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Problem-solving with a splash: the time travelling goldfish icebreaker

In the world of innovation, creativity, out-of-the box thinking skills, and the ability to prioritize are all essential to a project’s success. In this week’s blog, we’ll share an icebreaker exercise that can help groups warm up these skills in a fun environment. We recently used this exercise with a group who was undergoing a program innovation project, and it made a splash!  


The Time Travelling Goldfish - An Icebreaker to Promote Problem Solving 

Picture this: a time-travelling goldfish is swimming through space and time causing chaos! Sounds bonkers, right? But that's the fun of it! This quirky icebreaker throws teams into a whirlwind of creative solutions. Want to know how to facilitate it? Here are your steps. 


Step 1: Introduce the group to the problem. Write the problem on a whiteboard, flipchart, or online whiteboard. 


A mischievous goldfish has developed the ability to time travel and is causing historical havoc. How will your group catch the time-travelling goldfish and prevent any more fishy alterations to the past?


Step 2: Reveal 9 potential solutions. Write each potential solution on its own cue card and put them up next to the problem statement. 



  1. The Quantum Fishnet: Develop a fishnet with quantum entanglement properties to create a portal that can capture the time-traveling goldfish in any era it attempts to escape to.

  2. Temporal Translator Fish Food: Engineer fish food that, when consumed by the goldfish, grants it the ability to communicate. Negotiate with the goldfish to convince it to voluntarily give up its time-traveling mischief.

  3. Butterfly Effect Buffer: Release specially bred butterflies that counteract the goldfish's changes to history, preventing any significant alterations caused by its time-traveling adventures.

  4. History-Hopping Tour Guide: Train a team of historical figures to act as tour guides for the goldfish, ensuring it experiences the past without causing any disruptions.

  5. Tick-Tock Ticker Tape: Develop a ticker tape made of time-sensitive material that wraps around the goldfish, restricting its time-traveling abilities and allowing for a gentle capture.

  6. Time-Warp Truce Treaty: Draft a truce treaty between humans and the time-traveling goldfish, ensuring it abides by specific rules and restrictions while exploring different time periods.

  7. Temporal Tug-of-War: Create a time-traveling device that allows your group to play a tug-of-war across different eras, pulling the goldfish back to the present time.

  8. Reverse Time Capsule: Construct a reverse time capsule that sends objects from the present into the past, distracting the goldfish with intriguing artifacts and preventing it from altering history.

  9. Parallel Universe Playpen: Build a parallel universe playpen where the goldfish can freely time travel without affecting our timeline, keeping it entertained and out of trouble.


Step 3: Brainstorm any additional potential solutions the group may have. Add each new idea on its own cue card. Try to end the brainstorming when there are 15 ideas in total (6 new + 9 previous) so that there is ample time for the next step. 


What other ideas do you have to catch the time travelling goldfish and prevent any more fishy alterations to the past? 


Step 4: Prioritize ideas

Give the group 10 minutes to choose the three solutions that they think will have the best chance at solving the problem. There are no right or wrong answers. This exercise is about getting the group to flex their creative thinking and prioritization skills. Observe the group as they go through the process of choosing the solutions. Make notes of the criteria they use to prioritize. 


Your next step is to work together as a team to choose the three solutions that you think will have the greatest likelihood of catching the time travelling goldfish and preventing any more fishy alterations to the past. 


Step 5: Debrief Congratulate the group on choosing the top 3 solutions. Review the top 3 three solutions chosen. Ask the group some debriefing questions to understand their thinking process. 


How did you choose these three solutions? What criteria did you consider as you were whittling down the solutions? What did you agree on? Where did you disagree? How did you resolve disagreements? How can we apply these lessons as we innovate today? 


That is the exercise of the time travelling goldfish. The problem is so ridiculous, and the potential solutions are so preposterous, that the group bonds over laughter and brainstorming. And the real magic happens when the team has to make strategic choices.


So, grab your team and dive into the absurd—it's problem-solving, but with a splash of fun! 

Let us know if you try it!


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