Reading Time: 3 minutes
Main Takeaways
Reading Time: 3 minutes "Black Stories" are a gaming format where the players have to find out what had happened in a certain situation starting with an initial teaser as a hint. They are a perfect example of de Bono's Lateral Thinking. Use them to inspirit your meetings and product development

"Black Stories" - Empower Your Creativity with Lateral Thinking

What are “Black Stories”?

"Black Stories" are a gaming format where the players have to find out what had happened in a certain situation starting with an initial teaser as a hint only. Black Stories is a card deck. Each situation is phrased in a short story on one side of a playing card, the other card side shows a one- or two-sentence teaser for the players. Black Stories are always tricky, morbid, sinister, and "raven-hued" riddle-stories.

How to Play Black Stories

The rules are easy:

  • You can play it with a game master/facilitator presenting the stories; or each story is presented round-robin by each player as narrator.
  • The narrator tells the players the teaser only.
  • It is up to the players now to reconstruct the particulars of each incident, piece by piece, by asking questions, guessing, or puzzling over the evidence.
  • The narrator is allowed to answer with "Yes" or "No" only or to asked for rephrasing the question.

Let me illustrate this with the creepy story "Cheap Porsche" from the English edition of "Black Stories" ((Actually there is only one English version, whereas in German there exists several variants in the meantime.))

The story goes like this:

Story headline: "Cheap Porsche".

Teaser: "A woman decides to sell her husband's new Porsche for a mere 500 euros."

Black Story

Black Story "Cheap Porsche"

 (Copyright black stories, english edition, moses publishing.)

Did you solve the riddle without cheating by looking at the solution?

The Magic of “Black Stories”

Why are Black Stories so unique? — What makes them so useful in Agile Product Development environment? ((I take IT- and non-IT-related product development synonymously.))

The reason is obvious and you can validate it by a simple experiment when playing Black Stories next time: For one Black Story take notes about the suggestions and questions throws on the table.

When solving a creepy riddle the players come up with solution proposals from several different perspectives.  The suggestions made necessarily are not related to each other nor a logical consequence. Merely, the players follow an indirect and creative approach. They throw ideas on the table that may not be obtainable by using only traditional step-by-step logic. They jump from one option to a totally different by random — only guided by the more or less illustrative or cryptic hints of the narrator.

Edward de Bono coined this kind of problem-solving lateral thinking. For de Bono lateral thinking is "addressing the problem always from different perspectives."  The most prominent lateral thinking technique is de Bono's "Six Thinking Hats".

Black Stories Vivify Your Meetings and Product Development

Although I knew Black Stories — I have to admit, I didn't see its nexus to Agile or product development. Not at all... not until... Jordann Gross, hosted in Feb 2016 an Open Space session at Play4Agile16 unconference. where he showed us how "Black Stories" can be used in agile retrospectives and Scrum ceremonies.

You can use Black Stories in your team meetings and daily stand-ups: spark creativity, to make people think out of the box, to nudge lateral thinking, learn people to ask the right questions, and, and, and...

to help team members or meeting attendees to get out of their previous context easily.

You can use Black Stories as energizers in the opening of your meetings or in between to shake the people awake.

Here a slide deck of Agile Black Stories I presented at Tools4AgileTeam2016


Further Readings