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

Guest Gamer
An Interview with Dr. Clue
Hunting treasures for fun and profit.

Encouraging Participation in Debriefing by Roger Greenaway
More practical tips from Roger.

Book Review
The Systems Thinking Playbook: Exercises to Stretch and Build Learning and Systems Thinking Capabilities by Linda Booth Sweeney & Dennis Meadows
A special deal from Dennis Meadows.

Calculator Game
Triple Nine
How logical are you?

Web Game
Differences: an online Hangman game.
Can you guess the differences that make a difference?

Event Alert
Intercultural Comptence for Practitioners and Trainers (ICPT)
See you in Switzerland?

Pithy Saying
Advice to Facilitators
Stop being a control freak.





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

Editorial Roster

Editor: Sivasailam (Thiagi) Thiagarajan

Assistant Editor: Raja Thiagarajan

Editorial Advisory Board: Bill Wake, Les Lauber, Matt Richter, and <type your name here>

Copyright Info

The materials in this newsletter are copyright 2005 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 PLAY FOR PERFORMANCE. Copyright © 2005 by The Thiagi Group, Inc.

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

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All registered subscribers receive Play For Performance free of charge.

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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!

Guest Gamer

This column features interviews with outstanding designers and users of interactive experiential activities. This month's guest gamer, David Blum (Dr. Clue), was born in the San Francisco Bay Area. He has always been a game and puzzle enthusiast. After receiving his BA in English from Pomona College (in Southern California), he pursued brief careers in teaching, tourism and non-profits. Then, around 1995, he turned his attention to corporate training and went on to create his signature game/simulation, the Dr. Clue Treasure Hunt.

An Interview with Dr. Clue

PFP: Dr. Clue, what would you say is your specialty area?

Dr. Clue: My specialty is teambuilding—all the various puzzles of communication and organization that go into creating high performance teams.

PFP: How did you get into designing and using games?

Dr. Clue: Early in the 90s, I had a chance to take part in a large, public treasure hunt game in San Francisco. I loved the puzzles and the searching for mystery locations in real neighborhoods. But mostly, I was fascinated with the human dynamics taking place on my team. Like many inventors, I thought to myself, “I could do this better.” And that's what I've tried to do ever since then.

PFP: How long have you been designing and using games?

Dr. Clue: I've certainly been playing games since I was a kid. I used to get together with my buddy Mike nearly every afternoon to play whatever was our current addiction: Monopoly, Sorry, Life, Stratego, Battleship, Gin Rummy, and Chess. I think all that game playing just sort of sunk in.

PFP: Where do you use games?

Dr. Clue: Primarily I use games in my corporate teambuilding seminars. There is, of course, my teambuilding treasure hunt. I also use a variety of jolts and icebreakers. Pretty much, for every module of my training sessions, I keep things active and have people play and debrief games.

PFP: How do your clients respond?

Dr. Clue: My clients tend to love my games. In fact, they hire me because they're looking for my kind of offering on the web. They expect a great game, and I try to give it to them, with a strong emphasis on the learning points and outcomes they request from me.

PFP: How do your participants respond?

Dr. Clue: I believe that there's something almost irresistible about a treasure hunt, in whatever form it takes. First off, you're exploring a truly basic human urge that goes back to Homer's Odyssey and beyond. Second, you are solving puzzles and codes which really engages the mind. Finally, you get to see some really cool real-world locations that ordinary sightseeing might have missed. When you pair an almost automatically engaging activity with a multi-faceted teambuilding workshop, it's really hard to mess it up. Even the skeptics usually come up to me afterwards and say, “That was better than I expected.”

PFP: What advice do you have to newcomers about designing and using games?

Dr. Clue: First design a terrific game that is really unique. Put loving care and ingenuity into it and keep it simple. Too much complexity or too many rules can scare off all but the hardest-core gamers. Play test the game a number of times and leave ample time for comments from your participants.

When using the game, resist the urge to guide people towards “success”. Struggling with the game, often with strong positive or negative emotions, results in the most impactful learning. So stay out of the way, be a fly on the wall, and trust that your well-designed game will run itself.

To get acceptance [about] games, point out that people learn best by doing. Games permit people to let their hair down, so they provide a powerful way to unearth participants' default patterns of behavior. Games are also safe, which permits a great deal of experimentation. And because games are fun, people will often be willing to relive the experience during the debriefing.

PFP: What do you think is the most important characteristic of an effective facilitator?

Dr. Clue: A facilitator needs to specify the expected outcomes and get participants' buy-in. A facilitator also needs to resist the urge to control the game, letting it run its course. A facilitator needs to be a little forceful, guiding people on an interesting journey with confidence and with an eye on the objectives. And most of all, a facilitator needs to end the activity right on time!

PFP: What is the most important characteristic of an effective training game?

Dr. Clue: The training game should have a beginning, middle, and end. It should have a learning period, a chance for mastery, and also a “twist” that keeps people on their toes. It should have at least a couple of “aha” moments. The rules should be fairly simple and clear. And everything you do in the game should be for an instructional purpose.

PFP: What is the most important characteristic of a receptive participant?

Dr. Clue: A receptive participant should enter into the game with an open mind and a willingness to go all out. At the same time, she should also be willing to participate in the final discussion. If the facilitator treats participants with respect, lets them know the relevance of each module, expresses expectations clearly and gets buy-in, the participant usually has the right environment for receptivity.

PFP: What is one thing that you dislike the most about a facilitator?

Dr. Clue: I don't like a facilitator who talks too much. Facilitators ought to be presenting the activity and asking questions—and focusing on active learning.

PFP: What is one thing that you dislike the most about a training game?

Dr. Clue: When the game is too complex, especially in terms of intricate mathematical computation. So many games in involve score pads, chips, and complex formulae for calculating ways to get more chips. If it's too complex, there's no chance to formulate any strategy at all.

PFP: What is one thing that you dislike the most about a participant?

Dr. Clue: I don't like a participant who has a closed mind about the activity and seeks to sabotage the experience for others.

PFP: What types of games do you use most frequently?

Dr. Clue: I mostly use my signature treasure hunt game, which consists of clues leading to mystery locations.

PFP: What is your favorite game?

Dr. Clue: Besides treasure hunts, I love Boggle and crossword puzzles. I also like all kinds of word game.

PFP: Do you have any book recommendations?

Dr. Clue: I love two of Alfie Kohn's books, No Contest: The Case against Competition and Punished by Rewards. I also recommend Martin Seligman's classic Learned Optimism.

PFP: What is your prediction about the future of games?

Dr. Clue: For better or for worse, people's attention spans are getting shorter and shorter. Video games are no doubt a factor. As trainers, we will have to move away from lecture and more and more towards active learning. Games will continue to thrive in this environment—as long as we design and make great games and deliver them skillfully.


Encouraging Participation in Debriefing
by Roger Greenaway

In the December 2004 issue of Play for Performance, Roger Greenaway introduced seven strategies for encouraging participation in debriefing (investigate, facilitate, clarify, demonstrate, change, consult, and inspire) and explored the first strategy in detail. In the previous issue, he explored the next two strategies, facilitate and clarify. This month, he continues with the next two strategies:


People may expect to learn simply by taking part in activities and just listening to discussions. People may not fully appreciate why their participation in the debriefing discussions is important, especially if this is a new way of learning for them. You can urge people with slogans like “The more you put in the more you get out.” But it is far more convincing (and easier to understand) if you can involve group members in an active and credible demonstration of how experience-based learning works.

Use blindfolds and observers. One of the most effective (and fun) ways of demonstrating the value of debriefing is to set up a team of observers watching a group carry out a task blindfolded. At debriefing time, the people who were blindfolded are keen to find out what was happening that they didn't see. Feedback can be one-to-one if half of the group members are given the role of observers. After this debrief, ask people to swap roles and set up a new task for the blindfolded people to complete. After the second review, everyone will be asking questions and giving answers. To put the icing on the cake explain that all the exercises on your session are in a sense “blindfold” projects because no one ever sees the full picture. By sharing thoughts and observations we can all see and learn a lot more.

Use time-outs or process breaks. Another good way of explaining how experience-based learning works is to create a half-time break in a physical problem-solving exercise. Explain that this time-out is like half-time in a game of two halves, and that this break makes it easier for everyone to think about possible changes in strategy before going in to the second half. For some people, debriefing at half-time will make a lot more sense than debriefing when the game is over. When this is the case, encourage frequent process breaks rather than saving everything for a post-mortem at the end (when it is too late to make changes). Encourage groups to take time out from working on the task and to take a look at the process.

Conduct observation walk. One of my favorite introductions to how experience-based learning is to send a group on a short independent walk that I call Observation Project. The walk ends at a meeting place that is inspirational and makes people want to open their eyes wide and look around (such as a scenic viewpoint on top of a hill or a place beside some amazing piece of architecture). The debriefing at this point is a series of rounds in which people report one observation at a time. If prompting is needed, I ask people to comment on what they observed about the environment, about each other, and about themselves. I then point out how experience-based learning depends on the sharing of observations about things, others, and self. The more you open your eyes and your mouths, the more you will learn.


Create smaller groups. The size of the group can be critical during debriefing. People tend to speak up more in smaller groups, depending (of course) on the mix of people in each small group.

Create smaller groups of like-minded people. First ask a question that can be answered on a scale and define the two ends of the scale. For example: “If you think the quality of teamwork was brilliant stand at this end of the line. If you think teamwork was hopeless stand at the other end. Or find a point in between that fits your perception.” Before anyone moves, ask them to choose the point they are going to. Once in position on the line, people find themselves standing close to people with a similar opinion. They have found like-minded people on this issue. Divide people into triads and give them 5 minutes to prepare to report back to the whole group on why they chose their particular position.

Silence the louder group members. If you are not careful you will end up embarrassing the quieter members and upsetting the louder ones. So how you set up these ground rules is important. Say something like this: “I believe that everyone in this group will get much more value if the quieter members participate more. Do you share this belief?” Discuss any issues that arise in response. Then, if appropriate, say: “Sharing a similar belief is a good start. I have a few gimmicks that will help get you there more quickly. I'd like you to give them a try. But please speak up if you feel these gimmicks are getting in the way.”

Ask the group to form up in a line with the most frequent contributor at one end and the least frequent contributor at the other end. Compliment the two or three people at each part of the line:

Ask people to sit down in this new order, and in the discussion that follows always give those who normally contribute the least the first opportunity to speak. Explain that this is not pressure, but is an opportunity to have your say before everyone else takes the words out of your mouth. Check with the group from time to time if they are happy with this new seating arrangement and the new rule or if they would prefer to return to the original approach.

What Next?

Next month, Roger will explore the two final strategies (consult and inspire) for encouraging participation in debriefing. If you are in a hurry, you can read about all the strategies (and much more) by visiting .

Book Review

The Systems Thinking Playbook: Exercises to Stretch and Build Learning and Systems Thinking Capabilities by Linda Booth Sweeney & Dennis Meadows

Following Dennis Meadows' Guest Gamer interview last month, many readers wanted to know how to get a copy of his Systems Thinking Playbook (co-authored with Linda Booth Sweeney). We are happy to offer a special deal from Dennis Meadows to PFP readers.

A Quick Review of the Book

The book contains 30 short experiential activities or games related to systems thinking and organizational learning. These powerful games are classified into these areas of learning: mental models, team learning, systems, thinking, shared vision, and personal mastery. Each activity begins with a conceptual introduction, proceeds through step-by-step instructions, and concludes with questions, suggestions, and models for debriefing. Several games include a section called “Voices from the Field” with insightful reports from practitioners who have used the games in different contexts.

As many of my workshop participants point out, there is a big difference between reading about a game and watching it in action. The Playbook has a 2-hour long companion DVD that shows the authors conducting each game with a group of participants. Each video segment lasts for 2 to 5 minutes and captures the essence of the game.

A Special Deal

Note: The special deal expired on April 15, 2005. We are now negotiating to become a distributor for the book.

Calculator Game

Triple Nine

The key to such procedures as need analysis, market research, and evaluation is the ability to find patterns in available information, collect additional information, and come to logical conclusions. We devised a game with a pocket calculator to teach this type of logical thinking.

Here's the basic structure of the game: Your opponent enters a secret three-digit number in her calculator. You supply numbers to be added. Your opponent keeps a running total and tells you how many nines there are in the resulting totals. She also identifies another digit without revealing its position. Your goal is to reach the total of 999 with the least number of attempts.


To think logically and achieve a goal with the fewest moves.


Two. Larger numbers can be divided into pairs and play the game simultaneously.


5 minutes for each match. The game can be replayed any number of times.


Secret number. The first player enters a three-digit number (a number from 100 to 999) and tells her opponent that she is ready.

Cathy punches in her secret number 297, presses the plus key and says, “Ready!”

Add a number. The second player calls out a number that has one, two, or three digits. The first player adds this number to her original number. She then informs her opponent

John says, “Add 123.” Cathy does so and gets a total of 420. She says, “No nines and a four.”

Repeat. Continue the process of the second player calling out a number, the first player adding it to to the total, and giving information about nines and one other digit. Keep track of how many moves the second player takes.

John says, “Add 555,” hoping to change the four to a nine regardless of its position. Cathy adds the 555 and gets 975. She tells John, “One nine and a five.” This is the end of the second move.

Four digits. If the total goes over 999 any time during the play of the game, the first player returns to the previous total. She says, “Overflow!” and does not give any additional information. This is counted as a move.

John guesses that the nine is in the hundreds place, though he is not sure of the location of the five. To make the maximum use of the situation, he asks Cathy to add 44. When Cathy does this, she gets a total of 1019. So she presses the minus key, cancels the last addition, and says, “Overflow.” This is the end of the third move.

John is not upset because he has collected useful information. His hunch about the nine in the hundreds place is confirmed. He also figures out that the tens digit (the digit in the middle) is greater than five because only then could the total have gone over a thousand. Therefore, the five must be in the units place. He calls out, “Add four.” Cathy's total is now 979 and she responds with “Two nines and a seven.”

John has figured out the entire number now. To finish off the game, he say, “Add 20.” Cathy does so and announces “Three nines.” The first game ends in five moves.

Reverse roles. The game is played again with the roles reversed. The second player in the previous game now selects a secret number and the other player tries to tun it up to 999.

Here's the complete game when it is Cathy's turn to guess:

Move 1. Cathy begins by saying, “Add 123.” John does so and announces, “No nines and a one.”

Move 2. Cathy figures out that the one cannot be in the hundreds place because John began with a three-digit number and added 123. So the “1” has to be in the tens or units place. Cathy guesses the latter and says, “Add an eight.” John does the addition and says, “No nines and a two.”

Move 3. Cathy takes a moment to process this information. Since she did not get a nine, the units digit was not the one. It must have been in the tens place. Since the units digit wasn't a one, adding eight would have made it ten or more, so the tens place must have gone up to 2. To clinch this digit, Cathy says, “Add 70.” John reports “One nine and a three.”

Move 4. Where is this three? Since this is the fourth round, Cathy does not think it is in the hundreds place. So she says, “Add six.” Her guess was wrong. John says, “Still one nine and a three.”

Move 5. Apparenly the three was (and still is) in the hundreds place. Cathy says, “Add 600.” As she expected, she gets two nines and a six.

Move 6. Cathy has the entire number now. She says, “Add 3,” and gets her triple nines.

Match. Two games make a match. The player who gets the triple nine with the least number of moves wins the match.

Since Cathy needed six moves and John only five, John wins.

Web Game

Differences: an online Hangman game.

Hangman is a popular paper-and-pencil game for two people. In this game, you think of a word or a phrase and indicate the number of letters by drawing short blanks for each letter on a piece of paper. The other player tries to guess the word by calling out one letter at a time. If that letter appears in your word, you place it in the appropriate blank. (If it appears more than once, you place it in all appropriate blanks.)

The other player continues calling out new letters and you continue placing each letter in the correct blank. When the player guesses your word completely, she wins.

What if the other player calls out a letter that does not appear in your word? Then you start drawing lines to progressively to build a gallows and hang a stick figure.

The game ends when the other player wins (by correctly guessing your word) or loses (by calling out several incorrect letters and getting “hanged”).

Hangman and Concept Learning

Hangman is an effective tool for helping people master concepts.

For example, if I tell you that I am thinking of a typical de-motivating factor in the workplace, I am challenging you to recall several possible examples from this concept category. (Right now, your brain is probably thinking of such unpleasant things as boring assignments, bureaucracy, delays, excessive paperwork, lack of feedback, and lack of recognition.) As a trainer, I can use a Hangman as a preliminary activity to encourage participants to think of the concept category before explaining how to improve workplace motivation. Alternatively, I can use Hangman as a review activity to encourage you to recall main points from my lecture.

Web-Based Benefits

We have a web game shell that creates online versions of Hangman games. Here are advantages of playing Hangman online instead of playing it with a friend:


We have a web-based Hangman game for you to play. This game is from a diversity training workshop. Its purpose is to help participants recall different types of differences among people that makes a difference in the workplace.

In this game, the computer displays a question, followed by several blank answer circles. Each answer circle represents a letter in the correct answer. You must type the correct answer to each question before time runs out.

This is how you play the game:

Read the question. Guess the answer. Type a letter that is part of the answer. If you are right, then the letter appears in the appropriate answer circle. If this letter occurs more than once in the answer, it appears in every appropriate answer circle. You hear a positive sound. The corresponding letter in the list below on the screen turns green.

If you are wrong, the computer remembers it. You hear a negative sound. The corresponding letter in the list below turns red.

If you complete the answer correctly, it flashes, and your score goes up by 14 points, minus the number of mistakes you made on the current item. (If you don't make any mistakes on any items, you will get an overall score of 100 points.)

If you run out of time or make too many mistakes, the correct answer flashes.

In either case, the next question appears. Actually, it is the same question, but the answer is different.

The game ends after the seven questions.

Click “Play Again” to replay the game. You get different items in a different order.

You can play the question at different levels of difficulty. At Level 1, you are given a free letter. At Level 2, you do not have any free letters. At Level 3, you have to spell the answer correctly one letter at a time, from left to right.

Play Differences right now (requires Flash and JavaScript).

More About Web Game Shells

Web Games Shells are animated online games. We have a software program that enables you to create five different types of web games. You don't have a computer programmer to create these games. Just type the items (questions and answers or statements to be classified) on a template and click a couple of buttons. Your game is ready to play. You can play the game at your computer or upload it to your web site.

You can play different sample web games and read the Game Design Manuals and Instructional Design Tips by visiting the Web Game Shells area of our website.

While the games are effective and exciting by themselves, we blend them in our online learning approach called the Four-Door Approach to Elearning. You can take our free online course to learn (and experience) how to use the library, the playground, the café, and the torture chamber to provide effective and engaging online learning. To do this, visit Online Courses by Thiagi, click on the name of the course, and create a new account.

For more information about purchasing and using the Web Game Shells software, call Matt (415-385-7248) or Raja (812-332-1478).

Event Alert

Intercultural Comptence for Practitioners and Trainers (ICPT)

Intercultural Comptence for Practitioners and Trainers (ICPT)
April 25-30, 2005
Winterthur, Switzerland

If your job involves intercultural communication (whose job doesn't?), I'd like to invite you to the conference on Intercultural Competence for Practitioners and Trainers in Zurich during April 25th - 30th. This workshop, organized in cooperation with the Zurich University of Applied Sciences in Winterthur (Switzerland), features such well-known authorities as Milton and Janet Bennett, Anita Rowe, Lynn Witham, Peter Stadler, and Samuel van den Bergh.

I am conducting two workshops. One of them is Interactive Experiential Strategies for Cross-Cultural Training. The other one is Building High-performance Trans-cultural Teams; I am teaming up with my Swiss friend Samuel van Den Bergh to conduct this workshop.

In conjunction with the conference, I am also conducting an online workshop on Online Interactive Strategies for Virtual Teams.

Check out for more information about the conference (PDF file; requires Acrobat Reader).

Special Benefits

Airfare to Zurich is less expensive than to many US locations.

The workshop is held in Winterthur (which is close to Zurich and its airport), a city of culture and a gateway to a region of leisure ( ).

Pithy Saying

Advice to Facilitators

Don't be afraid of losing control.

Be very afraid of keeping control.

You cannot control your children—or your participants—for the rest of their lives. You cannot keep holding their hands, looking over their shoulders, and shouting instructions.

Of course, there is a time to guide and coach the learners. But true learning begins only when you let go the participants and encourage them to make mistakes. Trial and error is the preferred learning style of some learners. It is also the best way to learn certain skills, knowledge, and attitudes.

What makes us control freaks when it comes to training? Lack of trust. We don't trust ourselves enough to believe that we could efficiently train people. And we don't trust our participants enough to realize that they will practice on their own if we get out of their way.