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Challenging Taboos to Enhance Creativity

Submitted by Jack Byrd, Jr., Cuda Zmuda, and Eric Schmucker

Our imagination is often restricted by internalized taboos. While these restrictions may be appropriate in some cases, we are often unaware or subconsciously influenced by taboos. Uncovering taboos that affect us can provide creative breakthroughs for how we think about issues.

average rating is 5 out of 5, based on 1 votes, rating(s)
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Learning Goals

  • Identify the presence of taboos in everyday life.

  • Challenge self-censorship and expand creative thinking by becoming more aware of taboos.


Set Up: Prepare for the Activity

Organize participants into small groups (4-6 ppl).

Share the Ping Pong Ball Challenge on a handout, screen, or projector.

Step One: Introduce the Ping Pong Challenge (5 min)

Review The Ping Pong Ball Challenge as a full group:

An eight inch long metal pipe is embedded in concrete at one end. The pipe is perpendicular to the ground, facing upward. A ping pong ball is at the bottom of the pipe. The ping pong ball fits loosely into the pipe.

You have the following tools available to you:

  • A one-foot length of rope (0.1 inch in diameter)

  • A metal file

You need to remove the ping pong ball from the pipe with the following restrictions:

  • You have no other resources available to you.

  • You cannot move or bend the pipe.

  • The ping pong ball cannot be damaged.

Ask the groups if there are any clarifying questions but do not provide any additional information.

Step Two: Individually Generate Ideas (5 min)

Ask each participant to write down their individual ideas. How are they going to remove the ball from the pipe?

Step Three: Discuss Ideas in Small Groups (10 min)

In small groups, invite participants to share their ideas.

As each of the ideas are presented, ask the other participants to build on them.

Instruct the group that they must decide on a single best solution to present to the full group.

Step Four: Present Solutions to the Full Group (5 min)

Invite one representative from each small group to present their final solution to the challenge.

While listening to the solutions, ask participants in the full group to evaluate each small group’s idea with a thumb’s up, thumb’s down, or thumb’s sideways vote. Tell them the criteria for their vote should be: Did the group adhere to the rules? Would the solution work?

Step Five: Explore Taboos as a Full Group (15 min)

If no group came up with the solution, reveal that the most effective solution is to urinate in the pipe and let the ping pong ball rise to the top.

Full group discussion prompts:

  • What’s your reaction to this solution? Does it make you feel uncomfortable? Did any of you think of this but might have been afraid to voice it in the discussion?

  • Talking publicly about urination is generally frowned upon or considered taboo. What else do you consider to be taboo?

Generate a list of taboos on the board, flip chart, or shared screen. Discuss:

  • Are these taboos universal? How do we know when our imagination is restricted by a taboo?

Step Six: Debrief as a Full Group (10 min)


  • Let’s review our list of taboos. What purpose do these taboos serve? Who or what decides that these topics are off limits?

  • What are the trade-offs associated with taboos?

  • How can identifying taboos open up possibilities or imagination?





Creative Collaboration

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average rating is 4 out of 5

Sovi Herring

May 30, 2024 at 6:42:10 PM

This activity is great when a group is comfortable sharing thoughts--but it is modified to be more introspective at first. There are two versions of this, one to recognize "normalized" feelings, the other is labeled "extreme" as the group was practicing navigating high emotion. This first one covers parents, cats, dogs: This one is to recognize more difficult to talk about feelings of fear, disgust, etc.:

average rating is 5 out of 5

Sovi Herring

May 30, 2024 at 6:28:11 PM

This activity was modified for a Business & Professional Communication class. It is best when the groups have gone through the guidelines activity to help facilitate how to communicate and even the 3.4 ambiguity. This is a difficult activity if the class is uncomfortable speaking (and in my case they were very adverse to discussing these in any group). Here is how I set it up (along with a print out of the words). It is modified to fit the business world, but worked well as a concept.

average rating is 5 out of 5

May 28, 2024 at 1:33:05 AM

average rating is 5 out of 5

May 28, 2024 at 1:31:01 AM

average rating is 5 out of 5

February 14, 2024 at 1:03:34 AM

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February 14, 2024 at 1:02:20 AM

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February 11, 2024 at 3:55:15 AM

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January 4, 2024 at 7:22:22 PM

average rating is 5 out of 5

December 12, 2023 at 11:56:40 PM

average rating is 5 out of 5

Lori Britt

October 3, 2023 at 5:00:05 PM

Have done this in the past, but today a group really blew me away. I did this as a Fishbowl with 7 students taking roles. Prior to the converstaion they could seek input from a few other students about what which decision they think the person in their role would support and why. I also asked them to come up with some things that were concerns for them. This 10 minute of prep time helped my role play participants really embody and feel confident in their roles. Great discussion about what deliberation looks like in practice and about how power can impact conversations and how a facilitator can try and minimize these power imbalances. I used the scenario above and assigned these roles (I was not sure my students woul be able to consider roles that would offer different perspectives): • Facilitator (non-voting) • Mayor • High school teacher • 17-year-old high school student • Transportation planner for the region • Local business owner • Economic development office for the region (your community and the surrounding communities served by the train) • 50-year-old who lost his job last year and who has been on unemployment

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