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

It's NOT Fun!
It is all about engagement.

It's NOT Fun—It's Playful and Joyful by Richard Pearlstein
Rich Pearlstein elaborates on the editorial.

Debriefing by Numbers (Part 2) by Roger Greenaway
How do you debrief 3 to 100+ participants?

Guest Gamer
An Interview with Alain Rostain
A conversation with the leader of the Applied Improvisation Network.

Improv Game
Sound Ball by Alain Rostain
Increase spontaneity and decrease anxious anticipation.

Structured Sharing
Two groups try to change the minds of two other groups.

Lost Consonant
Fool your spell checker and amuse our readers.

Pithy Saying
You Cannot Teach…
A pair of guidelines about the limits of teaching.





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

Contributing Editor: Roger Greenaway

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 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 © 2004 by The Thiagi Group, 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 The Thiagi Group, 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!


It's NOT Fun!

Three consistent data points:

These folks are all mistaken. They totally misunderstand me. Here's the proof:

Tears, Laughter, and Learning

In my training sessions, my focus is always on helping participants master new skills and knowledge and apply them in their real-world performance. To achieve this goal, I employ the law of emotional learning that states that events accompanied by emotions result in more effective learning and long-term retention. This law implies that people learn better when they are happy or sad and they don't learn when they are apathetic or bored. When people laugh or cry in my training sessions, it is just a byproduct of learning.

My Cultural Baggage

I come from a culture in which losing face is a major disaster. This makes me extremely sensitive to participants feeling embarrassed. I don't have the need—or the courage—to ask my participants to make funny animal noises, sing a song about customer satisfaction, or take their shirts off. I don't use training activities that are absurd, silly, clowning, or foolish merely to provide a good time or comic relief.

A Question of Relevance

I do use different types of training games, simulations, roleplays, improv activities, quiz shows, puzzles, field trips, storytelling, and other such interactive strategies. However, these activities have a clear and direct connection to the instructional purpose. I use a training game only when it is the most cost-effective technique for achieving a set of specific performance objectives. In addition, I spend significant amounts of time briefing the participants before the game and debriefing them after the game to make sure that they clearly see the relationship between the activity and their on-the-job performance.

It is Engagement

One of my goals in training is to keep participants engaged in the learning activity. I do this by balancing the difficulty level of the learning task and the competency level of my participants. If the task difficulty is beyond participants' current competency, they become frustrated. If the difficulty level is below the participants' competency, they become bored. When the difficulty level is matched appropriately to the competency level, participants are in a flow state as defined by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. In this state, they experience hard fun or deep fun which is very different from the shallow, mindless fun produced by irrelevant tomfoolery. One of the most exciting things about eLearning is the ability of computer programs to continuously monitor the player's performance and make suitable changes in the difficulty level in real time. One of the reasons I use training games in my face-to-face classrooms is that I can flexibly adjust the activity to keep the participants engaged.

Serious Play

One of my goals in life is to take serious things playfully. (The other goal is to take playful things seriously.) This attitude spills over into my training sessions in which I encourage participants to take on childlike naiveté, playfulness, and the ability to laugh at pompous emperors who walk around naked. I reward participants who keep pestering me with "Why?" questions about performance goals. Frequently, I provoke participants to break the rules that I taught them and try to achieve the desired results by using new procedures. This type of playfulness helps me increase creative thinking and healthy skepticism about all types of standard operating procedures.

Out To Play

Unlike the audience members, my family members and my close associates think that I don't have any fun in my life. They accuse me of being a grouchy, boring, humdrum, tedious recluse who does not drink or sing or go to parties. Because the last vacation I took was in 1945 and because I go to sleep immediately after watching Jeopardy at 8 o'clock, they think that I am an uptight curmudgeon and workaholic. They are probably right in their assessment, except for the last diagnostic item. I am definitely not a workaholic.

You see, I haven't worked a single day in my life.


It's NOT Fun—It's Playful and Joyful
by Richard Pearlstein

In his thoughtful editorial, “It's NOT Fun”, my friend Thiagi embarrasses me by implying that I see his work as largely a matter of “fun in training.” I think he gets this idea because I recently posted this to a listserv (

Once, after I'd read one of his books in which he cited research suggesting that training via gaming generally did NOT improve skill acquisition or retention (and sometimes was not as effective as other approaches), I asked him, “So, Thiagi, why do you use gaming as an approach?” He replied, “Because it is fun.”

Much to my chagrin, I fear that Thiagi interpreted me as suggesting that he's in it just for the fun. I think I know better than that.

Fun, Playfulness, and Joy

One of Thiagi's principles is to take serious things playfully. Playfulness is a much different concept than “fun.” Playfulness is about taking ourselves lightly, honoring other points of view, and encouraging creative alternatives to orthodox perspectives.

In fact, I think that creating a playful learning space does more than bring fun into people's lives. I think it brings joy into the learning experience. Joy is much different than fun, as Thiagi's examples illustrate. Experiencing one's mortality can be joyful. We're never more alive than when we realize how precious our time really is. So, a simulation of terminal illness—while clearly painful—could bring a deep joy of awakening into our present reality.

Similarly, being moved by a sudden shift in one's perspective can be a form of joy, but, not necessarily fun. I personally feel joyful when I deepen my awareness of how others might see me, though there is a wrenching quality, too, a constriction in my chest.

And I love Thiagi's story of his mother's death, which is in his book When I Was Raja's Age. (That story and others are available on Thiagi's website, .) Every time I read it, I cry. It is immensely touching. And it is joyful in the sense of fully celebrating our being human (even though a lot of suffering is a part of being human).

Celebrating Being-in-Doing

I would say that underlying Thiagi's work is a theme of more fully celebrating our being in what we are doing. But, perhaps I've swung too high up the woo-woo scale for performance technologists. I appreciate Thiagi's credentials as a performance technologist, and I certainly agree with his assertions about considering relevance, cost-effectiveness, and engagement when he performs his playful interventions.

It's just that Thiagi brings more to his work than his formidable set of skills. He brings the twin spirits of playfulness and joyfulness. We all need more of that.


In the previous issue of PFP, our Contributing Editor Roger Greenaway presented practical techniques for debriefing one or two participants. In this part of the article, he offers intriguing suggestions for handling groups whose sizes range from three to more than a hundred.

Debriefing by Numbers (Part 2)
by Roger Greenaway

Debriefing for Threes: Rotating Threes

Threes allows a third person to listen and observe a two person debrief. This adds an extra level of reflection and helps to ensure the quality of paired work—overcoming some of the problems described in the “pairs” section in the first part of this article (in last month's issue).

Roles are switched so that all have a turn at the three different roles. It is the observer who has the key role because, after observing the paired discussion, she will debrief the pair before everyone changes roles.

An example of rotating threes:

A group of 9 people have just carried out a group activity together. They are divided into three groups of three. Within each three, there is a person A, a person B and a person C. During the first round, A is the reflector, B is the facilitator and C is the observer.

First 5 minutes: B (the facilitator) asks A to describe her role during the activity and to explain how and why it changed (if at all). B may ask supplementary questions about how satisfied A was with her role and performance, and to consider whether there are any questions she would like to ask the whole group of 9 when they are back together.

Second 5 minutes: C reports back on what she observed (during the preceding five minutes). If C comments mainly on B's role as a facilitator, this helps counterbalance the focus of the previous 5 minutes on A's role in the group. Both A and B should have an opportunity to respond to C's observations before moving on.

For A, B and C to take on each role (reflector, facilitator and observer) the whole process will take (5 + 5) x 3 = 30 minutes. When the whole group of 9 meets back together, at least another 10 minutes will be needed for asking questions arising from the earlier debriefing in threes.

Debriefing in threes is scalable for groups of 6, 9, 12 … 99 or more. Any group size that is divisible by 3 can use this structure. In very large groups, there will be limited opportunities for useful sharing when they get back together. If sharing beyond threes is important, this can be achieved by meeting up with another three rather than meeting up as a huge plenary group. Debriefing in threes (in which there are three roles to rotate) takes around 30 minutes plus any sharing time needed at the end. This is true for a group of 9 or 99.

Debriefing for Six (including task-based debriefs)

Quiet individuals are more likely to sit back and not get very involved when groups reach five or six. Groups of around six can operate well informally, but some facilitation is probably necessary. There may be no obvious need for a group of six to divide up into smaller units, but even groups of six can benefit from some debriefing alone, in pairs or in threes. Some rotation of roles can help to ensure that the group does not settle into one way of operating in which the same one or two people take the lead all of the time.

Task-based debriefing is particularly suited to groups of five or six and upwards. The debrief can be set up as an independent task to be achieved within a given time scale—just like any other group task. The task can have a businesslike feel to it or it may involve creative or dramatic aspects that challenge people to extend their normal ways of debriefing and reflecting and presenting their findings.

Some suitable tasks for a group of six:

There is plenty of scope in any of these task-based methods for a more dynamic form of plenary feedback to a larger group. If the main working group is a facilitated group of around 8 or 12 people, you can divide the group in two and conduct the debrief by setting independent debriefing tasks for each half of the group. If each half has an identical task, it is interesting to compare similarities and differences. If each half group is given a different task, this creates a different kind of interest and can provide some useful time-savings because it allows you to split the debriefing agenda with (say) one subgroup focusing on leadership while the other focuses on team development.

Debriefing for Ten (or Thereabouts)

This is reaching the upper limits for many group debriefing processes. If staying as a whole group for a debrief discussion, people in a group of ten will on average be speaking for 10% of the time and listening for 90%. High quality facilitation is needed to maintain high levels of involvement throughout the group and to ensure that debriefing is an efficient and productive process. Around half the time may well be spent in smaller units (alone, in pairs, in threes or in half groups). Giving individuals or pairs some thinking time will help them to express their thoughts more clearly to the larger group.

How you choose the best balance between debriefing as a whole group and debriefing in smaller units depends on the nature of the particular group. Even where whole group debriefing works well, there are still significant benefits to be gained from doing some debriefing in smaller units.

If debriefing with a group of ten or more, it is important to work out what really must be done as a whole group and what can be done in smaller groups. If there is only one facilitator available, what has to be done as a whole group falls into two categories: (1) What the whole group needs to be present for, and (2) What the facilitator needs to be present for.

(1) What the whole group needs to be present for:

(2) What the facilitator needs to be present for:

Debriefing with 16 People

For a group of 16 people, much of the time can be spent in smaller units—probably twos or fours. The larger group would mainly be for headlines. 16 people may be quite a small group for classroom teaching, but only having airtime or individual attention for 1/16th of a debrief session (and listening for 15/16ths of it) would be a severe limitation and distortion of the principles of participatory experiential learning. And this simple calculation does not take account of the facilitator's airtime, nor of the fact that patterns of participation become increasingly uneven as the group size grows.

Debriefing with 24 People

For a group of 24 people, the main debriefing groups can be subgroups of six or eight people with the large group of 24 used for briefing and sharing rather than for the main debriefing process. Of course, debriefing in groups of six or eight people can include some debriefing time in even smaller subgroups. But it is difficult to manage this well without having a facilitator working at this intermediate level and alive to the needs and interests of the particular group.

Debriefing with 30+ People

As the size of the main group increases, the chances are that the facilitator will split the large group into twos or threes because this instantly allows everyone to have a say and need only be a brief interlude from debriefing in the main group of 30+.

Debriefing with 100+ People

With very large groups you will need different communication systems for announcements—either a public address system (microphone, music, projector etc.) or a well organized system of communicating via representatives. You will also need to allow more time for changes from one group size to another. Working at a large scale almost certainly means a loss of quality unless you have a team of facilitators working with smaller groups. There is no getting away from the basic calculation that the larger the group, the more trained facilitators you need.

Debriefing with Odd Numbers

What about numbers that are indivisible? What if you have a group of 7, 11, 13 or 17 people and you want to use (say) a small group exercise for “rotating threes” (described above)?

If the odd group is a smaller group

If it is a group of 11, you have three threes and a pair. One option is that you or your co-worker joins in to make the pair a three. Another option is that the members of the pair debrief their 5 minute discussion without the help of an observer. If the odd group is a smaller group, your solution for the smaller group is unlikely to inconvenience the other groups.

If the odd group is a larger group

If the odd group is a larger group (e.g. when a group of 17 is divided into three fours and a five) the chances are that the larger group will need extra time if everyone is to have a turn. To prevent this happening, find a volunteer from the group of five to lead the next whole group session. You then spend time with this individual helping them to prepare. Another option is to find a volunteer from within the group of five to be a facilitator for the group rather than a participant.

Further Reference:

(Thiagi's note: Roger uses the word “reviewing” to refer to “debriefing”.)

Reviewing by Numbers (a longer version of this article):

The Active Reviewing Guide:

Reviewing with Large Groups:

Reviewing to Scale:

The Art of Reviewing:

Guest Gamer

This column features interviews with outstanding designers and users of interactive experiential activities. Our guest this month, Alain Rostain, is president of Creative Advantage ( Alain is a highly regarded speaker in the fields of innovation and creativity. He delivers innovation and leadership training and consulting services to Fortune 500 companies all over the world. He is a strong interactive facilitator, and a pioneer in using improv games for training and facilitation. Most recently, Alain was asked to design and deliver a session by the Post Master General where top strategists from some the top 150 US companies generated ideas for increasing the effectiveness/usability of mail. Alain is currently the leader of the Applied Improvisation Network (

An Interview with Alain Rostain

Thiagi: You have a Masters degree in computer science. So how did you end up working with improv games for training and facilitation?

Alain: Well, it's been an interesting journey. When I was an undergraduate and graduate student at Yale, I studied artificial intelligence. We were using computers to simulate human thought process to understand how people think. My passion, however, was in understanding how people think creatively and to unleash this type of thinking. When I saw a performance of improv theater for the first time, it blew me away! The team of actors was doing something extremely creatively on stage. The spontaneity and the skills they demonstrated (taking big risks, building on each other's ideas, and really listening to each other instead of thinking ahead) amazed me. So I started taking improv classes. That is where I learned that these actors play improv games, over and over again, to exercise and to strengthen their creativity and collaboration. And I decided to apply some of the improv games to corporate training.

Thiagi: What exactly is an improv game?

Alain: That's a difficult question to answer. Improv and theater games are exercises that have been developed and integrated over many years to help train actors and improvisers. Some of these games were developed specifically in the theater world, while others have been adapted for use in other areas. For example, Sound Ball (described in detail elsewhere in this issue) is a game designed for improv theater, with great applications to organizational training and development. But other games, like icebreakers that help participants learn each others' names, may not have originated in theater, but I call them improv games anyway.

Thiagi: What's the connection between improv theater and improv games?

Alain: When I tell participants that the training activities will involve improv theater techniques, some of them get frightened because they think they will be asked to perform in a dramatic play. The games we use are not performance games but skill-building games. Improvisers use them to learn how to co-create and to warm up before going on stage. We've adapted them for participants to warm up before collaboratively solving problems and achieving significant results.

Thiagi: Most training and teamwork is focused on specific performance objectives. Doesn't the concept of improv games work against this focus?

Alain: Not at all. While it's true that most of these games don't have direct business outcomes, they contribute to specific performance improvement in several different ways:

Let's begin with brainstorming, for example. Most organizations need to increase innovation and creativity to survive. If you think about the normal work environment, however, several factors get in the way of creative thinking: Employees and managers are afraid to look bad or say the wrong things. Surprises are discouraged and both listening and playfulness are at very low levels. In other words, most corporate cultures are not conducive to team creativity. By using improv games, we can nudge participants into a trustful, playful, risk-taking, and attentive state and significantly improve the results of the brainstorming by generating more ideas and better ideas.

Improv games improve participants' skills in many areas that involve thinking on one's feet and collaboration such as sales, negotiation, presentation, and coaching. I have incorporated improv techniques into training programs in all these areas with excellent results.

Thiagi: So what makes improv games so well suited for training and facilitation?

Alain: Several of the improv games have been tested and tweaked over several decades now. Also, these games can be played over and over again, unlike other training games and simulations that teach single answers. Improv games are very simple, and they usually require little or no supplies. This results in a smaller traveling bag for the trainer! Finally—and most importantly—improv games are very effective in creating a culture of collaborative learning.

Thiagi: How do you get participants to feel comfortable playing improv games, especially when fear of performing in front of an audience is ranked the number one fear, more frightening than the fear of death?

Alain: Here are the five “secrets” that I have used successfully for making participants feel comfortable about doing improv games:

Increase the risk gradually. Start with a short, simple game that is easy for people to be successful at. Gradually increase the length and complexity as participants become more skilled and comfortable about improv games.

Select exercises where everyone participates at the same time. Some improv games require a team or an individual performing the activity while the rest observe. Avoid these games since they put people on the spot. Instead, choose (or modify) a game so everyone participates at the same time.

Begin with a strong context and end with a good tie-back. As a famous game designer (whose name I cannot pronounce) once said, “A game is just an excuse for a good debrief.” So, start your improv activity by telling people what they are going to do, and why. Then debrief the activity, making it acceptable for participants to have negative reactions.

Model failure and mistakes. Since my personal style is very informal, I have no trouble finding many opportunities to demonstrate errors and failures. If you tend to be a perfectionist, find a way to make mistakes and to embrace them. If participants know you don't always get it right, they will feel much safer to explore new experiences. After all, that is what brainstorming is all about, isn't it?

Use the word “simulation” instead of “roleplay”. My experience suggests that people hate roleplays, but love simulations and games!

Thiagi: What advice do you have for trainers and facilitators just starting out with improv games?

Alain: Start slowly. Pick one or two games that you are most comfortable with, and lead with these. Share your strategies and insights with participants. Take the risk of trying out games that you've just heard about or read about. Conducting a new game without excessive preparation and rehearsal keeps you in the moment, which is an important mind set for a facilitator.

Thiagi: Which improv games do you use the most?

Alain: Though I have a toolbox of about 40 improv-based exercises, I could get by with only a handful. Sound Ball is one of these. Another improv game is Quick Draw. And then there's Company Picnic. The more I play these games, the more I learn how to use them for a variety of purposes and situations. You can find out more about my other favorites at my website .

Improv Game

When looking good has become more important than getting the job done, here's an improv game for you to play.

Sound Ball
by Alain Rostain


To increase spontaneity, teamwork, and participation and to decrease the tendency to think ahead instead of listening.


5 to 50. Best with 10 to 25.


12-30 minutes.


Large empty room or space.


Ask players to stand in a circle.

Pretend to hold a ball in your hand. “Show” this imaginary ball to everyone. Tell players that they will be throwing this ball around.

Explain that you are going to throw the ball to one of the players. Before you throw the ball, you will make a special sound.

Instruct everyone to keep their eyes on the ball and get ready to catch it. Before catching the ball, the player should make the same sound that you made.

Make a sound and “throw” the ball to someone. Make sure that this player makes the same sound and catches the ball.

Explain that the catcher can now throw the player to any other player, making a new sound as the ball is thrown. The receiving player repeats the sound and catches the ball. This player throws the ball to any other player, making a new sound.

Once the ball is being thrown around at a fairly brisk pace, introduce another imaginary ball and start throwing it. When the group gets proficient at it, you can have three or four balls in play.


Stop the activity when you the group gets into a flow and it appears that many of the participants are engaged and having more fun. Conduct a debriefing discussion. Elicit and emphasize these ground rules for creative collaboration:

Briefly discuss how these ground rules apply to creative teamwork at the workplace.

Structured Sharing


At the recent annual conference of the International Simulation and Gaming Association (ISAGA) in Munich, I facilitated a general session on conducting activities with large groups.


Results focus: To explore opposing elements related to two topics or issues.

Process focus: To explore factors related to persuading others.


12 to 200. Best with 50 to 100 participants.


20 to 60 minutes.


Design a questionnaire. Select two topics (or issues) that would be of interest to all participants. Make sure that these topics are independent of each other. For each topic, specify two positions.

Here's an example from the ISAGA conference:

Topic 1: Name of the organization.

Position 1: We should change the name of our organization to something new and more memorable than ISAGA.

Position 2: We should retain, respect, and protect the current name of our organization.

Topic 2: Awards and recognition.

Position 1: We should continue giving an award for the Outstanding Research Paper. This should be the only annual award given by our organization.

Position 2: We should give another award for the Outstanding Simulation or Game. This award should be given in addition to the Outstanding Research Paper.

Design a questionnaire that contains the two topics and the two positions for each.

Create Role Assignments. Prepare role assignment sheets for each of the four choices in the questionnaire. Give instructions for assuming a specific position related to one of the topics and persuading others to that position. Print each of the four different role assignments on paper of a different color.

At the ISAGA conference, I did not have time to print the role assignments as handouts. Instead I created PowerPoint® slides and displayed them on the screen.

Here are the four role assignments based on the ISAGA questionnaire:

Role Assignment 1

We should change the name of our organization to something new and more memorable than ISAGA.

Assume this position with respect to the name of the organization. Set aside your personal position if this position is different from yours.

During the activity, your mission is to persuade others to take this position.

Role Assignment 2

We should retain, respect, and protect the current name of our organization.

Assume this position with respect to the name of the organization. Set aside your personal position if this position is different from yours.

During the activity, your mission is to persuade others to take this position.

Role Assignment 3

We should continue giving an award for the Outstanding Research Paper. This should be the only annual award given by our organization.

Assume this position with respect to the name of the organization. Set aside your personal position if this position is different from yours.

During the activity, your mission is to persuade others to take this position.

Role Assignment 4

We should give another award for the Outstanding Simulation or Game. This award should be given in addition to the Outstanding Research Paper.

Assume this position with respect to the name of the organization. Set aside your personal position if this position is different from yours.

During the activity, your mission is to persuade others to take this position.



Administer a pretest. Tell participants that you are going to give them a 20-second questionnaire. Distribute copies of the questionnaire to the participants. Ask them to select one of the two choices for each item. Collected the completed questionnaires and give them to your co-facilitator. If you don't have a co-facilitator, set aside the questionnaires.

Assign roles. Distribute equal numbers of the four Role Assignments to participants so that each participant gets one assignment. Ask participants to spend a couple of minutes to read the instructions. In taking on the assigned role, ask participants to set aside their personal opinions.

Set up meeting areas. Assign four different areas of the room to participants with the four different Role Assignments. For example, point to the northeast side of the room as the location for people who are assigned one point of view related to the first topic. Assign the diagonally opposite side (southwest) for participants who have the same topic but the opposing point of view. Assign participants with the opposing points of views related to the second topic to the other two diagonally opposite areas (southeast and northwest).

Form groups. Ask participants with the same role assignment to move to their assigned areas and form groups of 5 to 10 members each. Explain that it is not necessary for all participants with the same role assignment to form a single large group.

Develop strategies. Ask participants in each group to discuss the role assigned to them and come up with strategies for persuading other participants in the room to agree with their position. To do this, members of each team may come up with a clear and compelling message that they want to deliver to the others. Group members may also develop logical arguments in support of their position. They may also share personal anecdotes in support of their position. Suggest a suitable time limit for this set of activities.

Persuade others. At the end of the assigned time, blow a whistle and announce the end of strategy-development time. Ask participants to meet people from the other areas of the room on a one-on-one basis and try to persuade them to accept their position. Suggest that participants should meet with others who were working on a different topic before trying to persuade people with the opposite point of view on their own topic. Encourage participants to have a conversation rather than just delivering their message and moving away in search of the next listener. Announce a suitable time for this phase of the activity.

Administer a posttest. Distribute copies of the same questionnaire that you used as the pretest. Ask participants to select one of the two choices for each item as before. After a suitable pause, collect the completed questionnaires and quickly count the number of people who selected each of the four alternatives.

Debrief the results. Announce the pretest results related to the first questionnaire item in terms of the number of people selecting each of the two choices. Ask participants to predict whether this distribution would have changed in the posttest. Encourage participants to make a guess and to share their reasoning. Announce the actual posttest results for the first item. Conduct a discussion of the differences (or the lack of differences) between the pretest and the posttest. Repeat the procedure with the other item.

Debrief the process. Ask participants to think of the strategies that they used to persuade others. Conduct a discussion on the persuasion process using these types of questions:


Lost Consonant

Three years ago, my Aussie friend Robby Weatherley introduced me to a delightfully funny Australian illustrator, Graham Rawle. His book, Lost Consonants, is a collection of picture postcards, each with a sentence in which a consonant is missing. The corresponding picture aptly illustrates the resulting ridiculous statement.

Here's an example: The picture shows a number of employees in different types of uniforms. The sentence reads, “During the take-over the workers were left uniformed.” (Get it? The last word in the sentence should have been uninformed, but it lost the second n and ended up as uniformed, resulting in the comical imagery.)

Rawle's book got us thinking about sentences with lost consonants from imaginary business books. Each sentence should miss only one consonant. The spell checker would ignore the loss because the resulting combination of letters is an acceptable English word.

Here are some examples that we came up with. Read them slowly to prevent your brain from automatically adding the missing consonant:

Strategic panning is of limited management value during times of turbulent change.

It is important to clearly resent the corporate vision to all employees.

Managing an orchestra or a heater group involves principles that can be applied to any high-performing professional team.

Surely you can do better than that!

We have created an OQ page where we invite your lost consonant sentences. After you have contributed one or more of your funny examples, check out other people's contributions. You won't win a prize, but you will amuse our readers and gain a reputation for having a sophisticated sense of humor.

Pithy Saying

You Cannot Teach…

You cannot teach everything.

If participants do not perform effectively after training, the usual reaction is to teach them more. This usually involves presenting more content on the assumption that if we tell them everything, people will perform perfectly. The process of adding more and more content can continue indefinitely without producing any improvement in performance. The only positive thing about such additional content is the illusion that we have covered everything: all the rules applied to all different contexts, along with all exceptions to each rule. This insanity does not lead you anywhere. For better results, you should provide less content and more practice and feedback. For the best results, you should teach your participants how to continue learning even while they apply their new skills and knowledge to their job.

You cannot teach everyone.

When I first became a teacher (in a high-school, in Chennai, India) most of the conversations in the teachers' lounge involved blaming the learners: They are stupid, lazy, unprepared, and unmotivated. Later, in the early days of programmed instruction, I was converted to the opposite belief system: If the learner does not learn, it is the programmer's (or teacher's) fault. This maxim made me more accountable and persistent. My neurotic zeal also made me feel guilty, compulsive, inadequate, and co-dependent when someone did not achieve my objectives. I wanted so desperately to teach every skill to everyone. In my recent years, I have learned to consider the possibility that some of the earlier excuses from my colleagues may be based on some element of truth. As a result, I no longer design training programs that guarantee everyone will achieve all my training objectives. Instead, I design targeted training for smaller groups of learners with specific entry levels, learning styles, and cultural preferences.

This pair of pithy sayings constitutes my current set of guidelines. I hope I have not swung too far in the opposite direction and given up too easily.