Open your imagination through Gamestorming

In the first part of this 3-part ‘storming’ series, we explored the classic concept of brainstorming, where the act of combining and improving ideas leads to breakthroughs by process of association (1+1=3). The next ‘storming’ concept takes brainstorming to the next level. Gamestorming is an incredible way to elevate and reinvigorate a common brainstorming session. Plus, it’s just plain fun! In the book Play: How it shapes the brain, opens the imagination and invigorates the soul, author, physician and play researcher Stuart Brown, makes a strong case for professional play. In it he states: “For humans, play lies at the core of creativity and innovation. Of all animal species, humans are the biggest players of all. We are built to play and built through play.”

There are a number of books, websites and resources that describe strategies for innovating through professional play, one of which is Gamestorming: A Playbook for Innovators, Rulebreakers, and Changemakers by James Macanufo, Dave Gray and Sunni Brown. In it, the authors describe playful activities to achieve three outcomes: Explore and examine challenges, improve collaboration, and generate novel insights about the world. Ultimately, gamestorming provides a framework for solving complex problems through light-hearted methodology. Below are two examples of games that can be found in the playbook.

1: Post-Up

The object of this game is to generate a large quantity of ideas by using sticky notes. One to 50 players can participate and it takes 10 – 60 minutes to play.

STEP 1. Begin by posing a question to the group for which they’ll be brainstorming answers. (Example: “What printed products can our digital press produce?”).

STEP 2: Ask the group to individually come up with and write down their answers, one per sticky note.

STEP 3: After a set amount of time, ask members of the group to stick their notes to the board and present/explain their ideas. Acknowledge all ideas, focusing on core brainstorming concepts of quantity over quality, withholding criticism, welcoming unconventional ideas, as well as combining and improving ideas. If explanations inspire new ideas, add these to the wall too.

STEP 4: Sort the ideas into meaningful topics or categories that’ll help prioritize and contextualize them. While the goal of the game is simply idea generation, the sticky note medium allows ideas to be sorted and categorized in meaningful ways that can lead to novelty. For example, answering a question in this format might help a firm better understand new ways to add value for their clients without investing in new equipment.

2: Empathy Map

The object of this game is to develop a customer profile in a short amount of time (10 – 15 minutes) with 3 –10 players helping to achieve this goal. This game starts by drawing a large circle in the centre of a white board. Authors suggest adding eyes, ears and a mouth to make it look like a face. Ask the group to give the person a name and a title (i.e. Layla, Print Buyer). Label sections around the central face with ‘seeing’, ‘hearing’ and ‘feeling.’ With all participants taking the point of view of the customer, ask the group to describe the person’s experience, moving through the sensory categories. The goal is to place the customer first and create empathy for that person. What does this person want? What motivates this person? What can we do to help and how can we add value to this person’s life? By placing the person at the centre, it humanizes the customer-acquisition process.

According to the Inc.com article You Simply Won’t Believe How Much Time You Waste in Meetings at Work, According to MIT, the average executive spends 23 hours per week in meetings (about half the average work week) resulting in almost 7 years spent in meetings! The author suggests a number of ways to recapture this lost time, including no more PowerPoint and no meeting longer than 30 minutes. I propose adding gamestorming to the list, too. If even a fraction of time in meetings was spent playing games with a clear objective, a helpful number of rules and a little healthy, low-stakes competition, just imagine how different our work days (and by proxy, our lives) might feel! For more information and game inspiration, check out: https://gamestorming.com/.

Diana Varma
Diana Varma is an Instructor at the School of Graphic Communications Management at Ryerson University and the Owner of ON-SITE First Aid & CPR Training Group, a health & safety company that provides training to the Graphic Arts Industry.

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