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Brainwriting

Geneva workshop

Object of Play
Some of the best ideas are compilations from multiple contributors. Brainwriting is a simple way to generate ideas, share them, and subsequently build on them within a group. Access to multiple hands, eyes, and minds can yield the most interesting results.

Number of Players: 5–15

Duration of Play: 30–45 minutes

How to Play
1. In a space visible to the players, write the topic around which you need to generate ideas and draw a picture of it. An example of a topic might be “Employee Recognition Program.”

2. Distribute index cards to each player and ask them to silently generate ideas related to the topic and write them on the cards.

3. As they complete each idea, ask the players to pass that idea to the person on their right.

4. Tell the players to read the card they received and think of it as an “idea stimulation” card. Ask them to add an idea inspired by what they just read or to enhance the idea and then pass again to their right.

5. Continue this process of “brainwriting” and passing cards to the right until there are various ideas on each card.

Optional activity: Ask the players to write an idea on a piece of paper and then fold it into an airplane and fly it to another participant. Continue writing and flying the planes until each piece of paper has several ideas. Conclude with steps 6 and 7.

6. Once finished, collect the cards and ask for help taping them to the wall around the topic and its picture.

7. Have the group come to the wall to review the ideas and draw stars next to the ones they find most compelling. Discuss.

Optional activity: Create an idea gallery in the room using flip-chart pads and stands. Ask players to write as many ideas on the sheet as they can and then wander around the room and add ideas to the other sheets. Continue this process until each sheet has a good number of ideas.

Strategy
In a typical group setting, extroverts tend to dominate the verbal contributions. And while their contributions are certainly important, it can be difficult to hear from quieter players who also have something valuable to offer. Let the players know that this play is intentionally silent. It affords the quiet people the opportunity to generate ideas without having to verbalize to the whole group, and it gives you certainty that you’ll hear from every player in the room.

Brainwriting also allows ideas to emerge before being critiqued and creates a space for them to be co-created, with multiple owners, and therefore a greater chance of follow-through.

The Brainwriting game is based on the same-named activity in Michael Michalko’s Thinkertoys. Horst Geschke and associates at the Batelle Institute in Frankfurt, Germany, developed a variety of these creative-thinking techniques referred to as “brainwriting.”

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Origins of Games

Gamestorming makes vivid for me the culture in which I wish to live.  It’s a culture which meets us where we are, which encourages us to stretch and grow, just a bit at a time, with every game we play.  Each game has an object of play, and so we can feel safe that we know why we’re playing it.  We can play games that are tried and true, we can adapt them and combine them, and we can create entirely new games, as needed.

In my own words, it’s a culture of the poor-in-spirit who want to take many small leaps of faith (as in I’d like to check this out) rather than just one big one (as in Trust me!)  Gamestorming makes real my belief that every way of figuring things out can be shared as a game.  I’d love to know, apply and share a directory of these many ways in math, science, engineering, medicine, finance, law, ethics, philosophy, theater, art, music, architecture, agriculture, homemaking and many other fields. Happily, Gamestorming is an inviting community, and for me, a logical place from which to reach out to other practices and appreciate them.

And so I learned of Dave Snowden and the Cognitive Edge research network focused on sensemaking.  They develop and share a set of methods, some of which, like Ritual Dissent, are very much games in the Gamestorming sense.  I believe that others, like the Cynefin framework, make for advanced games, which take some time to learn. I engaged Dave by way of Twitter. He tweeted: Give me a reference to gamestorming and I will happily take a look.  The best summary that I could find was the Amazon review, which reproduces the back cover.  So I thought a good project would be to create a Wikipedia article on Gamestorming.

Wikipedia’s guidelines for inclusion don’t allow articles to be created for neologisms.  A subject most be notable.  So I included academic references to Gamestorming, such as Jon H.Pittman’s syllabus for Design as Competitive Strategy, Christa Avampato’s use of Gamestorming in her social media marketing class and Franc Ponti’s talk on Trends in innovation for restless people. I submitted my article for review by Wikipedia editors.  Within an hour or so, they put it up: the Gamestorming article.

I include below the references to the origins of the many games.  The Wikipedia editors took them out of the article.  That’s unfortunate because the Gamestorming authors took care to credit the people who created, popularized or inspired the games.  Some of the games have roots way back:

Since the 1970s, notably in Silicon Valley, new games are contributing to a culture of facilitating creativity:

  • 4 Cs is based on a game by Matthew Richter in the March 2004 publication of Thiagi GameLetter.
  • Anti-Problem is based on Reverse It from Donna Spencer’s design games website, http://www.designgames.com.au
  • Brainwriting is credited to Michael Michailko’s Thinkertoys and also Horst Geschke and associates at the Batelle Institute in Frankfurt, Germany, and also related to 6-3-5 Brainwriting developed by Bernd Rohrbach.
  • Bodystorming was coined by Colin Burns at CHI’94 in Boston, Massachusetts. See: Bodystorming.
  • Business Model Canvas was designed by Alexander Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur, and featured in their book, Business Model Generation.
  • Campfire was inspired by Tell Me A Story: Narrative and Intelligence (Rethinking Theory) by Roger Schank and Gary Saul Morson.
  • Customer, Employee, Shareholder 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).
  • Design the Box is attributed, independently, to Luke Hohmann, Jim Highsmith and Bill Schackelford.
  • Context map, Cover Story, History Map, Visual Agenda and The Graphic Gameplan are credited to The Grove Consultants International.
  • Fishbowl is based on ideas from Facilitator’s Guide to Participatory Decision-Making by Sam Kaner et al.
  • Force Field Analysis is based on Kurt Lewin’s framework Force Field Analysis.
  • Graphic Jam is inspired by Leslie Salmon-Zhu of International Forum for Visual Practitioners.
  • Help Me Understand is adapted from Facilitator’s Guide to Participatory Decision Making by Sam Kaner and inspired by Five W’s and H in Techniques of Structured Problem Solving, Second Edition by A.B.VanGundy, Jr.
  • Heuristic Ideation Technology is documented by Edward Tauber in his 1972 paper HIT:Heuristic Ideation Technique, A Systematic Procedure for New Product Search.
  • Image-ination is based on Picture This! adapted from the Visual Icebreaker Kit.
  • Make a World is inspired by Ed Emberley’s book.
  • Open Space was invented by Harrison Owen, author of Open Space Technology: A User’s Guide. See: Open Space.
  • Pecha Kucha / Ignite, first held in Tokyo in 2003, was devised by Astrid Klein and Mark Dytham of Klein Dytham architecture. See: Pecha Kucha.
  • Post-Up is based on exercises in Rapid Problem-Solving with Post-it Notes by David Straker.
  • The Pitch and Value Map are by Sarah Rink.
  • Red:Green Cards are by Jerry Michalski.
  • Speedboat, 20/20 Vision and Prune the Future are based on Luke Hohmann’s innovation games in his book Innovation Games: Creating Breakthrough Products Through Collaborative Play.
  • Talking Chips was inspired by the email program Attent by Byron Reeves.
  • Wizard of Oz was pioneered in the 1970’s in the development of the airport kiosk and IBM’s listening typewriter.
  • The World Cafe as practiced at The World Cafe.
  • Dave Gray, Sunni Brown and especially, James Macanufo contributed many new games to the Gamestorming book.

Please, let’s remember all who have created games. They are our points of departure for Gamestorming as a culture.