Take Off Your Shoes and Think!

    PURPOSE:  To loosen up a group and get them to think creatively.

  • With participants sitting at tables in groups of 6–10, tell everyone to take off their shoes and place them under the table.  Then talk for a few minutes about how it feels to be sitting in a serious business meeting with your shoes off.  Talk about the fact that taking off your shoes is natural at home and on holiday, but not always in business settings.
  • Then ask them to exchange shoes, actually put on someone else’s shoes.  Ask them to try to make a big change; men put on women’s shoes, etc.  Talk about how that feels.  Talk about social norms and begin talking about what it feels like to be a bit outside the box.

  • Next, have all of the shoes put up on the table.  Just let everyone kind of sit there looking at all the shoes for a while.  Watch the nervousness.  This is typically a very weird, uncomfortable, and anti-social thing they are experiencing.  Talk about what it feels like to have someone else’s shoes up on the table in front of you.  Talk about how we deal with discomfort; typically by trying to reduce it.  But point out that improvement implies change, change nearly always brings discomfort, innovative change must be really outside the box, and that brings even bigger discomfort, and so on.
  • Now, announce a contest.  Explain that one of the teams will receive a big contract.  To win the contract, the team must win the contest.
    CONTEST:  The contest is building a structure out of their shoes.

  • The team that builds the highest structure of shoes will receive the contract.
  • The highest structure is determined by measuring the distance from surface of the table to the highest point on the highest any shoe.
  • The shoes must make a continuous path; shoes touching shoes like an electric circuit.
  • Don’t discuss it further, just say it, tell them they have 5 minutes to build their structures, and then say, “Go.”
    OBSERVE:  Watch what they do so that you will have plenty to talk about when you debrief.

  • Look for how quickly or slowly the various groups get into the task.
  • Look for the emergence of natural leaders.
  • Look for cycles of build-up, down-build in another way, etc.  Just watch.
    TALKING POINTS:  Discuss how handling shoes bonds the team.

  • Tell the group that you knew from the beginning you were going to have them build a structure with their shoes, but you let them warm up to the idea gradually.  Discuss why this may be a good strategy when implementing innovative ideas.
  • Discuss why things are most uncomfortable when we think too much about them.  Discomfort disappears once you just start doing it.
  • Discuss why it is not “stealing” when you take an idea from observing another team.  In fact, it is the basis of bench marking in business improvement.
  • Discuss why or why not the groups made use of other things that were available in the room.  For example, one group made a sort of chimney out of the binders containing the workshop materials and then filled the chimney with shoes stood on end.  If the groups failed to make use of available materials, then discuss why they did not.
  • Innovation often proceeds through cycles of trying something, dismantling it, trying another tack, and so on.  Discuss why this helps stimulate thinking


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