By: Dave Grey



The world demands a lot of us. If you are running or working in a business, there are todo lists to manage, monthly targets to hit, and if you are truly lucky there’s a stock market to answer to on a quarterly basis.

All of which leads us to put our heads down and focus on executing our jobs to the best of our abilities. However, there comes a time when we need to pick our head up, and ask ourselves the question: What’s possible here?

Sure, you could just hold a brainstorming session where you get a bunch of people in a room and ask them “what’s possible”, or “where are we heading?”, but that process usually leaves everybody frustrated and disillusioned.

Luckily, Dave Gray, Sunni Brown and James Macanufo have given us the playbook for when we are ready to answer that question correctly, in a way that leaves us inspired to greatness. Get out your thinking caps, it’s time to learn how to....

The Gamestorming Framework

In today’s business world, a premium is placed on creativity and the unpredictable but breakthrough ideas it can bring. The straightforward and analytical process we used to solve other business problems is not cut out to produce these breakthrough ideas.

The first thing you’ll find different about this process is that your goals need to be “fuzzy” in order for them to work. Gamestorming doesn’t create a chain of cause and effect, it creates a framework for exploration and experimentation.

Not only is the path to the goal unclear, but the goal itself might change along the way. As the authors note, creating a fuzzy goal requires a little bit of ESP (emotional, sensory and progressive).

You need emotion because if you don’t tap into passion, you don’t tap into creativity. You need a sensory rich goal because the more tangible you can create the goal, the better the results will be – they should be able to feel it, see it and even taste it.

Lastly, you need the goal to be progressive, and allow it to change over time if necessary. As you learn along the way, you may find that you need to change your target.

Second, you need to know how to structure the game. The game comes in three stages...

Opening. This first step is all about opening minds and possibilities. This is where all of the big ideas should come out, and the critical thinking should be left behind. There are no wrong answers here, and your job is to create as many possibilities as possible.

Exploring. This is the stage where you start to look for connections between ideas, and try to see old things in new ways. You are looking at this stage to see how your many ideas might play out.

Closing. This is the stage where the critical thinking comes into play and you start to reduce the set of possibilities you’ve created and narrow down on a course of action. You’ll be creating next steps here, and you’ll be forced to eliminate your choices down to the ones you can realistically implement. These games can take anywhere from 15 minutes to weeks, but the framework must always remain the same – open, explore and close.

10 Gamestorming Essentials

As we’ve already said, Gamestorming isn’t your typical business process, and there are things you’ll need to be aware of to do this really well.

Closing and Opening

As you open and close your games , be aware of a few important things . Don’t open and close at the same time, because they require a completely different mindset, and you can’t use both of them at the same time. Also, remember to close everything that you open. When people give their energy and ideas, they want to know that they’ve been heard. Don’t let the energy dissipate because you’ve left open ideas that were suggested by the group.


No, you don’t have to start a real fire. But, you do need to spark the imagination of the group. The best ways to do that would be through the use of questions. It will chart the path for the session, so take the time to choose your starting questions carefully.


In your game, you will be using physical objects to help you visualise and work through your ideas and challenges. Whatever you use as your artefacts, they need to be portable and be able to hold information. The most common artefacts used during gamestorming sessions are the trusty Post-It Notes.

Node Generation

In order to start making connections between ideas, you need the ideas themselves. For instance, if the firestarting question were “what do we need from the grocery store”, our nodes would be the items we need from the store, and we’d put those on Post-It Notes and stick them to the wall. Make sure that you only put one idea on a single node, because we need to be able to move them around during the game. This is critical to the success of the game.

Meaningful Space

In order to create order in the game, you need to make a meaningful space, so that the nodes have someplace to go – empty buckets, if you will. Every single sport or game in the world has their own version of the “playing field”. In your case, a flip-chart, wall, whiteboard or even table top will work. Just ensure that you have a space where things can be moved around easily.

Sketching and Model Making

Being able to draw and make connections between your ideas is important here. You don’t need to be an artist, but you should be able to visually represent your ideas. All of the great inventors and artists had this ability to think visually, and you do too.

Randomness, Reversal and Reframing

We are hard-wired to make connections between things and make sense of our world. This is a good thing. However, after we make this connection, it’s often difficult to see anything else. So, we need to be able to add randomness into the equation in order to get us to see things differently and make different connections.

Da Vinci used to look at stains and patterns on walls to do this. If randomness is good for Da Vinci, it’s good for you too. This is one of the reasons that we need portable nodes like Post It Notes – they are easy to manipulate into different combinations.


This is the skill of letting go of your assumptions and biases and just going with the flow. Jazz musicians do it all the time. Most musicians record albums this way with some of the most iconic melodies and riffs of all time being the result of what they call “happy accidents”. When you improvise, great things happen.


At some point in the game, you’ll need to select the ideas you want to pursue in more detail. Having a mechanism and making this a game within a game is important. One such way is to let participants vote with sticky notes but putting them beside their preferred options.

Try Something New!

Sometimes the games you design just don’t work out. Ideas may not be flowing, or you are having a difficult time exploring the ideas you’ve generated. If that’s the case, it’s time to move on to a different game. There is nothing wrong with this, and is part of the creative process.

Getting Down to Business – The 7 Ps

Now that you have your gamestorming essentials down, you need to make sure you cover your 7P’s so that you have a successful session and that it brings you closer to your goal.

1. Purpose
When you are starting the game, people are going to want to know what it is all about. So, you’ll need to be able to stand up in front of the group and succinctly and with passion, tell them why you’ve gathered them all in the same room.

Remember, you are pulling people away from todo lists and other demands that are probably already overwhelming. As the leader, you can do more harm than good if you don’t clearly articulate the purpose of the game.

2. Product.
What, specifically will you produce as a tangible result of the meeting. I once facilitated a day-long session where the first question I received from the group was “what’s going to be different about this session than the previous 5 sessions our company has run? We always have these great sessions, but then nothing comes out of it”.

That person was brave to speak up with their boss in the room. There’s at least a few people in the room (if not all of them) who are thinking this. Make sure you address the specific outcomes you are expecting and how they will be followed up on, before you start.

3. People.
It should come as no surprise that who you invite to play the game will have an enormous impact on the outcome. So, make sure you think long and hard about who should be there, and what role you want them to play. Make sure you have people who have knowledge of the area you want to tackle, but also consider bringing in people who are not so familiar with the topic – often, they add the most value.

4. Process.
What’s the agenda for the session? Most people want to have a direction of how the session will go, as it alleviates a ton of anxiety (believe it or not). You can also use this as an opportunity to collaborate with your group before the session, which will greatly enhance participation when you actually hold the session.

5. Pitfalls.
What are the potential pitfalls for the session? It might be as simple as “no cellphones allowed”. It might venture into other territory like certain topics that are off limits. Make sure you think of all the things that could easily derail the session, and make sure you take the necessary steps to eliminate them from the session.

6. Prep.
There are often things that could be done before the session to get everybody on the same page when they show up. Is there reading material that is relevant to the session? Send it in advance.

Is there homework you’d like people to do before they show up? Make sure they know about it. This ensures that you can spend the session running the game, and not getting everybody up to speed. The games can only last so long before people run out of steam and creative capacity, so use your time wisely.

7. Practical Concerns.
There are some things that need to be taken care of that should be invisible to your participants. Enough space and sticky notes to last the session might be an example. If you are running over lunch hour, having lunch there on time is another. Don’t let your session be overrun by these little, but important issues.

Playing Your First Game

You are set up with everything you need to understand about how to make Gamestorming work for you and your business, now it’s on to the first game. There are literally hundreds of possible games you could play, with the vast majority of them actually covered in the book (so make sure you run out and get a copy!). Here are two games you can use to generate a bunch of ideas, and then converge on the most important ideas to explore further.

Post Up
In this game, make sure you have plenty of sticky notes at hand. You’ll post a question on the board, such as “how can we generate more sales next year?”. Then, silently, everybody in the group writes down as many ideas as they can, with one idea per sticky note. When the allotted time for the activity is up, each person posts their ideas on the board (or wall, or table), and quickly presents what they were thinking.

Next, you’ll start sorting the ideas into different and meaningful categories. In our sales example, some ideas might gravitate towards the creation of a commission- only based sales force, and other ideas might include the use of social media.

The only thing that matters here is that the groupings are relevant to you.

Forced Rank
Now that you’ve generated your ideas and sorted them into meaningful categories, you’ll have to figure out which ones to actually pursue. You’ll do this by having everybody rank the ideas in order, from 1 – 10 (if there are 10 ideas you want to vote on). Once everybody has done this, you’ll count the totals for each idea, with each one getting a “score”. Now you know exactly which ideas the group as a whole sees as the most valuable.


These games, if done properly, can literally transform your business. Take my advice and get this book, and then run some of these games at your next planning event or strategy session. Not only will your team thank you for adding some spice into what is usually a boring affair, you’ll unlock their creativity and generate ideas well beyond what you are used to.