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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 asked question is: “Where do you get your idea for games?” If I told you that my creative technique was the “Peanut Butter Omelet Process,” I am sure that you would be both bewildered and concerned for my mental health. So, please let me explain.

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 pattern-recognizing mechanism.

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 that’s difficult.”

Here are three game “sightings”:

1) 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 classroom regimen.

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 creative solutions.

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 Learning Game)

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:

Find the “link” word, a word that can be placed before OR after each of these 3 words: 
  1. Action
  2. Lot
  3. Job  

    (The best answer is “job” – job action, job lot and odd job)

Here's a set of three more RATs for you to try
 

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 experience.

But, then, I’m the guy who knew that the San Diego Chargers would go to the 2005 Super Bowl.

Steve Sugar (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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