Interview with Sunni Brown: Doodler, Gameist and 2011 TED Speaker

Nancy Duarte

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Nancy Duarte

Sunni Brown lives up to the promise of her name. She lights up a room. She’s one of the author’s of Gamestorming, a fantastic book that has catalogued visual brainstorm processes that can be used in various situations yielding distinctly different results.

Cover of the book "Game Storming"

Sunni also has her own consultancy and is starting a Doodle Revolution. She has a well-deserved spot on the 2011 TED stage this year too.

She came to my shop a few months ago to talk to my team about her Doodle Revolution and her new Gamestorming book.

Q&A with Sunni Brown

What’s your favorite Gamestorming idea in the book?

I’ve seen so many sessions where Gamestorming and participatory design have transformative effects on a group that it’s difficult to pinpoint one foundational idea to call my favorite. That said, I like to be decisive so I’ll choose. One concept around Gamestorming that I find is pivotal for playing is the ability to improvise. Improvisation is one of the core skills for group play and problem-solving and it should never be underestimated. If we’re uncomfortable taking risks, looking silly or being wrong, going into unknown territory and proposing wild solutions to problems, then we might as well go home. Innovation and breakthroughs happen when people stop taking themselves so seriously and start being of service to the group and the challenges it faces.

If your question was really about whether or not I have a favorite game in the book, I’d have to say that Make a World, The Anti-Problem, and The Blind Side are at the top of my list.

You are a busy lady, how did you muster the creative energy to write a book?

I mustered the energy because I had kick-butt co-authors. Having Dave Gray and James Macanufo on board was a recipe for awesome. We each brought a different but relevant skill set to a book like this and none of us were territorial or egomaniacal or any of those other negative ways of being that can plague a good idea. We all have a deep appreciation for participatory design and we genuinely wanted to offer the world a playbook to learn the fundamentals of visual thinking, to learn how important play is in the workplace (and in life!) and to get really good at leading meetings. I’ll be the solo author on my next book so maybe you can ask me that question again next year, when I want to freak out and shave all my hair off.

As a facilitator, what’s the greatest transformation or “aha moment” that a client has had while working with you?

I’m glad you asked! I recently co-facilitated a three-day session and one of the most powerful moments was when the group visibly “grokked” the market realities of their industry. Leadership had been cascading messages from the top – that the company needed to be agile and adapt to new technologies, that its market share wasn’t going to stop decreasing unless they seriously redirected the ship, that they needed to be relational with customers rather than transactional – but the group had been in a sort of collective denial. When we ran them through a series of Gamestorms we could literally see the layers of doubt and fog start to peel off. And only after that could they then start to deal with what had to be done. But I should note: while I’d love to say that the methods in our book were the only key, this success had much to do with this team’s commitment to knowledge and to the process. They were amazing and supportive of each other and that makes a huge difference.