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

Interactive Lecture
The most interesting and the most intriguing.

99 Seconds
Two Questions
Actually, there are three of them.

Guest Gamer
Interview with Scott Simmerman
The “Square-Wheels Guy” shares his insights.

Online Interaction
OQ: Open Question
Test drive an online learning tool.

Event Alert
Join the Montreal circus for some serious fun!

Training, Facilitation, Consulting, and Happiness
Brief reviews of five useful books.

Pithy Saying
Two Excuses
Either way, you can't win.





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

Managing Editor: Brenda Mullin

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

Copyright Info

The materials in this newsletter are copyright 2003 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 © 2003 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!

Interactive Lecture


Interactive lectures combine the structure and control of lecture presentations and interest and interactivity of games. Here's an interactive lecture activity that requires participants to work individually and in pairs to logically analyze, organize, and prioritize items related to workplace violence.



Any number


10-15 minutes for each round of the activity.

Flow of the Activity

Brief participants. Before your presentation, advise participants to pay careful attention to your talk and to take ample notes because you will be conducting a review exercise at the end. Make your presentation at a fairly brisk pace.

Identify a superlative. After the presentation, ask participants to review the notes and look for the most important point from the presentation. Encourage them to refer back to their notes.

Elicit a response. After a brief pause, invite any participant to announce what she considers to be the most important point. After the response, ask the participant to explain the logic behind the choice. Add your own comments to support the participant's choice.

Ask for alternative responses. Point out that there could be more than one correct answer to the question, “Which is the most important point?” Elicit alternative responses from different participants, one at a time. Invite other participants to comment on these choices.

Identify a new category. Ask participants to review their notes again and identify the most useful point from the presentation. Pause briefly while participants review their notes.

Ask partners to discuss their choices. Ask participants to find partners. Ask each pair of participants to share their answers to the question “What is the most useful point from the presentation?” If both partners have the same answer, ask them to discuss the reasons for their choice. If the partners have different answers, ask them to come to an agreement about which of the two answers contains the most important point.

Ask participants to present their choices. After a suitable pause, ask a pair of participants to announce the most useful point and the reason for its selection. Comment briefly to reinforce the selection. Ask for alternative choices from other pairs of participants.

Identify more categories. Repeat the procedure with other superlatives such as these:

Conclude the activity. Congratulate participants for their in-depth analysis and understanding of characteristics and events associated with workplace violence. Explain that their choice of items that fit different superlatives may change from time to time depending on the situation.

99 Seconds

Two Questions

99 Seconds is a strategy in which a presenter makes a brisk, self-contained presentation that lasts for less than 99 seconds. Here's an exploration of a 99-Seconds format.

Key Idea

You ask two related questions and ask members of two sides of the audience to shout out the answer. You comment briefly on each answer and conclude the session by asking the audience to integrate the two answers.


Here's a transcript of a recent presentation that used Two Questions:

Here's a question for the left half of the audience: What is the most frequently used intervention for improving human performance?

Here's a different question for members of the right half: What is the most important intervention?

Take your time to silently think about the answer. (Pause for 5 seconds.)

Time's up. At the count of three, I want all of you in the left group to shout out your answer. One, two, three.

(Audience members shout out the answer. “Training” is likely to be one of the answers.)

Yes, you are right. Training is the most popular intervention. Everybody wants training. It is the most popular placebo for all performance problems.

Now for the right group. One, two, three.

(Audience members shout out the answer. “Training” is not likely to be one of the answers.)

Yes, you are right. Training is the most important intervention. It works for a lack of skills and knowledge. When you use other interventions, performers still lack the skills and knowledge for effectively using that intervention. So you need to blend training with all other interventions.

Here's the next question for both groups: How can we effectively use training as a stand-alone intervention—and as blended support for other interventions? Think about the answer for the rest of your lifetime.



The key requirement for this format is to come up with two related questions for audience members to answer. These questions may result in consistent or contradictory answers. You also need to come up with a follow-up “homework” question that requires participants to integrate the two consistent answers or to reconcile the two contradictory answers.

For sample questions, see the Sample Applications section below.


  1. Use a co-presenter. You and your co-presenter can alternate between two questions.
  2. Use a slide. Place the key words from each of the three questions (example: most frequent, important, and stand alone + blended on the slides.

Sample Applications


First question: What is the most frequently spoken first language in the world? (Mandarin)

Second question: What is the most frequently learned second language in the world? (English)

Third question: How can we better the cultural heritage of nonnative speakers of English?


First question: What the most important advantage of using email? (Instant communication)

Second question: What is the most important disadvantage of using email? (spam)

Third question: How can we increase the advantages and reduce the disadvantages of using email?


First question: What is one thing that salespeople are eager to do? (close the order)

Second question: What is one thing that customers want salespeople to do? (answer their questions)

Third question: How can salespeople become more customer-focused?


First question: What makes a story so interesting to listen to? (drama)

Second question: What makes a lecture so boring to listen to? (passivity)

Third question: How can we incorporate story elements into a lecture presentation?


Problem: Nobody shouts out the answer.

Solution: Pretend you can read people's minds and proceed with your presentation.

Problem: Dividing the audience group into right and left halves is confusing because people don't know if I am talking about my left or their left.

Solution: Use other convenient bifurcations such as men and women or people with glasses and people without glasses.

Guest Gamer

This column features interviews with outstanding designers and users of interactive experiential activities. This month's guest gamer, Dr. Scott Simmerman, is the managing partner of Performance Management Company and someone who has been freely sharing ideas about interactive experiential learning with the training and development community for many years. He has contributed hundreds of articles to a variety of publications and authored five interesting and effective toolkits based on his approach to performance improvement. What is interesting is his commitment to being a global company run out of his house with his wife as a business partner. In business for 19 years, he has presented in 28 different countries and sells his games and cartoons to consultants and trainers worldwide. He presents at a variety of conferences and delivers public programs, keynote presentations, and game sessions.

Interview with Scott Simmerman

Thiagi: What is your specialty area? What are you most known for?

Scott: Like you, Thiagi, I believe that change, team building, and innovation are critical issues for managers and organizations worldwide. What I've been doing for the past 10 year is developing some very simple, useful, and powerful tools around cartoons and games. I do leadership development without doing leadership training because everything I do has aspects of positively leading people and organizations. My flagship products are a team building simulation focused on collaboration called The Search for the Lost Dutchman's Gold Mine and a diverse body of cartoons called Square Wheels. In fact, I think it was you who first started calling me, “The Square Wheels Guy” a few years ago. And it can't hurt that I have given my main cartoon away for free to thousands of people over the years!

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

Scott: The old “college-professor-who-realizes-that-participation-is-critical-to-learning” insight, I guess. I can remember sitting and thinking about what I actually remembered from 20 years of traditional education one day after I quit teaching at a small university because of the frustrations. And it was funny, the things that I remembered from 300 different classes and conference programs over 30 years made for a pretty short list. It can be really ego gratifying to stand at the front of a room and have heads nod and people write down those pearls of wisdom one espouses—heck, that really is awesome! It is a whole different thing to remember anything about that lecture even a few months later, if not the next day.

And I get confirmation of this a lot. The other day, I got an email from a training professional. He said,

Dr. Scott—I saw a short Square Wheels presentation about 5 or 6 years ago at a training conference in Minneapolis. Although I don't remember if you delivered the presentation, it was the only presentation I remember from that the conference after all these years and still laugh at some of the illustrations I saw. (My favorite was the suggestion box at the rear of the wagon with all the workers trying to push it along).

It turned out that it was me at a Bob Pike conference. But the fact that it was remembered was most gratifying. It is so great that he still remembered an important piece of my information and a key learning point: The view at the back of the wagon is different than the view from the front. On the other hand, it's pretty awful that all that time and money was spent in a program where not all that much was remembered. Pike's conferences are excellent and I admire Bob a lot. But it speaks to the issues of impact, I think, where many sessions did not have enough “stick'em”. Over the years, I can remember some dynamic speakers, but I have a hard time remembering what they said.

It is this kind of comment that keeps me going. It's been almost 10 years since I started with these two products.

Thiagi: What do you like most about using games?

Scott: The real turn-on for me is to see other people use my stuff and report back on how simple and straightforward they worked. And that they worked really well! I am just back from Japan and my associates there produced a new game with my teaching points. And a few of their innovations on my stuff were truly outstanding.

I believe that by using a game, I can get people to do real-world things. We can discuss the game aspect of the play but it becomes really interesting to make the links back to the workplace. The game becomes a workplace reality pretty quickly in that people tend to apply their group process skills and personal perspectives to the challenge.

In Dutchman, for example, we structure the exercise so that collaboration benefits the play. The teams can mine more gold if they collaborate. If they ask the Expedition Leader for help, they get it. After all, our expressed goal is “To Mine as Much Gold as We Can” and the role of the Expedition Leader is to “Help teams be successful and Maximize Return on Investment.”

From an arms-length standpoint, one might think that teams would ask for help and share ideas amongst each other. But that is not what they do. They tend to exhibit, “My Team, My Team, My Team” behavior and work together well within the team but not collaborate between teams. They continue doing this even when sharing information and resources would improve their results.

Thiagi: What advice do you have to newcomers about designing and using games in their workplace?

Scott: I think that game design can be pretty simple. I have four formal games now and feedback is good on them. A key is “designing backwards”. By this, I mean you consider exactly what you want them to do or learn and then chain backwards to a concept. I generally use some kind of journey as a metaphor and themes of collaboration and choice.

But a simulation or game can be about pretty much anything. Let's say you are working in a hospital or in public health service and a problem is dealing with multiple workgroups under serious constraints of time and politics. So, you find out about what kind of groups and what kind of pressures. Most hospitals are the final step in emergencies such as a plane crash or an epidemic. And you get the cops and EMP and the Mayor's Office all involved when there is a public emergency of some kind.

You then set a time period, define major choices, create options, and build the simulation game from there.

Let me give you a specific example. I was in Tokyo and there was an article about a Japanese island facing a tourism crisis. It seems that the doctor who discovered SARS spent 18 hours there before he continued his travels and now tourists (a primary source of the island's economy) are avoiding the island. So, I am playing with the idea for a new game called Devils Island, which will involve this situation and have a goal of generating an acceptable community response to this hardship. After all, there are a lot of choices to make and the game participants can easily take on the roles in the Newspaper or the Mayor's Office or the Bureau of Tourism.

In the game, we require the players to focus on defining the problem, generating alternatives, implementing solutions efficiently, and agreeing on the desired goals and outcomes. There would be a need for a variety of committees and a pretty good amount of negotiation focused on mutually-accepted outcomes.

So, I think that as the ideas are kicked around, one can put something together a game that works. Now, if you are planning on selling the game, that is a whole different problem. I still have not found out how to do that well! <grin>

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

Scott: That's an easy question. I think that computers and interactivity make it easy for one to frame a wide variety of learning instruments and tools so that people get involved in the learning process as opposed to seeing it forced on them like the old lectures that most of us have had in schools. That stuff does not work, so it seems the alternatives are pretty good for interactivity.

Finally, let me also say thanks to everyone who actually read through all this.

Online Interaction

OQ: Open Question

Questions in online learning courses are mostly of the closed variety that has a single correct answer. In contrast, questions in the real world are mostly of the open variety that can be answered in many different acceptable ways. If you want valid assessment of your web-based training outcomes and if you want your training to reflect the real-world workplace demands, you need to use more authentic open-ended questions.

While waiting for artificial-intelligence programs that could evaluate responses to essay questions, I am working on a cheap strategy for incorporating open-ended questions in my web-based courses.

This is what you see when you take an online course that uses the OQ (Open Question) format:

None of these three types of feedback is as personalized or impressive as authoritative comments from an instructor or a facilitator. In our approach to open-ended responses, you have to process your own answer. This is a difficult task, but when you perform it, you receive new insights and perspectives about the response you provided.

Two Invitations

To help experience the OQ format, I have created a couple of open-ended questions that encourage you to actively participate.

Open questions are particularly useful is when you want participants to provide a mindful answer and learn from other people's answers. To read and respond to an open question of this type, please click here.

Open questions are also useful when you want to encourage lateral thinking (instead of logical thinking) and creative answers. To read and respond to an open question of this type, click here.

Event Alert


Last year, many PFP readers participated in the Annual Conference of the North American Simulation and Gaming Association (NASAGA) held in San Diego. This year, the conference will be held in the exciting bicultural city of Montreal.

Bare facts: NASAGA 2003 Annual Conference will be held in Montreal, Quebec, Canada during October 15-18, 2003. If you register before July 31, 2003, the fee for the regular conference (November 16-18) is CAN$650 (which is approximately equivalent to US$475). For an extra CAN$250 (approximately US$185), you get to attend a full-day preconference workshop on October 15, 2003.

I attend at least a dozen professional conferences every year and I can assure you that the NASAGA conference is the most cost-effective training event. The most impressive thing about the NASAGA conference is that 80 percent of the sessions involve the play and debriefing of interactive experiential activities. Even the business meeting is structured as a game. Since the conference does not attract a huge crowd, you will have plenty of opportunity to interact with other players and facilitators.

This year's conference theme is “Join the Circus”. This is the official blurb from Sonia Ribaux, the co-organizer of the conference:

Ever thought of leaving it all behind and joining the circus? Here's your chance to escape your routine and participate in an unforgettable conference. Participants at the NASAGA annual conference are always amazed at the high level of energy and creativity generated during this event. At this conference newcomers to the world of gaming and simulation get a chance to interact with seasoned pros in an atmosphere that is warm, open and generous. If you are an educator, a facilitator, a learning consultant, a trainer or any other professional committed to making learning a joy, this conference is for you. A note of warning: Once you join the circus you may never want to go back!

Location, Location, Location

Montreal is truly a unique destination in North America. It is a multicultural city with enough European charm to make you feel like you've crossed the Atlantic. Montrealers are warm and friendly and love to party. There are 5000 restaurants in Montreal and choices of cuisine from 80 countries. Bon appétit! Cultural activities abound in Montreal, from Jazz to museums, dance to theatre and, of course, the cirque. Montreal is the home of the world famous Cirque du Soleil as well as several other innovative circus acts. The École nationale de cirque (National Circus School) is a state-of-the-art school whose students come from all over the world to learn the art of being a circus performer. While Montreal is a francophone city, you will have no trouble being understood. Most people also speak English and often a third language as well. To find out more about Montreal, visit .


This year's intriguing keynote features Nicolas Richard, VP, Business Development and Psychology at Othentika, a Canadian firm specializing in the creation of scripted simulations in real environments.

You sit down at a crowded bistro. The waiter brings you a menu. An envelope is slipped inside. Your instructions are to go to the alley behind the bistro. The woman in black sitting at another table also gets up. Your mission has started; your adventure in intrigue and espionage has just begun.

Nicolas's keynote address presents the innovative use of scripted simulations in real environments for purposes of performance improvement and organizational development. Its focus is on Stimulating innovation, Building intimacy, and Motivating and recognizing strategic employees in the organization.

Preconference Workshops

On Wednesday, October 15th you have a choice of three full-day workshops:

Interactive Strategies for Intercultural Training. Raja and I will be co-facilitating this workshop with three of the greatest experts in the field of intercultural communication: Sandy Fowler, Peggy Pusch, and Judee Blohm. This workshop will explore underlying concepts in intercultural communication incorporated into a variety of games, simulations, and other interactive strategies. Thirty different strategies (including cross-cultural dialogues, cultural assimilators, field expeditions, contrast cultures, interactive stories) will be exp lor ed, some in greater detail than others. We will also sample on-line interactive formats that are applicable to intercultural communication themes.

Build it Now! Developing Great Games and Simulations. Kevin Eikenberry and Chris Saeger will facilitate this hands-on design workshop. In the workshop, they will introduce you to some approaches and tactics for rapid design and testing. Then, you will put these approaches into practice. Working in teams you will create a simulation or game on a topic of your choice. Before the end of the session you will have tested this game/simulation on others in the room and received feedback from your peers and a panel of experts!

Working Better Together. This fast paced and fun workshop will be conducted by David C. Jones (picked by the Vancouver Sun as one of the top 20 improvisors in Canada ) The workshop uses improvisation and interactive games. Unique team building; thinking on your feet; unleashing creativity; problem solving will be the cornerstones of the session. Fun and clever games will help you exp lor e the best way to get your team working better together. David's workshops were once described as “an inspiring combination of gentleness and challenge”.

And that's not all…

NASAGA conference is more than just great keynotes and Preconference workshops. You can check out the rich and exciting program by visiting . While you are there, you can register for the conference securely online.


Training, Facilitation, Consulting, and Happiness

Biech, Elaine (2003). Marketing your consulting services. San Francisco, Pfeiffer (ISBN: 0-7879-6543-X).

Elaine Biech is the consultant's consultant. Many PFP readers are consultants, and I strongly urge them to buy this book, which is full of useful guidance, practical ideas, and creative tips. Elaine will help you to develop a successful marketing plan, find new clients, get your clients to refer you to other clients, and develop and implement inexpensive and effective marketing tools. My only regret is that the book did not exist when I started my consulting career several decades ago. But never mind; the book still has hundreds of hands-on resources that an old-timer like me can use. Sample practical suggestion from the book: Work with a colleague to do each other's cold calls for a week.

Davis, James R. and Adelaide B. Davis (1998). Effective training strategies: A comprehensive guide to maximizing learning in organizations. San Francisco, CA, Berrett-Koehler Publishers (ISBN: 1-57675-037-X)

This is one of the few books on training that is based on well-researched theories of learning. The bulk of the book discusses seven powerful training strategies: behavioral, cognitive, inquiry, mental models, group dynamics, virtual reality, and holistic. The authors provide detailed description of each strategy and provide examples from corporate training. Other chapters in the book explain how to choose and use the most appropriate strategy. Sample practical tip from the book: With a well-prepared simulation, the facilitator plays a key role in briefing and debriefing. The simulation should run itself.

Luckner, John L. and Reldan S. Nadler (1997). Processing the experience: Strategies to enhance and generalize learning. Dubuque, IA, Kendall/Hunt Publishing Company (ISBN: 0-7872-1000-5)

This excellent book on facilitation skills focuses on debriefing. Chapters in this book explore such topics as levels of processing, working with reluctant individuals, using metaphors, and change conditions. The book includes contributions from 23 experts and contains several case studies. You will also find hundreds of debriefing questions in various sections of the book. Sample practical suggestion from the book: Pick an outcome from the activity (like trust) and ask participants, “If this were a picture, what would it be a picture of?”

Seligman, Martin E. P. (2002). Authentic happiness: Using the new positive psychology to realize your potential for lasting fulfillment. New York, Free Press (ISBN: 0-7432-2297-0)

Martin Seligman is my most favorite author because all of his practical suggestions are based on solid pscyhological research. As a founder of Positive Psychology (which shifts the focus from mental illness to positive emotion) and former president of American Psychological Association, Seligman has enormous credibility. In this book, he provides explanations, questionnaires, and exercises to increase your lasting happiness by increasing satisfaction with your past, optimism about the future, and gratification in the present. Seligman makes an important distinction between pleasure (eating caviar or getting a back rub) and gratification (reading Dylan Thomas or helping the homeless). He identifies six universal virtues (such as courage) and 24 strengths associated with them (such as perseverance). Lasting happiness is achieved by identifying your signature strengths, building them, and choosing to use them in the main realms of your life. Practical tip: Find your signature strengths by taking the free VIA Signature Strengths Survey at .

Sibbet, David (2002). Best practices for facilitation. San Francisco, The Grove Consultants International (ISBN: 1-879502-47-X)

This book contains a collection of 176 techniques, organized into 21 competencies and grouped into seven stages of team performance: orientation, trust building, goal clarification, commitment, implementation, high performance, and renewal. Each technique is summarized in a single page that features text and graphics and provides key benefit, general description, tips, time estimate, illustration, and steps. Sample practical suggestion: Use dot voting to poll the group. Record items on a flip chart. Give each participant the 1-5 sticky dots. Ask everyone to approach the flip chart and place their dots to reflect their pritiorities or preferences. Conduct a discussion of what the dots tell you.

Pithy Saying

Two Excuses

Some trainers don't use games because they are afraid that games won't work.

Some trainers don't use games because they are afraid that games will work.

The first group of trainers are megalomaniacs. They think that learning takes place only when they are in charge. These trainers need to realize that the quality of learning improves with active interaction.

The second set of trainers are paranoid. They are worried that they will be fired when people discover that learning takes place even when they are not teaching. These trainers need to realize that people are engaged in what they are doing, they automatically learn.