Ideation with Board games

Ideation is the process of creating ideas. In the new economy, idea breakthroughs generate a critical amount of revenue for the value chain; disruptive ideas can lead to a significant market advantage. Therefore ideation needs to be facilitated by any mean for companies.

Serious games offer an ideal way to animate a workshop for businesses. It allows playfully acquiring learnings. If a serious game can facilitate team dynamics discoveries and offer a way to learn a new collaboration technics, is it able to create new ideas? Ideation follows some best practices; Forbes provides an overview of the basics rules to run ideation workshops:

  1.  Make sure the facilitator sets the right tone
  2. Use challenge questions to focus the session
  3. Go for quantity, not quality
  4. Discourage judgment and analysis
  5. Encourage wild and even “absurd” ideas
  6. Make sure everyone’s ideas get captured and displayed
  7. Use “dot-voting” to rank the ideas

These rules may seem very familiar to any participant of a serious game workshop and are in line with the recommendations of game storming workshops. If a serious game is making sense for running a workshop on ideation, does it make sense to use a board game as support?

“Concept”, the board game.

To develop this topic further, I propose to use the specific need to create product features collaboratively. According to the Harvard Business Review, the creative process is a collaborative action. I use Concept to illustrate how a board game can be used to generate ideas. “Concept” is a board game in which player try to describe words with a variety of icons on a game board.

A Lego Serious Play abstract modelisation

This proposal derives from the usage of Lego Serious Play Hackathon. A Hackathon is a form of collaborative co-creation. In “Lego Serious Play” each participant proposes a solution using a lego model with a limited amount of pieces. The result is rather abstract and fosters the creation of new ideas when they are described and commented collaboratively. Because the proposal of a player is abstract, each other player is forced to imagine potential meanings based on his own set of values and personal experience. After sharing all the individual ideas collaboratively, the participants are invited to create a joint proposal.

To run this experiment, the game facilitator proposed a topic: “create new features to support the customers of the product X”. Each workshop will have its product to develop, for the sake of this article, I will use a box of “Mixed cereals containing fruits”.


A proposal of a new feature for the “Mixed cereals with fruits” using the Concept board game

The first participant who has a feature to propose will describe it with “Concept” tokens on the “Concept” board. The green question mark token is used to identify the main characteristic of the” new feature of the cereals” and the green squares to give more details about this characteristic. The participant can refine the idea with the additional characteristic, using question marks for each additional characteristic and cubes of the same colour to give more details. Starting with the participant on the left, each other participant will try to “interpret” the abstract idea of ” feature” proposed on the board. The participant write their proposals on yellow-sticky notes, nothing is trashed, it is essential to keep all ideas. The participants display their sticky notes on a board visible to all participants.

Before reading the proposals made by the participants, try to guess by yourself what could be this new feature modelled with the green and red tokens. You can write it on a yellow sticky note and continue reading the article.

The first proposal of a feature using Concept board

The collage of 6 images is the selection that could be given by one participant for a proposal of a new feature for the “Mixed cereals containing fruits”. The green Question mark points at “Water / Liquid / Aquatic” and is detailed with a cube on “Food / Nutrition / Edible” and the colour “White”. The Red exclamation token is used to give more information about the first characteristic and points at “Inside / Internal” detailed by two red cubes pointing at “Time / Duration” and “Small / Lower / Below”.
Based on this first proposal, the other players may propose the following ideas;
the original idea of the first participant will be provided last so that you can see deviant ideas that can be generated by an abstract representation of an idea :

  • The second participant understood the tokens as “Green: Water – food – white / Red: Inside”. The participant proposed that the cereals contain powder milk. By putting water on the cereals, the dry milk inside the cereals transforms into milk. Great feature, you don’t need milk anymore to enjoy your cereals, water is enough! The participant interpreted the green question mark and green cubes as “Water – food – white” as the cereals transform water into milk. The participant didn’t have any idea for the red cubes given more details for the red exclamation mark but kept the idea of “inside”.
  • The third participant proposes to read the token as “Green: Liquid – Edible – White / Red: Inside – Reduce – time”. The participant proposes that the box of cereals is equipped with a container for milk which is poured at the same time you pour the cereals, in the bowl.
  • The fourth participant proposes “Green: Liquid – Edible – White / Red: Compressed – Reduced- time”. The cereals are compressed and inflate quickly after the milk is poured. Compressed cereals are taking less space on the shelves of the kitchen!
  • The original idea of the first participant “Green: Liquid – Edible- White / Red: Inside – Reduce – time”, the same as the third participant but with a different meaning and a benefit similar to the fourth participant: the cereals are soaking with milk faster letting you prepare your cereals faster in the morning.

All these proposals are collected on a wall on yellow sticky notes, well visible for all the participants. After this first round, the participants will discuss the ideas proposed. Each other participant will propose one new idea, will use the board to describe it, and the other players will interpret it.

With 4 participants, it represents a potential of 16 new features. To select the prefered ones to elaborate on which to prototype and test with potential customers, the participant can use dot-voting.

In this article, we have seen what the characteristics of ideation are and how to use serious games to facilitate an ideation workshop. The board games can be used as support for such a workshop because they offer most of the characteristics required for a creative game: collaborative, clear objective and rules, fun.