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

Game Show
Winner takes all.

Tool Kit
Interactive Stories
Once upon a time…

Guest Gamer
An Interview with Paul Stuart
Games for games' sake are not very useful.

Coat of Arms by Paul Stuart
Reveal yourself without words.

Birds of a Feather by Tracy Tagliati
Diversity provides advantages.

Open Fist by Tracy Tagliati
Focus on similarity, not diversity.

Say It Quick
Doing the Dishes by Brian Remer
How did I miss that?

Speed Stacking by Brian Remer
These cups are not used for drinking.

The Cup Half Full by Brian Remer
Go with the flow.

Quick Stack by David Gouthro
Four important principles from Speed Stacking.

Zurich Workshops
Thiagi and Sam in Zurich
Public workshops in Europe.

Single Topic Survey
Professional Development by Tracy Tagliati
What's the ROI for professional development?

Survey Results
The Pros and Cons of Social Media at Work by Tracy Tagliati
A summary of your responses.

Topical Tweets
Interactive Stories
Introducing a new column.





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

Editorial Roster

Author and Editor : Sivasailam (Thiagi) Thiagarajan

Assistant Editor : Raja Thiagarajan

Associate Editors: Tracy Tagliati and Jean Reese

Contributing Editors: Brian Remer and Matthew Richter

Editorial Advisory Board: Bill Wake, Matthew Richter, Samuel van den Bergh, and <type your name here>

Copyright Info

The materials in this newsletter are copyright 2011 by The Thiagi Group. However, they may be freely reproduced for educational/training activities. There is no need to obtain special permission for such use as long as you do not reproduce more than 100 copies per year. Please include the following statement on all reproductions:

Reprinted from THIAGI GAMELETTER. Copyright © 2011 by The Thiagi Group, Inc.

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

Subscription Info

To sign up, or to donate and help us continue this newsletter, please see the Online Newsletter page on our website ( ).

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!

Game Show


Coopetition attempts to combine the interest value of a TV game show with the instructional value of a training game. It borrows features from popular game shows and adds a few innovative features:


Coopetition is a framegame that is designed to review the training content taught earlier. It can also be used as a self-contained training game in which participants spend an hour or so in studying (independently, or with a partner, or as a part of learning team) handouts and other reading materials.


Coopetition works best with 20 or more participants. Five contestants and five judges are selected from the group. You may use a 10-item test and select the first five contestants who answered all items correctly to be the contestants. It is best to select the judges randomly. The rest of the group acts as the “studio audience”.


In the tradition of TV game shows, Coopetition lasts for exactly 30 minutes, including three “commercial breaks” of 2 minutes each.

Equipment and Setup

Here's the ideal setup with electronic gadgets. Those with less generous budgets can improvise an approximation of this setup by using flip charts for displays and index cards for voting.

The stage. A raised stage is placed in front of the room with podiums for the contestants and the facilitator along with two sound-proof booths.

Contestant podiums. During the first part of the show, each contestant stands behind an individual podium.

Sound-proof booths. During the second part of the show, pairs of contestants are seated in sound-proof booths. Both contestants can hear the facilitator. The contestants cannot hear each other but everyone can hear them.

Sheets of paper and felt-tipped pens. During the third part of the show, contestants work behind their podiums to develop a creative product.

Facilitator's station. The facilitator stands behind a podium with question cards neatly arranged for her reference, but hidden from the contestants.

Timer. A countdown timer is located at the facilitator's podium.

Common display. A large electronic score board is suspended above the contestant podiums with space for display of dollar amounts.

Judges' chamber. The five judges are seated in the first row of the audience. Each judge has an electronic audience response device for use during the second part of the show.

Audience location. Members of the audience are seated in front of the stage. Each of these participants has an electronic response device for using during the last part of the show.


One of the key requirements for Coopetition is a set of questions for use by the facilitator. This game show requires three sets of questions, corresponding to the three parts of the activity. Here are brief explanations and examples of these types. (The examples are from a training session on breast cancer.)

Closed questions. These questions have a short, single, correct answer. You will need 80-100 questions for use during the first part of the game. The list of questions should also contain the correct answers (including acceptable alternatives) to simplify the facilitator's task. Here are some examples:

Open questions. These questions permit a variety of acceptable answers. You will need another set of 80-100 questions for use during the second part of the game. Here are some examples:

Creative task. You will need a single question that requires a creative response for use during the third part of the activity. Here are some examples:

Cash Prizes

The game show is described below as using cash prizes. Although it is definitely not the same, I usually conduct the game with play money.


Preliminaries (2 minutes)

Assign roles. Announce the names of the five contestants and have them come up to the stage and stand behind a podium. Announce the names of the five judges and ask them to sit at their reserved seats in the middle of the front row. Chat with the judges so they can briefly introduce themselves to the audience. Repeat the same procedure with the contestants.

Preview the show. Explain that the game involves a cooperative part during which contestants accumulate prize money. During the second part, contestants go one on one with each other, trying to outlast the opponents and collect the prize money. During the third round, contestants compete with each other to develop a product that would be voted as the most creative one and win another bundle of prize money.

Part 1 (10 minutes)

Start the timer. Set the timer for 10 minutes and press the button to begin the countdown.

Explain the rules. Present the following information in your own words:

Begin the activity. Display the prize bundle amount (which starts at zero) on the score board. Read the first question. Wait for the answer—and any correction. Increase or decrease the prize bundle depending on whether the answer is correct or incorrect. Update the common score board to indicate the amount of money currently in the prize bundle.

Repeat the process. Read the questions one at a time. Select the next player to answer. Process the answer (and any correction) as before.

Double the increment. When the prize money reaches $200, explain that all future answers will be worth $20. Correct answers will add $20 to the prize bundle and incorrect answers will subtract $20.

Conclude the first part. When the timer beeps to indicate the end of the 10-minute period, announce the conclusion of the first part. Point to the dollar amount on display and explain that this prize bundle will be won by a single contestant during the second part.

First “Commercial Break” (2 minutes)

Announce a “commercial break”. Explain that you will be presenting an important public service announcement for the next 2 minutes. Present a brief minilecture related to the training topic.

Part 2 (10 minutes)

Start the timer. Set the timer for 10 minutes and press the button to begin the countdown.

Explain what happens during this part. Explain that pairs of contestants will independently respond to an open-ended question and the judges will select the better of the two answers. The winner in a best-of-three series will continue while the loser is replaced by the next contestant. When this part of the game ends, the surviving contestant will win all the money in the prize bundle.

Set up the first round. Randomly select a contestant and seat her in the sound-proof booth marked “A”. Place the next contestant in the other sound-proof booth marked “B”.

Brief the judges. Explain that you will ask an open-ended question of the contestant in Booth A. After she gives her response, you will ask the same question of the contestant in Booth B. After this person gives her answer, each judge will immediately select “A” or “B” in the response device to identify the better answer. The contestant who received the most votes wins the first question. The process will be repeated and the contestant who wins the best of three rounds stays in the booth while the other contestant is replaced.

Start the activity. Turn off the sound in Booth B, read an open-ended question to the contestant in Booth A, and ask for an immediate answer. After listening to the answer, ask the same question of the person in Booth B. After listening to this answer, check the judge's choices to find out who received the most votes.

Announce the results. Identify which contestant won the first round.

Repeat the process. This time, read the question to the contestant in Booth B and get her answer. Then ask the contestant in Booth A to give the answer. As before, check the judges' votes and identify the winner of the second round.

Repeat if necessary. If the same person won the first two rounds, there is no need to conduct another round. If there is a tie, conduct the third round as before.

Replace the losing contestant. Send back the losing contestant to her podium and ask the next contestant to take her place.

Continue the activity. Keep replacing losing contestants with the next contestant. During later rounds of this part, each contestant will make several appearances.

Conclude the session. When the timer goes off, announce that the next contest will be the last one. Whoever wins the best of three sets wins the prize bundle.

Award prize money. Display the amount on the individual score board in front of the winner's podium. Announce that each of the other contestants will receive $100 as a consolation prize. Display these amounts in each contestant's individual score boards.

Second “Commercial Break” (2 minutes)

Conduct the second “commercial break”. Present a minilecture on the training topic, summarizing the key learning points.

Part 3 (4 minutes)

Explain what happens during this round. Explain that all contestants will invest some amount from the money they currently have. The final part will involve a contest among all five contestants and the winner will receive twice the total amount invested by all five contestants.

Explain the investment procedure. Each contestant will write the investment amount secretly. Contestants may invest any amount up to the total amount they currently have ($100 for four contestants and a larger amount for the winner of the second part.) The total investment should be at least $317. If the investment falls below the amount, there will not a final part to the game show.

Ask for investment amounts. Ask each contestant to write her name and the investment amount on a piece of paper. Announce a 30-second time limit for this decision.

Reveal the investment amounts. Pick up the pieces of paper, mix them up, and read each investment amount without identifying the name of the contestant. As you read each investment amount, display the running total on the common score board.

Decide on the next step. If the total investment is below $317 (an unlikely event), announce the end of the game show. If it is $317 or more, proceed to the next part.

Announce the creativity contest. Read instructions for the final task. (This will involve the production of a graphic, symbol, slogan, jingle, or label related to some key element of the training topic.) Tell the contestants to use the felt pens and sheets of paper to create this product within the next 2 minutes.

Present the next “commercial” message. Set the timer for 2 minutes. While the contestants are busy with the task, make your final call-to-action presentation related to the training topic.

Display the products. At the end of 2 minutes, collect the products from the contestants (without letting anyone see who produced which product). Mix these sheets of paper and display them, one at a time, pausing for about 15 seconds each.

Poll the audience. Ask each audience member (and the judges) to pick up their response devices. Explain that you will display the products again in the same order, identifying each product with the letters A to E. Ask each participant to choose one of the five products and press the corresponding letter in the response device as soon as you have completed your display.

Announce the winner. Display the products and check the results of the audience poll. Begin with the product that received the least number of votes and proceed toward the one that received the most votes. Hold up the product and announce the number of votes it received. After displaying the winning product, ask the creator of this product to identify herself. Award this person twice the amount invested earlier by the five contestants.


Upgrade the scores. Subtract the amounts invested earlier by each contestant. Then add the double of the amount of the total investment to the winner of the creativity contest.

Announce the end of the session. Thank the audience, the judges, and the contestants. Congratulate everyone for their increased mastery of the training objectives.

Tool Kit

Interactive Stories

Storytelling is a powerful way to present the training content. However, traditional storytelling encourages the participants to become passive listeners. In contrast, the use of interactive stories encourages the participants to actively work individually or in teams to create stories, modify stories, share stories, make appropriate decisions at critical junctures in stories, debrief stories, and analyze them. Here are 11 techniques for creating and using interactive stories:

Analyzed Stories. Ask the participants to listen to a story or to read it. Use techniques from the case method to encourage participants to analyze the story, identify problems and their causes, and make appropriate decisions. Conduct a discussion with the entire group.

Co-Constructed Stories. Identify a theme, topic, or plot line. Ask a team of participants to take turns to construct a story. Each participant supplies one or two words (or sentences or paragraphs) during her turn. When the story is completed, conduct a debriefing discussion.

Debriefed Stories. Ask participants to read a story or listen to a story. After the story ask participants to reflect on the incidents in the story. Conduct a debriefing discussion using such topics as how they feel, what happened in the story, how the story relates to real life, what they learned from the story, and how they would use the insights from the story in real-world situations.

Prompted Stories. Specify a theme, topic, principle, or procedure. Provide participants with a suitable prompt such as a photograph, a graphic, an opening sentence, or a closing sentence. Ask them to incorporate the prompt and come up with a story related to the specified theme.

Rashomon Stories. Present a story, emphasizing key incidents and three or more characters. Ask participants to rewrite the story from the points of view of different characters. Encourage them to produce substantially different but equally plausible accounts of what happened. Ask different participants to present their versions. Debrief by discussing the different accounts and the reasons for these differences.

Roleplayed Stories. Present a story and stop at a critical juncture. Ask teams of participants to play the roles of important characters in the story and have an appropriate conversation. After some time, continue with your narration of the story. Insert roleplay interludes at different parts of the story.

Shared Stories. Ask each participant to independently create a story to illustrate a principle or procedure. Invite participants to repeatedly pair up with one another and share their stories. Later, ask teams of participants to share the different stories they heard and analyze them to identify common themes.

Shrunken Stories. Specify a theme, topic, principle, or procedure. Give examples of short-short stories, hint stories, espresso stories, 99-word stories, or six-word stories. Ask the participants to write individual stories and share them in teams. Later ask each team to select the best story and share it with the entire group.

Summarized Stories. Give examples of 1-minute summaries of classic novels. Ask participants to read a case study, research report, or business proposal and have them summarize it to a 1- minute presentation or 99-word narration.

Unfinished Stories. Present three-fourths of a story. Ask teams of participants to complete the story, incorporating key principles and procedures.

Zoom Stories. Ask participants to narrate a story at an appropriate level of detail. When you tell the narrator to zoom in, she continues narrating the story with a greater number of details. When you ask the narrator to zoom out, she presents the story in broad strokes, moving away from too many details.

Guest Gamer

Paul Stuart never really thought of himself as a gamer until he noticed that other people started commenting about the number of activities he used and asking him where he got them from. Paul claims that he is better at adapting games than inventing them from scratch, as he also has an eye for recognizing where and how to use games in different situations.

Paul has been based in Asia for the last 16 years and trains all around Asia Pacific where the learning culture and environment vary significantly from country to country. It is often necessary to alter aspects of the game design to make them fit and work more effectively. For example, the competitive and reward elements built into games are well received in the US and Europe. However, they are often not appropriate in Asia.

An Interview with Paul Stuart

TGL: Paul, when did you begin using training games?

Paul: When I returned to the training sector after a gap of almost 20 years I realized that my training style was very outdated and that a traditional lecturing style was no longer acceptable. I began to look for ways to build in interaction and engagement and so looked to games to provide this. As a result, I have been designing and using games for the last six years.

I remember a particular incident that spurred me to search for different delivery methods, where a colleague was explaining to me the content and objectives of a series of training modules on negotiations. After a very thorough briefing, I thanked him and said that the content and purpose was very clear, but what I needed was more guidance on how to deliver it. Which exercises or activities should I be using? I was greeted with a rather blank look and the response, “I just kind of stand there and talk”. I exclaimed, “But surely not for two full days?” I said. “Well yes, actually,” he replied.

TGL: Where do you use games?

Paul: I'm primarily a trainer and a facilitator and so I use games in all my interventions, which cover a very wide range of topics including strategic planning, leadership, assertiveness, problem solving, influencing, negotiation, communications, conflict management, and project management.

TGL: How do your clients react?

Paul: Clients are rather surprised to see so many games and activities mentioned in my course outlines and generally the reaction is a positive one. Occasionally the reaction has been negative with comments such as “My Senior Managers will expect something more serious than that”, but in my experience it's often the Senior Managers who are the most enthusiastic game players.

TGL: How do your participants react?

Paul: The participants' reactions are invariably positive as they see them as a welcome change from the normal lecture, but they are also often surprised to realize how much they have learnt from the games.

TGL: What is an embarrassing moment you had while using training games?

Paul: Well, I was co-facilitating training for a group of new IT graduates in a bank and had included a Prisoners' Dilemma type game to explore collaboration and teamwork. It turned out they had done exactly the same game the day before, but none of them actually told us. So the exercise was finished very quickly and with an almost model approach to collaboration and none of the usual mistakes that can provide good learning opportunities. My co-facilitator, who was actually running this activity, looked horrified and quickly sought advice on how to debrief a result she had not anticipated. Of course, knowing what to do when activities go wrong is probably one of the best indicators of facilitation skill, and we were quickly able to draw out all the positive behaviors. We also checked how the activity had been debriefed by the earlier facilitator. This turned out to be very fruitful since the participants had many unanswered questions from the previous session, which we were able to help with. So a positive outcome came from a seemingly difficult situation.

TGL: What suggestions do you have for newcomers?

Paul: I can't offer any particularly new insights, but generally “games for games' sake” will not prove very useful. So it is important to establish the objectives you want to achieve, determine whether a game is appropriate and if so, which is the best type of game. It is also very important to review the game from the participant's perspective: Are the instructions clear? Is the timing appropriate? Is the game fully engaging? Would I enjoy facilitating the game?

Also, as has been reiterated many times, the key to using games successfully lies in making the debriefing effective and valuable, so I think it's important to plan the general question areas as well as some specific questions.

TGL: What is your favorite game?

Paul: I really love the World's Worst game where participants are lined up behind an imaginary stage ( a masking tape line on the floor ) and are asked to remember the world's worst behaviors in the area of your training topic. Participants are then asked to act out these dysfunctional behaviors, one at a time. They do so, by stepping forward onto the stage, making a brief comment and then stepping back, leaving the stage clear for others. I have used this for a variety of topics such as teamwork, performance appraisal, management, interviewing, and training. As you can see the format can be adapted for almost any subject.

Once you have brought out all the undesirable behaviors, you can use a variety of methods to discuss how to eliminate them. This effectively produces a best-practices model for your particular topic.

I like the game very much because it combines physical activity and taps into people's willingness to remember and share negative experiences. The game can produce a lot of information in a short time and it needs the minimum of equipment and preparation.

TGL: Who is your favorite game designer?

Paul: I have to say Thiagi, as his skill in developing simple games that generate significant learning opportunities is unmatched. I am also a particular fan of his framegames concept.

TGL: What book recommendations do you have?

Paul: I'm currently re-reading First Break All the Rules by Marcus Buckingham and finding its basic concepts very useful in stimulating discussion in leadership training. I would also recommend Networking: Your Professional Survival Guide by Filipe Carrera, which covers all aspects of networking in a readable style.

TGL: What are your thoughts about the future of training games?

Paul: I think the challenge will be to keep bringing in new or adapted approaches. I have instances where particular games have already been played by many participants.

Also, like every other aspect of life, I'm sure that technology will have an impact and that game designers will increasingly use such technologies as social media. With the ever increasing use of virtual meeting technology, it will be an interesting challenge to adapt existing games to work in this environment.


Coat of Arms
by Paul Stuart

A Coat of Arms is a design that is unique to a person, family, corporation, or state that illustrates the important characteristics, achievements, and values of its owner.

I primarily use this activity as an alternative way for participants to introduce themselves and their colleagues, particularly for groups who think they already know each other very well. Almost invariably participants discover something about their colleagues of which they previously had no idea. Occasionally this revelation has an immediate and direct application to another participant's current project or challenge.

Because this activity forces people to use drawings rather than words, it is particularly useful as a dual-purpose introductory exercise in training sessions that deal with such topics as innovation, creativity, and problem-solving.

Coat of Arms is a framegame that can be used in many different applications by just altering the questions. In the example below, I have illustrated its primary use, as an opener to a training workshop.


To get to know another participant and then introduce her to the rest of the group.


Any number, working individually and then in pairs. (Create one triad if there is an odd number of participants.)


20 minutes for the drawing and interpretation, and approximately 3-4 minutes each for the introductions to the whole group. This would give a total of approximately 60 minutes for a group of 10.



Brief the participants. Explain that each participant will draw something in each of the five sections of the Coat of Arms handout in response to relevant questions. After that, participants will pair up, swap their drawings and try to interpret the drawings so that they can introduce their partner to the whole group.

Sample questions:

  1. What do you do at work?
  2. How do you like to spend your spare time?
  3. What is something you think you are very good at?
  4. What is something you think your colleagues don't know about you?
  5. What is one of your personal values?

Part 1. Drawing

Explain the activity. Participants should work individually and spend 10 minutes to complete their personal Coat of Arms by drawing a picture or symbol in each of the 5 sections, in response to the five questions. Emphasize that no words are allowed. Reassure the participants that artistic ability is not important because the picture is simply to convey information.

Part 2. Interpreting

Explain the activity. Participants should identify the person whom they know least well in the group, partner with her, and exchange the drawings.

They now take it in turns, 3 minutes each, to interpret what their partner's drawing is trying to say in response to each question. Stress that the originator should not give any clues unless their partner is completely lost.

After 3 minutes advise the participants to repeat the procedure with the second coat of arms.

If there is a triad, you will need to allow a few extra minutes.

Part 3. Presenting

Explain the activity. Each participant now has 2 or 3 minutes to introduce their partner using the information they have gained from interpreting the Coat of Arms.


You can adjust the time requirement by increasing or decreasing the number of sections on the Coat of Arms.

The Coat of Arms could also be used for the following purposes:

Handout 1

Personal Coat of Arms

In the five sections of the shield, draw a picture in response to one of these five questions:

  1. What do you do at work?
  2. How do you like to spend your spare time?
  3. What is something you think you are very good at?
  4. What is something you think your colleagues don't know about you?
  5. What is one of your personal values?

coat of arms graphic


Birds of a Feather
by Tracy Tagliati

Participants naturally want to form groups with common characteristics. This jolt illustrates how diverse groups have access to more resources and provide a greater variety of solutions.


Each person is given an index card with a letter on it, and then asked to form a group of five people. Participants assume that they should get into groups with others who have the same letter. However, when the facilitator asks them to form the longest word possible with the letter cards, they realize that it would have been more beneficial to have created a diverse group.


To illustrate how diverse teams can be more productive and creative.

Training Topics


15 or more.
This jolt works best with larger groups of 20 to 30.


3 minutes for the activity and 5 minutes for debriefing.



Write the letter “T” on an index card. On the next index card write the letter “E”. Continue with the letters “A”, “M”, and “S” on the next three index cards. Prepare enough cards so that each participant will have a card with one of these five letters.


Distribute the cards. Mix the prepared index cards and give each participant a random card.

Organize into groups. Ask the participants to form groups of five people as quickly as possible. Most participants will form groups with people who have an index card with the same letter as theirs.

Give additional instructions. Ask the participants in each group to form the longest word possible with the letters on their index cards.

Discuss the situation. Point out that the groups that have participants with index cards of the same letter are not able to spell any words. Explain that if the participants had formed themselves into groups with index cards with different letters they would have been able to spell the word “TEAMS”.

Learning Points


Open Fist
by Tracy Tagliati

Teams work better when they find things in common. Stronger teams reduce turnover, increase pleasant interactions, and improve productivity.


To discover commonalities.


3 or more.


5 minutes.


Participants sit in a group. Ask participants to sit in a circle and raise their right fist.

Begin the activity. The first player calls out an interesting little known fact about herself. (Examples: I have traveled to India, I like science fiction novels, or I play the guitar.) Ask the other participants to open one finger from their fist if this statement is also true for them.

Change players. Ask the first player to point to any other player who will then become the second player. Repeat the process so that everyone has a chance to share a little-known fact or until someone's fist is fully open.

Encourage conversation. Allow time for participants to talk and learn more about what they have in common.

Say It Quick

Reprinted from the March 2011 issue of Firefly News Flash by permission of the author.

Doing the Dishes
by Brian Remer

This month, explore the interaction of speed, efficiency, and flow beginning with this story of only 99 words.

Doing the Dishes

I like washing the dishes. It's a way to help out when I haven't done the cooking. There's one thing I've never been able to get a handle on, though. Just as I dry my hands, I'll turn around and find another dirty plate, cup, or pot slouching nonchalantly in a corner. How did I miss that?


I used to look for someone to blame for this phenomenon: my spouse, our child, a gremlin. Then I realized everything has its use. And that's what dishes are for: to wash, to use, to get dirty again!


Reprinted from the March 2011 issue of Firefly News Flash by permission of the author.

Speed Stacking
by Brian Remer

Usually I associate stacking cups with cleaning up after dinner. But my thinking has changed since learning about Speed Stacking, the sport of building pyramid towers of plastic cups, then collapsing them, in record time. Competitive Sport Stacking, as it is also known, has been integrated into thousands of schools across the U.S., Canada and Europe. It has become both an extracurricular activity and a boredom-buster in the classroom for students who need a mental break from academics.

Using specially designed cups that are uniformly weighted and won't stick together, players race the clock to stack and unstack towers of three, six, or ten cups. There are singles, doubles, and relay events at the World Sport Stacking Competition, which will be held this year in Dallas, Texas.

Speed Stacking is easy to learn. With ordinary paper cups at your kitchen table, you can learn the basic moves in a few minutes but you can spend hours perfecting your technique and improving your time. Watching practiced competitors, the cups seem to levitate into place then flow like liquid mercury back to where they started. Click here ( ) to see ten-year-old Steven Purugganan, the world champion, in action.

Though it sounds like a fun activity for young people, I first learned about Speed Stacking at a conference of the North American Simulation and Gaming Association. There it was introduced as a hands-on technique to demonstrate learning styles, coaching methods, group problem solving techniques, and creative thinking methods.

With that in mind, don't be surprised to find a stack of brightly colored cups and a timer at your next team retreat or training event!


Reprinted from the March 2011 issue of Firefly News Flash by permission of the author.

The Cup Half Full
by Brian Remer

The “speed” part of Speed Stacking comes with practice but there also are some techniques that, if followed consistently, will help players achieve faster times right away. One simple trick is to handle each cup only once. Another is to never pass a cup from one hand to the other. So, if you are ambidextrous, you already have an edge.

Doing equal work with both hands is one of the skills that Speed Stacking builds. Ambidexterity is helpful in computer work, playing musical instruments, playing many sports, and operating machinery. (Not to mention winning a pie-eating contest!) But how necessary is such a skill for most everyday tasks?

Turns out it may be more important than at first glance. Since each hand is controlled by its opposite hemisphere you have to develop both sides of your brain to use your hands with equal dexterity. So stacking cups quickly with fluid precision and coordination beefs up brain cells on both sides of the corpus callosum. Stacking plastic cups, and learning to do it well, builds a well-rounded brain.

Would regular practice in an ambidextrous activity increase brain capacity and flexibility for other activities? What effect might it have on problem solving, creativity, or possibility thinking? Though I don't have scientific research to back it up, it seems logical that the neuronal connections necessary to produce fluid hand coordination would also contribute to a natural flow of mental coordination for other activities.

From a metaphorical point of view, Speed Stacking is about moving to a rhythm that generates a natural flow. It is brain and body coordinated for a common purpose where all elements contribute in harmony to a greater goal.

Whether we're talking about brain-hand coordination, teamwork, or positive relationships at home, when we resist that natural flow, the cups fall down, accumulate in the sink, and cause consternation.


Reprinted from the March 2011 issue of Firefly News Flash by permission of the editor.

Brian writes: David Gouthro is the principal force behind The Consulting Edge: Movers & Shakers, Inc., where he provides innovative facilitation and training that's fun and effective. Here he describes several ways to use Speed Stacking as a teaching tool. Try some of them with your group then let your fellow readers know what happened.

Quick Stack
by David Gouthro

Here are four different ways to use the concepts imbedded in the sport of Speed Stacking. Each begins with the principle or central concept to be learned, and follows with just enough detail to be dangerous!

The importance of using the correct tools

After demonstrating how to stack one of the competition stacks (for example, the 3-3-3 stack which is described on the Speed Stacking website), provide groups with different cups to attempt the same competitive stack. For example, provide one group with regular plastic cups, another with Dixie cups, a third with relish cups, and a fourth with unbreakable polycarbonate cups.

Tell the groups that there's going to be a timed competition, and that they have 5 minutes to practice. It soon becomes obvious, that in order to accomplish the task, the use of the correct tool is a tremendous advantage. You will note that the speed stacking cups are custom designed for this challenge, as described above.

From here, enter into a conversation to explore the extent to which employees have the tools at work to perform at their best.

Different ways to teach; Different ways to learn

Separate the group into three. One group is provided with written instructions regarding how to do the 3-3-3 stack correctly. A second group is shown by the instructor how to do a 3-3-3 stack, and they are able to ask questions. The third group is allowed to see a video clip, describing how to do the same stack. Bring the groups back together after they have had an opportunity to practice, and request that they demonstrate the skill that they have acquired. In a debriefing, ask people to relate how effective each method of instruction appeared to be.

A twist on this is to show the impact of demonstration methods. One group can be shown how to do the 3-3-3 stack by the instructor. Another can be shown by a professional via video. And a third simply gets to watch world champions perform the stack in a competition. In the debriefing, focus the conversation around the level of motivation (or sense of hope and possibility) that is generated when one observes a relative novice demonstrating the skill, versus a practiced expert. Does the “expert” inspire someone to try harder; or demotivate, because the new learner can't even imagine being able to perform at that level? This is a great conversation for train-the-trainer sessions!

The impact of competition

Each table is asked to have each individual at the table practice the skills of creating the 3-3-3 stack and to record their times as they get better. After 10 minutes, they are asked to determine which of their table members would best represent their table in a competition.

That person is paired up with a member from another team. They are then asked to compete against each other, stacking as quickly as possible. The tension can be increased with the use of a device called the battle stack, where competitors literally face off against each other. Whoever completes their stack first, presses a release mechanism that causes the other individual's cups to go flying.

The conversation that ensues can compare the fastest time the individual had at their own table where there was no competition to the time they achieved in the heat of competition. Debriefing can follow on the performance impact of the competitive environment, or virtually any other aspect of the benefits or detriments of competition.

Enhancing individual performance in a team environment

Set an objective that each member of the team should achieve a certain level of performance. The challenge is for the team members who are fastest to coach and support those who are not quite as fast.

Overall team performance could be evaluated by the number of participants who achieve a predetermined minimum time, or an accumulated team time for each person to do the 3-3-3 stack.

From here, explore through conversation the impact of individual targets versus team targets, the processes by which individual team performance was improved for the benefit of the individual and the team, etc.

David Gouthro
The Consulting Edge: Movers & Shakers, Inc.
102-2221 Folkestone Way, West Vancouver, BC V7S 2Y6 Canada
(604) 926-6858 or (800) 685-6818

Zurich Workshops

Thiagi and Sam in Zurich

Picture of Samuel van den Bergh Van den Bergh Thiagi Associates are happy to offer their tenth annual workshops in Winterthur, Switzerland (near Zurich).

Workshop 1: Interactive Training Strategies

June 21-23, 2011 (three days)

This workshop is designed for trainers, instructional designers, facilitators, managers, and performance consultants. The workshop helps a wide range of practitioners, from newcomers to experienced specialists, to master skills and concepts related to different types of training games, simulations, and learning exercises.

This workshop practices what it preaches. Participants learn new principles and procedures and apply them to creating and conducting different types of learning activities that meet their training objectives, audiences, and needs.

Workshop 2: Design Clinic and Advanced Interactive Strategies

June 24-25, 2011 (two days)

This workshop is designed for participants who have completed Thiagi's 3-day Interactive Training Strategies workshops.

The workshop design strongly incorporates the individual needs of the participants. At present Thiagi suggests the following three major components:

  1. A design clinic in which Thiagi and Sam will provide consultative advice and feedback on interactive training activities that you are currently designing (or planning to design).
  2. Peer review and support that uses structured strategies to encourage you to present your ideas, plans, and problems to your fellow participants and receive valuable feedback and guidance.
  3. Advanced sessions on interactive strategies and facilitation techniques. Selected topics will include facilitating multinational and multicultural groups, online games, interactive webinars, positive psychology activities, and intrinsic motivation.

Bonus: The workshop will provide you with a software package for designing online games and train you how to use it.

More Information

For more information, please download our detailed brochure (615k PDF)

Single Topic Survey

Professional Development
by Tracy Tagliati

The costs involved with professional development can be daunting. For example, advanced degrees and certifications can cost thousands.

Some insist that the costs are worth it. They say that advanced degrees increase job opportunities. They also say that the jobs of the future will demand higher education.

Others argue that the increasing costs of education may not be worth it. They add that the lifetime earnings of advanced degrees have been exaggerated, and many jobs of the future will be performed by employees without advanced degrees.

What do you think?

Poll Question

Are advanced degrees and professional certifications worth the price?


(The poll opens in a new window.)

Open Question

What are your thoughts about advanced degrees?


(The survey opens in a new window.)

You may include your name along with your response, or if you prefer, keep it anonymous.

We asked some of our colleagues, and here's what they had to say:

Fran: The workplace landscape is changing in favor of higher-skilled employees. More skills often means more education. As a plus, those with more education are less likely to be unemployed, and more likely to get jobs faster.

Bill: In my view, the entire advanced-degree industry is a scam, a self-perpetuating Ponzi scheme that needs to stop right now. The cost of advanced degrees and professional certifications is rising higher than peoples' incomes, and the need for highly skilled employees in the workplace is growing at a slower rate than the need for highly skilled employees.

Veneria: I considered getting an advanced degree. I calculated the cost would be $53,000. After a lot of consideration, I decided to invest that amount of money into a business that is now thriving.

Survey Results

The Pros and Cons of Social Media at Work
by Tracy Tagliati

Last month we asked if you think it is a good idea to allow social media in the workplace? Here are the results:

Here is what you had to say:

Yes: 59% No: 41%
(Percentages reflect 58 votes received by May 2, 2011.)

Of those of you who responded, 59% said, “Yes” and 41% said “No”.

We also asked you how are you utilizing social media, and what actions you are taking to reduce their potential negative impact. Here's what some of you had to say:

Response 7) I recently attended the Learning Solutions Conference where the use of social media was all the buzz. I felt connected to those in the learning industry. However, at my place of work, our access is blocked to all social media sites including linkedin. So, it leaves you feeling disconnected and searching using other resources (i.e. my smart phone) to stay involved in social media. I found it a great learning experience during and after the conference to read what others have to share about the learning industry. -A. Oakland

Response 5) Prachi Kelkar-Bhide

According to me, it is fine to use the social media. It can help create “expected brand value” for your organization.

I work in a Tile Manufacturing company and we use social media for publishing any new product that we launch in the market. It also helps us publish latest “recognitions” that we may have received.

We have hired 2 full time Marketing Communication employees to handle “social media”. This avoids unwanted usage by all and sundry.

Response 3) The jury is still out. Our primary vehicle is discussion forums and LinkedIn. Not sure about the utility of twitter for educational purposes.

See more readers' responses or add your own.

Thank you for your responses.

Topical Tweets

This column will feature items that Thiagi and Tracy tweet on a single topic. This month's collection presents 59 tweets on interactive stories.

Follow us (@thiagi and @tracytagliati) for more practical tweets almost every day.

Interactive Stories

  1. Stories are powerful training tools. They enhance understanding, retention, recall, and affective outcomes. They are brain compatible.
  2. All cultures use stories to convey important values and principles. They have been used to educate, orient, persuade, influence, and deceive people.
  3. Stories are embedded in the case method and in simulation games. A good story is the core of good training.
  4. Storytelling as a training tool has a major shortcoming. Stories reduce participants to passive listening: Facilitator tells, participants listen.
  5. Stories may have another potential problem in training. They may distract the participants from the main learning point.
  6. Stories can become interactive tools. For the past 92 years (or thereabouts), we have been using interactive stories at the Thiagi Group.
  7. Stories can be made interactive in several ways. The basic idea is to require and reward active participation by the listeners.
  8. Instead of passive listening, participants can create, share, analyze, summarize, critique, rewrite, mediate stories to achieve training goals.
  9. Stories can be collaboratively created by participants by taking turns to supply one or two words, one sentence, or one paragraph at a time.
  10. Stories can be created by participant teams. You supply the context and the plotline in terms of principles or procedures.
  11. Sample activity. Context: A multinational team. Plotline: Forming, storming, norming, and performing.
  12. Exploring a process (example: change management) by collaboratively creating stories is a powerful technique.
  13. Each step in a process or procedure can become a chapter in the stories created by participants.
  14. Within each chapter of the stories, participants can create conflict, heroic action, and resolution. This deepens understanding of the process.
  15. One word/sentence/paragraph approach to creating stories can be linear or unpredictable. Throw a ball to identify the next author.
  16. In the Directed Stories activity, you point to different people in a team. They supply the next word/sentence/paragraph to the narrative.
  17. In the Stories Exchange activity, each participant creates a story on a specific theme. Participants pair up and share their stories.
  18. In Roleplayed Stories, you tell a story and stop at critical junctures. Teams take on the roles of characters and roleplay.
  19. In Roleplayed Stories, you interrupt roleplay interludes with what-happened-next detail. Then it's time for next roleplay.
  20. In Zoom Stories, you ask a participant to describe a fictional application of newly acquired skills and concepts.
  21. In Zoom Stories, when you say, “Zoom in”, Narrator adds more and more details. When you say “Zoom out”, narrator jumps to more abstractions.
  22. Zoom Stories enable participants to look at the forest and the trees, details and generalities, big picture and close-ups.
  23. In Unfinished Stories, you present a relevant story three-fourths of the way. Ask participant teams to write the conclusion.
  24. In completing Unfinished Stories, ask participants to apply different principles and models to produce a realistic ending.
  25. In completing Unfinished Stories, you can ask the teams to create alternate “happy” and “sad” endings.
  26. You can supply several stories to participants and have them analyze these stories and extract common themes.
  27. Encourage participants to write Short-Short stories. This requires a focus on the key elements.
  28. For guideline on writing short-short stories, visit .
  29. Encourage participants to write stories in 99 words. Brian Remer is a master of this format. Read his book.
  30. Brian Remer's book contains 99 stories, each exactly 99 words long. Plus several activities that incorporate these stories.
  31. Encourage participants to write stories in six words. Classic example from Hemingway: For sale: Baby shoes. Never used.
  32. Need your help. Reply with six-word stories on training topics. Sample: Skipped analysis. Designed fast. Failed fast.
  33. Another example of six-word stories: Did comprehensive analysis. Result: Obsolete training.
  34. A six-word story from Nitya Wakhlu: Stopped Talking. Started Listening. Magic Happened.
  35. A six-word story by Cynthia Fava Rankin: Teacher learns. Students Teach. Successful class.
  36. Jokes are a form of stories. They help people laugh and learn. Use relevant jokes as examples.
  37. All stories need a beginning, a middle, and an end. Practice making up complete stories.
  38. Good news: You can write incomplete stories. Give them to your participants to complete them.
  39. Use your talent for creating stories for creating scenarios. Use them as in the case method for training and for testing.
  40. Here's an idea borrowed from appreciative inquiry. Ask participants to create and collect positive stories related to a topic.
  41. Have participants analyze positive stories to identify common themes. Use this approach in lieu of mechanical analyses.
  42. I have read many good books about storytelling. But I don't want to tell stories. I want to use interactive stories.
  43. Storytellers tell stories. Users of interactive stories listen to stories and help participants to share and process these stories.
  44. You can use the debriefing process with interactive stories. Begin by asking the participants to read or listen to a story.
  45. You can ask participants how they feel about the stories, what they learned from them, how they relate to real life.
  46. You can ask participants how they plan to apply the lessons from the stories to their workplace.
  47. Interactive stories are particularly useful in intercultural communications training. Read and discuss stories from other cultures.
  48. You don't need full stories to use them interactively. Craig Storti has created short dialogues for analysis.
  49. Stories are great tools for diversity training. To better understand my culture, read stories by Kamala Markandaya and RK Narayan.
  50. By the way, I have written some short stories earlier in my life. To read a few, visit .
  51. Ask participants to read stories and summarize them into 99-word abstracts.
  52. Another use of interactive stories: Ask participants to read a story and retell it in 60 seconds.
  53. Application exercise on team processes: I ask participants to write a report about a fictional study they conducted.
  54. History of the Future: Ask participants to write stories about how they successfully applied their new skills 2 years from today.
  55. Ask different teams to write stories on the same topic or procedure. Compare and discuss the stories.
  56. Create action mazes. Ask participant to write “create-your-own-adventure” stories with decision points and branches.
  57. I use an iPad app called Toontastic. Although I bought it for Jason, my grandson, I use it to explore storytelling.
  58. Toontastic uses a powerful structure for stories: setup, characters, conflict, challenge, climax, and resolution.
  59. Share this structure for stories with your participants. Invite them to create their own stories relevant to the training topic.