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This chapter is from the book

This chapter is from the book

Be Open and Playful

Every day, multiple times a day, you’re faced with needs and making judgments about ways to address them.

Let’s say you’re trying to decide how to get to work during the summer. The bias you’ll most likely have is for ways that are familiar, real, or feasible. If you usually take the bus, that’s your most likely course. If the weather is nice, maybe you’ll walk. You’re not very likely to decide to fly because that’s probably not feasible–unless you can fly or pay someone else to fly you!

When you brainstorm, it’s OK to start by saying you’ll fly to work. The point is to explore possibilities that may not usually occur to you. Jet packs? Mini-helicopters? Hovercrafts? These things aren’t available now, but someone out there is trying to design them. As you heard in Spark, we didn’t get cars by redesigning horses!

A good generative brainstorm is open to ideas that may seem silly. When you feel the judging part of your brain saying “that’ll never work,” “that makes no sense,” or “this idea is a waste of time,” just shut it off. Give the rest of your brain permission to play.

Your Spark is a focus for generating a lot of different ideas, and some of them should seem silly or crazy. That’s how you get a wide set of ideas to work from. You open up a lot of different concepts and explore them (as you can see in A in the diagram below, from Gamestorming). Later, in Sculpt, you’ll close in on part B - the concepts to focus on.

Let’s try some games to open your brain!

Game: Brainstorm Warm-Up: Shoe Tie, Shoe



Approach a need from several different angles by lacing your shoe in as many different ways as you can!

What You’ll Need

  • A shoe (unlaced) and a shoelace
  • Pen & paper

Step 1: Investigate the Standard

Lace your shoe in the typical manner (crossing laces above and below where the two sides meet.) What are the benefits and disadvanages of this process? Write them down.

Step 2: Mix It Up

Now unlace and re-lace your shoe in as many different ways as you can think of. Each time you lace it, draw a quick sketch of your approach and write down some of the pros and cons of lacing your shoe that way.

Step 3: Think It Through

Were any of the lacing methods that you came up with better than the standard method? Why do you think most people lace up their shoes the way they do?

Feeling Competitive?

If you’ve got a group, set the timer for 30 minutes and see who can come up with the most ways to lace a shoe. Compare everyone’s results at the end: What similar methods did people try? Why do you think that was? What unique methods did the winners come up with? Why did no one else think of the winners’ lacing options?

Added Challenge

Try to lace and tie shoes in as many different ways as you can using any material you can find or think of, from wire to an iPhone cord... What works?

Game: Brain Cardio: The Game of Phones



Stuck on one concept? This brainstorm technique is designed to illustrate how even one message can be expressed in a cornucopia of ways.

Step 1: Establish a Connection

Determine a linear order for all the players. Sit in a line or other configuration that clearly begins with one player and ends with another player.

Step 2: Send a Message

Player one gets the honor of choosing a one-sentence message. Try to use colorful and descriptive adjectives.

Step 3: Scramble the Airwaves

Just as in the game of Telephone, player one will whisper her message to player two, who will whisper the same message to player three, and so on until you get to the final player, who will relay the message out loud for everybody to hear. (For those of you unfamiliar with Telephone, try to keep the message a secret as it is transferred via whisper from player to player. And no repeating the message if you don’t hear it right the first time!)

Unlike Telephone, however, players in The Game of Phones will actively try to alter the wording of the message without altering its content. For example, if the message is, “The bird is blue,” then player two might pass on the message, “The winged beast is blue.” Player three might evolve that further to: “The winged beast is azure.”

Step 4: Uh, Operator?

When the message gets to the last player, she must also tweak it to be a little different before repeating it to the group. Did the meaning survive? How did the message transform? Did the words become more general, or more specific?

Game: Boss-Level Brainstorming: “Exquisite Corpse”



Open your mind to unexpected sources of inspiration through collaborative sketching.

What You’ll Need

  • A sheet of paper for every player
  • Markers and pens for everyone to sketch with
  • A timer

Step 1: Pick a Theme

As a group, select a Challenge statement. This will be the theme of your brainstorm. Everyone will be sketching potential solutions to this Challenge.

Step 2: Sketch your Corpse!

Everyone in the group should start off with a clean sheet of paper in front of them. Set the timer for five minutes. During that time, everyone must sketch a potential solution to the Challenge statement. Draw in a corner of your sheet of paper. When you are done, you will be folding the paper over so that no one can see what you drew.

When the timer is up, everyone gets two minutes to add a title or line of text to their drawing. For example, if the Challenge statement you picked was, “Make brushing your teeth more fun for kids,” you might sketch a brush that plays music only when it is being used. Over that, you could write your favorite song lyric, coming from the toothbrush. Fold over the paper, so that all you can see is the text, and none of the drawing.

Step 3: Get Exquisite

Once everyone has folded over their paper, switch papers! Now, you must sketch a potential solution to the Challenge statement that also incorporates the text that you can see from the folded-over sketch. Repeat Steps 2 and 3 until there’s no more space to sketch on the paper.

Step 4: Dissect your Corpse!

Completely unfold all the corpses and pin them up around the room so that everyone can check them out! What assumptions did people make about each other’s copy?

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