3 Innovation Games that Make Creativity a Serious Business

The chart for the”Now/WOW/How” game helps rev up your brain to generate new ideas.

Next time you lead a brainstorming session, Carmen Effron wants you to stop doing one thing that could be standing in the way of your creative process:

Stop thinking so much.

Your brain can get stuck in old ways of thinking that make it hard to truly innovate, says Effron, president and founder of CF Effron Company, a boutique consulting firm specializing in primary research, strategy design/implementation and customer experience for the banking and insurance industries. In a phenomenon known as “confirmation bias,” your brain will keep coming up with those comfortable old solutions that have worked—or seem to have worked—so many times before. “In order to create and innovate, you’ve got to fool your brain,” she says.

Effron uses games to help groups shake up their brains and set them into new patterns. She and management consultant Andrea Simon brought a few to the AIBTM expo in Orlando in June and had planners play a few to unlock their creativity.

Here are three games that Effron and Simon may use to take participants through each stage in the creative process:

Divergent Stage:Reverse Everything.” To get the brain to start seeing in new ways, break down the elements of your product. List the opposite of each element and add new ones. A restaurant owner might list “Pay for food” as an element and decide to eliminate prices—but charge rent for the space. Effron says Next Restaurant in Chicago took this approach, selling tickets to a dining performance and including meals in the show.

Emergent Stage: “Build a Better Product Box.” Participants explore and experiment with the new ideas they came up with in the first game. Give them a plain box and art supplies: pens, markers, scissors, magazine pages and the like. They then decorate the box with images that tell the story of their new product. Key themes often emerge in this process.

Convergent Stage: “Now/WOW/How.” The new ideas are reassembled into actual working entities. Participants take the new elements they’ve created and place them on a chart showing the range of possibility. Ideas are classified as normal (“Now”) or original (“WOW!”), implementation as easy (“Now”) or impossible (“How?”).

Effron says taking a game approach to problem-solving revs up creative energy. “A game is a really great way to get people engaged.”

And, she adds, in this kind of gamesmanship, “everybody wins.”