Design Thinking Toolkit, Activity 28 – The Powers of 10

Taking inspiration from Ray and Charles Eames’ Powers of Ten film, this activity can help you reframe your thinking in big and small ways.

Primary Goal To reframe the context of a problem by zooming in and out
When to Use When trying to look at a problem from new perspectives
Time Required 20-60 minutes
Number of Participants 1-10+
Who Should Participate? Any members of the team
Supplies Whiteboard, PostIt notes, Sharpies

Just like its namesake film from 1977, this activity forces you to push your perspective to extremes. Often we can get stuck in ruts of thinking and need inspiring activities to pull us out. That’s where this exercise comes in. Powers of Ten will force your team to examine the problem at hand from a variety of new and sometimes wild vantage points.

Simply, this activity challenges participants to answer a series of questions set as opposites or extremes. Though the questions may seem unrealistic, the answers may provide surprisingly practical or helpful solutions. The weirder, wackier, and more extreme the questions become, the better this activity can be at combatting creative fatigue.

So, what might this line of questioning sound like in practice? Here are a few examples:

What if this was bigger than a semi-truck? What if it was as small as an iPhone?
What if this had to function underwater? What if it had to work in an arid desert?
What if it took a year to complete? What if it happened in the blink of an eye?
What if this was experienced in black and white? Full color?
How might this work for a toddler? How might this work for a 90-year-old?

Setup

First, have your challenge idea or concept ready and defined. It can be helpful to write this challenge statement on the whiteboard/wall where the activity will take place. Then, have your series of extreme questions ready to go. However, while the activity is running, do encourage participants to think of and share question extremes they create on the fly.

Finally, have Sharpies and Post-its ready for each participant.

Run the Activity

Having gathered all participants, explain the gist of the activity and review your challenge statement. Then, presenting the questions in rounds, ask the first set of extreme questions and have participants write one solution/answer per Post-it. I usually give participants 3-5 minutes per question set to write down thoughts and ideas. Then we share out answers after each round and group together like ideas into Affinity Maps.

Encourage participants to think of other extreme question sets as the activity progresses, and continue to iterate new solutions and ideate as you go.

We hope you enjoy thinking in extremes. Let us know how you’ve formulated your extreme question sets in the comments below!


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