2020 Innovation Issue: Try these exercises to open up your perspective

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Design thinking requires participants to communicate freely, open their minds to new ideas and look at problems in new ways. Here are some exercises to help.


Why: Open up to creative thinking.

What you need: A piece of paper with pre-drawn circles. Pencils.

How many people: individuals or groups

Instructions: Tell participants to turn the circles into as many everyday objects as they can in three minutes.

After: Compare results. See if there are some objects that everyone drew. Identify some of the most unusual choices.
Did anyone combine circles?

One thousand uses

Why: Embrace lateral thinking.

What you need: A few simple household items. A paper clip is the standard option, but you could also choose a spool of thread, a fork, a binder clip or any other basic item.
Pen and paper for each group.

How many people: At least two, large groups should be broken into smaller groups of no more than four.

Instructions: Give each group an object and five minutes to list as many uses as possible.

After: Share ideas and discuss how many were the same and which ones went in new directions.

What? Why? How?

Why: Practice empathizing.

What you need: Several photos of people performing some action (walking, shopping, working, farming, etc.). Paper and pens for each participant.

How many people: groups of up to 10

Instructions: Give participants 20 minutes to name and create a character based on someone in the photo and to write down what the person is doing, why he or she is doing it and how. Turn the answers into a short story.

After: Compare stories. Discuss the personalities participants created and how their needs differed.

Blind square

Why: Explore team building.

What you need: A long rope—as much as 60 feet, depending on the number of participants—that is tied at the ends and laid out in a circle.

How many people: At least four, as many as a couple of dozen. A blindfold for each person.

Instructions: Tell participants they’ll be forming the rope into a square. Give the group 10 minutes to plan without touching the rope. Ask each person to put on a blindfold and then put a section of rope into each participant’s hands. Give them 10 minutes to create the square.

After: Discuss the ways participants communicated, the roles each played and how the process could have gone better.

Six hats

Why: Introduce new perspectives.

What you need: Six hats—one each of white, red, black, yellow, green and blue. (You can just make paper hats and
label them.)

How many people: six (or more, divided into six groups)

Instructions: There are two ways to conduct the exercise. In both, the hat colors represent the following perspectives: white, facts about the product or proposal; red, feelings and emotions of the user or customer; black, negative possibilities and weaknesses of proposal; yellow, positive reinforcement and benefits of proposal; green, solutions and ideas for the challenge; and blue, controlling the process and determining next steps.

Same hats: All participants wear the same hat. A moderator introduces a challenge, product or proposal and all participants approach the issue from the perspective dictated by the hat color. After five minutes, move on to the next color.

Different hats: Each participant wears a different hat color. A moderator introduces the challenge, product or proposal and participants offer reactions based on the perspective of their hat colors.

After: Discuss how the differing perspectives brought different ideas or concerns to the conversation.

Mind map

Why: Help uncover fresh ideas.

What you need: A large piece of paper and pen. Or a large white board.

How many people: one

Instructions: Start by writing your primary challenge or idea in the center of the paper or board. Circle it. Think of ideas, words or challenges related to the central theme. Draw lines from the center circle, attach a new circle to each line, and write in the new ideas. Then do the same from each of those circles. Draw lines connecting related ideas until you’ve created a map of your thinking.

After: Review your words to see if you discovered a new idea, trend or perspective.

I like/I wish

Why: Practice giving and receiving feedback.

What you need: Paper, sticky notes, index cards, computer or other ways to take notes.

How many people: any size group

Instructions: A moderator asks a question or introduces a product or proposal. Each participant takes turns offering a positive reaction, starting with the phrase, “I like … .” Then, that person offers a constructive reaction, starting with the phrase, “I wish … .” Stop when participants run out of feedback.

After: Review the statements for trends and ideas.

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