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

Month: August 2012

Catch 22 — So True!

Joseph Heller’s book, “Catch 22,” is an absolute classic. But it is my guess that not a lot of people have read it or really remember what it is about, even though the phrase, “Catch 22” is somewhat common.

I read and re-read the book and love it. One of the phrases I attribute to it is one that I use all the time, but my second reading failed to find it. I still believe it is from the book:

“Nothing made sense, and neither did anything else.

I use that a lot when talking about organizational decisions or customer service or Square Wheels in general. There is just no better way to say that…

But Catch 22 is a real classic explanation of the kinds of dilemmas we often face when working in organizations, so I reproduce it here for your enjoyment and understanding. The situation was that Orr thought he was going to die if he flew another mission and it was making him act crazy, seriously crazy:

“There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one’s safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn’t, but if he was sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn’t have to; but if he didn’t want to he was sane and had to. Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle.”

“That’s some catch, that Catch-22,” he observed.

“It’s the best there is,” Doc Daneeka agreed.

So, if you are concerned for your own safety and if you don’t ask, you are crazy and can get out of that situation. But if you do ask out, then you cannot be crazy because you asked out! Thus, you were in.

Catch 22.

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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Build a bedbug detector / trap for $20

Yeah, bedbugs. I don’t have them, don’t want them, do things to avoid getting them when traveling (and returning home) but still think about them. From all that we read, they ARE around and they are really difficult to get rid of if you do allow them access.

And an adult bedbug can live for about a year between feedings, so it is not like you can starve them out if you do allow them in. Get a couple in your suitcase and they can start doing their breeding in the attic or garage or wherever you store stuff like that.

When I return from a trip, I don’t bring my suitcase in and I carefully inspect things. Clothes go immediately into the washing machine and I leave the suitcase in the garage for a couple of days. I have a soft back-pack style computer case (love it!) and I empty that and shake it out pretty good.

And bedbugs have made a Big Comeback in the US since we banned chemicals like DDT. They are nocturnal and hide in little dark places like joints in beds and in cracks along moldings in your bedroom. They are tiny and hard to see – you know you got them when you see the bites on your body and, from what I hear, they really make you paranoid about sleeping. And you can get them from sitting in an airplane seat! (Wikipedia article on bed bugs) – They ARE little blood suckers!

But I read that researchers at Rutgers University created a cheap homemade bedbug detector / trap using a plastic cat-food dish, an insulated bottle and some dry-ice. This dry-ice and-thermos, cat dish combo captured the bloodsucking critters in an infested apartment just as effectively as stuff used by professional exterminators, according to Wan-Tien Tsai, the scientist designer. And the device seems pretty darn simple — so one is going into the garage for that next trip.

You build this thing with an insulated one-third gallon jug like this $7 Coleman container that you fill with 2 pounds of dry ice that you can get for a couple of bucks in most grocery stores for keeping things cold.

As the dry-ice (frozen carbon dioxide — use gloves!) evaporates, the open spout lets out the C02, mimicking a breathing, blood-filled human meal is near. If bedbugs are around, they are attracted — in your garage with your suitcase or in your bedroom as a check of any infestation. Overnight is enough time to bait these little buggers into the other key part of the trap: an overturned small animal food / water dish on which the thermos sits. CO2 is heavier than air, and it seems out the top and down the sides and over the dish. You can see this work if you toss a couple small pieces into a bowl of water (grin).

Scuff up the outsides of the bowl to give the little bugs traction, but leave the interior surface smooth, even using talcum powder to make things slick. You can kill them by dumping them down the drain, but you want to catch them to see if you have them — they are little things…

The bugs climb the outer surface of the dish and get stuck in its moat. You can see if you have them. The idea is to draw them to and into the bowl, letting them think that food is nearby. They climb up and in and then get trapped. And the small quantities of CO2 used will not be harmful to anything.

Rutgers designed this trap to give people a cheap way to see if they have (or still have) a bedbug problem. Bedbugs have made a serious comeback in North America over the past few years, especially in big cities like New York, Dallas, LA and Boston. And they are unbelievably hard and expensive to get rid of once they get established. Using this device might help you prevent an infestation if you let this work overnight near your traveling gear when coming home.

So, there you go. Hope that you find this helpful. Not my normal kind of writing, but I thought to simply share this.

—————-  UPDATE ——————-

This is an interesting article and an update to the materials above:

Artificial plants could beat bed bugs


Bean plant leaves won’t bite bed bugs back, but they do impale the pests though their feet. The same mechanism could one day be used to make more effective traps.

A team of scientists from the University of California, Irvine and the University of Kentucky made the discovery when they examined an old folk remedy of scattering bean leaves to stop the pests, Popular Science’s Brooke Borel wrote today. The scientists observed that tiny hooks on the leaves effectively immobilize the bugs.

You might be wondering why bed bugs – the subject the famous childhood idiom “sleep tight, don’t let the bed bugs bite” – are being taken so seriously by science. The pests have become a silent scourge in homes, hotels, and even movie theaters throughout major cities worldwide. Social constructs don’t matter to bed bugs: domiciles of the rich and poor are equally afflicted with infestations that can be costly and difficult to treat.

New York has a major bed bug problem. As a New Yorker, I’ve been witness to friends being forced to vacate their apartments, TV spots starring “Roscoe the bed bug sniffing dog”, mattress encasement ads on the subway, commercials with people freezing bugs, and steaming the bugs. Bug sprays won’t work. The pests, which have been a nettlesome problem throughout antiquity, have now mutated to be resistant to insecticides, and their bite is just as bad as ever.

It turns out that the bean leaf solution is as good as the best of those methods. Borel traced the approach as far back as 1678, when English philosopher John Locke traveled across Europe with a supply of kidney bean leaves as defense against bed bug bites. The Royal Austro-Hungarian Army used bean leaves to cleanse encampments and U.S. researchers observed the effect in the 1940s, Borel noted.

It’s possible to replicate the effect with synthetics that can be placed within the bugs’ path around beds, doors, suitcases, and other places where they reside. There’s a market if the researchers scratch their entrepreneurship itch.

For the FUN of It!
(They cannot get me on the water!)

Scott in DancerDr. 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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Rental of Team Building Exercise for Large Groups

The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine is a great team building exercise for focusing teams of people on themes of leadership, alignment, collaboration and the optimization of performance results. We’ve been selling and supporting the exercise worldwide for almost 20 years.

And it has been pretty crazy here lately, with some new business coming from some old friends, which is really neat. Two different consultants contacted me about renting our team building game, The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine to run large events for their clients. And both are old customers.

The wild thing is that both used to be with corporate training departments that bought the exercise from me about 10 years ago. They had great successes with it and, as they described the situations, they wanted a high impact and bombproof session for their new clients. Thus, they remembered the exercise and thought to contact me.

Renting the exercise is one option. It is best for those “Large Group Team Building Events” that are a one-off kind of thing. Many of the customers of our small games (for 3 or 4 tables of 6 people each) like being able to run it once or twice for really large groups without having to invest in our large game version. It is also useful for a one-time team building event such as an “all-hands” meeting where the management staff will run everyone through the game. We have supported many of those kinds of trainings and there is no upper limit on the size of the group — one client had a session of 870 people in the same room!

Unlike a lot of the other designed team building simulations, we have a truly elegant and pretty bombproof design, which allows us to NOT offer train-the-trainer or require certifications or have other kinds of restrictions. Many of our customers simply get the materials, review the overall support documents, go through the powerpoint and — maybe — call me. Many choose not to bother!

I offer free and unlimited telephone support – you talk to the game designer and a master facilitator, not to some “support person.” Few people seem to need the support, though, which says that the included materials are pretty complete. They should be, since we first delivered the game back in 1993 and have played with its design and supporting documentation since that time.

I can also customize the design in small ways, and work with you to design and refine a debriefing that fits with your goals and objectives and within your time limits. Generally, for large groups of 60+, we like to have 3.5 hours to do the game and the debriefing. I like at least an hour and even 90 minutes for the debriefing, since that will help generate the commitment to improve collaboration and teamwork, planning and communications.

We are surprisingly inexpensive, high-impact and very memorable, and the game can be specifically tailored to generate your desired outcomes. This is THE world-class team building exercise focused on improving inter-organizational collaboration and aligning people to shared goals and objectives. It can be run by line managers and executives, too, not just people in training and consulting.

We also have a posted pricing schedule, so you can look at the costs of renting this team building simulation and the detail of delivering the exercise before contacting us.

We think we are the best value in large group teambuilding events, costing lots less and offering more benefits than most other competitors,

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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Outdoor Training – Just Fun or does Learning actually occur

For the past decade, I have been involved in discussion threads on  LinkedIn and Twitter that concerned learning and team building and organizational change and defining effective approaches to business interventions. There are always different perspectives on these things and on their impacts on teamwork and collaboration.

There are many ways to do good team building, but one guy actually questioned whether anything NOT done outdoors could represent an effective team building environment. He also said that “neuroscience” supported his personal opinion and experiences. His position was that the only way to do teambuilding was with outdoor experiential activities. Seriously?

I countered his assumption with a challenge based on a variety of experiences and 25+ years in the INDOOR team building business, including the added reality that I earned a doctorate in behavioral neurophysiology and understood just a little bit about how the brain works and people learn. Kinda funny conversation, actually, since he had heard that stuff about neuroscience but really did not know much about information processing, barriers to change, or behavioral science in general…

(Yeah, I can talk the talk when it comes to the brain, physiology, psychology, behavior and learning. And I have a few hundred experiences facilitating team building and organizational improvement activities over the last 40 years…)

But his contention did stimulate me to start thinking about the indoor / outdoor paradox. There exists a blog post on some of my thoughts  —Moron Outdoor Training — and in another blog about some of the problems with outdoor training. Basically, the outdoor training kinds of things can be effective if — and only if, in my opinion — they are combined with good debriefing and reflection on the part of participants. Otherwise, I simply believe that they are just activities with more of a personal growth anchor.

In a discussion with a friend in Turkey (Murvet Gulseven), I started thinking about this issue even more. She does both indoor training as well as outdoor activities and suggested these as her overall key client framing questions for training:

  • Why they want to invest such time and money to this particular program?
  • What do they want afterwards as a desired outcome(s)?
  • What should change and how will we know when that is successful?
  • Why did they think of having such a team-building training? Who wanted the program and why? What is the support for it?
  • 3 things they want to see that has changed in their team after the program
  • Who will attend and are there anticipated problems?
  • Which trainings they have had before? What worked and what did not?
  • How are they working together now? Who are their customers? What are their issues and goals?
  • Where will they do the training? Does this place have an indoor training room, too? Etc..

I think that is a great framework and similar to how I approach things. And I wonder, on a point-to-point comparison basis, whether “outdoor activities” can measure up when it comes to consistently supplying desired outcomes, consistently focusing the attention of all of the participants clearly on the desired outcomes and on the effectiveness of the environment on minimizing distractions. It just seems like there are too many extraneous variables that can get in the way of a client spending $20,000 of its monies and taking people off work in the hopes that the environment will work. (And it is why Murvet packs “A, B, C and sometimes D” materials just in case and includes raincoats!)

Why, “Outdoors?” Understand that I am an outdoorsy guy, still camping and kayaking and similar at age 66. I’ve boated the Chattooga River (best known for being the main location in the movie, Deliverance) maybe 100 times and also the Ocoee (where they held the Atlanta Olympic Whitewater competitions) and also the Merced, Tuolumne, Kern, and even the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon on 3 different times. In the late 70s, I did a 9-month road trip around the US with my car and my tent.

But my experiences with “outdoor training” have never been positive ones, with issues ranging from really poor instructors who knew the exercise but who had no business experience (think “raft guide” or “college student”) to wild temperatures (95 to 100 degree F) to thunderstorms and the real danger of lightning, to “too sunny” to “rainy and windy.” And most of the exercises (with but one exception) did not do a great job of gaining everyone’s involvement. In none of them did they effectively include people with physical handicaps.

This is building teamwork and improving organizational results?

Really? This is building teamwork and improving organizational results?

I will admit that my outdoor experiences in such events are not really all that broad. I did one “high ropes” program with a skilled instructor at a great facility that was really well-done (but that was about ME and not about building teamwork) and I have not played paintball for a variety of reasons (or lasertag).

This 30-second advertisement for is an especially good one, I think. Click on the image to watch the YouTube version – it is well worth the time!

Annual company paintball teambuilding retreat booking dot com

And I also still laugh at the Firewalking “training event” paid for by Burger King back in 2001, with 100 marketing employees participating in this “team building and personal growth” session. The result was that 12 people got burned and Burger King generating a great deal of publicity — yes, even Dave Barry poked fun at them in an article of his and there were a ton of posts around “naming the event” in a couple of training discussion threads, as well as potential theme songs like, “Light My Fire” by The Doors (grin) ).  You can read more here.  (Dave Barry’s really funny article is here!)

Firewalking can be a legitimate (and costly) personal growth experience
( )
but does it really impact teams and help to improve company results?

One who suffered injury was Burger King’s vice president of product marketing. But, hey, she had no regrets, for she was filled with the corporate rapture. Walking across searing coals, she exclaimed, “Made you feel a sense of empowerment and that you can accomplish anything” (and she could accomplish that with only a few casualties and hospital and ambulance bills). (And I wonder how she is doing these days…)

So, my basic position simply asks, “Why?” Why do something the might work when there are known alternatives that DO work and that can link to specific desired and measurable corporate desired outcomes?

Lastly, here is a post on outdoor training and pheromones that you might find interesting as well as amusing. (Seriously! Click on the image below.)


Care to discuss any of this stuff? Pop me a comment!

And you are certainly welcome to come kayaking with me — but we will not charge you for it and we will not define it as a team building activity. It is just a fun way to get outdoors and away from most people and to float without any real goals and agendas in mind…


For the FUN of It!

<a rel=”author” href=”″ a>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

Scott holds a doctorate from The University of North Carolina in behavioral neurophysiology. Consulting since 1978, he is a Certified Professional Trainer (IAPPD) and a Certified Professional Facilitator (IAF) and the founder of The Square Wheels Project, a facilitation course designed for generating Disruptive Engagement among supervisors to motivate and empower their people.


Working while Working – and while on Vacation, too?

I just read one post in a newsletter about working during working hours and doing something else when not working during working hours. Wow, with 27 years now in this business and with me being a home business for 15 years, thinking about not working seems, well, kind of crazy.

And my position seems to be supported by a new Harris / Adweek poll that says that 52% of Americans will work during their summer vacation this year.

I guess that means that they will actually take a summer vacation.

The survey showed that working people are expecting to perform a variety of tasks, including:

  • Reading work-related emails – 30%
  • Receiving work-related phone calls – 23%
  • Accessing documents on home computer – 19%
  • Receiving work-related text messages – 18%
  • Accessing documents on work computer – 13%
  • Asked to do work by a boss, client or colleague – 13%

I know that when I was camping in Zion and Bryce Canyons two years ago, I was one of those working boys! I was checking email every day even when I had to walk to the Concession Area to get wifi access. And I am sure that this will get worse over time. Heck, I remember the time when the little downtown retail stores closed on Wednesday afternoons so the owners and employees could be with families, play golf, etc. And open on Sunday? No Way. Now, it is literally 24 / 7 and with the websites, anyone can shop from anywhere at any time.

Scott at Zion and at Bryce

Me, I think this is bad. I know that I should take some time off, just to fire up the creative juices. But workers in the US burn the candle at both ends (and they do it for less money and more pressure and no healthcare – do you also see a long-term problem here?).

If you can, work work into business, like presenting at a conference in Barbados and taking a few days surrounding that program to network and do other business development stuff:

Working at sunset on the beach in Barbados

So, get things done but try to keep things in balance.

My joke about Governor Nikki Haley, who is pushing to eliminate unions and create more jobs here in South Carolina, is that she is trying to create enough jobs so both partners in the marriage can have both of the jobs they need to support their families.  But that is a different storyline…

But understand that things are shifting when it comes to working. Only 40% of US employees even took a summer vacation last year and half of this group admitted that they planned or did work during their vacation (Harris / Adweek).

Another interesting finding comes from a CareerBuilder survey which shows that while 81% of managers plan or have taken a vacation break this year, only 65% of full-time employees have plans to do the same. While companies may understand the issues of health and success that come from “refreshed” employees, the day to day job demands may be precluding this from actually happening. An Expedia 2011 Vacation Deprivation Survey showed that US employees are beginning to “treat vacation as a luxury rather than a fact of life.”

And last year, over 200 million earned vacation days were not utilized by those who earned them.

I am not sure where all this eventually ends, but I know that my workweek has always been long and I feel a bit guilty when I am not working. And I work for myself – it is not like I worry about my job security and how my taking time off might appear to my supervisor insofar as it reflects on my dedication.

I think the Europeans have a much better perspective on all this. (While I sit here working after working all weekend… Go figure.)

Have some FUN out there! (Yeah, me, too.)

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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