Use This Paper Modeling Activity to Unlock Creativity Before a Meeting

paper modeling activity

There isn’t usually one right way to do things. Especially when what you’re doing is creative and new. But it’s hard to turn off the part of your brain that warns of getting it wrong. 

Emily Pilloton, Founder and Executive Director of Girls Garage—a nonprofit design and building program that supports and equips a community of girls to build the world they want to see—knows firsthand how scary it can feel to start a new project. She uses this warm up to get the girls in her program comfortable with starting to make and build. 

Paper Modeling Activity

Do this activity by yourself or with a group before you begin a brainstorming or prototyping session. The goal is to jump into hands-on action immediately, let go of the “right way” to do something, and get comfortable making bad work in order to uncover good ideas. 

Step 1: Choose a word

Your word could be something literal (ex. house, dog) or figurative (ex. fast, love). Emily likes using building related verbs—gather, laminate, twist—when she does this activity with the girls in her program.

Step 2: Create a paper model or sketch

Take 30 seconds to one minute to quickly fold or tape paper into a model representing that word. For an easier iteration, grab some paper and a pen and sketch an image.

Step 3: Share with your group

Although it’s likely not your finest artistic work (how could it be in less than a minute?), sharing helps us practice vulnerability and setting aside judgment. It’s also great creative fuel to see how people interpret each word differently.

Step 4: Do it again...and again

Repeat the word prompt, model, and share cycle 5 to 8 times in quick succession. See if each time you model a new word you can feel a little freer to try a funny or ridiculous interpretation.


Emily says it’s easy to fall into a critical mindset and immediately start judging your work. But there’s value in getting comfortable with making bad work, especially in a low-risk environment, and learning through doing. Emily calls this moving our brain out of our head and into our hands.

“The maker mindset requires that you shut down this constantly critiquing reflex and allow your hands to do the thinking,” she says. 

If you try this activity, take a moment to reflect—how did it feel to make with abandon?

Learn the skills of ideation, prototyping, and experimentation through hand-on activities and apply new ways of thinking and doing to your day-to-day work in our online course From Ideas to Action.

Starting Soon

Business Innovation - IDEO U Certificate
Human-Centered Strategy Certificate