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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.

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Start, Stop, Continue

a three column chart, with headings START, STOP, CONTINUE

Object of Play

The object of Start, Stop, Continue is to examine aspects of a situation or develop next steps.

Number of Players

1–10

Duration of Play

10 minutes to 1 hour

How to Play

Ask the group to consider the current situation or goal and individually brainstorm actions in these three categories:

  • Start: What are things that we need to START doing?
  • Stop: What are we currently doing that we can or should STOP?
  • Continue: What are we doing now that works and should CONTINUE?

Have individuals share their results.

Strategy

This exercise is broad enough to work well as an opening or closing exercise. It’s useful in framing discussion at “problem-solving” meetings, or as a way to brainstorm aspirational steps toward a vision.

The source for the Start, Stop, Continue game is unknown.

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Help Me Understand

Object of Play

Help Me Understand is based on the underlying (and accurate) assumption is that employees come to meetings with widely different questions around a topic or a change.It assumes leadership can anticipate some questions and concerns but can’t possibly anticipate them all. No one knows the questions employees have better than the employees themselves, so this game gives them a chance to externalize what’s on their minds and have leadership be responsive in a setting outside the once-a-year leadership retreat. It also allows the players to discover overlaps with other players’ questions and to notice the frequency with which those questions occur—something they may not have known prior to the meeting. It lets some sunshine in around a project, initiative, or change so that employees—who have to implement that change—have fewer lingering questions.

Number of Players

5–25

Duration of Play

30 minutes to 1.5 hours

How to Play

  1. In a large white space visible to all the players, write the topic of the meeting and the following words as headers across the top: “WHO?”, “WHAT?”, “WHEN?”,“WHERE?”, and “HOW?”. Give all players access to sticky notes and markers.
  2. Tell the players that the goal of the game is to help leadership understand and be responsive to any and all questions around the topic.
  3. Start with the question “WHO?” and give the players five minutes to silently write down as many questions as they can that begin with the word WHO.
  4. Ask the players to post all of their questions in the white space under WHO? and then ask for a couple of volunteers to cluster the questions according to topical similarity.
  5. Bring the largest clusters to the group’s attention—circle them if you prefer—and ask leadership to offer a response to the most common questions in the clusters and to any outlier questions that look interesting.
  6. Repeat this process for the remaining four header questions, each time asking leadership to respond to the questions that seem the most salient to the group.
  7. When the meeting closes, gather all of the questions so that leadership has the opportunity to review them later and respond to important questions that weren’t covered during the meeting.

Strategy

As the group leader, you can conduct this game in different ways. One way is to ask the five questions back to back, with the players creating sticky notes for all five questions—WHO?, WHAT?, WHEN?, WHERE?, and HOW?—and then posting and clustering them during the first half of the meeting. After they’ve completed that part of the game, the players ask leadership to address the major clusters during the second half of the meeting. Another approach is to let leadership intersperse responses while the players tackle the header questions one at a time. There are benefits to both approaches.

The first approach allows the players to write questions uninterrupted by content from and reactions to leadership. It also allows leadership to save some time since they only technically need to attend the second half of the session. The second approach breaks up the flow a bit but will inevitably affect the types of questions the players ask since they’re getting information from leadership as they go. Choose what’s appropriate based on your knowledge of the group.

During the clustering part of the game, you may want to write emergent themes near each cluster to give leadership summaries of where their employees’ attention is. This is also helpful for the players to reinforce that they have shared concerns. The themes should be one- to three-word phrases summarizing the general content of the clusters. And as the meeting leader, encourage employees to make the most of this game since it presents an unusual opportunity for them to pose real, substantive questions directly to their company leaders.

This game is an adaptation of WHO WHAT WHEN WHERE and HOW from The Facilitator’s Guide to Participatory Decision Making by Sam Kaner. In his book, Kamen notes that his use of this tool was inspired by an exercise called “Five W’s and H” in Techniques of Structured Problem Solving, Second Edition, by A. B. Van Gundy, Jr., p. 46.

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Give-And-Take Matrix

Object of Play

The goal of this game is to map out the motivations and interactions among actors in a system. The actors in this case may be as small-scale as individuals who need to work together to accomplish a task, or as large-scale as organizations brought together for a long-term purpose. A give-and-take matrix is a useful diagnostic tool, and helps players explore how value flows through the group.

Number of Players

Small group

Duration of Play

1 hour or more

How to Play

To begin, you will need a list of all the actors in the system. This may be prepared in advance or generated at the start of the exercise.

Using the list, create a matrix with the list of actors along both the horizontal and vertical axes.

Each cell in the matrix captures only one direction of the flow. For example, a supplier may give a certain value to a manufacturer, but a manufacturer will give a different value to the supplier. For consistency, the vertical axis can be considered the “from” and the horizontal axis the “to.”

  • Primary motivations: For each actor in the matrix, fill in “what they want” out of the system. This information goes along the diagonal, where the individual actors intersect with themselves. These should be brief phrases that describe a goal or reason the actor participates in the system.
  • Intersecting interests: The next step is to look at the intersections, and capture what value flows between the actors. Start with a single actor and work through each cell, asking “What can I offer you?”

For some intersection points, this will be easier to describe. In other cases, the matrix will expose previously unconnected actors and possibly those at odds with each other. The goal in completing the matrix is to find the most complete picture of how each actor can benefit all the others.

Strategy

Completing this matrix may involve research both before and after the initial mapping process. By using surveys or interviews, players may be able to explore and validate both the initial inputs and the intersecting interests.

Along with stakeholder analysis and boundary mapping, the Give-and-Take Matrix helps players explore and define the actors and interactions within a system.

The Give-and-Take Matrix is inspired by a number of techniques used in engineering, chemistry,and design.

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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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4Cs

Object of Play

Simple information-splicing games come in handy because, in an intentional way, they disrupt the standard ways we break down topics. The 4Cs game is a quick way to gather and organize information about any subject using four common key concepts.

Number of Players

5–20

Duration of Play

30 minutes to 1 hour

How to Play

1. Before the meeting, decide on a topic you want the players to explore and draw a 2×2 matrix in a large white space in the meeting room.

2. Write the following categories in each box of the matrix: “Components”, “Characteristics”, “Characters”, and “Challenges”. Then, draw something that represents each category.

3. Tell the players that this game is about exploring and sharing what they know about the topic based on the 4Cs. Define the terms of each “C”:

• Components are parts of the topic. For example, a component of a social commerce strategy might be responsive tweets. Components of a distribution channel might be 18-wheelers.

• Characteristics are features of the topic. For example, speed of response is a characteristic of a social commerce strategy. A characteristic of an 18 wheeler might be an inefficient use of fuel.

• Challenges are obstacles associated with the topic.

• Characters are people associated with the topic.

You don’t have to use four “Cs” to conduct this game. You can be creative with other letters that are company or team-specific. Use four “Ds” to create your matrix and name them “Discover”, “Design”, “Damage”, and “Deliver”. Just make sure the categories you create will give you a meaningful way to look at a topic of interest.

4. Divide the group into four teams of roughly equal size. (A group of 5–7 people can work as one team.) Give them access to sticky notes and markers.

5. Assign a different “C” to each team and tell them their goal is to collect information about that “C”, specific to the topic. Tell them they’ll have three minutes to plan an information-gathering strategy, five minutes to collect the information, and three minutes to analyze and organize it. Also explain that they should collect information from as many people in the room as possible.

6. Announce the start of the planning period, and let the teams converse with one another. At the end of three minutes, call time.

7. Tell the players they can use their sticky notes and markers, then kick off the fiveminute information-gathering stage and stay out of the way. This stage of the game involves a lot of interviewing and moving around the room. Tell the players when the five minutes are up.

8. Start the three-minute information-analysis stage. In this stage, the players should analyze their data, organize it in a meaningful way, and post the contents in the matrix on the wall.

9. Close the game by asking for volunteers to present their group’s findings. After each group presents, ask clarifying questions (Is there anything missing? Do these items mean the same thing?), and encourage the others to reflect on and add more information. You can also ask players if they want to share thoughts on their team’s information-gathering process—to discuss what worked and what could have worked better.

Strategy

The 4Cs is deliberately quick (and slightly chaotic) to avoid a situation in which people simply list information about what they know related to the topic. In this game, the players gathering information may already have a lot of detail about the topic, but they’ll inevitably learn something new through the process of interviewing others. Interviewing allows people who may not interact much the opportunity to do so. Because the time is short, they won’t dive into a substantive conversation; nevertheless, the chances are higher that someone will take away new content or a new perspective based on an interview.

Avoid shortchanging the closing activity, even though it may be tempting to give the group more time to gather and analyze their content (and some of them will request it). The last stage of the game is important to spend time on because it allows the group to reflect on the content together, as a sort of group mind. If the meeting is based on a familiar topic, there will likely be many players who think they have a corner on information around it, so it’s important to discuss the 4Cs as a whole group. It exposes more ground to more people and invites a discussion that can bring new life to old content.

The 4Cs is based on the same-named activity written by Matthew Richter in the March 2004 publication of the Thiagi GameLetter.