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Object of Play: To generate new ideas about a topic you feel stuck on.

# of Players: 5-7 per group

Duration of Play: 15 minutes ‑ 1 hour

How to Play:

  1. Before the meeting, assemble a collection of photographs and images that do not contain words. You can cut them out of magazines, catalogs, or junk mail. Don’t look for pretty pictures; instead look for the widest variety of pictures. Try to collect 3-5 pictures per person.
  2. Put a large sheet of paper on the table; a piece of flip-chart paper is ideal. In the center, write out a one- to three-word description of the topic you want to generate new thinking around (e.g., Finding New Customers).
  3. Place the pictures face down around the edges of the paper.
  4. Give each person a pile of sticky notes or index cards.
  5. Tell the participants that the goal of the game is to encourage thinking as widely as possible. The idea is to go beyond what they already know. Demonstrate this by showing an image and quickly state several ways it relates to the topic.
  6. Have each participant randomly select an image, turn it over, and write on the sticky notes or index cards as many ideas as they can come up with about how the image relates or could relate to the topic. Ask each participant to put one idea on each note or card and put it on the flip-chart paper around the topic.
  7. Allow five minutes for participants to work silently. Have people select other images and repeat the process until you either run out of images or time.
  8. Ask the group to collect the notes and cards with all of the ideas and re-arrange the ideas in clusters that relate to each other. For each cluster, ask the group to find a photograph to illustrate the idea and create a short title for it. Write the title under the image.
  9. If you have more than one small group, ask each one to share the photos and titles of each of their clusters with the other groups.
  10. Have a conversation about how the titled photos can inform the groups’ thinking about the topic. Make a list of possible actions they could take in response to the ideas.


Images have the ability to spark insights and to create new associations and possible connections. Encourage people to allow themselves to free-associate and see potential new ideas. In this type of play, you are asking people to move back and forth between using their visual and verbal skills. When done in rapid succession, as in this game, this switching offers the possibility for more ideas and approaches to emerge.

When leading the game, some participants may need to be reassured that the goal is not to come up with a design or specific answer. Keeping Image-ination time frames short reduces this ability and requires people to allow associations to emerge from a less-considered space. After all, if what everyone was already thinking could readily solve the problem, the group would not feel stuck. The idea is to move beyond the stories people always tell and to surface something new and different.

You may hear that people can’t find the picture they want to describe their ideas. That’s actually a good sign! That “problem” actually means the participants have the creative opportunity to find another kind of association.

Imagine-ation is adapted from the Visual Icebreaker Kit, one of several image-based games and tools from VisualsSpeak. It is © 2010 VisualsSpeak LLC.