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How to Play the What-If Game

The game here is a creative problem solving and idea-creation game. The version of it presented uses a list of words that can modify an idea or a problem in your mind. While thinking of a problem that needs to be solved or an object you want to use in new ways, you ask, "What if it was..." and the you insert a word from the list you have (there is an example below).

Looking around the room just now, I chose a door as a test subject to demonstrate the process. I then asked "what if it was... "

Larger?

The first thing that came to mind was a wall that opens up on nice days, allowing sun and air to flood in.

Smaller?

A smaller opening perhaps, like a mail slot but for packages to pass through.

Interesting?

How about voice-activated doors for homes.

Taller?

Place doors two meters above street level for security and have mechanical lifts that are key-activated and raise you up to the entrance.

Not real?

It looks like a door, but is just a wall. This way you can see visitors and decide whether to direct them to the real door, wherever that is.

They may not be great ideas, but they came quickly and easily, and that's the point of the what if game. It's fun and it triggers so many ideas that you can usually find a few good ones in the bunch.

The short list below will give you an idea of the kinds of words to use (and you can use that list as it is). Generally you want to use adjectives or descriptive phrases and words.

What if it was...

bigger
tiny
sooner
later
easy
difficult
softer
harder
wetter
taller
shorter
drier
green
white
black
guaranteed
uncertain
new
old
exciting
tedious
casual
serious
divided
multiplied
combined with something
much more common
much less common
hot
cold
hopeless
happy
imaginary
more expensive
less expensive

When asking the questions, the "it" doesn't have to be a thing, but can also be a process, a problem, or a solution that exists right now. Let's assume a man wants to make more money with his nightclub, so he pulls out the list and starts asking "What if it was..."

"Bigger" doesn't trigger any new ideas, so he moves on.

"Tiny?" Well, he might break the club up into several smaller rooms, each with their own music and theme.

"Sooner?" Open sooner and be the only place with daytime dancing?

"Later?" Stay open all night by changing into a breakfast restaurant once past the hour that drinks can't legally be served?

"Easier?" Easier for the customers to get in? Drop the cover charge for early arrivals to generate some new business.

"More difficult?" Maybe make it more exclusive, with membership requirements, in order to change perceptions and make it THE place to be seen.

Interestingly, the words that trigger the best ideas will not always be obvious at first glance. In this case, for example, the word "hopeless" might cause the owner of the nightclub to recognize the demographic forces at work which point to a continuing decline in the years to come. The best idea he has might be to sell out and look for another business to start.

There is one more way to play the what if game. Get out your list and choose a word first, then apply it to things. The word "shorter," for example, would have you asking, "What if it was shorter?" about everything. A car could be parked more easily if it was shorter. A small book could be carried in the pocket of your jeans. What if life was shorter? What would you do differently? If the commute to work was shorter you wouldn't need an automobile. Vacations might be more fun if you had more of them by keeping them short. Short airport runways? They would take less valuable space--maybe planes should be redesigned to work on these.

You can do this as a mental exercise, to solve actual problems, to have ideas for inventions and more. You can also play the game with friends, to see who has the craziest--or the most viable--ideas.


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What If Game

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