Ideas on People and Performance, Team Building, Motivation and Innovation

Month: August 2012 Page 1 of 2

Thinking and the Brain – Why we need simple tools

I have been thinking about thinking lately, which is sometimes a dangerous thing to do, and wondering why things are not easier and simpler. But there are paradoxes everywhere… As a funny example, there is a thread in one of my LinkedIn groups about why managers are stingy with praise and a couple of my more lengthy posts are about thinking patterns and even genetic biases toward criticism as it drives continuous improvement. I think you can get to that thread by clicking here.

Anyway, I thought it got pretty funny, ironic and paradoxical that people would be criticizing other people’s comments, thoughts and suggestions in a thread about why people do not give more praise. I mean, should we not be giving some praise to those people sharing ideas??? Ah, the irony…

But a StumbleUpon email I got sent me to a Wikipedia page that pretty much shocked and amazed me with its list of behavioral complexities when it comes to how people think. It is, a List of Cognitive Biases that you can find here.

A quick look will give you a better insight into why we cannot get much agreement about anything and how we really need some simple tools to generate organizational alignment, ideas for improvement and the agreement on implementation strategies or pretty much ideas for ANY agreement.

Here are only the “A’s” and “B’s” in that list, with their definitions and links, which will give you a better idea of the complexity of all this:

  • Ambiguity effect – the tendency to avoid options for which missing information makes the probability seem “unknown.”[6]
  • Anchoring – the tendency to rely too heavily, or “anchor,” on a past reference or on one trait or piece of information when making decisions (also called “insufficient adjustment”).
  • Attentional Bias – the tendency of emotionally dominant stimuli in one’s environment to preferentially draw and hold attention and to neglect relevant data when making judgments of a correlation or association.
  • Availability heuristic – estimating what is more likely by what is more available in memory, which is biased toward vivid, unusual, or emotionally charged examples.
  • Availability cascade – a self-reinforcing process in which a collective belief gains more and more plausibility through its increasing repetition in public discourse (or “repeat something long enough and it will become true”).
  • Backfire effect – when people react to disconfirming evidence by strengthening their beliefs.[7]
  • Bandwagon effect – the tendency to do (or believe) things because many other people do (or believe) the same. Related to groupthink and herd behavior.
  • Barnum effect – the observation that individuals will give high accuracy ratings to descriptions of their personality that supposedly are tailored specifically for them, but are in fact vague and general enough to apply to a wide range of people.
  • Base rate neglect or Base rate fallacy – the tendency to base judgments on specifics, ignoring general statistical information.[8]
  • Belief bias – an effect where someone’s evaluation of the logical strength of an argument is biased by the believability of the conclusion.[9]
  • Bias blind spot – the tendency to see oneself as less biased than other people, or to be able to identify more cognitive biases in others than in oneself.[10]

And this is but one of four sections:

  1. Decision-making, belief and behavioral biases
  2. Social biases
  3. Memory errors and biases
  4. Common theoretical causes of some cognitive biases

Obviously, this “information processing” of simple ideas is not really all that simple. There are tremendous differences in how people process information and assuming that “What you say is what they get” is really way off target — anything you say will go through that person’s own filters, some of which are listed on that Wikipedia page.

What you say is NOT what they get!
People process your ideas in their own way.

More than anything else, this points me toward the simple reality that we need to use simple images and ideas and generate discussions among people before we try to move anything forward. Nobody ever washes a rental car, and allowing them to build a sense of ownership / involvement is key to generating change and improvement.

The simple cartoon approach I have been suggesting for 20 years is one that allows them to apply their different individual information sorting patterns onto the ideas of a small group of people. Those could focus on what is wrong, what possibilities exist, what ideas they have for change and implementation and these discussions are more likely to generate a sense of ownership involvement, engagement and employee commitment than the simple and common approach of telling them what to do and holding them accountable for doing it.

Otherwise, I think we are just throwing mud at the wire fence and hoping that some of it will stick somewhere. One can normally expect rain…

Dr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of team building games and organization improvement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced presenter and consultant.
Connect with Scott on Google+ – you can reach Scott at

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Even Dilbert Understands this Engagement Stuff

In one of my groups, a reference was made to one of Scott Adams’ Dilbert cartoon strips that focused on the 12 simple elements of engagement. As you are aware, having a sense of involvement and ownership and feeling appreciated and all that stuff does have some significant positive impacts on worker productivity.

And engagement is really pretty easy. The cartoon strip does not go through ALL the stages but it does share enough that even YOUR manager might learn something from it! (grin)

See it at

Somehow, it sure appears like “directness” is sometimes more valued than “correctness” or “leadership.”

Have FUN out there!

Dr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of team building games and organization improvement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced presenter and consultant.
Connect with Scott on Google+ – you can reach Scott at

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Improve Your Engagement of People: The Square Wheels Facilitation Toolkit!

If you are looking for a simply toolkit to impact people and workplace performance improvement, here is a great solution. Using our Square Wheels illustrations as part of an interactive discussion about issues and opportunities is really straightforward and quite easy, actually.

My little company, Performance Management Company, has been focusing on improving results through team building and employee engagement, involvement and ownership activities for decades. Since 1984, it has been offering its tools and simple approach to companies everywhere and offers a high impact toolkit in an unusually collaborative way.

PMC is supporting collaboration with its customers by offering our easy to use, bombproof and powerful Square Wheels Facilitation Toolkit. It is a flexible and engaging set of simple tools to get people talking about issues and opportunities.

This complete training package sells for $49.95 and contains:

  • A Facilitation Guide with clear and simple instructions for use
  • A PowerPoint file containing 64 slides of images, notes, and ideas – ALL you need to roll forward (more than you need, actually!)
  • Ready-to-use handouts for generating involvement and engaging participants in the concept, including:
    • –a Worksheet for mind mapping ideas generated by the main Square Wheels idea
    • –a Round Wheels Worksheet for identifying opportunities for improvement
    • –a Key Learning Points Summary Handout of Square Wheels themes for implementation
  • The “Teaching the Caterpillar to Fly” article by Scott Simmerman, focusing on managing and leading change for organizations and individuals. This is background as well as an optional handout.

You can see more about the toolkit and its contents in a one-minute video here.

The approach is anchored to the Square Wheels One illustration that is a proven, powerful tool for promoting a participative learning approach, the concept pushes people to “step back from the wagon” and disclose their views about how things are really working, engage each other in a creative discovery process and use the diversity of ideas and perspective to generate thinking, innovation and communications. It’s a great facilitation tool for leadership development skills, employee engagement, team building and motivation.

We can use the Square Wheels theme to set up all kinds of discussions.

RWs Sig File iconWe can also use the themes to get people to discuss possibilities and generate ideas for improvement, discuss ideas for implementation, and improve their active involvement in making changes occur:

Intrinsic Motivation color green

Facilitating Square Wheels is an easy process, something that we discuss in detail in the supporting documents in the toolkit. It is simple for a manager to use the materials to engage the workers on innovating ideas they have for workplace improvement. It changes the language of innovation and change and sets up cognitive dissonance — an unwillingness to allow things to remain as they are.

You engage and thus motivate people to make some of
the changes they feel will improve their performance!

You can see a 2-minute video about why Square Wheels work so well here.

It’s my ardent belief that “Nobody ever washes a rental car” and that people become more engaged and motivated if they feel a sense of ownership in the journey forward. Therefore, it’s my hope that by your setting the price for this Toolkit, you’ll enjoy a keener sense of ownership/motivation for its use as well as discover, first hand, how this simple cartoon can create an empowering situation for participants as it stimulates  communications, ideas and improvements around workplace issues.

Intrinsic feel really good downhill PG

You’ll find the Square Wheels Facilitation Toolkit (an Asian version is also available with some of the illustrations more “Oriental” in appearance) on our website at or go there directly with  this link.

Scott J. Simmerman, Ph.D., is Managing Partner of Performance Management Company and has presented his Square Wheels Illustrations series for Organizational Improvement and Team Building Games in 38 countries.

Dr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of team building games and organization improvement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced presenter and consultant. 
Connect with Scott on Google+

You can easily reach Scott at

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Team Building and Collaboration for Performance Improvement

A variety of recent emails and phone calls have gotten me re-energized. It seems as though a whole new bunch of people have gotten interested in doing our Lost Dutchman teambuilding exercise with their managers and staff to help them focus on overall organizational improvement and alignment. I say that because these are people who seem to be new at doing this, not the usual crowd that I hear from who have, “been there and done that” and who are just looking for a better tool.

Herb LD testim 100

And, we are seeing more companies in Asia using The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine” as a major part of their strategy implementation efforts. Based on the work of Robin Speculand in Singapore, we know that most strategy implementation efforts fail, and that is often because of low levels of organizational alignment, interdepartmental conflicts and a lack of overall collaboration to work through the risky stages. Dutchman works exceptionally  well for those kinds of change initiatives.

So, I’ve been able to put my Coaching Hat on my head and talk about the different kinds of things that they can do. Three of these contacts were going to be doing large events (250, 100-200-500, and 1100 (really!) and thus I shared my Best Practice of getting all of the Most Senior Managers into one room for a full day to deliver The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine, debrief the game based on the kinds of collaboration and teamwork shown by these leaders, and then to discuss how these senior managers would like their people to play together.

Robin LD testim 100

Sure has been fun, being in this business of helping people have lots of positive impacts on other people!

Scott Simmerman

Dr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of team building games and organization improvement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced presenter and consultant. 
Connect with Scott on Google+ – you can reach Scott

Follow Scott’s posts on Pinterest:

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Teaching the Caterpillar to Fly

For 20 years, I have been playing with my Square Wheels cartoons and using the metaphor in a variety of training programs on managing and leading change, involving and engaging individuals and teams in performance improvement, and focusing on individual and team intrinsic motivation.

One of my most fun as well as powerful tools is around the metaphor of “the change from caterpillar to butterfly” and the paradox of how one might lead that change.

I start with the basic Square Wheels illustration and then, after I get those key themes and ideas anchored down, add in the storyline that there are two caterpillars sitting on the wagon. A beautiful butterfly floats by and the one caterpillar says to the other caterpillar,

“You’ll never get ME up into one of those Butterfly things!”

From here, it just gets crazy as I identify a whole series of punchlines to the joke, not the one that most people get and simply stop thinking about. And I discuss how this process of “stopping the thought process” is what often gets in the way of continuous continuous improvement at work and in personal development initiatives.

You can download a pdf file of the article, Teaching The Caterpillar to Fly, by clicking this link.

The article gets into my model for managing and leading change, talks about the use of the Square Wheels illustrations as tools for facilitating personal and organizational development and focuses on making improvements. Another document you might like is the poem about the transformation of caterpillars into butterflies

Teaching Caterpillar poem

This is a solid metaphor, and one where our Square Wheels tools work beautifully. You can also purchase a very extensive powerpoint-based training program on Managing and Leading Change here, which builds nicely on these metaphors and works to involve and engage people in the change process.

For the FUN of It!

Dr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of team building games and organization improvement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced presenter and consultant.
Connect with Scott on Google+ – you can reach Scott at

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Stress as a Motivator? Cognitive Dissonance and Square Wheels!

In the LinkedIn discussion mentioned in a previous post, the question arose as to whether stress was motivational and if it has a link to creativity. The question was expressed as:

What impact do you think stress has on innovation – does it hinder or help the creative process? Does Stress work like the “fight or Flight” response?

I think that this is more than a fair question and my response and reactions are pretty straightforward.

Two framing questions that I would ask are, Whose stress is it?” and “How MUCH stress does it generate?”

If the performer sees a gap between where they are and where they want to be, that will usually generate “a stress” — consider it a motivational drive. That can be very positive since it is self-generated. It is healthy if that gap is perceived to be something that can be closed and the goal achieved — it is one of the things that is involved in self-generated, intrinsic motivation.

I think of that old work on “Cognitive Dissonance” (Leon Festinger in the 1950s) that clearly explains and researches this issue. He focused on gaps and the  discomfort caused by holding conflicting ideas simultaneously. In a state of dissonance, people may feel emotions of frustration caused by the differences in their goals, thoughts and actions and that people are motivated to close that gap.

An example of this would be the conflict often seen in smokers who, knowing that  smoking is unhealthy and annoying to others, will often change their feelings to not caring or to thinking that the smoking is worth short term benefits. A general view of cognitive dissonance is that a person is biased towards a certain action even though other factors favor different alternatives. It is this gap that sets up the possibility of change — without this perception, little motivation exists.

Festinger in his 1956 book When Prophecy Fails, which chronicled the followers of a UFO cult as reality clashed with their fervent belief in an impending apocalypse. Festinger subsequently published a book called “A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance”, published in 1957, in which he outlined the theory. Since then, Cognitive Dissonance has been one of the most influential and extensively studied theories in social psychology because it is simple and straightforward.

The theory says that people have a bias to seek congruence and alignment among their thoughts, engaging in a process Festinger termed “dissonance reduction.” This can be achieved in any of three ways:

  1. lowering the importance of one of the discordant factors,
  2. adding consonant elements, or
  3. changing one of the dissonant factors.

What we do with our Square Wheels illustration is to set up a Rorschach Inkblot Test-like condition by showing the Square Wheels One illustration and asking people how it might represent how things really work in most organizations. With that very general introduction, and a few minutes of thinking time, individuals and groups of people will identify a variety of key themes about the cartoon and how things work. Since the cartoon is unreferenced and very general, people project their beliefs and thoughts onto it.

Once that has occurred, and the themes and thoughts are anchored and discussed, we can then simply ask the participants to suggest what might be represented by those Square Wheels in their workplaces, with Square Wheels being defined as the things that do not work smoothly. Next, we can have discussions about possible Round Wheels (there are many ways to facilitate these discussions to generate desired outcomes).

It is this creative cognition of a Square Wheel and the associated relationship of some Round Wheel(s) to it that generates the cognitive dissonance, the gap between how things are and how they could be. It is that gap which helps generate the motivation to change, to remove the Square Wheel and add the Round One into the situation. This IS a stress, but not a debilitating one.

And if this discussion is done at tabletops with 5 or 6 participants, there is often enough “creational mass” to generate some commitment to implement the idea or improvement.

We find that Square Wheels illustrations work pretty much everywhere. I have used them with Most Senior Managers in large multinationals as well as in workshops with managers and front-line employees. We have delivered this concept in schools, pharmaceutical and manufacturing companies and all sorts of industries and in sessions with hundreds of people representing every level of management.

Ideas for improvement are simply ideas — the key is generating enough motivational stress through cognitive dissonance and peer support so that things get implemented and changed and improved. These cartoons are unique in their effectiveness as organizational development tools — Fast, Simple and Effective.

Dr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of team building games and organization improvement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is a globally experienced presenter and consultant.
Connect with Scott on Google+ – you can reach Scott at

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You set YOUR price for our Facilitation Toolkit – Square Wheels Roll!

Square Wheels illustrations have been used worldwide for almost 20 years as tools for presentations on managing and leading change and involving and engaging people to make commitments to improve the workplace and others. Using these cartoons, you can make a powerful impact and leave a lasting memory — as people remember these presentations decades later! Time after time, I’ve received verbal and written proof of this.

Update: We never seemed to get any traction with this offer for setting your own price, so we stopped it. Maybe I did not blog about it enough or people felt that our regular retail price was a good value. One person actually paid MORE than retail, which was really appreciated as a great gesture.

If you are curious about our toolkit, drop me an email at

The metaphor of the Square Wheels Wagon is useful and bombproof. You show people a cartoon and allow participants to think about it and then discuss their ideas in small groups. You allow people to project their beliefs onto the cartoon to help build their ownership images and then allow them to apply that image onto their workplace through identifying the things that do not work smoothly along with their ideas for improvement.

You can download a complete Square Wheels Facilitation Toolkit from our website and get the PowerPoint illustrations, instructions for use and for facilitation, in general, and worksheets you can print and use to have an effective 30 minute meeting or set the stage for a series of meetings focused on identifying, solving and implementing workplace improvement ideas and building intrinsic motivation of your people.

Heck, you can just use the handouts and not even need any LCD projector or other supporting equipment and be just as effective in involving and engaging everyone.

You can see how identifying something as a Square Wheel pretty much guarantees that your people will find some Round Wheel solutions and workarounds, because that is just how our brain works and people are much better problem solvers than problem identifiers. And you can see how the tabletop discussions generated allow people to gain some peer support for actually implementing the ideas.

Millions of people have never tried the simple act of facilitating with our Square Wheels cartoons and we think that they all represent potential users. My own presentations using these materials in 38 countries along with hundreds of testimonials from consultants and managers, worldwide, allow me to feel quite confident that you can use these illustrations in your improvement initiatives in the workplace, and elsewhere, for coaching improved performance and impacting organizational and personal momentum. So, go ahead and try out one of our very unique tools!

For the FUN of It!

Dr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of team building games and organization improvement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced presenter and consultant.

Connect with Scott on Google+ – you can reach Scott at

Follow Scott’s posts on Pinterest:
Scott’s blog on themes of People and Performance is here.

Square Wheels® is a registered trademark of Performance Management Company


Consulting: Egos, Ownership and Effectiveness

Nobody Ever Washes a Rental Car.

Get that straight. If there is little ownership, there is little care. It took me a long time to learn that crucial lesson, basically, a couple of years, from the time I left a successfully implemented and working project to see it fail and die off shortly thereafter. Why? Because I took so much ownership in the project that even the Plant Manager was referring to it as, “Scott’s Project,” and he was also a bit embarrassed that I was able to do some things that he apparently had not.

How some newbie young consultant could come in, find improvement possibilities and then implement them and improve morale left him a bit perplexed — it was better for him, personally, to just let things go away!

Some colleagues of mine are starting to consult with some of their clients using the results and outcomes of my team building games and  Square Wheels cartoons to put themselves into a position where the company will pay them to come in and implement those ideas. Neat!

So here is a summary of the things I shared with them in the last of a few messages that frame up what they might do — call these my Learning Lessons about Successful Implementation:

  • One of the most important lessons I learned early in all this is that paradox of ownership.
  • As my consulting skills improved, I more and more became the expert.
  • As my expertise increased, I was able to see more things and come up with much better solutions.
  •  As I continued to improve, things happened more smoothly– my conversations with managers were more targeted and the programs I was involved in were called, “Scott’s Program.”

All this was very gratifying and the designs, strategies and implementation all went very well…until Scott “left the building” and was no longer around to followup and observe and reinforce and all that stuff.

Since I was the only one with any ownership of anything, when I left, there was no motivation to sustain the initiatives even though they worked great. There was no one collecting data or analyzing results.


Be cautious of all of the above. Go slowly, share ideas upward and give credit to those who generate the ideas, get them actively involved at the front lines and get the managers actively involved. Use your status to make sure the more senior managers know what the managers were doing successfully and where they were making personal improvements with their staffs (the personal growth stuff).

Be careful to not allow your own need to get some reinforcement and recognition interfere with the reality that you do not need that nearly as much as your client’s people do!

And the managers! Ensure that the middle managers are getting some recognition from their managers so that they are more likely to sustain things.

Make sure that the managers understand that their role is to encourage and support their reports in gaining ownership of the improvement initiatives. And be sure to cascade that upwards!

The consultant can take very little personal credit with the organization on any of this or it muddles things up. Take pleasure from doing all the documentation and for your underground role in generating the results.

Otherwise, it becomes yours instead of theirs and dooms the project to long-term failure.

Nobody Ever Washes a Rental Car

Resistance can come from anywhere and take all kinds of forms…

Many will simply watch and voice their opinions

Ah, the paradoxes we deal with in the organizational improvement arena…

Dr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of team building games and organization improvement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced presenter and consultant.
Connect with Scott on Google+ – you can reach Scott at

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Working Home, Selling Globally

In the late 90s, I was asked to present some ideas at a conference for the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD) on the theme of building a consulting business and ideas for building international business, since I was successfully moving in both those directions.

As a tool, I put together a simple little package of ideas, that was presented as a workshop, with the goal of helping people gain some grip on the concept of working from home (maintaining low costs) and selling globally (making the business less local and more open to being recession-proof). Now, in my 28th year of business, I have a number of exclusive relationships with non-US companies representing my intellectual property on a royalty basis and who give me global exposure for the sale of my materials, so I guess this stuff actually worked.

Today is a session from the LinkedIn’s Top Recommended People (TRP) Group (one needs recommendations from others to join) on “Finding That Exclusive Work / Life Balance” which is moderated by Joy Montgomery.

That got me thinking that I might post up that paper on building a home business that might be generally helpful to people. The last revision of this was in 2006 and I asked a college professor friend of mine who works with adults and consulting as a theme to use it as a group discussion project, which has not happened yet. That would be a good way to gather some new ideas and update it a little. But the handout, which you can download by clicking here, is meant to be a self-paced, idea-generating document.

Maybe it will help you generate a new idea or re-frame an older one to move things forward.

Have some FUN out there, too!

Ideas for business improvement

Dr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of team building games and organization improvement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced presenter and consultant.
Connect with Scott on Google+ – you can reach Scott at

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Metaphors, Business Impacts and Behavioral Anchors

Dan Rockwell, who posts up a lot of very interesting blogs on leadership, posted another one — Jim Collins on Bullets before Cannonballs

He starts it off:

Weak leaders rely on cannonballs. Wise leaders shoot bullets first. During difficult times weak leaders look for big solutions, giant leaps, and dramatic success. Wise leaders take small steps before making giant leaps.

Shoot bullets: Bullets are miniature cannonballs. They’re inexpensive, easy to make, and easy to shoot. Setup is quick. Outcomes are obvious. Test your assumptions by shooting bullets. Difficult times motivate desperate leaders to act on untested assumptions. Wise leaders test ideas and assumptions in low risks, low cost ways. (my re-paragraphing).

My reaction to it was not really great, even though I like the key learning points and I like Jim Collins’ writings and thinking.

Guess the “bullets” thing is more a case of bad timing as much as anything else, given what is happening in the world these days like Aurora and Wisconsin. I think that there are some better ways of presenting the concept metaphorically and I will share why in just a second.

Maybe we should be talking about pebbles and rocks… Or snowflakes and avalanches or raindrops and flash floods or something… Gee, maybe even “sports” but those often get old really quickly.

Guns, bullets, cannon balls? Personally, I’m more comfortable using images of caterpillars changing into butterflies, the idea of Square Wheels turning into Round Wheels, Geese flying in a “V” and on and on.

Oh, when you see a flock of geese or pelicans flying, often one side of the “V” is longer than the other side. Do you know why that is?

There are more geese on that side…  We tend to make things so complicated when they are often just so simple!


Two caterpillars and sitting on a wagon and a beautiful butterfly floats by.

The one caterpillar says to the other:  “You’ll never get me up in one of those things…”

Lots of managers seem to think that way, too, maybe. And as Dilbert said, “Change is good. You go first.”


Caterpillars can fly, if they just lighten up.

Have FUN out there!


For the FUN of It!

Scott Simmerman Ph.D. CPF, CPT is still managing partner of PMC, but sort of retired…

Scott is developer of the Square Wheels® images and the board game version of The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine

Scott has presented his concepts in 47 countries and collaborates with consultants and trainers worldwide.

You can reach him at and you can see his profile at LinkedIn


Tripping to India to do Strategy Implementation and Team Building

Last year, I had quite a journey even before I headed off to Mumbai. My passport expired at the same time as did my one-year, multiple-entry business visa to India.

SO, I put the passport into “The System” and got it back surprisingly quickly. Then came the application process for the entry visa to India. To be honest, it was an incredible “up to your axles in the mud” kind of process and terribly frustrating, time consuming and bureaucratic. And one would think that they would WANT people going there to do business and improve the economy!


Scott, talking about being up to your “axles in mud,” with Spectator Sheep. This situation sure felt like that!

Online, the application process gave me some options so I applied for the 10-year, multiple-entry business visa since it was the same price as the 5-year one and not much more expensive than the 1-year one. The application requirements were as before as were the timelines and I had already gotten a 1-year business visa so it was not as if I was new to the system or the process.

But in this case, I ran into “the processor bureaucracy.” To make a long story short, it took me nearly a month with my making 7 phone calls, repeatedly sending documents and letters, changing one or two words in the application letter (I am a one-person company but the letter from my company to the embassy has to be from someone else in my company verifying my honesty and ability to pay any debts occurring in India) and there was an issue with the words “training” and “contract.”

The processor assumed that if I were going there to do “training,” then I had to be someone’s employee in India — that I could not be training unless I had an employment contract! I did have a contract, for EduRiser to represent and protect my Intellectual Property — that they were contracting to ME, essentially. But I had to change the wording so that those two words did not appear.

I was going there to market my organizational development tools (Square Wheels and The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine) and to meet with EduRiser and Solomon’s staff to look at new product development and marketing ideas. I was going to present to some large conferences to model the delivery of the tools to decision-makers. Our contract protects my intellectual property, mostly. BUT, the person reading the application materials was MOST CERTAIN that I was going to India for employment, and thus, I must complete an Employment Visa. And having “a contract” proved to her that I was an employee and not the owner of my own company doing business with another company there. Her ignorance plus her arrogance about this was most amazing, actually, and combined with her unwillingness to listen, caused me (and probably many other businessmen) a great deal of anguish.

Requirements for the Employment Visa required me to have an employment descriptive document with things like my having to receive an annual salary of at least USD $25,000 from that employer and that my sponsoring company had to assert that I was uniquely qualified and that there was no one in India who could do my job. (I cannot imagine how that verification would actually be accomplished but I do suppose that I am a bit unique…).

In reading the requirements, we would have to LIE on the application for me to qualify for an employment visa.

With my being totally truthful on all things and with the processor actually losing my passport in their mailroom, I finally made that one perfect phone call to the right person who said, “I can fix this!” and she did, using the information that they already had. It proves the value of the empowered employee when it comes to customer service.

I eventually got it after a MONTH of them diddling around with this processor company’s people (absolute power corrupts absolutely?) and making mistakes and losing things. And, this put a great deal of pressure on all of us given the commitments we were making to deliver large programs in Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore. I got it because I connected with a different processing person at that same company who actually understood and wanted to be helpful. The rest of the people were absolutely awful to deal with.

Anyway, it was a good trip and we continue to refine and define opportunities and build on successes. There are a variety of new products that we can construct and distribute. Long term, I am looking to leave a footprint with my works.

A lot of materials will recombine the Square Wheels tools into a program on strategy implementation; something that is a critical issue for most large organizations. We will be building on the work of my old friend and associate, Robin Speculand in Singapore, and focusing on using his Compass model and his general information, combining his approach with my tools for generating engagement and involvement and alignment and using the Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine exercise as a tool for changing behavior and generating commitment to missions and visions.

I have worked on implementation themes for 30+ years, but never linked these tools in this manner. We are redesigning the play of Dutchman to allow for mid-game restructuring and communications, which will improve its effectiveness around the strategy and vision themes.

And, I will get another post out on this as we do more structural definitions and product development.

Square Wheels are everywhere! So are the Round Ones.
  (And thanks to Jennie at Travisa for helping me out when all others failed…)

And I am really looking forward to working with the illustrations and games again in India.


Dr. Scott Simmerman is an international traveler, presenter and a designer of team building games and organization improvement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced presenter and consultant and has presented in 38 countries so far.
Connect with Scott on Google+ – you can reach Scott at

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Why use Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine for large team building events?

I was chatting with a human resources director and we were planning  the presentation of The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine for about 250 people — her whole organization — in one big fun learning event. This was for a financial institution priding itself on customer service and customer / employee retention and collaboration and communications, so the fit was quite good.

The plan we discussed is for her to have her senior management team do a team building program using Lost Dutchman, where they will sort out their issues and opportunities and what they choose to do differently and improve on and then teach them how to support the delivery for the large group. As I posted up in the blog the other day, using senior management to help deliver is a pretty common model for me, one where the internal people do all the training and delivery work without using an outside person. It dramatically helps generate alignment and makes these people part of the actual perceived organizational support team!

Why use Lost Dutchman and Senior Managers for such events?

Well, the design of the game precludes my personal involvement — I am not required to help deliver it, which has many positive impacts. If I understand the desired outcomes, I can customize the suggested debriefing. If a trainer can use the game with her executives — and the metaphors of the exercise and the actual behaviors of the executives — she can deliver a highly congruent program and deal with the results without “personal involvement.” She will not be attacked for her leading discussions about the sub-optimizing choices of the leadership team.

AND, she management/leadership prepared to support the delivery of the exercise to all the employees. This saves a great deal of money and dramatically improves the relevancy of play to reality of how things are working and can work.

After all, two main themes of the game are focused on organizational alignment and collaboration:


The Goal of the game is to COLLABORATE and optimize results...

These are business card magnets that we often give out as reminders of why we played the game. They generally wind up on file cabinets and breakroom refrigerators.

The word we use is, “WE” but teams take that as, “My Team, My Team, My Team” in many cases.

Dutchman is a powerful game that’s easy to learn to deliver, bombproof and congruent in its play and focuses discussions on choices that we make and alternative choices that are available in the game, and then back in the workplace. Collaboration and engagement are the things that lead to employee involvement and intrinsic motivation.

And because it is straightforward and easy to play, it becomes a great event for managers to truly demonstrate their active support for helping teams be successful and optimizing results of the entire group.

large teambuilding event

Dutchman works great for very large groups

Dutchman is a powerful exercise for large events since you run the game with internal people (and leaders if you can involve them) and the game metaphors are completely congruent with the concepts of collaboration between departments and engaging people to motivate high levels of performance. The discussions focused on actual behavior and the choices that people could make in the future are also great ways to discuss possibilities. It is these visions of how thing could be that help drive improved overall results and engage and motivate individuals. It is the alignment to missions and visions that helps push things forward.

Generating alignment is a key factor in performance and optimization of results

Have fun out there, get people aligned and performing, and improve things!

You can see more about the exercise on our websites at and at where there is a LOT of descriptive information.

Dr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of team building games and organization improvement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced presenter and consultant.
Connect with Scott on Google+ – you can reach Scott at

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Your Brain – Use It! And some thoughts on how it works

It has been an interesting week and a couple of things prompt me to write a little bit about behavioral neurophysiology and perspective and learning /change.

Playing pool, one of the lower-ranked players was practicing by throwing balls on the table and making shots, while I had a couple of marks on the table and was taking the same exact shot over and over again, making the ball and putting the cue ball where I wanted it to go. The funny thing was that he was looking at me like I was crazy, not at all understanding that the brain learns through repetition and the body learns through motor memory and doing the same thing over and over makes it all come together. He continued to “practice” by doing a continuing series of different shots and strokes and speed.

Then, the conversation turned to some other things and he said the old, “We only use 10% of our brains.” Actually, we use ALL of our brains, but only use 10% of the capability, but do not hold me to the actual number. But the conversation did turn into one of, “How can I improve?” and I talked a bit about learning and structured practice and the like. I think he left thinking he thought differently — time will tell. It IS more fun to just shoot and pocket balls, but that will not improve your game nearly as much as some structured practice.

Then, I come home and pick up Smithsonian Magazine’s July / August issue and there is a one pager by Laura Helmuth called — and I think it is pretty funny — Gray Matter. (That is what we call brain tissue if one is into physiology, but I can never remember if it is gray or grey. Guess I will have to look that up one day…)

She gave some statistics:

  • 100 billion neurons in the normal human brain
  • 100 terrabytes of potential information storage
  • 1 – terrabytes of typical storage for a pc these days
  • 2 – the percentage of body weight of the typical brain
  • 20 – the percent of energy used by the brain (which does not even move…)

100 billion is actually a LOT of brain cells, and each of those is connected to a lot of others, so the number of possible connections is stupendous (and learning is thought to increase the number and type of connections between them, thus the notion of practice, practice, practice. Or, repetition, repetition, repetition if I can be more correct. But I repeat myself, I guess.

There is obviously something going on up there in the head of most people if all that energy and blood is going to the brain, even though nothing is apparently moving. The brain actually gets about 25% of the normal blood flow, and even more if the body is dropped into ice cold water, where the skin blood flow and much of the muscle flow is actually stopped or very much slowed.

Woody Allen called the brain his second most favorite organ.

And I thought that it was really funny to read that 10 is the approximate percentage drop in accurate recall of random letters when one is chewing gum! I knew that chewing gum really looks stupid, but there is a study at Cardiff University showing that it actually makes you stupid? Neat! That confirms a theory I have had for a long time!

Yes, actual research shows that chewing gum causes a 10% drop in memory!

(Here is another neat factoid — 50% of the time, human volunteers can successfully recall a sequence of 5 numbers presented briefly on a computer screen. A chimp named Ayumu can do that same task at 80%, but probably not when chewing gum…)

Yeah, I got one of those doctorate things in the mid-70s in that brain / behavior stuff and it has helped me to understand a little about how people think and how to improve their performance. I’ve spent a lot of time in the area of human performance results improvement, and like the things that are simple and useful, like this article on HighPerformanceTeamFlow — how you can structure an environment that better enables people to perform.

We deliver Square Wheels cartoons so that people can, “Step back from the wagon” and look to see what possibilities exist for personal and organizational change to occur. We deliver this in groups, so that we can generate both the ownership of the ideas as well as some peer support for improvement and collaboration. We mostly work on workplace improvement, since that represents a big opportunity for most organizations, and it betters the lives of people within those companies.

And we also do a lot with teamwork, getting people to better understand the choices they make and the alternatives that are available. By making things fun, we can engage some of the creative space that has been unused by so many people and also use that team support to increase involvement and dis-un-empowerment.

We all have parts of our brains that we don’t use a whole lot. But we can engage in more teamwork, thinking about possible changes and improvements, and generating better thoughts about how we can play in the future. Some structured practice, some fun and commitment, and improvements are possible, for sure.

Just give up on that gum chewing, will ya?

Written, just for the FUN of IT!

Dr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of team building games and organization improvement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced presenter and consultant.
Connect with Scott on Google+ – you can reach Scott at

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Interdepartmental Collaboration’s Vital Link to Organizational Profitability

HR Management Magazine asked me for an article a while back and I thought to make a copy of it available here, since I think it is well-illustrated, clear and focused on the issue of impacts and profitability as they relate to teambuilding. You can find access to the article at the bottom of this post.

The topic is improving inter-organizational alliances and building more collaboration between naturally competing workgroups as a means of impacting profitability and improving innovation and other organizational impacts. Better people collaboration and interacting toward shared goals and missions.

Competition is a motivating factor in most organizations and is a good energizer until that competition begins to sub-optimize overall organizational performance. Most companies do not measure those kinds of things yet they can have huge impacts on service, quality and morale.

Similarly, teamwork within a workgroup is good, until it slows or stops collaboration between different teams, a situation we call, My Team, My Team, My Team, as illustrated below:

We also know that most individuals and most teams do not take advantage of the support that already exists in organizations. This is a critical learning point of much of what we teach.

We also added thoughts on using The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine to engage and enlist people to choose to form alliances and improve performance.

Collaboration and Profit – an article on team building and organizational improvement


For the FUN of It!

Dr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of team building games and organization improvement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced presenter and consultant.
Connect with Scott on Google+ – you can reach Scott at


Choice and Empowerment – Really? How about Motivation…

In his newsletter, my friend Brian Remer wrote  a book review and posted up some of his thinking about change and choice.

And, in my sometimes strange way of viewing the way the world seems to work, this generated a reaction that I thought might be useful enough to post up in the blog.

Brian did a clear review of Kent Greenfield’s book, The Myth of Choice, discussing how choice is influenced by a lot cultural factors including:

  • Acknowledging the power of situation and circumstance in making choices
  • Acknowledging our limitations and “irrational” tendencies – We are more likely to make choices in favor of opinions that match and reinforce our own beliefs.
  • Becoming mindful of our habits – We can make considered choices rather than allowing ourselves to be manipulated by routinized behaviors.
  • Developing an awareness of cultural influences – Understanding the effect of culture frees us to better choose whether to act within cultural norms or to challenge them.

Later in his newsletter, Brian writes on the theme of Choice and Empowerment, stating in part that, “These examples illustrate that people need more than experience to make good choices. They need the authority, resources, and information to act on their decisions. This is the essence of empowerment. If you are not offering choices, you can stay in control. If you do offer choices but don’t share authority, resources, and information, you can still stay in control.”

And the paradox of the juxtapositioning of these two things — empowerment and choice — was just funny to me.

I do NOT believe in the reality of any concept of “Empowerment” as something that we can do to others, as the concept is commonly framed. I think Brian gets at this a bit, but not as cleanly and clearly as he commonly writes.

Most people seem to make a choice of being UN-empowered in that they let things get into the way of getting things done. Many people might think of me as being empowered for a bunch of reasons, but I know that I am un-empowered in many ways. There are a lot of Square Wheels that happen in my business and personal life. There are lots of things that get in the way of getting things done.

I guess that is one of the reasons that so many people rely on executive coaches, since they are “empowered” to push and cajol us into doing things.

Managers can empower the un-empowered
by helping to remove the roadblocks.

In my simple view of this world, this is called DIS-un-empowerment.

I’ve written a bunch of things around this concept that you can read elsewhere. Google “dis-un-empowerment” to see a variety of things.

But a LOT of this stuff about people and performance is about choice!

For the FUN of It!

Dr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of team building games and organization improvement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced presenter and consultant.
Connect with Scott on Google+ – you can reach Scott at

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