Cartooning For Creative Problem Solving

Since I’m always looking for useful creativity methods, I had an Aha! moment during a recent visit to a video game studio.

For those of you who aren’t in the film or video game business, storyboards are really single-panel cartoons, much like the comics, that outline the “story” a film maker or video game designer wants to tell.

Usually, it’s a visual reference that the director, designers, cast and crew can use when planning each shot. So it’s a project management tool similar to a Work Breakdown Structure.

I think storyboarding, if adapted, might be a method to put in your bag of tricks, especially for group situations. What if we take that utilitarian aspect out of storyboarding and use it to jump-start creativity?

To me this would be a great way to get a team that’s trying to find a solution to a problem out of the thinking rut. Also, it’s visual, which always helps in our linear, word oriented world – which is often my problem with traditional storytelling.

And it’s something to focus on (the story) that parallels the problem you’re trying to solve. So it’s a version of DeBono’s Lateral Thinking methodology.

Here’s my suggestion for a storyboarding session.

  • Have the team tell a story that parallels your problem in comic form. The drawing (probably on a whiteboard or flip board, although there is software for it) can be very crude, i.e. stick figures.
  • Like all stories, the storyboard should outline the problem, sketch out the main characters, and have them arrive at some solution – good or bad.
  • Put the first storyboard aside, because it will involve very templated thinking: Everyone will simply shape the story from familiar material.
  • Use a form of questioning to become increasingly more creative. Go for comedy or tragedy. Ask “what if”. What if the character was like this? What if the character did this? What if the character wasn’t limited by this? What if the character could use magic, could fly, had X-ray vision, or multiple lives, etc?
  • Draw a simple storyboard for each option. See where it leads you.
  • Compare each one to the original story or problem statement to see how they might correlate. For example, if the storyboard has the character using magic to solve the problem, figure out how you can do find your own kind of magic.

At the end of this session, which will be a heck of a lot more fun than simple brainstorming, you should have some interesting options.

You’ll also have a much more energized group because they will have tapped a creative wellspring within themselves that wasn’t so “serious”.


4 Responses to Cartooning For Creative Problem Solving

  1. Taylan says:

    That reminds me of a similar technique I use in collaborative story writing. Only instead of visual help, we’d use music to get our ideas across. The way it works is that you choose a theme music for a character, or scene, or a whole storyline, a tune that best represents the essence of the matter for you (preferably an easily recognizable one too). Movie soundtracks usually work best. People think of the story with each other’s tune in mind, and get a better sense of what everyone wants out of it. It helps with building empathy and to steer the discussion from being detail oriented to common goal oriented.

    It’s especially useful in situations where the stakeholders are emotionally invested in the problems and are too mired in small details and differences to advance.

    I suppose you could say it’s an auditory version of ZMET.

  2. wanless says:

    Hi Taylan:
    Thanks for responding.
    I also used to use music for creative writing. We would play an obscure piece of music and have people write a story to it.

  3. Elena says:

    Hi Tony,
    I have written a post with EXACTLY THE SAME TITLE on my blog (ok, mine says “cartooning and” whereas yours says “for”. You can read it if you want at

  4. […] Tony Wanless at Retrain the Brain also uses cartooning for creative problem solving. […]

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