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Gamestorming: A Playbook for Innovators, Rulebreakers, and Changemakers


How do you write a review of a dictionary? That’s the question that came to mind as I was trying to write this review. Gamestorming: A Playbook for Innovators, Rulebreakers, and Changemakers is sort of a dictionary, but instead of words, it’s designed to provide definition to the games we play when we’re working to solve hard problems. It’s been in my library for some time now, but other than flipping through it from time to time, I had never really made my way through it. That’s likely for the same reason most people don’t read the dictionary cover to cover: you just don’t process the information that way.

A Whack on the Side of the Head

Sometimes, you need A Whack on the Side of the Head. It’s an idea sparking book that was recommended to me a few decades ago by a boss of mine when we were doing product development. The idea is that you use the book to try to approach problems differently so that you can see new things, including new solutions. The book was not ever particularly useful to me in that sense, but occasionally I still flip through the book when I’m struggling with something and I want to try to jar my thinking. I’m not sure why I keep doing this even though it has yet to work, but that’s a story for another time.

Gamestorming is similar to A Whack on the Side of the Head in that it contains a set of games designed to help people break out of their thinking and produce better results. The book catalogs a list of games that can be used to elicit better input from others. It draws on numerous sources, including Luke Hohmann’s excellent Innovation Games. Coverage in other sources is often more in-depth, but Gamestorming seems to provide enough context that you could run a game with only the information provided in its pages.

Why Games Work

In instructional design circles, gamification is all the rage. The basic thinking is that if you give people badges and points, they’ll automatically start wanting to learn more. That is, unfortunately, not true. Many instructional designers have lost their way trying to embed gamification through such simplified means. Despite the failures, people manage to connect with our competitive natures and accomplish gamification of their instructional programs.

However, the simple rules of achievement and competition are not what drives gamification in the settings of requirements gathering, wicked problem solving (see Dialogue Mapping for more), and general elicitation. What drives games in this context is the ability to suspend the normal rules of business behavior and replace them with a completely different set of rules that are more attuned to achieving the goals. Games work, because they transport us, in whole or in part, to a different world, where the invisible barriers that held us back from being open, honest, and creative are temporarily removed. (See Creative Confidence for how our creativity is inhibited.)

Components of the Game

Games have three main phases: the opening, the exploration, and the closing. There are different activities in each phase.

The Opening (Act 1)

In the opening, the focus is on setting the stage and defining the rules that the game will operate in. It is in this phase that the major themes and ideas are created. It’s where information is shared about how things will happen in the game.

This is the place where excitement is intentionally generated and fueled. The goal is to create the energy that will power the game through to the end. It’s the launch of adventure.

While setting boundaries and guidelines, the opening is expansive and allows people to step through the wardrobe into Narnia – at least their version of Narnia in the form of the game.

The Exploration (Act 2)

In the exploration phase, the game is running. The cycles of the game are happening, and people are operating inside the constraints of the system. This phase might wind down on its own and move towards closing automatically, or it may be necessary for the game master to nudge the game to closing.

The Closing (Act 3)

In the closing phase, the game is being wound down. The conclusions from the exercise are being drawn, and, where appropriate, the decisions about what to do next and who is assigned action items as a result of the game are established.

Game Listing

The bulk of the book is spent cataloging and summarizing the games. A brief list is:

  • Affinity Map
  • Bodystorming
  • Card Sort
  • Dot Voting
  • Empathy Map
  • Forced Ranking
  • Post-Up
  • Storyboard
  • WhoDo
  • 3-12-3 Brainstorm
  • The Anti-Problem
  • Brainwriting
  • Context Map
  • Cover Story
  • Draw the Problem
  • Fishbowl
  • Forced Analogy
  • Graphic Jam
  • Heuristic Ideation Technique
  • History Map
  • Low-Tech Social Network
  • Mission Impossible
  • Object Brainstorm
  • Pecha Kucha/Ignite
  • Pie Chart Agenda
  • Poster Session
  • Pre-Mortem
  • Show and Tell
  • Show Me Your Values
  • Stakeholder Analysis
  • Spectrum Mapping
  • Trading Cards
  • Visual Agenda
  • Welcome to My World
  • The 4Cs
  • The 5 Whys
  • Atomize
  • The Blind Side
  • Build the Checklist
  • Business Model Canvas
  • Button
  • Campfire
  • Challenge Cards
  • Customer, Employee Shareholder
  • Design the Box
  • Do, Redo, & Undo
  • Elevator Pitch
  • Five-Fingered Consensus
  • Flip It
  • Force Field Analysis
  • Give-and-Take Matrix
  • Heart, Hand, and Mind
  • Help Me Understand
  • Make a World
  • Mood Board
  • Open Space
  • Pain-Gain Map
  • The Pitch
  • Product Pinocchio
  • Post the Path
  • RACI Matrix
  • Red:Green Cards
  • Speedboat
  • Staple Yourself to Something
  • SWOT Analysis
  • Synesthesia
  • Talking Chips
  • Understanding Chain
  • Value Mapping
  • The Virtuous Cycle
  • Visual Glossary
  • Wizard of Oz
  • The World Café
  • $100 Test
  • 20/20 Vision
  • Ethos, Logos, Pathos
  • Graphic Gameplan
  • Impact & Effort Matrix
  • Memory Wall
  • NUF Test
  • Plus/Delta
  • Prune the Future
  • Start, Stop, Continue
  • Who/What/When Matrix

In Summary

If you’re familiar with some of the above list, you’ll realize that they’re not all games. Some are activities or even approaches. The point is less that the idea is a game in particular but more that it’s a different way of confronting a difficult challenge so that you can find novel solutions to the challenges. Maybe the next time you are confronted with a difficult problem, you can start by Gamestorming.