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

Category: Brainstorming techniques Page 2 of 3

Innovation. Continuous Continuous Improvement. People. Engagement.

As I wrote this title, I thought: Keywords.

Innovation. Continuous Continuous Improvement. People. Engagement. Intrinsic Motivation. Team Building. 

And I also thought Connection. How all these things are connected and how they all play a part in the process of organizational improvement and intrinsic motivation. What happened was that I was engaged in a thread on innovation in LinkedIn’s Innovation Excellence group (join it!)

And Square Wheels. Opportunities for innovation are everywhere…

SWs One - How Things Work

There was a discussion on Should Individuals be More Accountable for Innovation? (link to blog is here) that got me thinking. Of course individuals are involved in the thinking around innovation but should they be held accountable for it or should they merely be more engaged and involved IN it? It is an interesting discussion. Yet it also got me thinking about Engagement, or more precisely, my thoughts on Engagimentation – the combination of engaging people and implementing ideas and improvements.

So, here is what I posted to the group:

Innovation. Yep. All People ALL the Time!

I never worked in innovation or creativity with the organizational development work I have been doing for 30+ years. Never called it that. We always focused on things like performance improvement and best practices, customer service, profitability and motivation of the intrinsic kind.  But it was always focused on people and performance.

The “top performers” do things differently than everyone else — basically because they do things differently! But getting more people more involved was always the challenge.

From all this stuff, I evolved an approach that generated involvement and engagement, made it okay to throw mud at the wire fence to see what ideas for improvement might exist, etc. We got groups involved in working together to do things differently.

Now, this is all framed up in “team building games” that one does to generate a sense of camaraderie and collaboration (All of us know more than ANY of us!) and the reality that different eyes see things differently and different hands do things differently. If we can capture those engaged individuals’ energies, we can accomplish a lot more.

Thus, my drift into “innovation” as part of improvement. While some think Quantum Leaps and Big Jumps, I think more continuous continuous improvement (Dept. of Redundancy Dept.) and about trying to involve and engage individuals and teams into looking for ideas and ways to make improvements and do things differently. Ideas seem to come from everywhere and link to everything…

So, now I tend to use cartoons as Rorschach Inkblots and let people see what they see and talk about what they feel is important.

If only we can get more supervisors to be more facilitative in their areas and generate more inter-departmental collaboration. That’s my new focus…

I really see the issues surrounding so many organizational issues to drop right on top of the shoulders of the supervisors. HR cannot do innovation, other than a workshop or two, and managers are too isolated. Sure, P&G can have 8,000 R&D people and roughly 4,000 engineers all working on innovation (from the blog article above) but that is because they ARE about innovation. For most companies, everyone needs to be an innovator, be it for process improvement and productivity purposes or for product improvement. It is the front line employee who is listening to customers and their issues (opportunities for improvement?).

After all, good ideas for improvement can come from anywhere and everywhere and often from unexpected places where people are thinking differently:

Stupid Duh Dumb Guy Improvement green

HOW do we improve the facilitation skills of the supervisors to involve and engage people to be more intrinsically motivated and to help improve all aspects of how the organisations perform?

How can we get there from here? And STAY there in that high performance state?

Brainstorming easel pad green

Answers must include The Supervisors!

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 at

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Moron Engagement – The Concept of Dis-Un-Engagement

Dis-Un-Engagement? Really? Yep!

I was reading all the comments on a long LinkedIn thread – “I’m looking for ideas on how to improve employee engagement? Any ideas will be greatly appreciated” and saw Judi Adams’ starting comment, “As you know, each person has different needs so there is no one bullet solution” and I had one of my occasional “odd thoughts.”

“Bullet” reminded me of a gun which linked over to Bob Mager’s work on performance and one of his test questions as to the need for training or something else:

“If you put a gun to their head, could they do it?”

The context of Mager’s thought is that if they COULD do it, then it is not a skill that needs to be trained but a behavior that needs to be “motivated.”

Thus, I wonder if we could “put a gun to the heads” of the “dis-engaged” and come up with THE relevant and actionable list of all of the things that would need to be present for people to feel more involvement, engagement and ownership. And we should do ONE list for each supervisor of a workgroup or each manager of a department get their people together to brainstorm ideas. Having HR generate an overall list of these things for the company would be totally inappropriate and would actually work against the un-engagement process that I suggest, Let each workgroup have the ownership – involvement of putting their list together. No other way will really work; they need some “sweat equity” involvement in this initiative to become engaged in the process and involved in the implementation.

Doing things TO them will not get them involved. Do things WITH them.

I do something similar with my concept of Dis-Un-Empowerment feeling that one cannot empower people, that many people feel “un-empowered” and that managers can do many things to address and remove perceived and actual roadblocks and, thus, “Dis” them into irrelevance. Thus, Dis-Un-Empowerment.

The approach serves to get the “bad” ideas of the dis-engaged mixed in with the good ideas of the top performers with the result that we build in a lot of peer support among the group for making improvements along with getting involved because we have made improvements and visibly addressed those issues brought up as dis-engaging. Thus, we involve and engage the un-engaged!

I am wondering if a similar approach might be taken with the Un-Engaged, asking them what kinds of things are getting in the way of them feeling more ownership involvement and commitment and then using that list as a “To Do” list for the managers to address and change or improve.

Why can’t we simply be direct with the issue(s) and ask people for the Square Wheels that are not working smoothly and the Round Wheel ideas that already exist in the wagon?

I posted up something last June on this idea and wonder if anyone else has supporting ideas about how to accomplish this. I see it very closely aligned, from a facilitation standpoint, to our Roadblock Analysis process.

The idea is to get the whole list, process the list into actionable categories (sometimes having to delegate upward in the organization to solve) and generate the energy and involvement of the individuals to form teams and address, suggest and even implement ideas and solutions. It is a facilitated, group-oriented process that is involving by its very design.

By going onto the website and searching for “roadblock,” you can find all sorts of information, articles, tools and similar. See more that way.

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

Follow Scott’s posts on Pinterest:

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


Dis-Un-Engagement – thoughts for impacting employee engagement in the workplace

A series of different LinkedIn posts in my lists have focused on the general theme of “employee engagement.” Some focus on asking about reactions to definitions of engagement, some focus on the relevancy of focusing on improvements and their relation to profitability and results, while others seem to just be information or publicity-focused and do not seem to add much value to people reading the post.

I saw one post today and two yesterday that I responded to and thought, well, what the heck, post something up in here. SO, here we go with Dis-Un-Engagement. I think it looks something like the illustration below:

Some people know that I have used a concept of Dis-Un-Empowerment for many years and I am thinking now that it actually has many of the same general applications to many aspects of improving workplace engagement.

We talk about and see a lot of data on engagement but most people are un-engaged.The statistics and surveys show that they are not actively nor emotionally nor behaviorally involved in the workplace on a regular basis. They are un-hooked and un-involved and seem to choose to be so. It is not like they have no opportunities because the same surveys show that some of the people in that workplace ARE involved and engaged. That difference is informative, actually.

No amount of banter will change their choices and a LOT of their behavior to become engaged may actually get punished or otherwise emotionally isolated by the management team in the way that ideas are put down or jokes are made about some people’s “contributions” and in SO MANY other ways in the workplace. Many people grew up being bullied or simply being average and our schools do not always do a great job of building the self-esteem of students. Then, they come to the workplace…

You cannot engage me just like you cannot empower me. I mean, go ahead and try; I will wait…

Okay, never mind. But please accept the reality that you cannot do something TO me that empowers me — it is about the choices that I want to make — internal stuff as much as the external stuff.

What we need to do is identify the things that are BLOCKING engagement and do things to remove them. A “non-ever-meeting-responder” might be asked directly for their thoughts and ideas on fixing a problem in a team meeting, for example. I do not have to generate that list for you. There are a zillion ways to get people MORE involved and some additional involvement will generally translate into a bit more engagement.

If you read the literature, such as the survey results from the Big Consulting Companies, there are some VERY Expensive ($$$$$) Tools and Techniques you can get from them to improve things measurably. If you read the Big Consultants’ sales materials, you will need to spend money hiring them to come in and evaluate the results of your corporate Engagement and Involvement Program and then do regular surveys to insure that you are making progress (I am not big on acronyms but should probably take the time to make up some funny ones like “Corporate Response Activity Program” or some such thing.)

OR, your company could choose to do something completely silly like ask the managers to ask the people for ideas for improvement and ask that each employee generate at least one idea about what might be done differently and do this in meetings as well as using some back-of-the-door posters in the bathrooms to collect those anonymous comments.

Yeah, this would improve engagement if it is done honestly. And yes, some disgruntled employees might share some ideas that show that they are disgruntled. But at least they would be engaged in sharing those ideas!!

This stuff all adds up over time. Ask and Ye Shall Receive (more engagement than you had before).

Then, work on the “Dis” part of the above and do things to remove the roadblocks and improve the choices…

That’s my 2 cents worth of stuff… I have written a good bit on dis-un-empowerment over the years so you can google that to see more on this general line of thinking along with some specific ideas for what you can actually do cheap ($).


Nobody ever washes a rental car – Thoughts on engagement and ownership

“Nobody ever washes a rental car.”

I’ve been using this phrase for dozens of years, since it elegantly and simply illustrates a very real opportunity for significant increases in employee engagement, organizational improvement, performance improvement and so many other aspects of improving organizational results.

It’s a really great anchoring statement and I have used it many times as the title of a presentation. But it also generates confusing reactions in some people.

It’s a metaphor! It is not a statement for Generally Accepted Accounting Principles or some Rule of Life. And it is funny — I have actually had people raise their hands in seminars to explain that they have actually washed a rental car in the past. Once in a while, they admit to being WAY overly compulsive and obsessed. More generally, they illustrate my key point…

The point is one of ownership — people do not take care of things they do not own. I can often illustrate this by asking participants if they have ever owned a rental property. Some of the tenants were exceptional and left the place better than before they rented it. But most share my experience: tenants at a house I owned nearly burned down the house with a chimney fire, pretty-much destroyed the wood floors, punched holes in the walls and left nail holes in nearly every wall. The rose garden and the camilla tree were gone, with the former used as for parking and the latter just destroyed (by motor oil dumped around it, apparently).

Ownership — If you own something, you tend to take better care of it. That is all I mean. Let me illustrate.

If someone in the workplace comes up with an idea and presents it to the manager and the managers enables them to try it, they most likely will, right? But, if the boss comes up and says, “Let’s now do things this way,” the general response will be for people to resist the change and generate reasons why it won’t work, right?

Statistics say that most executives believe that the most difficult aspect of any organizational improvement initiative is employee resistance.

Nothing corners better, handles bumps and speedbumps, treats potholes and curbs with disdain, accelerates faster and breaks harder than a rental car. (right?)

Who owns the idea? Not the employee, right? So, why wouldn’t they resist the idea? After all, they need to change, learn to do something differently than they have been doing it, have a higher risk of failure and will probably see a drop in their productivity in the short term. What’s to like about all that?

And there is another paradox at work, as shown below:

Leaders will resist changes they feel are done TO them.

On consulting projects in the past, ideas that I helped the workers implement were often resisted by the managers, who felt that things were not under control or moving too fast or similar. This happened less and less as my experience improved and I could generate a level of their involvement that would balance the issues of resistance on both sides of the wagon.

I’ve expanded on the issue of ownership elsewhere in my blogs such as here on innovation and here on leading meetings.

There are lots of ways we can do things differently to better involve and engage people in our needed improvement initiatives. But pushing and pulling is not the best of strategies. Sitting, talking, explaining and asking is often a much more effective way to get things rolling…

Put the wagon up on wheels for a while and consider alternative ideas generated by everyone.

Have some fun out there, too.

Scott Debrief

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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Keeping Things Simple – Involving and Engaging

In the past couple of days, I have been involved in some really long and even somewhat convoluted discussions about motivation and innovation and engagement and leadership and workplace creativity.

And an associate of mine in Asia had asked for my ideas for implementing workplace improvement. So, I offered up some simple ideas about involving and engaging people and then thought to blog about it a bit, since it seems to be a very common organizational development issue.

And, I could get into my own convoluted pedagogical diatribe and gobbledygook on all things, I prefer to keep it simple and straightforward. That’s just my nature.

How do we involve, engage, and motivate to generate innovation and workplace performance improvement? Here would be my four key suggestions:

  1. Ask, Ask, Ask, Ask, Ask, and Ask
  2. Listen and listen and listen
  3. Let things happen! Get out of the way!
  4. Provide resources and support.

One asks, in my model of the world, with a visual image and some moments of silence. Ask people how this illustration might represent how things really work in most organizations:

SWs One How Things Work ©

You will find a variety of ideas about facilitation of conversations and idea generation in other writings in these blog posts. Basically, give them some silent time and then allow tables of 4 to 6 people to talk.

Note that we sell a really easy to use toolkit of illustrations in powerpoint and handout worksheets as printable files, plus speaking notes. The basic package on general facilitation you can find here — $50 and complete — and you can always chat with me to define and refine your approach.

By using the cartoon approach, what will happen is that they will eventually to talking about the Square Wheels they deal with and the Round Wheels that already exist. And the reality is that once something is labeled a “Square Wheel,” people will want to fix it. So, this simple activity will set up 2, 3 and 4 on the list IF


Most people in most workplaces have a fairly realistic view of their reality and history that management is more The Party of No than the people in power who will enable them to actually make improvements and get things done.

Is this because I have a biased view of supervisors, managers and executives? NO. (Well, partly). It is really just my experienced view and based on observations as well as based on survey after employee survey over the past 30 years — Big Surveys done on thousands of people in dozens of countries and little ones done informally within workgroups using only pencil and paper. (See this great article around Jim Clifton, CEO of Gallup, and his views on this.)

Most surveys show that managers manage — they control and direct (and inhibit).

I was once involved with a Mission Statement for a large public utility and the Executives were asking if this phrase was a good one to include:

“We manage with uncompromising integrity.”

Well, the supervisors took one look at the above and quickly said, “No way.” They rewrote it to read,

“We manipulate with inflexible righteousness.”

So, my advice is to support where needed with resources, time, money, etc. but to get the heck out of the way and let the people play with the ideas until they can put them into an effective solution. It may take some trial and error (and look something like this:

Trial and Error. Do something and then step back from the wagon to see if there is something else that might be done…

If you are meddling, you will probably toss a Blame Frame around the above picture and generate defensiveness and an unwillingness to risk going forward. Blame Frames are really common in most organizations, and really easy to apply to innovations.

It is like the old Six Phases of a Typical Project Management Initiative:

  1. Enthusiasm
  2. Disillusionment
  3. Panic
  4. Search for the Guilty
  5. Punishment of the Innocent
  6. Praise and Honor for the Non-Participants
I suggest that you simply keep things simple. Look at what has worked in the past to generate improvements and successes and model your NEW initiatives around those old successful ones. Most crashes of small planes occur when the newbie pilot tries to control things too much — most small planes fly just nicely when you let go of the controls. Overcompensation is what causes the problems.
Have fun out there!
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 at

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4 Hours for Innovation. What to do to optimize results…

As a consultant or trainer, let’s say you only have 4 hours to help a group of managers or executives become more innovative, what would you present and how would you present it to involve and engage them in the act of involving and engaging others? How would you rattle their cages enough to actually generate some behavior change? How could you influence them to do some things differently with their subordinates?

I would start by showing them a cartoon illustration of a wooden wagon being pulled by a leader and being pushed by others. It is rolling along on wooden Square Wheels. Ironically, the cargo are round rubber tires…

The key is to start thing off by asking them to consider an illustration, “How might this illustrate how things really work in most organizations?”

SWs One green color thin

After giving each person a minute or two to write their ideas on a worksheet, I would then ask them to pair up or group up and discuss their ideas, with a goal of generating a lot of different thoughts. Tabletops of 5 to 6 people are best at pulling ideas together and generating a lot of different anchor points to a wide variety of issues and themes. Then, one can allow the sharing of these different tabletop ideas with the entire group, either by allowing them to take 2 minutes to verbally share them or to spend a couple of minutes capturing them on sheets of paper and posting on the walls.

Either way, the goal is to generate some ownership and involvement and to get people thinking about all the things that don’t work smoothly and might be improved.

Starting with your general question about, “How this is like most organizations…”, one greatly reduces any possible defensiveness, while the very general nature of the illustration is such that people will project their ideas onto the illustration, much like they would do with a Rorschach or an Inkblot Test. People see themselves in the cartoon and they also see their organizations represented, as well.

The Round Wheels ARE already in most organizations — they represent Best Practices of Top Performers in many cases — and a key to innovation is to simply identify what these exemplary performers are already doing. Most systems and processes thump and bump along, working okay when something different might work much better. And the goals are set based on the organization’s history of work, which is often just like the picture above.

Another key to innovation is to dissociate from the reality of pushing and pulling and to “Step back from the wagon” to look for different ways of getting things done. Dissociation is a very common and powerful tool for counseling troubled relationships (and so many workplaces are troubled!).

People DO have ideas, but often those ideas are not elicited by the average manager (so says survey after survey of workplaces!).  People with some general idea as to what might be done can evolve and polish that idea in a discussion with others: synergistic ideationfrom Star Trek, The Borg (the collective consciousness of the entire group).

Most people in most departments in most organizations tend to do the same thing repetitively because the goals are set on the Square Wheel model of how things have been working and will be working in the future. By working together to identify issues and opportunities, you get the benefit of the divergent thinking of the participants, allow them to flesh-out some ideas that they might already have, and put it into the context of play.

Plus, you are adding a new language of continuous continuous improvement” into the workplace, a concept that says that change is a continuous process and that new ideas already exist and merely need to be identified and implemented. By a leader using the cartoon and the approach and asking for ideas, it helps to communicate to everyone that new ideas are needed / required and that discussing these ideas is an important part of long-term organizational success. And this approach will also help generate the required intrinsic motivation to make improvements.

Another reality is that,

“Nobody Ever Washes a Rental Car”

People who do not have a degree of ownership of ideas will often tend to resist them. By leaders working and engaging people in discussions of ideas and allowing input and consideration, resistance is often minimized and the likelihood of implementation is increased.

One must generate some level of discomfort with the way things are now, get a group of people together to add peer support and some perceived success to the discussions, and to build on what already works — I call that “continuous continuous improvement.”

Innovation is a process of, well, innovating. There are tons of different ideas that are already available for improvement. And when I work a group, I can often generate 10 or more pages of ideas and potential improvements in that 4 hours of play time.

One must also address implementation, since so many of those ideas for improvement just disappear… Most ideas cascaded down from the top will be resisted or ignored — most leader-led improvement and innovation initiatives fail because people are not involved or engaged.

So, give me 4 hours and let me involve and engage any group of people in the framework of “organizational improvement and innovative ideas” and I will guarantee a ton of ideas as well as ideas for implementation. But better yet, get one of the Square Wheels toolkits and do it yourself.

Active involvement and engagement and problem solving generates a commitment to make improvements, even with senior managers of global multinationals.

The beauty of using the illustrations is that they are really simple and bombproof. Once you see how the flow of the discussion works, you can use it easily with other groups or redesign it for different time constraints.

And that concept of Rental Car Care is a real one. People need ownership to generate involvement and motivation and the toolkits just use cartoons, anyway.

If it is to beit is up to me.

If not you, who? If not now, when? 

Just Do It, for The FUN of It!

Another simple elegant solution and organizational development framework…

Elegant Solutions

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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Active Learning, Reflection and Performance – Thoughts by Mel Silberman

My last blog was on debriefing learning to better impact performance and was stimulated by a discussion with Roger Greenaway in Scotland, who focuses on such things and writes very eloquently and succinctly. He shared a chapter of such information for a book to be published by Mel Silberman, an old friend of mine.

Searching for some old statistics on the workplace in my computer files, I came across a post that Mel had written back around 1996 – 1997 for a listserve we were both actively involved with (TRDEV) and I thought to share that post here, since I think it represents the kinds of things that Roger and I focus on and that might be of interest to anyone focused on learning and performance:

Over 2400 years ago, Confucius declared :

What I hear, I forget.|
What I see, I remember.
What I do, I understand.

These three simple statements speak volumes about the need for active learning.

I have modified and expanded the wisdom of Confucius into what I call the “Active Learning Credo.”

What I hear, I forget.
What I hear and see, I remember a little.
What I hear, see, and ask questions about or discuss with someone else, I begin to understand.
What I hear, see, discuss, and do, I acquire knowledge and skill.
What I teach to another, I master.

Why do I make these statements?

There are several reasons why most people tend to forget what they hear. One of the most interesting reasons has to do with the rate at which a lecturer speaks and the rate at which people listen.  Most lecturers speak about 100-200 words per minute.  How many of those words do listeners hear?

Well, it depends on how they are listening.  If the listeners are really concentrating, they might be able to listen attentively to about 50-100 words per minute or half of what a lecturer is saying.  That’s because listeners are thinking a lot while they are listening.  In this case, it’s hard to keep up with a talkative lecturer.  More likely, the listeners are not concentrating because, even if the material is interesting, it is hard to concentrate for a sustained period of time.  Studies show that people hear (without thinking) at the rate of 400-500 words per minute.  When listening for a sustained period of time to a lecturer who is talking up to four times more slowly, listeners are likely to get bored and their mind will wander.

It is true that adding visuals to a lesson increases retention. A picture may not be worth a thousand words, but it is many times more effective than words alone. When teaching has both an audio and a visual dimension, the message is reinforced by two systems of delivery.  Also, some people prefer one mode of delivery over the other.  By using both, therefore, there is a greater chance of meeting the needs of several types of students. But, merely hearing something and seeing it is not enough to learn it.

Our brain does not function like an audio or videotape recorder.  Incoming information is continually being questioned.  Our brain asks questions such as:

Have I heard or seen this information before? Where does this information fit?  What can I do with it? Can I assume that this is the same idea I had yesterday or last month or last year?

The brain doesn’t just receive information– it processes it.

To process information effectively, it helps to carry out such reflection externally as well as internally.  If we discuss information with others and if we are invited to ask questions about it, our brains can do a better job of learning.  For example, a group of researchers asked students to discuss at frequent intervals during the class with a partner what a lecturer had just presented.  Compared to students in a control class for whom there were no pauses for discussion, these students received up to two letter grades higher.

Better yet, if we can “do” something with the information, we can obtain feedback about how well we understand.  Learning is enhanced if students are asked to:

1. state the information in their own words
2. give examples of it
3. recognize it in various guides and circumstances
4. see connections between it and other facts or ideas
5. make use of it in various ways
6. foresee some of its consequences
7. state its opposite or converse.

In many ways, our brains are like computers and we are its users.  A computer, of course, needs to be “on” in order to work.  Our brain needs to be “on” as well.  When learning is passive, the brain isn’t “on.”  A computer needs the right software to interpret the data that is inputted. Our brain needs to link what we are being taught with what we already know and how we think.  When learning is passive, the brain doesn’t make these linkages to the software of our minds.  Finally, a computer cannot retain information that it has processed without “saving it.”   Our brain needs to test the information, recap it, or explain it to someone else in order to store it in its memory banks.  When learning is passive, the brain doesn’t save what has been presented.

What occurs when lecturers flood people with their own thoughts (however insightful  and well-organized they are) or when they rely too often on “let me show you how” demonstrations and explanations?  Pouring facts and concepts into people’s heads and masterfully performing skills and procedures actually interferes with learning.  The presentation may make an immediate impression on the brain, but, without a photographic memory, people simply cannot retain very much for any period of time.

Of course, real learning is not memorization anyway.  Most of what we memorize is lost in hours.  In order to retain what has been taught, people must chew on it.  Learning can’t be swallowed whole.  A lecturer cannot do the mental work for listeners because they must put together what they hear and see into a meaningful whole.  Without the opportunity to discuss, ask questions, do and perhaps, even teach someone else, real learning will not occur.

Further, learning is not a one shot event.  Learning comes in waves.  It takes several exposures to material to chew long enough to understand.  It also takes different kinds of exposures…not just a repetition of input. Even more important is the way in which the exposure happens.  If it happens to the learner, there will be little mental engagement by the learner.

When learning is passive, the learner comes to the encounter without curiosity, without questions, and without interest in the outcome (except, perhaps, the grade he or she will receive.)  When learning is active, the learner is seeking something.  He or she wants an answer to a question, needs information to solve a problem, or is searching for a way to do a job.  Under these active conditions, learning is qualitatively different from what occurs when the learner is passive.

Dr. Mel Silberman
1942 – 2010

Dr. Mel Silberman

I trust that you have found Mel’s thinking to be clear and relevant. Here is a picture of him from the internet and below is a picture of he and I back in 2001.

Scott and Mel Silberman, ASTD 2001

Chickens, Teaching, Honesty, Thinking and Innovation – a story

An acquaintance who is always sharing stories and jokes sent me a good one. And the more I thought about it, the more convinced I am that it would be a good one to use in a leadership development training session.

Guess my thinking is grounded in the work I am doing around Strategy Implementation and how it is not the strategy but its execution and engagement of everyone in the organization to commit to doing things differently. It is not always easy and people think differently about things, which would appear to be problematic on the surface, but something that is critical for implementation success based on all sorts of research.

Anyway, the story goes like this:

My Favorite Animal

 Our teacher asked what my favorite animal was, and I said, “fried chicken.”

 She said I wasn’t funny, but she couldn’t have been right, because everyone else laughed. My parents told me to always tell the truth. I did. Fried chicken is my favorite animal. I told my dad what happened, and he said my teacher was probably a member of PETA. He said they love animals very much. I do, too. Especially chicken, pork and beef. Anyway, my teacher sent me to the Principal’s office.

 I told him what happened, and he laughed, too. Then he told me not to do it again.

 The next day in class my teacher asked me what my favorite live animal was. I told her it was chicken. She asked me why, so I told her it was because you could make them into fried chicken. She sent me back to the Principal’s office. He laughed, and told me not to do it again.

 I don’t understand. My parents taught me to be honest, but my teacher doesn’t like it when I am.

 Today, my teacher asked me to tell her what famous person I admired most, I told her Col. Sanders.

 Guess where I am now…

I thought that the story was cute. Did you? I definately took the position of the student, but then realized that there were other positions and other principles working here…

I thought of the different viewpoints of the student, the teacher, the parents and the principal and how it related to their thinking about what is important and meaningful. Each would of course have different ideas about what should happen around the situation.

Is anyone wrong in their reactions? What do the differences in roles make in how the information is processed? What is the real desired outcome of the whole activity, and then frame up the whole activity from the positions of the different parties.

Think about how this all relates to people working in organizations who are being asked about improving customer service or implementing a new way of getting things done or who are trying to innovate or develop new products. By nature, everyone takes different posittions based on their roles and how they perceive they are to influence and impact that student.

Which role do YOU take in educating others? I LOVE fried chicken, but so very seldom eat it. Do doughnuts have legs?

Have FUN out there!

Best Square Wheels Answers

Joan had asked me to do some writing around using Square Wheels® for some marketing videos, wanting me to show the list of 300+ different responses that I had put into a document while collecting comments over the period of a few months.

That is 300 different ideas generated from workshop participants looking at Square Wheels One and generating responses that they shared from their tabletops. I actually gave up collecting once it became so hard to see if a great comment in a session was something that I already had or not – the list became too long. (AND, I know that I still get a couple every once in a while that I know are not on that list, but I am simply too lazy to try to keep updating!)

It seems more than mind-boggling that a simple cartoon like this:

Square Wheels One – our main illustration

would be able to generate that much creativity and engagement. You have to try it to actually see it.

But this activity and the generative responses  shows the power of group processing and creative thinking. It is still amazing to me and a real reason why I love using these tools in training sessions.

Individually, the most creative people tend to come up with 5 to 10 ideas and then  stop, thinking that, “What more could there be?.” Putting together a few people at a tabletop and allowing them to think individually and then collectively might generate 20 or so responses. something that we often collect when I have them write / mindmap their ideas onto a sheet of easel pad paper.

The fact that we can collect so many ideas over time is truly mind boggling…

I thought to try to do a short poll and see what some of our readers think along these same lines. We got a few responses but I think we might do this again in the future.

I’d love to know what ones you think are the best or even get NEW ideas from you on this. Make some comments if you have one you think better! After all, the Round Wheels really ARE already in the wagon!

Square Wheels has been incredibly more impacting than I had ever envisioned when I started playing with this back in 1993. I hear people tell me all the time that they have seen the illustration in a training program or a college class or in a textbook or that they have attended a session that I have done.

My goal is to use this and our other simple tools to make a real difference in the workplace, making managers more able to involve and engage people in workplace improvements and to generate different ideas for how to get more things done better.

Have FUN out There!  And support your people in generating new ideas for getting more better faster.

Brainstorming easel pad green


Visit our website for inexpensive, easy-to-use and bombproof tools.


Muscles slide in background

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

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On Dissociation and Innovative Thinking – Stepping Back from The Wagon

On a LinkedIn group discussion on innovation and “Thinking out of the box,” I posted up some of my thoughts about the metaphor. Basically, I have never quite liked that old “Box” anchor point, and I remember the old “Joshua in the Box” McGraw Hill training video from back in the 70s —

Working with groups around organizational improvement and creativity, I prefer using the Square Wheels cartoons and related metaphors for these workshops.

Readers of my blog and visitors to my site will understand that the Square Wheels One illustration is used for a lot of things:

How things really work in most organizations - they roll on Square Wheels

The basic metaphor is a wooden wagon rolling on Square Wheels with a cargo of round ones. It is a truly effective projective inkblot-like tool to get people thinking and discussing issues and opportunities.

If I am doing some more senior manager intellectual kinds of work, it can  sometimes be beneficial to get into the “psychology” of how this works:

  • Associated Position: Most of us go through life “associated” in that we see things through our own eyes; after all, that IS how we view the world.
  • Dissociated Position: Counseling psych will tell us that it is VERY useful to view things from a dissociated position — like we are watching TV, since that is a less emotional way of looking at things.

So, I’ll talk about “Stepping back from the wagon,” and NOT seeing things from the view of the wagon puller (lovely vision of the future) or the wagon pusher (boards and hands), but from the viewpoint of the VIEWER of this situation (the participant’s view of what is happening).

The View at the Front and the related View at the Back.

That dissociated viewpoint is what allows one to see different issues and opportunities. Stepping back from the wagon allows us to see things much differently than if we are looking at “the job at hand” in most situations.

And almost always, the Round Wheels are already IN the wagon. But if we keep pulling and pushing like we always have, we will not ever see them!!

Have fun out there!


Innovation – Myths versus Continuous Continuous Improvement

James Gardner, in his book, “Sidestep and Twist,” talks about innovation and spending and the fact that over the past 10+ years, Microsoft has spent between four to five times as much on research and development as Apple.

If the conventional wisdom about innovation and R&D was correct, then surely the opposite should have been true. The myth is this: if you invest to create something genuinely new, something that’s a breakthrough, you have a better than average chance of windfall returns.

Gardner details that the reality is that there has not really been a genuine breakthrough innovation that led to big profits in the last couple of decades — that few of these ideas are profitable at all. All the “hit” products are simply incremental improvements on something else.  Competitive advantage is now less about features and more about building products that get better the more they are used over time.

Users see things that inventors often don’t, and thus they can make suggestions that others really can’t.

Sometimes, you just have to put a team together and take things apart and look at them to see new possibilities

Most organizations focus on Big New Ideas and put a lot of spending focus on those things. The reality is that a LOT more can be gained through simple continuous continuous improvement of functionality and effectiveness.

People that are closest to the product (or service) can often give you a LOT of ideas about what improvements can be made. Only very occasionally are those ideas from a single individual, however. Many more ideas can come from “The Collective,” the overall intelligence and intelligent conversations of people about the current state of how things work and the possibilities that exist for innovation and improvement.

And giving them time to consider and talk is both profitable as well as motivating. People generally respond very well to the challenge of, “Can we make this better?”

And the more we think about things, the better we actually THINK about things. The creative innovative process is a people thing.

The Elephant in the Room – Line Managers are the Trainers (All others fail)

More and more, I am  convinced that the KEY training people in organizations do not reside in the HR or Training Departments –they are the ranks of the line managers.

Managers are responsible for performance. Managers are responsible for quality and service. Managers are responsible for productivity and results. And, more and more, the continued budget cuts in these “training departments” are now more focused on issues of basic skills training, orientation training, and similar kinds of outcomes.

So, what are we doing to provide managers with the skills they need to function as organizational performance improvement consultants, coaches for identifying best practices and communicating and implementing changes and improvements? Are most managers involving and engaging people, or just wasting time and energy?

This could be brainstorming and an action to involve and engage people in workplace improvement. Or, it might represent another “Yell and Tell” training session.

My belief, as so much data shows, is that people are NOT involved and engaged by the acts and actions of most managers — sure, the BEST Bosses are good at leading people forward, building ownership and engaging people in teamwork and process improvement. But it is still true, in most organizations, that BOSS spelled backwards is self-explanatory (email me and I will explain privately, if this euphemism is not immediately understood!).

What do they need to do to shift the energy of these meetings from negative to positive? One solution is to use better tools and an approach that is facilitative rather than confrontational.

Asking is a much better approach than Telling. Engaging is a much better approach than generating resistance to change. Generate SMILES, not frowns.

For the past 20 years, I have been developing simple but powerful tools for involving and engaging people and generating ownership and performance improvement. If you have any questions, drift around randomly through the PMC website and generate your own thoughts on how people can be more intrinsically motivated and build a better sense of team and US.

SWs - Why use SWs RWs

People have ideas for improvement and supervisors can do such a better job of asking and engaging and implementing, don’t you think. Could people simply choose to do things better and more efficiently?
Scott small pic

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:

Ideas, Innovation and Strategy Implementation – Getting Things Done More Better Faster

I have loved this quote since I first heard it 15 years ago at a conference:

If we’re not getting more better faster
then they are getting more better faster,
then we’re getting less better
or more worse.

— Tom Peters

Ideas are simply that, “Ideas.” The key to success lies in effective implementation. It is the same with corporate strategy implementation.

Research by my old Singapore pal, Robin SPeculand, shows that 90% of all strategy implementation programs fail. It is an issue of identifying the strategy and then having the ability to implement it. BOTH are obvious requirements but not everyone is good at all things. And failures to successfully implement are quite costly, since they tend to move into “organizational memory,” making future efforts even more difficult. Awareness is important, but so is executive leadership behavior!

In most organizations, people find that their managers will put the NO in innovation, roadblocking their individual efforts to make improvements. Take this simple statistic as proof: A Sirota Survey of 2007 found that 85% of employees say their morale declines significantly after spending 6 months on the job. (And, 2007 were the good old days when it came to employee engagement and morale, it appears. If anything, things have gotten much worse with initiatives such as “Job Enlargement” being more common these days.)

Take a look at this data from an article by Les Leopold:

US Actual Wages vs Productivity-Enhanced wages from Les Leopold

On the one hand, productivity is improving. On the other, the compensation has not been increasing and the pin seems to have hit the balloon in the American workplace as well as elsewhere.

The pin finally hits the balloon and people are angry

A desk is a dangerous place from which to view the world.

And there are broad issues of employee engagement and morale operating in most organizations these days. So it would seem obvious that there are some positive leverage points in the workplace that we can use effectively to improve how things are working to improve performance and morale and take a competitive advantage with new business strategies.

The real key is the successful implementation of ideas, either from the view of the entrepreneur or the manager looking to improve performance. If the senior managers have good ideas, they can generate involvement and engagement from their management team on designing successful implementation strategies. This is a tool for employee engagement as well as a way to improve organizational performance and long-term competitiveness.

For almost 20 years, I have been using a simple cartoon to describe how organizations really work — it is an inkblot for leading discussions as well as a metaphor for how things tend to roll along.

Consider that we are using a wooden wagon. A leader is pulling with a rope and people are behind the wagon, pushing it forward. It is rolling along on wooden Square Wheels, but with a cargo of round rubber tires.

SWs One green color thin

Someone in a workshop once said, “Those who do have no clue. Those who lead miss the need.” I think that describes the reality – the view at the back of the wagon (boards and hands) is different than the view at the front. The hands-on people KNOW that things are not working smoothly but have no ability to make the changes. The wagon puller is focused on meeting current goals and there is little time to stop and chat.

The round wheels already exist. In most organizations, the exemplary performers are already doing things differently and their sharing of best practices would be beneficial, if only we had the chance to stop, step back from the wagon, and discuss issues and opportunities.

I successful entrepreneurial businesses, you can see that the good idea(s) are shared with the people and that there is an engaged and involved workforce working to make those ideas a reality. This is the essence of entrepreneurial leadership, IMHO. It is really hard to go it alone, even when your idea is “most fabulous.” You need others to share the vision (and perspective) and to have a sense of ownership and involvement to generate the motivation and peer support to succeed.

Last key point: Nobody ever washes a rental car.

Without a sense of ownership involvement, it is not likely that people will be motivated, and thus the many issues around implementation and rollout of those good ideas will be roadblocks instead of challenges.

The Round Wheels of Today, are the Square Wheels of Tomorrow.

There will always be opportunities for people to implement and sell better ways of getting things done and improving performance. It is really about wheels and about people…

so, “Don’t Just DO Something, Stand There!”

Step back from your wagon, scan the issues, and look for things that could be done differently. Then, involve and engage others in discussions about how to do things differently and how to implement these ideas.

See more on this at and see toolkits of illustrations at

For the FUN of It!

Scott Debrief

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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