Game storming

By Luke Punnett

Steve Jobs once said ‘innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.’ This has never been truer; regardless of the industry you’re in, the winners win because they successfully innovate. It is impossible to look at some of the most important companies in the world today and not see innovation whether it be Facebook, Google, Amazon, Apple, eBay or PayPal.
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines innovation as ‘the act or process of introducing new ideas, devices, or methods.’ There are many ways organisations control the process of introducing these ideas but the difficult part is almost always generating innovative ideas in the first place. Large organisations cannot afford to sit back and wait for these ideas to arrive, they need to create an environment in which these ideas can thrive.  Google famously fostered innovation by implementing the 80/20 rule where employees could spend 80% of their time working and 20% working on personal projects. As stated in the technology magazine Wired, ‘The policy led to products like Google News; Google’s autocomplete system, originally called Google Suggest; Gmail; and AdSense, the advertising engine developed to support Gmail financially, now producing roughly a quarter of Google’s revenue.’ The 80/20 rule however is not financially feasible for all but the largest tech firms and it doesn’t come without its disadvantages.
However, there is another method available to foster innovation that came out of Silicon Valley. It may not have received the same publicity as the 80/20 rule but can be utilised by organisations of every size. This new method is called ‘game storming.’ Similar to the related eLearning concept of ‘gamification’, game storming is a way of utilising games in a meeting environment to encourage and support creative and innovative thinking. Key individuals in the field have, with the support of a great community, developed a series of ‘games’ that can be used in the work environment to help in a variety of areas, such as:
  • Envisioning the future.
  • Logo design.
  • Idea generation.
  • Developing roadmaps.
  • Thinking through problems/strategies.

One of the latest games added to the game storming website,, is a really useful activity called ‘squiggle birds’ originally by Chris Glynn. Squiggle birds is a simple game that can be used at the start of any meeting to help lower barriers participants may have about drawing/being creative. This is really useful if you are planning on getting participants to draw up their ideas in the meeting. You start the game simply by encouraging people to cover their page in squiggles. Once they have gone ahead and covered their page, you then ask them to convert these squiggles into birds by adding a beak, eyes and a tail. The human brain does a great job of finding patterns and this ability makes it easy for the brain to turn these squiggles into birds. The images below show squiggles in a before and after state as drawn by Dave Gray (@davegray).

Squiggles before:

Squiggles after:

(Notice use of labels and ‘props’ such as worms.) 

Although ‘squiggle birds’ is only a very simple and basic activity that takes no more than five minutes, it puts all the meeting participants into a frame of mind that allows creativity and not to be afraid of thinking outside of the box. The desired outcome of any game storming activity is that by spending a relatively small amount of time completing a game, you get returns (ideas, frame of mind etc.) that you would perhaps never get following the typical meeting structure. Game storming is an entire toolbox of activities to help any size business innovate effectively. 


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