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

Tag: Daniel Kahneman

Square Wheels go Thump. Round Wheels already exist.

Some recent conversations convinced me to do one more post about the basic theme  of Square Wheels and how the whole situation can be improved. It is not rocket science and the solutions are pretty straightforward. This seems to be a common reality:

Square Wheels One How Things Work ©

Things thumping and bumping. Nobody talking. Leader looking ahead from an isolated position. Pushers cannot see what is happening nor where the are going. Lots of issues including one of trust.

Square wheels image Trust Bubble Front

And my simple solution would look something like this:

Square Wheels One - Things I need to do more celebrate 100

It is not really rocket science as it is truly amazing how many wagon pushers immediately understand how this would look in the workplace and what their managers could choose to do differently.

Square Wheels images of how things work

Can I make this any more simple? Can you think of why direct communications, involvement and engagement would not work?

We sell these simple tools for involvement, innovation, change and invite you to look at our products:

Square Wheels are simply great tools

For the FUN of It!

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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 Poems and Quips on Workplace Improvement is here.

Square Wheels – NOT some simple model of organizational performance

An interesting telephone conversation this morning got me thinking that it might be a good thing to add some reality to my stupidly simple but effective model of

How Organizations Really Work

Many people have experienced a presentation using my Square Wheels One illustration, either something I have delivered or something from one of the purchasing users of my toolkits. The main anchor point is this illustration:

Square Wheels One image

What we suggest is that the presenter show the illustration and then allow people to play on a worksheet that asks them for their ideas on how the illustration might represent how things work in most organizations. We use “most” to keep it arms-length, but many people will use the drawing as an inkblot test and project their ideas about it onto the worksheet. We allow individuals about a minute of “silent refection” prior to working and sharing their ideas with others at a table for 5 to 6 people.

It all seems really simple. But using it over the years, I will admit to being shocked and amazed at how well this works as a projective instrument to help diagnose organizational issues. The very nature of the group interaction also lets other people frame and reframe ideas until the collective work is nothing short of amazing.

What we generally suggest is to allow the tabletops to select on relevant Square Wheel and then work on generating 3 round wheel potential solutions for consideration, with the idea that we will force some additional considered alternatives rather than the first thing that comes to mind. Those ideas can then serve as the basis for a strategy for implementation.

How surprising are the ideas generated? Well, I actually collected about 300 different ideas about the above illustration before it became impossible to sort the list; my guess is that I have heard 500 or so different thoughts on the cartoon. Some of them include:

  •  We’ve always done it this way
  •  Determined to use the old ways
  •  Organizations don’t think
  •  Solutions are in the wagon, already
  •  The solutions are available but not being used
  •  Old processes and information
  •  No trust in the people behind you
  •  No trust in the team
  •  Lonely at the front
  •  One person sets the direction
  •  One person has the vision
  •  Leadership is deaf
  •  Leaders see only what’s ahead
  •  There is no idea of where they are going or where they have been
  •  Support people are blind
  •  All of them are blind to the possibilities
  •  They can’t see the forest for the trees
  •  Round wheels belong to someone else
  •  We don’t use the tools that we sell
  •  Changing directions is very difficult
  •  We need to se the problem to find the solution
  •  Traditions die hard
  •  Inefficiencies are everywhere
  •  Need to change our paradigms
  •  People aren’t resisting change, they aren’t aware of possibilities
  •  People are choosing to be unaware of possibilities
  •  People work hard, not smart
  •  No mechanism for steering or changing direction
  •  Continuous improvement is possible
  •  Some work is just not much fun
  •  Don’t just do something, stand there
  •  We need to step back from the wagon to discover possibilities for improvement
  •  Resources are always available
  •  No vision of what is ahead from the back
  •  No use of resources
  •  Poor planning for resource utilization
  •  Lack of commitment to make real progress
  •  The rope is loosely tied, management may choke itself
  •  The answer is in front of us, we just can’t see it
  •  If only we mirrored our reality occasionally
  •  People need to step back every so often to look around
  •  Push, or get left behind
  •  Working together can get it done
  •  Jobs are designed harder than they need to be
  •  Human capital isn’t valued
  •  We like to overpower rather than reduce obstacles to get things done
  •  Not all technology works for you
  •  Not all the ideas are usable immediately
  •  Progress isn’t simply about working harder
  •  Tried and true still works — the Square Wheels still work
  •  Internal resources for improvement are always available
  •  Leaders get isolated from the realities of the wagon and the journey
  •  Workers have no vision of the goal
  •  People are too busy pushing and pulling to get a vision of the goal
  •  People are too busy pushing and pulling to make improvements
  •  Square Wheels are the status quo; difficult to change on the fly
  •  The team will probably meet its goals for productivity and cost
  •  Communications are always difficult when people are busy
  •  The manager may be too close to the work to see the possibilities
  •  The wagon is hard to start and easy to stop
  •  Stop. Think!
  •  People make things work no matter what
  •  Too busy with the work to focus on what will work
  •  A few people are doing all the work and others are going through the motions

The above bullets represent less than 2 of the 8 pages of thoughts and ideas that I have captured while showing the illustration. You can see from the above that there is a great diversity in viewpoint over something as simple as a line drawing. When you consider the complexity of the actual workplace, there are no simple views that are most correct.

And there have been a bunch of great one-liners, jokes and quips from session participants, including:

• Those who do have no clue, and those who lead can miss the need.

• If it didn’t go thump, thump, how would we know we’re making any progress

• We’re not like that! We push our wagon uphill!

• You should have seen what we did Last Year!

• The Pushers may have a wheely bad attitude

• Triangular wheels would be an improvement:
– You know, “One Less Bump per Revolution!”

• The Square Wheels may have been invented by a woman…
– but the men are stupid enough to push it that way!

The illustration is a wonderfully simple and unexpectedly powerful tool to generate involvement and engagement in identifying workplace issues and opportunities. The recent book, Thinking, Fast and Slow by Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman attests to the need to anchor thinking and allow for group participation to generate the optimal understanding of opportunities. I reframed one of his key concepts thusly:

Square Wheels image of Daniel Kahneman


Our perceptions can be extremely limited, especially when one considers John Le Carre’s quote about a desk being a dangerous place from which to view the world. What we really need to do is actively work to involve and engage people in discussions about what things in the workplace need improvement. That engagement works wonders when some of those ideas can be implemented, as they usually can.

I have written extensively on the statistics and benefits of improving the active involvement of people. My blog is full of different articles around un-engaged and unmotivated people and ideas for making improvements. There are even articles on the issues and realities of sabotage that the actively dis-engaged people may take.

If you would like to read more about the Square Wheels tools for actively involving people and facilitating workplace improvement, click on the link below.

Square Wheels are simply great tools

For the FUN of It!

square wheels author

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 Poems and Quips on Workplace Improvement is here.


Snobbery and the Perception of Competence – Thinking about Thinking

It’s not too often that I go off-tangent but I really liked this article by Alex Mayyasi at and the research it offered on how we evaluate things. I would be sure that a lot of it will apply to how we evaluate ideas for innovation and impact a lot of executive decision making. To that, I will ask my readers to comment and embellish.

The research discussed was found in two threads, the inability of people to evaluate wine and the lack of correlation in results between price and taste — as Mayyasi says,

“…Priceonomics had recently posted an article investigating The Price of Wine, part of which reviewed research that cast doubt on both consumers’ and wine experts’ ability to distinguish between quality wine and table wine or identify different wines and their flavors. It seemed a slippery slope to the conclusion that wine culture is nothing more than actors performing a snobbish play.”

So, he started looking at the research on how people evaluate classical music and whether the same kind of results might be found.

Chia-Jung Tsay was an extremely talented young pianist. But she is now a psychologist and an Assistant Professor in Management Science and Innovation at University College London, so she set up an experiment to examine the role of visual cues in judging musical performances.


The article and the research are about decision-making and how people judge “performances” of all kinds. It is not simple.

In a famous experiment, participants viewed 30 second silent video clips of a college professor teaching a class and asked them to rate the effectiveness of the professor. When these ratings were compared to the end of semester ratings of real students, participants had done astoundingly well at rating the professor off an initial impression – there was an extremely strong correlation of 0.76.

Participants were just as effective when watching 6-second video clips and when comparing their ratings to ratings of teacher effectiveness as measured by actual student test performance. SIX SECONDS!!

The power of intuitive first impressions has been demonstrated in many other contexts. One study found that people predicted the outcome of political elections remarkably well based on silent 10 second video clips of debates – significantly outperforming political pundits and predictions made based on economic indicators.

Mayyasi also cites a real world case where a number of art experts successfully identified a 6th century Greek statue as a fraud, even though the statue had survived a 14 month investigation by a respected museum that included the probings of a geologist/ The experts instantly recognized something was off but they just couldn’t explain how they knew.

But this is also to say that these impressions can also be WRONG, such as in the experiments cited by Daniel Kahneman in his book, Thinking, Fast and Slow. (You can see my thoughts on it here. You can find Lucy Freedman’s thoughts on thinking here.)

Square Wheels image of Daniel Kahneman

Cases like this represent the thinking behind the idea of the “adaptive unconscious,” a concept made famous by journalist Malcolm Gladwell in his book Blink. The basic idea is that we constantly, quickly, and unconsciously do the equivalent of judging a book by its cover. After all, a cover provides a lot of relevant information in a world in which we don’t have time to read every page. Watch how people select books to read from the New Release shelf at your public library!

I find this stuff really interesting. Hope you do, too.

Your comments and thoughts about how these themes might affect engagement and involvement and teamwork in your organization would be most interesting.

For the FUN of It!

scott tiny casual

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 Poems and Quips on Workplace Improvement is here.

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Thoughts on thinking about decision-making

Decision-making and motivation, two related but pretty complex issues. If you read some blogs, you might think that there is some silver bullet to get a grip on these thing. But in my thinking,

It is Dangerous to Know The Answer.

Dangerous only because once you think you know, then you will stop looking… (You can see a lot more about this paradox in my article on managing and leading change, along with a joke and a surprising set of punchlines. Click here to see that article on change and thinking.

And sometimes, it is simply hard-headeness and stubbornness that gets in the way of making better decisions about things. We select ideas from “considered options” and if we already know the answer to something, we are not often willing to spend the time and energy looking for alternatives.

A blog I read recently said,

Over fifty years of scientific research has revealed that there are three distinct styles of decision-making. Each of us can make decisions in all three ways, but we tend to develop a preference for one more than the other two. This preference becomes a subconscious force, affecting the decisions we make on a daily basis and shaping how we perceive the world around us and ourselves. The three decisional styles are personal, practical, and analytical.

Well, that sure seems like a simple answer. Gee, only three styles… And there may be some truth in that. (You can find the blog post here.)

My experience lends me to believe that things are a bit more complicated than that. In a LinkedIn thread on this subject, I responded with this:

There are a variety of patterns of decision-making and I will take a position that no one assessment would possibly cover them all, but that it might give some clues as to patterns and preferences.

From the NLP literature, there are different “convincer systems” that operate to confirm a decision prior to action. I am a kinesthetic decision maker — I gotta feel that it is right “in my gut” before doing things. But I am also an auditory processor of information, so that my self-talk about it is good.

We all have different sorting styles for dealing with information, which is another thing I like from the NLP literature. I prefer fast, big-chunk, random possibilities sorting, which others would prefer to sort things in a slower, smaller unit, sequential way looking for outcomes. (There are 7 other patterns that are used, like sorting for I, You or Us, for example.)

From the old Kepner-Tregoe literature, there is a flow chart for decision making. (It is now called something else) but there is a logical and “scientific” framework for dealing with information.

From the work of Ned Herrmann is the HBDI tool, which gets into how individuals and teams think.

You have the Six Thinking Hats of Ed DeBono, which is really easy to teach and to do and which generates a variety of different teams.

LD Thumbs Up teamwork poem

Some organizations, like the Nuclear Power Institute, teach their teams to always appoint someone who functions as Devil’s Advocate, whose role is to ALWAYS challenge every decision from different viewpoints and positions, to insure that people have thought about it from all sides.

Gene Calvert wrote a book called High Wire Management years ago that looked at decision-making from a risk management viewpoint, and how most really successful managers look at and deal with risk (with some surprising findings, actually).

It is a rich literature about how individuals and teams make decisions, one that will insure that you will want to use a team process for so many complex decisions about things. And that is just the decision-making side of all this.

The “motivational” side of things gets even wilder. I have a doctorate degree in that kind of stuff but will basically say that if anyone give you, “The Answer” to all this, run yelling…

Dan Pink’s stuff is pretty good. You can see a great video, one that animates the key points and is 10 minutes long, by clicking here.

Daniel Kahneman’s book Thinking, Fast and Slow, is absolutely the best thing I have read in a long time. I will be writing a lot more about his work and how it impacts performance in other blogs – I exchanged my library copy and purchased one for myself.

Lastly, don’t get confused. Just understand that you don’t know how all this really works and that you don’t need to. Work to involve and engage other people, give the process some time, and realize that you do not need to be either a Hero or a Victim in all this!

SWs One - things you will see border

Yeah, there are a LOT of models out there and they all serve different purposes. As that statistician George Box (who was repeatedly quoted by Deming) said,

All models are wrong.
Some models are useful.

And I like the Kahneman model, which I adapted as follows about “What I see is all there is.”

SWs One - Things I need to do more celebrate 100

I think any framework can be useful as a way of understanding the things that operate around us. I will just repeat myself and say that when it comes to people and brain functioning, it gets a bit more complex…

Thinking Hats green

We’re made up of a lot of different individuals and there will soon be FIVE different generations of workers in the workplace, as I write about in this post. You can rest assured that decision-making and motivation will continue to increase in complexity.

What I see is a continuing need in the workplace is for simulations like The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine and the different Square Wheels games like Collaboration Journey, tools that get people into a decision-making mode and where teamwork and interactions lead to opportunities to discuss decisions and thinking and collaboration and all those things that are necessary for top performance.

Find out more about our simple Square Wheels Facilitation Toolkit at this link:

SWs Facilitation Guide $50

People perform better when they are aligned to shared goals and common visions and where they have some trust in each other. Our programs are designed as tools for that kind of team improvement process,

For the FUN of It!

square wheels author

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 Poems and Quips on Workplace Improvement is here.


Kernels of Wisdom — by Lucy Freedman

Sometimes the most profound lessons come in small packages. A quotation that gets only a ho-hum response at one point in time may pierce to the heart at the moment you need to hear it.

(Editor’s note: Lucy Freedman is an old pal of mine from so long ago that it is hard to remember (but she is much younger than me!). We connect every so often and I always respect what she has to say.  The content below is from her new email newsletter and I thought to republish it here. Hope you like it.)

Much of what we teach in SYNTAX (her training company) can seem obvious–once you know it. We deal in the currency of everyday life, how we communicate and behave.  Every moment has potential for an aha, which sometimes can make a difference for the rest of our lives.

Here are some thoughts that remind me to pay attention, to go deeper, or get back on track. I hope you enjoy them and perhaps take a moment to reflect on how you are taking these into account in the way you communicate.

The first one comes from a little book called One Hand Haiku by Avi Bob Markman:

“What I understand is not what you understand. Understand?”

It’s so simple and so much of the basis for our continuing efforts to find mutual understanding.

Another kernel of wisdom that has served me well came from Ramona DiDomenico of Lake Tahoe.  When I ask someone whether they want to do something, and they dance around it, I remember her saying,

“If it’s not a yes, it’s a no.”

I can often acknowledge it and let them off the hook. This doesn’t apply in every single situation, and when it does, it really helps. Many people aren’t good at saying no so you can help them by voicing it. Also you are then free to move on and get what you need another way.

A longtime favorite at (Lucy’s company) SYNTAX  acknowledges our human limitations and reminds us to document what we were thinking:

“It seemed obvious at the time.”

I can be a lot more forgiving when I remember that whatever decision people may have made, it must have seemed obvious at the time.  Nothing is obvious the same way later on. So we write it down.  Or inquire into the thinking that made this the obvious choice.

I was having trouble deciding between the next two kernels of wisdom so I am including both. They support each other.

One is the totally obvious truth that we forget over and over again. I thank Daniel Kahneman for emphasizing this in his book, Thinking, Fast and Slow. He calls it

“What You See Is All There Is.” (WYSIATI)

We can benefit from reminding ourselves that if we don’t know, we don’t know that we don’t know. The most important behavioral choice that comes from this piece of wisdom is to listen with as open a mind as possible. Most of us listen by relating what we hear to what we already know. Seek what lies beyond!

Last kernel of wisdom for today, from SYNTAX lore, that opens doors with all kinds of people. Especially since what they see is all there is,

“Meet people where they are.”

It’s so easy to fall into expecting people to come to where we are. After all, it makes so much sense. Well, turn your attention to what makes sense for the other person, from their point of view. Meet them there. Practicing this will provide all the personal growth you will need for a while!

  • Do you already know and use these kernels of wisdom in how you communicate?
  • Any new insight here?
  • What other reminders help you succeed every day as a communicator?

Lucy Freedman


Lucy would love to find out what helps keep you conscious and on track. Let us know your thoughts. You can email her by clicking on this text or at



scott tiny casual

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 Poems and Quips on Workplace Improvement is here.


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