People invent a new product and their peers transform it into something useful that will change the world.

Group Size
  • Any Size
  • Random Items


  1. Tell everyone that they have 10 minutes to design an object. This tests their skills of creativity. They will have unusual materials, and they should make whatever they wish.
  2. At the end of the 10 minutes, ask people to share their creative designs with one other person. What do they think they have designed?
  3. After everyone has shared their designs, you can ask for a few volunteers to share with the group. Most often the volunteers have very creative ideas; otherwise they wouldn’t raise their hands. But this raises the question: What is the definition of creativity?
  4. You will lead a discussion with the group about this: How do we define creativity? The simplest definition is simply inventing new ways of seeing the world; it’s about making up new ideas and concepts. Or as the Oxford English Dictionary says, it’s “the use of imagination or original ideas to create something.” Here’s the challenge. You can be very creative, and not invent anything useful. A creative person could make a t-shirt out of bricks and mortar, but that would probably never be an article of clothing that any person would ever want to wear. In contrast to creativity, innovation is about creating something useful: some new product that will actually be superior to what came before it. In the 1970s, someone took rocks and sold them as pets. Unlike dogs, cats, goldfish, and hamsters, this was a pet that didn’t need to be fed. It would never get sick, and it would never die. It wouldn’t bite you or pee on your carpet. “Pet Rocks” became a hit, and sold 1.5 million in less than a year. (At $4 each, the creative mind behind it became a multimillionaire.) The craze swept America. Of course, this may have been a creative idea, and it was certainly profitable, but it wasn’t an innovation. Discuss with the group the difference between creativity and innovation. Highlight this key point that innovation isn’t just about generating tons of crazy, wild ideas; it’s about creating practical ideas that could be of value.
  5. After everybody has understood the distinction between these concepts, you are going to ask the participants to create something innovative – i.e., something useful and practical. Here’s how you will do it: Tell everyone to give their creation to another person (not the person with whom they had been sharing.) In other words, everybody should be holding an object that they have never seen before. At this point, ask everyone to choose a number between 1 and 6. When they have done so, you read the following: “All of you are going to come up with some innovation: “If you selected number 1, you will reframe this as something that can be used for a baby. “If you selected number 2, you will reframe this as something that can be used in the bathroom. “If you selected number 3, you will reframe this as something that can be used in a kitchen. “If you selected number 4, you will reframe this as something that can be used as a weapon. “If you selected number 5, you will reframe this as something that can be used as a toy. “If you selected number 6, you will reframe this as something that can be used as a beauty product…. “Get with a partner and explain how you are re-interpreting this object as something useful.”
  6. After they have had a few minutes to do this, then you have a few people share their ideas with the entire group. Usually people have very clever, innovative uses.
  7. Now it’s time to take the final step. Here you define social innovation: According to the Stanford Social Innovation Review, it’s “a novel solution to a social problem that is more effective, efficient, sustainable, or just than existing solutions and for which the value created accrues primarily to society as a whole rather than private individuals.” In other words, there’s a simple question to ask: Is it something that is helping the world? Ask everyone to switch their objects one last time with a different person. This time, each person has to reframe the object as something beneficial to society. It’s something that is more than just valuable and innovative; it’s also serving the common good.
  8. For one final time, you can ask participants to share their new uses for the object. This is a good exercise to help everyone learn what is the essence of social innovation.
  • Get lots of random things with which participants can create and design a shape. There may be pages from magazines with colorful pictures; there may be string; there may be tape; there may be materials of unusual shapes and sizes. The more random things that you can get for them to make something, the better this will be.
  • You can also do one final round, which goes to the essence of social entrepreneurship: creating a business model where people can earn money from their innovation. Social entrepreneurs often operate differently from the traditional nonprofit model; many of them do not rely on donations from philanthropies and individuals. Instead, they offer goods and services that people value, and for which people are willing to pay. Many social entrepreneurs are even for-profit companies or hybrids of nonprofit and for-profit.
  • If you decide to do this bonus round, you can have people come up with a business model for the objects in their hands. They have to come up with a way that these will earn money and not depend on charitable donations.
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In this case, the debrief is part of the activity: coming up with the distinction between creativity, innovation, and social innovation.


In a survey of 1500 CEOs in both the for-profit and nonprofit sectors, creativity was considered to be the most valuable skill for workers in the 21st century. Yet this is something that few of us learn in our formal education.


Adapted from an exercise by Keith Sawyer, with help from award-winning social entrepreneur Gemma Bulos