The Peanut Butter Omelet:
A Case for End-Product Creativity
"I saw an angel in the marble and worked to set him free."
- Michaelangelo Buonarroti
In 35 years of writing and teaching with games, the most frequently
question is: “Where do you get your idea for games?” If I told you that
creative technique was the “Peanut Butter Omelet Process,” I am sure
would be both bewildered and concerned for my mental health. So, please
Sometimes I “see” games. More concisely, sometimes a trigger event — such as an object (ugly
plate); a phrase (Rat Race) or an activity (existing game) — inspires a
“what-if” hypothesis. What if this trigger event could be used as a
learning game? Interestingly enough, my creative “patterning” is an
example of research by Texas A & M psychologists. Their research showed
that the human brain is a powerful pattern-making and
Such a creative approach,
of course, is not without its problems. Like a real-life peanut butter
omelet, the first generation of the product is often sloppy and in need
of writing and re-writing until a working classroom game emerges. As
suggested by Sheila Campbell (author of “Retreats That Work”), “creative
thinking is easy; anybody can do it. It’s the creative doing
Here are three game “sightings”:
An Object: The Ugly Platter (Recall Game)
While visiting a local
kitchen store I saw a gaudy platter, placed appropriately in the
clearance section. The object of my affection was a 14” round plastic
chip-and-dip serving platter, ringed with red and white and blue
circles. I assumed this little beauty was left over from the recent
July 4th holiday — at a significant savings. But where you
might just see an ugly platter, I saw an archery target, which
translated into a target throw game.
Now, my challenge was to
combine the kinesthetic (target throw) with the topic (management).
After a several writes and re-writes, a lovely classroom game emerged
from its ugly parent. It’s play was simple: Students would respond to
questions, each correct response earning one toss at the platter.
And so, to my University of Maryland class I brought my new creation,
the topic review game, “Champions.” As the teams played and earned
target throws, heretofore “sit-and-stare” students were now chattering
away and cheering for every target-throw. From its impressive debut,
“Champions” has become a
permanent, and extremely popular, part in my UM
Found in “Games That Boost
Performance”- 2004, Jossey-Bass
2) An Activity: The Bucknell Reunion
(Group Scavenger Hunt)
For the past two Class of
1962 reunion dinners, I have conducted the well-known and oft-used
“Autographs” game. Each player receives a list of items and is then asked to obtain the
signature of someone who fulfills the requirements of that item, such as
finding someone who “owns a red Mustang” or “has three children.” This
game is very popular in orientation training and is an overwhelming
favorite with college Student Affair offices. In fact, several of the
alumni even commented that this game went better than a previous version
they had played. In other words, it was getting old.
While I was watching the
1936 movie “My Man Godfrey” (William Powell and Carole Lombard), I
noticed that the opening scene utilized a real-time Scavenger Hunt which
sent players scurrying all over New York City in search of obscure and
hard-to-get items. The energy created by this activity was infectious. I wondered if this activity could be modified and played at the round
tables found at the Reunion banquet.
I kept working and
reworking the Scavenger Hunt idea until my “Peanut Butter Omelet” game —
“Scavenger Bingo” — emerged. After several more rewrites I found the
formula: A game that requires a table of players to locate items
suggested by a list of 25 clues presented on a 5 x 5 Bingo card. The
clues were written so that the players could resource the item mentally as well as physically.
For example, a “type of pie” can be retrieved from the
kitchen OR created as a pie chart on paper. The game encourages
players to pool their physical and mental resources in their search for
This game has been played
with groups and students and conference attendees, and I am always amazed
at the group creativity it inspires. Players quickly form into
problem-solving teams in their quest to find the 25 items on the sheet.
Found in “Games That Boost
Performance”- 2004, Jossey-Bass
3) The Phrase: RAT Race (A Team
Perhaps you have taken Dr.
Sarnoff Mednick’s Remote Association Test (or “RAT”). It was designed
to measure creativity and is used by groups, such as MENSA, in their
candidate testing. The RAT requires you to associate different remote
word concepts through the use of a fourth “link” word. Try your hand
with this example:
From the “RAT” test I
envisioned the game, “RAT Race,” where teams race against time to solve
a set of five puzzles (RATs). From the first play, RAT Race has both
intrigued and frustrated players. Because teams were required to
solve ALL 5 puzzles within the time limit — a feat rarely accomplished —
the teams suffered immediate roadblocks to successful completion of
task. The difficulty in solving all five puzzles, along with individual
behavior and team dynamics, always created an ongoing dialogue about
teams and the rules and roles of team interactions. Although some teams
never solved the puzzles, many players asked for sets of RATs to take
home to solve with family and friends.
Found in “Games That Teach”- 2000, Jossey-Bass
What Is Greatness?
Perhaps you recall the story about the great ballet master,
George Ballinsheen, who was asked if he could predict future greatness
by observing a class of five-year-old students dance ballet.
“Why, yes,” he replied, “I think I can.”
“Is it the child’s grace or athletic ability?” asked the interviewer.
“Not at all,” replied the ballet master. “I look at those students who fling
themselves about the room without any concern for how they look to
others. It is those students who are willing to do anything, even
fail, that become the great ones.”
As I “fling” myself about
in search of new learning games for a classroom or a client, I find that
the better games have been inspired by a vision — a “peanut butter
omelet” — that was then worked and reworked into a positive gaming
But, then, I’m the guy who
knew that the San Diego Chargers would go to the 2005 Super Bowl.
(1962) is a teacher and the author/co-author of five Jossey-Bass books
on games, including: Games That Teach (1998), Games That
Teach Teams (2000), Primary Games (2002), Retreats That
Work (2002), and Games That Boost Performance (2004).
Steve is currently a faculty member of the University of Maryland
Baltimore County and has taught on the faculties of The Johns Hopkins
University and The New York Institute of Technology. He is a frequent
speaker at international teaching conferences. He holds a BA in
Economics from Bucknell University and an MBA in Economics and
Statistics from the George Washington University. Steve currently lives in Ellicott City, MD
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