What Is Rolestorming? Rolestorming In A Nutshell

Rolestorming as a term was first mentioned by personal development guru Rick Griggs in the 1980s.  Rolestorming is a brainstorming technique where participants pretend they are other people when sharing their thoughts and ideas.

Understanding rolestorming

Griggs developed his approach to address several shortfalls of a traditional brainstorming session. These include:

  • A tendency for people to support the first or most obvious idea.
  • A tendency for one or two individuals to overshadow quieter types during the ideation phase.
  • An inability for some individuals to consider other perspectives or think creatively on-the-spot, and
  • The anxiety some feel when suggesting ideas in a group setting or to those they do not know well.

Rolestorming is used to help a brainstorming team overcome their inhibitions during a meeting. In theory, each team member is more likely to generate creative ideas while pretending to be someone else. 

Lastly, it is important to note that rolestorming is not an idea-generating process on its own. Rather, it should be incorporated to complement existing brainstorming approaches.

Rolestorming types

The identity each team member assumes will largely depend on the task at hand. For example, a participant may play:

  • A senior member of corporate management.
  • A superhero, supervillain, or another fictional character with a well-understood character type.
  • A troublesome or demanding customer or client.
  • A prominent historical figure.

Whichever identity is assumed, each participant must be able to describe the personal qualities and motivations of their new character. They must also understand their real or imagined strengths and weaknesses and refer to themselves in the first person when speaking.

Implementing rolestorming

The most creative rolestorming sessions occur by focusing on opportunities first, preventions second, and problems third.

Creative ideas should be written on a large sheet of paper or whiteboard. Rolestorming is then graphically represented by a bulls-eye in the middle with outer rings like an archery target. The largest and most outer ring houses creative ideas, with the second-largest ring displaying the winners from the first vote of ideas. Immediately adjacent to the bullseye is the third ring, which displays the winners from the second vote. 

To be voted on, each creative idea must answer the original profile statement in terms of opportunities, preventions, and problems. The center circle shows the idea representative of group consensus.

To incorporate rolestorming into a typical brainstorming process, follow these steps:

  1. The facilitator gives each team member a few minutes to think about their role and get into character. As touched on earlier, the individual needs to consider the personality, worldview, strengths, weaknesses, and problem-solving ability of their new identity.
  2. With everyone assuming the identity of someone else, the facilitator begins the first stage of ideation. Everyone must be given a chance to speak from their unique perspective, with a jovial and somewhat informal atmosphere encouraged. If appropriate, the facilitator can encourage individuals to interact with each other.
  3. The facilitator then begins a second and third round of rolestorming, with new ideas written next to existing ideas in the outer circle. To keep things fresh, participants may choose to adopt a new identity for each subsequent round. The list of generated ideas should then be analyzed. Which are the most relevant to the profile statement? Which ideas are actionable, feasible, and attainable in the timeframe specified?

Key takeaways:

  • Rolestorming is a brainstorming technique where participants pretend they are other people when sharing their thoughts and ideas.
  • Team members engaged in a rolestorming session can assume any identity provided it has some relevance to the task or problem at hand. These identities include a senior executive, irate customer, superhero, or prominent historical figure.
  • Rolestorming is not a standalone ideation strategy. Instead, it must be incorporated into one of the many brainstorming frameworks available to businesses today.

Connected Decision-Making Frameworks

The Amazon Working Backwards Method is a product development methodology that advocates building a product based on customer needs. The Amazon Working Backwards Method gained traction after notable Amazon employee Ian McAllister shared the company’s product development approach on Quora. McAllister noted that the method seeks “to work backwards from the customer, rather than starting with an idea for a product and trying to bolt customers onto it.”
Tuckman suggested groups transition through five stages of development, starting from the time the group first meets until project completion. As members of the team become familiar with each other, the team itself becomes more mature as relationships become established. During the developmental phase, the leader of the group also adopts a new leadership style. Tuckman’s stages of group development were developed by psychologist Bruce Tuckman in 1965. Tuckman’s stages of group development is a concise and elegant framework for team development and behavior.
The Six Thinking Hats model was created by psychologist Edward de Bono in 1986, who noted that personality type was a key driver of how people approached problem-solving. For example, optimists view situations differently from pessimists. Analytical individuals may generate ideas that a more emotional person would not, and vice versa.
Value stream mapping uses flowcharts to analyze and then improve on the delivery of products and services. Value stream mapping (VSM) is based on the concept of value streams – which are a series of sequential steps that explain how a product or service is delivered to consumers.
Affinity grouping is a collaborative prioritization process where group participants brainstorm ideas and opportunities according to their similarities. Affinity grouping is a broad and versatile process based on simple but highly effective ideas. It helps teams generate and then organize teams according to their similarity or likeness.
The Fishbone Diagram is a diagram-based technique used in brainstorming to identify potential causes for a problem, thus it is a visual representation of cause and effect. The problem or effect serves as the head of the fish. Possible causes of the problem are listed on the individual “bones” of the fish. This encourages problem-solving teams to consider a wide range of alternatives.
Eighteen years later, it was adapted by psychologist Bob Eberle in his book SCAMPER: Games for Imagination Development. The SCAMPER method was first described by advertising executive Alex Osborne in 1953. The SCAMPER method is a form of creative thinking or problem solving based on evaluating ideas or groups of ideas.
The MECE framework is an exhaustive expression of information that must account for all conceivable scenarios. While the framework is used in categorizing information and data processing, it is commonly used in formulating problems and then solving them. The MECE framework is a means of the exhaustive grouping of information into categories that are both mutually exclusive (ME) and collectively exhaustive (CE).
The Nadler-Tushman Congruence Model was created by David Nadler and Michael Tushman at Columbia University. The Nadler-Tushman Congruence Model is a diagnostic tool that identifies problem areas within a company. In the context of business, congruence occurs when the goals of different people or interest groups coincide.
Lewin’s change management model helps businesses manage the uncertainty and resistance associated with change. Kurt Lewin, one of the first academics to focus his research on group dynamics, developed a three-stage model. He proposed that the behavior of individuals happened as a function of group behavior.

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