Different Ways to Use a Paperclip

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Explore the diversity of what one can do with a paper clip. Dive into a creative process.

Time20-60 minutes

Material paperclips

Group Size 2-20 people

Keywords ideation, divergent thinking, creativity


Handbook #4


N. Zimmermann, E. Leondieva

Fourth Handbook for Facilitators: Read more


  • Participants come in a creative mode, make associations, or the kind of thinking which allows us to draw connections and associations between different or previously unrelated ideas, words, and experiences.
  • They explore a broad range of different possible solutions, as perceived within a group setting.


1. Each participant receives a paperclip, if possible it should be oversized.

2. Introduce the exercise: The task is to show others what you can do with a paper clip beyond merely holding papers together. Try to be innovative. For example, participants might might transform, shape, or destroy the paper-clip.

3. Individual work on “prototypes”. Presentation of each participant’s prototype.


  • What was the most common prototype?
  • What were the most surprising ones?
  • What can you learn from a paper-clip?
  • What does a paper-clip have to do with creativity?

Nils-Eyk Zimmermann

Nils-Eyk Zimmermann

Editor of Competendo. Coordinator of the project DIGIT-AL Digital Transformation in Adult Learning for Active Citizenship. Network Secretary of the DARE network. Topics: active citizenship, civil society, digital transformation, non-formal and lifelong learning, capacity building. Blogs here: Blog: Civil Resilience. Email: office@dare-network.eu


Creativity comes into play when something new and unexpected occurs. In this exercise, it is a paper-clip. In other contexts, people might work with prototypes of a product or a service.

This task requires a state of mind free from the spoken and unspoken rules implicit in a given context. It encourages divergent, non-conformist thinking,


For digging deeper, the task might be extended: In example by a "what you can not do with a paperclip" excercise.

And in the following by a synthesis and more sophisticated product design (shapes, materials) which might lead to really new insights how a variation of a paperclip might serve people.