Last week, during dinner time at our home, I proposed a little game (all my kids love playing games and my partner is always a great supporter). “Let’s play Upside down worlds!”, I declared.
Upside down worlds is one of the warm-up exercises that Jane McGonigal offers us in her new book Imaginable: How to See the Future Coming and Feel Ready for Anything, Even Things that Seem Impossible Today. The goal is to “unstick our minds” and flex our imagination muscles to be more open to think about our futures (yes, plural).
Originally I bought the book to use in the Environmental Stewardship course that I teach at university in a Governance, Leadership and Ethics program. I always considered imagination, creativity and open-mindedness some of the key components to address our global challenges. Soon I realized that the book was also very useful in my other role as program manager working with the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Needless to say that it is also part of my personal interests, future-thinking is a topic that I’ve been exploring for a few years now with a practice I call Probing Utopia. I was eager to test some of the ideas in the book.
Back to our dinner time. My kids were excited. They wanted to know: how to play, the rules, if we are using cards or a board game…This was my first attempt and I was doing it with young kids, so I wanted to keep it short and simple. The game had only three steps:
- Pick a topic
- List facts about the topic
- Flip all the facts
First we chose a topic. I had a small list of ideas to suggest and my kids offered many more, but I will stick to the ones we all agreed we would like to play with:
- How normal people regularly enjoy music
- How normal people generally make art
Some of the topics above might need some clarification (what does normal mean?) before playing, but we chose money and that was clear enough for us.
Second, we listed facts about money. The book suggests that we try to get 100 facts. We found 10. Here is our list:
- We use money to buy stuff
- We get rich if you have a lot of money
- Every country has its own money – currency
- Money of one country has a different value in another country
- We can use plastic money (cards)
- People want to have a lot of money
- The more you have money, easier it is to make more money
- You can save money in a bank
- Generally, you have to work to ear money
- You can use money to get most of the things and services that people want or need
Here it was my first pleasant surprise. I was hoping just to see where imagination could take us and what crazy upside down ideas we would come up with. That happened too (see step three below) and the list above was a great way to talk about some big issues in a more playful way and to introduce some topics that would seem otherwise dry and boring.
For example, the kids had a lot of questions about how plastic money actually works. They also learned that what you can buy working for an hour in Brazil is very different from what you can buy working for an hour in Canada doing the exact same job.
After (most of) their curiosity was satisfied we moved to our third and last step. Listing the opposite of all the facts. And here was my second pleasant surprise. My kids came up with different interpretations and nuances of what the opposite of the facts could be. Things I wouldn’t have imagined alone. Here is the upside down list:
1a. We don’t use money to buy stuff
1b. We use money to give away things
2. We get poor if you have a lot of money
3. All countries use the same currency
4. Money has the same value in all countries (which is not the same thing as item 3)
5a. Plastic money doesn’t exist
5b. We can’t use plastic money
6. People don’t want a lot of money
7a. The more you have money, harder it is to make more money
7b.The less you have money, easier it is to make more money
8. You can’t put money in a bank
9a. Generally, you don’t have to work to earn money
9b. Generally, you have to rest to earn money
10a. You need to use something other than money to get most of the things and services that people want or need
10b. You can only use money to get a few of the things and services that people want or need
10c. You can use most of the things and services that people want or need to get money
Even though there are a few other steps that we didn’t play, the experience was eye-opening for me. First by realizing how kids can have such a sophisticated imagination and second by actually stretching my own imagination. Fascinating how a simple game can be so powerful.
We are totally continuing this game. The steps we didn’t have time to play (yet) were: imagining how the world would look if the upside down facts were true, what would need to happen for them to be true and even finding examples (signals of change) in our current reality that could make them become true some day.
The book has so much more to offer, I will definitely incorporate many of the games and insights in my work. And the best part is that there is an online community, called Urgent Optimists where we can join social simulations, share our experiences, exchange information and support each other. Of course I already joined! Sounds interesting?