Get fast feedback with bodystorming
Get fast feedback with bodystorming

Rapid feedback with Bodystorming

Watching a series on Netflix is entertaining. It transforms you to a different world just for a little while, allowing you to forget all your worries. I know people who can binge-watch an entire series in a single weekend. No joke.

I’m not one of those people though. I can’t sit still for long enough. I need to move. I get distracted easily by anything in my surroundings. I want to get up to make coffee, I start thinking about other things, or engage in conversation while I’m watching. It just doesn’t engage me enough.

Watching a live performance, however, is something that captures my undivided attention for the duration of the show or play, leaving me yearning for more after it’s finished.

Theoretically, it’s the same thing. It’s both watching a performance — the being one digital, the other in person. Yet, my reaction and ability to concentrate is vastly different from the one to the other. Why?

Creating engagement through flow

Taking this back to the workplace and why this is important, your capacity to concentrate directly equates to how enjoyable an experience is as Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi explains in his book Flow.

And what workplace doesn’t want motivated and engaged employees?

Flow is what creates engagement and motivation, ultimately resulting in higher productivity. The more you are able to concentrate on what you are doing, the more enjoyable it is, the higher your productivity.

So why can I concentrate better when the show is live? What are the conditions that make a live performance more engaging than a digital one?

I’m not entirely sure to be honest. What I do know is that a live performance evokes much more emotion in me than any TV show. I’m actively engaged in what I’m watching, feeling included in the experienced rather than being an objective observer, excluded.

Seeing the bodies move, the facial expressions, hearing the rustling of clothes or props being moved around and the more extensive visual stimulation grabs my attention so much that I forget about my surroundings. The surprise when an actor comes from the back that I didn’t expect, the lights and sounds and smells surrounding me is more engaging than watching anything digitally.

It’s more real.

Real, being translated to sensual. More senses are stimulated and the entire space around me is part of the experience. It’s not limited in space and senses as it it on TV. And this is ultimately what makes any experience more engaging. It is also key to coming up with better solutions to your problems in fact.

Perception and Processing to Problem Solve Better

Thinking can be broken down into two distinct phases. The first, and more important from the perspective of problem solving, is perception, or taking in all the different stimuli in our surroundings. The second is making sense of this stimuli and ordering these ‘things’ into information, processing the stimuli and storing it for later use.

The more senses thus involved in an experience, the greater our ability to receive stimuli, increasing our perception. The more we perceive, the more information we can derive from these external stimuli and the better we are able to understand a problem or define a solution.

Stop thinking, start doing

Yet, we often rely only on our verbal communication skills and thinking about a solution to identify or validate opportunities. We sit for hours in a boardroom talking about a possible solution. We brainstorm by coming up with as many ideas we have on a topic, without leaving the room or interacting with anyone else.

It’s a one-way flow of thoughts from our minds onto the white-board with little feedback.

And then there was bodystorming….

Not technically an agile game, but rather an improv theatre method applied in the business world, it is also called use-case theatre or a participatory design technique. It’s designed to include human responses and emotions to situations and interactions to gain immediate feedback, mostly used by user experience designers.

Where brainstorming is designed to identify solutions, bodystorming is designed to identify gaps or opportunities in the problem itself, allowing as a result for a better solution.

Bodystorming has the added benefit of including the physical body in a role-playing activity to uncover insights on a far greater scale than is possibly with traditional brainstorming alone, also called tacit knowledge, or knowing more than what we can explain or describe. It adds the dimension of relationships between objects and forces not as easily achieved by merely thinking about it, making it easier to understand cause-and-effect.

Benefits of bodystorming

We, as a human species, tend to be over-confident in our abilities. Or at least, I know I am guilty. We think we are much better at doing or knowing things than what we really are. We tend to under-estimate the effort it takes to complete a task and we tend to think we know more than what we really do about any given subject.

That’s probably the biggest reason why people tend to discard seemingly simple techniques like bodystorming as not necessary or valuable. They mentally think there is little benefit in the added effort of setting up and running through a play-like scenario than just running through it in your mind and talking about it. They inaccurately think that cutting out the physical interactions are faster.

But thinking about a problem or situation is not the same as physically acting it out. By acting it out you gain immediate feedback in a much richer environment than what can be done by thinking about it. The acting out of use-cases allows for more use-cases to be evaluated. It also includes kinesthetic stimulation and body-language, resulting in faster and better communication.

There are many more benefits to using bodystorming, with the most important ones:

1. Better able to understand the problem

By acting out a situation, we put more attention on understanding the problem than by identifying a solution. The average person tends to jump to solution mode before we fully understand the problem we’re trying to solve.

It takes some effort to train yourself to first focus on the problem. When we completed our Business Analysis training, we, as most people before us, all fell into the trap of coming up with ideas before spending adequate time uncovering the problem. We all glanced over the problem and argued that we understand the problem already.

Yet, time after time when posed a question by the patient teacher, we were proven wrong. We didn’t in fact understand the problem as well as we thought we did. In our haste to solve it, we missed some obvious things. It was only when we were forced to slow down and truly look at the problem that we realized how much we overlooked.

We practiced this skill of spending more time on the problem and came to value the sentiments of one of the biggest genius of our time:

“If I had an hour to solve a problem I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and five minutes thinking about solutions.” — Albert Einstein

Who are we to argue with genius? Einstein argued that if you hope to find a solution to a problem, you first need to really understand the problem you intend to solve.

Bodystorming provides an opportunity for us to delve deeper into understanding the problem. It includes context, it shows the relationships between different forces far better than what can be seen by thinking about something alone.

2. Rapid feedback

This more contextual and interactive method means feedback is immediate and we can more rapidly adapt our approach or plan, supporting the agile manifesto of:

Responding to change over following a plan.

By having a team of individuals, each with a unique set of experience and skill interact on the same problem, each with a different understanding of the problem, we are able to get a much more complete picture of any given situation.

By acting out experiences, we tap into the collective intelligence of the group rather than one person’s good idea. We find an intersection between a lot of good ideas. We broaden our coverage by including different and diverse perspectives on a given situation and we can immediately see the effect of our thinking by the response we receive.

3. Lower costs

The secondary benefit, maybe much more important to business, is that faster feedback means lower expenses.

The sooner we are able to discover a gap in our thinking or a problem with our intended solution, the cheaper it is to fix. Contrary, the longer we invest in a solution the more likely we are to hold on to it, even if it’s not such a good idea. We’ve seen this so many times in the business world where legacy software is used simply because the investment was so high. Or, we continue with a specific service provider, even though their service and product is far from the best, because we try to avoid the pain of moving.

When we bodystorm a solution or a problem, we only spend a few man hours. There is no technology or physical prototypes included, bar some very simple props, making it easy to discard or adapt an idea, and much more cost-effective.

Did we take this same idea, brainstorm, prototype, develop and present it to users to validate only to find out an issue, we spent thousands of man hours and the cost of technology.

4. Increased collaboration

Probably the biggest problem in most large organizations is the lack of collaboration among team members. We tend to compete rather than collaborate. Rather than a yes, and we see a solution as a yes, but.

It’s either your idea or mine. May the best man win.

This is contra-productive and breaks down relationships rather than improve them. When people competes to have the best idea, the underlying message is that I am more important than we.

Bodystorming solves this problem beautifully because each person in the team has a specific role attempting to solve a mutual goal. Even though each team member might have different ideas about the solution, they combine these different ideas to find a more comprehensive solution to the problem.

5. It’s more fun

When you’re really honest with yourself, few people enjoy meetings and talking about ideas or solutions. It’s much more fun when you can be part of the discussion and even more fun when you can participate by acting it out, as most people struggle to express all their thoughts and ideas concisely.

We are geared to move. We enjoy sports, dance and most outdoor hobbies because we are free to move. The movement allows our muscles to work and that requires more oxygen to move through out bodies.

Moving makes us happy. Read more about how to create happy workplaces with movement here.

Bodystorming adds much more movement to the act of problem solving than any form of brainstorming or meeting, making it a more fun activity. The more fun we have, the more likely we are to be engaged and participate.

Scientifically, this movement increases our ability to access our memory, which is stored in our bodies, not just in our heads. That’s why you get that idea only after the meeting. The more you move the more you are able to access your existing knowledge.

Bodystorming is also fun because of the social interaction between team members. One of our most primary needs is a need for social connection.

Socializing and collaboration make us happy. Read more about how social connection creates happy workplaces here.

How to play

Bodystorming can be used for many reasons, making it an extremely versatile game to have in your toolset. It is great for problem solving, it is also great for ideation or coming up with new solutions, it is as good for validating or testing concepts or ideas. It can even be used to identify team dysfunctions or improve dynamics within a a team.

It can be used in different ways, with a more generic version of the game instructions available here with a video showing an example of play.

A scenario is presented to a group of 5–8 people (it can be used for larger groups too). For example, designing a hospital patient information management system.

A narrator is selected, who facilitates the entire game, and each person is assigned a role, either as a person in the process, or a prop, like a table or a bed. Props have emotions and can speak as people.

The workflow is acted out by the different actors while the narrator controls the “show”, introducing new use-cases or variations, rewinding or pausing play to discuss an insight.

After the scenario’s have been acted out, the team discusses the insights received during play.

The game can also be combined with other gamestorming games or game-techniques too. Read this post to find out how bodystorming was used doing market research for an internet cafe here.

Play more for better insights

Play is often discarded as a waste of time and something that doesn’t belong in the workplace. Yet, if you’re willing to give it a chance, you’ll notice that you gain much more and better insights much faster using these more playful techniques, while saving both cost and time.

Bodystorming is a fun, collaborative method to identify possible gaps and opportunities in a process. Go on, give it a try and let me know how well it worked for you.

Kate coaches teams towards agility and facilitate productive game workshops using playful design to create more engagement and make learning fun.

Contact her for a custom design sprint or workshop and sign up for the newsletter for insights and practical tools to bring out the most out of your team.

Originally published in UX Collective on Medium: