Our mission statement, copyright notice, and cast of characters.

In Memorium
Mel Silberman (1943-2010)
The passing of a great gamer.

Guest Gamer
Interview with Mel Silberman
Practical ideas from a prolific author.

Jolt 1
Dot in a Circle by Mel Silberman
Ask for feedback!

Serial Jolts
Repeated insights.

Jolt 2
Team Planning
What's your attitude toward planning?

Jolt 3
How productive is your team?

Say It Quick
Culture Crash by Brian Remer
How new culture became normal.

Think Plastic by Brian Remer
A review of The Brain that Changes Itself.

Brain Culture by Brian Remer
How to learn your world-view.

Rearrange Your Brain by Brian Remer
Challenge your culturally-wired assumptions.

Zurich Workshops
Two Workshops in Switzerland
On training games—and positive psychology.

Chicago Workshops
We Are Ready for Your Registration by Tracy Tagliati
Learn interactive strategies and get certified.

Single Topic Survey
Multitasking: Focusing Our Attention on Attention by Tracy Tagliati
One thing at a time?

Survey Results
Evaluation by Tracy Tagliati
Summary of your responses.

Thiagi Podcasts
New Podcast Episodes by Matthew Richter
Listen to four new episodes.





To increase and improve the use of interactive, experiential strategies to improve human performance in an effective, efficient, and enjoyable way.

Editorial Roster

Author and Editor : Sivasailam (Thiagi) Thiagarajan

Assistant Editor : Raja Thiagarajan

Associate Editor: Tracy Tagliati and Jean Reese

Contributing Editors: Brian Remer and Matthew Richter

Editorial Advisory Board: Bill Wake, Matthew Richter, Samuel van den Bergh, and <type your name here>

Copyright Info

The materials in this newsletter are copyright 2010 by The Thiagi Group. However, they may be freely reproduced for educational/training activities. There is no need to obtain special permission for such use as long as you do not reproduce more than 100 copies per year. Please include the following statement on all reproductions:

Reprinted from THIAGI GAMELETTER. Copyright © 2010 by The Thiagi Group, Inc.

For any other use of the content, please contact us ( ) for permission.

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Feedback Request

Thiagi believes in practicing what he preaches. This is an interactive newsletter, so interact already! Send us your feedback, sarcastic remarks, and gratuitous advice through email to . Thanks!

In Memorium

Mel Silberman (1943-2010)

Dr. Mel Silberman, 67, Professor Emeritus at Temple University, died peacefully at home on Saturday, February 20, 2010, after a valiant 13-year battle with lung cancer. He is survived by his wife, Dr. Shoshana Silberman, three children, and six grandchildren.

For thousands of teachers and trainers, Mel was a source of idealism and ideas. As the popular professor of Adult and Organizational Development at Temple University, he taught for 41 years, winning two distinguished teaching awards including the Great Teacher Award in 2000.

He has been a highly rated presenter and facilitator at professional conferences, including ASTD, ISPI, Training, and NASAGA.

A prolific author with 34 books to his credit, Mel's highly original and influential 1990 book, Active Training, introduced concepts related to acquiring learning rather than receiving it. He reinforced the concepts with the three volumes of 20 Active Training Programs. As the President of Active Training in Princeton, NJ, Mel produced and distributed several effective training activities that that were used by teachers and trainers around the world. He also published annual sourcebooks on training, performance, and development with ready-to-use activities. Another influential book edited by Mel is the Handbook of Experiential Learning which contained chapters from thought leaders in the field with models, guidelines, and case examples that established the what, why, and how of using activities to improve training.

At NASAGA, Mel was a source of inspiration and information. Over the years, he has made several presentations at our conferences demonstrating his amazing ability to walk the talk and use activities and debriefing discussions to provide rich sources of engagement and education. In addition, as Chris Saeger reminds us, “Mel was a wonderful supporter of many NASAGANs. He provided publishing opportunities to many of us through his sourcebook series.”

NASAGA honored Mel with its most prestigious award, the Ifill-Raynolds Life Time Achievement Award at our conference in Atlanta in 2007. The citation that accompanied the presentation emphasized Mel's “years of experience creating and honing techniques that inspire learners to be people smart, learn faster, and collaborate effectively.”

Personally, Mel has been a wonderful friend, trusted colleague, and a great role model. Over the years, he and I had a playful sibling rivalry going. I have contributed to his edited publications and he has done the same for me.

I remember the shock I had when Mel told me that he had been diagnosed with lung cancer. But he did not let the cancer hamper his passion and productivity. He took the time to visit India and China with his wife Shoshana (whom he proudly referred to as his high school sweetheart). Shoshana told me that during his final year Mel continued writing and editing. He insisted that someone should push his wheelchair so he could facilitate a training workshop that was organized earlier.

There is a single word that captures the essence of Mel: mensch—a decent, upright, mature, and responsible person. All of us in the gaming community will miss you, Mel. And we will continue spreading the active training revolution that you initiated.

Guest Gamer

This a reprint of an interview with Mel Silberman that was published in the September 1999 issue of the Thiagi GameLetter. (In those days, TGL was a print newsletter rather than an online one.)

Interview with Mel Silberman

TGL: Mel, what's your specialty area?

Mel: I like to figure out how any subject matter can be taught actively through a variety of ways that avoid lecturing. The use of games is one major way. To me, real learning occurs when the participants do most of the work. If you neatly package the information or elegantly demonstrate the skills, you—not the participants—are doing the work. The key to effective training is to design the learning activities so that the participants do the work and acquire knowledge and skills rather than merely receive them.

TGL: When did you start designing and using games?

Mel: Like most people who realize that learning requires the participant's own mental involvement, I have been dabbling with active methods for more than 30 years. I got a Ph. D. in educational psychology back in 1968 after spending four years listening to lectures about the teaching-learning process! The only thing I clearly remember was one professor saying, “Learning begins with a question.” The problem was that he never encouraged his students to ask questions. After my university days, I have dedicated myself to finding ways of making learning happen. In 1990, I formalized my thinking with the first edition of Active Training. Since then, it has been a joyous ride of further experimentation and writing.

TGL: In your active training sessions, where do you use games?

Mel: I use games for the whole gamut of learning: cognitive, behavioral, and affective. A game or simulation can be used to illustrate a concept, to review facts, to motivate people to practice skills, and best of all, to open people's eyes, minds, and hearts to feelings, values, and attitudes.

TGL: How do people respond to your use of games?

Mel: Most of them love it. It is what they remember the most and what makes the greatest impact in the training session. They laugh a lot and even cry a little. Of course, there are some who don't buy the analogies to real life embedded in the games. However, that does not trouble me too much because I believe that it is not all in the game. What you do after the game is what really counts. To me, the game just starts a conversation about something. You cannot get to the same depth of conversation without the game. For example, I once did a game about friendliness to customers with a group of toll-booth collectors—all male and all burnt out. They objected to the notion in the game that it is a good idea to smile and be friendly as they collect tolls. I asked them why and one person responded, “They know we were just being put up to it. We could not possibly be for real.” The conversation went on until I finally I got them to agree to put “friendliness to customers” to a one-week test. After a week, every person reported they liked their job better! So, even a game that “bombed” produced great results.

TGL: So what suggestions do you have for debriefing after conducting games?

Mel: I like to use a three-stage sequence called What? So What? Now What? After the game, you ask participants to share what happened to them during the game: What did you do? What did you observe? What did you think about? What did you feel? Next ask participants to ask themselves, “So what?”: What benefits did you get from the game? What did you learn? What did you relearn? What are the implications of the game? How does the game related to the real world? Finally, ask participants to consider “Now what?”: How do you want to do things differently in the future? How can you extend the learning you had? What steps can you take to apply what you learned?

TGL: Could you give us an example of how you use this debriefing technique?

Mel: The Game of Life is a popular game that is also known as the Red-Blue Game. This game can be played by six groups of any size. Each group should have approximately the same number of players. The objective for each group is “to win as much as you can”. There are six rounds of the game. For each round, each group chooses either X or Y (without knowing what the other groups have chosen) and writes its choice on a slip of paper. All slips are handed to the trainer who tallies them and announces the results. Each group's payoff depends on the combination of choice made by the groups. After the third and fifth rounds, allowance is made for a 10-minute negotiation session among single representatives from any group that wishes to participate. The negotiations, if held, are to be loud enough for everyone in the room to hear. Before these opportunities for negotiation, the facilitator announces the payoff (wins and losses) will be tripled for the fourth round and multiplied by ten for the last round.

After playing The Game of Life, participants will have many reactions, especially anger at teams that did not cooperate and disdain for teams that used deceit. Some participants may proclaim “It's only a game” while others will take it very seriously.

During debriefing, in the What? stage of the process, it is crucial to obtain these reactions and observations in order to realize the potential of this experiential activity. The biggest mistake is to analyze the game too quickly before allowing feelings to be expressed.

After noting what happened during the game and what participants were feeling, the facilitator guides the group into the So What? stage. Here, participants begin to develop insights. They note that the world is not simply divided into good people and bad people. They understand that behaviors could have occurred during the negotiations that would have inspired trust and cooperation. They also observe how groups that were losing heavily often behaved like victims and failed to see that they had the power to turn their fortunes around. After achieving these insights, participants can now be helped to do some generalizing. Among the principles that might emerge are these:

At this point, participants are usually motivated to start applying the experiences to their own organization in the final Now What? stage. This discussion can address inter-group competition among different departments in the same organization.

TGL: Finally, do you have any advice about designing games?

Mel: Here are two simple suggestions: Make sure that the game is relevant to the participants. And instead of designing a game from scratch, modify an existing game to suit your needs and objectives.

Jolt 1

(Reprinted from the print-only September 1999 issue of the Thiagi GameLetter.)

Dot in a Circle
by Mel Silberman


To emphasize the importance of asking for feedback.


10 to 20 minutes.


Several large envelopes, each containing the following supplies:


Any number.


Create pairs. Assign one member of each pair to be the Performer and the other to be the Instruction Giver.

Distribute the envelopes. Give an envelope to each Instruction Giver. Ask Instruction Givers to read the directions silently.

Conduct the activity. Wait while the Instruction Givers and the Performers complete the task.

Check the results. Ask if any Performer requested feedback. Find out how well these Performers did in comparison to those who did not ask for feedback. Point out that the performance of those who asked for feedback is significantly better.

Debrief the participants. Ask the group, “What benefits do we obtain by asking for feedback rather than waiting for it or not receiving it at all?”

End with humor. Suggest that it is always a good thing to ask for direct feedback: “Please tell me if I have a piece of spinach between my front teeth rather than making me pick up your nonverbal reactions and subtle cues!”

Handout 1

Directions for Instruction Givers

Read these directions to yourself. Do NOT read or show these instructions to the Performer.

  1. Ask the Performer to close her or his eyes.
  2. Give the Performer the sheet inside the envelope. Be sure that the Performer is not peeking.
  3. Say: This sheet of paper contains a 2-inch circle. I can't tell you where the circle is on the paper, but I'm going to give you a dot. Take a guess and try to place the dot inside the circle.
  4. Give a dot to the Performer. Wait while he or she places the dot.
  5. Remain silent after the Performer completes the task. Don't tell the Performer how well she or he did.
  6. If the Performer asks, “How did I do?” or “Did I get the dot inside the circle?”, respond briefly in general terms “Yes”, “No”, or “The dot is touching the circle, but it is not inside.”
  7. If the Performer presses for details by asking questions such as “Am I close?” or “How far away am I?”, respond with specific information. For example, you could say, “Your dot is an inch to the left of the circle.”
  8. Tell the Performer that you have three more dots. Give them one at a time. If you are never asked for feedback, don't say anything. If you are asked for feedback, follow the instructions given above.
  9. After all four dots are placed on the sheet, have the Performer open her or his eyes and look at the results.


Serial Jolts

A jolt is a brief experiential activity that engages the participants and provides them surprising insights. All jolts last for less than 5 minutes and they are followed by debriefing discussions to maximize the learning outcomes.

Serial jolts involve several activities that are related to each other. Each jolt in the series is debriefed before the next jolt is conducted.

Types of Serial Jolts

Same principle, different contexts

While participants receive brilliant insights through a jolt, very few of them are able to apply what they learned from a single jolt to similar real-world situations. Serial jolts provide repeated and varied practice.

Here's an example: Six Tiles uses serial jolts to increase participants' awareness of unnecessary assumption they make while solving problems. The first jolt involves displaying six tiles, each with three letters:


The participants are asked to rearrange the tiles to spell three words. This puzzle is solved easily:


The jolts that follow are of the same type and they all begin with the presentation of six tiles of three letters. However, each jolt traps participants into making a different type of unnecessary assumption such as all tiles have to be used, the resulting words must be in English, the tiles may not be rotated, each tile must be used only once, there should be a space between words, and so on. By the time participants experience these fast-paced jolts, they become justifiably paranoid about the assumptions they are mindlessly making in solving common problems.

Different principles, similar contexts

This type of serial jolt emphasizes the point that the strategy that worked for solving one problem may not work with other problems. Here is an example of a serial jolt called Hasty, which warns people against falling into a rut.

During the first jolt, participants are presented with these words:

They are asked to rearrange the seven letters in these two words to spell one word. After some serious thinking, most participants discover the solution: RENEWED.

Participants are given these two words:
and the same instructions.

After several frustrating attempts, most participants give up. The facilitator reveals this solution
which literally complies with the instructions.

During the debriefing discussion, the facilitator points out that what worked before may not work now.

Controlling contextual factors

This type of serial jolt involves using the same basic set up with minor variation. This enables participants to realize how a change in one of the factors influences behaviors and outcomes.

Here's an example: In Team Poker, each participant is given a random playing card. Within a 3-minute time limit, participants are asked to team up in groups of five with the best poker hand. During the second jolt, players receive a new random playing card and given the same task. However, in this round, each member of the winning team receives a $5 cash award. The third round is similar to the second one except members of the winning team receive different amounts as cash awards.

Dividing up a length simulation

Very often a lengthy simulation can be divided into a series of shorter jolts. This strategy permits just-in-time debriefing discussions at the end of each phase of the activity. For example, if a team activity in a simulation involves planning, implementing, and improving the process, we may divide the simulation into three related jolts each ending with an appropriate debriefing discussion.

Words of Caution

Serial jolts may also present some special challenges. Here are a couple of things to watch out for:

Using a series of entrapment jolts may frustrate the participants and make them feel you are torturing them. They may grow hostile and impatient and scream, “We get the point. Why don't you leave us alone?” The best action at this stage is to leave them alone. Just summarize what the other jolts involve and how other participants usually behave. This permits your participants to learn vicariously without frustrating themselves.

When you divide a lengthy simulation game into a series of jolts, each jolt may not have a clear-cut conclusion. Participants may want to find out who won the jolt. They may also be eager to move on to the next logical phase of the activity without the delay of participating in a debriefing discussion. So it is important for you make each jolt a self-contained activity with a logical ending.

In spite of these limitations, when used appropriately, serial jolts can be more effective than single jolts or lengthy simulations.

Jolt 2

Team Planning

Here's a jolt that explores how people plan to complete team projects.


Participants are introduced to a novel task of solving micro-sudoku puzzles. They are asked to plan an efficient procedure for solving this type of puzzles while working in teams. During the debriefing discussion, elements of different plans are compared.


To explore how teams plan for completing a challenging activity.

Training Topics

Team planning. Teamwork. Planning for novel tasks. Brainstorming. Decisionmaking.


Six or more. Best number is 12 to 30.


3 minutes for the activity. 3 to 10 minutes for debriefing.


How To Solve Micro-Sudoku Puzzles, one copy for the facilitator



Read the handout, How To Solve Micro-Sudoku Puzzles. Become familiar with solving this type of puzzle.

Draw this micro-sudoku puzzle on a flip chart:

4x4 grid with numbers in some cells


This is a safe planning exercise.


Brief the players. Ask how many participants have experience solving sudoku puzzles. Tell participants that most people are familiar with the 9 x 9 sudoku grids. In this activity, you are going to use an easier 4 x 4 micro sudoku grid.

Explain how to solve the puzzle. Use the micro-sudoku grid that you prepared on the flip chart paper. Explain that the puzzle is solved by placing the numbers 1 to 4, one number in each box so that each column, each row, and each 2 x 2 area includes all four numbers. Using a felt pen of a different color, ask participants to help you solve the puzzle.

Organize participants into teams. Organize participants into teams of 2-5 members. (It does not matter if a few teams have one more member than the others.)

Explain the team challenge. Tell participants that they will receive a set of 30 micro-sudoku puzzles. Working as a team, they should solve as many sudoku puzzles as possible. However, before they begin dong that, the teams should spend 3 minutes planning the best way for them to undertake the task.

Conduct the planning activity. Set the countdown timer for 3 minutes and start it. Ask the teams to plan their puzzle-solving strategy. Remind them that they have 3 minutes for this planning activity.

Conclude the planning activity. Blow the whistle at the end of 3 minutes to announce the end of the planning period. Randomly select a team and ask its spokesperson to present the highlights of the plan. Then ask the spokespersons from the other teams to present unique features of their plans.


Invite participants to comment upon the similarities and differences among the elements of different plans. Continue with discussion questions similar to these:

Learning Points

Different people have different approaches to planning.

Some people don't see any value in planning. They want to jump immediately into action.


Don't feel comfortable about explaining how to solve the puzzles? Make copies of the handout, How To Solve Micro-Sudoku Puzzles and distribute one copy to each participant. Give them some time to read the handout and figure out how to solve the puzzles.

Field Notes

When we use this jolt as a stand-alone activity, some participants feel disappointed because they do not get to solve the puzzle. So it is good idea to follow up with the next jolt that involves solving mini-sudoku puzzles. However, don't skip the debriefing activity; it produces interesting insights into people's reactions to planning.

Handout 2

How To Solve Micro-Sudoku Puzzles

Sudoku puzzles, with their 9 x 9 grids, keep showing up everywhere: books, in-flight magazines, newspapers, and websites. If you are frightened of these puzzles or worried about becoming addicted to them and wasting your time, we have just the thing for you: micro-sudoku puzzles with 4 x 4 grids.

Here's a sample micro-sudoku puzzle:

4x4 grid with 5 cells filled with numbers

To solve the puzzle, you have to place the numbers 1 through 4 in each of the blank boxes in such a way that each number appears only once in each column, each row, and each 2 x 2 block (surrounded by thicker lines).

Given this requirement, you can logically solve the puzzle. However, if you want some help, you can watch me as I figure out the placement of the some of the numbers. In the following step-by-step progression, figure out how I placed in the number in the gray box:

4x4 grid with 6 cells filled with numbers

4x4 grid with 7 cells filled with numbers

4x4 grid with 8 cells filled with numbers

4x4 grid with 9 cells filled with numbers

You should be able to figure out the rest of the grid. Here's the final solution:

Fully solved 4x4 micro-sudoku grid

Jolt 3


Here's a jolt that explores how people work together to complete team projects. This jolt is a follow up activity to the earlier jolt, Team Planning.


Participants work in teams and solve as many micro-sudoku puzzles as possible within 2 minutes.


To explore how teams work together to complete a challenging activity.

Training Topics

Teamwork. Implementing plans. Collaboration.


Six or more. Best number is 12 to 30.


2 minutes for the activity. 5 to 10 minutes for debriefing.


A collection of 30 Micro-Sudoku puzzles (12KB PDF), one copy for each participant


Prior Activity

Conduct the earlier jolt, Team Planning, and debrief the participants before conducting this jolt.


This is a safe team-based exercise.


Distribute the puzzles. Give a copy the handout with 30 micro-sudoku puzzles to each participant, with the printed side facing down. Ask participants not to look at the puzzles until you announce the beginning of the puzzle-solving activity.

Brief the participants. Tell them that they have 2 minutes to work as a team to solve as many different puzzles as possible. Explain that working as a team does not require all team members to participate in solving each puzzle.

Conduct the puzzle-solving activity. Set the countdown timer for 2 minutes and start it. Tell the teams to begin solving the puzzles. Remind them that they have 3 minutes for this activity.

Conclude the puzzle-solving activity. Blow the whistle after 2 minutes to announce the end of the puzzle-solving period. Ask each team to count the total number of puzzles solved by its members and announce this total. Identify the team that solved the most puzzles and congratulate its members.


Conduct a discussion with the participants by asking questions similar to these:

Learning Points

Very few plans can withstand the impact with reality.

It is good to spend time in planning activities, but it is bad to be completely controlled by a plan.

Plans must be implemented in a flexible fashion to make use of new opportunities.


Do you want to use this as a stand-alone jolt? If you want to skip the previous jolt (Team Planning), make copies of the handout, How To Solve Micro-Sudoku Puzzles and distribute one copy to each participant. Give them a couple of minutes to read the handout and figure out how to solve the puzzles. Then distribute the puzzle sheets and get them started on solving them.

Field Notes

The number of different puzzles solved by teams of five members ranges from 6 to 10. The current record is 16 different puzzles. So don't worry about teams running out of puzzles to solve during the 2 minute period.

Say It Quick

Reprinted from the February 2010 issue of Firefly News Flash by permission of the author.

Culture Crash
by Brian Remer

Learn about the way your brain controls your mind—and, beginning with this 99-Word story, the unexpected consequences that might result.

Culture Crash

After two years of driving in the congested, chaotic traffic of Ecuador, my wife could not adjust to the traffic patterns at home. The high speed weaving and dodging that was an effective strategy abroad was downright dangerous in the US. Behind the wheel, she found it difficult to change her habits.

Here was a reminder of how easily we adopt the culture we find ourselves in. With enough exposure, nearly any behavior becomes “normal.”

Do we make conscious decisions about the cultural elements that surround us? Do we shape organizational culture or let ourselves be shaped?


Reprinted from the February 2010 issue of Firefly News Flash by permission of the author.

Think Plastic
by Brian Remer

Your brain is plastic. It's not made of plastic, of course, but it behaves as if were. That's the term author Norman Doidge repeatedly uses in his book, The Brain That Changes Itself, to talk about the amazing physical adaptations the human brain makes. By plastic, Doidge means that our brains can easily and quickly adapt to new demands. And those adaptations happen physically, on the cellular level, resulting in new neurons and ever more intricate synaptic connections between them.

This plasticity accounts for the brain's ability to recover functions that have been lost as a result of a stroke or other injury. But plasticity also accounts for the difficulty we experience in trying to change a bad habit because habits are literally molded into the very structure of our brain. Doidge gives equal evidence for both the positive and negative effects of brain plasticity.

Plasticity in Action:

“Imagining an act engages the same motor and sensory programs that are involved in doing it. … Each thought alters the physical state of your brain synapses at a microscopic level.” p. 212

In one organization, workers who support people who are blind live with their eyes cut off from all light during their training period. In as little as one week's time, their occipital lobes show evidence of rewiring to take on other functions.

People who have had a stroke are often able to retrain their brains so that some of the processing of the damaged area is distributed to other areas of the brain.

Physical exercise actually creates brain stem cells. Learning helps new neurons live longer. Combine exercise and learning and you have a recipe for promoting brain health into old age. P. 253

Watch a lot of TV and your brain will rewire itself to adapt to the abrupt changes that have been written into the TV programming to occur several times a minute. For young children especially, this results in symptoms similar to Attention Deficit Disorder.

On one hand, it's not surprising why we behave certain ways. We know that old habits are hard to break, that if you surround yourself with negativity you'll become a more negative thinker, and that if you really want to learn something well, you have to practice. But this book gives a physiological reason for these experiences. It explains that all of our experiences create changes in the cellular structure of our brain and that those physical changes, because they affect our emotions, memories, and perceptions, actually begin to change our reality.

The book is The Brain that Changes Itself by Norman Doidge, M.D. Penguin Books, 2007. ISBN 978-0-670-03830-5 .


Reprinted from the February 2010 issue of Firefly News Flash by permission of the author.

Brain Culture
by Brian Remer

One principle Doidge often refers to is the “use-it-or-lose-it” quality of the brain. This means that whether we are talking about neuronal connections or whole areas of the brain, whatever is used becomes stronger. If an area or connection is not used for a particular function, it will be “lost” to that function and used for something else. Similarly, if we put more energy into using certain connections or brain areas, they will become stronger and even more specialized for that purpose.

An interesting example of this is the sum total of our world view, or culture. We create our culture as a people but as individuals, we learn our culture from family, friends, society, and so forth. Our brains create culture but culture also molds and creates our brain. Doidge explains that when people were asked to recall pictures of undersea wildlife, those from individualistic cultures talked about specific fish and what they did. People from collectivistic cultures described groups of fish and how they interacted with the whole environment. In addition, each group used a different region of their brain to describe what they were recalling. Individualistic and collectivistic cultures actually wire the brain to see the world a certain way.

As we learn a culture, we teach our brain to see the world a very specific way and our brain responds by changing its structure. It then becomes a finely tuned instrument for interpreting the world from that cultural perspective. As long as you stay in your own culture, you'll be fine. But in a new culture, what was once adaptive can become counterproductive or even dangerous! This month's 99-Word story is a case where my wife had been so successful at molding her brain for Ecuador that she had trouble making a reconnect for the U.S. format.

For another example of the challenges involved in reprograming one's brain for another culture, see the February/March 2009 issue of the Firefly News Flash. If it reminds you of your own challenges in personal brain restructuring, please share your story (email Brian)!


Reprinted from the February 2010 issue of Firefly News Flash by permission of the author.

Rearrange Your Brain
by Brian Remer

The function of an arm or leg muscle is to move your body. Muscles grow by doing what they do best: moving. The function of your brain is to think. It grows by doing what it does best: thinking.

Here's a game to grow your brain by challenging culturally wired assumptions. Can You Explain It? is based on what's called the fundamental attribution error, which is the tendency to hold onto one's first conclusion about a situation rather than testing for alternative explanations.

This is how we'll play. I'll give you an observation in the form of a statement. You think of an explanation for it. Then click to get the answer and your score. As you play, see if you can stretch you synaptic connections to invent answers that are more varied and inventive while staying within generally accepted standards of reality (no Klingons or paranormal phenomena, please!)

Can You Explain It?

Observation #1: A married woman goes to a single man's apartment two nights of every week for three hours. What's your explanation? Click for your score.

Observation #2: Two police officers visit your next-door neighbor's house. What's your explanation? Click for your score.

Observation #3: A person smelling of stale liquor is buying aspirin at 6 a.m. What's your explanation? Click for your score.

Observation #4: When you get home you find your brother's car is dented in on the right side. What's your explanation? Click for your score.

Observation #5: You see a man chasing a woman down an alley. What is your explanation? Click for your score.

Observation #6: A teenager carrying a heavy backpack runs out the door of a convenience store. What's your explanation? Click for your score.

Observation #7: Two clean-cut young men wearing dark slacks and white shirts ring your doorbell. What's your explanation? Click for your score.

Observation #8: It's dinnertime and the phone rings. A pleasant person on the line asks for you but mispronounces your name. What's your explanation? Click for your score.

Observation #9: Last week a mechanic fixed the vibration in your car's front end. Now you feel the vibration again. What's your explanation? Click for your score.

Observation #10: Your boss and the director of personnel are moving boxes out of your friend's office. What's your explanation? Click for your score.

Observation #11: You are driving down the street when a car in a side driveway suddenly cuts in front of you. What's your explanation? Click for your score.

Observation #12: You're sitting in the airport waiting for a flight. When you reach for your newspaper, the person next to you is reading it. What's your explanation? Click for your score.

How well did you score, and more importantly, what did you learn?

Did you enjoy playing Can You Explain It? Did you rearrange any brain cells? If so, please let me know (email Brian) and help me rearrange some of mine!

Zurich Workshops

Two Workshops in Switzerland

Van den Bergh Thiagi Associates are happy to offer their annual workshops in Winterthur, Switzerland (near Zurich).

Workshop 1: Interactive Training Strategies

June 7-9, 2010 (three days)

This workshop is designed for trainers, instructional designers, facilitators, managers, and performance consultants. The workshop helps a wide range of practitioners, from newcomers to experienced specialists, to master skills and concepts related to different types of training games, simulations, and learning exercises.

This workshop practices what it preaches. Participants learn new principles and procedures and apply them to creating and conducting different types of learning activities that meet their training objectives, audiences, and needs.

Workshop 2: Evidence-Based Positive Psychology Activities

June 10-11, 2010 (two days)

This workshop is designed for trainers who want to incorporate innovative concepts and approaches from positive psychology and for people who want to improve the quality of their personal and professional life.

In this workshop, Thiagi offers two dozen proven and powerful activities from positive psychology and supports them with a conceptual framework. You learn how to measure, increase, and sustain your happiness. You also learn how to help other people to be more positive and improve their health and productivity. This is not an inspirational touchy-feely seminar but a workshop that incorporates evidence-based facts, concepts, and techniques.

See the brochure (1.3meg PDF) for more information.

Chicago Workshops

We Are Ready for Your Registration
by Tracy Tagliati

Interactive Techniques for Instructor-Led Training, a 3-day workshop conducted by Thiagi and Tracy, is scheduled for July 26-28 in Chicago, Illinois.

A 1-day certification workshop (that licenses you to conduct this workshop) will be held on July 29, 2010.

If you register now, you save $370 for the 3-day workshop and $125 for the 1-day certification program.

Here are some additional details about these workshops. You can also download a detailed brochure (298k PDF).


Courtyard by Marriott Chicago Downtown/Magnificent Mile ( )
165 E Ontario Street
Chicago, IL 60611

Telephone: (312) 573-0800

Registration Fees

3-Day Workshop (July 26-28): $1,495.

1-Day Certification Workshop (July 29): $495.

Early Bird Discount

If you register before May 11, 2010

Group Discount

Groups of three or more who enroll at the same time will get a 15 percent reduction of their registration fees.

Two Easy Ways to Register

Online. Visit our online store at and click on “Workshops: 2010”. (You will automatically be given the early bird discounted fee.)

Telephone. Call (812) 332-1478.

What You Get for Your Registration Fee

3-Day ITILT Workshop

1-Day Certification Workshop

More Information

Please download our detailed brochure (298k PDF).


Scores for Rearrange Your Brain

Can You Explain It? Observation # 1

If your answer was similar to… Give yourself…
The two are having an affair. 0 points
She is his cleaner. 1 point
She is his mother and is caring for him while he is sick. 2 points
He is a music teacher and she goes there for piano lessons. 3 points
(Any answer that is more creative.) 4 points

Back to the next observation

Can You Explain It? Observation # 2

If your answer was similar to… Give yourself…
The police officers are questioning your neighbors about some dreadful crime they have committed. 0 points
The police officers are visiting the house because the neighbors are their friends. 1 point
The neighbors are, themselves, police officers. 2 points
The police officers are asking questions about YOU! 3 points
(Any answer that is more creative.) 4 points

Back to the next observation

Can You Explain It? Observation # 3

If your answer was similar to… Give yourself…
The person was out partying all night and has a headache as a result. 0 points
The person is buying aspirin for their partner who has the flu. 1 point
The person works in Johnny's Blues Bar and has just finished the late shift. 2 points
The person spilled a bottle of rum when trying to reach the breakfast cereal bumped their head on the open cupboard and are looking for a remedy. 3 points
(Any answer that is more creative.) 4 points

Back to the next observation

Can You Explain It? Observation # 4

If your answer was similar to… Give yourself…
Your brother just had an accident. 0 points
The car has always been like that for several days and you never noticed. 1 point
Old VW's always look like that. It's the same on the other side. 2 points
The car is full of rust. This was bound to happen. 3 points
(Any answer that is more creative.) 4 points

Back to the next observation

Can You Explain It? Observation # 5

If your answer was similar to… Give yourself…
You are witnessing a case of domestic violence. 0 points
She is a shoplifter; he is a plain-clothes officer. 1 point
They are trying to catch their dog. 2 points
The two are practicing for a marathon. 3 points
(Any answer that is more creative.) 4 points

Back to the next observation

Can You Explain It? Observation # 6

If your answer was similar to… Give yourself…
The teenager just robbed the store. 0 points
The teenager is late for class. 1 point
The teenager is a track star and runs everywhere. 2 points
The store is on fire. 3 points
(Any answer that is more creative.) 4 points

Back to the next observation

Can You Explain It? Observation # 7

If your answer was similar to… Give yourself…
They are proselytizing for a religious group. 0 points
They are asking for directions. 1 point
They are canvassing the neighborhood for a voter registration effort. 2 points
They are members of the high school choral group with information about their next performance. 3 points
(Any answer that is more creative.) 4 points

Back to the next observation

Can You Explain It? Observation # 8

If your answer was similar to… Give yourself…
It's a telemarketer interrupting your dinner. 0 points
It's your Malaysian friend who always mispronounces your name. 1 point
It's a call from your friend, a practical joker always giving you a hard time. 2 points
You are waiting outside a popular restaurant and the hostess is calling on your cell phone to tell you your table is ready. 3 points
(Any answer that is more creative.) 4 points

Back to the next observation

Can You Explain It? Observation # 9

If your answer was similar to… Give yourself…
The mechanic did a poor job. 0 points
You recently drove through wet, muddy roads and mud is now caked onto the suspension system. 1 point
You are driving over those bumpy warning strips in the road. 2 points
Your teenager damaged the tires while learning to parallel park. 3 points
(Any answer that is more creative.) 4 points

Back to the next observation

Can You Explain It? Observation # 10

If your answer was similar to… Give yourself…
Your friend just got fired. 0 points
Your friend got a promotion and is moving to another part of the building. 1 point
Your boss has decided not to keep company documents in your friend's office any longer. 2 points
The boxes should have been delivered to the personnel director's office. 3 points
(Any answer that is more creative.) 4 points

Back to the next observation

Can You Explain It? Observation # 11

If your answer was similar to… Give yourself…
The driver is an aggressive, rage-filled road warrior. 0 points
The sun was in the driver's eyes so they didn't see you. 1 point
The driver is inexperienced using a clutch. 2 points
The car was hit from behind and was pushed into your lane. 3 points
(Any answer that is more creative.) 4 points

Back to the next observation

Can You Explain It? Observation # 12

If your answer was similar to… Give yourself…
The person has stolen your newspaper. 0 points
The person thought the paper had been abandoned. 1 point
The person thought the paper belonged to their friend. 2 points
The paper belongs to the other person. Yours is still in your carry-on! 3 points
(Any answer that is more creative.) 4 points

Back to Rearrange Your Brain

Single Topic Survey

Multitasking: Focusing Our Attention on Attention
by Tracy Tagliati

Participants' minds have always had the ability to wander, but now it is happening at warp speed. This is due in large part by the deluge of electronic devices that have become indispensable social accessories. It's not uncommon to have a participant in a workshop who is alternating between listening to you, texting her friends on the iPhone, and searching for something on Google.

Some people confidently think they are accomplishing more in their day, and get a buzz out of multi-tasking. Others believe that multitasking has its limitations and might actually slow you down.

How about you?

Poll Question

Are you a multitasker?


(The poll opens in a new window.)

Do you think multitasking is more productive than focusing on one thing at a time?


(The poll opens in a new window.)

Open Question

What do you think are the advantages and disadvantages of multitasking?


(The survey opens in a new window.)

Send us your thoughts and ideas. You may choose to include your name along with your response, or if you prefer, keep it anonymous.

We asked this question during a recent workshop, and here's what a few participants had to say:

Emma: The problem with multitasking is that when people appear to be able to do more, their managers expect them to do more. Sometimes that becomes difficult to maintain.

Brian: I think multitasking varies from one person to another. Some people seem to be better at in than others. I let my participants judge for themselves which kind of learner they are.

Erin: I have made peace with this new world of skimming and multitasking. I think that with more practice our brains are getting better at making conceptual connections across a wide variety of domains.

Jonathan: I think there's a time when it is important to focus on just one thing and there's a time when multi-tasking is OK. I turn off everything when I am doing my taxes or writing a report. But when I am downloading a large file, or updating my Itunes, I will probably also be checking out Facebook.

Dina: Try this test and then tell me if you think multi-tasking is a good thing. Recite the letters A through J as fast as possible, and then the numbers 1 through 10. If you timed yourself you probably noticed that each of those tasks takes about three seconds. Now, interweave the two recitations as fast as you can: “A, 1, B, 2,” and so on. Does that take six seconds? No. If you are like most people, it probably took you 20 to 30 seconds, and even then you probably made some mistakes.

Survey Results

by Tracy Tagliati

Last month we asked you if you regularly evaluate your training activities.

Here's how you responded:

No: 22% Yes: 78%
(Percentages reflect votes received by March 23, 2010.)

We also asked you what obstacles you face when evaluating a training activity and how you handle them.

We had some great responses. Here's what some of you had to say:

Response 2) My own prejudices.

I handle them by remembering that all participants and groups are perfect…

except the ones that dislike my activities!

Response 14) There should be no training without proper evaluation. The evaluation begins up front with the objectives to the training. When writing proper objectives of “why” you are having to have a training (i.e. What is the business problem you are trying to solve) and you answer it with numbers (such as reduce cost, increase # of participants, reduce attrition %, etc) you can then evaluate current state numbers and future state numbers, at least at level 2 or 3 of the Kirkpatrick or Phillips Models.

Response 5) I have a hard time getting buy-in from other stakeholders. Additionally, I have a hard time with people making misinformed decisions based on my data. I'm collecting data for managers higher up the totem-pole than me, and they misinterpret the data and misrepresent it. I also have a hard time with my organization dismissing all qualitative data and only accepting the quantitative data. But the culture is slowly changing.

Response 7) Obstacle: My own fears (what if I am found to be lacking) But I tell myself, it is better to know now rather than later.

And then fears from the clients, who also don't want to rock the boat.

See more of the reader's responses or add your own.

Thank you for your responses.

Thiagi Podcasts

New Podcast Episodes
by Matthew Richter

Since the last TGL, we have uploaded four new episodes: two for our Training Intelligence Podcast and two for the Business Intelligence Podcast. All podcasts can be subscribed or listened to from either iTunes or at . Feel free to send Matt any feedback or suggestions at .

Training Intelligence

Episode 4: Who Is Thiagi?
In this special episode, Thiagi talks about how he became a trainer and instructional designer. He shares with Matt some anecdotes about moving to the United States from India and some perilous time in Africa. Learn how Thiagi created a whole class of car thieves during his first custom simulation, and find out why Thiagi is so passionate about what he does.

Episode 5: Rapid Instructional Design
In this episode, Thiagi explains Rapid Instructional Design (RID) and how it is a faster, cheaper, and better way to create and facilitate learning. He uses Matt as a faux client, role playing how he designs so quickly. He also answers many of the popular concerns surrounding RID.

Business Intelligence

Episode 3: Laurie Orlov: Aging in Place and Why Businesses Should Care
In our third episode, Founder and Principal Analyst Laurie Orlov of the Aging in Place Watch is our guest. Laurie explains how we are approaching a $20 Billion market for products and services that help seniors stay in their homes as they age. She discusses why companies should pay attention to the risks of employees having to manage the impact of elder care. And, she highlights other aging issues beyond the technological ones that affect businesses.

Episode 4: Rick Nelson: Recruiting and the Job Markets
In our fourth episode, recruiting expert Rick Nelson joins Matt for a conversation about how the recession really affected the job markets (hint—you already know the answer, but here are some details), the recovery and when it will hit employment, how companies look at prospective candidates, and how a candidate should approach getting a job.