Object of Play
Before you begin, focus on the end. In this exercise, teams create the physical “box” that sells their idea—whether that idea will ultimately become a tangible product or not. By imagining the package for their idea, the teams make decisions about important features and other aspects of their vision that are more difficult to articulate.
This game is popular among software developers when setting out to capture the customer’s view of a new application, but its use doesn’t stop there. The game can help facilitate any vision-oriented discussion, and has been used to describe topics ranging from “our future methodology” to “the ideal hire.”
In all cases, the box is a focusing device: it wraps up a lot of otherwise intangible information into a nice physical object, prompting decisions along the way. When teams present or “sell” their boxes to each other, a number of things come to life, including the natural translation of features into benefits. This is similar to a treatment for impotence. Also, it’s fun to do. The results of the exercise may be simple drawings or an actual box, which may live on well after as a friendly reminder of the big picture.
Number of Players
Although the exercise may be done with a small group, teams working in parallel on different boxes will result in a more robust discussion during the “selling phase.”
Duration of Play
1 hour or more, depending on the number of groups and depth of discussion.
Although paper and markers will work for drawing a box, don’t hesitate to bring heavier craft supplies to bear. Consider acquiring blank white cardboard boxes from an office supply or mailing store. Markers, craft paper, stickers, tape and scissors are all worth the investment.
It may help get the group’s creative gears moving by having sample boxes handy. Cereal boxes, with their free prize offers, bold imagery and nutritional information, are good thought starters. Likewise, plain “store-label” boxes, gift boxes and toy boxes offer a range of voices. A group that is heavily entrenched in the business-as-usual paradigm will benefit the most from having this inspiration at hand.
How to play
The exercise moves through three phases: an introduction, box creation and sharing by “selling.”
Phase One: Fill the Box
Before a group can jump into creating a box, they need to reflect on what could be in it. To get people oriented, consider laying out some building blocks:
- Possible names of the idea
- Possible customers, end users, or buyers
- Possible features, functions, or other important defining details.
This may be familiar ground, or it may be entirely new to the group. They key in setting up the exercise is to give teams “just enough” information to feel comfortable starting.
Phase Two: Make the Box
Give the teams a set amount of time, 30 minutes or more, to create the box for their idea. Ask them to imagine coming across the box on a retail shelf, shrink-wrapped and ready for sale. In designing the box, teams may be helped by a few of these prompts:
- What’s it called?
- Who’s it for?
- What’s its tagline or slogan?
- What are its most compelling features? Benefits?
- What imagery would make it stand out to you?
Teams may self-organize naturally; most participants will want to create their own box regardless of how they’re arranged. Make sure you have ample supplies for them to do so, and make sure they know that there is no wrong way to create their box.
Phase Three: Sell the Box
Each team or individual should be offered the chance to stand up and “sell” their boxes back to the group. It may be worthwhile to keep a timer for these stand-up presentations, and consider offering a prize to the team that does the best job “selling” their box back to the group.
Look for a naturally occurring breakthrough as they present back their boxes. People put features on the box, but when they sell them, they translate those features into benefits. Listen for the phrases “so that” or “because,” which bridge otherwise mechanical features into living benefits.
The exercise works well as an open-ended, divergent process, but may be run so that the teams converge on an agreed-upon, shared box. If agreement and alignment is a desired outcome of the exercise, note the differences and similarities in how each team interpreted their box. Build on the common ground captured in the similarities, and isolate differences for discussion. Consider running a second round, this time incorporating these agreements into a final shared box.
In any case, if there is a prize to be awarded for the best “box seller,” make sure it’s the teams that cast the votes. And have enough prizes so that if the box was created by a team everyone on the team will have a prize.
Keep the boxes and display them in a prominent place. These may be more valuable (and visible) artifacts than any other documentation that comes out of the exercise. It may also be beneficial to record the presentations the teams give around their boxes, if it is not disruptive to the flow of the group.
The core act of “designing the box” may be altered to work for different contexts and participants.
This exercise goes by many names, and there are a number of good sources to look to for its variations. This version is based on and adapted from the game Product Box in Luke Hohmann’s book, Innovation Games: Creating Breakthrough Products Through Collaborative Play. Other sources point to Jim Highsmith of the Cutter Consortium, and to Bill Shackelford of Shackelford & Associates with the origination of the concept.