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

Too Much Competition?
We can have conflict without competition.

Public Workshop
Faster, Cheaper, Better
Learn and apply Thiagi's secrets of radically-different training design.

Improv Game
Can you deliver the same message in different words?

Structured Sharing
How Much Do You Weigh?
Collect reliable data without violating anyone's privacy.

Rules for Rules
Tips for effective presentation of printed rules.

Web Game Shell
A Web Game Shell to Improve Your Fluency
Did you know that “ch” is the country code for Switzerland?

Pithy Saying
Sages and Guides
The different between SMEs and facilitators.





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

Associate Editor: Matt Richter

Editorial Advisory Board: David Gouthro, Diane Dormant, Kat Koppett, Les Lauber, Steve Sugar, and <type your name here>

Copyright Info

The materials in this newsletter are copyright 2004 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 © 2004 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!


Too Much Competition?

In his book, No Contest: The Case Against Competition (revised edition, 1992, Houghton Mifflin), Alfie Kohn refutes the myths that competition is a prod to productivity, a builder of character, and an unavoidable component of human nature. He clearly demonstrates that competition actually causes anxiety, selfishness, self-doubt, and poor communication. It also poisons relationships among individuals. And Kohn is not talking about excessive, unhealthy competition but about all types of competition that are based on a win-lose structure. Kohn prescribes simple cooperation to make people happier, more secure, and more productive.

In her book, The Argument Culture: Moving from Debate to Dialogue (1998, Random House), Deborah Tannen explores the warlike atmosphere that makes us approach everything as a fight between two opposing sides. This adversarial frame of mind is based on the assumption that opposition is the best way to get anything done: Debate every idea, cover all news from polarized points of view, take the other person to court, and demonstrate your ability to think by criticizing and attacking everything. Unfortunately, people mindlessly slide from making an argument for a point of view to having an argument with each other. As a result, our spirits are corroded and the quality of information that we receive is compromised.

It is clear that competition is a universal phenomenon. It is also clear that competition produces undesirable outcomes.

Actually, the situation is perhaps more complex than the simple dualism between competition and cooperation. Several books are re-examining the relationship between these two factors.

In Co-opetition (1996, Currency-Doubleday) Adam M. Brandenburger and Barry J. Nalebuff point out that in the world of business long-term profitability does not require that the others should fail. In this world, people are free to change the rules, the players, the boundaries, and the game itself. Using several examples from major corporations, Brandenburger and Nalebuff explain that by combining the advantages of both cooperation and competition, organizations not only win but make it possible for the industry as a whole to grow. In the book, the authors present a powerful value-net framework to analyze the way in which your organization interacts with your competitors, complementors (who make your product more valuable), customers, and suppliers. The secret of success is to find out when to compete and when to cooperate with each of these four players.

In The Death of Competition: Leadership and Strategy in the Age of Business Ecosystems (1996, HarperBusiness), James F. Moore uses an ecological metaphor to emphasize that companies can no longer compete for product superiority or industry dominance. In a future that is characterized by organized chaos, entrepreneurs will integrate technologies and cultivate new markets in radically different ways. Using the ecological metaphor, Moore shows how IBM, Microsoft, and Intel compete with each other in some instances, cooperate with each other in other instances, and work independently in still other instances. In an interlocking business network, Moore helps us identify which symbiotic and co-evolving system will ultimately prevail.

In TransCompetition: Moving Beyond Competition and Collaboration (1998, BusinessWeek Books), Harvey Robbins and Michael Finley point out that between the extremes of win/kill predation and lose/die martyrdom lies the transcompetitive zone. In this zone, you may take a just-win approach by focusing on coming out on top and ignoring the fate of the others. Or you may take a win-against-standards approach by focusing on breaking established records (including your own) as in the Olympics. Or you may take a win/win approach by helping everyone gain mutual benefits. Or you may take a militant win/win-or-no-deal approach in which nobody goes forward until everyone finds a way to win.

Games are often blamed as being a major cause of the competitive instinct. It is true that one of the defining attributes of a game is conflict. But conflict is not the same as competition. In a game, you can have conflict against time, previous standards, or external obstacles instead of depending exclusively on conflict against other players and other teams. In your training games, you can move away from the zero-sum variety (in which one player's success requires other players' failure) toward more cooperative formats that permit everyone to win or different people to win on different criteria.

It is not difficult to design a cooperative game. You can convert any traditional game into a new game in which nobody loses and everyone has fun. For example, you can play volleyball with the goal of making sure that all players get to touch the ball before it is sent to the other court. You can play Scrabble by trying to ensure that the combined score of your and your “opponent” exceeds 700 or the previous best total.

Designers of business simulation games point out that their activities merely reflect the competition that exists out there in the real world. This is true, but you need not limit yourself to the depressing traditional models of today's business. You can proactively provide glimpse of the kinder, gentler, and greener company of the future. You can design games that reflect new paradigms presented in the books we reviewed earlier.

Assistant Editor's Note: The books discussed above are available from Amazon:

No Contest: The Case Against Competition by Alfie Kohn, ISBN 0395631254 .

The Argument Culture: Moving from Debate to Dialogue by Deborah Tannen, ISBN 0345407512 .

Co-opetition by Adam M. Brandenburger and Barry J. Nalebuff, ISBN 0385479506 .

The Death of Competition: Leadership and Strategy in the Age of Business Ecosystems by James F. Moore, ISBN 0887308503 .

TransCompetition: Moving Beyond Competition and Collaboration by Harvey Robbins and Michael Finley, ISBN 0070530823 .

Public Workshop

Faster, Cheaper, Better

Here is a reminder about my upcoming public workshop. There is still time to register online.

How To Design Performance-Based Training Within Tight Budgets And Hectic Schedules

It has been several years since I conducted a public workshop. Based on participant demand, I am ready to conduct one of our most popular and practical workshops. I hope that you will be able to join us.

Essential Information

Outcome. Based on 30 years of field work, Thiagi has created a radical approach to training design and has applied it (along with Matt, Raja, and several client groups) to different projects. In a recent project, for example, Thiagi worked with a client for 3 days to design a complete workshop that should have take 3 months in the client's estimate. This workshop has produced measurable performance improvement among participants.

Duration: 2 days

Cost: US$695

Essential Information

Location: Palo Alto, California, USA

Exact Location:
Stanford Park Hotel
100 El Camino Real
Menlo Park, CA 94025
Phone: 650-322-1234

You can phone toll-free at 800-368-2468 to reserve a room. Say that you are with the “Thiagi Workshop, group code number 308189” for a discount.

Dates: June 17-18, 2004
Register online

Who Should Attend This Workshop?

(Benefits for individuals)

Benefits For The Organization

Workshop Content

An Innovative Alternative To Training Design

Details Of The New Training Design Model

Applying Proven Principles Of Training Design

Strategies For Speeding Up The Design Process

Improv Game


Can you present the same message in several different ways? This useful skill provides you with a flexible communication style and helps you reinforce the message.

This is how Flextalk works: Ask the participants to stand in a circle. Make a statement and toss a ball to one of the participants. This person catches the ball and immediately makes a different statement that presents the same message. The participant tosses the ball to someone else. This ball-catcher repeats the process.

After catching the ball, a participant is eliminated if he or she hesitates for a long time, repeats an earlier statement, or significantly alters the meaning of the message. The game continues until only one participant remains. This participant is the winner.

In a recent play of Flextalk, my original message was “Shut up!”. Here are some of the different versions:

Please close your mouth.

Kindly abstain from any further oral communication.

I'll choke you if you keep talking!

Have you ever considered the wisdom behind the aphorism, “Silence is golden”?

Stop talking!

You are talking too much. Please give the others an opportunity to participate in the conversation.


It's better to keep your mouth shut and have others wonder if you are stupid than to open your mouth and confirm their suspicion.

If you have more than 10 participants, divide the group in half and create two circles.

Obviously, you can load this framegame with messages that are relevant to your instructional topic. In a computer-literacy class, for example, you might start with this message: Save early and save often.

Structured Sharing

How Much Do You Weigh?

Every culture has taboos against asking certain types of questions. For example, in most cultures, you never ask people for their age or their salaries.

Sometimes, however, you may need personal data from the participants to facilitate meaningful discussion. For example, in a recent meeting of consultants, we wanted to find out the average daily rate that we charged our clients. Here is the playful strategy that we used for data collection without violating anyone's privacy. All you need is a calculator.

We have used this activity in different situations. For example, we used it in a weight-control program to find our average weight without embarrassing anyone. We used a modified version of this technique to find the average attitude of a focus group toward affirmative action. We punched in numbers on a 10-point scale with 1 indicating total agreement and 10 indicating total disagreement with the basic idea.


Rules for Rules

The success of a game depends to a large extent on the way its rules are presented. Here are few thoughts about the presentation of printed rules:

Keep a consistent point of view. Write your rules as a set of instructions to the facilitator. Don't confuse the reader by shifting from instructions to the facilitator to instructions to the player. Give instructions instead of describing what is going to happen.

Present the rules in a chronological order. Start at the beginning of the game (“briefing”) and end with post-game activities (“debriefing”).

Break the rules into small, consistent steps. Make sure each rule deals with a single activity or decision. Stick to the same level of detail in presenting different rules.

Begin each rule with a summary sentence. Print this sentence in bold letters. Later, when facilitators want to quickly refresh their memory, they can scan this sentence instead of reading the entire paragraph.

Use examples to clarify complex rules. One picture is worth 10,000 words—and so is a clear example. Print your examples in italics for ease of reference.

Don't clutter up the rules with too many variations. Present a lean set of rules to explain the play of the game. Use a Variations section to present instructions on how to adjust the basic game to suit local constraints and needs.

Provide a summary outline of the rules. Facilitators can use this job aid during the game and during its debriefing.

Web Game Shell

A Web Game Shell to Improve Your Fluency

Carl Binder has done some interesting and impressive work on fluency (which refers to a combination of accuracy and speed) and its impact on improving performance and increasing productivity. For more information on this concept, visit this website:

We have recently developed a web game shell (called Scroll) for increasing the player's fluency on various training topics. Scroll provides guided practice on memorizing paired items such as recalling airport codes, postal abbreviations, French words, chemical symbols, and product features.

As an experimental validation of Scroll, I memorized the sequence of playing cards in a shuffled deck. If you call out a number between 1 and 52, I will tell you the name of the card at that location. If you specify a playing card, I will tell exactly where that card will be found in deck. Obviously, this is not of any great value—unless you want to show off your uncanny memory.

We have a sample game that helps you explore Scroll. The content of the game is a list of IANA (Internet Assigned Numbers Authority) country codes. Similar to postal abbreviations for US states, these are the official two-letter codes used on the Internet to represent different countries of the world. (They are used in email and web addresses.)

When you start Scroll game, you will see names of different countries flashing across the display area. Your task is to type the two letter abbreviation (simple task, eh?) of the country. When you do this, the name of the country will disappear and your score will go up. During each round of play, you will be presented a random set of 10 countries in a random order. The maximum score you can earn is 100. To avoid frustrating you too much, we use only 75 countries (out of the complete list of 243).

Some of the IANA country codes are obvious as in the case of “au” for Australia. Some are tricky: “ch” is the code for Switzerland and “aq” is the code for Antarctica.

You can play the Scroll game repeatedly. But be careful: Just like any other digital game, you may get addicted and forget your staff meeting. Sooner or later, however, you may have mastered all of the 75 country codes and find the task to be fairly simple and boring. At this stage, you can jump up to the second level of play where the game is played the same way as before except the country names flash across the display area at a faster rate. When your performance has reached this level of fluency, you can move on to the third level.

But enough talking. Play the game.

Pithy Saying

Sages and Guides

Be the guide on the side, not a sage on the stage.

I got this piece of advice from Sharon Bowman and several others.

This advice captures the essential difference between a subject-matter expert (SME) and a facilitator.

You should be on stage if you want to impress participants with your expertise. However, if you want them to learn—and apply what they learned—be a guide by the side. Let participants learn from each other by sharing their knowledge and experience. Present additional information only when participants ask you or when you sense that they are floundering too much.

The ideal role is to be a sage on the side: an expert who maintains a low profile, lets participants construct their own knowledge, and provides intelligent insights only when needed.