games can help us innovative

Photo credit: Tim Rawson How board games can help us innovative be 12  Insights Vol. 7 Move over “family game night.” It’s time to dust off those br...
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Photo credit: Tim Rawson

How board games can help us innovative be 12  Insights Vol. 7

Move over “family game night.” It’s time to dust off those brain-teasing board games and grab a colleague because research shows that investing a little time “playing” before brainstorming, can pay dividends later. By Ba r ry Ku d row itz

How (Some) Board Games Can Help Us Be (More) Innovative


familiar with this concept, it is a nonlinear way of organizing, visualizing, and/or generating ideas.6 A mind map typically takes the form of a diagram involving words and graphics that branch out radially from a central concept. In this case, the central concept is a toaster and the player is making associations around it such as bread, kitchen, breakfast, heating, etc. The creative challenge for Player 1 is to broaden his mind map to find closely associated words that are not the ones on the card. Taboo Meanwhile, Player 2 is engaging in a The game Taboo is about getting your very different creative process: convergent partner to say a certain keyword without thinking. Player 2 is hearing a string of using a list of words that are commonly seemingly unrelated words and phrases associated with it. For example, Player 1 (such as “food pops out of it,” “don’t would try to get Player 2 to say the word put it in the bathtub,” and “it browns “toaster” without using the words “bread,” items”) and is trying to find the word that “appliance,” and “heat.” connects them all. Although Player 2 is At first glance, you might not see how this not aware of this, she is taking part in a variation of a classic test of creativity called the Remote Associates Test (RAT). The RAT involves finding a connective link between a set of three seemingly unrelated words that have a mutually remote association.7 An example of a set of words could be: tap rain floor. The challenge is to find a word that Figure 1. A basic mind map for a toaster showing how thoughts can diverge around a central concept. can be paired with any is creative, but it actually hits on some major of these three words in the set. For this creative thought processes. Player 1, in this given example, the word “dance” is an case, is engaging in divergent thinking. This appropriate solution as in “tap dance,” person is trying to envision everything that “rain dance,” and “dance floor.” can possibly be related to toasters; he is making a mind map. For those who are not lay allows us to escape reality for a short time. It is a safe bubble in which we pretend, imagine, and create. It allows us to say and do things that we don’t typically say and do. It’s no wonder that many studies have found that playing makes people more creative. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 Below I analyze a few popular board games to demonstrate how their game play encourages innovative thinking.

Illustrations by Barry Kurdowitz

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How (Some) Board Games Can Help Us Be (More) Innovative

Apples to Apples The game of Apples to Apples is about choosing a noun from a set of noun cards that best describes an adjective chosen by another player. For example Player 1 could be holding a hand of noun cards that includes things like “beauty pageant,” “the World’s fair,” and “Frankenstein’s monster.” If Player 2 turns over an adjective card that read “scary,” Player 1 would then choose a noun Figure 2. The remoteness of an association plays a role in the perception of creativity and humor. A very close association will be obvious and thus not creative or humorous. A very distant association will be confusing. A creative or humorous response will card from his set that he typically have a non-obvious connection that is neither too distant nor too obvious to the audience, which results in an “Aha!” or believes Player 2 would “Haha!” moment. It is possible for a very distant/no connection association to illicit humor. This could be a result of expecting a resolution and not finding one or finding humor in nonsense. find most appropriately described as “scary.” conclusions about Player 2 based on The heart of this whatever small observations he can game is the ability to empathize with make such as prior conversations, her other people. For those in the design personality, her dress, or her responses industry, you may already be aware of in the game. Is she the type of person how important empathy is for creating that would be against beauty pageants? successful products and services. Is she interested in classic horror Designers have to understand their literature? Is she afraid of large crowds? potential users; they need to tap into “For This game also involves a skillset the emotional and physical needs and where creativity and humor overlap: desires of their target audience. This something to the ability to quickly find connections typically involves extensive ethnographic be creative between seemingly unrelated things. In research and observation. In the case the realm of innovation this is called of Apples to Apples, players who know or funny, it the Associative Theory of Creativity each other well have a vast knowledge 7 needs to be of each other’s preferences and opinions. , in the realm of comedy this is called 8 the Incongruity Theory of Humor . The game gets more challenging when For something to be creative or funny, it unexpected the players are not well acquainted. needs to be unexpected but still make In the aforementioned example, but still make sense, in other words the association has where Player 2 reveals the “scary” sense..." to be distant enough to be non-obvious adjective card, Player 1 must draw

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How (Some) Board Games Can Help Us Be (More) Innovative

still appropriate for the given categories. If any but not so distant that it is confusing. In this two players have written the same response to a example, when looking at a hand of noun cards, Player 1 is searching for any connections between category, those responses are invalidated. In an idea generation session, the first ideas we these nouns and the word “scary.” In addition to trying to empathize with Player 2, Player 1 is think of for a given prompt/problem are typically likely trying to find a connection that is not too going to be the same ideas everyone thinks of distant, but also not too obvious. A noun card that first, and thus not novel nor creative. If you says “horror movies” might be too obvious of a ask a group of people to associate on the word play and therefore not creative, while a noun card “green” the majority of people will say “grass”.10 Scattergories discourages players from writing like “pigeons” might be too distantly associated and therefore confusing. A noun like “Spice Girls” “elephant” or “eagle” for “Animals that start with the letter E.” Instead the game pushes players or “dirty diaper” may have moderate levels of association with “scary” to be deemed creative to think of the less common, more novel “egret,” and/or humorous. “emu,” and “earthworm.” In Scattergories the player with the most unique responses is the winner. It turns out that in the real world, the people with the most unique Scattergories In the game of Scattergories players are given a time limit and a random letter of the alphabet and must come up with unique examples of items beginning with that letter that fit into a set of given categories. For example, if the letter for the round was “G,” Player 1 could write “Glue stick” under the category “School Supplies” or “Gremlin” under the category “Fictional Characters.” What I love about this game is that it rewards two important elements of creative thinking: quantity and novelty. Many researchers define creativity as a combination of novelty and a secondary quality measure such as usefulness or appropriateness.7, 9 Novelty and Appropriateness are exactly how to score points in Scattergories. To win, players try to have the most responses that are Figure 3. This is a visualization of the popularity of “animals that start with E” as represented by a Google search webpage result count. The head of the graph are likely the common responses that most people think of first. novel to the group, but are also The “long tail” is populated by a long series of less common items, which represents the more novel, creative responses.

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How (Some) Board Games Can Help Us Be (More) Innovative

responses are also winners. In my research, I have found that the ability to quickly come up with many ideas, is strongly correlated (r2=.82) with having many creative ideas.11 There are some speculations on why this might be. One theory is that people who are coming up with many ideas are bounding through the common thoughts allowing them to move on to the less common ones. Another theory is that people who come up with lots of ideas are less inhibited in their thought process and therefore the ideas they come up with are going to be less restrained. A final thought is that people who are good at making associations are going to come up with lots of ideas as well as lots of non-obvious associations. In any case, having lots of idea alternatives to choose from is bonus. As Emile Chartier said “nothing is more dangerous than an idea when it is the only one you have.” E.B. White quoted “Humor can be dissected, as a frog can, but the thing dies in the process and the innards are discouraging to any but the pure scientific mind.”12 I hope that I have not killed your love of these classic games, but rather inspired you to play them again with a new perspective. Note These games (Taboo, Apples to Apples and Scattergories) have all received the Mensa Select award, which is given each year to five board games that are “original, challenging, and well designed.”

“Nothing is more dangerous than an idea when it is the only one you have."

References 1. Dansky, J.L. and Silverman. I.W., Effects of Play on Associative Fluency in Preschool-Aged Children. Developmental Psychology, 1973. 9(1): p. 38-43. 2. Lieberman, J.N., Playfulness: Its Relationship to Imagination and Creativity. 1977: Academic Press Inc. 3. Isen, A.M., K.A. Daubman, and G.P. Nowicki, Positive Affect Facilitates Creative Problem-Solving. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1987. 52(6): p. 1122-1131. 4. Berretta, S. and G. Privette, Influence of Play on Creative-Thinking. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 1990. 71(2): p. 659-666. 5. Russ, S., Affect and Creativity: the Role of Affect and Play in the Creative Process. 1993, Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. Wyver SR and Spence SH. 1999. Play and divergent problem solving: Evidence supporting a reciprocal relationship. Early Education and Development, 10(4): 419 – 444 6. Buzan, T. and B. Buzan, The mind map book : how to use radiant thinking to maximize your brain’s untapped potential. 1993, New York: Plume. 320 p. 7. Mednick, S.A., The associative basis of the creative process. Psychol Rev, 1962. 69: p. 220-32. 8. Keith-Spiegel, P., Early Conceptions of Humor: Varieties and Issues, in The Psychology of Humor, J.H. Goldstein and P.E. McGhee, Editors. 1972, Academic Press: New York. p. 4-39. 9. Dean, D.L., et al., Identifying quality, novel, and creative ideas: Constructs and scales for idea evaluation. Journal of the Association for Information Systems, 2006. 7(10): p. 646-698. 10. Johnson, S. (2010) Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation. Riverhead Books. 11. Kudrowitz, Barry and Wallace, David. “Assessing the Quality of Ideas from Prolific, Early Stage Product Ideation.” Journal of Engineering Design: Special Issue on Design Creativity. Jan 2012.  In Press 12. White, E.B. and K.S.A. White, A subtreasury of American humor. 1941, New York,: CowardMcCann. xxxii p., 2 l., 3-814 p.

Barry Kudrowitz, Ph.D. Prof. Product Design University of Minnesota Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA

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