Archives for posts with tag: visual thinking

Since its publication in 2010, Gamestorming: A Playbook for Innovators, Rulebreakers, and Changemakers, has received a great deal of high praise.  The authors, Dave Gray, Sunni Brown and James Macanufo, have written an informative and engaging read.  But, as the title indicates, the book was written with a more specific purpose; it was written to catalyze action.  And so it has.

Over the last two years, the principles and strategies featured in Gamestorming have enjoyed steady momentum with an ever-widening audience.  It’s hard to imagine finishing the book without becoming partial to the dynamism of gamestorming methods versus traditional brainstorming methods.  At a recent event in Philadelphia, I learned about the genesis of Gamestorming in greater detail.

(Many thanks to Tactile Design Group for hosting the event and also to Jessica Ivins for facilitating!)

Dave Gray explained (via Skype) that many of the practices he, and others, had been employing for some time are now codified in the book.  Listening to Dave describe those practices that evening, many other questions came to mind.  Below you will find some of those questions, as well as Dave’s responses.

1. How does your training as an artist inform your work with organizations?

DG: “Art training differs from many kinds of professional training in that it tends to be very experiential.  In art school we learn by doing.  This means most theoretical learning is informed by practice.  And as everyone eventually learns, just because something works in theory does not mean it works in practice.  I do think that the experience of going to art school has made me more skeptical of ideas that cannot be tested in the crucible of experience.  My bias is to try and test new ideas before accepting or discounting them.  A good idea applied is better than a great idea that remains a theory.”

2. How has your use of visual thinking strategies within organizations evolved over time?  More recently, how has your own work as a practitioner been influenced by the writing of Gamestorming?

DG: “Certainly the work of putting the Gamestorming ideas into a book forced me and my co-authors to make sure there were no gaps in our experience and understanding.  Only exercises that we had thoroughly tested ourselves were allowed into the book.  In addition, after we released Gamestorming into the world, people have embraced it and amplified it in ways we could never have anticipated.  I might add here that open-sourcing all the material at has involved many, many people in building up a library or pattern language of activities and exercises that could not have been easily compiled any other way.”

3. You have described PRACTICE as essential. What benefits or results have you observed in individuals who commit to the practice of Gamestorming?

DG: “This probably goes back to my art training.  Facilitation is a skill, and it takes an investment of time and energy to develop a skill.  The best facilitators I know take it seriously as a discipline and work hard at it.  The good news about Gamestorming is that in a game-like structure, the burden of facilitation is distributed among a group of people, so you don’t bear that entire burden alone.  And with only a little bit of effort you can get good enough to get positive feedback from your team, which gives you the energy to learn and try more things.

It doesn’t take too much effort to set a positive feedback loop in motion in your organization.”

4. In your experience, which aspects of Gamestorming are organizations or individuals often resistant to, unsure of, or slow to embrace?

DG: “It depends on the organization, but some people have a harder time with physical activities like role-playing, improvisation, bodystorming and so on.  There’s a lot of personal risk there.  People are reluctant to do anything that would make them look foolish in front of a group.  So I like to lead up to that slowly by having people do simple things first, like working with sticky notes, or exercises they can do individually on a table-top, like making simple sketches.  If you let people ease into things they build up their confidence and are often ready for more. 

That said, I do think the physical activities can be great for keeping a group’s energy high and provoking stimulating, breakthrough ideas.  The whole idea of Gamestorming is to get people out of their habitual thought patterns and spark new kinds of thinking.  So I do try to get there.  But like anything big, it helps to start small.”

Among other things, Gamestorming outlines the benefits of utilizing visual thinking strategies.  These methods are a springboard to critical and creative thinking.  In fact, the book concludes with a compelling case study that beautifully illustrates the impact these methods can have on problem finding and problem solving.  But don’t take my word for it…check it out and share YOUR thoughts about Gamestorming!

Gamestorming: A Playbook for Innovators, Rulebreakers, and Changemakers, will be the focus of the next #creativereads Twitter chat on Tuesday, October 23st at 8pm ET. 
Join us!


Dave Gray, SVP Strategy, Dachis Group, is a management consultant, focused on innovation and change. He works with companies to spark breakthrough thinking, to find and clarify their greatest challenges and opportunities, and to design their way into the future. His previous book, Gamestorming, has sold more than 50,000 copies and has been translated into 16 languages.

© 2012 Kira Campo


Each post in the Practice Profile series captures the distinct perspective of one individual, in order to highlight some of the ways a personal creative practice can impact professional practices.  Recently I asked Paul Williams, founder of Idea Sandbox, what he relies upon to maintain his inimitable style of playful creativity.  In this Practice Profile, Paul shares some of the tactics that aid him in his work as a professional problem solver.

Paul’s first suggestion: Write It Down.  He explains,

“That situation or problem you thought about last week has been mulling in the back of your brain.  Our brains fire out ideas when we do things that don’t require a lot of thought, when doing things that are routine.  Driving to work.  Taking a shower.  Exercising.

For me it is the shower.  I’ll be struck with a brilliant idea, an idea so great I know I’ll remember it.  Only to lose it when another idea hits.  So, I bought a diver’s slate.  A small piece of white plastic with a pencil attached to it.  This is what underwater divers use to make notes.”

Although it would be convenient if the ideation process occurred in an orderly fashion, that just isn’t the case.  Any idea is just one of many possibilities.  And, as Paul describes, often when the possibilities begin to flow they flow fast and furious!  When problem solving, capturing ideas in their earliest stage is an important step in reaching a refined and quality solution; much like the artist or designer whose process begins with rough sketches in order to eventually yield a refined composition or design.  While the habit of keeping a notebook to capture ideas is not a new method, relying on a diver’s slate in the shower spins that concept, making it quite an effective variation of the norm!

Paul was clear that he always has something to capture thoughts and ideas, whether it is the Notes app on his iPhone or a Field Notes brand book and pen.  His philosophy is simple: it doesn’t matter what you use—as long as you are using something.

Another technique Paul recommends is mind mapping.  He maintains that part of the value in mind mapping is the ability to represent certain connections in a visual fashion.

In his words,

“We get uncomfortable when new ideas are so different they do not link with old ideas. It makes us nervous.  Feels risky.  As a result remarkable ideas are often not adopted or modified so they feel more familiar (and ultimately no longer remarkable).”

The visual nature of a mind map makes it easier to observe what connects the new with the old.  Seeing the relationship between the ideas tangibly expressed on the page can help to mitigate some of the nervousness around a new idea. Paul suggests that this type of nervousness, “is one of the problems with the adoption of new ideas within organizations.”

Reluctance may accompany the unfamiliar, but, when evaluating possibilities, we benefit from the willingness to put reluctance and judgement aside.  Taking the time to pay attention to unrelated facts and ideas, even if the information initially seems at odds, can make all the difference.  Such was the case with an example Paul shared about exploring the common ground between farming and advertising:

“An ad agency was experiencing employee churn.  Designers would often quit after only working for 9 months or so, complaining they felt ‘burned out.’

The problem caused me to remember a lesson about farming.  If you planted the same crop in the same field too many times – the soil would become tired, lose nutrients, and not produce.

I wondered if the same way you kept soil productive and nutrient-rich would work for the agency.  Instead of designers doing the same type work until they became worn out, what if they rotated the types of projects they worked on?

The firm tried the idea – and everyone was happy. Designers cross-trained for a variety of project types.  This enhanced productivity and made for an overall more creative team!  And, instead of specializing, having a depth and breath of knowledge made each designer better at all types of projects.

While this technique – stealing and applying ideas from seemingly unrelated fields – isn’t the ONLY tool in my creative shed, it is one that has come in handy many times.”

When asked about his personal practice, and how it informs his professional practice, Paul replied,

“There is a great quote by British historian Arnold J. Toynbee.  It goes something like this… ‘The supreme accomplishment is to blur the line between work and play.’  For me being creative is fun, so when I do it for work – it is always play.”

Whether the line is between farming and advertising or work and play (or anything else) very often it is our willingness to blur the line that leads to the most creative outcomes!


Paul Williams is the founder of Idea Sandbox, a brainstormer and professional problem solver. Through hand-crafted strategy and brainstorm sessions he helps people create remarkable ideas to grow their business. As one client put it, “Idea Sandbox turns brains into idea machines.”

Paul has spent the past 20 years building marketing, branding, and customer-experience strategy for The Disney Company, the Aramark Corporation, and Starbucks Coffee Company. He founded Idea Sandbox in 2005 driven by his passion to help others create remarkable ideas. He blends the skills and lessons he has learned through the years to build a sandbox – an idea sandbox.

He help brands solve challenges, grow their brand, think-up remarkable ideas, and create innovation. Clients include: Starbucks Coffee Company, Starbucks Coffee International, Panera Bread Company, Seattle’s Best Coffee, BGR The Burger Joint, USA TODAY, Woodhouse Day Spas, The Microsoft Corporation, and Wells Fargo Mortgage.

He lives just outside Washington DC in Alexandria, Virginia.