Our mission statement, copyright notices, and cast of characters

Can Training Games Really Teach?
Games provide practice, but you need to add content.

Thought Experiments
Mind games increase self-awareness.

What do you have? What do you want? What next?

Interview with Margaret Gredler
Comments from an author, psychologist, and game designer

ERROR QUEST by Margaret Gredler
What's wrong with this picture?

Discard worthless goal statements.

What's in a Name?
Do you know Thiagi's real name?

NASAGA2001 Conference
This is the best professional conference that you can attend this year.

Conflict Management Chunks
Solve these three puzzles to resolve conflicts.

Beyond Tic Tac Toe
Can you upgrade a child's game to an adult activity?

Play and Performance
The importance of focusing on the game




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


EDITOR: Sivasailam "Thiagi" Thiagarajan

ASSISTANT EDITOR: Raja Thiagarajan


EDITORIAL ADVISORY BOARD: Andrew Kimball, David Gouthro, Diane Dormant, Kat Koppett, Matt Richter, Steve Sugar, and <type your name here>.


The materials in this newsletter are copyright 2001 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 © 2001 by Workshops by Thiagi, Inc.

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


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. We will be happy to send you an invoice if you (or your organization) need such documentation for financial record keeping.


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!

[Table of Contents]


Can Training Games Really Teach?

Although we rarely receive any refund requests, my publishing company offers a no-questions-asked refund policy to any dissatisfied customer. Last month a customer returned one of our books and took the trouble to explain why she was dissatisfied.

"These games don't teach," her note explained. "They just review things that have been already taught."

Thanks for the explanation, Jane.

Many people share Jane's belief. They want the games to really, actually teach. Their mental model of teaching is presenting and explaining the content to participants. They are obviously ignoring my friend Harold Stolovitch's frequent dictum: "Teaching ain't telling!"

So what exactly is teaching? If we accept learning to be the required outcome of teaching, then teaching has two critical components:

Jane's mental model focuses on the first component and ignores the second. My mental model emphasizes the second component because I believe that teaching should go beyond dumping data.

Adding Active Processes to Passive Content

Content is important--and it is everywhere. Training games can be integrated with different content resources and used to motivate learners to process bits of content and construct meaning out of them. The primary function of a training game is to provide practice and feedback.

Beyond reading. Much of the training content is available in text form in books, reference manuals, reprints, handouts, and job aids. We can use training games to encourage participants to read and understand the content and apply new knowledge and skills to real-world situations. This is exactly what games do.

QUESTION CARDS is a typical game in which participants independently read a handout. To conduct this game, organize participants into teams and ask them to create a large number of cards with questions on one side and the answers on the other. Collect these question cards, add some more of your own, mix the pile, and conduct a quiz game using these questions and answers.

The Internet. Today, surfing the web has replaced library research as the preferred method for collecting information on any specific topic. You can use a special strategy called WebQuest, developed by Bernie Dodge, to help participants process relevant content from the Internet. In a typical WebQuest, participants are required to retrieve different pieces of information from the Web and to analyze, synthesize, and evaluate these pieces of information.

Videotapes. Documentaries, case studies, stories, interviews, and talking-head presentations on videotape are extensively used for training purposes. You can use a training-game strategy (called video vitamins)to enhance the instructional value of training videos. These video vitamins encourage participants to review, reflect, and apply new values, concepts, and skills presented in the video.

RASHOMON is a typical video vitamin. At the beginning of the activity, assign different key roles from the training video's storyline to different participants. Ask participants to watch the story from the point of view of the person with the assigned role. At the conclusion of the video presentation, assemble participants into same-role teams and have them reconstruct the story from that character's point of view. After a suitable pause, ask teams to present the different versions. Debrief the activity to emphasize individual and cultural differences.

Subject-matter experts. Sometimes the content is so novel and specialized that it resides only in the mind of an expert and not in any documented or recorded form. In such a situation, you can use a special type of training games, called interactive lectures, to help participants process this type of information. Interactive lectures incorporate built-in quizzes, interspersed tasks, teamwork interludes, and participant control in presentations by experts.

A sample interactive lecture called PUZZLING PRESENTATION uses a crossword puzzle as a test of mastery of the content. Distribute copies of the crossword puzzle at the beginning of the lecture. Encourage mutual learning by asking participants to work in pairs. Ask your expert to begin her lecture presentation. Stop this lecture from time to time to provide puzzle-solving interludes. Before continuing with the next segment of the lecture, ask the expert to provide feedback and clarification based on how successful the participants were in solving the items related to the preceding presentation.

On-the-Job Learning

Workplace experience can be a major source of instructional content. When supplemented with suitable games, it can provide effective training, as in these examples:

Long-term experience. As an effective training and development strategy, action learning involves a combination of action and reflection by a leadership team to solve complex, strategic problems in an organizational setting. By using this strategy, team members apply existing skills and knowledge and acquire new skills, knowledge, and insights through continuously reflecting on and questioning the problem definition, collaborative behaviors, and ensuing results.

Front-line experience. Experienced employees are in the best position to add improvements, enhancements, and short cuts in their day-to-day work procedures. Participants' experiences can provide valuable learning content. Structured sharing techniques are organized activities that enable participants to collect and share best-practice ideas with each other. In an activity called TOP TIPS, for example, individual participants think about powerful strategies for handling workplace problems and issues. During the next round, participants pair up and share their ideas with each other. During the next round, two pairs form a quad and each participant in this group explains their partner's idea to the other pair. During the last round of this activity, each quad presents its best idea to the entire group.

New to the Job. How about inexperienced entry-level employees? You can use performance-based instructional strategies developed by Dale Brethower and Karolyn Smalley. Here's an example of how this strategy works: During the first phase (labeled guided observation), newly-hired customer service agents (CSAs) are given checklists that list the steps and standards for such activities as answering the phone, listening to the customer, and taking action. The new CSAs tour the work area and individually observe experienced CSAs working the telephone lines. Later, the new CSAs organize themselves in groups of three and compare their observations. During the second phase (labeled guided practice), the new CSAs (still working in triads) take on the roles of a customer, a CSA, and an observer and practice providing customer service over the telephone, using appropriate scenarios, scripts, and checklists. During the third phase (labeled demonstration of mastery), the trainees take on real calls from live customers while the facilitator rates their performance.

Learning from Experience

Experience is the best teacher--especially if it is supported by training games.

Natural experiences. Critical incidents in the workplace--of both the positive and the negative kind--can provide useful content for deriving concepts and principles. Special types of training games, called debriefing games, help participants reflect on such incidents and learn useful lessons from them. Activities during debriefing games encourage participants to identify and express emotions, recall key events and decisions, share principles and insights, relate one event to another, speculate how things could have been different, and plan for future action.

Here's how you conduct a debriefing game called 20 QUESTIONS to follow up any disastrous event. To prepare for the game, you generate 20 questions about the event around the general topics of what happened, why did it happen, and how can we prevent it from happening again. Organize participants into teams of four to seven. Ask the first question and invite each participant to think of a response without blurting it out. Then ask participants to turn to a team member on the left and whisper a prediction of how the player on the right will respond. Then ask participants to take turns giving their personal responses. If a response matches the prediction, the person who made the prediction scores a point. The game continues in this fashion until you have used up all 20 questions.

Contrived experiences. Simulation games incorporate play objects, goals, rules, roles, and rewards that reflect real-world processes. When used for training purposes, a simulation game enables participants to experience an "almost" real event. Supported by suitable debriefing discussion, such simulation games help participants discover underlying principles and practice appropriate skills.

SIMCITY® is a computer simulation game designed by Maxis. You can use this game to explore different aspects of planning and running a city. In the game, you set up residential, commercial, and industrial zones and connect them with roads. You select what type of power plant--coal, oil, gas, wind, hydroelectric, or nuclear--to build. You select the speed of the simulation and watch houses, factories, and shopping malls pop up on the map. Using a budget window, you specify property tax rate and allocate funds to police, fire, health, education, welfare, and transportation. Throughout these activities, the software program calculates various changes in your city in terms of such factors as traffic, land value, pollution, and unemployment. Using logical thinking and trial and error, you try to come up with the right type of governance that would maintain a healthy growth rate in your city. If you are successful, the software program erects a statue in your honor in the downtown area.

Mutual Reinforcement

Perhaps the term training game is a misnomer. By themselves, training games cannot effectively teach. But for that matter, neither can any other method. Effective teaching involves and integrates more than one method. By following other sources of content presentation with a training game or by reversing the sequence and following a training game with a debriefing discussion to process the content generated in the game, we can achieve more effective teaching.

[Table of Contents]

Tool kit

Trainers and performance consultants can use a variety of interactive, experiential strategies and techniques. In each issue of Play for Performance, the Tool Kit section explores a specific interactive tool and presents practical suggestions and field-tested examples.

Thought Experiments

Thought experiments are independent mental activities that increase a player's self-awareness. Some thought experiments involve guided fantasies in which participants visualize new patterns of behavior or hold a silent dialogue with their alter ego. When combined with self-reflection, ideas and emotions generated through these mind games provide valuable insights.

LOSSES: A Sample Thought Experiment

You are one of 15 managers who have been selected to receive special training in change management. At the beginning of the two-day workshop, Almita, your facilitator, explains that she is going to conduct a guided-visualization activity that will involve personal information. This makes you slightly anxious. However, Almita reassures you by emphasizing that there will be no interaction among participants; nor will anyone be forced to share their thoughts and feelings.

Almita asks everyone to tear a piece of paper and tear into eight smaller pieces. She asks you to write the names of two people who you enjoy working with, each name on a separate piece of paper. You write the names of your manager, Kathy, and your coworker, Dinesh. Following further directions from Almita, you write two each of these items on separate pieces of paper:

Almita begins to tell a story: Your company has hired a high-priced re-engineering consultant to recommend work-process improvements. As a result of implementing these changes, you lose two of your favorite items. To simulate this, Almita asks you to examine your pieces of paper and remove any two that you are willing to sacrifice for the sake of improved productivity at work. After some struggle, you decide to give up your desktop computer and your weekly team meetings. You put aside the two pieces of paper.

Almita's story continues. After 3 weeks, the consultant returns with additional recommendations. As a result, you have to give up two other favorite items from your remaining set.

As you anticipated, during the next segment of the story, you lose two more items.

During the third round, Almita changes the procedure slightly. She explains that due to increasing global competition, your company has launched an aggressive cost-reduction campaign. Your decision-making authority has been reduced significantly. Almita now asks each participant to reach over to the two remaining pieces of paper that belong to a participant seated near and randomly remove one to simulate this situation.

You are now left with a single piece of paper with "creative problem solving",an important competency that you bring to your job.

Almita asks everyone to look at the item on the last piece of paper and cherish it for a few moments. She then tells everyone: "Crumple this piece of paper and throw it on the floor. You have been downsized and your branch of the company has been moved to Mexico."

After a break, Almita talks about unanticipated personal losses that always accompany change initiatives in large organizations.


As a training strategy, thought experiments have several advantages:


Thought experiments have their share of disadvantages and limitations:

Types of Thought Experiments

All thought experiments share these the two key features:

Different types of thought experiments vary in two key aspects: how instructions are presented and what types of responses are required.

Instructions to participants may be presented in the following forms:

Thought experiment participants may be asked to respond in any of the following modes:

More Samples

Here are some sources of thought experiment activities along with additional examples:

Have you been cubed yet? One of oldest thought experiments is THE CUBE. This game, popular in the coffeehouses of Eastern Europe, is reputed to be of ancient Sufi origin. The game involves participants imagining a desert landscape with five specific elements. According to a current book about this game, your answer is a "soulprint" that provides a profile of your inner life. You can interpret the answer to discover unconscious truths about how you define yourself. If you are intrigued, you can get detailed directions and interpretations from either of these two books written by Annie Gottlieb and Slobodan Pesic:

Made in Japan. Kokology is a current fad in Japan that was created by Isamu Satto, a professor of psychology at Rissho University. Kokology activities ask you to answer questions about seemingly innocent topics and then reveal what your answers say about you.

Here's a sample activity from the paperback book, Kokology: The Game of Self Discovery (by Tadahiko Nagao and Isamu Saito published in 2000 by Fireside, ISBN 0-684-87148-3): Your task is to return to your childhood perspective and draw a design on a piece of paper using a single circle and any number of triangles and squares. After you have completed the task, you turn the page for instructions on how to interpret your design: The circle represents you while the triangles stand for work and study and the squares reflect society and its rules. The book suggests the significance of the size and the location of the circle, and the number, size, overlap, and locations of the triangles and squares. Even if you don't agree with the interpretation, the activity encourages you to think about your sense of self and your relationship with the world of work.

Beyond chicken soup. Forty of my most favorite thought experiments are contained in Drew Leder's brilliant book, Games for the Soul: 40 Playful Ways to Find Fun and Fulfillment in a Stressful World (published by Hyperion, ISBN 0-7868-8331-6). Surprisingly, this is a book on spiritual growth written by a professor of Western and Eastern Philosophy. However, the author does not believe in hard labor and self-sacrifice and suggests that fun, joy, and creativity can help you explore such basic values of generosity, gratitude, love, and forgiveness. In this truly inspirational book, Drew Leder draws from different religions to present his "way of play" without ever preaching or pontificating.

Here's an elegant mind game based on Leder's Time Traveling that I play almost every day. Whenever I get flustered, I enter into my imaginary time machine, set the dials for 20 years into the future, and observe what is happening from this distanced, detached perspective. Invariably I stop whining when my current disaster shrinks down to a small inconvenience. For playful instructions on to use this activity as a TUD (Trivia Unmasking Device) and MUD (Meaning Unfolding Device), get a copy of Leder's book.

What Next?

Review the sample thought experiments and create your own versions to suit your needs and your audience. Get copies of the books mentioned in this section and play the games and play with the ideas. Create your own thought experiments. Read the instructions for THE GRID in the following section. Follow the instructions and play the game. Then modify it for use in your training sessions.

[Table of Contents]

Featured Activity

Each issue of Play for Performance features a ready-to-play interactive, experiential activity. We provide complete instructions, debriefing suggestions, and reproducible master pages for the field-tested activity.


Here's a structured activity that encourages introspection and increased self awareness. You can "play" THE GRID by yourself by following the instructions, taking care not to read ahead before completing each task. You can also facilitate someone else through the activity by giving these instructions while the other person follows them.

Work through THE GRID before helping others to use it. You may be able to use this activity as a closing exercise in many of your training programs by limiting and relating the scope to your objectives.



This is primarily an individual activity. However, you can conduct the activity with large groups of participants by asking them to work individually, without interacting with each other.


30 - 45 minutes


A copy of the grid for each participant. To create the grid, fold a piece of paper in half and then fold it in half again in the other direction. Open the folded paper and lightly number the four quadrants thus:

  4     1  
  3     2  


Write different items in each of the four quadrants.

You can write anything that pops into your mind, as long as you write it in the appropriate quadrant.

So start writing. Stop when you feel that have run out of steam.

Don't read the next section until you have completed this task.


Did you really complete the task of writing items in the four quadrants before reading this section? If you did not, that's okay. Your behavior merely indicates that you are dyslexic or incapable of following directions or capable of making up your own rules.

Review the following list of Thought Triggers. See if these categories suggest more items that you can add to your grid:

Add more items to the grid as suggested by these thought triggers.

Do this before reading the next section.


Think back on what you did earlier in completing your grid.

I am going to ask you a series of questions. Think of the answers (you don't have to write them down or share them with anyone else) and figure out what they suggest about you.

Process Check

Content Check

Paired Comparisons

Think about the grid. Add more items whenever you feel like it.

Please proceed with the next section of debriefing only after you have done this.

More Debriefing

So what implications does your grid have for future action? Here are some suggestions for you to think about. Feel free to write down the action items.

Quadrant 1

Review the items on the first quadrant. These are items that you want and have. Take one item at a time and think about the following action steps:

Quadrant 2

Review the items in the second quadrant. These are items that you want but currently don't have. Take one item at a time and think about the following action steps:

Quadrant 3

Review the items in the third quadrant. These are items that you don't want and don't have--but there is a chance that you may get them. Take one item at a time and think about the following action steps:

Quadrant 4

Review the items in the fourth quadrant. These are items that you have -- but don't want. Take one item at a time and think about the following action steps:

Additional Suggestions

Here are some additional thoughts about THE GRID as a self-assessment tool:

May the items on your grid keep moving toward the top right. However, may new items keep popping up all around the grid to keep your life exciting.

[Table of Contents]

Guest Gamer

Interview with Margaret Gredler

This column features interviews with outstanding designers and users of interactive experiential activities. Our guest this month, Margaret "Peggy" Gredler, is Professor of Educational Psychology at the University of South Carolina and the author of Designing and Evaluating Games and Simulations: A Process Approach (Kogan Page) and Learning and Instruction: Theory into Practice (Merrill), which is in its fourth edition. She designs games and simulations for the workplace and the classroom.

* * *

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

Peggy: Quite by accident -- as a desperate move to get students in my classes to do more than memorize superficial information for exams. That wasn't working, but they had no other strategies. Distributing and explaining sample questions didn't do the job, because students think "I knew that all the time." I needed a situation that introduced the tension and uncertainty of an examination without the consequences. I devised a Monopoly-type game in which student teams (2-3 persons) take turns answering questions drawn from a deck of question cards. In advance, each team wagers money on whether they can answer the upcoming question, knowing only the topic and difficulty level (all were problem-solving and inference situations). One person at each table serves as the banker. For correct answers, teams receive matching funds from the "bank", and lose only their wager for incorrect answers (so they never go broke). The opposing team may challenge any answer. Facing sample questions under pressure did the trick -- they focused more on understanding concepts and problems.

Thiagi: Where do you use games?

Peggy: In graduate university classes for teachers and instructional designers, in corporate training sessions, and in workshops for government agencies. Sadly, by the time students get to my classes, they are totally conditioned to the listen-to-lecture-take-notes-feed-back-information-on-exams syndrome. Breaking out of that mold is difficult for them.

Thiagi: What are some changes, improvements, and innovations that have occurred in the field of training games since the publication of your book?

Peggy: Since 1992, perhaps the key innovation is the astronomical growth of the Internet and the web and improvements in computer-based technologies. In addition to changing the ways people obtain information, convenience, speed of access, and individual control are particularly appealing features. However, as with all new technologies, we have yet to take advantage of these new developments. Many on-line courses do not yet utilize the communicative capabilities of the web; they are elaborated texts. Also, Power Point presentations are simply "dressed up" transparencies. The new training opportunities opened up by the web include e-mail etiquette, maintaining cohesiveness in the face of computer-station isolation, and team management.

A second important change is the increased need for continuing training and team building in the workplace. These needs have likely contributed to the increase in the use of games and simulations in corporate settings, reported to be 62 percent in a 1998 survey by A. J. Faria.

Thiagi: As a Professor of Educational Psychology, how do learning theories view the use of interactive, experiential approaches to learning?

Peggy: They do not specifically address particular methods or approaches, such as cooperative groups or other experiential exercises. Instead, each theory identifies broad principles that should be met in order to achieve the type of learning described by the theory. B. F. Skinner's operant conditioning, for example, emphasizes the importance of consequences in changing behavior. Games and simulations are excellent mechanisms for learning from one's mistakes. Current research on learning by Robert Bjork also indicates that training conditions that prevent certain mistakes give trainees false beliefs about their competence and can also defer those mistakes to the post-training setting. Well-designed games and simulations can prevent this problem.

Bob Gagné's domains of learning identify different kinds of learning outcomes and the required conditions. Manipulating symbols, for example, is essential for learning to apply rules and solve problems in different content areas and games can meet this requirement quite well. The task for the instructional designer or trainer is to develop or choose experiential activities that meet the requirements of the theory's broad principles.

The important contribution of learning theory to the design and use of experiential exercises is that these theories are learner-centered. While it is easy for developers to get sidetracked on game mechanics and bells and whistles, learning theory reminds us that what happens to the participant is of paramount importance. In a simulation, for example, appropriate behavioral contingencies that support the conscientious execution of participants' roles is essential.

Thiagi: How can we assess participant learning from games, simulations, and other such strategies?

Peggy: An often-used approach is to ask participants to evaluate the extent of their learning through surveys or questionnaires. However, '90s research conducted in a variety of settings indicates that most participants are poor judges of their learning and achievement.

Assessment of participant learning is a two-stage process. First is to evaluate the capability of the interactive exercise to address the identified goal, e.g., awareness of a particular need, or developing knowledge, or new strategies for addressing complex issues. Included are answering questions such as, "What is the nature of the situation confronted by each participant?" "What behaviors does it generate?" and "What behaviors are rewarded by the situation?"

Stage two can utilize a carefully developed paper-and pencil test following the debriefing. Two- to four-line scenarios that require application of learning are appropriate. Ideally, of course, we would hope to see changed trainee behavior in the work setting, but such assessments are usually beyond the trainer's control.

Thiagi: What special features should be incorporated in games and simulations for corporate training?

Peggy: They should be issue-oriented, actively engage all the participants, and reward involvement. A decisionmaking exercise also should conclude a debriefing session that involves sharing observations, interpreting events, and developing generalizations. In this way, participants are empowered to take follow-up action in their work setting.

Thiagi: Who are among your favorite game designers?

Peggy: In addition to you, Ken Jones who is the author of several excellent books, including Designing Your Own Simulations and Simulations: A Handbook for Teachers and Trainers. I admire Ken for his penetrating insights and creative interactive exercises. Describing most definitions in the field as "unsafe" because they ignore human behavior, he reminds us of the harmful effects of blurring games and simulations. The key objective in competitive games is to win by any strategy that defeats the other players. In simulations, participants are not players. They have functional roles with duties and responsibilities (such as city planners or space crash victims). Problems occur when participants are unaware of which methodology they are supposed to be in; some act to defeat others and some take their roles seriously. The result for the serious participants is hurt feelings and personal damage. The perception of game players is that the others cannot take a joke.

[Table of Contents]



By Margaret Gredler

Here's a framegame from our Guest Gamer.

You can use ERROR QUEST in any situation you have policies, rules, standards, or criteria. Here are some sample topics:

The game requires participants to identify violations of the rules. The scoring system rewards identification of serious errors more than trivial ones.


To clarify key elements in company policies, procedures, rules, standards, and criteria


30 minutes to 1 hour


Any number, organized into teams of 2-3 members



In a game called MENU MIXUP, we used USDA Guidelines to present our set of standards.

We used several menus such as this one:

    Cherry Cobler

    Mexican Chili

    Roll and butter


This is the scoring key that we used:


Brief participants. Organize participants into two or more teams, each with 3 to 5 members. Present (or review) the rules related to the training topic.

Teamwork. Present the first items to examined. Ask teams to identify all errors and make a list.

Scoring. After a suitable pause, ask the first team to identify the error. If correct, award the appropriate number of points. If incorrect, award zero points for this round and tell the team that they would forfeit their next turn. Ask the next team to identify a different error. Repeat the same scoring process until all errors have been identified.

Continuation. Repeat the process with next item to be reviewed. During the scoring round, begin with a different team.

Conclusion. After inspecting the last product, identify the team with the most score points as the winner.

Follow up. Conduct a debriefing discussion about errors that were difficult to detect. Also discuss strategies for avoiding different types of errors.

[Table of Contents]

Metaphorical Simulation Game

TRASH: A Goal-Setting Simulation

Specifying performance goals is an essential element of effective management. For example, the success of annual performance reviews depends on the statement of goals for the employee. Several elaborate and time-consuming simulation games incorporate goal-setting activities. In contrast, this light-hearted version uses everyday materials to focus on important aspects of specifying performance goals.

This simulation game consists of six similar rounds of activity, each involving a different participant. A mini debriefing discussion is undertaken immediately after each round to identify the emotional impact of the type of goal statement used during the round and to relate the experience with workplace events. The final activity requires participants to apply their insights to the specification of work-related performance goals.


To specify work-related performance goals at the right level of challenge, using the right choice of language.


Any number more than 3 (See the section on Adjustments for modifying the game to suit audience size.)


20 - 40 minutes (including debriefing time)



Round 1. No Goals

Before starting this round, make sure that there is a wastebasket somewhere in the vicinity. However, do not call attention to it.

Crumple up a piece of paper. Give it to one of the participants. (Let's call this person Helper 1.) Glance at your watch.

Avoid eye contact with Helper 1. Talk to the group about the activity you are going to conduct. Explain that it is called TRASH and that the acronym stands for "targeted response assessment for supporting humans". The activity basically deals with setting goals for people who work with you or work for you. Briefly explain the importance of setting mutual goals in any performance-management venture.

Stop in the middle of your explanation (preferably in the middle of a sentence) and look at your watch. Turn to Helper 1 and deliver the following message in your own words:

Your time's up. You were supposed to throw that piece of paper into the wastebasket and you failed to do it. It should have been obvious to you. Do I have to tell you what to do all the time? Can't you figure out things for yourself? Do I have to spell out obvious things?

Conduct a mini debriefing by asking Helper 1 how she feels. Ask other participants how they would feel in a similar situation. Elicit feelings of irritation, defensiveness, and being insulted.

Explain that you were demonstrating the no-goal situation. Ask participants for workplace examples of this situation and its impact on productivity.

Round 2. Trivial Goal

Retrieve the crumpled piece of paper and select the next participant (Helper 2). Place the wastebasket close to her and deliver the following message in your own words:

Here's a piece of paper. Here's a wastebasket. Drop the trash in the can. You will receive more paper trash from the others. Throw it all in the wastebasket. Your performance will be evaluated in terms of the number of pieces of trash thrown into the wastebasket.

Ask other participants to crumple up more sheets of trash paper. Give the first piece of paper to Helper 2 and observe her action. Call time at the end of 30 seconds, count the number of pieces of paper in the wastebasket and congratulate Helper 2.

As before ask Helper 2 how she feels. Ask other participants how they would feel in a similar situation. Elicit feelings of boredom, under-utilization of talents, and being patronized.

Explain that you were demonstrating the trivial-goal situation. Ask participants for workplace examples of this situation and its impact on productivity.

Round 3. Impossible Goal

Empty the wastebasket, pick up one of the pieces of paper and select the next participant to be Helper 3. Deliver the following message in your own words:

Stand 10 feet away from the wastebasket. Use your left hand (or your right hand if you are left-handed) to toss the piece of paper into the wastebasket. Keep your eyes closed during this procedure. We will supply you with additional pieces of trash paper. Keep throwing them with your eyes closed. Also, be aware that I will be moving the wastebasket around. Don't open your eyes to peek at its location. Your performance will be evaluated in terms of the number of pieces of trash correctly placed in the wastebasket during the next 30 seconds.

Conduct the activity as described in your message. Call time after 30 seconds and ask Helper 3 to open her eyes.

Elicit reactions from Helper 3 and from other participants. You will probably hear about frustration, incompetence, lack of feedback, and being set up to fail.

Explain that you were demonstrating the impossible-goal situation. Ask participants for workplace examples of this type of situation (usually under the guise of stretch goals) and its impact on productivity.

Round 4. Incomprehensible Goal

Empty the wastebasket. Give a piece of trash paper to a new participant, Helper 4. Deliver this message in your own words (but preserving the technical jargon).

You performance requirement is to place these recyclable cellulose spheroids of deformed fractal planes inside a hollow truncated container. Launch the spheroid projectile in a parabolic arc whose focus is precisely 125 centimeters above the top surface of your cranium. Take into consideration wind velocity, inertial mass of the projectile, and acceleration due to gravity at 981 centimeters per second squared. Your level-four performance assessment will involve the rate at which the projectiles achieve zero velocity inside the truncated container.

Even before Helper 4 begins the task, ask her how she feels. Ask other participants for their comments. Elicit the feelings of confusion and being swamped by bureaucratic jargon.

Explain that you were demonstrating the incomprehensible-goal situation. Ask participants for workplace examples of this situation and its impact on productivity.

Round 5. Flaky Goals

Select Helper 5 and present the following message in your own words, taking care to maintain a poker face.

Take a deep breath and visualize yourself experiencing a peak state of self-actualization. Center yourself and become one with this beautiful piece of cosmic resource. Trust your intuition to connect the resource and the container. Visualize a perfect karmic union of the piece of paper with its ultimate destiny.

Before Helper 5 begins the task, ask her how she feels. Ask other participants how they would feel in a similar situation, especially if they did not have any prior knowledge of what was to be done. Elicit the feelings of confusion and embarrassment.

Explain that you were demonstrating the flaky-goal situation, which produces an impact similar to previous incomprehensible goal situation. Ask participants for workplace examples of this situation (usually under the guise of empowering employees) and its impact on productivity.

Round 6. Verbose Goal

Select Helper 6 and present the following message in your own words, enunciating properly and speaking in a monotone.

You will be given a variety of office trash, including, but not limited to, crumpled sheets of paper of various colors and weights. You will also have access to one of seven different-standard issue wastebaskets usually placed on the floor. Using OSHA-approved lifting procedures and alternating between your preferred hand and the other hand to prevent repetitive stress disabilities, you should be able to dispose off the trash at a rate that exceeds five pieces every 30 seconds. During your performance you may not refer to any notes, job aids, or consultative assistance from peers or supervisors.

Before Helper 6 can begin, exclaim that you have run out of time. Ask this Helper and others for reactions. Elicit feelings of boredom, confusion, and paranoia.

Explain that you were demonstrating the verbose-goal situation. Ask participants for workplace examples of this situation (under the guise of precision) and its impact on productivity.

Positive Applications

Point out that the examples of dysfunctional goals in the earlier simulations were compressed and contrived. However, they incorporate some key principles. Suggest that participants should do the exact opposite of everything that you demonstrated and set specific, nontrivial, non-frustrating, brief goals stated in plain language.

Ask participants to pair up and write a goal statement related to trash-throwing activity. Announce a 3-minute time limit.

Read a few selected goal statements and ask participants to comment whether they are trivial, impossible, incomprehensible, flaky or verbose.

Now ask each participant to work individually and take a job-related performance and state a goal statement. Announce a 5-minute time limit.

After 5 minutes, ask for volunteers to read their goal statements. Ask others to comment on each statement using the same framework as before.


The ideal group size for this activity is six, one participant taking the prime role during each round. I have conducted this simulation exercise with small and large groups. Here are some suggestions on how to modify the activity to suit groups of different sizes:

With fewer than six participants, just rotate the Helper's role so some participants play this role more than once.

With 10 to 20 participants, set up the wastebasket at the front of the room. Randomly select Helpers from different parts of the room and ask them to come to the front of the room. Make sure that other members of the audience can observe the participant's actions.

With hundreds of participants, seat groups of 7-10 around round tables and place the wastebasket conveniently near. Give the instructions for each round from the front of the room. During the mini debriefing sessions, ask participants at each table to talk among themselves. Move around a few tables to report interesting excerpts from the conversations.

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What's in a Name?

People call me "Thiagi". But my real name is Sivasailam Thiagarajan.

Actually, my real real name is Thiagarajan.

You see, in the Tamil culture where I come from, the concept of last name doesn't exist. Each individual has a single name.

In 1967 when I went to get my visa at the US Consulate in Madras, I got terrified by the nice lady at the visa desk.

The lady pulled out a form and asked me, "What's your last name?"

Confused, I wondered if people keep changing their name frequently. Since I hadn't changed my name, I mumbled, "Thiagarajan".

The visa lady wrote down Thiagarajan.

She asked, "What's your first name?"

Thinking that this is some special strategy to identify terrorists with different aliases, I responded, "It's also Thiagarajan"

The visa lady looked up and said, "So your full name is Thiagarajan Thiagarajan? That sounds silly."

Totally flustered, I looked outside and saw a bus going to a place called Sivasailam.

I blurted out, "My first name is Sivasailam."

That seemed to make the visa lady happy. She wrote it down.

The torture continued. She looked up and asked, "What's your middle name?"

I said "Nothing"

That's how I ended up a visa that lists my name as Sivasailam Nutting Thiagarajan!

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Event Alert


The North American Simulation and Gaming Association (NASAGA) has been in the business of improving human performance for the past 38 years. For nearly four decades, NASAGA has been revealing the secrets of improving human performance in an effective, efficient, and enjoyable fashion. NASAGA members have been designing and delivering interactive, participatory, experiential approaches to performance improvement.

So it is only appropriate that the theme of NASAGA2001 Conference should be "Play for Performance".

What is NASAGA?

The North American Simulation and Gaming Association (NASAGA) is a dynamic network of professionals, educators, military personnel and students exchanging ideas, designing, implementing, and evaluating games, simulations, and other experiential activities to improve individual and organizational performance. NASAGA's primary mission is to facilitate the use of simulations and games and to collect, develop, and spread information about the principles and procedures of interactive, experiential approaches to education, training, and performance improvement.

What is NASAGA Conference?

NASAGA 2001 is the 38th annual NASAGA Conference. It is scheduled for October 24-27, 2001. The conference will be held at the Indiana Memorial Union in Bloomington, IN. As a long-time member of NASAGA and of its Executive Board, I am coordinating this year's conference.

Why should I attend NASAGA 2001?

Here are 4 reasons (in no particular order):

For more information ...

To contribute a proposal and to register for the conference, please visit this website: .

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Conflict Resolution Chunks

To create a chunks puzzle, we take a sentence and cut it up into three-character chunks (including the spaces and punctuation marks). We arrange these chunks in an alphabetical order.

Here's an example.

      [ A ] [ CH] [ TH] [CE.]
      [ESE] [NGE] [O F] [ORM]
      [REA] [RRA] [S T] [SEN]
      [TEN] [UNK]

Solve the puzzle by rearranging the chunks to form a sentence.

Here's the solution: Rearrange these chunks to form a sentence.

Three Chunks to Solve

Recently, I created three chunks to summarizes key learning points in a conflict-management workshop. See if you can solve them all.

Chunks 1

      [ DO] [ FL] [ JU] [DON]
      [EE,] [FIG] [FLO] [HT,]
      [N'T] [ST ] ['T ] [W! ]

Chunks 2

      [ EV] [ WI] [ WI] [A C]
      [ERY] [ESS] [IN ] [LIC]
      [NO ] [NS ] [NS!] [ONE]
      [ONE] [ONF] [T, ] [UNL]

Chunks 3

      [ AR] [ EA] [ PR] [ TH]
      [. Y] [CAN] [CON] [CT ]
      [CTS] [E L] [EDI] [EM.]
      [ENT] [FLI] [IKE] [KES]
      [M O] [NOT] [OU ] [QUA]
      [R P] [REV] [RTH] [THE]

Click here for hints.

Click here for solutions.

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Every issue, we challenge our readers with an exciting contest. The winner will receive a gift certificate worth up to $50 towards the purchase of any book or game from Workshops by Thiagi, Inc.


TIC TAC TOE (also known as Noughts and Crosses) is an ancient and universal game. Chances are that you played it when you were a child. I remember playing the game with my cousin when I was a child by drawing the grid on sand and using pebbles of different colors to indicate the moves.

TIC TAC TOE (TTT) has universal appeal because all you need is a piece of paper and pencil. Also, there are no complicated rules for you to learn.

The reason you are not playing the game any more is that once you have figured out the strategy, you always win against weaker players or always tie with players of equal competence. So the game becomes boring.

TTT is too wonderful a game to be ignored. This is where your challenge comes in.

Design a variation of TTT that will keep adult players intrigued and challenged.

You can come up with any type of variation as long as it incorporates the basic elements and flow of traditional TTT.

Here's an example in which we converted TTT into a card game:

Pick the Aces, 2s, and 3s of Clubs, Hearts, and Spades from a deck of playing cards. Shuffle the card and place them face up on a table. Find an opponent and take turns picking up a card. Any time a player collects three cards of the same value, or three cards of the same suit, or the 2 of Hearts plus an Ace and a 3 that are of different suits (and not Hearts). If you imagine the cards being arranged in a 3 x 3 grid like this, you can see that the card game is just another version of TTT:

 AC   AH   AS 
 2C   2H   2S 
 3C   3H   3S 

Here's an auditory version of TTT to be played by three players:

During each round, one player acts as the recorder and the judge. She draws a 3 x 3 grid and numbers the cells in this fashion:

 1   2   3 
 4   5   6 
 7   8   9 

She hides the grid from the other two players. These players mentally visualize the grid and take turns to call out the cell numbers where their symbol is to be placed. The recorder keeps track of the player's moves on her grid. The game is won just as in traditional TTT, except that players must also announce when they have won. In addition, a player loses the game if she tries to place a symbol in a cell that is already occupied, or announces that she won when she didn't.


The deadline for this contest is 11:59 PM Eastern Standard Time on June 30, 2001. All contest entries must be received by that time. (Keep this in mind if you send your entry by Postal mail.)


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Chunks Hints:

Chunks 1:

The first word is "Don't".

Chunks 2:

One of the words is "unless".

Chunks 3:

The last word is "them."

Back to the puzzle

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Pithy Advice

Play the game; don't perform it!

Don't modify your play behavior to impress spectators, kibitzers, commentators, or TV cameras. Don't try to live up to other people's idea of a champion. Be here now, totally responding to what is happening in the game. Immerse yourself completely in having fun and winning the game. Follow your planned strategy and spontaneous intuition.

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Chunks Solutions:

Chunks 1: Don't fight, don't flee, just flow!

Chunks 2: In a conflict, no one wins unless everyone wins!

Chunks 3: Conflicts are like earthquakes. You cannot predict them or prevent them.

Back to the puzzle