Build Your Creative Confidence: Nickname Warm-Up

Build Your Creative Confidence: Nickname Warm-Up

While Speed Dating is useful in situations where people don’t know each other well, sometimes in group meetings you will encounter the opposite problem: a group where people know each other too well.
Tom Kelley
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Everyone is creative. This belief runs through everything we do at IDEO, and in 2013, it led my brother David and me to write a book that would help others—even those who don’t think of themselves as “creative types”—to unleash their creative potential. Creative Confidence has inspired thousands of people to adopt a creative mindset and apply it to the diverse real-world challenges they face. In this series, we’ll share some exercises from the book that can help you approach your challenges from a new perspective.

Creativity Challenge # 7: Eliminate hierarchy to improve idea flow.

While Speed Dating is useful in situations where people don’t know each other well, sometimes in group meetings you will encounter the opposite problem: a group where people know each other too well. Or, more specifically, a group in which hierarchy is so well established that the more junior members in the room self-edit and defer to the executives rather than putting their best ideas on the table.

To reduce hierarchy (which inhibits conversation) and self-censoring (which is equally limiting), the has recently been experimenting with a “nickname warm-up.” Using a stack of colorful names the instructors have prepared in advance, the activity is a way to temporarily level out the organization during a creative working session. Each participant is given a persona to allow them to “try on” new behaviors.

Tool: Nickname Warm-up
Participants: Groups of 6-12 people per facilitator
Time: A few minutes per person
Supplies: Nametags for each person with the fake names written out. A hat and a ball for each facilitator.


Step 1: Each participant reaches into the hat, draws out a name tag, and puts it on. Use names that lend themselves to humor and emotion. Teams tend to produce their best work when the group is having fun. Some of the monikers can imply a big dose of street credibility, while others suggest quirky personalities. For example: Dr. Fabulous, Squirt, Mr. Big Heart, The Clumsy Entertainer, or The Rooster.

Step 2: The facilitator gathers the group in a circle and tosses the ball. Whoever catches it introduces themselves using their new nickname and then tells a short story (created on the spot) about how they acquired this nickname as a child.

Step 3: After their self-introduction, they toss the ball to a new person, until everyone has had a chance to share their new name and story.

Step 4: The rule for the rest of the workshop—strictly enforced—is that everyone must use only these nicknames when referring to themselves or others.

Tips from the Field

Do the nametags work? Although this is a relatively new exercise, experience so far suggests that the answer is yes. At a recent management event, the CEO of a global hospitality company drew the “Squirt” nickname. There was a pregnant pause in the room as everyone waited to see how he would react. But he gamely played along through the rest of the workshop, and the organizers felt it contributed to an open environment in which people could speak freely.

The goal is to flatten out the hierarchy, so it’s important to get the senior people in the room to participate. Leading by example will naturally break some of the barriers to free-flowing collaboration.

This post was taken from Chapter 7 of Creative Confidence. Purchase the book for more on how to use creativity to solve problems, or read more from this series of creative exercises on the IDEO blog.

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Tom Kelley
Tom Kelley is the best-selling author of Creative Confidence, The Art of Innovation and The Ten Faces of Innovation as well as a partner at IDEO. As a leading innovation speaker, Tom addresses scores of business audiences on how to foster a culture of innovation and tap into the creative potential of their organizations.
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