Dave Gray – Gamestorming Live!

Sean Carmichael

October 14th, 2011

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Dave Gray, founder of XPLANE, and co-author of the book Gamestorming: A Playbook for Innovators, Rulebreakers and Changemakers, is known for his sketching and brainstorming techniques. At last year’s User Interface 15 Conference, Dave gave a 90-minute talk called Gamestorming: A Grammar for Creativity and Innovation. In light of the fact that Dave will be joining us for an October 20 virtual seminar, we’re presenting a sample of his UI15 talk for this podcast.

Illustration of Cubicles

The cubicle is a staple in many modern workplaces. It came into existence to give workers their own individual spaces to do their work as efficiently as possible. The drawback to this is it all but kills collaboration and stifles creativity. Dave challenges the accepted idea of workplaces as factories. He suggests that moving toward modeling work as a “collaboratory” will help open the black box of design to others within the organization.

Gamestorming poster session

Gamestorming can allow collaboration to happen. It quickly gets a lot of people working together, sharing ideas, and getting creative. Words may be tricky because you’re not certain if someone has interpreted what you’ve said the way you meant it. The beauty of Gamestorming is it gets people to think visually and physically express their thoughts and ideas on paper.

 A group Bodystorming the experience of getting a coffee.

Another technique that Dave talks about is Bodystorming. Instead of sketching ideas out on paper, with Bodystorming you physically act out an experience. One example that Dave points out is a group that was attempting to address the problem of disposable coffee cups. By actually creating a mock experience of waiting in line and then ordering your morning coffee, they were able to generate a number of ideas for improvements to the cup itself. These improvements in turn made the entire experience better.

You won’t want to miss Dave’s virtual seminar Brainstorming Games for Team Creativity–Gamestorming. Dave will showcase techniques that get the entire team involved in the design process. You’ll see how to keep the energy level among your team high and arrive at consensus and get results faster. You can add lifetime access to the recording of this seminar by using the promotion code GAMES.

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Full Transcript.


Dave Gray: ..from a business perspective. Business people have a tendency to think of design as something that’s kind of a black box. “We have a department for that. We have a team that does that.”

And we typically want to kind of separate them from the rest of the organization, right? Because it’s kind of crazy and we don’t look inside the box that often, it’s a little crazy in there.

I mean, who feels like they’re in that box and the senior people don’t necessarily want to look in or know what’s going on, they just want good things coming out of the box? Anyone identify with that?

Because we’re in the box, right, we’re the design people. But what we’re finding more and more is that we can’t just do our design inside of our black box, we have to engage with a lot more people than we used to.

We have to engage with the organization, with customers, with other people in organization. I mean, raise your hand if you need other people who are outside of your team to get your job done. Yeah. I mean, almost everybody.

So this black box has to be something that we need to open up and that’s what Gamestorming’s about. It’s about taking those things that we do as designers and making them more accessible to groups instead of individuals.

So this is a woman named Elizabeth Gould. She discovered something called neurogenesis. Raise your hand if you learned in school that brain cells don’t regenerate. I learned that in school. You don’t take drugs, right, because if you take drugs, you’ll kill your brain cells and they won’t grow back.

Well, if you have taken drugs, I have good news for you.

[laughing]

Brain cells do grow back, and this woman, Elizabeth Gould, a researcher at Princeton University, discovered this in 1999. And it was an unexpected discovery, because there had been a lot of research done that proved that brain cells don’t regenerate.

Here’s the thing – almost all that research had been done on lab animals, who were kept in cages and they weren’t in their natural environment and they weren’t creatively stimulated at all. Basically it was like taking a prison population and thinking that it represents humanity, right?

So here’s a question I have for you – does this look like anything you’ve ever seen at work?

[laughing]

Right? OK, there’s my reveal. All right, so here’s the thing. If we wanted to design our workplaces to inhibit and stifle creativity, to kill brain cells literally, we couldn’t have done better than the modern office cubicle.

So this is one of the reasons I’m going to have you actually standing up and using your body today, because that’s part of what’s killing creativity is being in the gray box and trying to get your work done.

All these things were designed to make work as efficient as possible, not to make work as creative as possible. So we have to find ways to break down these barriers if we want to get more creative at work.

The model for work or the metaphor for work that we’ve been working under for a long time, and a habit that we have to break, is thinking of work as a factory. And, you know, think of it – in a lot of ways, we’re always mapping, processes we’re doing work flows. A lot of those kind of ideas, and I’m not saying that work flows and processes aren’t important, but they aren’t everything, right?

So we need to move from thinking of our workplaces as factories, even to the point where, “We’re going to make a creativity factory, and you’re going to be in charge of the initial thing, and then you’re going to be in charge of the next thing and the next thing,” and start thinking of them as collaboratories, where we have to get comfortable with a little bit more chaos and mash-up in the process, because that’s the kind of thing that helps creativity happen.

These are some snapshots that I took of people Gamestorming. This is just very simply a survey, except it’s done with sticky notes with a physical group in a room. So a very quick way to get a lot of people helping and participating and answering questions.

A couple of pictures of just people doing creative work, getting into the Gamestorming process. I mean, does this look like something you’d like to see more of at work? Raise your hand.

No? Come on, raise your hand, you liars.

[laughing]

OK, it looks a little crazy, it looks a little chaotic, and I’ll explain to you a little bit what these people are doing, but when we were writing the book, that’s actually a paper prototype of a toilet seat. Yes.

[laughs]

Alright, when we were writing the book, my co-authors and I convened about 50 people in a conference center to actually work on all the ideas and prototype all the stuff in the book. And I want to tell you a story of something that happened there.

50 people come together in a conference center, they’re staying there. They’re going to have basically two or three days with them. In the early stages we did a game called Poster Session, which we are going to do today together.

And the idea behind Poster Session is everybody makes kind of an infographic style poster that explains something that they’re interested in, something they’re excited about or something that they want to propose as a project, et cetera.

This guy, who’s not a designer, had the issue that he cared about, which was disposable coffee cups. Millions of us go to coffee shops every day, we buy our coffee in disposable cups, we drink our coffee and we throw the cups away.

Now, that adds up to a lot of waste and a lot of problems, because they’re hard to recycle and so forth. And here he was coming in, he said, “You guys have design skills, this Gamestorming stuff is about innovation and creativity. I don’t have the answer. I have the problem. The problem is we need better disposable cups.”

That’s what he thought the problem was. “I don’t want to blame the people who are throwing away the cups, there’s got to be something we can do to make a better cup that’s just easier for people carry around and use and re-use, instead of them using all these paper cups.”

So he said, “I challenge you to help me with this, help me do this.”

So the survey that I mentioned earlier was part of that activity. So he got some people with him to work on this project that he cares about, and they started by doing kind of a survey of like, “What’s your coffee experience like?”

They designed some questions, they had people answer the questions, and one of the things I heard from them was, “Doing a survey in this way was actually very helpful, because I got to see more of the thinking process, as people answered the questions with the sticky notes, than I would have if it was just an online survey. So we actually went and changed some of the questions and were able to adjust as we were getting feedback.”

Now, it’s not necessarily what you would do for a research survey, but for a quick and dirty getting a feel for things, and of course most of us do know what it feels like to go get a coffee in the morning, and most of us use disposable cups, that they were able to do that.

The next exercise that we did with them is something called Bodystorming, and this is a picture of people Bodystorming. Raise your hand if you’ve done this or heard about it.

Bodystorming is simply a kind of improvisational role play where instead of designing your product on paper, you actually design it by working it out with other people in real time, in real space.

So this person is the iPhone, OK? You can see the iPhone there. And we have the user. And these are people who are aspects of the application. This guy’s looking up whatever he’s going to be doing next.

So it’s a very quick way to prototype a system and really get a feel for how does it feel to interact? How does it feel? Get a flavor for it. And it’s a kind of a play that’s helping us figure out what’s on the other side of that? What’s the better iPhone look like? What’s the next generation look like?

We could play with those things and tweak them until we start to get a feeling for something that then we can go a little bit deeper on. So it’s a way of sketching. This is a way of sketching.

So the Betacup team, that was their name, this guy, Tony Daniels, he had actually named his problem the Betacup design project. So what they decided to do in their Bodystorming was they were going to set up a Starbucks, and they’re going to feel out the system. So they have barista, this is the Starbucks here, this is the asshole, see?

So they actually, what they did was they set up the Starbucks and they started role playing what it feels like to be in the line, to go through, to experience this, to try and figure out, “How can we fix the cup? What is it that we can do with the cup?”

And they came up with some pretty cool ideas, just by tweaking the system a little bit. And one of the things they discovered was, “Wow, it sucks to be in line behind the asshole, because he’s taking forever, he doesn’t know what he wants. You’re waiting in line, you’re waiting in line.”

So they came up with this idea where your cup would also be your loyalty card and your credit card and everything else, so you’d have your order built into your cup, so when you came to order, you could skip the whole line, you just put your cup at the end. They picked it up, they had your order in there, they had your loyalty program in there. All they had to do was swipe the cup and they could put it into the system and it would come out the other end with your stuff.

So there’s all these benefits to that, like you could pick up three or four cups from your co-workers, you know, and you wouldn’t have to remember their orders, because it would be built into their cup, right?

So they had actually kind of thought about a lot of cool benefits.

So after the event, a lot of these people that we had in were bloggers and social media people and so forth, so they actually posted about it on the Internet. “This is our Betacup Bodystorm, these are the ideas that we have.”

And it was, you know, people were reading it, people were like, “Oh, this is kind of interesting.” And who would be reading this but Starbucks, the VP of Sustainability at Starbucks saw the video. This is like a really rough, shaky, hand-held two-minute video of the, excuse my language, I’m saying it because it’s the language they use – “The asshole in the Starbucks line,” and the way they acted the thing out.

This was the guy they had on their radar. They wanted to get a meeting with him. They had wanted to get a meeting with him forever, and he called them.

Now, What’s interesting about this? Well, when you’re doing innovation work, you don’t know what you don’t know when you begin the project, so you’re learning as you go.

So first they thought, “We’re going to make a better cup, it’s all about the cup.” But then they started looking at the system, and they said, “Actually, what we need to work on is not just the cup but the whole system around the cup, and make the system work better.”

And then from there it became the social system. The thing that the Starbucks guy was excited about was not the particular solution that they had come up with. He was interested in the whole social engagement factor about how they got all these people connected to trying to solve this problem together, collaboratively. He was interested in the wisdom of crowds stuff.

So there’s actually now a Starbucks competition. It’s a $20,000 Betacup prize. They’ve already awarded it once. There’s winners and everything. This came out of just people getting into a room and not knowing what they were going to do together…

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