5 Ways to Use Story Cubes
Time to play your way to creative problem solving
In the age of the knowledge worker, you need a secret weapon to ensure you remain one step ahead. You need an engaged, motivated and energized workforce able to come up with innovative ideas.
One such secret weapon I recently discovered in one of our regular online knowledge sharing sessions with fellow agile coach, Mario Lucero, is Rory’s Story Cubes. For those that’s not familiar with it, story cubes are a set of 9 dice with pictures on each side used to prompt a conversation or story.
It works because it provides a random input allowing you to think outside your habitual thought patterns. In essence, it forces you to think differently than what you are used to, which means a higher probability of innovative and creative results.
Story cubes is a game not designed specifically for the agile community and it can be used informally with friends and family at home, and it can equally successfully be used in the work environment.
Here are 5 ways to use Story Cubes in the work environment, drawn up from Mario and my respective ideas on how to use it as we played our way through a few stories:
Before any meeting, or after a break, story cubes can be used as a warmer to set the scene and get the creative juices flowing.
Use a simplified version of the game by only using 3 cubes, not all 9. Each person throws 3 cubes and makes up a story with the images.
2. Get to know each other
For teams that either doesn’t know each other, or teams who does not collaborate effectively, story cubes can be used as a tool to get team members to know each other better and find similarities between them.
Each team member throws one dice and has to share something personal about themselves related to the picture on the dice.
3. Increased collaboration
One of the rules of improv theater is that each time a new idea is presented the other actors need to accept it. Only when a new idea is accepted can the story go forward. When an idea is rejected, the story ends and it’s not interesting.
When this ‘Yes and’ technique is applied in a team setting, the result is that they support each other more rather than trying to compete with each other with a ‘but the problem with that is….’ mindset.
Using this improv technique, start with the first person throwing 3 dice and creating a story from the random inputs presented on the dice. The next person now has to build on that story when (s)he throws the next round of dice. Each person adds to the story and re-uses characters and ideas from the existing story to strengthen it until each person has had a chance.
4. Increased creativity
Creativity can only happen when you allow yourself to think differently from what you already know and think. Creativity, like any other skill, can be practiced and significantly improved over time. Yet, when starting on your creativity journey when you’re not used to it, can be very challenging. Making use of an external random input significantly helps this creative process and story cubes is a perfect tool to help.
Before a sprint planning-, backlog grooming- or story writing session, take out the story cubes and play a round as described in the warmer above. This will set the scene for what’s to come.
Then, with each iteration of the meeting, or when you feel you’re stuck, throw one dice only and use this as random input to inspire you to think differently. Look at the picture and for a few minutes think of as many characteristics of the image as you possibly can. For example, characteristics of an egg might be that it’s oval shaped, it protects the fragile inside, it has a hard shell, it breaks easily, etc.
With these characteristics in mind, go back to the story you were discussing and find similarities between the egg and how these characteristics can be applied to the story. For example, how can the story be better protected from the outside forces, or how can it be more circular in nature. Look for the similarities in an attempt to help you think differently about a problem.
5. Learn better presentation skills
One of the greatest fears of most people is the fear of public speaking. According to statistics, even worse than the fear of death.
This fear of public speaking in a corporate or work environment, can impede the progress immensely. When people are afraid to express their ideas to the team it is limiting the possibilities and solutions.
To practice presentation skills and build confidence, use story cubes as input. Each person is tasked to present a story to the rest of the team following a basic structure of opening, building up to a climax or problem, finally resolving the conflict and re-integrating some of the first elements presented in the story. Use the cube-set with each person creating a unique story based on the inputs in a safe environment where no-one can be seen as wrong as each image can be interpreted in many ways.
Good games are simple and can be re-used or adapted to be used in many different environments or contexts. Story cubes is a simple, very adaptable game which can be used at home or with friends, or in the work environment to increase collaboration and stimulate creative thinking.
This post described 5 ways to use story cubes in an agile environment. Leave a comment below to share how you use story cubes!