MAKE SHARE is about cultivating creativity and empathy at work.

A creative and empathetic culture means collaborative relationships within your organization and with people who use your services. It means making new things, together.

On MAKE SHARE you’ll find resources related to improvisation and design thinking, two effective methods for fostering creativity and empathy. Now let’s get started…


Actually, before I share a couple of workshop exercises that are bound to make some people uncomfortable, I want to put a couple things out there. First, since people often worry about the product (like students who just want to know how to get a good grade), please be clear with yourself and others about your expectations. What do you want to get out of this?

For example, let’s say a group is asked to come up with an idea for gathering user feedback. They try out some design thinking methods and decide a big blue wheelbarrow is a good prototype. Big blue wheelbarrows could work! But when leadership sees the big blue wheelbarrow they decide it needs to be a small red bucket. Why? Because they like red. Ouch. This damages trust. If it happens often, people go into robot mode.

With this in mind, a mix of process and product is recommended. Look carefully for opportunities where there is some flexibility in outcomes.

One more thing. It’s usually preferable to have colleagues and peers facilitate processes with one another rather than have the big boss give it a go. Okay, now for those exercises.

Generating Ideas

Yes, and…

This is the main tenant of improvisation and is a fun (to some of us, anyway) warm-up game in improv theater. It can also be great for scenario planning and organizational storytelling.

  1. Everyone stands in a circle. One person starts by saying a simple sentence like, “I saw a cat on the way into work today.”
  2. The next person adds to the story with Yes, and… For example, “Yes, and the cat walked side by side with me for 10 blocks.”

Everyone has a chance to add to the story with at least one sentence. Usually the end of the story is clear to everyone in the group. The take away is that everyone has a voice to add to the story, and that ensembles work best when they support one another.

Now, you can also try this without cats. For example, the first sentence could be about your industry or what you imagine in the future for your industry. The first sentence could also be about what you imagine as an ideal user experience within your organization. Granted, it can get a little tricky bending this principle to a specific work context, but give it a go.

Mini Vacation

Once when I was brainstorming with a few creative colleagues we hit a wall trying to come up with a series of clever sayings. We were going to print these sayings on reusable bags we’d give to our users, who would then carry them all over town with pride and tell everyone who noticed their stylish and smart bag all about our great services.

Kidding. But the pressure on creating perfect swag is often that disproportionate to reality, and pressure is not often the friend of creativity.

Supplies: Whiteboard, marker

  1. Ask the group to detach from the pressure of generating a product.
  2. Ask the group imagine an enjoyable vacation. On their own, everyone takes a few minutes to visualize their fabulous getaway.
  3. Regroup and ask everyone to briefly share their vacations. Where were you? What were you doing? Was it sunny? How did it feel?
  4. Write down the feelings people shared on the board.

The 5 or 10 minutes it takes to go on this mini vacation may directly inform the project at hand, or it may be the mental break everyone needed to get unstuck. In our case, we came up with several clever sayings grounded in the good feelings we experienced while on our mini vacation.

Focusing Ideas

Your Top 10

Often organizations find themselves with a long list of competing priorities. How to choose? One way to get the conversation started is to acknowledge that everyone will have their favorites (often related to their area of expertise) and that not everything can be number one.

Supplies: Paper, glue, scissors and timer.

  1. Start with a printed list of priorities for your project, strategic plan, communication initiative, whatever. (See Generating Ideas, above, for ideas on how to create this list.)
  2. Using scissors, ask stakeholders to cut up the list so that each priority is its own strip of paper. Then, ask stakeholders to arrange on a new piece of paper in whatever order they want, using whatever reasoning they want. A good timing guideline is about 1-2 minutes per priority. So if there are 10 priorities on your list, aim for 10-15 minutes for reordering.
  3. Using glue or tape, stakeholders create a new list of priorities in order of personal importance.
  4. In small groups, each person discusses why they ordered the list the way they did. It can be helpful to have members of the leadership team dispersed throughout the groups, to listen in on the discussion.
  5. Reconvene the entire group together to discuss.

The Your Top Ten exercise is also a good opportunity to explore the language you’re using across the organization. Does everyone agree on what the priorities mean as they’re currently written? This could be the next exercise… clarifying the language of your priorities together.