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

Positioning Improv Games
Improv for Improving Performance by Kat Koppett
Life is improv.

Improv Game
Emotional Meeting by Kat Koppett
Displaying diverse emotions.

Guest Gamer
Interview with Andrew Boyarsky
Learn project management by dropping an egg.

Simulation Game
Change the Tire by Andrew Boyarsky
How do you change a tire and how long will it take?

Learning Activities
Learning Activities Revisited - 9
Field studies and mutual-learning activities.

Brian's Words
The Trivial Things by Brian Remer
Let them fall through the cracks.

Game-Based Training
Use our flyer with your clients.





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

Contributing Editors: Brian Remer and Les Lauber

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 2008 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 © 2008 by The Thiagi Group, Inc.

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

Subscription Info

All registered subscribers receive Thiagi GameLetter 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 The Thiagi Group, 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!

Positioning Improv Games

Improv for Improving Performance
by Kat Koppett

A decade or so ago, when using improv in business was still new and unfamiliar, I was referred to a large health organization in San Francisco, where I was practicing at the time. I got the referral because a friend had heard that this company was speaking to another company in New York City that used improv in organizations. Why not go local? I mean, one improv-in-business company couldn't be that different from another, eh?

I remember that pitch meeting very vividly. I went into the meeting with overweening confidence. I could beat out any competition. You see, I wasn't “just” an improviser, I was a trained organizational psychologist with a degree to prove it. Not only that, I had been taught by some great sales consultants to link everything I did to my client's needs, to connect our offerings to their bottom line, to focus on on-the-job skills, not my cute little games: I was prepared!

So I listened to their needs, and I gave my spiel. I can't remember it exactly, but it contained lots of business objectives and buzzwords about creativity and communication.

They nodded politely, paused, and then said, “Uh. Great. What about the idea that we are all performers, and we are all performing all the time. You know—that life is improv…?”

“Oh, yeah, sure. Of course. That, too.” I quickly improvised.

In the moment, I just took it as a lesson in simplicity. In the intervening years, I have come to regard the frame my client offered as a terribly important and profound one.

A year or so after booking this work I was introduced to Cathy Salit, President and Founder of Performance of a Lifetime, the company against whom we were bidding. It is through my subsequent collaborations with her company that I have come to understand the breadth and depth of this “performance” philosophy. Briefly, what I learned from Performance of a Lifetime was:

For all the bells and whistles we put on it, improv training is valuable because we are improvising all the time. We humans are performers, performing All The Time. If we start to think about our lives as a series of little improvisational scenes, then we can perform more consciously, and perhaps more effectively. We can make choices about how we wish to interact so that we can “serve the scene”. We can make performance choices, like actors do, without feeling that we must change our personalities or our behavioral styles. It is simpler than that, more natural, less daunting.

In fact, we make these performance choices all the time. I perform differently when chatting with my five-year-old than I do when chatting with my boss or a telemarketer or my mother. The more conscious and flexible I can be inside those “scenes” the higher the probability of success.

Here are a few tips for performing consciously:

  1. Ask yourself, “What scene am I in?”
  2. Then ask yourself, “What does the scene need?”
  3. Remember that choosing a performance (e.g. listening rather than speaking, paying a compliment, lowering your status) does not mean you are changing who you are, just what you are doing in the moment.
  4. Try something new. And see the previous tip.
  5. Celebrate discomfort. Being uncomfortable is a sign that we are moving outside of our habitual modes. If we really want to learn and grow, that is a necessity.
  6. Have fun. A little playfulness goes a long way in virtually any context.

For more information on Kat or her work, visit .

Improv Game

Emotional Meeting
by Kat Koppett

Four people roleplay having a meeting. They enter the room one at a time with a different emotional attitude. Each time a new person enters, everyone takes on this person's emotional attitude. When the individuals leave, in reverse order, the remaining group reverts to the previous emotion.

Improv Topics




5-10 minutes per group

Number of Players

3-5 per group

Game Flow

  1. Ask for three to five volunteers.
  2. Tell them that they are going to roleplay a meeting. One by one, they will enter, and then leave over the course of about 5 minutes.
  3. Assign each individual an emotion or attitude. (You can elicit them from the rest of the group. Get a variety. For example: joy, anger, fear, and ambition.)
  4. Assign an order for the individuals to enter the playing area, and review all the emotions.
  5. Let the group know that whenever a new person enters, they are all to take on that person's emotion.
  6. Then, explain that after the last person has been in the room for a while, she will leave and everyone will revert to the previous emotion, until the next person leaves, and so on till the last person is left with his original emotion.
  7. Run the activity.



Suggested Debrief Questions:


Adapted from the Chicago schools, Freestyle Repertory Theatre, and Theatresports

For more information on Kat or her work visit .

Guest Gamer

Andrew Boyarsky is Project Director for the School of Professional Studies at the City University of New York. He has over 17 years of experience in project development and management for both non-profit and for-profit organizations. Andrew currently manages emergency preparedness training for New York City's emergency sheltering system targeted to 40,000 government employees. Andrew has also worked as a consultant for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and the US Holocaust Memorial Museum. He has developed interactive games for a variety of courses, roleplay games for large audiences, and simulation games for project management.

Interview with Andrew Boyarsky

TGL: Andrew, what's your specialty area?

Andrew: My areas of expertise are emergency preparedness, disaster response, and project management. My experiences with disaster response dates back to my humanitarian relief work in former Yugoslavia and Georgia during the civil wars there in the early 1990s. I am also an American Red Cross volunteer and volunteer for the NYC Coastal Storm Plan.

TGL: How did you get into the business of designing and using games?

Andrew: It was a process of evolution. Early on in my career I used interactive lecture as a teaching method. Once I started teaching methodologies and procedures, I realized, somewhat intuitively, that some low fidelity simulations would help improve the level of involvement and retention. This is based on the Taoist saying: “Tell me and I will forget, show me and I may remember, involve me and I will care.”

TGL: Where and how do you use games?

Andrew: Most of what I use are simulations in the form of a competition. I find the most interesting ones are based on reality with multiple dimensions, such as the bridge construction simulation and project management simulation.

TGL: How do your clients respond?

Andrew: Some clients worry that their employees will not understand or retain key points. Most often this is due to their classroom experiences or their learning style preferences. However, once they see the activity, game, or exercise they begin to understand its effectiveness.

TGL: How do your participants respond?

Andrew: People love games and activities because most of the time they expect to walk into a classroom and be lectured to. Instead they encounter a quick activity to introduce the content.

TGL: What is the most embarrassing moment you had in conducting a training game?

Andrew: During a negotiation game, one of the discussion topics was the most effective way of resolving conflict. One participant refused to compromise and brought the group to a halt. It was the second topic among five items, and the other group members were extremely frustrated. I intervened to get them through to the next topic only to have them get stalled on that topic. That group proved to be one of the most challenging.

TGL: What advice do you have to newcomers about interactive training?

Andrew: Test your designs as early and as often as you can. Do a walk-through with colleagues or fellow staff members in a safe environment. Pilot test it in an environment as close to the real one. Above all, keep your focus on the end result. All too often, I have seen training exercises where the focus is on just doing it with little relationship to the content area or training objectives.

TGL: What is your most favorite game?

Andrew: The game I find the most fun is my egg drop simulation that I use in a continuing education course. As a capstone project throughout a project management course that I teach, with a budget of $5 and a deadline of the last class, teams are assigned the goal of building a contraption to drop an egg from a height of 10 feet without it breaking. They are given milestones where interim project plans (such as a scope statement, work breakdown structure, critical path diagram, risk management plan, and Gantt chart) are due. In the last class, they present their final project plan and contraption. I insert the egg in it and drop it from 10 feet high. Students are very excited about presenting their work, and the designs are really creative. The level of energy and engagement in this project always impresses me.

TGL: Who are your favorite game designers?

Andrew: I am biased. Thiagi is my favorite game designer. And this is not a paid endorsement.

TGL: What is your prediction about the future of training games?

Andrew: We will start to see increased use of virtual reality and video recording with a blend of classroom instruction. This will be geared towards younger groups who already are used to seeing movies and video games released in tandem.

Simulation Game

Change the Tire
by Andrew Boyarsky

I use this exercise in my construction-scheduling course where we focus on the use of the critical path method.


To demonstrate the importance of working with the team to develop a schedule.

To emphasize the need for planning to effectively manage and reduce the time required to perform a task—and to reduce the amount of time required.


30 minutes.


Any number



Team Formation. Divide participants into teams of three or four members each.

Individual task analysis. Ask participants to work individually for 3 minutes and write down a list of tasks required for changing a tire on a car. Tell them to arrange these tasks in a sequential order.

Team planning. After 3 minutes, ask participants to work as a team for the next 10 minutes to develop a plan for changing a tire. Each team should write their sequence of tasks on a flip chart. Give a 2-minute warning after 8 minutes and encourage all teams to complete their plan.

Presenting team plans. Call time after 10 minutes. If one or more teams have not finished the task, ask them to stop wherever they are. Call on teams in a random order and ask a representative to present the team's plan. Give each team 2 minutes to make its presentation.

Record the times for each team. Ask the participants for the lowest and greatest time estimate for the task. On a flip chart, create a simple bar chart with the greatest and lowest time estimates. Ask how many participants selected something close to in between the two estimates, near the average. Then ask participants how many were close to the highest and the lowest estimates. You should have something resembling a bell curve.

Conduct a debriefing discussion. Ask participants what they think the actual time might be. Point out the differences in estimates and the conditions that apply to the task (such as experience with tire changing and available equipment available). Point out the differences between individual estimates and team estimates. Discuss for about 5 minutes what the process and outcomes were like.

Stress these major learning points: Developing the schedule and estimates is a team sport that should be done in a methodical manner to improve communication and to earn buy-in from all members. Estimates have a range. Depending on the degree to which you wish to risk, you will choose the estimate that fits your tolerance for risk in a specific situation. Individual estimates will be different depending on the level of expertise that one has with the task. Someone who has a high level of expertise should be the one providing the estimate.

Learning Activities

Learning Activities Revisited - 9

Content and activity are the yin and yang of training. You need both to produce effective and engaging learning. Content without activity produces sterile knowledge. Activity without content results in wasted effort.

It is not enough if you have both content and activity. These two have to be carefully balanced, aligned, and integrated.

Over the past several years, we have been exploring different types of learning activities that can be used with different sources of existing content.

I discussed two or three learning activities in greater detail during each of the past eight months. This month, I explore learning activities associated with content discovered in the environment and content available among members of group which has been taught different skills and knowledge.

19. Field Studies and Expeditions

(Content Source: The environment that surrounds the participants)

Field Studies and expeditions require participants to explore the environment of another country, culture, organization, or time period. Participants are given a set of objectives to achieve, information to collect, or objects to obtain. In the process of completing these tasks, participants acquire new knowledge about the environment and new skills for relating to the local people.

Sample Field Study: Fast Field Trip

The training objectives for this field study is to collect, analyze, and apply new employee orientation techniques.

  1. Fast food franchises face the unique challenge of replacing their employees and training new ones, almost once every week. Make arrangements with local fast food restaurants to permit your participants to undergo a typical new-employee orientation session. Prepare a checklist of information to be collected (such as What techniques are used to speed up the orientation process and How is on-the-job training integrated with the orientation session) by each individual participant from the restaurant to which she is assigned.
  2. Ask each participant to attend the orientation session behaving just like any other new employee.
  3. After the orientation session, encourage your participants to collect additional information by interviewing the trainers, restaurant managers, and new employees.
  4. Assemble all participants for a debriefing discussion. Encourage participants to share the best practices they discovered and experienced. Also invite everyone discuss how to adapt and apply different techniques.
  5. Repeat this procedure by rotating the participants among different restaurants.

20. Mutual Learning Activity

(Content Source: Participants with different knowledge and skills.)

This activity involves a group of participants among whom some have learned new and different knowledge and skills. Working in mixed teams, participants teach and learn from each other until everyone has acquired all the desired knowledge and skills.

Sample Mutual Learning Activity: Network Magic

The training objective for this mutual learning activity is to perform four different types of close-up magic tricks.

Flow of the activity:

  1. Divide participants into four teams.
  2. Distribute the required props and instructions for a coin trick to the first team, a rope trick to the second team, a card trick to the third team, and a trick with colored blocks to the fourth team. Ask members of each team to collaboratively learn how to perform (and practice) the trick.
  3. Visit each team and demonstrate a fluent way to perform the trick assigned to it. Emphasize the importance of key elements in the performance of the trick that are not covered in the instructions: timing, misdirection, and patter.
  4. Ask members of each team to pair up with members of another team. In each pair, ask the participants to take turns to show off the trick and be amazed by the other person's trick.
  5. Ask participants in each pair to teach each other how to do the trick that they had learned earlier.
  6. Reward each participant who has learned a trick from his partner with the props for the trick.
  7. Encourage participants to learn the remaining tricks by pairing up with new partners.

Brian's Words

Brian Remer is Creative Learning Director at The Firefly Group ( ). In addition to being a master of the 99-words format, Brian invents games and interactive strategies to expand learning and deepen insights. To find out more about him, read his Guest Gamer Interview.

The Trivial Things
by Brian Remer

The Trivial Things

One time I was reprimanded for leaving the meeting room at work in disarray. It was true I'd neglected to clean up the coffee cups but the criticism seemed a bit over the top.

Later that day I was sweeping the deck at home. The best technique was to let the dirt, dust, and dead bugs drop through the spaces between the wooden floorboards. Usually “falling through the cracks” means someone got hurt. The system didn't work.

But sometimes we should use the cracks more: to sift the insignificant things out of our lives and relationships.


Game-Based Training

At the Thiagi Group, we specialize in the design and delivery of game-based training. As a reader of this newsletter, you are also a believer in this approach to training.

Here's a question-and-answer type flyer that we use to introduce our training approach to new clients. You may want to modify and adapt it for use with your own internal or external clients.

What do you do and how long have you been doing it?

For the past 20 years, we have been designing and delivering training programs that are based on games, collaborative activities, and simulations. Our approach incorporates evidence-based principles from learning theory, cognitive science, and practical field experience.

Our managers and participants won't accept this approach to training.

No problem. We have techniques for overcoming initial resistance. We have used our game-based approach in a variety of training contexts: management training, sales training, technical training, skills training, and knowledge work. We have used this approach at all levels of corporations from top executives to front-line employees--and with mixed groups that include representatives from the top to bottom. We have used this approach (and trained others to use this approach) around the world in different countries and in different cultures.

We don't want to waste our time playing games. We have critical content that must be presented to all trainees.

No problem. We carefully integrate your content with our activities. We know that activity without content results in wasted effort. We also know that content without activity produces inert knowledge.

We use existing content resources to provide the basic content: books, articles, job aids, videotape, podcasts, the Internet, and field expeditions. If the content does not yet exist in a recorded form, we incorporate subject-matter experts and fellow participants in the training activity.

We use a powerful set of templates associated with each type of content resource to rapidly design training games and activities. This enables us to produce our training packages faster, cheaper, and better.

When do you present the content? When do you conduct the activities?

We use three approaches to integrate content with activities. In the briefing approach, participants review the content and then work through the activities to recall and apply what they learned. In the debriefing approach, we begin with the activity and derive the content through after-activity discussions. In the coaching approach, we insert the content in the middle of the activity. We pause the activity and present just-in-time and just-enough content and feedback to provide appropriate guidance to the participants to continue tackling the challenging activity.

Can you give us some examples?

We have plenty of examples from our successful projects. Let's give you a few.

HR policy. We trained the managers at a large insurance company to recall and apply HR policies and procedures. We did this by wrapping a series of training activities around the content from the Corporate HR Manual. The managers worked individually and in teams to review the manual, come up with questions, compete in quiz contests, and respond to increasingly difficult scenarios.

Emergency management. We worked with an inter-agency group to train employees of a large metropolitan city government on how to manage emergencies during coastal storms and hurricanes. We did this by encouraging participants to apply documented policies, principles, and procedures to handle a series of simple situations to complex cases.

Complex programming. We worked with a high-tech company to train employees on how to program telephone switches. We did this by creating a performance test in the form of an authentic simulation and requiring and rewarding teams to get ready for this test by learning from manuals, video demonstrations, interactive lectures, and consultative coaching.

Customer relations. We trained call center operators on how to handle upset and abusive customers. We did this by providing everyone with a checklist that explained what to do before, during, and after difficult conversations and conducting a series of rapid roleplays and reflective roleplays.