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

New Year's Eve Debriefing
Report from a self-debriefing session.

Training Design
Faster, Cheaper, Better
You can have all three!

Tool Kit
Production Simulations
Learning by designing and producing.

Featured Activity
Give and Take
The secret of successful teamwork.

Guest Gamer
Interview with Deb Calderon
A scientific approach to training.

Science Demo
Potato Power by Deb Calderon
Get to the point.

Replace Smile Sheets with SPAM
It works better than writing a journal.

Book Review
Improving Personal Productivity
David Allen shows you how to get things done.

Another Virus?
One more funny-name story.

Sandwich Words Puzzle
It's in the middle.

A Funny Contest
Formula for a joke.

Contest Results
Puzzles from Our Readers
Solve these puzzles from twisted minds.

Pithy Saying
Inner Game of Work
Another paradox from M. C. Escher.





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, Julie England, and Les Lauber

Managing Editor: Brenda Mullin

Editorial Advisory Board: Andrew Kimball, David Gouthro, Diane Dormant, Kat Koppett, Matt Richter, Steve Sugar, and <type your name here>

Copyright Info

The materials in this newsletter are copyright 2002 by Workshops by Thiagi, Inc. 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 © 2002 by Workshops by Thiagi, Inc.

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

Subscription Info

All registered subscribers receive PLAY FOR PERFORMANCE free of charge.

However, to prevent us from becoming bankrupt, we have decided to adopt a Busker Protocol. If you like what you read, if you find it useful, and if you'd like us to continue publishing the newsletter, please feel free to chip in with any financial contribution. Our estimated annual cost for this newsletter is $30,000. So we suggest an annual contribution of $30 (which is less than one-third the subscription cost of Thiagi's earlier paper-based newsletter). We would appreciate any amount that you send us, but make sure it is less than $30,000 (since we don't want to make a profit). You can mail your check to Thiagi, 4423 East Trailridge Road, Bloomington, IN 47408 or call us at (812) 332-1478 to charge the amount to a credit card. Or you can charge your credit card online, through Workshops by Thiagi, Inc. Please let us know if you need an invoice for financial record keeping.

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!


New Year's Eve Debriefing

On New Year's Eve, I conducted a self-debriefing session, pretending that everything that happened in 2001 was an experiential exercise designed by the Game Overall Director for my personal and professional growth. Here are highlights from this debriefing session as related to the past and the future of Play for Performance.

Best wishes for a playful 2002 to all my readers.


Training Design

Faster, Cheaper, Better

Instructional designers have a favorite statement: You can have any two of these three: faster, cheaper, or better.

During the past 10 years of instructional design, I have discovered that it is possible to have all three (faster, cheaper, and better) by using unconventional strategies. My colleagues who have embraced these strategies agree with me. We all feel that faster, cheaper, and better are strongly associated with each other.

There is an obvious connection between faster and cheaper: Since the major cost of instructional design is directly related to the time spent by the designer and subject-matter experts, a faster project turns out to be a cheaper one also. But the connection between faster and better appears to be contradictory. Isn't faster usually associated with cutting corners and producing sloppy materials? But actual field results indicate that faster instructional design results in better results (as measured by improvement in learners' performance).

We are still trying to explain this paradoxical outcome. At present, here are a couple of guesses as to why this is happening:

Case Studies

The strategy that we use for producing faster, cheaper, and better training is not a procedural model, but a series of principles to be flexibly applied to each training context. Before exploring these principles, let's take a look at a few composite case studies based on our recent training-design projects.

Application Program. The training objective for this project was to use a proprietary application software program to create databases with specific fields and functions. We began this training design project by constructing the final performance test: You are given an in-basket folder with 20 dossiers. You have to create a database with a set of required fields and to populate it with information from the dossiers. You pass the test if you can print out a report that supplies a summary of the data in a specified format. We actually created six parallel versions of this performance test, each with different sets of information and specifications. During the training session, participant teams had access to reference manuals and videotaped demonstrations of the steps for designing specific database functions. Each team also had 45 minutes of targeted coaching from an expert. Teams were permitted to take the performance test twice for practice. Each test was different from the other and from the “real” final test administered to individual participants.

Java Programming. The training objective for this project was to enable participants to write a simple Java program. To design the training package, we used a modified version of the “extreme-programming” methodology borrowed from software engineering. An instructional designer (ID) and a subject-matter expert (SME) shared a single computer. The ID asked a series of questions (such as “What exactly will I be able to do at the end of this training session?”) and used the SME's responses to create the prototype instructional material. The SME and the ID took turns at the keyboard to write and revise the instructional material. They continued their interaction until both were satisfied with the quality of the material. Then they sent for a representative learner who had been lurking in the waiting room, reading back issues of People magazine. This learner tested the instructional material by working through it and completing each exercise, thinking aloud when stuck. Whenever this happened, the ID or the SME silently grabbed the keyboard and made appropriate revisions to the materials to see if the learner was able to proceed. At the end of the test session, the ID debriefed the learner (with questions such as, “What was the most difficult concept?”) and made immediate revisions based on the learner's feedback. They sent the learner back to the waiting room and continued to work on the next section of the module.

New Process. The training objective for this project was to introduce a new procedure for converting market data into a new product through engineering specification, blueprinting, prototyping, beta testing, and final release. All employees in a chip manufacturing company were scheduled to attend this training. While technical manuals provided obsessive details of each stage in this new procedure, we decided to conduct a face-to-face facilitated briefing with groups of 30 participants. The session began with a panel of four experts, each making a 99-second presentation on what they considered to be the most important element of the new procedure. After this, participants were organized into five teams of six members each and asked to generate questions reflecting their immediate concerns. After 5 minutes, teams took turns to read one of their questions. A different panel member answered each question and the other three members provided additional details if needed. Teams took care to ask the really important questions, avoid duplicate questions, and take copious notes. After 30 minutes of this “press-conference” format, each panel member made another 99-second presentation dealing with critical elements that were missing from the earlier questions and answers. Each team now had 10 minutes to summarize the key points about the new procedure, limiting their list to a single page of flip chart paper. As a final activity, all participants went on a gallery walk to review the posters created by the other teams and to award score points to reflect the usefulness of each poster.

Sales Letters. The training objective for this project was to write direct mail sales letters. We began our design with the construction of the final performance test: You have to write a sales letter for an existing item in the catalogue and mail it to 100 people randomly selected from the in-house mailing list. You pass if five or more people who received your sales letter send in their orders. We rapidly cranked out the other components of the training package: We designed a checklist for writing winning sales letters, collected and annotated top ten sales letters from the past year, and assembled four how-to books. We made sure that all learning resources were aligned with each other. During the actual training session, participant teams created sales letters for a specific product by using these resources and by consulting with the facilitator. The sales letters from different teams received feedback from the other teams and from a panel of expert judges. After the session, participants continued to work independently until they successfully passed the performance test.

Selling Automobiles. The training objective for this project was to provide automobile salespeople with product knowledge about new models. The instructional designer assembled existing materials ranging from slick sales brochures to dull technical manuals. A collection of these materials were shipped out to each participant with a tongue-in-cheek note admonishing them to diligently review the content or face potential public humiliation during the ensuing workshop. At the workshop, the facilitator organized participants into teams and asked them to prepare a series of closed questions (such as “What pieces of equipment are included in the basic package?”) and open questions (such as “What benefits would you emphasize to a Soccer Mom who is interested in buying a minibus?”). The facilitator combined these questions with other questions prepared by experts and used them to conduct a quiz tournament.

Team Facilitation. The training objective for this project was to improve facilitation skills of the managers in a multinational high-tech corporation. The project lasted for about four months, with training design and delivery taking place simultaneously. The course used a series of email games. Participants were encouraged to learn from their workplace experiences and by using different books, videotapes, and web sites. They spent about 30 to 45 minutes every day and responded to each round of the game within 48 hours. In different email games, participants identified characteristics of effective facilitators, defined critical features of each characteristic, discovered potential dangers associated with them, and developed practical facilitation strategies. Later games involved participants sharing facilitation problems, offering alternative solutions, evaluating the strengths and limitations of these solutions, and recombining them into improved ideas. The content generated by the first group of participants was re-used with ensuing groups. However, all participants were required to create and submit their own responses and solutions before reviewing those from earlier groups.

Basic Principles

A common theme that stands out clearly among all our faster-cheaper-better training design activities, especially in contrast to the traditional ISD (Instructional Systems Design) model, is the focus on activities instead of content. We believe that an effective training package should contain these ABC elements: activities, behavioral outcomes, and content. We also believe that these elements should be tightly aligned with each other to avoid teaching one thing, testing something else, and using a procedure that proclaims “Don't do what I do. Just do what I say!”

Traditional approaches to training design start with the goal and proceed through task analyses to identify and to break down content elements to a molecular level. Our faster-cheaper-better approaches also begin with the training goal. We immediately convert this goal into a performance-test and identify suitable learning activities to help participants to master skills and concepts for passing this test. We use different learning activities as containers for incorporating and managing existing content resources rather than creating our own content.

Additional Principles

Here are some additional principles that we have teased out of our successful projects. Sometime in the future, we will apply reconstructed logic and claim that these principles were systematically derived from our background in cognitive sciences, knowledge management, and complexity theory. We may also create a packet of job aids, conduct a training workshop, and retire to Florida. In the meantime, however, in the true spirit of collaborative design, we offer the following raw list of training design principles for your applications, comments, and sarcastic remarks:

  1. Accept the fact that you are never going to produce The Final Version of any training package. Instead, keep continuously updating and upgrading training materials and methods.
  2. Avoid analyzing the content into meaningless, disjointed learning objects.
  3. Don't confuse the ability to talk with the ability to perform; focus on performance.
  4. Combine delivery and evaluation with revision activities.
  5. Develop effective job aids, and then train participants to use those job aids.
  6. Don't waste time by trying to amuse participants with irrelevant activities that are fun. Instead, focus on designing and using relevant activities that are engaging.
  7. Incorporate content generated by current participants in future versions of the training package.
  8. Increase participant motivation by ensuring that what is being taught is directly relevant to success in the work place.
  9. Invite and encourage the trainer to become a co-designer and facilitator.
  10. Locate different types of existing content materials and incorporate them into training activities.
  11. Make the training session simulate on-the-job training as closely as possible.
  12. Motivate participants with a combination of cooperation and competition.
  13. Present content elements in a raw form and invite learners to organize them into meaningful clusters.
  14. Require participants to work in teams and to learn collaboratively from each other.
  15. Re-use effective templates for learning activities in future training packages.
  16. Select and use activity templates that match the type of learning content and objectives.
  17. Shift a significant part of the responsibility for training design and delivery to participants themselves.
  18. Treat all evaluation as formative: Always use evaluation feedback to improve the training package.

Tool Kit

Trainers and facilitators can use a variety of interactive, experiential strategies to improve human performance. Based on his two decades of research, Thiagi has identified, catalogued, and explored several different strategies.

In each issue of Play for Performance, the Tool Kit section explores a specific interactive strategy and presents practical suggestions and field-tested examples.

Production Simulations

Production Simulations involve the design and development of a product. Different teams compete with each other to create the best product. The activity begins with teams receiving specifications for the final product along with an evaluation checklist. Teams also have access to training sessions, job aids, reference materials, sample products, and expert consultants. Final products from different teams are evaluated by outside experts, end users, and peers on a variety of relevant dimensions.

MARKET - A Sample Production Simulation

Let's explore an actual production simulation to get a feel for this interactive strategy in action.

You are a fresh MBA graduate recently hired by a large high-tech corporation. After the first week on the job, your manager sends you to a 5-day “boot camp” for all new employees of the marketing division. Somewhat reluctantly, you turn up at 8:30 on a Monday. Margery, the facilitator, welcomes you and 21 others to the training session and explains that the entire group will participate in a lengthy simulation game. Here are some highlights of Margery's briefing:

You and five other participants are assigned to a team. Your team decides to prepare a marketing plan for a new type of customer-management software. Margery gives you a copy of the template for the marketing plan and a rating scale that will be used by the expert judges.

Your team decides to send you to all the training workshops so you can learn the principles and procedures and share them with your teammates. On the first morning, you attend the workshop on the topic of product specification. You return to the team and brief them about what you had learned in the workshop. While you were at the workshop, the team has already reviewed the background information and has started writing some of the sections of the marketing plan. That afternoon your team meets with the expert and asks her specific questions about how best to present the technical specifications.

During the ensuing four days, your team repeats the same procedure while you attend other workshops on positioning, pricing, promotion, and selecting distribution channels. On Friday afternoon, you are slightly disappointed when your team only receives the second highest score. However, you are happy about how much you have learned during the five days of the simulation.

JOKE - Another Sample Production Simulation

JOKE is a brief production simulation that lasts for 15 minutes: The facilitator organizes participants into teams and gives them a half-page handout that explains the concept of a joke formula. Specifically, it defines the self-contradicting joke in which the second half of a sentence contradicts the first half. The handout contains these two examples:

The facilitator asks the teams to come up with their own self-contradicting joke within 5 minutes and write them on an index card. She then reads each joke and asks participants to vote for the funniest one. However, no participant may vote for the joke from their own team.

Types Of Production Simulations

Production simulations come in a variety of types. The two samples that we explored earlier illustrate several variables:

Time requirement. One obvious difference between MARKET and JOKE is the length of the activity: MARKET requires a whole week while JOKE lasts for a mere 15 minutes. Another example of a lengthy production simulation is ID. I used to conduct this activity as a semester-long course on instructional design. In this production simulation, teams of participants designed, developed, evaluated, and revised a training package by using a systematic procedure.

Training objective. In general, most production simulations are designed to help participants master principles and procedures related to the development of a tangible product that conforms to specific standards. Market plans and self-contradicting jokes are examples of this type of product. In some production simulations, the training objective may de-emphasize the product and focus on the process of teamwork or creative problem solving. For example, TALL TOWERS is a teambuilding activity that requires participants to create the tallest free-standing structure using drinking straws, paper clips, and masking tape. The main focus in this production simulation is on how teams organize and work together.

Learning resources. One of the key elements in production simulations involve learning resources supplied to participants. JOKE uses a half-page job aid with a simple a simple definition and a couple of examples. In contrast, MARKET involves a variety of materials including reference manuals, articles, handouts, checklists, and sample marketing plans. This production simulation also incorporates “live” workshops and consultant help. Learning resources in other production simulations may involve audio and videotape recordings, CBT programs, and websites.

Evaluation strategy. A critical element of production simulations is the evaluation strategy. MARKET uses three expert judges armed with a rating scale to objectively assess the completeness, clarity, and creativity of the marketing plans produced by different teams. In contrast, JOKE lets participant teams evaluate each others' products on the subjective criterion of how funny different jokes are.

Production simulations frequently incorporate rating scales that specify different quality standards. Copies of these evaluation instruments are given to participants to encourage them to focus on critical variables. The people who evaluate the final product may include fellow participants, experts, and end-users. The evaluation of a job aid, for example, may be based on the performance of the typical users of that tool.

Both MARKET and JOKE depend on the evaluation of the final product as the main scoring activity. Other production simulations may include repeated evaluations of intermediate products. For example, the instructional design production simulation that I briefly mentioned earlier requires teams to submit intermediate products such as lists of needs analysis information, training objectives, test items, and follow-up activities. Teams receive score points for each of these intermediate products. In addition, they received feedback suggestions that identify errors that must be corrected to prevent major problems during later stages of the development activity.

Benefits And Precautions

As a training strategy, production simulations have several advantages:

Production simulations present some potential hazards. Here are a couple of things to watch out for:

More Samples

Here are seven different production simulations, each briefly described in a standardized format. As you review each simulation, think about how you can use elements from this activity in your own training sessions:


Training objective. To specify the mission statement for a team.

Product specification. A team-mission statement that is brief, specific, memorable, and challenging.

Time requirements. 2 hours.

Learning resources. A handout on how to write team mission statements. A checklist identifying nine important requirements of a team mission statement. A collection of 20 different mission statements from different types of teams.

Evaluation strategy. The mission statements are rated by a team of participants using the same checklist that is distributed as a learning resource.

Special feature. One team is entrusted with the task of evaluating the mission statements from the other teams. While the other teams work on their mission statements, the evaluation team reads a handout on how to evaluate mission statements and practices joint evaluation of several samples.


Training objective. To apply principles of creative problem solving in a team-based situation.

Product specification. Package an egg to ensure that it will not damaged when dropped from a height of 10 feet.

Time requirements. 2 hours.

Learning resources. None. Participants are left to their own devices to identify and use any suitable learning resource.

Evaluation strategy. The package with the egg is dropped from a height of 10 feet. After it falls to the ground, the package is opened and the egg is examined to see if it is damaged in any way.


Training objective. To write a short-short story

Product specification. The short-short story should not be longer than 250 words.

Time requirements. 90 minutes.

Learning resources. “How-to” articles on writing short-short stories. Checklists related to theme, plot, characterization, setting, and dialogue in short stories. A collection of 20 short-short stories from different genres.

Evaluation strategy. Each participant reads the short-short story written by all other participants and selects the top three. The ranks are combined to compute a score for each short-short story.

Special feature. Each participant works independently. However, participants are encouraged to bounce story ideas off one another and to provide editorial help.


Training objective. To use a desktop publishing software program for laying out the given newsletter content in an attractive and readable format.

Product specification. The newsletter should be eight pages long. It should not use any graphics or color. It should use all of the content (and only the content) provided on a floppy disk.

Time requirement. 6 hours.

Learning resources. Software training manual. Videotaped demonstrations of different layout procedures. A collection of sample newsletters. A copy of the rating scale used by the evaluators. 30 minutes of consultant help (anytime during the session).

Evaluation strategy. A panel of experts evaluate each newsletter layout using a rating scale. In addition to a numerical score, the experts provide feedback for improving the layout.


Training objective. To write short, compelling descriptions of conference presentations.

Product specification. The session description should not exceed 150 words and should include a title, two or three objectives, and an audience description.

Time requirement. 90 minutes.

Learning resources. “How-to” handouts. Checklists for writing and revising session titles, statements of objectives, and audience descriptions. A collection of sample session descriptions.

Evaluation strategy. A panel of three typical conference attendees select the top three descriptions of session that they would like to attend.


Training objective. To apply the principles and procedures of spicy South Indian vegetarian cooking to prepare a dry or wet curry dish.

Product specification. To cook a curry dish by choosing and using seasonal vegetables.

Time requirement. 3 hours.

Learning resources. Cookbooks. Illustrated checklists explaining basic cooking procedures. A handout listing “trade secrets” of Indian chefs.

Evaluation strategy. A panel of taste-testers rate the dishes created by different teams.

Special feature. This latest version of the cooking lesson that my wife and I teach is inspired by the interesting Japanese game show, the Iron Chef.


Training objective. To produce a short video segment illustrating the use of an MP3 Player.

Product specification. Each team gets the same type of video equipment. They also have access to a subject-matter expert who is knowledgeable about the MP3 player. The finished videotape should not be longer than 3 minutes.

Time requirement. 3 hours.

Learning resources. Several videotapes on how to make demonstration videotapes. Sample demonstration videotapes. Instruction manual for the video camera. A copy of the rating scale used by the panel of judges.

Evaluation strategy. A panel of expert judges evaluate the finished demonstration videotapes using a rating scale.

Special feature. The best videotapes from each session is added to the collection of samples for use in future sessions.

What Next?

Try your hand at creating your own production simulation. Use ideas from the samples discussed earlier.

Here are some suggested steps for creating your own production simulation.

Featured Activity

Give and Take

This is one of those activities that look more complicated in print than they are in reality. Just to give you an orientation, here is a brief summary of the activity:

After agreeing on a common goal, each team member writes down three items that she expects from each of the other team members. Without discussing these items, each team member now writes down three items that she wants to give to each of the other members. Team members organize these items into a Give and Take Matrix and negotiate their roles and responsibilities to achieve a perfect score.


To clarify roles and responsibilities of each team member in their joint effort to achieve a common goal.


3 to 10 members of an intact team. (If there are more than 10 members in the team, you are probably going to face coordination problems. So consider reducing the size of your team.)


30 minutes to 3 hours. The actual time requirement depends on the number of team members and how well they understand each other's roles and responsibilities.



Here are the steps for conducting this activity. To illustrate each step, I have included (in italics) activities from a recent meeting of the Zurich Conference Team.

Specify a common goal. Ask team members to discuss their goal to ensure that they have a shared mental picture. Encourage team members to discuss the quality standards related to this goal.

Eric, Heidi, Peter, Sam, and Thiagi meet to play Give and Take. They begin the activity by reminding themselves that the team's goal is to design a brochure for next year's international intercultural conference in Zurich. They discuss the criteria for ensuring that the brochure will be professional looking, easy to read, and convenient to use.

Introduce Take List. Give each team member a pad of green-colored sticky notepaper. Explain that they are going to create a Take List that specifies what each team member needs to take from each of the other team members to help achieve the goal. Ask each participant to write her name on top of the notepaper followed by the phrase “takes from ____”, filling in the name of another team member.

Each of the five members of the team prepares four Take Lists, one for each of the other members. For example, Eric prepares these four lists:

Prepare Take Lists. Ask each team member to list three items that she needs from each of the other team member (whose name is specified in each Take List) in order to ensure that the team achieves its goal. Ask each person to work independently, without talking to the others.

Here are some examples of Eric's Take Lists:

Eric takes from Sam

Eric takes from Heidi

Collect the Take Lists. After a suitable pause, gather the Take Lists from each team member, making sure that there is a list for every other team member. Put these lists aside without reading them.

Since there were five members in the team and since each person wrote four Take Lists, the team produces a total of 20 Take Lists.

Introduce Give Lists. Give each team member a pad of yellow-colored sticky notepaper. Explain that they are going to create Give Lists that are the opposites of the Take Lists. The Give List specifies what each team member will give to each of the other team members to help achieve the common goal. Ask each person to write her name on top followed by the phrase “gives to ____”, filling in the name of another team member.

Each of the five members of the team create four Give Lists, one for each of the other members. For example, Eric prepared these four lists:

Prepare Give Lists. Ask each team member to write a list of three items that she will give to each of the other team members in order to help the team achieve its goal. As before, ask each person to work independently, without talking to the others.

Here are some examples:

Eric gives to Sam

Eric gives to Heidi

Prepare the Give and Take Matrix. While team members are busy writing their Give Lists, draw a matrix on the flip chart and label each column and each row with the names of the team members, in the same order. Ignore the diagonal cells with the name of the same person as the label for both the column and the row. Notice that each of the other cells of the matrix is identified with a name for the column and a different name for the row.

Here is the matrix for the Zurich conference program team:

Eric Heidi Peter Sam Thiagi

Post the Take Lists on the matrix. Organize the Take Lists that you collected earlier by the name of the person that appears as the first word in each list. Work through each column of the matrix and stick each list (with its three items) on the top half of each cell.

Here's the matrix with the Take Lists placed in the correct cells. Notice that the diagonal cells (with the same person's name for both the column and the row) are blank:

Eric Heidi Peter Sam Thiagi
Eric   Heidi takes from Eric …
Peter takes from Eric …
Sam takes from Eric …
Thiagi takes from Eric …
Heidi Eric takes from Heidi …
  Peter takes from Heidi …
Sam takes from Heidi …
Thiagi takes from Heidi …
Peter Eric takes from Peter …
Heidi takes from Peter …
  Sam takes from Peter …
Thiagi takes from Peter …
Sam Eric takes from Sam …
Heidi takes from Sam …
Peter takes from Sam …
  Thiagi takes from Sam …
Thiagi Eric takes from Thiagi …
Heidi takes from Thiagi …
Peter takes from Thiagi …
Sam takes from Thiagi …

Collect and organize Give Lists. After a suitable pause, gather the Give Lists from each team member, making sure that there is a list for every other team member. Work through each row of the matrix and stick each note (with its three items) on the lower half of the appropriate cell.

This is what the matrix looks like at this juncture:

Eric Heidi Peter Sam Thiagi
Eric   Heidi takes from Eric …
Eric gives Heidi …
Peter takes from Eric …
Eric gives Peter …
Sam takes from Eric …
Eric gives Sam …
Thiagi takes from Eric …
Eric gives Thiagi …
Heidi Eric takes from Heidi …
Heidi gives Eric …
  Peter takes from Heidi …
Heidi gives Peter …
Sam takes from Heidi …
Heidi gives Sam …
Thiagi takes from Heidi …
Heidi gives Thiagi …
Peter Eric takes from Peter …
Peter gives Eric …
Heidi takes from Peter …
Peter gives Heidi …
  Sam takes from Peter …
Peter gives Sam …
Thiagi takes from Peter …
Peter gives Thiagi …
Sam Eric takes from Sam …
Sam gives Eric …
Heidi takes from Sam …
Sam gives Heidi …
Peter takes from Sam …
Sam gives Peter …
  Thiagi takes from Sam …
Sam gives Thiagi …
Thiagi Eric takes from Thiagi …
Thiagi gives Eric …
Heidi takes from Thiagi …
Thiagi gives Heidi …
Peter takes from Thiagi …
Thiagi gives Peter …
Sam takes from Thiagi …
Thiagi gives Sam …

Score the matrix. Inform participants that you are going to analyze the matrix and discuss ways to improve the teamwork. Explain that each cell in the matrix can earn a maximum score of 3 points if the items in the Take List are the same as the items in the Give List. If the actual score for the matrix is the same as the maximum possible score, all team members share the same mental map of how they should interact with each other. With the help of participants, go through each cell in the matrix and write down the scores. Add the scores and compare this total with the maximum possible total score. Discuss the difference.

The Zurich conference team matrix yielded a total score of 27. Since there were 20 cells in the total matrix (ignoring the five blank cells), the maximum total score is 60. The actual total score of 27 is 45 percent of the maximum indicating there is plenty of room for improvement!

Compute and discuss empathy scores of individual team members. Work through each row and add the scores of all cells in that row. This total indicates the correlation between what the team member is willing to give the others and what the others want from her. If the total score for a row is the same as the maximum possible score, this team member has a high level of empathy since she is giving to the other team members exactly what they want from her.

In the Zurich conference team matrix, Heidi received the highest empathy score of 5. Since the maximum score for the row is 12, Heidi's level of empathy was slightly less than 50 percent. The other team members scored lower, with Sam scoring a dismal 16 percent.

Discuss ways to move toward a perfect score. Debrief the activity by working through each cell in the matrix. Ask the two members associated with the cell to explain what they want from each other and what they are willing to give each other. Invite other team members to facilitate this discussion. Emphasize the fact that all team members should focus on achieving the common goal. Based on these discussions, revise the Take and Give items on each cell to achieve a perfect score for the matrix.

The Zurich team needed more than an hour of heated discussion before each team member's expectations and commitments were aligned to each other. Although the discussion was exhausting, everyone ended up feeling positive about the shared understanding.


In the preceding discussion, we explored how GIVE AND TAKE can be used to help team members to get their act together. Here are a couple of other applications of this activity.

Cross-Cultural Communication. We use this version with teams whose members come from different cultures. We conduct the Give and Take activity in its original form, except we ask each team member to prepare a list of three cultural values that affect their teamwork. (Each team member prepares only one list.) We then ask each team member to prepare a cultural-values list for each of the other participants based on their previous knowledge of this culture. We create a matrix similar to the Give and Take Matrix, except the top half of each cell contains identical items for each column. We then score the matrix and discuss important cultural values and stereotypes.

Cross-Functional Collaboration. Recently, one of our high-tech client organizations decided to introduce a new workflow procedure for designing, producing, and marketing new integrated-circuit chips. The new procedure required close collaboration among different divisions of the organization. As a part of introducing the new procedure, we conducted orientation sessions for groups of 30 employees. We conducted Give and Take with groups of participants instead of individuals. We organized the participants into five groups according to the division that they represented: Marketing, Product Engineering, Product Validation, Configuration Management, and Customer Support. Some groups had fewer members than the others, but this did not affect the activity. We asked each group to come up with a list of requirements from each of the other four groups and another list of what they planned to provide to each of the other groups. We organized these lists in a Give and Take Matrix as in the original activity. We then scored the matrix and discussed ways for improving collaboration among different functional divisions to ensure more effective implementation of the new procedure.

Guest Gamer

This column features interviews with outstanding designers and users of interactive experiential activities. Our guest this month is Deb Calderon, who is the owner of Calderon Consulting. I first “met” Deb when she sent me dozens of entries to a PFP contest that featured the lost-consonant word game. I saw Deb in action at the Second International Trainers' Conference in Vancouver, British Columbia. Deb has a different approach to training. She uses science demonstrations in her speeches and workshops. I also had a sneak preview of Deb's new book, From Lab to Lectern: 33 Science Demos for Speakers and Trainers. This book explains how to use simple science tricks to wow participants, make your point, and use them as metaphors.

Interview with Deb Calderon

Thiagi: Deb, what is your specialty area?

Deb: Among my colleagues and clients, what I am really known for is making points or metaphors through science demonstrations. It's an unusual combination, and it works.

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

Deb: I started off learning games from my mom who was a teacher. I remember her Latin game, AMO, AMAS, AMAT that I played when I was about 7 years old. I taught elementary school for 3 years and, and like every teacher working with children, I designed many math games, reading games, spelling games and all other types of learning games. Later, I worked as a curator of a large science center for 10 years. During that time, my challenge was to do several live stage shows a week, with an international audience of young and old and to get them laughing while presenting scientific principles in plain English in a short period of time. I learned how to take a complex topic, bring it down to manageable ideas, and convert these ideas into games and hands-on demonstrations. I created such games as the Praying Mantis game, the Compost Game, Planets In Line, and Waggle Dance Game. I then graduated to using the same activities as training games.

Thiagi: Where do you use games and activities in your training?

Deb: I like to create a spirit of play with every group that I work with. I feel that if I am not laughing with my participants, I am not having the right kind of time. I work my games into all my training activities, from presentation skills workshops to job re-entry seminars. I cannot do any presentation without adding a handful of science activities. They really add something different to the day and often create a sense of mystery. Frequently, people come up to me on the street and say, “You're the bubble lady”.

Thiagi: How do your clients respond?

Deb: Most of clients really enjoy my approach. I feel that they would not have hired me if they didn't want something with a little “umph” in it. Among the different kinds of trainers, I am known as—and want to be known as—a lively trainer who gets the work done with fun. I am not interested in some training topics and I don't think that I would be hired to teach them anyway.

Thiagi: How do your participants respond?

Deb: They enjoy the games and science demonstrations. I think a part of this has to do with my bull-in-the-china-shop approach. I just come in and immediately get going with the hands-on demonstrations. Everyone has a certain presentation style and my style gets people into a playful mood.

I use my science demonstrations to introduce a topic, make a point, and to create a metaphor. Participants love to see physical stuff and to watch magic shows. There is so much same-same out there in the training field that the smart trainers know fascinating ways to get their points across. I use hands-on demonstrations to ensure that participants leave the training session feeling, “I learned some good stuff and I had fun”. For example, when I do a demonstration where an egg gets sucked into a bottle through a very small neck, participants get out of their seats and crane their necks to see what is happening. I use this demonstration to make a relevant point and everyone feels that they have seen something different and learned something useful.

I use a lot of volunteers from the participants when I do my demonstrations. I have learned that getting people to volunteer to come up front is a wonderful way of interacting with the group. When the volunteer sits down, the people at the table always say something like, “Good for you” or “That was funny”.

Thiagi: What was the most embarrassing moment you have had in your training sessions?

Deb: Once, I was doing a talk about attitude and had a spinning bike wheel in my hand. When I went to put it on the stage, my microphone cord got tangled up. I had this Isadora Duncan moment, where I got dragged down by the cord, being strangled, with my face was right down on the stage. I wish I had the presence of mind to say something like, “I'll be right back, folks”, but I basically gasped and looked stupid.

Earlier, when I was just beginning in my own business, I wasn't quite confident. I suggested we start with an icebreaker. Someone in the group had bad experiences with icebreakers and was very vocal about it. He talked about how he didn't want to make any “piggy sounds” or “walk around with silly colored hats”. I was flummoxed and had no idea what to say, so I skipped the activity. Now I would know what to say.

Thiagi: What advice do you have to newcomers?

Deb: About designing hands-on activities and games: Think of your own. Get stimulated by looking at how other people create their activities and then come up with your own ideas and adaptations.

About using games: Perhaps not everyone agrees with me, but I think a lot of it comes down to personality and style when conducting a game. Enthusiasm for the game and confidence that the group will accept it are important. Finding or creating the right game is important. Using your own stuff helps you really know your game and understand inside and out how it can be used.

Thiagi: What do you think is the most important characteristic?

Deb: For a facilitator: Knowing your own style and being comfortable in using it. Copying other people's facilitation style does not work. I wish I were a little smoother, knew how to be a better active listener, and so on, but even though I can try to become better, these skills are not my forte. Instead of being the right type of facilitator as defined by others, I see that what I do and the way I do it are the best reasons for bringing me in—or not bringing me in—to lead a training workshop.

For an effective instructional game: Something simple without too many bells and whistles. An effective game does not swamp your message with unnecessary complexities.

For a receptive participant: Someone who understands that the activity can be both educational and entertaining, and trusts you.

Thiagi: What is the one thing that you hate the most?

Deb: A facilitator: When this person acts condescending and when don't let me argue or disagree. I don't like it when a facilitator sets up a game and insists that a certain outcome should occur for it to be successful. Games go the way games go and it may not come to one particular point or conclusion.

An instructional game: I am not attracted to games that have lots of fancy equipment. I generally don't want to spend the money and really prefer simple ideas that come from people's magical minds. I prefer games with bits and pieces and cards and poker chips and chocolate bars and a lot more creativity invested than money.

I don't like a game that smacks of being taken off the shelf. There are lots of games to buy that are excellent, but I think they need to reflect your needs and your personality. There are so many games that are just not me. I don't think I would be comfortable using them.

A participant: I don't like participants with closed minds that don't allow them to try things or look at things a new way

Thiagi: What types of games and activities do you use most frequently?

Deb: I use activities that come from the world of science—the world of animals, plants, physics, earth science, and more. I find that opening with a lively and fun demonstration can really get people excited. When I come out with the little plastic tube I use for whirling around my head, people look up and think, “Hey, this is something different”.

Thiagi: What is your most favorite game?

Deb: I love a game called AMNESIA: You show the participants a box and say that the person who left this stuff has amnesia. This person is not hurt but does not know who she is. You help the person out by looking through the box and figuring out who she is. The box is full of delightful red herrings that encourage all kinds of assumptions. This is a game that I adapted from a Boy Scout book.

Thiagi: Do you have any book recommendations?

Deb: Here's a book that you would never find in the training section but it has given me a lot of ideas: Fun Tested Games from A to Z by Scouts Canada. Another useful book: Play It by Wayne Rice and Mike Yaconelli (published by Zondervan Youth Specialty Books, Grand Rapids, Michigan).

Thiagi: What is your prediction about the future of training games?

Deb: People are beginning to examine and question their lives and values. I think games will play a big part of that. I believe that the “rah-rah” type of training is slowing down and we can look forward to simpler, more down-to-earth ideas. However, I have been wrong in my predictions before: I predicted compact discs would never catch on, and the Internet would amount to nothing.

Science Demo

Potato Power
by Deb Calderon



Any number


15 - 30 minutes



Give each participant a potato.

Make your point and talk about what the potato represents.

Demonstrate the activity:

Have everyone in the group try it. Emphasize that a finger or thumb should be covering the opening at the top end of the straw.


Here's the science behind this demonstration: The straw is very strong along its length. The width is not as strong and can be easily bent or broken. When you ram the straw with all your force, it cuts into the potato with its sharp edge and goes straight through. Your forceful movement gets the task done before the straw has a chance to bend.


You don't want to push this straw into your leg or any other part of your body. So stay out of the way of the straw's path.

Presentation Tips

Inertia. It is best to launch into a project before you get a chance to buckle at its magnitude.

Focused energy. When all your efforts are focused in one place, you can cut through problems.

Strategy. Potatoes are big and straws are small. However, if you know where and how to strike, you can beat the competition.

Presentation Tips

Add fun, humor, and energy by asking everyone to yell out the same power word as they push the straw through the potato.

Conclude the session with this piece of advice: “Be careful not to carry a concealed straw. It's a dangerous weapon.”


Replace Smile Sheets with SPAM

If you are a trainer, you probably know what a “Smile Sheet” is. It is a short questionnaire that is used immediately after a training session to collect participants' reaction to the event. The Smile Sheet typically focuses on the lowest level of training evaluation and ignores learning outcomes and application of the new skills and knowledge. Participants don't take these questionnaires seriously because they are usually tired at the end of a training program and eager to go home.

Since my recent trip to Australia, I have started using an alternative evaluation technique that I first encountered in Melbourne. I call this SPAM, which stands for Socialized Procedure for Application Measurement. It requires the use of email notes.


Prepare address cards. Ask each participant to write her name on a piece of paper along with her email address. If necessary, distribute index cards for this purpose.

Exchange cards with a partner. Ask all participants to pair up with one another and exchange their email address cards. Emphasize the importance of not losing the address card.

Explain the SPAM procedure. Give these instructions (in your own words) to participants:

Concluding the session. Emphasize the importance of this follow-up activity. Thank everyone for their participation during the session.

Email is ubiquitous. During the past 3 months, I have not met any participant who does not have an email address. If I do, I am ready with stamped postcards to conduct a snail-mail version of the same game.

Book Review

Improving Personal Productivity

As you know, jolts are interactive experiential activities that force participants to re-examine their assumptions and revise their habitual practices. There are two types of jolts: Entrapment jolts entice habitual dysfunctional behaviors and deliver a powerful wake-up call. Enlightenment jolts present new positive behaviors and suggest their continued implementation. Because most game designers have a sadistic streak in them, our field is replete with entrapment jolts. Recently, however, I came across a powerful enlightenment jolt that I would like to share with you.

Ready for a Jolt?

All you need is a piece of paper and a pencil. Follow these instructions:

  1. Write down a situation that most bugs you and consumes a large part of your attention. Describe this “in-your-face” situation in one or two sentences.
  2. Write down a single sentence that specifies a successful outcome for this situation. In other words, what would need to happen for you to check the “Done” box associated with his item?
  3. Write down the very next physical action required to move this situation forward. If you had nothing else to do in your life except to get closure on this item, what visible action would you take?

That's it! The 2-minute jolt is now completed.

Debrief time. You are probably experiencing at least a tiny bit of enhanced control, relaxation, and focus. What changed? The situation did not change, but you acquired a clearer definition of the desired outcome and the next action. And all you invested was a couple of minutes of thinking that solidified your commitment.

Action Management

This jolt is from David Allen's best-selling book, Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity.

There are hundreds of books, articles, videotapes, audiotapes, web sites, and newsletters on time management. (Just imagine how much time could be saved by not going through these time-management resources!) David Allen takes an interesting new approach: He focuses on managing action instead of managing time.

The kernel of the book is a five-stage procedure for mastering your workflow. The book introduces this procedure through a single-page flowchart and expands each stage in individual chapters full of with practical tips and tricks.

Here are the five stages:


Here are the three key suggestions from the book:

And here's a next-action suggestion: Buy the book!

For more information about the book and about its author, visit this web site: . While you are there, sign up for David's free online newsletter, Productivity Principles.


Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen. New York: Viking. (ISBN: 0-670-89924-0). $24.95.


Another Virus?

A couple of years ago, I was in the hospital for some minor surgery.

In the evening of the day of surgery, my wife Lucy called the Bloomington Hospital to find out how I was doing.

A friendly voice answered the telephone. “How may I help you?”

“I need some information about Sivasailam Thiagarajan, please,” Lucy said.

Long pause.

“One moment, please.”

After another lengthy pause, a different and more authoritarian voice picked up the telephone.

“May I help you?”

Lucy tried again. “All I need is some information about Sivasailam Thiagarajan.”

“Ma'am, you'll have to check with your family doctor. We are not authorized to give out information about diseases over the telephone!”


Sandwich Words Puzzle

In this puzzle, you are given a pair of words as a clue for a “Sandwich Word”.

The sandwich word comes after the first word and before the second word to form two different well-known compound words or phrases.

Here's an example:


What sandwich word appears after SNOW and before HOUSE to form compound words or phrases?

You have probably discovered the sandwich word by now. Yes, it is WHITE (as in Snow White and White House).

Can you find the sandwich word suggested by this clue:


(The sandwich word is MATCH, as in tennis match and matchmaker.)

* * *

Here are a bunch of clues for sandwich words. After you have solved them all, read the first letters of the sandwich words. These letters spell out a pithy saying.






RED — ? — BLOT












A Hint

The Solution


A Funny Contest

This month's contest is based on a production simulation that was briefly mentioned in the toolkit article. Think of this contest as an email production simulation game.

Here's a formula for creating funny one-liners:

A self-contradicting joke = (A statement in the first half of the sentence) + (A contradictory statement in the second half).

In addition to the samples given in the toolkit, here are more applications of this formula:

Create your own joke using this formula and send it to us. If we judge your joke to be the funniest one submitted, you win a $50 gift certificate.

The Rules

Hint 1

A Hint

The first word is BE.

Back to the puzzle

Another Hint

The Solution

Contest Results

Puzzles from Our Readers

Our November contest invited readers to contribute twisted-pair puzzles.

A twisted-pair puzzle contains several sets of letters separated by spaces. To solve the puzzle, unscramble the first set of letters to discover two words. Decide which word comes first and which word comes next. Then unscramble the next set of letters to discover the third and the fourth words. Repeat this process until you have unscrambled all sets of letters, discovered all the words, and reconstructed the original sentence.

Here are some interesting twisted-word puzzles sent by different readers:

Shirley Legaux, In Touch, Metairie, LA

(Hint: Know Yourself!)

Mary Lynn Monge, Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation

(Hint: Another key to learning)

Dave Piltz, Human Resource Development Center

(Hint: Key to making your customers happy)

(Hint: Where to find alternatives to confrontation)

R. Narayanan, Tata Consultancy Services, Trivandrum, India:

(Hint: Stop lecturing!)

It was tough to select the winning contribution. Our panel of judges eventually decided that the winner is David Piltz. He receives a $50 gift certificate toward the purchase of any product from Workshop by Thiagi.

Congratulations, David!

By the way, it took us several hours to solve the puzzles. Because we want you to go through the same discovery process, we have not included the solutions in this issue. But since we are nice, we decided to give you some useful hints. We will publish the solutions in the next issue of PFP.

Hint 2

Another Hint

The last word is FUN.

Back to the puzzle

The Solution

Pithy Saying

Inner Game of Work

My work is a game, a very serious game. — M. C. Escher

This statement should not surprise anyone who has been intrigued by Escher's work.

Do you know where your work ends and your game begins? If you are serious about your work (and play) you should not be able to differentiate between them.

Don't separate work and game—and then attempt to balance them. Blend these two elements. By doing this, you can play at your work for the rest of your life.


The Solution


Be serious about fun.

Sandwich Words

Paper BACK ache; scrambled EGG plant; brown SUGAR daddy; clock RADIO active; red INK blot; olive OIL change; shut UP tight; fruit SALAD dressing; hydrochloric ACID rain; peanut BUTTER fly; post OFFICE hours; down UNDER ground; round TABLE tennis; good FORTUNE cookie; labor UNION station; maiden NAME tag.

Back to the puzzle