You can improve any solution by objectively reviewing its strengths and weaknesses and making suitable adjustments. In this creativity framegame, you improve the solutions to several problems. To maintain objective detachment, you deal with a different problem during each of six rounds and assume different roles (problem owner, consultant, basher, booster, enhancer, and evaluator) during each round. At the conclusion of the activity, each player ends up with two solutions to her problem.
To identify problems, to generate solutions, and to improve the solutions.
- Generate ideas for dealing with briefly-described problems.
- Evaluate strengths and weaknesses of a solution.
- Improve the potential value of a solution.
- Compare the potential value of two different solutions for handling the same problem.
Six or more. Ten to 15 players produce the best results.
30 minutes to 2 hours. (Six rounds, each lasting about 5 - 20 minutes, depending on the complexity of the problem)
Brief players. Explain that the game will consist of six rounds and announce time allocation for each round. Indicate that players will specify a problem in the first round and let go of it during the subsequent rounds while they are busy with other problems and solutions.
Ask for problems. Select a topical area (example: cross-cultural communication) and ask players to come up with a real or fictional problem in that area that they would like to solve. Ask each player to describe the problem by briefly answering the following questions:
- Who owns the problem?
- What is the context for the problem?
- Who are the key people involved in the problem?
- What is the gap between the desired state and the current state?
Announce a time limit for completing this task.
Let me illustrate the steps of this activity by reproducing one of the problem statements from a recent play of the game: “My name is Russ Powell, and I am the Director of Customer Service at a Financial Services organization. Sam, one of the four team leaders who work for me, presents a performance problem. When we recently collected feedback data using a 360° questionnaire, six out of ten members of Sam's team rated his communication style as unacceptable. All these six employees are women. (The four male members of the team rated Sam's communication style as acceptable.) I have also heard complaints about Sam's rude behavior from women employees in other teams. My performance goal for Sam is that all members of his team, irrespective of the member's sex, rate his communication style as acceptable.”
Ask for solutions. At the end of the time limit, ask each player to give her problem description to the next player. (The last player gives her problem statement to the first player to complete this sequence.) Tell players that they will play the role of a creativity consultant during this round. Explain the task by asking players to review the problem description (generated by the previous player) and write a suitable solution. Encourage players to keep the suggested solution brief and specific. Discourage them from using such delaying tactics as asking for additional data or suggesting further analysis of the problem. Announce a time limit for completing this task.
Here's the solution suggested by the next player: “Send Sam to a training workshop on cross-gender communications that focuses on skills related to communicating with women. Also ask Sam to read popular books on gender differences.”
Ask for critiques. At the end of the time limit, ask each player to rotate her solution and the problem description to the next player as before. Tell players that they will play the role of a cynical basher during this round. As the basher, each player reviews the problem and the suggested solution. She identifies the weaknesses, limitations, and negative consequences of the solution and records them in a short critique. Encourage players to ignore all positive aspects of the solution, accentuate the negative, and avoid suggesting specific changes to the solution. Announce a time limit for completing this task.
This is the critique from the next player: “The suggested solution assumes that Sam has a skill/knowledge problem. It is more likely that his problem is primarily attitudinal, arising out of a need to maintain a macho image. Sam will perceive the training workshop as a punishment and a challenge. In Sam's perception, he probably wants to treat all employees the same, irrespective of their gender. So he may treat the suggestion as an example of politically-correct management behavior. Anyhow, most workshops on this topic merely increase players' awareness levels and don't provide any useful skills. These workshops are of a generic nature and examples used in them are likely to be irrelevant to the specific needs of Sam's organization. Combining the workshop with reading assignments is likely to add to Sam's frustration and irritation. Most pop-psychology books in this field are written by charlatans without any empirical basis. Principles and procedures presented in these books are likely to contradict each other and contradict what is taught in the training workshop.”
Ask for testimonials. At the end of the time limit, ask each player to rotate the packet of three items (problem, solution, and critique) to the next player as before. Tell players that they will play the role of a booster during this round. As a booster, each player reviews the problem, the solution, and the critique. She identifies the strengths, virtues, and positive consequences of the suggestion and records them in the form of a short testimonial. The booster is asked to overlook all negative aspects of the solution and to avoid suggesting any specific changes. Announce a time limit for completing the task.
This is the testimonial from the next player: “I like the double-barreled approach: a training workshop and popular books. There are many effective performance-based workshops that can increase Sam's level of awareness about the impact of his communication style on women. Such a workshop will also provide useful knowledge about differences in communication styles between men and women. Most importantly, the workshop will provide skills practice though low-risk role-playing. There are many popular books that are both research-based and practical. Some of these books have been on best-seller lists, suggesting high perceived value.”
Ask for improved solutions. At the end of the time limit, each player rotates the packet of four items (problem, solution, critique, and testimonial) to the next player as before. Tell each player that she will play the role of an enhancer. In this role, she will review the problem, solution, critique, and testimonial and suggest an improved solution to the original problem. Announce a time limit for completing this task.
Here's the improved solution from the next player: “Have a coaching conversation with Sam, presenting a business case and a personal case for reducing complaints from women employees. Establish a mutual and measurable goal related to cross-gender communication skills. Let Sam work out details of how he will reach the goal and demonstrate his achievement. Offer a menu of several appropriate strategies including training workshops, books, counseling from the Employee Assistance Program, and discussion with his team members. Assure Sam of your support but explain negative consequences of continued complaints from women employees.”
Ask for comparative scores. At the end of the time limit, instruct each player to rotate these three items to the next player: problem, original suggestion, and improved solution. (Withold the critique and testimonial.) The two solutions should be shuffled a few times before being handed over to the next player so that there is no indication which one is the original and which one is the enhanced version. Tell each player that she will play the role of an evaluator. In this role, she will compare the two solutions and distribute 99 points between them to reflect their relative effectiveness. Announce a time limit for completing this task.
The next player awarded a score of 60 points for the original solution (training workshop plus books) and 140 points for enhanced solution (coaching and other support).
Conclude the activity. Tabulate the scores from different players, by recording the scores for the original solution and the enhanced solution. Give each pair of solutions to the player who wrote the original problem description associated with them. Invite players to review the two solutions to their problem and use them as the basis for arriving at their own solution. Also ask players to reflect on the six different roles (problem owner, consultant, basher, booster, enhancer, and evaluator) they played during the game and think about what they learned in each role. Suggest that they should be able to objectively play all six roles the next time they solve their own problem.
Lots of players? If you have 12 or more players, organize them into six teams of 2 to 5 members. Use the same procedure as described above, except require members of each team to work together to create a single problem, solution, critique, testimonial, improved solution, and comparative scores.
Not enough time? Skip the first step. Instead of asking players to describe a problem, give each player (or each team) a ready-made problem that you had created earlier. Also skip the last step that requires evaluating and awarding score points.
Not enough time for a single session? Spread the activity over six different sessions. Exchange the information packets during each session, give instructions for the next step, and let participants complete their task at their own time.