The Idea Game is a new group brainstorming tool that corporate teams can use to generate fresh ideas and insights. Developed by Swedish creativity consulting firm Realize AB, it provides a variety of creative stimuli using a card deck and game board to generate ideas, and “idea battles” to help identify and improve upon the best ideas.

The Idea Game is a new group brainstorming tool that corporate teams can use to generate fresh ideas and insights. Developed by Swedish creativity consulting firm Realize AB, it provides a variety of creative stimuli using a card deck and game board to generate ideas, and “idea battles” to help identify and improve upon the best ideas.

Realize AB’s core business is conducting creativity and brainstorming workshops, so developing creativity tools and software is a natural extension of this focus. According to its website, since its founding in 1998, Realize AB has led over 340 workshops and trained more than 8,500 people in creative practices. Its list of more than 130 clients includes a Who’s Who of leading European companies, including Volvo, Ericsson, DHL, TUI, AstraZeneca, SCA, Electrolux and IKEA.

To date, the company has produced the brainstorming functionality for the popular mind mapping software program, MindManager and a stand-alone software program based on it called Effective Mind. An iPhone app is to be released next month.

I recently talked to Realize AB managing director Thomas Hagbard to learn more about what inspired his firm to create a board game for brainstorming and how it works:

Chuck Frey: Why was the game developed, and what needs does it fill?

Thomas Hagbard: Realize have been working as practitioners since 1998 and developed different kind of tools along the way. We also have a simple deck of cards and other hands-on tools. In 2007 we developed the initial version of the idea game (Business Facilitator), a high-end tool targeting the more skilled practitioner. The tool also include guidelines, templates and sales presentation for people who license the tool and participate in our training to become idea pilots. We sold over 300 games at a price of $1000 the first year.

The need was to be able to handle inexperienced groups without too much facilitation, especially when you have groups of 25 to 50 participants. The use of the idea game was successful and organizations wanted to use it on a larger scale throughout the organization. Based on that input and the experience from playing with over 6,000 people we designed a lower-end version that had even less need for a facilitator and that clients and others could use on their own.

We have so far shipped over 4,000 of The Idea Game, which is this simpler version.

Frey: Why is a game like this important today? How is it better than an ordinary group brainstorming session?

Hagbard: If you have a game you also have a process, a step-by-step process for running your brainstorming session. The concept of a game is well known and people feel safe and encouraged to participate and contribute with their ideas. The ideas you generate are strongly linked to the idea cards that you view for provocation. The cards give payers the ability to “hide” behind the card, blaming the card for their weird ideas. That way we get more ideas and more out of the box ideas on the table.

The game also encourages the group to do parallel thinking, which means that teams not only develop the ideas, they also “battle” them to come to a consensus on the best ones. So the ideas are developed and refined by the whole group, which dramtically increases idea ownership, which in turn eases the implementation of these new ideas.

Frey: How can The Idea Game be used? How is it being used by businesses now?

Hagbard: We have customers in all different areas from highly sophisticated advertising agencies to companies in “old school” industries. The game is used for product development, business innovation, organizational issues, strategy refinement as well as input to work with our clients to construct new business models.

We use The Idea Game in many types of projects, from C-level meetings dealing with corporate strategy issues to 100 people meetings, where it is used as a tool for gaining commitment for new company values, new product kick-off meetings and so forth. The Idea Game is best suited for challenges that involves people in some sort of interaction. such as sales, marketing and product development.

It’s also one of the tools we teach when we train and certify what we call internal co-pilots in our creative thinking academy. While they’re students, we call them co-pilots, but once they’re certified, the advance to the title of pilot.

Frey: What does a typical idea game look like? Can you describe the process that a team would use with it?

Hagbard: The game is used on its own or in combination with MindManager. When used with this mind mapping software, the workshop typically starts with using the analytic view in MindManager to pinpoint the areas of interest and to focus on a specific challenge. Ideas for challenges are captured and clustered in the program. These ideas are used as a starting point for the game.

Once the group has reached consensus on the challenge upon which it will focus, MindManager is closed and the team begins to use The Idea Game. The challenge refined further, using guidelines we provide for how to present a challenge to best drive creative thinking. That’s contained in the facilitator’s guide in swedish, or we facilitate the meeting.

Next, the challenge is written on a blank card and presented on the game board. Then there is a 20-30 minute idea gaming session. Typically participants take 4-5 idea card each and scribble their initial out of the box ideas on the note. Then, 5-6 idea battles are done. After each battle, the whole group refines and develops the ideas further.

Finally, all of the relevant ideas are collected in MindManager and the final four are described in more detail in the mind map. This way, everyone can see the thinking process that the group followed to arrive at its ideas. This also makes the process of selling these winning ideas to management or project owner.

Frey: I’d like to drill down a bit deeper into the cards that come with The Idea Game. How did you come up with the content for them?

Hagbard: A combination of our own interpretation of the research of creative thinking experts, and over 12 years of experience in the field, facilitating brainstorming sessions.

Frey: I see the idea cards not only have a picture of a person doing a specific job, such as an astronaut, there are also some words at the bottom of each card. I assume that players can free associate with both the words and pictures, correct?

Hagbard: You can use the card in any way, shape or form you like. Some people use the image, others one or more of the words or a combination of the two. The words on the cards are selected based on the theory that, given a random situation, you can add four types of “attributes” – a person (the image itself), a product, a place or an event. That means that you can use all of the triggers on the card (image + words) to build a complete story around your idea.

Frey: How are the four different types of cards used?

Hagbard: The idea cards are used as triggers for lateral thinking, of course.

Update cards are used to revisit some of your ideas and use the card to get complementary ideas for refinement of your core idea.

The plus card is used as a warning card when someone acts negative toward an idea or player. Instead of challenging the person face to face, which many people feel uncomfortable to do, the card can be used in a more neutral way. You can tap on the card, hand it to the person, flip it around to show it to the offending person, just to draw attention to their non-productive behaviour.

Arrow cards help you to further develop one of your ideas.

The question cards are just questions. When using the game on site with clients, the questions and challenges used are drawn from their business analysis. But the questions that are part of the card deck can be used as idea starters to get the creative juices flowing. We’ve also found that many clients use The Idea Game at home as well as at work. By using it at home, you can practice your creative thinking skills and develop your skills to encourage  other players and look for the good aspects within their ideas, regardless of how wierd they are.

Frey: One of the unique aspects of The Idea Game is the concept of “idea battles.” What are they, and what are the benefits of holding them?

Hagbard: The challenger first chooses who to battle. He or she describes his or her ideas in 30 seconds or less. Then the person who has been challenged does the same. The other players reward the best idea with a yellow counter, a small plastic disk that is like a poker chip. Other players can suggest improvements to either one of the ideas; this gets awarded another yellow counter. You repeat this process until every player in the group has battled twice. You get to be challenged once, and the challenger once.

After a battle, the whole group refines the ideas, starting with the losing one. This process ensures that new and different ideas get a fair chance. In many cases the losing idea is far better than the winning idea, after the refinement by the group.

The benefit of the battles is that you can be brave presenting even the craziest ideas. It also helps to ensure that the ideas that you wouldn’t normally feel comfortable presenting get put on the table.

Frey: Who is the target audience for this ideation product? Who should use it?

Hagbard: We have different customer profiles. One is the above, whereas the organization use the game as is, and we train a few internal people to be on-site experts, not only on the game but also the ideation process.

The other category of customers are organizations that we tailor the game for. This means, for example that we use their vision, mission and strategy documents to develop 20 to 50 challenges that are focused on the firm’s future. The game can also be used to communicate a new strategy or new values. In that case the game is used to get an understanding and commitment from the workforce for the new corporate strategy. They not only are listening to the CEO on stage but get a fair chance to answer the “how” question. In other words, how can we implement this part of the strategy in our department or part of the organization.

In these cases we also redesign the look and feel and in some cases alter the steps in the ideation process to fit better with the workflow they are used to.

You can learn more about The Idea Game on the Realize website.

About the author

Chuck Frey Senior Editor, founded and served as its publisher from its launch in 2002 until the partnership with Innovation Management in 2012. He is the publisher of The Mind Mapping Software Blog, the definitive souce for news, trends, tips and best practices for visual mapping tools. A journalist by trade, Chuck has over 14 years of experience in online marketing, and over 10 years experience in business-to-business public relations. His interests include creative problem solving, visual thinking, photography, business strategy and technology. His unique combination of experience and influences enables him to envision new possibilities and opportunities.