UI15: Gamestorming

by Luke Wroblewski November 9, 2010

In his Gamestorming: A Grammar for Creativity and Innovation presentation at the User Interface 15 conference in Boston MA, Dave Gray provided an overview of creative collaboration techniques for getting the most out of planning and working meetings. Here are my notes from his talk:

  • Gamestorming is a way to solve the innovation problem. Example: you are Nokia, Apple comes out with the iPhone –what do you do? You can’t just do what you were doing before. You need creativity to figure out what to do next.
  • A lot of companies are now desperate for creative talent but most have trained their employees not to be creative but to be efficient & effective instead.
  • If we wanted to stifle creativity we couldn’t have come up with a better solution than the gray cubicle farm. These spaces were designed to make work as efficient as possible not as creative as possible. We need to break the model of thinking about work as a factory. Workflows and processes have a place in business but they are not everything.
  • For many business people, design is kind of a black box. They don’t know what happens within the creative process. As designers, you can no longer just go design in your box. You need to engage with others to get things done.
  • Gamestroming is about making the things designers do more accessible to groups of other people (not just designers).
  • Gamestorming has been around for a long time. The methods aren’t new. Dave’s book simply pulled these techniques together into one place to help other people go and get value from them. It focused on techniques that were simple, rugged, reliable, and lightweight. If you have basic office supplies (sharpies, post-its, paper, etc.) you can use these techniques.

Why Does Gamestorming help with Innovation?

  • Having a set of techniques you can turn to for innovation work is useful because we can’t plan for a perfect world. We have to plan for chaos and work with what the situation demands. Gamestorming gives you a set of tools to pull out when you need them.
  • You don’t know “what you don’t know” on innovation projects. We have to start out on a journey with fuzzy goals. Fuzzy goals tend to be emotional and sensory. Our movement to fuzzy goals is naturally iterative.
  • In innovation work you don’t want to get to the same result every time. You want to get to surprising, interesting, and unique results.
  • Games can help you get to these kinds of outcomes. Every time you play a game you’ll get interesting or different results. It’s all about the journey.
  • Games also make the pieces you are playing with tangible and visible to you so you don’t need to keep track of the parts. This allows you to be creative instead of focusing on tracking things.
  • Almost everything can be seen through the lens of a game.

Open, Explore, and Close

  • Games have an opening or divergent stage, an exploring or emergent stage, and finally a closing or convergent stage.
  • Open: stay loose and open to the ideas emerging, get in touch with your ignorance, and don’t assume you have the answer. Light a fire in the opening stage of collaboration to get people emotionally engaged.
  • There’s something powerful about having people start with what they are excited about. In creative work if you are not emotionally engaged and excited –it’s shows. We have to get people excited about the work. This may be why small teams often out-innovate big companies -they can hold onto the passion and excitement.
  • Explore: it’s important to know when you are in the details (when you should be looking at things at a higher level) and when you are too high in the air to do anything practical. You need to manage the altitude.
  • Tips for exploration stages: can give people red/green cards to lift when they want more/less; manage the clock to keep things moving; get people involved physically by having them stand up and draw.
  • Close: bring things to a conclusion, move from thinking mode into doing mode. Close by reporting back to share ideas and realign with the group.
  • Close everything you open. If you open something you must close it, or you will risk losing the energy of the group