Rolestorming is a modification of brainstorming where participants take up roles of different individuals. The term was first coined in the 1980’s by Rick Griggs and subsequently described in 1988 by Dr. Arthur VanGundy. He later elaborated ‘rolestorming’ in his book ‘101 Activities for Teaching Creativity and Problem Solving’ published in 2004.
Rolestorming is a technique particularly developed for shy and introvert employees to be more participative in group discussions and activities. It is a way of overcoming inhibitions that bog down many during usual brainstorming session. The fundamental idea behind rolestorming is that people when pretending to be others feel more at ease while putting forth any new idea. It has also been observed that people come with new and better ideas to a problem when viewed from another individual’s perspective.
From the viewpoint of team participation and group behavior, rolestorming makes every member comfortable and participative. The level of confidence rises among the shy or withdrawn members and a general environment of amicability and warmth are created.
No fear – There could be members in a group who are apprehensive to speak out or share their ideas. They are usually afraid of being ridiculed or ignored. So when these members are prompted to view a problem from another’s perspective, they could open up and share their opinions. In this way their creative ideas could be brought out in the open. Removing fear from the mind of individuals could encourage them to be creative and participative.
Creating a virtual distance – Griggs observed that people are less ashamed to put forward a suggestion or share a creative idea in someone else’s name. While role playing they assume to be another entity and in the process create a virtual distance from their real identity. Once this virtual distance is created it becomes easier to disclose ideas more freely.
Alike a brainstorming session, a rolestorming session requires a moderator. To begin a session every candidate present should be asked to impersonate someone else within a team. As a start, questions such as: ‘what are the strengths and weaknesses of the person you are impersonating’; ‘in case of a problem how would he react’; and ‘what would be his/ her approach to the problem’, could be asked.
These questions help in beginning a rolestorming session and engaging even the quietest candidate. Greater the understanding a member has about the person being impersonated the better would be the representation. Ideally, while speaking a participant should be encouraged to utter ‘my character’ thereby increasing the virtual distance from his or herself. The moderator should persuade role players to repeat ‘my character’ or ‘my person’ as much as possible. Every participant must be allowed to speak so that fresher ideas could be generated.
Identification of Roles
Participants in a rolestorming session should be allowed to take on roles that they would be comfortable in. It could be your boss, colleague, public figure, character from history, a family member or even a friend. Sufficient knowledge about the individual impersonated is the only concern in these sessions. Role identification should be such that its enactment is spontaneous. Correct role selection makes a participant confident not only in portrayals but also in being innovative. Impersonation of any person present in a session should be avoided.
Playing the Character
Thorough knowledge about a person is the primary condition for role playing. To make the part more convincing it is advisable to spend some time thinking about the character. Understanding of this character becomes easier if its attitude or personality is known. Its strengths, weaknesses and other behavioral traits are other areas of concern. The character’s perception of his world and environment adds to fuller understanding of the role. Given a situation this chosen character’s problem solving ability should also be studied.
These are different facets of a person’s character that make him or her distinctive. A deeper understanding of these various aspects would give an in-depth impression of a role thereby enabling a near perfect enactment. Here it needs to be stated that perfect role playing is not the ultimate objective of rolestorming. Rather it is an exercise aimed at removing inhibitions among members, and a process of making them more interactive and participative within a team.
Rolestorming Changes to Brainstorming
This is the ultimate objective of rolestorming. As a rolestorming session progresses its participants begin to feel more free and communicative. New ideas about organization behavior, marketing techniques, or human relations open up. Problematic situations appear solvable as untried methods look feasible. Any difficulty seems removable through multiple solutions emanating from participants’ ideas. This rolestorming session is capable of transforming problems into opportunities; not one but several.
For any organization rolestorming should be made a regular feature of corporate culture. It is an exercise for enthusing creativity among members of a company. Regular such sessions improves interpersonal relationship, strengthens bonding between team members, and inspires people to contribute new ideas for betterment of an organization.
Points to Remember
Rolestorming like all other motivational exercises should be organized from time to time. For companies that have tight quarter endings and year endings, such sessions should be confined to beginning of quarters. This is particularly true for commercial organizations as they have quarterly and yearly targets to achieve. These sessions add value to members who in turn add value to the organization they are working for. It is a win-win situation for both employees and employer. A more innovative work force is always an asset for a company. Another vital feature to note is that these sessions enrich and empower human capital, the most productive of all resources. This is one resource that has no maximum limit to its capability. It varies from situation to situation.
Rolestorming is now a regular feature in professional setups, especially those that have several members. Instead of looking outside for ideas, managers now groom local human resource for opinions on various issues. Even critical functional and operational hurdles are being overcome through these storming sessions.