Book Review: Gamestorming

by Kris_Tuttle on October 9, 2010

Gamestorm­ing by Dave Gray, Sunni Brown and James Macanufo is a kind of new era busi­ness book pub­lished by O’Reilly that largely con­sists of games that can be used with small groups to gen­er­ate ideas, explore alter­na­tives, pri­or­i­tize choices and gen­er­ally have more fun mak­ing bet­ter decisions.

One of the things I like most about Gamestorm­ing is that it pro­vides the tools that orga­ni­za­tions typ­i­cally pay “facil­i­ta­tors” tens of thou­sands of dol­lars to do for them. Gamestorm­ing pro­vides the basic rules and frame­work and then pro­ceeds to detail over 80 dif­fer­ent games that can be used to address the myr­iad sit­u­a­tions that come up in day-to-day operations.

Most orga­ni­za­tions would wel­come more inno­va­tion, a greater abil­ity to change and a more ful­fill­ing and fun cul­ture for their employ­ees. This book is prob­a­bly the fastest and eas­i­est  - and most eco­nom­i­cal — way to make that happen.

The first part of the book con­tains back­ground that some will find very use­ful and serves as a basis for under­stand­ing the notion of using games in a busi­ness con­text. The remain­der is orga­nized into four main sec­tions, each con­tain­ing dozens of games to tackle var­i­ous objec­tives. These are worth describ­ing along with some of our favorites from each sec­tion. No doubt every­one will have their own pref­er­ences based on their style and busi­ness prob­lems, but that’s very much in line with what the book is about. Take what works, make it your own.

Core Games: These games are the back­bone of group think­ing and deci­sion mak­ing. I espe­cially liked “The Empa­thy Map” (p.65) which rapidly devel­ops an inside view of the per­son on the other side of the table at a per­sonal level. Lots of analy­sis goes into sit­u­a­tions, but think­ing about how the other main actor sees, hears, says, feels and works is likely to yield more use­ful insight into how that per­son will react than any­thing else. This is often under­es­ti­mated or totally overlooked.

Games for Open­ing: In “Cover Story” (p.87), a group is asked to con­struct the front fea­ture set for a mag­a­zine cover story about their ulti­mate suc­cess. The process helps team mem­bers think big and also out­line key ele­ments that will make up the sub­stance of a big suc­cess. The “Heuris­tic Ideation Tech­nique” (p.98) is a lousy name for a sim­ple and pow­er­ful method of forc­ing lat­eral think­ing across a num­ber of known cat­e­gories to come up with new ideas. This is sim­ple and can lead to impor­tant find­ings in an hour. An “Object Brain­storm” (p.109) is per­fect for com­pa­nies involved with phys­i­cal goods; it focuses on a real object that cat­alyzes a dis­cus­sion about how that object will evolve in the future. A sim­ple idea; but often a phys­i­cal object trig­gers thoughts and ideas that won’t hap­pen with just paper and images.

Games for Explor­ing: This is a big chap­ter — my favorite offer­ing by far is a fairly involved game called “Prod­uct Pinoc­chio” (p.194). This game ani­mates a prod­uct or ser­vice and has the group define char­ac­ter­is­tics in dif­fer­ent areas like “What am I like?” “What are my val­ues?” “What is my com­mu­nity?” “What makes me dif­fer­ent?” and “What is my fight?” This gets at not just func­tions of a prod­uct but also design, atti­tude, mar­ket­ing, audi­ence and personality.

Games for Clos­ing: This is the slimmest and least inter­est­ing of the chap­ters. How­ever, the “Impact & Effort Matrix” (p241), if com­bined with the “NUF Test” (p.244), gen­er­ates a use­ful way to pri­or­i­tize items along mul­ti­ple dimen­sions that should max­i­mize return on effort.

There were some cool lit­tle tips that I liked in the book, such as mak­ing agen­das in the form of pie charts (p.112) with time allo­ca­tions rather than the typ­i­cal inline list­ing. It forces an allo­ca­tion and an aware­ness of how much time is spent on each item. Talk­ing chips (p.217) are another game ele­ment to add vari­ety and some fun to group meet­ings rather than sim­ply going around the table for a dis­cus­sion. Adding ele­ments of sur­prise and con­trol for the par­tic­i­pants elim­i­nates the drudgery and can spark some new sequences of ideas.

The book is an amal­gam of ideas from many areas of man­age­ment, con­sult­ing, and think­ing so there’s sure to be some­thing for every­one. I’m reminded of authors like De Bono (Lat­eral Think­ing, Six Think­ing Hats) who help peo­ple think more effec­tively. This book is a col­lec­tion of many good ideas that can be put into prac­tice with lit­tle effort.

The team also main­tains a nifty web­site that is worth a visit.

[Dis­clo­sure: I received this book in the hope that I would read and review it.]

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