ACTIVITY 3: zigzag [15 minutes]

The goal of this exercise is to illustrate three main ideas:

  1. You always are influenced and dependent on other people whenever you make something — (almost) nothing (great) happens in isolation.
  2. You can create really original fun ideas even when you have a lot of constraints. In fact, sometimes those constraints make it even better because they force us to think of things that don't already exist.
  3. Visualizing your ideas helps you think and communicate better, and it doesn’t matter if you can draw well or not!

Supplies needed for this exercise:
- Any kind of regular size paperclip
- Standard blank white notecards (3"x5" or 4”x6” will do, not lined, ideally not colored)


Amount needed: For a classroom of 20 students, you need one paperclip per student, and one notecard per student for each provocation. Multiply the number of students by the number of provocation – you'll have time for 3-5 provocations, so 60-100 notecards for 20 students. It's a good idea to bring some extra paperclips and notecards!


Step 1: Form groups of 3 or 4 (4 is ideal). Each student gets one paper clip and one notecard for each "round." Each round has one provocation.

Step 2: Ask each student to bend their paperclip into whatever shape they want but it has to be flat, not 3 dimensional. (Don't tell them what comes next until they have finished this step.)

Step 3: Everyone passes their paperclip to the person on their left, and receives a paperclip from the person on their right. Rotating clockwise.

Step 4: Instruct everyone that their job is to draw a [INSERT PROVOCATION] on their notecard. They first need to trace the shape of the paperclip and then build on/draw around that shape. Give them only 1 minute for each provocation.

Step 5: Repeat at least 3 more times, with the paperclip rotating each time. Students get a fresh notecard for each provocation. 

Sample provocations in increasing difficulty:

  • Imagine something that would give you the power to fly
  • Imagine your dream home
  • Imagine a way to save water in a drought
  • Imagine a new kind of food that could feed everyone on the planet
  • Imagine a special tool or product that could help people get along better


Talk about the influence of constraints. Constraints make you more resourceful and that helps drive creativity. How did the outline of the paperclip influence the drawings? Even though it was surprising at first, did it make you faster and freer in coming up with solutions? How did it feel that you weren't in control of the original shape?

In relationship to Creative Power, the exercise is meant to illustrate how constraints force you to think outside the usual solutions. Also, the exercise shows the interdependencies between people undertaking creative acts. It is also designed to create a certain fluidity and ability to respond on the spur of the moment.