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

Learning by Design
Less instructional design results in more learning.

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

Expand pithy sayings.

Timescapes in Threes
Looking at the future impact of present knowledge.

Free Time
How does it feel to be excluded-and be excluding?

Four Suits and a Joker by Roger Greenaway
It's time Roger showed his cards.

Buddy System
Two heads are better than one.

Pithy Saying
How To Unlearn
Get rid of your dysfunctional behavior patterns.





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

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.

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!


Learning by Design

Here's the standard operating procedure in the training business: Subject-matter experts (SMEs) reveal the content, instructional designers package it, trainers deliver it, and learners master it. In the previous issue of PFP, I showed how to improve learning by transforming learners into SMEs and trainers. In this article, I would like to discuss a procedure for transforming learners into instructional designers—and explain the benefits of doing so.

The Double Cross Experiment

Let me recap an “experiment” that I conducted last year. Like most of my field-based research, the design for this experiment evolved from serendipitous happenings in the field.

It all began when I designed a crossword puzzle for the final review at a workshop on project management. I had great fun in packing 46 project-management terms into a tight crossword-puzzle grid, using Antony Lewis's Crossword Compiler software program. But I got bored when it came to writing clues for these terms. Since I believe that laziness is the father of invention, I put aside this dull task and went into an incubation state by reading a murder mystery. The next day—the day I had to use the crossword puzzle with my 12 participants—I printed two copies of the solution grid with the correct words in the proper boxes. In one of the copies, I removed all the horizontal (“across”) words. In the other copy, I removed all the vertical (“down”) words.

This is how I used the two partially-completed versions of the crossword puzzle:

During the activity, I recorded the clues supplied by each team, and identified which clues were too easy and which ones were too difficult. After the activity, I edited the clues and prepared the crossword puzzle, complete with a set of clues.

But this was not the end of my experiment.

The next time I conducted the project management workshop, I gave the crossword puzzle (and the clues) to participants. They solved the puzzle in a reasonable period of time, but the amount of enthusiasm and the amount of learning were not as much as in the previous approach (in which participants created and exchanged clues). So with the third group of participants I ran the original activity (which I now labeled Double Cross) for the final review. At the end of this play, I ended up with a new set of clues.

Here are the conclusions from my field-based experiment:

  1. Getting participants involved in the creation of the instructional material (clues for the crossword puzzle) increases the effectiveness of learning.
  2. A by-product of this approach is instructional content that can be used with future participants.
  3. The ensure the efficiency of using participants as instructional designers, we should give them a partial-design responsibility rather than the total-design responsibility.

Let me elaborate on the third conclusion: If I had asked participants to create a complete crossword puzzle from scratch, they would have spent a lot of time selecting the words and fitting them in a puzzle grid. They would have ended up becoming experts in crossword-puzzle construction—which had nothing to do with my instructional objectives related to project management. Since my training purpose was to review project management concepts, I used an activity with a partially-completed crossword puzzle and required participants to define some terms and supply other terms when given the definition.

Other Applications

Classification card game. I have used the partial-design-by-participants strategy with several of my other games and puzzles. Recently, I have been working with classification card games in which participants play with cards that belong to different categories. I have a classification system related to different types of change. In one of my activities, I briefly explained five different categories to my participants and give them a couple of sample cards with statements associated with each category. I then asked teams of participants to create additional classification cards with statements related to behaviors, actions, feelings, decisions, and outcomes associated with each category. (This partial-design activity is where most of the learning occurred.) I then collected the cards from each team, redistributed them to the other teams, and had everyone play a rummy-type card game. I ended up with ready-to-play decks of cards for future games. But, whenever there is sufficient time, I ask teams to create, exchange, and play with their own decks of cards.

Interactive lecture. We can apply the partial-design-by-participants strategy to interactive lectures. Recently, I asked a SME to give a compressed lecture on how help-desk people can delight their customers. I stopped the lecture after 5 minutes and asked teams of participants to create a poster that can be used to support the presentation of the same content during the SME's lecture to the next group. I gave the teams freedom to prepare any type of poster. When the task was completed, I taped different posters to the wall and invited everyone to review them. I then returned to the SME's current lecture and repeated the process. As a by-product, I ended up with a collection of posters for use as review after future lectures.

Textra game. Here's how I have used the partial-design-by-participants approach with printed content. This activity started when I interviewed several SMEs for their technical suggestions on how to increase the reliability of ASIC (Application Specific Integrated Circuit) design. I ended up with a list of 98 ideas from six different experts. I spent a lot of time reviewing all suggestions, removing duplicates, and organizing them into logical clusters. When I finished the task, I had a well-organized list of 57 suggestions-and a deep understanding of the ASIC design flow. During the training session, rather than giving participants my well-organized list, I gave them the original disorganized list of 98 items. I asked participant teams to review the items, remove duplicates, and organize them into logical categories. Not surprisingly, the final lists from different teams were organized differently from each other and from my final list. But that did not matter because the process of working with the items gave participants a deep understanding of the content. As a follow-up activity, I distributed copies of different final lists (including mine) and invited participants to compare and contrast their logical structures.

David Meier points out that knowledge is not to be consumed by learners, but to be created by them. That principle lies at the heart of the partial-design-by-participants strategy.

Let's help people learn by design!

Public Workshop

Faster, Cheaper, Better

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

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

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

Essential Information

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

Duration: 2 days

Cost: US$695

Essential Information

Location: Palo Alto, California, USA

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

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

Dates: June 17-18, 2004
Register online

Who Should Attend This Workshop?

(Benefits for individuals)

Benefits For The Organization

Workshop Content

An Innovative Alternative To Training Design

Details Of The New Training Design Model

Applying Proven Principles Of Training Design

Strategies For Speeding Up The Design Process



I use Epigrams to provide an advanced organizer for my training sessions. It is a framegame into which you can load your own content.

Before the session, I collect or create several pithy sayings, quotes, aphorisms, adages, maxims, slogans, truisms, mottos, proverbs, or one-liners related to the training topic.

At the beginning of the workshop, I distribute these pithy sayings in such a way that each participant gets two different epigrams and each epigram is given to two different participants.

I ask the participants to reflect on each epigram, discover its deep meaning, and identify its personal application. I warn the participants that they will be asked to make a short presentation on both epigrams they received.

After a suitable pause, I display one of the epigrams from the collection. I ask the two participants who reflected on it to take turns and make their presentations.

After the two presentations, I invite comments from the other participants. If appropriate, I ask the participants to vote (by their applause) to identify the better presentation.

I repeat the procedure with the other epigrams.

Sometimes I postpone the presentation for a later time (for example, after a coffee break or prior to the discussion of a specific topic).


Timescapes in Threes



Any number


20 to 30 minutes


Find a partner. Ask the participants to organize themselves into pairs. Explain that each pair will discuss several questions and come up with joint responses.

Ponder on the distant future. Ask the first question:

Thirty years from now, what impact will your newly-learned skills and knowledge have produced?

Encourage the participants to work rapidly and to imagine broad impact on personal, professional, organizational, societal, and global areas.

Present a report. After a pause of 2 minutes, ask for a volunteer. Invite this person to report the conclusions reached by her and the partner. Applaud this report and repeat the process with another participant chosen at random.

Repeat with different time frames. Ask the pairs to imagine alternative responses to this question:

What results would you like to have achieved 3 years from now by applying your newly-learned skills and knowledge?

Point out the differences between this question and the previous one. After a pause of 2 minutes, invite presentations from a few volunteers.

Repeat with new questions. Repeat the same procedure with these three questions:

What should you being doing 3 months from now to best utilize your newly-learned skills and knowledge?
What should you being doing 3 weeks from now to best utilize your newly-learned skills and knowledge?
What should you being doing 3 days from now to best utilize your newly-learned skills and knowledge?

Ask the here-and-now question. Ask the participants to work individually to come up with personal responses to the next question:

What should you do right here, right now for the next 3 minutes to ensure powerful future applications of your newly-learned skills and knowledge?

After a 3-minute pause, invite a few volunteers to share their thoughts.

Conclude with a 3-minute implementation period. Tell the participants that you will pause to permit the immediate implementation of their 3-minute strategy. Play some music for 3 minutes while the participants complete their task.


Not enough time? Work through these time spans: 3 years, 3 months, and 3 days.


Free Time

I recently used this jolt in the middle of a diversity presentation for hundreds of participants assembled in an auditorium.


To explore how it feels to be excluded—and to be excluding.


Any number, but preferably more than 10.


6 minutes for the activity and 2 minutes for debriefing.


One sticky dot for each participant; half of them green, and half of them red.


Organizing groups. As each participant comes to the session, randomly give him or her a green and red dot. Distribute approximately equal number of dots of the two colors. Ask participants to stick the dots to their name tag or their forehead.

Brief participants. In the middle of a presentation, ask all participants to independently decide how they should spend 3 minutes of free time in the middle of your session.

Assign planning strategies. Explain that you are going to conduct an experiment on right-brain and left-brain strategies for planning. Ask participants to check the colored dot given to them. People with green dots (“greens”) will prepare a linear to-do list for the 3-minute period. Ask participants with red dots (“reds”) to close their eyes and visualize what they will be doing during the 3 minutes of free time. Ask the reds to keep visualizing with their eyes closed until you blow the whistle.

Give secret instructions to greens. Ask greens to keep their eyes open. Project the following messages on the screen, one at a time.

Shhh…! Follow these secret instructions.

When I blow the whistle, start an enthusiastic conversation. Share your ideas for how to spend the free 3 minute time period.

But talk only to other greens. Ignore reds. Don't talk to them.

Shout across chairs to other greens. If necessary, walk over to meet other greens.

If reds talk to you, don't respond. Ignore them.

Begin the free-time period. Turn off the projector, and after about 2 more minutes, blow the whistle and ask the reds to open their eyes. Start the timer and invite all participants to discuss their plans for the 3-minute free time. Watch the activities. Blow the whistle after 3 minutes and announce the end of the free period.

Conduct a quick debrief. Follow this suggested sequence:

Ask “How did you feel?” Establish that reds felt uncomfortable about being ignored and excluded. Also establish that greens felt uncomfortable about ignoring others and excluding them.

Ask “What happened?” “As a green, what did you and why did you do it? As a red, what did you do and why did you do it?”

When greens explain that they were merely following instructions, explain the set-up to reds. Display the secret instructions on the screen again. Continue with debriefing.

Ask greens “Why?” Discuss why the greens chose to follow the instructions even though they felt uncomfortable. Point out that you indoctrinated them in just a few seconds. Ask them how strong their behavior would have been if you had “enculturated” them for several years.

Relate to the workplace. Ask, “In what ways is this activity similar to what happens in your workplace?” Discuss responses from participants.

Ask what-if questions. Use questions such as, “What if there were a higher number of reds than greens?” and “What if the free time period lasted for 10 minutes?”

Ask “What-next?” questions. Use questions such as, “Knowing what you learned from this activity, how would you change the way you include or exclude people who belong to different groups?”


Roger Greenaway is a prolific game designer, an excellent author, and an effective trainer. His main interest is in “the game after the game”—the debriefing. Roger refers to this stage as “active reviewing” or “dynamic debriefing”. Roger's book on the subject of debriefing is Playback: A Guide to Reviewing Activities. This book is no longer in print, but you will find much of the content at his encyclopedic website together with several articles on the subject.

If you have not already done so, please be sure to read the interview with Roger in the September 2001 issue of PFP. (Even if you have read it already, this interview is definitely worth reviewing.) Here's another recent article from Roger.

Four Suits and a Joker
by Roger Greenaway

It is time I showed my cards.

I often follow a four-stage reviewing sequence that evolved from many sources—originally from my own informal research while working at Brathay as a development trainer, and more recently as a training aid when training facilitators. The fullest account of this cycle is published on my website ( in the form of a tutorial about the “reviewing cycle”. I will give a brief account of it here—in a way that emphasizes the differences between the red and the black zones. These two zones can be overlaid on any model of experiential learning.

The first two stages of this four-stage reviewing sequence are represented by the red suits: diamonds and hearts. Stages 3 and 4 are represented by the black suits: spades and clubs. The Joker is the wild card that allows exceptions and variations at any point on the cycle. The colors red and black have a special significance.

To summarize, red represents experience; black represents learning.

Playing Red Cards

Some facilitators are most at home in the red zone. There could be many reasons why they prefer red to black. An important benefit of spending quality time in the red zone is that participants become more aware of self and others and of the nature of the event. They become much better acquainted with personal and shared experiences from which their learning will be drawn. Spending quality time in the red zone increases the chances that any subsequent learning will be well grounded in a rich appreciation of the original experience. Quality time in the red zone helps to ensure that subsequent learning is substantially based on what was actually experienced. Time in the red zone also tends to develop attentive listening, empathy and mutual understanding. These are valuable achievements in themselves. They also generate rich data and enhanced levels of communication to feed into the rest of the cycle.

Playing Black Cards

Some facilitators are most at home in the black zones. This is what facilitators are (generally) paid to produce: the learning outcomes and the changed behavior back in the workplace. But there can be many other reasons why black gets most attention. The benefits of the black zone tend to be more self evident. This is where the more tangible results are generally found. The consequences of moving into the black zone too soon can readily be worked out by referring back to the benefits of spending “quality time” in the red zone. Learning that is poorly grounded in experience tends to be less dependable, less valued and less memorable. Rushing through the black zone would mean learning very little of substance. The experience might have been highly memorable, but any learning would be easily forgettable.

The Joker

The joker is the wild card that you can play at any time. Here are some thoughts about this card

Playing The Joker

Some facilitators are most at home playing the joker. Again, there may be a whole host of reasons why this is so. In the context of this article, let us see the joker as a reminder that reviewing is an art. Whatever model or theory you use to guide your facilitation of reviewing, remember to balance red and black, and remember the joker—for any or all of the reasons listed above. Learning is a creative process. Facilitating learning is also a creative process—an intuitive balancing act between models and jokers.

More About The Author

Roger Greenaway provides trainer-training in reviewing skills in the UK and in many countries around the world. These events draw on Roger's extensive background in experience-based training, trainer-training and research—which includes his doctorate in management learning.

Roger is the author of several articles and books about reviewing. He also publishes the email newsletter “Active Reviewing Tips”—part of a comprehensive website which is becoming an encyclopaedia of reviewing methods.

Websites: and

Free Active Reviewing Tips Ezine: send a blank email to or enter your email address in the subscription box at


Phone: +44 (0) 1786 450968


Buddy System

Ever played chess with two players jointly making decisions about the white pieces while another pair of players handle the black pieces?

Whenever I play an instructional game, I use pairs of players instead of individuals. For example, if I am using a four-person board game, I have a total of eight players working in four pairs. I ask the two players in each “team” to discuss each move before jointly deciding what to do. A lot of mutual learning takes place during these discussions.

Here are additional advantages of using this type of a buddy system:

You can use larger teams than pairs. But the effectiveness of the system breaks down with more than four members in each team.

Pithy Saying

How To Unlearn

Games help children learn things and adults unlearn things.

Adults bring a rich variety of life experiences to training situations. They also bring a lot of superstitions, prejudices, dysfunctional assumptions, and automatic fight-or-flight tendencies. Passive lectures and exhortations are unlikely to have any impact on these mental states. In contrast, simulation games, especially jolts, will make us aware of these misconceptions and help us overcome them. The impact of these activities in the unlearning process can be further strengthened by a reflective debriefing session.