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

Guest Gamer
An Interview with Clark Aldrich
He played computer games instead of doing homework.

Since I couldn't beat them, I joined them.

Online Activity
You can play it offline, too.

Workplace Violence
Untwist the pairs of words.

Change Management
Handling Resistance to Interactive Lectures — Part 2
Too few participants and too little knowledge.

Pithy Saying
Training Design and Delivery
Don't understand it, just do it.





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

Editorial Roster

Editor: Sivasailam (Thiagi) Thiagarajan

Assistant Editor: Raja Thiagarajan

Associate Editors: Jean Reese and Julie England

Editorial Advisory Board: Bill Wake, Les Lauber, Matt Richter, and <type your name here>

Copyright Info

The materials in this newsletter are copyright 2005 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 PLAY FOR PERFORMANCE. Copyright © 2005 by The Thiagi Group, 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 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!

Guest Gamer

This column features interviews with outstanding designers and users of interactive experiential activities. This month's guest gamer, Clark Aldrich, has always been a hero to me until I found out that he was younger than all the other thought leaders in the field of e-learning. Since then, he has become a Superhero in my estimation.

Clark's goal, starting in 2001, was to create a single example of next generation educational content, which eventually resulted in SimuLearn's Virtual Leader. The idea was to not create something and then quickly move on, or even to build up a library, but to stick with a single educational experience across many years, which could be sold into many environments. Clark's goal has been to relentlessly evolve it into being the best it could be using the experiences of different types of users. For example, West Point and Johnson & Johnson both have provided insights from their own background on how to make the experience better, that Clark and his associates have been able to share with the others.

Clark wrote about his experience in Simulations and the Future of Learning. Most recently, he looked at other people's experiences in the areas of educational simulations and compiled a second book called Learning By Doing: Simulations, Computer Games, and Pedagogy in E-Learning and Other Educational Experiences.

An Interview with Clark Aldrich

PFP: Clark, what is your specialty area?

Clark: I am really good at organizing and visualizing complicated topics. This turns out to be useful in being a good analyst and also a good simulation designer. Surprisingly, this specialty doesn't help so much in capturing wild animals.

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

Clark: Mostly, I spent decades playing a lot of computer games. I strategically chose to play computer games instead of doing homework often enough, calculating that understanding interface and interaction issues would be more valuable than Russian history.

All of this game playing created an expectation that, when the traditional e-learning market failed to meet it, mandated that I try to do something myself. While I believe we should learn from people who came before us, I don't think, frankly, there is that much to learn from the “giants who have come before us.” Ultimately, we are like the producers of the first television shows, drawing from radio and vaudeville, but ultimately having to make up a lot and see what works.

Thiagi and I come at games and simulations from different perspectives. Thiagi likes to see how simple they can be, and I like to see how rich I can make them and still make them sustainable.

PFP: How long have you been designing and using games?

Clark: I think all of us have been playing games since we were born, and probably designing games since before that. There is this cool noise that amniotic fluid makes when you kick it.

PFP: Where do you use simulations and games?

Clark: Virtual Leader is now the most popular leadership simulator in the world. SimuLearn people and others, including corporate trainers and academic professors, and in countries as far away as China, Japan, and Alabama, all use it as an interactive lab to try out leadership styles and see the results. Everyone at SimuLearn keeps me away from the actual students as much as possible, although I sneak in once in a while.

PFP: How do your participants respond?

Clark: Participants and facilitators both have to come to terms with the concept of frustration. For the student, that means just because you are not sure what to do next, don't use any flaw in the experience to turn off. For the facilitator, that means help the students as much as possible, but not more.

One of the critical pieces of discovery we have made at SimuLearn was to get the “blended model” right. We used to have two factions. Some people, like myself, wanted it to be a self-contained experience, with no facilitation. Others wanted classroom experiences with plenty of handholding. The best of both worlds has turned out to be deploying Virtual Leader over multiple weeks, with one sixty to ninety minute virtual classroom session per week, with three to four hours of work between the classes. This allowed participants to “sleep on” any frustrating situations, but still allowed a sense of community and accountability.

Another great feature that we are rolling in is automatic email interactions. We can send congratulatory emails around key milestones, tips and suggestions around different approaches, even reminders if the participants have results due that have not been delivered, or if they have fallen to the lowest 20 percent of the group.

We also have a great opportunity where we can use this email system to sell prescription drugs. I am still looking into that, but it looks quite profitable. Don't tell anyone, but instead of really sending the right pharmaceuticals, we just send Tic Tacs.

PFP: What is the most horrible time you had with Virtual Leader?

Clark: Probably the most horrible time is doing a sales call and there is no connection at all. The prospective client looks at you as if you were crazy. Having said that, Thiagi has heard me speak at conferences, so he could probably fill in a lot of additional horrible moments that I have just blanked out.

PFP: Thiagi claims that you are the most provocative and wittiest speaker in the e-learning circuit. All modesty aside, what advice do you have for newcomers about designing games?

Clark: One of the best pieces of advice I could give is imagine the situation where you have to sell the simulation. Imagine that you have one hour in front of a perspective client. What would you show them? What background would you give? What interaction would you use? What metrics would you use for success?

PFP: Excellent idea! How about some advice about using simulations and games?

Clark: Don't ever use the phrase, “using games.” Sponsors don't like it.

If you are testing a program using educational simulations, don't engage the student by saying, “We are testing this new program. What do you think?” Say instead, “This is something that is critical to your development. We will be recording and tracking how you do. Let me know how I can help.” You will get much better feedback. Otherwise, people evaluate new technology by the standards of the old technology.

PFP: Who are your favorite game designers?

Clark: Because the future of simulations depends on creating new genres, I am especially impressed with those who have done it repeatedly, such as Will Wright.

PFP: Do you have any book recommendations?

Clark: My second book, Learning by Doing: A Comprehensive Guide to Simulations, Computer Games, and Pedagogy in e-Learning and Other Educational Experiences is brilliant. It will take you through the minefield of educational simulations, saving you countless years of confusion and doubt. Just reading the dedication will inspire even the most jaded reader. My other book, Simulations and the Future of Learning, on the other hand, is complete drivel. It will confuse you. It will baffle you. It will amaze you that it even got published. From the spelling errors to the red herrings to the just plain bad advice, it will steer even the best-run project into the ground. So one is good, and the other is evil. Having said that, the two books do make a lovely set on the bookshelf.

PFP: Oops, it's too late. Thiagi has been using your Simulations and the Future of Learning as his guide for project management. Here's my final question: What is your prediction about the future of games?

Clark: My prediction is that a lot of people will make predictions about the future of games.



At the beginning of my training workshops, I have been trying to avoid the usual routine of everyone standing up and introducing herself. However, participants have resisted this innovation and demanded the traditional introductions. As a compromise, I have added an ending to the usual ritual to let participants have it their way while I stay faithful to my principle of interactivity in everything I do. This opening activity rewards participants who pay attention to other people's introductions instead of rehearsing what they are going to say.


To encourage careful listening and accurate recall of information about people.


Minimum: 6

Maximum: 30

Best: 10 to 20


10-20 minutes, depending on the number of participants.


Briefing. Announce that you are going to start the session in the usual fashion by asking everyone to take turns to stand up and briefly introduce themselves. Explain that most participants do not pay too much attention to these introductions. For a change, ask participants to listen carefully to what other participants say about themselves.

Facilitate introductions. Ask the first person to stand up, clearly state her name and briefly introduce herself. Ask other participants to continue the activity by repeating this procedure. Once again, remind participants to pay careful attention to the others.

Prepare quiz questions. Listen carefully and jot down a list of questions related to content of participants' introductions. This is for your benefit only and so you don't have to practice your best penmanship. (But make sure that you can read your writing later.) Each question should have a single correct answer. (Be sure to jot down the answer also.) Here are some samples:

You don't have to write down a question related to each participant. However, you may want to write more than one question about the same participant just to keep participants wide awake. You may have to edit some of the earlier questions during later introductions to ensure that there is only one correct answer.


Announce a contest. Ask participants to hide their name tags and any other personal identification. Announce that you are going to conduct a quiz contest. Ask everyone to grab a piece of paper and a pen. Read your questions, one by one, and ask participants to write down the answer. After a suitable pause following each question, give the correct answer. Ask each participant to show her written answer to her neighbor to get credit.

Determine the winner. After about a dozen questions, identify the participant with the most correct answers. If there is more than one participant with the highest “score” ask a few more tie-breaker questions until you have singled out a winner. Lead a round of applause for this participant.

Online Activity


“Enjoy the moment” is a valid piece of advice. “Think of the future” is another valid piece of advice. Karma is a PC (that is, Playing Card) simulation that gives you practice in choosing between these two guidelines in making a series of decisions.


To explore the impact of choosing to live in the moment or letting future consequences determine your decisions.


Minimum: 2

Maximum: Any number

Best: 10 to 20

(Participants are divided into pairs.)


15 to 30 minutes


A set of 10 black playing cards (Ace through 10 of spades or clubs) and 10 red playing cards (Ace through 10 of hearts or diamonds) for each pair of players. (You can assemble two sets of these cards from a standard deck of playing cards.)

Paper and pencil for keeping score.


Brief the participants. Demonstrate the rules of the game by playing a sample game with a volunteer from the audience. Assume the role of the dealer and let the volunteer make the decisions. Play the game according to the rules as explained below.

Finding a partner. Ask each participant to find a partner. Give each pair of partners a set of 10 black cards (the “hand”) and 10 red cards (the “stock”). Select one player to be the dealer and the other player to be the decisionmaker for the first round.

Explain the basic objective. Tell the participants that Karma is primarily a solitaire game that is played for 10 rounds. The object of the game is to accumulate a high score by the end of the tenth round. Explain that participants usually accumulate a score of about 30 points.

Conduct the first round. Ask the dealer to shuffle the hand and ask the decisionmaker to take any card and turn it face up.

Reasonable enjoyment. If the card selected by the decisionmaker has a value of 1 through 5 (counting Ace as 1), then this value is recorded on the player's score sheet as the enjoyment score for the first round.

Reckless enjoyment. If the card selected by the decisionmaker has a value greater than 5, it is labeled a temptation card. The decisionmaker has the choice of enjoying or resisting it.

Continue the game. Game continues in the same fashion. The value of any black card less than six is added to the decisionmaker's enjoyment score for the round. In the case of a temptation card, the player has the choice of accepting it (which results in adding points to the score and moving red cards from the stock to the hand) or resisting it (which results in no addition of points to the score or red cards to the hand). If there are not enough red cards remaining in the stock, the player must resist during that round.

Deal with red cards. During any round, if the decisionmaker selects a red card, its value is subtracted from the decisionmaker's current total score.

Reflect on your past. During any round, the decisionmaker may choose to reflect. This involves not picking any card but taking the hand from the dealer, inspecting all of the cards, and removing any one red card (which is put back in the stock of red cards). The reflection move does not add to the enjoyment score but reduces the likelihood of losing points during future rounds.

Conclude the game. Game ends after the tenth round. The decisionmaker's total enjoyment score becomes her score for the game.

Reverse roles. The decisionmaker of the first game becomes the dealer for next game. The game is repeated as before.


To ensure that participants don't treat Karma as mere recreational activity but gain useful insights from it, conduct a debriefing session. Use questions like these to structure the discussion:


No one to play with? You can play the game all by yourself by taking on both roles of the dealer and the decisionmaker.

Don't have a deck of playing cards? Buy a deck (or several decks) as soon as you can. In the meantime, you can play our automated version on the computer by visiting .


Workplace Violence

Here are six suggestions for controlling and preventing workplace violence, presented as twisted-pair puzzles:


If you know how to solve twisted-pair puzzles, just go ahead and solve them. Otherwise, read the instructions below:

How To Solve Twisted-Pair Puzzles

To solve a twisted-pair puzzle, unscramble the first set of letters to discover two words. Decide which word comes first and which word comes next. Then unscramble the next set of letters to discover the third and the fourth words. Repeat this process until you have unscrambled all sets of letters, discovered all the words, and reconstructed the original sentence.

An Example

Here's a sample twisted-pair puzzle:

Since there is only set of letters, this is a two-word sentence.

Working with the letters, I identify the word WALKING. That leaves these letters: OPRSY. I create the word PROSY with these letters, not sure whether it is a legitimate word. Even if it is, PROSY WALKING or WALKING PROSY does not sound like much of a sentence. So I decide that WALKING is not one of the two words.

Next I try PARKING. That left LOSWY to be formed into a single word. Still no luck.

I work with the word ASKING. Using the remaining letters, I create two words: PRY and OWL. For a moment I decide that the hidden sentence is PRY ASKING OWL. Then I remember that the sentence can have only two words.

I keep playing with other words, intuitively feeling that one of the words should end in “-ING”. After several minutes of torture, I end up with the correct sentence: PLAYING WORKS!

How To Create Your Own Twisted-Pair Puzzle

It is easy to create a twisted-pair puzzle.

  1. Type a sentence. Example: Confrontations can be healthy.
  2. Group the words into pairs. Example: [Confrontations can] [be healthy]. (If you have an odd number of words, leave the last word unpaired.)
  3. Take the letters in each group and arrange them in alphabetical order. Print the resulting set of letters in capital letters: AACCFINNNNOOORSTT ABEEHHLTY.

How To Create Them—Faster And Better

Raja has designed an online program that helps you create a twisted-pair puzzle instantly without any errors.

When you go to the web page, you will see a rectangular box. Type your sentence here. When you are ready, click “Make puzzle”. You will immediate get the twisted-pair version of your sentence. All you have to do now is to swipe this sentence and copy it to wherever you want.

If you are ready to use this free tool, just visit


Now try to solve the six twisted-pair puzzles above. When you are done, you can check the solutions.

Change Management

Handling Resistance to Interactive Lectures — Part 2

In the last issue, I listed three concerns about the use of interactive lectures and my reassuring responses. Here are three more. You may use these logical responses when you face resistance toward interactive strategies from your managers and colleagues:

Your concern: I have too few participants to effectively use these interactive lecture techniques.

My response: Many interactive lecture formats can be used with only one to three participants. For example, you may use Press Conference with an individual participant by asking her to write a couple of questions on different topics, mixing them up with questions generated by earlier participants, and instructing your participant to select and sequence the questions for you to answer.

Your concern: Participants will talk about irrelevant things instead of discussing the training topic.

My response: Most trainers (including me) are control freaks. Trainers believe that only they know what topics are important and how to explain these topics. The reality, as shown in a large number of field studies on peer tutoring and coaching, is almost the exact opposite. When participants discuss training topics, they are better able to relate them to their own situation. Fellow participants are also much more capable of explaining principles and procedures to each other in their own language.

Your concern: Participants don't have enough knowledge to discuss the training topic in a meaningful fashion. They end up sharing their ignorance.

My response: In all interactive lectures, you blend lecture presentations with interactive discussions. You present some new content first and then ask participants to process it in different ways. In Interactive Interludes, for example, participants listen to a segment of your lecture and then they paraphrase, disagree, apply, illustrate, personalize, or question the content.

Don't be discouraged when you overhear participants sharing misconceptions and incorrect information. Treat this as valuable diagnostic information and provide appropriate corrections during the next segment of presentation.

Pithy Saying

Training Design and Delivery

Trainers don't need to understand instructional design better.
They need to be instructional designers.

In this age of specialization, instructional designers design training and trainers deliver the pre-packaged training by following guidance from “train-the-trainer” sessions and from Instructor's Guides. This arrangement is universally adapted because apparently instructional design requires a particular skill set not usually found among trainers. With the pre-designed training packages (affectionately referred to as idiot-proof materials), others can deliver the training in a consistent fashion and produce reliable results. In this model, instructional designers don't have to extensively interact with participants. During the analysis phase, they talk to a few learners (or to a fewer experts about these learners) to come up with a profile of the typical learner. During the evaluation phase, instructional designers field-test their materials with a representative group.

I find this approach to be absurd. I have nothing against instructional designers. After all, I am one of them. However, I believe that we are wasting a lot of time and talent through this artificial division of labor. Trainers, with their day-to-day contact with a wide range of participants, know a lot more about real-world learners than instructional designers can ever figure out.

That is why I design and deliver all my training. By doing it all myself, I know how and why the training package is arranged the way it is. I do not discontinue the design activity just because I am delivering training. I make just-in-time improvements in the midst of my training sessions. I keep continuously improving the training materials and methods based on participants' reactions and responses.

Without the reality of training delivery, I cannot be an effective instructional designer. Conversely, I cannot be an effective trainer without designing (and redesigning) my own training.


Solutions to the Twisted Pairs puzzles

  1. Install locks on doors that lead to staff areas including bathrooms and break areas.
  2. Issue identification tags to employees and visitor passes to guests.
  3. Make exits more accessible by rearranging furniture and clearing aisles.
  4. Separate clients from employees by installing deep service counters with bullet proof glass separators.
  5. Install security cameras with posted signs indicating that they are in operation.
  6. Increase security patrol especially during evening and early morning hours.