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Whole Product Game

Object of Play

In a competitive business environment, it is important to attract and keep customers by making your product stand out from the competition. Products are not just tangible items; they are a unique combination of benefits, services, and promises. The Whole Product Game — inspired by Ted Levitt’s “Whole Product Strategy” — categorizes aspects of products based on customer expectations in order to help companies uncover forms of differentiation. The goal of the game is to discover effective ways to set your product apart and to go beyond what your customers anticipate.

Number of Players
5 – 8

Duration of play
1 hour

How to Play
1. Before the meeting, collect sticky notes or 3×5 notecards. In a white space (a poster, whiteboard, etc.), draw four concentric circles, leaving enough room between each one to place the notes. Don’t worry about the layers being completely symmetrical; this activity is subjective, and, just like the future, the circles will not be precisely as you plan.
2. The players can be your internal team taking the perspective of customers, or actual customers themselves. Tell the group what each region of the chart represents

 

  • Circle 1: Generic Product – the fundamental “thing” that you are marketing
  • Circle 2: Expected Product – the minimal conditions customers expect from your product
  • Circle 3: Augmented Product – aspects of your product that go beyond customer expectations
  • Circle 4: Potential Product – what could be done to your product to attract and keep customers
  • Feel free to add more regions to the chart to further organize the group’s ideas.

    3. Ask members to write ideas related to each category on the notecards and to stick them on the respective circle. Remove any repetitive cards and put together similar ones with the group’s input.
    4. Once all the ideas are posted, discuss the significance of the resulting chart with your group. How can you use this information to differentiate your product? What must you do to attract more customers?

    Strategy
    The Whole Product Game is widely applicable to any product or service; while the expected product may attract customers, differentiation is necessary to keep them. With the visual organization and critical thinking involved in this activity, your team can productively come up with new ideas on what can be done to make your product distinct.

    This game can also be used for more concentrated aspects of your company. For example, what makes your customer service unique? What can be improved about it to appeal to customers?

    Avoid “going in circles” by guiding your players and focusing on what you can do to go beyond the customers’ expectations. After all of the ideas are posted, work as a team to analyze which direction your product should move in to be one-of-a-kind. Encourage expanding on the ideas and coming up with practical ways to apply them effectively.

    Online Whole Product Game

    You can instantly play the Whole Product Game online with as many members as you would like! Clicking on this image will start an “instant game” at innovationgames.com

    As facilitator, email the game link to customers or your staff to invite them to play. In the game, this picture is used as the “game board,” and there is an icon of light bulbs at the upper left corner of the board. Each light bulb represents an idea, which players describe and drag onto the respective circle.  As with the in-person version of the game, the game board is organized into four concentric circles:

    • Inner circle: Generic Product – the basic item that you are marketing
    • 2nd Circle: Expected Product – what your customers expect from your product
    • 3rd Circle: Augmented Product – aspects of your product that exceed customer expectations
    • Outer Circle: Potential Product – alterations to your product that would attract and keep customers

    Players can edit the placement and description of each light bulb, which you can view in real time. Use the integrated chat facility and communicate with your players throughout the game to get a better understanding of each move.

    Key Points:

    • This productive game involves visual organization and critical thinking to gain insight on what can be done to make your product stand out from the competition. Expand your point of view to understand what your customers truly want from your product.
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    Prune The Future

    Object of Play

    People who work in large organizations know that most change doesn’t happen immediately or in broad sweeps. It happens incrementally by taking small, strategic steps.  Prune the Future uses a tree as a metaphor to show how the future of anything can be shaped,one leaf at a time.

    Number of Players

    5–15

    Duration of Play

    30 minutes

    How to Play

    1. Before the meeting, cut a few dozen sticky notes or index cards into the shapes of leaves. Then, in a white space that will be visible to the players, draw a large tree with enough thick limbs to represent multiple categories of the future.  Write the general topic under or above the tree.

    2. Tell the group that the inner part of the treetop represents current states of the topic and moving outward means moving toward the future.  For example, if the topic is about growing the customer base, the inner leaves would represent the current customer demographics and the outer leaves would represent future or desired customer demographics.

    3. Ask the players to write current aspects of the topic—one idea per leaf—on the leaves and stick them on the inside of the treetop.  Remove any redundant comments and cluster similar comments, with the group’s guidance, near the appropriate branches.

    4. Next, ask the players to write aspects of the future on new leaves. These can be future states or variables already in progress, or simply potentials and possibilities.

    5. Tell the players to “prune” the future by posting their leaves around the treetop, related to the categories of the limbs.  If you’d like, add thin or thick branches within to show relationships and let the tree grow in a natural way. If it grows asymmetrically, let that be.

    6. With the players, discuss the shape of tree that emerges. Which branches have the most activity? Which areas don’t seem to be experiencing growth? Where do the branches appear to be most connected? The most disconnected?

    Strategy

    The picture of the tree is the working metaphor for this game—it represents the roots of the topic, the branches of the topic, and, of course, the topic’s growth potential.  This game is broadly applicable because you can use a tree as a metaphor for virtually any aspect of your organization that you wish to grow or shape.  The topic can be a product whose future features you want to brainstorm.  It can be a team whose future roles and responsibilities you want to plan.  Or you could use this game to discuss the marketplace and show where the players think it is changing or growing.

    When the players start to shape the outer treetop, encourage them to “go out on a limb” with their ideas for the future. This game is about possibilities—realistic and otherwise.  And if someone requests fruit on the tree to represent ROI, draw apples where they should be. If the players request another tree (or even a grove!), draw quick rudimentary trees and let the players start adding leaves, following the original procedure. This game works well because it allows for a nonlinear, organic representation of what is likely a complex topic.  It results in a visual display of the interconnectedness of future conditions;  showing where some parts of the tree may be suffering while others are thriving.

    The Prune the Future game is based on the Prune the Product Tree activity in Luke Hohmann’s book, Innovation Games: Creating Breakthrough Products Through Collaborative Play.

    Online Prune the Product Tree

    Prune the Product TreeGet started right away by playing Prune the Product Tree online! One of the important aspects of this game is tailoring the image – and meaning – of the tree to match the goals of your game. To illustrate online play, we’re going to use an “Event Benefits Tree”.

    Clicking on this image will start an events benefits “instant play” game at innovationgames.com that is useful in evaluating the benefits of attending a conference. In the game, there will be three icons that you can drag onto your Product Tree:

    • Red Apples: Benefits you expected and got.
    • Rotten Apples: Benefits you expected but didn’t get.
    • Presents: Unexpected benefits that made the conference great.

    The multi-layered regions of this tree are designed to capture a variety of information about these benefits. Where did the players receive these benefits (at the conference or at work)? What was the nature of the benefit (personal or professional)? And what about the conference infrastructure – the roots of the tree (before the conference or after the conference)? By exploring these dimensions with players, you can create better conferences in the future.

    Don’t forget that this a collaborative game that allows you to invite other players to play. And when they drag something around – you will see it in real time! Of course, you will want to create your own trees after you’ve explored this one.

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    Graphic Gameplan

    photo

    Object of Play

    Plenty of us are visionaries, idea generators, or, at the very least, suggestion makers. But ideas never come to fruition without a plan. As Benjamin Franklin said, “Well done is better than well said.” Following up on a big idea with an executable action plan is one of the monumental differences between teams and companies that are merely good and those that are outstanding. That’s why this activity deserves special attention. The Graphic Gameplan shows you how you’ll get where you want to go with a project.

    Number of Players

    Small groups, but can also be done individually

    Duration of Play

    30 minutes to 2 hours

    How to Play

    1. Before the meeting, think of one or more projects that need to get traction.

    2. In a large, white space, preferably 3–4 feet high by 6–12 feet wide, draw a picture similar to the following.

    3. Display the graphic on the meeting room wall and tell the players that the goal ofthe meeting is to get consensus around specific tasks required to complete a project.

    4. Write the name of the first project to be discussed at the top left of the first column.As the group leader, you can write all associated projects downward in that same column or you can ask the players to add projects that they agree need attention.Either way, you should end up with the relevant projects listed in the leftmost column.

    5. Based on the projects listed, either tell the group the time frame and write the milestones in days, weeks, or months along the top row, or ask what they think it should be and write that time frame along the top. (Note: you can also establish a timeline after step 8.)

    6. Sticky notes in hand, ask the players to choose a project and agree aloud on the first step required to accomplish it. Write their contribution on the sticky note and post it in the first box next to that project.

    7. Ask the players for the second, third, and fourth steps, and so on. Keep writing their comments on sticky notes until they’re satisfied that they’ve adequately outlined each step to complete the project.

    8. Repeat steps 6 and 7 for every project on your display, until the game plan is filled out.

    Strategy

    Completing a game plan as a group has two major benefits. The first is that it breaks big projects into manageable chunks of work, which encourages anyone responsible for a project. The second is that because the “group mind” creates the game plan, it raises the quality of the flow of project management. It becomes less likely that important steps are left out and more likely that the project is approached thoughtfully and strategically.But as you post the sticky notes, don’t assume that the first flow the group maps is the best one. Ask the players challenging questions about their comments: Does this have to happen first? Can these two steps be combined? How are steps related across projects?Do steps in one project affect the progress or outcome of another? Ask hard questions to help the group get to the best place and write any food for thought on a flip chart nearby.

    When determining the timeline to write across the top, it’s important to note that it can be determined after the project steps are established. A time frame written beforehand can impact the steps people are willing and able to take, so think about whether it serves the facilitation process better by assigning time before or after the play is complete.

    If you find that the players want to assign tasks to specific people or departments as they go, let them. Simply add the names of the responsible parties to each sticky note (obviously,these assignments should be realistic). And if the players want to discuss available resources, or a lack thereof, ask them to share what they expect to need in order to complete the projects and capture that on a flip chart in the room.

    The game plan can be customized with several rows and columns in order to support more complex projects. You can draw however many rows and columns you’d like as long as you have sticky notes that will fit within. Whatever the matrix looks like, the visual that results from this group discussion can serve as the large-scale, step-by-step of a project, or its contents can be funneled into more formal project management software or some other platform used by the organization. Either way, the discussion around creating it will be of significant value.

    • Optional activity: Draw smaller versions of the game plan on flip-chart paper and have breakout groups tackle specific projects using markers and small sticky notes. Then ask each group to present their approach to the larger group and to get feedback on the steps they proposed.

    The Graphic Gameplan is based on the Leader’s Guide to Accompany the Graphic Gameplan Graphic Guide from The Grove Consultants International’s strategic visioning process,which involves using a template of the same name.

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    Post The Path

    Object of Play

    The object of this game is to quickly diagnose a group’s level of understanding of the steps in a process.

    Often, there is a sense of confusion about who does what and when. The team is using different terms to describe their process. The group has no documented process. Things seem to be happening in an ad hoc fashion, invisibly, or by chance.

    Through this exercise, the group will define an existing process at a high level and uncover areas of confusion or misunderstanding. In most cases, this can flow naturally into a discussion of what to do about those unclear areas. This exercise will not generally result in a new or better process but rather a better understanding of the current one.

    Number of Players

    2–10

    Duration of Play

    30 minutes to 1 hour

    How to Play

    Introduce the exercise by framing the objective: “This is a group activity, where we will create a picture of how we create [x].” X in this case is the output of the process; it maybe a document, a product, an agreement, or the like.  Write or draw the output of the process on the wall.

    Establish a common starting point of the process with the group. This could sound like “the beginning of the day” or “the start of a quarter” or “after we finished the last one.”  This is the trigger or triggers that kick off the process. If you believe the group will have a hard time with this simple step, decide it for them in advance and present it as a best guess. Write this step on a sticky note, put it on the wall, and then proceed with the exercise.

    1. Instruct participants to think about the process from beginning to end. Then give them the task: write down the steps in the process. They can use as many notes as they like, but each step must be a separate note.
    2. After the participants have brainstormed their version of the steps, ask them to come up to the wall and post them to compare.  The group should place their steps above and below one another’s so that they can compare their versions of steps 1, 2, and so on.
    3. Prompt the group to find points of agreement and confusion. Look for terminology problems, where participants may be using different words to describe the same step.  Points of confusion may surface where “something magical happens” or no one is really clear on a step.

    Strategy

    The group will draw their own conclusions about what the different versions of the process mean and what they can or should do about it.

    For a larger group, you may want to avoid individual readouts and instead have people post up simultaneously.

    If you sense in advance that the group will get caught up in the details, ask them to produce a limited number of steps—try 10.

    The Post the Path game is credited to James Macanufo.

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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. You can then discover which oil is best for him to achieve the maximum pain relief, say the experts at HMHB.org in their guide. 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.