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.
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.
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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?
- 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.
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