Guest Gamer: Paul Z Jackson

Based in London, Paul Z Jackson (; helps clients to create better training programs, workshops and meetings, by getting their design and facilitation right. He draws on a background of journalism, comedy producer for the BBC, and director of improvisation theater groups. He co-founded and was long-time President of the Applied Improvisation Network (AIN), and has written or co-written six books, including The Solutions Focus, 58½ Ways To Improvise In Training (which is a book of games), The Resilience Pocketbook, and Easy – a guide to the principles of improvisation. 

TGL: Paul, what is your specialty area?

Paul: It’s the sweet spot where Applied Improvisation meets Solutions Focus. Which means offering people experiences of their best selves, using their resources and enjoying flow, right in the moment.

TGL: How did you get into designing and using games?

Paul: I suppose I remembered liking games in youth clubs, scouts, and hanging out in the local park, then had my interest re-kindled when writing, directing, and acting in sketches and plays. The games had lots to offer in devising, bonding, and rehearsing. And eventually even became part of the product in improvised comedy shows.

TGL: How long have you been designing and using games?

Paul: When I left the BBC, I started exporting games from my theatre groups into training rooms for organizations. I created a workshop called ‘Improvisation for Life’, which is full of games, then applied them to presentation skills, teamwork, creativity, leadership, and change management.

TGL: Where do you use games?

Paul: All my workshops and training sessions contain games – if we include a range from exercises to simulations. I maybe call them all activities, to avoid prejudices of triviality that some might hold about ‘games’.

TGL: How do your clients respond?

Paul: Some of them still pay me. I guess interaction is what I’m now known for, so if they don’t want that, then they don’t become clients.

TGL: How do your participants respond?

Paul: It’s my responsibility to create conditions in which participants feel safe and willing to participate. On a good day, they hardly notice themselves crossing the threshold into playing (and playfulness) but may notice that they are having an engaging and productive time. One of the commonest responses is disbelief that the time is up.

TGL: What is the most horrible or embarrassing moment you had in conducting games?

Paul: I can’t remember any game horrors, but I once did a magic card trick as part of a well-being workshop, and the trick went wrong, which was lame. I was reminded of the unpleasantness and unproductiveness of making mistakes and failing, so I went back to the more fertile and interesting territory of facilitating rather than presenting; inviting people to co-create with each other rather than watching me be a fifth-rate magician.

TGL: What advice do you have to newcomers about interactive training?

Paul: Make sure that every game is selected to make a purposeful point about the topic at hand (no ice-breakers just for the sake of it). As well as having clear relevance, a game should fit snugly into the flow of your event.

Be confident with how you present the game. If you believe it adds value, convey that to your participants.

TGL: What types of games do you use most frequently?

Paul: I use mostly simple activities with minimal or no props, usually starting in a circle of players. I vary the modality, from verbal to drawing/writing to movement. 

TGL: What is your most favorite game?

Paul: I play a lot of tennis and watch a lot of soccer. I like quizzes on TV and in pubs. So, elements of sports and quizzes find their way into many of my games. If a game succeeds in showcasing spontaneity – people having a go, rising to a challenge, demonstrating creativity, finding connections – then I’m happy. So, the favorite changes almost every day, depending on what I’m learning and how they are going.

TGL: What is your prediction about the future of games?

Paul: Rosy. It looks like they are here to stay.