Rolestorming

Improving Group Brainstorming

Masks playing different roles.

Generate ideas using someone else's perspective.

© iStockphoto/Elnur

Have you ever been in a brainstorming session and had a good idea that was a little "out there"?

If so, you might have kept the idea to yourself, because you felt embarrassed about sharing it with your group.

After all, if the idea was too far-fetched or different, it might damage your reputation, right?

However, you may have felt more comfortable sharing your ideas if they were "someone else's."

This is where Rolestorming is useful.

This simple brainstorming technique encourages group members to take on other people's identities while brainstorming. This reduces the inhibitions that many people feel when sharing their ideas with a group, and it helps people come up with ideas that they may not have otherwise considered.

About the Tool

Rick Griggs developed the Rolestorming method in the early 1980s. Dr Arthur VanGundy then described it in his 2004 book, "101 Activities for Teaching Creativity and Problem-Solving."

Griggs developed the technique to help people overcome their inhibitions during group brainstorming sessions. The theory is that if you pretend to be someone else, you'll feel more comfortable putting ideas forward. This is because taking on another role distances you from owning an idea, which helps you speak up.

You can also come up with additional ideas when you look at a problem from someone else's perspective.

What's more, Rolestorming is fun, and it's great for helping team members feel more comfortable sharing ideas with each other. It also builds confidence, because shy or less assertive people feel empowered to speak up.

Using and Applying Rolestorming

Follow these steps to use Rolestorming with your group:

1. Brainstorm Obvious Ideas

First, conduct a regular brainstorming   session with your group.

Not only will this generate some good initial ideas, but it will also highlight more obvious ideas. This leaves you free to expand your thinking and push boundaries in later steps.

2. Identify Roles

Next, decide which roles or identities you'll use. You can assign one role to each person in the group, or play the role collectively, moving on to another role when you're done.

The person you choose can be anyone, so long as it's a person not in the current group. Consider people such as a colleague, your boss, a major competitor, someone in public life, a leader from the past, or a friend or family member. Ideally, you should know enough about them to take on their identity for a short time. (They don't necessarily have to be associated with the problem you're trying to solve.)

3. Get Into Character

For each role, allow group members a few minutes to get into character. Use these questions to help with this:

  • How does this person see the world?
  • What is this person's personality or attitude likely to be?
  • How would this person solve problems?
  • What are this person's strengths and weaknesses?

Make an effort to get into the persona of the character: the more deeply you understand this person's feelings, worldview, and motivations, the better you can use this perspective to generate good ideas.

Note:

If someone on your team chooses to become a person that everyone knows, such as your boss, a client, or a colleague, make sure that they avoid characterizations that could be harmful or disrespectful.

4. Brainstorm in Character

When people have a good sense of the new identity they've taken on, start brainstorming ideas using these new perspectives. Encourage people to use phrases such as "My person..." or "My character..." when presenting ideas – this helps to create the distance that people need to speak freely.

Make sure that everyone in the group has an opportunity to speak up and share ideas. (Techniques like Round-Robin Brainstorming   can be useful here.)

5. Repeat as Required

Repeat the exercise with as many different identities as you need, so that you can generate enough good ideas.

Key Points

Rolestorming is a simple group brainstorming technique that encourages group members to take on someone else's identity and so come up with new ideas. It was developed by Rick Griggs.

To use the technique, group members simply take on the identity of someone else, and come up with ideas that they think the person would suggest.

The technique is useful because it helps to break down people's inhibitions about sharing ideas. It can also provoke better ideas, since you're looking at the problem from different perspectives.

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