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Bodystorming: A necessary supplement to Brainstorming

Updated: Oct 12, 2023


Embracing Uncertainty

Clients come to us with ambitious goals and oftentimes with solutions ready up their sleeves, “we want to fill up our registrations for the seminar by running ads”, “we want to increase sales by having customers reach out to us through our social media”, and so forth. If AI had been so intelligent as to provide us with a winning strategy by simply entering what we hoped to achieve, I would have gladly pressed the button.

Much of my work with clients and within this agency involves uncovering the hidden power in situations. As part of the process, our team sits together at the start of every project to find the best possible approach to solve a given problem that comes along with it. One afternoon, during the Brainstorming session on a content strategy for one construction company, I suggest a fresh approach this time to go and meet the people we are creating the content for.

As a strategist, if there is anything I have ever learned in the practice of this discipline is that it is impersonal. In creating a strategy, it is often important to take on the viewpoints of others, seeing how the situation looks to a rival or to a customer.

My colleague argues that it would be counterproductive for us to spend time going to the persona’s natural environment, and fix up a meeting with multiple similar personas with the hopes that we can create something meaningful out of it. He is not wrong. To spend so much of our resources on a simple strategy wouldn’t make sense, a brainstorming session has always worked and it wouldn’t be different this time.

As counterintuitive as it may seem, many of us expect strategy to be like a “logical machine” that we could use to deduce business plans – a system for generating forecasts and actions. Strategy is less analytical but has a more creative aspect to it. To generate a strategy, one must put aside the comfort and security of pure deductive reasoning and launch into the chaotic waters of induction, analogy, experimentation, and insight.

Gathering Insights: Brainstorming meets Bodystorming

We need the initial phase of the strategy to be all about divergence, which is to gather as much information about the project as possible. Hence, the need for a brainstorming session at the beginning of any project undertaken.

We use brainstorming to generate ideas and share knowledge to solve a particular commercial or technical problem, in which participants are encouraged to think without interruption. Brainstorming is often a group activity where each participant shares their ideas as soon as they come to mind. At the conclusion of the session, ideas are categorized and ranked for follow-on action.

But I guess there is a supplement if not an alternative to this problem and I believe it is Bodystorming. Don’t get me wrong, this is not a case against brainstorming - it will always remain the fundamental tool for innovation. However, if the ideas generated in the Brainstorming are not tested out in the real world, the design solutions we create are always at the mercy of chance.


Bodystorming is simply brainstorming, but done with the body. It may look different depending on the preparations and location, but in the end, all Bodystorming is, is that it is fundamentally about one thing: getting people to figure things out by trying things out.

During the very early stages of AirBnb’s growth curve, the company was desperately struggling to climb the dip. Back in 2009, as Airbnb listed its first rentals, Chesky and his co-founder Joe Gebbia realized that making hosts—not just guests—adore Airbnb is essential to long-term success. The only way to do this, they decided, was to visit each host themselves.

As Business Insider reports, “Airbnb continued its scrappy business-building techniques. Channeling their design backgrounds, the founders launched an ambitious project to get its hosts to love the company. They visited all of their hosts in New York to personally stay with them, write reviews, and professionally photograph their places.” Long and laborious as such on-the-ground customer interaction was, it exposed Chesky to Airbnb’s every flaw, whether minute or massive, and enabled him to build viable solutions rooted in real user experiences. The result was a tried and tested customer experience strategy that almost tripled their retention rate.

Paul Graham, co-founder of Y Combinator writes, “One of the most common types of advice we give at Y Combinator is to do things that don't scale. A lot of would-be founders believe that startups either take off or don't. You build something, make it available, and if you've made a better mousetrap, people beat a path to your door as promised. Or they don't, in which case the market must not exist. Actually, startups take off because the founders make them take off. There may be a handful that just grew by themselves, but usually, it takes some sort of push to get them going. A good metaphor would be the cranks that car engines had before they got electric starters. Once the engine was going, it would keep going, but there was a separate and laborious process to get it going.”

Another way to think about starting companies is that starting companies is what people do these days, instead of doing research. But starting a company is a really expensive alternative to doing research

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Bodystorming may mean different things to different designers. It can look like going to meet the people you are designing for in their environment, getting people to try out the prototypes before building the final product, or simply getting as many perspectives from the important stakeholders as possible before jumping to conclusions.

Empathy is beyond just the emotional aspect of it, it is the fundamental step of any deductive reasoning. If for instance, a patient were to be given Ibuprofen the moment she starts complaining to the physician about stomach pain, the gallstone she has been carrying will eventually take her life. Therefore, the first step toward effective strategy is diagnosing the specific structure of the challenge rather than simply creating goals. Strategy starts off with deduction but ends in induction.

The challenges of Bodystorming

Bodystorming comes with its own set of challenges and perhaps the reason it is often difficult for designers to embrace it in their toolkit. We must therefore choose the right level of Bodystorming at the right time for the group. Because Bodystorming asks participants to take a big step away from the typical conference table mode of thinking, they may need to get comfortable with more structured sessions first, armed with scripts and specific roles, before stepping into complete improvisation. In all cases, the exercise itself will be more memorable than the customary brainstorming session and will help generate empathy that comes from “embodying” the experience.


Marty Neumeier talks about the importance of metaskills that are necessary for the creative workforce in the information age, which will help us stay on the top of the Robot curve - a constant waterfall of obsolescence and opportunity fed by competition and innovation. The five metaskills that he mentions in his book are —feeling, seeing, dreaming, making, and learning—which will accelerate your success in an age of nonstop innovation. Bodystorming embodies all the five metaskills. All strategy is that it is a hypothesis and its implementation is basically just experimentation. As results appear, we learn more about what does and doesn’t work, which helps us adjust our strategy accordingly. Supplementing the ideas we uncover during the brainstorming with Bodystorming will help us stress test our ideas before directly jumping into solutions. This will eventually help us build the right solutions and deliver the outcome.

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