a manner that is interesting and time-efficient. While the segments are modeled after sports, news, or other television formats, they are equally effective for people who aren’t familiar with those metaphors.

Opening Games

  1. Question Balloons: Simulating the controlled question-asking mechanisms of status shows like Larry King’s ‘email questions’, this game lets attendees literally float a question. As questions are answered, balloons are popped, and any questions still remaining at the end of the meeting are visible at a glance.
  2. Top Scores: Simulating the ‘Headlines’ or ‘Scoreboard’, this game delivers business metrics quickly and succinctly, acting as a teaser for the rest of the meeting.

Exploring Games

  1. 60-Second Update: Mimicking a ‘Highlights’ segment, this game delivers short updates by each member, aligning everyone. More questions can be ‘floated’ here.
  2. Project Jeopardy: Allows one or two in-depth updates on key subjects, while creating audience involvement for those who may already know the answers. Rotating the ‘host’ from meeting to meeting gives everyone a chance to say a little more about their own projects or progress.
  3. Crossfire: This segment provides drama, while giving a ‘safe’ environment for those that like to argue. Meeting attendees select a topic of interest during the previous week, and two people prepare to discuss it from two different viewpoints. This segment is a great way to explore potentially controversial ideas, learn about new products or technologies, or assess the competition’s latest move.
  4. In-depth Analysis <link here>: This longer segment provides space for an investigative report, formal presentation, or guest commentary. Consider inviting speakers who are of interest to the group but don’t typically come to the meetings.
  5. Trade Rumors: What are the hot rumors? Clearly delineated from the facts that are delivered in the status updates, these rumors generate interest and energy. Again, keep it short – 15 seconds each. Remember that a juicy rumor could become next weeks’ Crossfire or In-depth Analysis topic.

Closing Games

  1. Coming Attractions: What hot projects or decisions are coming up in the next week? What meetings should I attend? Give each participant 15 – 30 seconds to provide these ‘teasers’ that are quick and to the point.
  2. Question Balloons <link here>: Close out any questions that have not been addressed during the meeting.
  3. Cliffhanger: Use a suggestion box to choose the Crossfire and In-depth Analysis topics and participants for the next (or future) meeting. This builds drama and anticipation for the next meeting.

Strategy

  1. We cannot recommend strongly enough that most status information should be pushed outside of the StatusCenter game. Dashboards, email updates, and the like should be used to distribute information that does not need to be reiterated with a captive audience.
  2. Alternate short ‘highlight’ games with longer ‘analysis’ games to satisfy audience members who want depth, while keeping the pace engaging.
  3. Stick to status subjects. Decisions, brainstorming, and other topics – no matter how legitimate – should taken off-line. Even Crossfire, which can be used to present two different opinions, should be seen as a way of exploring ideas, not as a way to come to a decision.
  4. Add, delete, or replace these games based on time and need.
  5. There are many proponents of standing status meetings (often called ‘huddles’). Try this method.
  6. Try ‘co-hosts,’ like many news shows.

Key Points
StatusCenter will be most successful if roles are clear and attendees have prepared in advance. Consider creating a template for 60-Second Update and Project Jeopardy to help attendees understand what kind of information to include. By moving basic status information to pre-meeting communications and then breaking the meeting itself into fast-paced chunks, you can transform a meeting that people tend to tune out of into one they will definitely want to watch.

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Question Balloons

Object of Play
Planning to accept and respond to questions is one of the most difficult parts of running a meeting, a workshop, or a presentation. Will there be enough time for Q&A? Is the audience willing to ask questions? How many questions will they ask? Do I take questions at the end or throughout? How do I know if questions were answered in a useful way?

To address this challenge, the Question Balloons game allows attendees to ‘float’ their questions throughout a meeting or presentation; providing a visual status that helps manage group energy.

Number of Players
4 to 40

Duration of Play
Any length

How to Play

  1. Start by providing a marker and one or two helium-filled balloons to each attendee. The balloons must have strings that will allow the attendees to float the balloons and then retrieve them (from the ceiling, if necessary) when needed.
  2. Ask each attendee to write their questions about the scheduled topic on a balloon and then float the balloon. Only write one question per balloon. It’s okay to save balloons for later. Question Balloons can be floated at any time during the presentation or meeting.
  3. During any free time (pre-meeting, breaks, or lunch), the speaker or leader should walk around and read the Question Balloons, getting a feel for the questions that will arise.
  4. Inform all attendees that they should pop their Question Balloons – loudly – whenever one of their questions is answered sufficiently. This answer might come from meeting materials, slides, a speaker, or a casual conversation. It doesn’t matter. At the end of the session, any remaining Question Balloons will be addressed.
  5. When a question is answered, the corresponding balloon will pop. Some people will jump. That’s okay. The leader/facilitator should acknowledge that we have answered a question and lead applause. Some participants will float new Question Balloons throughout the session. That’s good.
  6. When the content or topic is completed, there will usually be two types of Question Balloons remaining. The first type is informational (When is the product being released? Who wants to share a ride home? How much is that service?). Answer these first. If there is no answer available, assign the question to the responsible party. The second type of question you’ll see is opinion (What is the best approach? How should I handle my customer?). These should be posed to the room. Instruct the person who floated the question to pop their balloon when they received information, from anyone, that will help them move forward.

Strategy
Question Balloons are very effective for meetings loaded with content, like reviews and status meetings. For organizations that might be too conservative for balloon popping, sticky notes on a wall will also work. We recommend using balloons for special events, not for a weekly status meeting.

Key Points
The Question Balloons game gives power to meeting attendees, control to the facilitator, and feedback to both. It leverages visual and kinesthetic information through balloon floating and popping. It uses the mechanism of elimination to score how many questions get answered. Attendees can see that their questions will be answered. Play Question Balloons when you want to better manage group energy.

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Back of the Napkin

NapkinBack

Object of Play:
The goal for each team is to come up with an answer  to a provocative question and write/draw it up on the back of a napkin.

Number of Players: Teams of 3. (See strategy section for discussion of different team sizes.)  No limit to the number of teams other than what the organizer wants.

Duration of Play: TBD by organizer.  Minimum amount of time recommended:  10 minutes per team per question.

Examples: Here are examples of questions and  napkins from the recent TEDxTC event in St. Paul, MN.  [1] [2] [3]

How to Play

  • Game is played in teams.
  • There is at least 1 problem statement/open-ended question per game session.
  • Each team writes and/or draws their answer on a napkin.
  • Each answer appears on one side of the (folded) napkin.
  • Players write their names on the other side of the napkin.
  • Optional:  Players may enter as many solutions as they want, however, each submission has to be from a different team.
  • Optional:  Each team must be comprised of at least 2 people who have just met or are just meeting.
  • Optional:  A group of judges will look at the entries.   Play for bragging rights or for a prize.  To keep it clear that there are all sorts of possibilities, offer different categories, such as:
    • Most Practical
    • Most Out-of-the-Box
    • Most Whimsical
    • Most Visual

Strategy
As a facilitator/organizer, why might you play this game?  Here are some reasons:

  • To introduce people to each other and/or to facilitate networking amongst them.
  • To provide a fun, competitive way to brainstorm.
  • To turn the reception for an event into an experience that people value as part of the overall experience.

The back of a napkin is already associated with Aha moments and inspiration.  Its informality helps combat people’s instincts towards worrying about whether they can draw, have the “perfect” solution to the question, and other worries that can crop up if we were to use something more formal. It’s a good idea to reinforce this in the introduction to the game by encouraging teams to be as practical, whimsical and/or out of the box as they want, and, if winners will be named, by having categories that include playful ones.

Question strategy: define a question that’s open-ended and requires more than a couple of words to answer.  Keep it relatively short and clear.  Don’t worry that the question is too “big” in terms of its scope.  This game is meant to inspire conversation and ideation.

Another important thing about the question is to make sure it relates to something that all the potential players have in common.  Some examples of common things are:

  • a speech that everyone’s heard,
  • a book or article that everyone’s read,
  • a company or organization they’ve all done business with or been a part of in some other way,
  • an experience they’ve had in common, such as being a parent or living in the same community.

Team size:  you can choose to set the team size to be exactly n players, no fewer than n players, no more than n players, or n to y players.  I recommend that the numbers be somewhere between 2 and 6.  If you’re running the game at an event where people decide to play or not, going with the “n to y players” would work best.  This is because people are playing and networking at the same time, and if 4 people want to play in one place and 2 in another, for example, there’s no reason they shouldn’t be able to.  In an environment where it’s important to you that everyone plays, setting team sizes more precisely might work better.

With regard to team formation, you can go with an unconference approach and have multiple questions and have people gravitate to the question they want to answer and find others to team with, or go with something more defined.

Logistics:

  • A napkin that’s around 5″ x 5″ in its folded form works well. It’s better to get ones with a smooth surface so it’s easier to write on.  Gel pens work well, fyi, if you’re providing pens.
  • If you are playing the game with multiple questions or in a large space, consider having a host/facilitator at each question’s station to explain the game and answer questions.
  • I recommend having a flip chart or other large-format paper hanging on the wall and having players tape their napkins to that.
  • Tell players the timeframe in which the game will be played.

[This game is credited to Sheila Kim.]