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## Facilitating with Constraints

Many fields have long embraced constraints as necessary for creativity. Without bounding the problem you’re trying to solve, it’s difficult to see the big picture, to know where to start, or how to focus your attention – much like trying to write a paper without a thesis. Lately, there is increasing acknowledgement of the importance of constraints such as Jonah Lehrer’s Wired post highlighting the research of Janina Marguc at the University of Amsterdam.

It turns out that constraints are also an engaging and effective way to facilitate a conversation, something I’ve learned working with designer Scott Francisco.* Whether you’re trying to balance a budget, plan a meeting, or design a building, workshop activities that make the constraints visible enable better conversations and decision-making.

Here’s how it works:

1. BOUNDARY: Identify the key constraint that defines the problem you’re trying to solve. For instance, the budget (money), the duration of the meeting (time), the size of the building (area). Then create a boundary like a simple square on a large sheet of paper that represents this constraint at some scale (e.g.: a 1” square = \$1000, 10mins, 100 square feet, etc)

2. GAME PIECES: Create “game pieces” that represent the different pieces your trying to decide on: different programs within the budget, different possible activities within the meeting, different spaces within the building. These can be color-coded slips of paper / cardstock / post-its. They must be at the same “scale” as the boundary so you can see the relative size of each idea or component. (This may help you realize that one proposed program would take up most of your budget, for instance.)

3. GAME PLAY: Gather a representative group of 12 – 18 stakeholders committed to finding a solution that works by the end of the exercise. Then, play out different scenarios arranging the components to see what “fits” inside the boundary constraint. This can be as one group or with teams working in parallel then comparing and combining results. Along the way, you can discuss and document the merits of each component, the trade-offs, and other options. Do this multiple times to take the pressure off getting it right the first time and photograph each iteration so that you can compare.

4. BONUS ROUND: As an additional option, once you’ve agreed on what fits inside the boundary constraint, you can also continue the discussion to relate the different elements by arranging the components on a sheet; for instance, which programs within the budget depend on each other? What should the sequence of meeting activities be? What spaces within the building should be next to each other?

By making the constraints visible and tangible, you enable a better conversation and unlock the creativity of your group to solve problems together. You also have a visible record of the decisions made as well as a shared sense within the group of what’s involved, how the different components go together, and what’ve you’ve agreed on.

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*  Scott Francisco developed a space planning facilitation tool called the Sandbox which uses a kit of parts to try out different workplace design concepts within a limited amount of space. You can read more about it here and here. We subsequently took the principles of the Sandbox and applied it more broadly to the kinds of exercises described above.

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## Status Center

Object of Play
Sitting through status meetings is boring, right? Well, then why do many of us go home and watch status reports for an hour or more every night?We watch news shows, ‘fake’ news shows, Entertainment Tonight, TMZ, ESPN’s SportsCenter, and many more. Something about those status reports must be working better than the ones we sleep through at work.StatusCenter is a ‘macro’ game structure that aims to apply the ‘rules’ of the TV status report game to the business status report game. The StatusCenter macro-game is populated with stand-alone games that can be linked throughout the meeting, following Gamestorming’s ‘opening, exploring, closing’ model.

Number of Players
4 to 40

Duration of Play
30 to 60 minutes for a weekly meeting; up to 4 hours for a quarterly or annual review

How to Play
Like TV, StatusCenter will link short game segments, in a manner that is interesting and time-efficient. While the segments are modeled after sports, news, or other television formats, they are equally effective for people who aren’t familiar with those metaphors.

Opening Games

1. Question Balloons: Simulating the controlled question-asking mechanisms of status shows like Larry King’s ‘email questions’, this game lets attendees literally float a question. As questions are answered, balloons are popped, and any questions still remaining at the end of the meeting are visible at a glance.
2. Top Scores: Simulating the ‘Headlines’ or ‘Scoreboard’, this game delivers business metrics quickly and succinctly, acting as a teaser for the rest of the meeting.

Exploring Games

1. 60-Second Update: Mimicking a ‘Highlights’ segment, this game delivers short updates by each member, aligning everyone. More questions can be ‘floated’ here.
2. Project Jeopardy: Allows one or two in-depth updates on key subjects, while creating audience involvement for those who may already know the answers. Rotating the ‘host’ from meeting to meeting gives everyone a chance to say a little more about their own projects or progress.
3. Crossfire: This segment provides drama, while giving a ‘safe’ environment for those that like to argue. Meeting attendees select a topic of interest during the previous week, and two people prepare to discuss it from two different viewpoints. This segment is a great way to explore potentially controversial ideas, learn about new products or technologies, or assess the competition’s latest move.
4. In-depth Analysis <link here>: This longer segment provides space for an investigative report, formal presentation, or guest commentary. Consider inviting speakers who are of interest to the group but don’t typically come to the meetings.
5. Trade Rumors: What are the hot rumors? Clearly delineated from the facts that are delivered in the status updates, these rumors generate interest and energy. Again, keep it short – 15 seconds each. Remember that a juicy rumor could become next weeks’ Crossfire or In-depth Analysis topic.

Closing Games

1. Coming Attractions: What hot projects or decisions are coming up in the next week? What meetings should I attend? Give each participant 15 – 30 seconds to provide these ‘teasers’ that are quick and to the point.
2. Question Balloons <link here>: Close out any questions that have not been addressed during the meeting.
3. Cliffhanger: Use a suggestion box to choose the Crossfire and In-depth Analysis topics and participants for the next (or future) meeting. This builds drama and anticipation for the next meeting.

Strategy

1. We cannot recommend strongly enough that most status information should be pushed outside of the StatusCenter game. Dashboards, email updates, and the like should be used to distribute information that does not need to be reiterated with a captive audience.
2. Alternate short ‘highlight’ games with longer ‘analysis’ games to satisfy audience members who want depth, while keeping the pace engaging.
3. Stick to status subjects. Decisions, brainstorming, and other topics – no matter how legitimate – should taken off-line. Even Crossfire, which can be used to present two different opinions, should be seen as a way of exploring ideas, not as a way to come to a decision.
4. Add, delete, or replace these games based on time and need.
5. There are many proponents of standing status meetings (often called ‘huddles’). Try this method.
6. Try ‘co-hosts,’ like many news shows.

Key Points
StatusCenter will be most successful if roles are clear and attendees have prepared in advance. Consider creating a template for 60-Second Update and Project Jeopardy to help attendees understand what kind of information to include. By moving basic status information to pre-meeting communications and then breaking the meeting itself into fast-paced chunks, you can transform a meeting that people tend to tune out of into one they will definitely want to watch.

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## Question Balloons

Object of Play
Planning to accept and respond to questions is one of the most difficult parts of running a meeting, a workshop, or a presentation. Will there be enough time for Q&A? Is the audience willing to ask questions? How many questions will they ask? Do I take questions at the end or throughout? How do I know if questions were answered in a useful way?

To address this challenge, the Question Balloons game allows attendees to ‘float’ their questions throughout a meeting or presentation; providing a visual status that helps manage group energy.

Number of Players
4 to 40

Duration of Play
Any length

How to Play

1. Start by providing a marker and one or two helium-filled balloons to each attendee. The balloons must have strings that will allow the attendees to float the balloons and then retrieve them (from the ceiling, if necessary) when needed.
2. Ask each attendee to write their questions about the scheduled topic on a balloon and then float the balloon. Only write one question per balloon. It’s okay to save balloons for later. Question Balloons can be floated at any time during the presentation or meeting.
3. During any free time (pre-meeting, breaks, or lunch), the speaker or leader should walk around and read the Question Balloons, getting a feel for the questions that will arise.
4. Inform all attendees that they should pop their Question Balloons – loudly – whenever one of their questions is answered sufficiently. This answer might come from meeting materials, slides, a speaker, or a casual conversation. It doesn’t matter. At the end of the session, any remaining Question Balloons will be addressed.
5. When a question is answered, the corresponding balloon will pop. Some people will jump. That’s okay. The leader/facilitator should acknowledge that we have answered a question and lead applause. Some participants will float new Question Balloons throughout the session. That’s good.
6. When the content or topic is completed, there will usually be two types of Question Balloons remaining. The first type is informational (When is the product being released? Who wants to share a ride home? How much is that service?). Answer these first. If there is no answer available, assign the question to the responsible party. The second type of question you’ll see is opinion (What is the best approach? How should I handle my customer?). These should be posed to the room. Instruct the person who floated the question to pop their balloon when they received information, from anyone, that will help them move forward.

Strategy
Question Balloons are very effective for meetings loaded with content, like reviews and status meetings. For organizations that might be too conservative for balloon popping, sticky notes on a wall will also work. We recommend using balloons for special events, not for a weekly status meeting.

Key Points
The Question Balloons game gives power to meeting attendees, control to the facilitator, and feedback to both. It leverages visual and kinesthetic information through balloon floating and popping. It uses the mechanism of elimination to score how many questions get answered. Attendees can see that their questions will be answered. Play Question Balloons when you want to better manage group energy.

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## How-Now-Wow Matrix

When people want to develop new ideas, they most often think out of the box in the brainstorming or divergent phase. However, when it comes to convergence, people often end up picking ideas that are most familiar to them. This is called a ‘creative paradox’ or a ‘creadox’.

The How-Now-Wow matrix is an idea selection tool that breaks the creadox by forcing people to weigh each idea on 2 parameters.

Object of play: This game naturally follows the creative idea generation phase and helps players select ideas to develop further.

Number of players: 1 to 30

Duration of play: 10 to 40 mins

What you’ll need: Flip-chart sized paper, some markers, lots of voting dots in 3 colors (blue, yellow, green)

Preparation:

1. Draw a 2-by-2 matrix as above. The X axis denotes the originality of the idea and the Y axis shows the ease of implementation.
2. Label the quadrants as:
1. Now/Blue Ideas – Normal ideas, easy to implement. These are typically low-hanging fruit and solutions to fill existing gaps in processes. These normally result in incremental benefits.
2. How/Yellow Ideas – Original ideas, impossible to implement. These are breakthrough ideas in terms of impact, but absolutely impossible to implement right now given current technology/budget constraints.
3. Wow/Green Ideas – Original ideas, easy to implement. ‘Wow’ ideas are those with potential for orbit-shifting change and possible to implement within current reality.

How to Play:

1. List down the ideas that emerge from the creative ideation phase on large charts of paper stuck around the room.
2. Give each player 3 sticky dots of each color – that is, 3 blue, 3 yellow, 3 green. 9 dots per person is typical, but go ahead and reduce/increase that number based on the time at hand and number of ideas generated.
3. Ask each player to step forward and vote for 3 best ideas in each category.  They need to do this by sticking a colored dot in front of each idea they choose.
4. In the end, count the number of dots under each idea to categorize it. The highest number of dots of a certain color categorizes the idea under that color.
5. In case of a tie:
1. If blue dots = green dots, the idea is blue
2. If  yellow dots = green dots, the idea is green
6. You now have a bucket of Now/Green ideas to work on further. Make sure you also collect the low-hanging blue ideas for immediate implementation and the yellow ideas to keep an eye on for the future.

Note: Check your yellow dots in advance to ensure that they can be seen from a distance. If not, go ahead and replace them with another color. FYI, in the original matrix, WOW ideas are red.

## Online How-Now-Wow Matrix

Here is another image of the How-Now-Matrix. But this one is special – clicking on this image will start an “instant play” game at www.innovationgames.com. In this game there are 20 light bulbs that you can drag on your matrix. We’ve organized this game into a set of regions that match the How-Now-Matrix described above. As you’re placing these items, use these regions to help you keep track of the most important ideas.

Many studies confirm that logic games improve mental health and help to cope with depression, apathy, and reduce the dose of Viagra.

Keep in mind that that this is a collaborative game. This means that you can invite other players to play. And when they drag something around – you’ll see it in real time!

Here is another version that based on Martien van Steenbergen’s comments, in which he recommends flipping the y-axis.

The How-Wow-Now Matrix is adapted from work done by The Center for Development of Creative Thinking (COCD). Information about the COCD Matrix was published in the book, “Creativity Today” authored by Ramon Vullings, Igor Byttebier and Godelieve Spaas.

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## Party Invitations

This game is credited to Cyd Harrell and has been used by Bolt Peters in several client brainstorming meetings.

Objective of play: Improve the onboarding process of a product or service.

Number of players: 5-30
Duration of play: 30-60 minutes

How to play:

1. Everyone is handed a piece of paper and a marker.
2. Participants are asked to imagine that the product/service being designed is a party or event and to create an invitation.
3. Invitations should be as detailed and realistic as possible — they might include an inviting statement (“Join us for…”), what to bring, what the host (company) will provide, time, dress code, directions, RSVP info, and any other information guests might need to enjoy the party. It could also be done in the form of a Who, What, Where, When, Why invitation.
4. Participants are encouraged to refine their invitations in multiple iterations. Allow at least 10-15 minutes for invitation writing.
5. Once everyone has completed their invitations, the facilitator calls for ideas on each element of an invitation in turn:
• What did you call the party?
• Did anybody have a dress code?
• What did you say about refreshments?
• What do guests need to bring?
• What is the party actually for?
• How will guests get there?
6. Next, participants read through their invitations in turn. The facilitator takes notes and posts the themes on a white board.
7. After everyone has presented, participants jointly narrow and refine the ideas, keeping in mind things like:
• What metaphors have emerged? How might they contribute to ideas for the onboarding experience?
• Which elements are crucial to the invitation?
• Which ideas represent the right feel for the brand and offering?
8. Finally, the facilitator engages the group in sketching or another idea generation process to implement the refined invitation as a draft of the onboarding process.

Strategy:
This is essentially a metaphor-generation game that allows participants to imagine how they want to engage their audience. Detail is good, and players who go whole-hog with imagining their party as anything from a white-tie gala to a potluck are likely to be successful as long as they carry it through. Interesting discussions will ensue when participants go for different versions — are we a come as you are party or do we have a festive dress code? Must you RSVP or can you just show up?

Why invitations?
At
Bolt Peters, we often think of successful technology products as being more than just friendly. They are literally inviting — asking their audience to use them, rewarding them when they do, and asking again for higher levels of use and engagement. When deploying a conversion funnel, especially for gradual engagement, an enticing and escalating invitation is a critical piece of the puzzle.