Gamestorming : New Book Review

Gamestorming by Gray Brown and Macanufo

The authors of Gamestorming promise that by “imagining, creating and exploring possible worlds, you will open the door to breakthrough thinking and real innovation”. What’s more, the ‘games’ they describe in their book can help us do this. So how well does it deliver?

The context setting in the early chapters of Gamestoming by Gray, Brown and Macanufo, reminds us that we are doing business in a post-industrial age. Historically, industrial goals have been specific and quantifiable. Now though, in knowledge work we need our goals to be 'fuzzy'. 'This means that new approaches are needed to stimulate creativity and to share and manage information. The authors suggest that 'games' can help with this.

The authors also suggest – and here they are consistent with the literature – that the process of creativity should start with divergent thinking - to open up the problem space. This should be, followed by convergent thinking - to refine ideas and develop action plans.

On this basis, the games are split into four sections, core games, then, games of opening, exploring and closing. There are over twenty games in the Opening section and about forty in the Exploring section. The other two sections have fewer games.

The instructions for how to run each game are clearly explained in a step by step fashion. In most cases, there is also a strategy section following the instructions. This explains how the game can help the thinking/decision making/ creativity of the group.

Because of the range of games on offer in Gamestorming, it is likely that even the most long in the tooth facilitator will find something new here. There are games that encourage us to use different media to explore problems, like drawing and modelling. There are games that have evolved out of established planning processes like stakeholder analysis and value chain analysis. There are games that draw on techniques like analogy, and some games like” Mission Impossible" and the “Anti-problem game” that have origins in innovation tools like TRIZ.

This broad range of techniques provides resources for a wide variety of different meetings and workshops.

Target Audience?

One of my concerns about the book is who is the target audience? On the front cover it says that Gamestorming is a ‘playbook for innovators, rule breakers and change makers. The authors speak as if to employees/managers of companies engaged in innovation and change projects.

However, I suggest that in order to run these games successfully, the facilitator would need to have sound experience of managing the climate for creativity and managing group dynamics. In Gamestorming though, very little mention is made of these fundamental aspects of a successful creative workshop.

Without someone promoting a supportive climate and managing the ‘air space’, it is unlikely that all participants would feel comfortable enough to put forward creative suggestions and take the risks that some of these games require.

Idea Development?

The games in Gamestorming offer varied and, I imagine, effective ways of stimulating new ideas and also organising and prioritising knowledge. However, I have a concern as to whether the book would fully deliver on its promise of delivering breakthrough innovation. This is because none of the games really helps with problem solving and idea development. These are key activities for successful innovation. Very few ideas arrive fully formed and ready for presentation to the board or to take to market.

Indeed, many managers feel frustrated with traditional brainstorming exactly because, after their team has generated many bright ideas, they have a sense of ‘where to now?’ 

Gamestorming, can definitely help with clustering, mapping and prioritising ideas – but it won’t really help in developing ideas. For this, end to end effective innovation processes are required.

Selecting Games.

The final chapter talks us through how some of these games were used at a large event to explore the idea of a re-usable take out coffee cup. It is a good example that shows us how games from the different chapters – Opening, Exploring, Closing – can be applied and the outputs contribute to innovation.

In fact, if this book is targeted at managers who are not experienced facilitators, then this is an aspect that could be strengthened. The authors might suggest which of the games might work well for which business activities e.g. brand planning, new product development, understanding customers?

In Summary.

If there is a will among a team or company to find  new ways to share ideas and capitalise on their company knowledge, then Gamestorming certainly provides a good range of games to help.

Novice facilitators might want to proceed with caution. Stimulating creative thinking and taking some people, out of their comfort zone will likely impact upon the climate of the meeting. Passions may be heightened and values may be challenged. Professional facilitators are trained to manage these interactions and the group process. They know how to keep the meeting productive and prevent injury to egos, feelings, the furniture and (at times) bodies!  Without such a trained or experienced facilitator, some of these games might not run in the same smooth way as they have been outlined in the book.

However, taking together, the scene setting about the need for companies to manage information in the post-industrial age in new ways, and also the games, Gamestorming provides some excellent stimulus for managers to rethink meetings. And that’s good. As we all know, getting more out of meetings can have a significant effect on productivity and the bottom line.

Anatellô score as a tool for innovation and growth 3.5 out of 5.

Gamestorming by Gray, Brown and Macanufo. 258p  is published by O'Reilly

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