Distribute a blank index card and a pen to each person.
Instruct everyone to write their first name in the top half of the card.
In the bottom half, ask each person to write a series of numbers and letters which represent a set of interesting facts about themselves.
For example, 1964-14Y-1K could represent a person born in 1964, married for 14 years and has one child (kid.)
Encourage people to focus on interesting aspects of their life and experiences.
When ready, pin the name-tags on each person’s clothing.
Invite everyone to mix and mingle to engage in a series of conversations about their name-tags with as many people as possible.
How To Play Narrative
This exercise is so brilliant, I wish I had thought of it myself (big shout out to Paradigm Shift where I first learned this.)
To start, distribute a blank index card and a pen to each person in your group. Obviously, you need at least one writing instrument per person, but if you can, invite your group to share a big bucket of coloured pens and markers to add a little interest.
Instruct each person to write their name in the top half or section of the card, in big letters. Then, directly below, write a series of numbers and letters which provide a set of cryptic clues which represent an interesting personal insight, an ‘id number’ so to speak.
For example, I could write the following:
This set of ‘id numbers’ mean I was born in 1964, I’ve been married for 14 years, I have one child, have visited 24 countries and I’ve owned 4 motor vehicles.
Encourage people to consider interesting or engaging aspects of their life. All of the clues are cryptic and remain unknown to most observers, but if these numbers and letters reveal something interesting, stronger bonds will form between people which is never a bad thing.
Once everyone has created their numerical name-tags, pin them to their clothing, or simply hold them facing forward so others can see the clues. Then, invite people to mix and mingle and engage in a series of conversations with others to discover what all of the clues mean.
Typically, I ask each person to meet with at least 5 or 6 people over the course of 5 to 10 minutes, but I never police this unless I feel that the energy in the group is beginning to wane.
Practical Leadership Tips
Clearly, Challenge by Choice rules here. People should only list numbers and letters about themselves that reflects information they are prepared to share with others.
My advice, as I always lament to conference organisers, is to encourage the writing of one’s name (especially first names) using big letters. The propensity for conferences to issue name-tags featuring a person’s name in small letters is so counter-productive, I wish there was a law against it. The bigger the name, the easier it is to read, and the more likely my willingness to approach someone I don’t know to say hello.
For security purposes, remind people not to share their (real) personal ID numbers such as social security, tax and bank information. Obviously.
Focus: Frame the exercise so that each number represents an element from a specific realm, such as personal life, career, hobbies, favourites, objects, etc.
Limited Space: Provide an incentive and ask each person to develop a string of letters and numbers that is exactly, let’s say, 15 characters long.
Hieroglyphics: Use a series of symbols or images to represent elements of your identity, eg a car symbol could represent that you work in the car industry, or that you just bought a new car, or had an accident, or this is your favourite Monopoly piece, etc.
Vanity Plates: Using only letters of the alphabet, ask your group to invent a unique acronym that represents either a common phrase or an important value each person lives their life by. You may wish to limit the number of letters that can be used, eg 6 to 10.
Open the Virtual Adaptation tab to learn how to present this activity online.
Set-up is similar to above, ie each person writes their name and a series of numbers of a sheet of paper. When ready, invite one person at a time to show their paper to the camera so everyone can see their name and numbers. The group’s task is to guess what the numbers represent. It’s not a test, so allow a short time for guessing before the person holding the paper tells their group what the number means. Always fascinating.
As above, but invite each person to type their numbers into the chat room facility.
For large groups, divide into smaller ‘break-out’ rooms of approx 4 to 10 people to share their numbers.
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Useful Framing Ideas
Some believe, especially mathematicians, that our lives are ruled by numbers. That everything can be boiled down to some complex algorithm or equation. While involving a set of numbers, this next exercise is not complex, but it will raise a lot of curiosity…
There are some fun games which invite people to reduce their lives or their values or thoughts to a fixed number of digits or characters. A bit like a Twitter message which requires that everything fit within a 140 character limit. You won’t need as many as 140 characters, but this next activity will ask you to summarise some parts of your life into a few numbers and letters…
Reflection Tips & Strategies
Coupled with one or more reflection strategies, here are some sample questions you could use to process your group’s experience after playing this innovative, ice-breaking name-game:
Was there a particular element or theme which featured frequently on people’s name-tags? What was it?
How easy was it to decipher the numbers and letters? Did you get better at it with practice?
Did you learn something new?
What surprised you in this exercise? Why?
The inspiration for ID Numbers was sourced from the team at Paradigm Shift (USA.)