Icebreaker: 30 Circles

30 Circles

Mike Mackert | School of Advertising and Public Relations

I hand out to each student a sheet of paper with 30 blank circles. They’re asked to pull out a pencil or pen, and I tell them that they’re going to have one minute to “turn each circle into something.” I offer the examples of a smiley face, a frowny face, a sun, or a baseball. They start their minute, furiously turning circles into things. At the end of a minute I call time, and they all sigh exasperatedly, since they didn’t get through as many as they wanted to.

I prompt them to hold up their hands if they finished five circles (everyone always manages that), then ten, fifteen, etc. Almost no one gets the full 30. Then I ask them to raise their hand if they use a smiley face (almost everyone), a "frowny" face (almost everyone), a sun (usually a few people), or a baseball (almost no one).

The first lesson of this exercise is that someone gave them correct answers which they chose not to use. In advertising, there are a lot of good ideas out there that can be repurposed and adapted to meet a client’s needs. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel every single time.

The second is that to be creative, we have to be willing to create things that aren’t perfect. (I’d guess this applies to research and idea generation in areas across campus.) You can refine the best ideas with time, but if you don’t just get the ideas out there you can’t even start that process.

Students love it, and I find that it really does encourage students to start sharing “rougher” ideas and concepts than before I was using this as an icebreaker early in classes.