How to play Mundane Superhero

I was writing up a longer blog post, reflecting on the recent Innovation and Future Thinking course which Toban Shadlyn and I ran last month, and I wanted to quickly nod to Mundane Superhero.

It’s a workshop warmup game I came up with maybe ten years ago. But it turns out I’ve never written it up anywhere, bizarrely.

So here we go, a quick how-to guide…

Firstly, we give everyone a pen and one Artefact Card.

(Use whatever alternative you like, but should be something people will draw well on, and can move around on a table to find connections with.)

Tell them they’ve got to draw themselves as a Mundane Superhero.

Everyone has a Mundane Superhero power inside them.

It’s the thing you do really, really well. But is actually quite boring.

Introduce your own one as an example. My go to one is usually Parent IT Man – wherever I happen to be, I can usually resolve my parents IT problems in a single phone call.

Toban’s Mundane Superhero was Hairomania – because of the hair she has herself, she’s become the go-to person for friends and family to help style unruly locks.

Give people three minutes to think about their Superhero, draw it, and stand up.

Explain what a wonderful job everyone has done – in only three minutes, they’ve created a superhero world which is the rival of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And what happens in this world is the same – all the Superheros will bump into each other.

Invite everyone to move around the room, meeting people and hearing about who their Mundane Superhero is. Do this for… a while. You want everyone to have chatted to at least half of the room. Make sure everyone is listening to what the other people are saying, because they’ll need to know who their Mundane Superheroes are, and why…

Now, the final step.

In this Mundane Superhero Universe, we’ll see the sort of thing you see in any superhero universe.

Alliances. Team-ups. Nemeses.

Ask the group to find the people that they are connected with, and be ready to explain why.

Now, not everyone will have met everyone yet. But you should be at the point where the collective understand of ‘who is in the room’ will be able to help each other out and make matches.

Once they’ve done that for a few more minutes, invite them to stand around a table.

Ask the first team to place their Mundane Superhero cards down together, and explain their connections. If anyone feels their hero, or other team, are similar, they can go down next to that first group. Together as a group, work (and rework) your way to a place where everyone is down on the table, and connected to some others.

As a fast, fun and creative way to start a workshop, I’ve not found anything better – hence sticking with it for so long.

It also is designed to do some other things too, which helps the rest of a workshop unfold.

Firstly, it makes people draw. It swiftly gets past the ‘I can’t draw’ stage that you can bump into with some folk. Everyone’s been asked to draw a thing without having thought about being frightened of the drawing part. It means moving forwards, more of the material the group will produce and work with will be richer as a result.

Secondly, it’s a first practice run at what I’ve described before as the metamechanics of this type of work; movement, maps, loops and layers. It just gets people used to created free-moving representations of information, which can be clustered, mapped, regrouped, picked up, shuffled and more. From this mode of working, endless possibilities can emerge.

Which when I think about it now, is properly super, and not that mundane…