The smiley face game

In most cases your first idea will not be your best idea. In order to illustrate this concept we recently did an exercise with our Agile Coaches. We first came across this activity when some of our team members attended Jeff Patton‘s Passionate Product Ownership course. Jeff calls it Circles, we called it the smiley face game.

This exercise is best for 3+ people.

Materials you’ll need:

  • one sheet of A3 paper per person
  • a sharpie for each person



  1. Ask participants to fold their A3 paper lengthwise, then in half, and half again until they have folds that form 16 squares.
  2. Give them 2 minutes to draw different smiley faces in each square. If you see people are stuck, mention that they can be creative and think of animals etc when drawing smiley faces.
  3. After the 2 minutes is up ask them to pass their paper clockwise to the person next to them and ask them to tick the smiley face they like and cross the one they don’t like. Ask them to keep passing the papers clockwise until they end with their own paper.
  4. Once they have their own paper in front of them ask everyone to put their hand up if they have ticks in the first row of squares, then the second, third and fourth.
  5. Then ask if they have any crosses in the first few rows and ticks in the latter rows.


Usually you’ll find that people get either few or no ticks in the first row of smiley faces, this nicely illustrates that the first idea (or smiley face in this case) is not their best idea. You can see this when you look at the page as a whole as well, the lower half of the page tends to show better, more creative smileys.

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  1. Aaron Sanders
    Feb 17, 2014 @ 14:16:35

    Hi Ruka,

    I really like the way you explain the game and how you start with the learnings. I’ve also found that in running the game, when you get your own paper back, you can ask if anyone chose the one you liked drawing the best. Point- what you like isn’t what others like. Sometimes, I’ll also ask how to raise your hand if you filled one row.. keep ’em raise if you filled two, etc. Only a few remain for all the rows. Point- it’s tough to (quickly) be creative.

    Also- I think you might have a different Jeff Patton linked to than who runs the PPO course. The Jeff you want is my business partner. :-) Would you mind changing the link?

    I also like the visuals you have to show the progression of the game. With the directions, it makes it really easy for someone to facilitate. (I do the fold-paper strategy, too!)

    Thanks again,

  2. Ruka Ruka
    Feb 17, 2014 @ 15:00:05

    Thanks Aaron for those pointers.
    We will keep that in mind when we run this activity again.
    I have updated the link with the correct Jeff Patton, sorry about that.

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