GameStorming – A Review

October 3rd, 2010

I eagerly picked up the book GameStorming – A Playbook for Innovators, Rulebreakers and Changemakers by Dave Gray, Sunni Brown and James Macanufo. As I thumbed through the book, and then took the time to read it more closely, I came to the conclusion that the title is a bit misleading.

The book combines the elements of many traditional facilitation/group processes and is divided into a number of sections: essentials, core gamestorming skills, games for opening, exploring and closing. On closer inspection, many of the processes are not games, and thus diminishes the power of games in organisations and groups. Games can provide a real insight, often tangentially, into how we behave during the game and potentially, at work as well. Anyone who has been working with groups and using a range of processes will find little new in this book. However it’s a handy reminder. For people new to group work it opens up a range of approaches and ideas to build upon.

There are also many variations on a theme, for example, cardstorming/affinity mapping are all essentially the same process – taking a bunch of ideas and finding common themes, patterns etc. It also seems a bit odd to me to describe well-known processes such as World Cafe and Open Space Technology as games. I also find it a stretch to call a SWOT analysis a game too, even if it’s done with post-it notes and people get out of their chairs.

What I do like about the book is that it draws a lot of its activities from outside of traditional sources and adapts them for use with groups. It also encourages active participation rather than passivity. Anything that encourages facilitators to get participants to use their whole body, and not just the part above the neck, is welcome.

A lot of these activities are designed to create awareness, understanding, and recognition of others’ ideas.  I suspect we now have a need for these activities because many of us have lost the art of connecting, of building relationships, of having conversations, of knowing the differences between dialogue and debate, and how and when to inquire and advocate. We are too caught up in our own heads to stop and listen to others, we are looking too hard for the ‘right’ answer and stop looking when we think we have found it. There is also an overemphasis on reaching a conclusion or a decision. While this is comforting for many, it diminishes the value of exploration and reduces groups to entities that can be directed to an end point. Groups are messy, ideas are convoluted, and appropriate decisions depend on many variables.

This book is an addition to the vast array of books on processes, games, techniques. They are all useful activities to know in any given situation. There’s something missing though. You can have all the games and activities in the world, all indexed, available in iPhone apps or on index cards, stored in the computer in your head or the one in your hands – yet that doesn’t tell you what to do when. I wrote about this here.

Noticing, awareness, doing less not more, being alert to what’s not happening as well as to what is – these are essential facilitation skills that are hard to convey in any book.

1 Comment so far

  1. Dave Gray on October 5, 2010 2:30 am

    Hi Viv,

    Thanks for the thoughtful review. Gamestorming was not intended as a book for professional meeting organizers, although we do hope that even experienced facilitators will find a few things that they had not seen before and perhaps see some familiar ideas in a new light.

    The fact is, that out of the entire universe of meetings, it’s a very small number of people that have the opportunity to benefit from an experienced facilitator. Most meetings involve small groups doing what they can to make the meeting work without any outside help. Processes such as World Cafe and Open Space may be well-known in some circles, but I would bet that if you took a broad survey of your social ecosystem (outside of professional or trained facilitators, people such as your relatives and their friends) you would find that only a small percentage of that group would know about these techniques.

    Yet most, if not all, of those people participate in meetings of one kind or another, at work, church or in other social settings, and all of them stand to gain from a broad survey of social, creative, facilitation techniques.

    Every author must make decisions about what to include and what to leave out. One curse of a survey or overview book is that it does leave itself open to criticism that it’s overly simplistic. In this this book we wanted to offer a broad survey of the available techniques for enhancing group thinking and creativity. We biased towards simple, easily-learned, effective methods that we, the authors, had tried and tested many times. In such a book we were bound to cover a lot of territory that is familiar to professional facilitators.

    However, as I said, it is our hope that even seasoned facilitators will find a few new ideas, or will be sparked to see familiar things in a new way. I have heard from many professional facilitators and trainers who found some new ideas and inspiration in Gamestorming. Failing that, I would hope the book is a great way to introduce beginners to the idea of facilitation as a way to improve their meeting dynamics.

    Thanks again for a thorough and thoughtful review.

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