Object of Play
To truly create something new, we must challenge constraints. In this exercise, participants take an existing design, process, or idea and change one foundational aspect that makes it “impossible” in function or feasibility. For example:
• “How do we build a house…in a day?”
• “How do we create a mobile device…with no battery?”
• “What would a browser be…without an Internet connection?”
Number of Players
Duration of Play
45 minutes to 1 hour, depending on the size of the group
How to Play
When a problem is interesting and important, we naturally rise to the occasion. To set up the exercise, develop a question in advance that engages both the emotional and the rational parts of the brain. A mobile device without batteries would be an engineering feat (rational) and a make-the-world-better proposition (emotional). Write this question for the group and explain the challenge.
For the next 30 minutes, working in pairs or small teams, the groups develop approaches to accomplishing the “impossible.” They may consider these broad questions or develop a set that is more specific to the challenge:
• What new benefits or features might emerge from this constraint?
• Why is this a typical constraint or requirement? Is it just a customary assumption?
• What are the core elements in conflict?
• Can the conflicting elements be eliminated, replaced, or altered in some way?
• Is there anything that can happen before or after to change the parts in conflict?
• Can time, space, materials, motion, or the environment have an effect?
At the end of the 30 minutes, groups present their concepts to each other. Following this, a reflective discussion about both common and uncommon approaches should yield a list of possible solutions to be explored further. Closing and next steps should include this follow-up work.
This challenge works well for thinking through assumptions and obstacles in a product or a process. When a product is languishing and needs to be re imagined, this technique will help challenge basic assumptions about its design. In cases where processes are slow or overloaded, the “fire drill” question of “How would we do this in a day?” can be a powerful framing device.
The Mission Impossible game is credited to James Macanufo.