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

An Interactive Approach to Human Performance Technology
You can be a playful performance technologist!

How Fast Can You Solve It?
What happens to your self-esteem?

Classification Card Game
Two is the best number for playing training games.

Guest Gamer
An Interview with Lou Russell
She wrote the book on Accelerated Learning.

Simulation Game
Strings of Penne by Lou Russell
A high-carbohydrate activity.

Extra Letters
Discover a long sentence and a short sentence.

Pithy Saying
Be Here Now
Wise advice from a lottery ticket.





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

Editorial Roster

Editor: Sivasailam (Thiagi) Thiagarajan

Assistant Editor: Raja Thiagarajan

Associate Editor: Julie England

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

Copyright Info

The materials in this newsletter are copyright 2004 by Workshops by Thiagi, Inc. However, they may be freely reproduced for educational/training activities. There is no need to obtain special permission for such use as long as you do not reproduce more than 100 copies per year. Please include the following statement on all reproductions:

Reprinted from PLAY FOR PERFORMANCE. Copyright © 2004 by Workshops by Thiagi, Inc.

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

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Feedback Request

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An Interactive Approach to Human Performance Technology

None of my friends want to be trainers any more. They have changed their job titles to Performance Consultant, Human Performance Technologist, or Performance Improvement Specialist.

I am all in favor of this shift in focus from training to human performance technology (HPT, according to ISPI) or human performance improvement (HPI, according to ASTD). I have been a long-time member of a pioneering performance-technology organization, currently called the International Society for Performance Improvement (ISPI). Although my primary interest is in training, I am familiar with several other performance-improvement strategies (referred to as “interventions” in the HPT jargon).

What if you are asked to become a performance consultant? The good news is that you are already one. The approach used by performance consultants is remarkably similar to the analysis-design-evaluate-implement process that you use to develop and deliver training. The better news is that you can use games and other interactive approaches to improve the effectiveness of different steps in this process.

Adding Interactivity To The Process

Here's an example of how a performance technologist can apply game strategies to the performance-improvement process: The president of a start-up corporation hires you to “train” her employees to provide skill-coaching to each other. She gives you a free hand in conducting your own analysis and coming up with an appropriate strategy.

Interactive Analysis

You decide to start with a performance analysis (aka front-end analysis or needs analysis). This step involves identifying the gap between the desirable performance and actual performance. In other words, you want to find out what type of skill-coaching the employees need and what type of skill-coaching the employees provide to each other. If there is a gap between these two, you have a performance need.

Instead of designing a lengthy questionnaire and conducting a boring survey, you decide to play a game to collect the data. You assemble a group of employees and briefly talk to them about skill-coaching. You divide the participants into four teams and ask them to collect data from all employees (including themselves) about the desirable and actual state of skill-coaching. You briefly describe different data collection strategies including interviews, observation, telephone polls, and email surveys. You announce that the teams have two weeks to collect, analyze, and summarize useful data. At the end of this period, each team is to prepare a two-page summary and present its findings and recommendations in a 3-minute presentation. After the presentations, each team will rate the performance of the other three teams and give awards for first, second, and third places. You combine different teams' ratings and identify the winning team. The participants have a fun time—and you have valuable data.

Interactive Design

The data collected by the employees confirm that there is a significant gap between their desirable and actual coaching behaviors. Rather than taking the traditional route of developing a training package, you decide to provide skill-coaching to the employees on effective skill-coaching techniques. The reason for your decision is that the necessary competencies (such as giving demonstrations, asking questions, making suggestions, and giving feedback) are fairly basic. What the participants need is repeated practice and feedback. To achieve this, you develop three videotape segments demonstrating effective skill-coaching techniques by some of the employees. You also prepare a one-page checklist of important principles of skill-coaching. You assemble participants into teams of five, walk them through the items in the checklist, and use the videotape segments to illustrate key points. Following this, one participant in each team coaches another on a job-related procedure. After this coaching session, other team members give feedback on the first player's coaching behavior. This procedure is repeated several times until all participants have practiced skill-coaching their peers and have received feedback from them.

Participatory Evaluation

A critical element in the performance-technology process is to evaluate and improve the intervention. Here again, you decide to play a game. You gather several employees who have gone through the coaching-the-coach program and organize them into three teams. One team is asked to attack the intervention and identify everything that is wrong and undesirable about it. Another team is given the task of defending the intervention and elaborating on everything that is effective and positive about it. The third team is asked to prepare a balanced list of both positive and negative features of the intervention. After a suitable pause for the teams to prepare their case, you bring everyone to a mock courtroom. The two extreme teams take turns to present their case to the jury panel comprised of members of the neutral team. At the end of the arguments, the jurors decide which team presented the more persuasive case. They also present items from their balanced list of positive and negative features of your coaching intervention. During all of these activities, you take copious notes. You congratulate the winning team and thank all participants for their valuable feedback. Then you return to your office to review the notes about the problem areas to be fixed and the positive features to be strengthened.

Interactive Implementation

After some appropriate changes to your coach-the-coaches package, you are ready to implement it on a large scale. Once again, you decide to play a game to kick off the new program. You recruit four employees and teach them a new procedure that none of the employees know. This is a job-relevant procedure for checking email attachments for hidden viruses. After making sure that the four selected employees have mastered the procedure, you appoint two of them as the leaders of the “red” team and the other two as the leaders of the “blue” team. You tell these leaders that their job is to recruit and coach as many of the other employees as possible, using the skill-coaching procedure. The leaders should make sure that their coachees have mastered the procedure and encourage them to coach other employees. At the end of four weeks, you will find out which team has coached the most employees. This team will receive a special plaque.

You Are Ready

Performance consultants tend to be serious and analytical introverts. For several years, I have been trying to encourage them to take on a more playful and interactive approach to their practice. As the example above shows, you can apply playful techniques during each stage of the HPT (or HPI) process. To most of my readers, the advantages are obvious: We involve everyone in the process and get real-world feedback instead of limiting our interviews to a few top managers and experts. We make it easy to bring about the desired change because participants already own the change, having been involved in its development.

Improving human performance is a serious business. It deserves to be handled in a light-hearted fashion.


How Fast Can You Solve It?

During recent months, we have been exploring the use of crossword puzzles in training sessions. Refer back to the April issue of PFP to read about a dozen uses of crossword puzzles and a review of a software program for creating your own crossword puzzles. Here's a brief jolt that incorporates a crossword puzzle.


To explore our tendency to compare our performance with the performances of others. To discuss the impact of such comparisons on our self esteem.

Basic concept

Players race to be the first one to solve a crossword puzzle. What they don't know is that there are two sets of clues for the same puzzle and a few of the players are struggling with the difficult clues while the others are breezing through the easy ones.

Here's the easy clue for the puzzle word cat: “An animal that says ‘Meow.’” Here's the difficult clue for the same word: “Feline mammal.”


Any number. Best game involves 10 to 30 players.


20 minutes (7 minutes for the play of the game and 13 minutes for debriefing).



Make copies of the crossword puzzle. Make one copy of the difficult version (4KB PDF) for every tenth player. Make copies of the easy version (4KB PDF) for the other nine players. Mix up these copies so that the difficult versions are given to random players.


Brief the players. Explain to them that this activity is designed to explore the impact of positive self talk and concentration on players' performance speed. Players will be racing to be the first one to solve the crossword puzzle. Ask players to put themselves in a positive frame of mind and to concentrate on solving the puzzle without being distracted by others. Also instruct players to stand up as soon as they have solved the entire puzzle.

Distribute crossword puzzles. Give everyone a copy of the puzzle without paying too much attention to who receives the difficult version. Start the timer and ask players to rapidly solve the puzzle.

Recognize fast solvers. As players stand up one by one to indicate that they have solved the puzzle, announce the time they took and congratulate them.

Stop the activity. When the majority of players have solved the puzzle, blow the whistle and ask everyone to stop solving the puzzle. Congratulate the players who are standing up and ask them to sit down.

Read the solution. Ask everyone to check their answers as you read them. Read these answers (without reading any clues):

1 across: cat

2 across: ship

5 across: three

6 across: bed

7 across: ball

8 across: run

9 across: house

11 across: green

12 across: year

1 down: cash

3 down: Hamburger

4 down: meeting

5 down: tea

7 down: book

10 down: sky

Point out that there are 15 words in the puzzle and so a perfect score will be 15 points. Ask players to count the number of correct words and write down the score.

Begin a debriefing discussion. Encourage players to discuss these questions:

Reveal the secret about two versions of clues. Explain that a few players received a difficult set of clues. Ask players to read the easy and difficult versions of clues for the same words.

Continue the debriefing. Ask questions similar to these and encourage discussions:

Summarize major insights from the debriefing discussions. Ask players how they would apply their new insights to their workplace performance.

Classification Card Game


Most training games require several players. However, the ideal number of players for a training game is two. You can play a two-person training game even if you have only one person (as in the case of a coaching session). If you have a large number of people, you can always divide them into pairs and have everyone play the game in a parallel fashion.

During the last couple of months we have been exploring two-person card games for training purposes. Here's one of them that uses our old Growing A Team card deck.

Team Development

More than three decades ago, B. W. Tuckman pointed out that all teams go through four stages in their development: forming, storming, norming, and performing. Tuckman's powerful model (see the Four Stages of Team Development handout for details) has practical implications for building, maintaining, facilitating, and leading high-performance teams.

Trumps is a two-player card game that is designed to help people become fluent with Tuckman's model. It uses a deck of 99 cards, each with a statement associated with a different stage in the team-development process. This addictive game begins with a brief presentation of the team-development process and gives players numerous chances to review different elements associated with each stage of the process.


Two. Larger groups may be divided into pairs to play the game in a parallel fashion. If an odd player is left out, the facilitator can play the game with this person.


5-10 minutes. The game may be replayed several times to determine the winner of a match.


How To Play Trumps Handout. This handout summarizes the rules of the game. Make a copy for each player.

Four Stages of Team Development Handout. This handout summarizes Tuckman's model. Make a copy for each player.

Feedback Table. This table is used for settling disputes during the game. The table lists each card number and the correct team-development stage (or stages) associated with it. Make a copy for each player.

A deck of Growing a Team Cards. This deck contains 99 cards. Prepare your own deck by typing the numbers and statements from this list on your own cards. (See below if you don't have the patience to do this.)

Getting Ready To Play

Assemble play groups. Organize participants into pairs. Give a deck of Growing a Team cards to each pair. Also distribute a copy of the Feedback Table, asking players to place it on the table printed side down.

Introduce the four stages. Distribute copies of the knowledge-base handout, Four Stages of Team Development. Make a brief presentation, using examples that are relevant to the players.

Brief the players. Acknowledge that most players may not have a complete grasp of the four stages in team development. Explain that you are going to play a card game that will help them become more fluent with these stages.

Introduce the Growing a Team cards. Ask each player to pick up a card from the deck. Ask a player to read the statement on the card and invite everyone to identify the team-development stage associated with the statement. Announce the correct stage. Explain that this is the suit of the card. Demonstrate how to verify the suit by using the Feedback Table.

Explain the three attributes of each card. Use the information from the What Card Is That? section of the handout. Give some practice in determining the rank, suit, and number of several cards.

Explain the rules. Distribute copies of the handout How To Play Trumps. Walk the players through the rules.

Monitor the game. Ask the players at each table to select the first dealer and begin the game. Walk around the room, clarifying rules and settling disputes among players as needed.

Handout 1

How To Play Trumps

(All words in italics are defined in the glossary.)

Deal the cards. Deal five cards to each player, one card at a time. Turn the next card (the 11th card) face up. Check with the Feedback Table and announce the suit of the card. This is the trump suit. Place the rest of the deck face down. This becomes the stock.

Play the first trick. Nondealer starts the first round by playing any card from her hand. You follow suit by playing a card of the same suit. In this case, the player of the card with the higher rank wins the trick. If both cards are of equal rank, the player of the card with the higher number wins the trick.

If you are not able to follow suit, you may play a card of the trump suit and win the trick. Or you may discard (play a card of any other suit) and lose the trick.

Play the second trick. Winner of the first trick leads a card for the second trick. Play proceeds as before, with the higher ranked card of the suit led or the trump winning the trick. (If both cards are trumps, then the higher ranked trump wins the trick.)

Continue the game. Winner leads a card for the next trick. Game is continued as before until all five cards are played out.

Conclude the game. The player with the most tricks scores points as below:

Play subsequent games. Take turns to deal the cards. Continue playing as before, keeping running total of score points. The first person to reach a total of 7 points wins the match.

Optional Rules

Exchange cards. After the deal and before playing the game, look at your hand and discard the cards that you don't like. Pick up replacement cards from the top of the stock. (The reminder of the stock is not used during the play of this game.)

Use of the Feedback Table. Permit beginning players to refer to the Feedback Table whenever they want. However, wean them from the use of this cheat sheet as soon as possible to help them make decisions on their own and become more fluent about the four stages (suits).

Challenges. With advanced players (who play without referring to the Feedback Table), use this challenge rule. If the lead player thinks that the other player's card does not follow suit, she may issue a challenge. Both players now refer to the Feedback Table. If the challenge is valid, the lead player wins the trick, even if the other card is of a higher rank.


Dealer. At the beginning of the game, one of players shuffles the deck and distributes the cards one at a time. This player is the dealer. When more than one game is played, players alternate being the dealer.

Discard. (1) Before the game begins, removing undesirable cards from your hand and placing them aside with their faces down. (You replace these cards by drawing an equal number of cards from the stock.) (2) During the game, playing a card that is neither of the suit led nor a trump.

Follow suit. Play a card of the same suit as the one that was led by the other player.

Hand. The set of five cards that each player receives at the beginning of the game.

Lead. To play the first card to a trick.

Nondealer. The person who is not the dealer for this game.

Number. One of the three attributes of a card. This is the complete value of the number printed on top of the card. (See also Rank and Suit.)

Rank. One of the three attributes of a card. The rank of the card is the last digit (units digit) of its number. Card ranks range from 0 to 9. Example: The rank of card 27 is 7. Cards with the numbers 18, 38, 88, and 118 all have the same rank of 8. (See also Suit and Number.)

Stock. Cards that are not dealt at the beginning of the game.

Suit. One of the three attributes of a card. The suit is the category to which the printed item on the card belongs. Example: Forming (See also Rank and Number.)

Trick. The cards played by both players during each round of the game. One person plays a card face up from her hand. The other person plays a card from her hand in response, following suit if possible. (See Winning a trick.)

Trump (noun). At the beginning of the game, the dealer turns up the 11th card. The suit of this card determines the trump suit. Any card of this suit is called a trump.

Trump (verb). Playing a trump card in response to the card led by the other player. You may play a trump card only when you cannot follow suit.

Winning a trick. Each trick is won by the higher ranking card of the suit led or the trump. If both cards are of the same suit and rank, then the trick is won by the card of the higher number.

What Card Is That?

Every playing card in the Growing a Team deck has three attributes: rank, suit, and number.

Here's a sample playing card from the Growing a Team deck:

48. Members take a 'wait and see' approach.

The number of the card is the complete number on the card. The number of the sample card is 48.

The rank of the card is the last digit of the number on the card. The rank of the sample card is 8, which is the last digit of 48.

The suit of the card is the stage of the team development process associated with the statement on the card. This is not directly printed on the card; you must read the statement and decide which suit it belongs to. This sample card belongs to the forming suit because the statement belongs to the forming stage.

It is easy to determine the rank of a playing card: Just ignore the first digit of the card. So 12, 22, 32, 42, 52, 62, 72, 82, and 92 all have the same rank (that is, 2). Ranks run from 0 (the lowest) to 9 (the highest).

It takes some effort to determine the suit of a Growing a Team card. Read the statement on the card, analyze it, and classify it correctly.

Some statements may describe more than one stage of team development. These playing cards belong to more than one suit. When you play one of these cards, you choose the suit to which the card belongs.


Four Stages of Team Development

In 1965 B. W. Tuckman, who had been studying the behavior of small groups, published a model that suggests that all teams go through four distinct stages in their development:

Forming. The first stage in a team's development is forming. During this stage, the team members are unsure about what they are doing. Their focus is on understanding the team's goal and their role. They worry about whether the other team members will accept them. Team members frequently look for clarification from their leader.

Storming. The second stage in a team's development is storming. During this stage, the team members try to get organized. This stage is marked by conflict among the members and between the members and the leader. Through this conflict, the team attempts to define itself.

Norming. The third stage in a team's development is norming. This stage follows storming, after the team members have succeeded in resolving their conflicts. They now feel more secure with one another and with their leader. They effectively negotiate the structure of the team and the division of labor.

Performing. The fourth stage in a team's development is performing. During this stage the team members behave in a mature fashion and focus on accomplishing their goals. This stage is marked by direct, two-way communication among the team members.


Feedback Table

Card. Suit Card. Suit Card. Suit Card. Suit Card. Suit
1. P 21. F 41. P 61. S 81. F
2. N 22. P 42. F 62. N 82. P
3. N 23. S 43. S, N 63. F, S 83. P
4. P 24. S 44. S 64. S 84. N, P
5. F 25. N 45. N 65. F 85. P
6. P 26. N 46. N, P 66. N 86. F, S
7. F 27. P 47. P 67. F 87. P
8. P 28. S 48. F 68. P 88. P
9. F 29. N 49. S 69. P 89. N
10. S 30. S 50. F 70. P 90. F
11. S 31. S 51. P 71. P 91. S
12. N, P 32. S 52. P 72. F 92. S
13. F 33. N 53. S 73. N 93. F, S
14. P 34. F 54. F 74. P 94. P
15. F 35. N 55. P 75. N 95. F
16. N 36. N, P 56. F 76. P 96. S
17. P 37. F 57. F 77. N 97. P
18. F 38. N, P 58. P 78. P 98. N, P
19. F 39. N, P 59. S 79. F 99. N
20. N 40. N 60. P 80. N, P

Facilitator Job Aid

Card Numbers and Items

  1. All members participate in all team activities.
  2. Disagreements become more civilized and less divisive.
  3. Feeling of us-them increases.
  4. Ground rules become second nature to team members.
  5. If there is a formal leader, team members tend to obey him or her.
  6. Leadership is shared among different members.
  7. Cautious
  8. Leadership role is rotated among appropriate members.
  9. Members are anxious and suspicious of the task ahead.
  10. Challenging
  11. Members are more committed to their sub-groups than to the team as a whole.
  12. Members are more friendly toward each other.
  13. Members are not committed to the group's goal.
  14. Collaborating
  15. Conversation is polite and tentative.
  16. Each team member decides what his or her role should be.
  17. Everyone begins to experience success.
  18. Members are not fully committed to the team goal.
  19. Members are proud to be chosen for the team.
  20. Members are relieved that things are progressing smoothly.
  21. Everyone is wondering, “Why are we here?”
  22. Members are satisfied about the team's progress.
  23. Members argue with each other—even when they agree on the basic issues.
  24. Everyone wants to have his or her say.
  25. Facilitator encourages team members to critique their behaviors.
  26. Members attempt to figure out their roles and functions.
  27. Members begin to enjoy team activities.
  28. Facilitator encourages team members to discuss their negative feelings.
  29. Facilitator helps team members uncover and discuss hidden agendas.
  30. Members challenge, evaluate, and destroy ideas.
  31. Members choose sides.
  32. Members compete with each other.
  33. Facilitator points out violations of ground rules and helps team members revise the ground rules, if appropriate.
  34. Facilitator uses an icebreaker to help team members to get acquainted with each other.
  35. Members deal with each other with greater confidence.
  36. Members develop great loyalty to the team.
  37. Members don't have enough information to trust each other.
  38. Members feel comfortable about their roles in the team.
  39. Members feel confident about disagreeing with each other.
  40. Team members decide on the appropriate level of risk taking.
  41. Members feel empowered. They take initiative without checking with the leader.
  42. Members feel excitement, anticipation, and optimism.
  43. Members form subgroups that get into conflicts.
  44. Members freely ask questions and express their frustrations.
  45. Members have a better idea of whom to trust and whom to distrust.
  46. Members have a realistic sense of trust based on their experiences with each other.
  47. Members have clear understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of each other.
  48. Members take a “wait-and-see” approach.
  49. Members tend to avoid the tasks and argue about ground rules.
  50. Members tend to be polite to each other.
  51. Members tend to become complacent.
  52. Members understand the team processes.
  53. Members' feelings and attitudes keep fluctuating.
  54. Most conversations are to and from the team leader.
  55. Most discussions are about getting the task done.
  56. Most discussions are shallow.
  57. No ground rules established. Members depend on their previous team experiences to decide how to behave.
  58. Regular team meetings are replaced by a variety of as-needed communications.
  59. Several conflicts develop.
  60. Some members become bored with the routine and begin looking for new challenges.
  61. Some members demonstrate passive resistance.
  62. Team members decide who should do what.
  63. Some members dominate team discussions.
  64. Some members still dominate team discussions.
  65. Team members depend on the facilitator to explain what is going on.
  66. Team members experience this stage after storming and before performing.
  67. Status of members inside the team is based on their status outside.
  68. Team activities become more informal.
  69. Team becomes creative in accomplishing its goal.
  70. Team begins celebrating its success.
  71. Team begins to receive payoffs.
  72. Team members feel frustrated.
  73. Team members list their ground rules on a flip chart.
  74. Team demonstrates greatest levels of flexibility.
  75. Team establishes ground rules for interactions among the members.
  76. Team generates solutions that are acceptable to all members.
  77. Team members negotiate with each other to decide how the team should be structured.
  78. Team members participate in a balanced and supportive fashion.
  79. Team goal is unclear.
  80. Team ground rules are clearly established.
  81. Team holds abstract discussions of concepts and issues.
  82. Team is able to prevent potential problems.
  83. Team members share the leadership role.
  84. Team members trust each other more because they have established clear guidelines for interaction.
  85. Team is likely to suffer from groupthink and lack of objective evaluation.
  86. Team is not very productive.
  87. Team members are committed to the goal and to the task.
  88. Team members are more natural and less self-conscious in their interactions.
  89. Team members attempt to understand their goal and task.
  90. Team members complain about organizational barriers.
  91. Team members disagree and argue with each other.
  92. Team members disagree with the leader.
  93. Team members don't participate fully.
  94. Team members resolve conflicts easily.
  95. Team members seek clear guidance.
  96. Team members talk and argue with each other.
  97. Team spends more time on task and very little time on ground rules.
  98. The team becomes increasingly productive.
  99. The team has a better understanding of the goal, but still needs guidance.

Don't Want To Prepare Your Own Deck of Cards?

We will sell you a deck of ready-made printed cards with team-development items, along with the Feedback Table. Currently selling for $18, we will give you a 50 percent discount of $9 and throw in free shipment (for USA orders only)! Order your decks through our secure online store.

Guest Gamer

This column features interviews with outstanding designers and users of interactive experiential activities. Our guest this month, Lou Russell, is the author of The Accelerated Learning Fieldbook: Making the Instructional Process Fast, Flexible, and Fun (published by Jossey-Bass/Pfeiffer), Project Management for Trainers and Leadership Training (ASTD,, and IT Leadership Alchemy (Prentice Hall). Lou is the president of Russell Martin and Associates (, an Indianapolis, Indiana-based performance consulting and training company that works in areas of leadership, team synergy, and project management.

An Interview with Lou Russell

Thiagi: Lou, how did you get into starting your own training company?

Lou: It must have been destiny. I started out with AT&T as a lowly computer programmer in the 70s and kept working at it until they asked me to train other programmers. I started a Help Desk, developed an end-user curriculum, and designed a technical training package taught by internal subject matter experts. Later, I started developing technology courses for McDonnell Douglas. It was a great way to learn the technical training business from the inside. After a couple of years, I decided to get outside and sell and deliver my own workshops. That's how Russell Martin & Associates was born!

Thiagi: How did you discover accelerated learning?

Lou: In one of my customers' training centers, I noticed strange things happening. One classroom looked very different from the others, starting with a beautiful, rainbow kite suspended from the ceiling. Each table had vibrant red cups filled with licorice and lollipops. Colored markers were placed next to the red cups. A calming video of a colorful fish tank was playing on a large screen in front of the room. I kept my eye on this room throughout the week, and finally introduced myself to the trainer to find out what fun topic she was teaching. Surprise: the workshop taught people technical acronyms related to their work in the customer call center. The trainer had taken a dull—but critical—workshop and transformed it, through the help of accelerated learning (AL) guru David Meier, into an effective and enjoyable learning experience. I was intrigued. Later, I attended a local workshop on AL and in a quick six hours learned more about how people learn than I had in all of my academic courses. As a result, I committed myself to converting all my workshops to AL immediately.

Thiagi: How do you use games and simulations with accelerated learning?

Lou: People learn through experience, and mostly by making mistakes. Typical technical training sessions (which David Meier labels “death by Powerpoint in corporate deprivation chambers”) are lifeless experiences that benefit neither the individual nor the organization. To me, setting up a simulation game where people can individually and collectively learn through practice fields is a much more exciting alternative. I conduct many workshops for technical people and they learn a lot with games. For example, we have a project management simulation where teams of participants compete to estimate and build a bridge. We also have a full-day simulation that allows teams to practice all phases of project management while experiencing unexpected glitches. In this simulation, as the projects progress, teams lose key members who are sick with imaginary flu. As another unexpected turn of events, we ask teams to move their project to another table or to another room. This “reality-school” practice forces participants to discover strategies for responding flexibly to surprising events. Lecturing to them on the principles of contingency management is not as effective as this type of hands-on learning.

Thiagi: What advice do you have for a new trainer?

Lou: Don't get distracted with the great variety of games and simulations. Instead, begin by focusing your attention on training objectives. Resist the temptation to throw a game at participants just because it is fun. This is an ineffective and perhaps an unethical action. Be clear about what learning outcomes you are trying to achieve before selecting or adapting a training game.

Another piece of advice: Design your games and simulations before your lecture material, overhead slides, and student workbooks. Leave aside all non-interactive components of your training package until the very end of your course development project. If you are lucky, you will run out of time and this will prevent you from creating dull and lifeless materials that encourage passive learning.

Keep asking yourself, “Why am I in this line of work?” Remind yourself that your role is to facilitate learning in others and not to pontificate words of wisdom. You are not force-feeding participants but leading them to a buffet table where they will pick what they want and need. Remember, games and simulations are the best dishes in this buffet.

Final piece of advice: Read my book. Read Thiagi's books. Read every issue of PFP. And, most importantly, apply everything you read.

Thiagi: As a technology specialist, what do you think of the impact of technologies like the web?

Lou: All new technologies can be leveraged to create wonderfully rich games and simulations. My children love to play SIM games from Maxis (such as SIMCITY and SIMANT) and I am so impressed by the way these interactions develop their ability to solve problems across different dimensions. There is no reason why we should not use the same games with adults to produce the same types of learning outcome.

On the negative side, new technologies can be isolating. I believe that learning requires a social setting. Children and adults will not learn enough about the world by working alone on a computer regardless of their increased ability to solve problems in that context.

Currently, I am discouraged by the quality of technology-based instruction in corporations. Taking the content from an inadequate lecture class and typing it on to the web is no improvement. No technology-based training designer appears to be utilizing what we know about different intelligences, different learning styles, and other individual differences. This is especially unfortunate since we can create technology-based training that can automatically adjust to each learner's unique needs. We will realize the real potential of the new technology when we create brilliant simulations and implement them in a flexible fashion in a team setting to develop the competency of individuals and teams. The brave new world of technology-based learning must focus on team growth instead of just focusing on isolated individual growth.

Simulation Game

Strings of Penne
by Lou Russell

Here's a multipurpose simulation game that can be used to illustrate a variety of concepts including continuous improvement.


To explore factors associated with competing with others and competing with ourselves.


Six or more. Best game is for 10-20.


15-30 minutes for the activity. Another 15-30 minutes for debriefing.



Form teams. Divide participants into 2 to 5 teams of 3 to 6 members each.

Brief participants. Explain that this activity involves threading pieces of penne pasta through a piece of string. Demonstrate by pushing a few pieces of pasta though a piece of string. Hold the ends of the string and show your pasta necklace. Explain that teams will have 2 minutes to string as many pieces of pasta as possible.

Announce three ways to win. Tell teams that the number of pieces of pasta in the string will be the team's score. There will two rounds each of 2 minutes' duration, giving teams two opportunities to win. In addition, whichever team shows the most improvement between the first and the second round wins a special productivity-improvement award.

For example, here are the results of a sample game that involved three teams:

Round Team A Team B Team C Winner
1 47 53 23 Team B
2 65 64 60 Team A
Improvement 18 11 37 Team C

Conduct the first round. Distribute a box of pasta and a spool of string to each team. Blow a whistle and announce the start of the first round. Start a timer. After 2 minutes, blow the whistle again and ask teams to stop. Ask each team to count the number of pieces of pasta. Identify the winning team (or teams) and congratulate team members.

Conduct a planning session. Announce that teams will have 4 minutes to plan how to improve their performance during the next round. Point out that superior performance during this round will result two victories: one for the most pasta pieces in the string and the other for the highest productivity improvement. Suggest that teams come up with creative ideas to make quantum improvements in their production.

Conduct the second round. Take away the strings of pasta from the first round. Repeat the same procedure (blowing the whistle, timing 2 minutes, and stopping the activity). Ask each team to count the number of pieces of pasta as before. Identify and congratulate the winning team (or teams).

Calculate productivity improvement. Ask each team to subtract the second-round score from the first-round score. Identify the team with the highest improvement. Inform the members of this team that they have won the process-improvement award.

Conduct a debriefing discussion. Drive home the learning points by questions such as these:


Extra Letters

We wrote a sentence and added a random letter to each word. Then we scrambled the letters of the word and the extra letters. This is what we ended up with:







Extra Letters:

T--- -- --- --- ----.

Your task is to solve the puzzle and discover the original sentence. Here's how you do it:

When you have finished solving the puzzle, you will have the complete sentence. In addition, the extra letters will spell out another short sentence.

The solution

Pithy Saying

Be Here Now

You have to be present to win.

This instruction was printed on the free lottery ticket at a recent professional conference that I attended. Every afternoon, there was drawing in the exhibit area. If the number on my lottery ticket matched the number that was picked, I would receive a valuable prize from one of the exhibitors.

As I read this instruction, I realized that it could apply to winning any game, including training games. Of course, you have to think about the past and adjust your strategy. You may fantasize about the future and decide how you should behave when you emerge as the victor.

But if you don't pay attention to the present and rapidly analyze the moment and make effective decisions about your move, you are going to lose.

You have to be present to win in all games—including the game of life.


Solution to Extra Letters


Short Sentence: “THIS IS THE KEY IDEA.”