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

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Keeping It Stupidly Simple – Thoughts on Teams and Teamwork

In a recent LinkedIn thread on leadership, Bob Whipple posted up a short note on “4 Essential Elements for a High Performing Team.” Bob said:

There are four common denominators of high performing teams. When these elements are present, teams are almost guaranteed to be efficient and rewarding for the members. The elements are:

1. A common goal – so all members pull in the same direction
2. Trust – so members are not playing games with each other
3. Good leadership – so that the team is fully engaged
4. A Good Charter – so the consequences of social loafing are spelled out in advance

In my experience, most groups understand the need for the first three (although only a small percentage actually have all three), but the fourth element is often not in place. It is critical to have a Team Charter that spells out expectations and that all members agree on the consequences if a member does not pull his or her fair share of the load.

Pretty Darn Simple and to the point. The Rule of 80/20 and Occam’s Razor both focus on keeping things simple.

My post was actually the first one and very much supportive of Bob’s thinking, where I shared thoughts about how easy it is to form a team:

A lot is made about personal styles for personality or decision-making or astrological signs but the four bullets above will generate pretty solid teamwork. Sure, one can nuance things and add factors and frameworks, models and surveys and all sorts of other things that CAN be helpful.

But how many teams never get started because they have not been through the training programs or certified to be team leaders or (even) team members, as if HR is running the show? I mean, really?

Put a bunch of kids on a baseball diamond with a ball and a bat — heck, some of them might even have gloves — and they will start working together as a team. They may even FEEL like a team. They know the rules of play, share a goal, trust each other (more or less) to do their jobs of fielding and batting and come together a little better if one person serves as captain.

This team stuff ain’t rocket science, but so many sure try to make it an expensive and time-consuming proposition. Sure, we can make teams work better but let’s face it: with the incredible sorry state of engagement we see in today’s workplace, with 85% of employees saying their morale declines significantly after spending six months on the job (Source: Sirota Survey Intelligence March 2007), don’t you think that a little teamwork might help things just a little?

And ANY performance improvement is worth the cost of involving and engaging people in a shared mission with clear expectations and necessary resources.

Ben Simonton, who says a lot of really smart simple things, added:

But how does one do it like create trust or what are the actions that constitute good leadership?

The answer is simple – listen to what employees want and respond to their wants to their satisfaction or better even if it means telling them why they cannot have what they want. Only in this way can we make the corporate culture align to the values of employees.

But, as expected, the consultant gang among us starts posting up about all sorts of additional requirements for success including things like training in Emotional Intelligence (which should take a few weeks)

But what happens over time is that we begin, as they say in the South, “to pick fly shit out of the pepper.” The conversations begin to focus on narrow and even more narrower points, make the discussion overly complicated, add model after model after theory and personal experience to the discussion and muddy the water.

I tend to view things through a pretty simple lens and to me, a lot of potential organizational improvement and team building situations basically look something like this:

SWs LEGO Boss Gang with Skis and RWs 2 90

Am I that wrong about this view? Aren’t most leaders somewhat isolated and don’t most people have ideas that would make for workplace improvement?

Do we HAVE to make things complicated with models designed through rigorous testing by the best academic researchers in the world and published by HBR and the academic press in books we will never read before we simply ACT?

Give them a ball and let them go play!

For the FUN of It!

Dr. Scott Simmerman, Surprised 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 are a trademark of Performance Management Company
LEGO® is a trademark of the The LEGO Group

Reflection and Innovation: Don’t Just DO Something, Stand There

This statement,

Don’t Just DO Something,
Stand There!

describes the action that we have been teaching as a basic tool of innovation and change since the early 90s. Only by looking at a situation from a dissociated perspective can one even possibly see that new ideas might exist.

Too often, we are so busy pushing and pulling the wagon, just like we have always pushed and pulled, that we seldom have the opportunity to step back and look at things from a displaced perspective. Once we do, we can often see that things are rolling on Square Wheels while the cargo of the wagon — round rubber tires — represent ideas for improvement.

A Square Wheels image from the tools of Dr. Scott Simmerman

Consider taking things apart to look for new ideas

The act of dis-assembly can identify issues as well as build teams. And new ideas will spring from that effort, along with improved teamwork.

Very often, people who perform better than others — the exemplary performers of any organization — will already be doing things differently than the others and can add those ideas to the mix. The round wheels in so many situations are already identified and tested and implemented and refined.

One of the series of Square Wheels images of Dr. Scott Simmerman

The more they play, the better it gets

(Note that the majority of the people, and especially the poor performers, just keep on keeping on and doing what they have always done and their Square Wheels remain in place. They need to get involved with new ideas.)

Innovations can occur quite naturally. Some of us are nearly always looking for ways to do things differently so that it is easier. Tom Gilbert expanded on a framework of “laziness” back in the late 70s in his book, Human Competence. I have always liked that concept: Because we are naturally lazy, we will always be looking for the easiest and most efficient way to do things.

Why not look for the downhill route instead of pushing and pulling the wagon uphill (and sometimes through the mud)?

By involving and engaging people in the identification of the things not working smoothly and through the sharing of best practices and round wheels, we do a better job of engaging and involving the workforce. Engagement is a key to motivation and sustaining high performance. Or, putting the Round Wheels to use!

People like to play with ideas and do things differently, if they feel that the team is behind them and the risk is low. It has all kinds of positive impacts and ramifications for continuous continuous workplace improvement.

LEGO Celebration of Changes Team

If you like this post, give us a like or a tweet or make a comment. Your reactions are always appreciated,

For the FUN of It!

Scott Simmerman, creator of the Square Wheels images and toolsDr. 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.

What is Performance Management Company

What is PMC – who are we?

Founded in 1984, PMC is dedicated to collaborating with an international network of trainers and consultants to help create applications to impact engagement, teamwork and organizational performance.

Performance Management Company was founded in 1984 by Scott Simmerman, Ph.D., who is Managing Partner. Back in the old days, performance management referred to “behavioral engineering” kinds of applications, focusing on alignment, feedback and contingent reward systems to generate peak performance for individuals and organizations. That is our heritage, continually looking for what we can choose to do differently to improve performance, generally through increased employee engagement and intrinsic motivation.

Through the years, the company’s base has evolved from consulting to creating and selling products supporting management and organizational development. Sales are worldwide, to organizations and individuals looking for simple tools.

PMC is dedicated to collaborating with a network of trainers and consultants to help create new ideas and applications for products. I continually try to do more than the customers expect, which comes from my 20 years of working on service quality improvement.

The more formal bio says something like this:

Combining work experience in business consulting and retail management with a doctoral degree in psychology and university teaching from the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, Scott initially created Performance Management as an organizational consulting business. However, the focus of the business changed to designing and selling resources because of a single cartoon called simply, “Square Wheels One.”

From that, Scott created the interactive Square Wheels® illustration series consisting of over 300 cartoons now packaged in different Square Wheels® toolkits, available as complete training packages. Also developed were two different Square Wheels – based team exercises.

Square Wheels One copyrighted V1 small

One of Scott’s premises is that if people enjoy a learning experience they will more readily retain key points.

The fun, fast-paced, “The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine” game was created with this belief in mind. Serious learning points such as collaboration, communication and quality are all entwined with participants having a good time while playing this team building game. It has, hence, become one of the leading team building exercises in the world.

Our materials can be readily reviewed at the Performance Management Company website. My older site — — has a lot of articles and other supporting information, but it is also a bit dated and not maintained. And, in addition to this blog, I also added the “Poems on The Workplace” blog where I am approaching 200 different poems, quips, business quotes, haiku and all sorts of other simple things about people and performance, illustrated with cartoons and other images. Check it out!

Scott and Joan Simmerman operate PMC as a home-based business since the late 1990s, keeping our costs low and work environment conducive to high quality and responsiveness. All products sold and presentations come with a satisfaction guarantee or monies are returned. PMC works enthusiastically with purchasers of its products to help support their success and satisfaction. And, we get great testimonials from users as well as clients:

Speculand LDGM Testimonial


Client Testimonial on Dutchman team building game

Users of PMC products include a global mix of Fortune 100 companies and multi-national organizations as well as small businesses, schools, universities and independent consultants.

Total PMC Client Logo Compendium

Scott is only occasionally available to do speaking engagements and facilitations these days, but people remember his presentations because they are unique, interactive and engaging. This adds up to his consistently being a top-ranked and internationally recognized presenter. His topics include themes of Change, Team Building, Motivation, Productivity, Innovation and Communications, all within a general framework of leadership. Visit his presentation website at

Since Scott began sharing Square Wheels and his other products, he’s delivered workshops, retreats and seminars in India, South Africa, Egypt, England, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Macau, The Philippines, Saudi Arabia, The Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Belgium, Mexico, Canada, Mauritius, New Zealand, Dubai, Japan, South Korea and all around the U.S — 38 countries in all thus far.

For the FUN of It!

Dr. Scott SimmermanDr. 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:

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Leading People by Involving and Engaging – some resources

Motivating, aligning and engaging people are critical tasks of managing, but also something that seems to need consistent attention from leaders at every level of the organization.

In my 30+ years of working with people and performance, an Engaging Leader is one who facilitates and sustains an inclusive and supportive workplace for those who they lead, so that people become increasingly active participants in organizational and performance improvement. They take an incremental, long term view and look for a better future for the workgroup and the individuals.

How does a leader better involve and engage people? In my view of the world, they increase the shared vision of the future. It looks something like this:

The View from The Front is different than the View at the Back. And people DO have ideas for workplace improvement that can be implemented with teamwork.

The View from The Front is different than the View at the Back. And people DO have ideas for workplace improvement that can be implemented with teamwork.

You do not need to be a professional facilitator to involve and engage your people in workplace improvement. One just needs to get them working with you to identify issues and opportunities; generally, they will be self-motivated to make things better. And, you can build their intrinsic motivation and increase their creativity by helping them move forward. You can help them to implement their ideas and we have the tools, small packages of self-directed communications bundles that are simple as well as inexpensive.

We Sell Simple Tools for Engaging Employees

You will find that these easy-to-use, engaging tools are designed for leaders to facilitate communications, motivation, collaboration, innovation and teamwork. Examples of these toolkits are:

Square Wheels Facilitation Toolkit
A powerfully simple tool to get people engaged in the journey forward. This basic program is for anyone wanting to facilitate workplace improvement
and involve and engage people to impact intrinsic motivation.

The Square Wheels Coaching for Improved Performance Toolkit
Coaching is about involving and engaging and changing the picture of how things can be. One needs to develop a sense of ownership and deal with issues of perceived roadblocks to generate alternative choices.

Manager as Motivator – A Square Wheels Toolkit
A complete program for Facilitating Employee Involvement and Implementation of Ideas. A train-the-trainer kind of bundle for trainers and more senior managers to use to teach their managers involvement and motivational skills.

Innovate & Implement
A solid learning tool. It puts as few as 3 people (but works with an unlimited number of players) in a situation where they have to work together in a challenging, time-limited game focused on collaboration and communications.

The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Goldmine Team Building Game
This is our flagship team building exercise and you can find dozens of supporting articles here in the blog that explains its very unique capabilities and applications. It has received worldwide acclamation as a Game for Team Building, Communications, Strategic Planning, Collaboration and Leadership Development that works with all kinds of organizations and groups.

Any of these along with the other products on our website are proven tools for reaching out to and engaging employees in the process of continuous, continuous improvement.

Here are some of my Blog Articles around the Idea of Engaged Leaders who help generate a motivated and innovative workplace.

If You Aren’t Leading and Engaging, What are You Doing?

LEGO, Square Wheels, Innovation, Leadership and Stuff

Fear is The Mindkiller – Thoughts on Facilitation and Engagement

Facilitation? Me, a Facilitator? Me, a MOTIVATOR??

Decision Making, Creativity, and Implementation

Teamwork and Square Wheels and Implementation

Can Creativity be Taught? Illustrated Thoughts

Focusing Attention on Performance Improvement through Interactive Engagement

square wheels business haiku on intrinsic motivation

If we can help you, connect with me. I am easy to reach and can offer some pretty realistic and straightforward ideas and solutions to many performance improvement and team building issues that we find in the workplaces of the world.

Square Wheels Intrinsic Motivation illustration

For the FUN of It!

Scott Simmerman, creator of the Square Wheels images and toolsDr. 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.

Leading – Some Simple Ideas on Engagement

There are thousands of books on leadership, so we seem to have the definitions and understanding of the concept anchored down pretty well.

Surveys, though, show that leadership is not good and people do not feel that they are working for such a great bunch of leaders.

Where does this unhook? Maybe around the issues of involving people in workplace improvement and engaging them in the implementation of new, improved or simply better practices to make working less punishing.

Square Wheels One Leadership words green

So, I simply offer this up as a simple framework for what I think happens, with the possibilities for change and improvement being more than a little obvious.

If you have not seen the above illustration before, take a minute and consider how this image might represent how most organizations really work. Then take a moment to consider what might be done differently.

I’ve been working around people and performance my whole working life and have had the opportunity to work for a couple of really good bosses. When the values and goals and expectations and feedback are all in alignment, it goes really well. When there is isolation and a lack of communications and what is demanded is out of alignment, then I get out of step and dis-engaged.

I have always been fortunate to be able to pick up and walk away. Not everyone seems to have that kind of opportunity. Some feel that all they can do is just continue to push and maybe have some hope that something might change. When it gets really bad, they make other choices (see this post on sabotage and engagement here).

Defense wagon yellow 70

At PMC, we sell tools to help improve teamwork and communications and to help engage and involve people in workplace improvement. They are designed to be flexible and easy to facilitate.

SWs Facilitation Guide $50

For the FUN of It!

Scott DebriefDr. 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.

Followup, Followup, Followup — The Only Way to make Improvements

Guilty of it myself, much more often than I would like.

We do some training and expect things to change.

What is wrong with this picture is that while we might impact knowledge, we do not really implement any change or improvement in results.

Gosh, I know that feedback is the critical part of performance (not reinforcement per se) and that changes in feedback are the ONLY way that anything will change for any length of time.

(You can read more on performance feedback here)

What I have been doing lately to impact the effectiveness of the play of our team building exercise that focuses on collaboration is to further develop our debriefing cartoons to include some anchored to poems and that could be used to keep people thinking about issues and opportunities and about the commitments they made to do some things differently.

Obviously, without some way to measure change and improvement, we will not have much sustainability from any training event. But, with the leadership team asking about changes and improvements and ideas, it does keep the issues and opportunities more in the forefront.,

I do NOT have a silver bullet for making all things right. But we do offer some simple, elegant tools like Lost Dutchman and Square Wheels to help organizations implement improvement.

Here are a few of the series, that is still under development. If you are a Lost Dutchman owner-user, pop me a note and I can assemble the illustrations for you and send them along,

LD boots in rain poem question

LD Grub Stake 2 poem and questions


LD Chaos Confusion poem and questions


LD Land Rush feather poem question month




I trust that you like these. Feel free to bounce back with your own poems and suggestions, and note that I have about 50 of these right now, with more to come,

For the FUN of It!

Scott LD

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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Dis-Un-Engagement – Improving Motivation and Facilitating Workplace Improvement

Solutions to performance improvement are not always obvious and apparent and selecting an optimal approach often requires careful analysis and planning. Sometimes, the solution requires training of a skill while other times, it is simply about choosing an implementation strategy that is more effective in supporting behavior change.

In the case of workplace engagement, we are spending billions of dollars annually in surveys and training that is supposed to improve the feelings of involvement on the part of employees. Yet nearly every research study shows that many organizations and many people in most every organization, are dis-engaged and uninvolved.

In a 2012 Gallup research paper, involving 1.4 million people and almost 50,000 organizations, it clearly demonstrated the impacts of an involved workplace, studying 9 different performance outcomes. Here are the results when one compares the top 25% of organizations with the bottom 25%:

  • 37% lower absenteeism
  • 25% lower turnover (in high-turnover organizations)
  • 65% lower turnover (in low-turnover organizations)
  • 28% less shrinkage
  • 48% fewer safety incidents
  • 41% fewer patient safety incidents
  • 41% fewer quality incidents (defects)
  • 10% higher customer metrics
  • 21% higher productivity
  • 22% higher profitability

Many suggest that firing and hiring is the best solution to the issue of un-engaged workers. Jim Clifton, CEO of Gallup, suggests firing the 7,000,000 managers who are toxic and are poisoning 70,000,000 workers. Others blame the workers for the problem and suggest that hiring new people is the solution. (Ironically, Sirota Research found that it takes about 8 months for new hires to regress to the average performance levels of the rest of the workers. So, it seems you have to accomplish a lot of things in a narrow window of time.)

Let me propose a somewhat different framework:

If you put a gun to their head, could people do things differently?

This is an old thinking test that is attributed to Bob Mager that I first heard of back in the late 1970s. It is at the core of the issue of whether training is required for some behavior to occur. Could managers do a better job of engaging if their life depended upon it? My thinking is clearly YES and OF COURSE. But it seems very evident, looking at statistics, that they are choosing not to do so.

So, my reframing question is a simple one:

Can Each One Reach One?

Can each supervisor reach one non-engaged person in their workforce and take some action to involve and engage them? Without waiting for extensive training done by some outside organization or Human Resources? Can every single individual supervisor simply choose to do something differently?

Won’t people in the workplace naturally coalesce around the simple theme of making things better? Don’t most people have issues they would like to correct and ideas for improvement? Don’t most people like to solve puzzles and problems?

My approach is anchored with an illustration and a process of involving and engaging people to share their thoughts and ideas.

Our first illustration (1993) looks like this:

SWs One green watermark

while our new approach uses this image:

Square Wheels One is a metaphor for performance improvement by Scott Simmerman

And the lead-in question is a really simple one:
How might this represent how most organizations really work?

Without detailing the very simple training around how to facilitate the discussion and process the ideas for identifying and prioritizing the Square Wheels or designing approaches to successfully implement the Round Wheels and celebrate the successes and impacts, the basic concept is that any supervisor can be taught the facilitation skills and frameworks to make such a discussion process easy and straightforward.

With a little bit of customization, one can easily align the most successful implementation strategies to the organization’s culture of best practices and optimal ways to introduce new ideas in the workplace.

With a little imagination, the approach can be linked to the existing feedback and measurement systems to generate sustained improvement and congruence with existing expectations and desired results.

The approach that I envision is to initially get the buy-in from senior management to use this illustration and the concept that the Round Wheels are already in the wagon to develop an online training course on facilitation skills using these illustrations.

The program can be targeted to specific desired organizational outcomes around process improvement, service quality improvement, team building, innovation, process improvement or it can simply be used to generate some clear understanding of the issues that are perceived to be un-engaging and frustrating in the workplace and to allow team-based organizational improvement.

We would customize worksheets for collection of the general ideas as well as specific ones that people would like to work to improve. Issues not solvable at the supervisor level can be collected for manager resolution or escalated to higher levels of the organization as well as across organizational boundaries.

From these discussions, it is easy and straightforward to collect Best Practices that can be shared across teams of people doing similar jobs. It works well for addressing inter-departmental issues, since the language of Square Wheels is easily understood as something that works, but that does not work smoothly and efficiently.

The conversations also set up the reality of continuous continuous improvement, since the Round Wheels of Today will inevitably and invariably become the Square Wheels of Tomorrow.

Solution: I envision that we co-develop a simple online training program that would take a supervisor about an hour to complete and one that would offer them some options for how they might use the illustration in their workplaces, with individuals for coaching or for team building problem solving and roadblock management.

Square Wheels are the protected intellectual property of Performance Management Company and we have two decades of experience in using them for a wide variety of organizational development purposes.

I do see this issue of Dis-Un-Engagement as a specific approach to dealing with the less than involved and engaged employees, a group thought to represent roughly 70% of all workers across organizations. Your best managers may have higher levels of engaged people; your worse ones have more opportunities for improvement.

We can improve workplace facilitation of ideas, generate higher levels of intrinsic motivation, and do a better job of innovating.

For the FUN of It!

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 at

Follow Scott’s posts on Pinterest:

Square Wheels® are the protected intellectual property of Performance Management Company and we have two decades of experience in using them for a wide variety of organizational development purposes. Please respect our copyrights and trademark.

Square Wheels® is a registered trademark of Performance Management Company
LEGO® is a trademark of The LEGO Group


Rewarding High Performance in The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine teambuilding game

Managers do not often deal with good performers in effective ways. Relying on extrinsic rewards is often a formula for completely missing the real underlying motivation of many high performers. Extrinsic reward systems are often problematic and cause more problems amongst the bottom 70% (who never win and are thus losers) or generate behaviors that are not congruent with missions and visions of the organization. I chat about that in a lot of my blog posts, most recently this one. There are a lot of posts on extrinsic motivation here.

The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine is a team building exercise that is a bit unusual in that it focuses on the collaboration between tabletops to optimize the measured results. It is only partly about winning — it is more about what the higher-performing teams could have done differently to support the lower performing teams to optimize overall results. The goal is, “To Mine as Much Gold as We Can” and to optimize the Expedition Leader’s return on investment. Obviously, the more ALL the teams perform, the better the overall results.

It also tends to generate a My Team, My Team, My Team kind of response in so many cultures that tend to reinforce competitiveness as a basic operational strategy — something that tends to make the words “Interdepartmental Collaboration” an oxymoron in so many companies. The reality is that more collaboration will most certainly improve organizational results, engagement, service, cost reduction, innovation, etc.

"My Team, My Team, My Team" focus can cause more competition than collaboration

A “My Team, My Team, My Team” focus can cause more competition than collaboration. The goal is to optimize organizational results, not win!

In Dutchman, teams can spend an extra day gaining information that enables them to optimize their results. One metaphor is a strategic planning one that allows them to re-allocate resources to have a better likelihood of success. The other is a Best Practice, one that enables them to move faster. It also gives them things to share with other teams – Turbochargers that double the speed of movement.

We’ve been supporting a network of consultant users and trainers since 1993 and have received most excellent feedback. As I note in another blog, we recently had the first Perfect Play that I have heard of. Some groups or triads within larger groups come close, but none got it perfect until David Simpson’s group of three teams with the retailer Coach. Now, the issue is optimizing post-game impacts and generating increased collaboration among the store managers now back at work.

Perfect Play has its own results summary powerpoint show.

Microsoft PowerPointScreenSnapz005

We first show what ONE team could do to optimize their results — it is about planning and using information and resources properly. Their path would look like this, with the 20 days numbered in the circles:

Microsoft PowerPointScreenSnapz007

They reach the Mine on Day 8, using up all their resources and returning on the last day possible, Day 20. The summary of results and resource use looks as follows and they had a surplus of $50 worth of stuff as well as two Turbochargers that they could have shared with two other teams (if they chose to). That sharing would have generated six more days of mining if all things were good.

Microsoft PowerPointScreenSnapz008

But the real Perfect Play occurs when two teams decide to collaborate with each other on the planning and then involve another group into their collective. That looks like this:

Microsoft PowerPointScreenSnapz009Instead of one team mining 9 gold, this framework allows for two teams to mine 10 and that extra team to mine ELEVEN. This has only occurred in David’s game. And it makes for a great debriefing, in that a lot of the right organizational optimization behaviors have occurred in play, the teams managed things in a relatively stress-free mode (with no fear of real failure) and it carries over very neatly into the discussions of what they could choose to do differently.

A high level of information sharing is needed. The resources are tight to generate this perfect result:

Microsoft PowerPointScreenSnapz010

And that very last part needs special mention.

Microsoft PowerPointScreenSnapz011

To get a Perfect Play, the three teams need to ask for $50 from the Expedition Leader! I mean, is that a perfect design or what?!!

From among 100 or so debriefing slides, we might emphasize these six:

Microsoft PowerPointScreenSnapz005

LD Debrief Triad 2


Our goal is to get successes among the players and among the teams, show the direct advantages of inter-team collaboration in the game, and bridge to the special advantages of inter-team collaboration back at work. The opportunities to share resources, collaborate, share best practices and help each other be successful in operations has huge leverage within the workplace as well as between departments. So, we use these kinds of handouts to generate ideas for improvement and discussions about choices we are making:

Adobe ReaderScreenSnapz001

And, my new game will focus even more attention on post-game collaboration and organizational improvement. You can see a few of the game design ideas here.

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 at

Follow Scott’s posts on Pinterest:

Team Building – Failures and Designing for Success

My friend Andrew Grant at Tirian is an Aussie and a great writer and thinker about all things team building. I just now got his newsletter and thought to repost it here. I strongly recommend that you read this and click on some of the embedded links to his other thoughts and writings.

More Better Faster Strategy

Here is what Andrew had to say:

Overcoming the IFS and BUTS of Team Building

The Australian swimming team’s performance in the London Olympics was the worst on record. This is a country where most children can swim before they can walk, and Australia is usually one of the strongest countries in this category, but this time around something went horribly wrong. A recent investigative report into the swimming team’s poor performance by Dr Pippa Grange has revealed that whilst the swimmers were all highly skilled physically, there was what has been described as a ‘toxic culture’ in the team. This led to, Dr Grange believes, ‘an increase in individualism, and in turn a diminished sense of responsibility or connectedness to the team’. Described as ‘a schoolyard clamour for attention and influence, with a ‘science’ of winning appearing to overshadow the ‘art’ of ‘leadership work”, the report has highlighted the need for strong leadership and alignment and a collective purpose.

It’s in situations such as these that developmental team building has a critically important role to play, as ironically all these soft skills can dramatically impact the bottom line outcomes. And yet there can be a great degree of cynicism and scepticism about the value and purpose of team building, and as a result it is often ignored – but at great cost.

How is it possible to design a team building session that works?
The typical response of individuals to the prospect of having to participate in a team building exercise has, by one jaded observer, been described as a ‘groaning’ response. Some feel they have ‘been-there-and-done-that’, while others are concerned about taking out valuable time from their day to do something that they feel is irrelevant (playing games). Some people reluctantly participate out of a fear of being seen to not conform, but they do so with hidden contempt. In these cases the team building program can be in danger of backfiring.

Through innovative simulations and engaging facilitation positive intervening experiences can and should be created. When professionally designed, these experiences can break down the barriers and provide unique leadership and team development opportunities and outcomes.

So how, exactly is this achieved?:
1) Check the group is 100% on board (challenge by choice)
Example: We once had a boss want to run an adventure based program, but he assumed that everyone would want to do what he did (a common mistake). He didn’t realise some people just don’t like running around chasing clues or being physically challenged. After a number of complaints the adventure idea was ditched. We ended up in an exclusive luxury resort in Japan where one of the unique cultural elements was to sleep on the floor! As this experience was so culturally different from anything else the team had been involved in, the desired goal to create a ‘unique’ experience that would challenge the team was achieved. We created a 3 day program around this event that really broke down the barriers and achieved incredible outcomes.

Solution: Taking people slightly outside their comfort zone does have benefits as it can challenge individuals to examine their behaviours, (with no hierarchy) but not to the point of discomfort where individuals feel coerced or threatened. Choose activities that all are comfortable enough with and all can participate willingly in.

2) Ensure the facilitators are skilled
Example: We recently ran a program with a skilled PhD trained facilitator from McKinsey – as she explained, facilitators at her level can spend hours just crafting a single question to ensure that the team can gain a major insight from the experience, and then adapt their behavior as a result. For the activity to have meaning there needs to be a learning outcome where some insight dawns on the participant in a way they will never forget, as it’s connected to the experience. Like a good chef, this goes way beyond simply knowing the individual ingredients to being able to design the final professional creation (a carefully blended combination). This is not the sort of experience where a university student tells a team to open the next clue, and then asks them ‘how they feel about it’.

Solution: Ensure that the facilitators for the program are qualified and experienced. Inexpensive and inexperienced facilitators might save on the day’s budget, but the real cost is wasting the participants’ time if an activity cannot be properly framed, contextualized and debriefed.

3) Ensure the program is both intelligent and relevant
Example: The danger with the ‘Amazing Race’ type exercises is that these programs tend to be linear with shallow content, and whilst fun, the time invested is often not worth the outcome. This easily leads to the ‘groaning’ /contempt effect.

Solution: Ensure the program content is intelligent and relevant: good team building should have an authentic theme to make it memorable, with intelligent and relevant facts and case studies related to the theme. As an example, one of our most popular programs which uses this strategy is ‘ON THIN ICE’. The program is a simulated expedition to Antarctica, with lots of video footage and interesting facts and information about the challenges faced by actual Antarctic expeditions. During the simulation a variety of issues related to virtual and cross cultural team challenges, leadership challenges, communication challenges and so on quickly surface. With careful questioning and framing, the real issues can be effectively and professionally dealt with. To add some inspiration, we often invite a polar expeditioner in to share first-hand stories of the challenges individuals and teams face in these high pressured situations, and the leadership skills needed to survive.

4) Focus on the key outcome rather than the activity – creating high performance collaborative teams
Example: A client once came to us asking to design a highly competitive team building program. When we enquired about the desired outcome, we were told ‘collaboration’. Even as the question was being answered, the client began to see the irony. This client was focusing on the activity rather than the outcome. Most work teams would struggle with the ambiguity of collaboration in a culture that breeds self-survival and competition. And yet the productivity of a work group often ultimately depends on how the group members see their own goals in relation to the goals of the organisation. As 4 out of 9 people struggle with successful collaboration in the workplace, this should be a key focus of any team development program.

Solution: Team building programs need to be engaging and exciting, but not at the expense of reaching what must be the key goal of any team development program – collaboration. Simply participating in a collaborative exercise will also not be enough. Anyone can collaborate when they need to and when the conditions are controlled. The experiential learning opportunity created should drive home the need for true collaboration no matter how challenging the circumstances. (Read his post on The Collaboration Deception here)

Simulation for success

In most organisations employees are required to make more complex decisions more quickly, with fewer resources and no margin for error. Becoming good at this necessitates something few people have – opportunities to practice.

Musicians, actors and athletes wouldn’t dream of performing without extensive practice. But how do business people practice? Mostly they end up making mistakes and learning by trial and error. But learning from real mistakes can get expensive – both for the company and for the people who make them. Simulations create a “virtual practice field” that allows individuals and teams to test assumptions and experiment with ideas without having to suffer financial reversals or career setbacks.

So what does effective team building do? Peter Senge says that companies need to create practice places where issues that arise in the work place can be isolated and focused on. This enables the team to see the consequences of particular actions and incidents that can occur very rapidly in the workplace, and ensure they can be examined in more detail. The complexities of the everyday working environment can be simplified and analysed. Actions and attitudes that cannot be reversed or taken back in the real world can be re-tried countless times in a protected environment. If the participants are successfully brought on board, the environment is favourable, the content intelligent, the method educational, the facilitator skilled, and the focus correct… team building experiences can be high impact and highly transformational.

As Plato has so cleverly identified, “You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than a year of conversation.”

Ensure the experience is well designed and planned, and you can ensure great success.

You can sign up for Andrew’s Great Stuff  at

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. 
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“We have met the enemy and He is US.” Pogo, Leadership and Management

Early in my career, there was a popular quote popping around attributed to Pogo, a cartoon series by the late Walt Kelly.

The quote I love was published initially as an Earth Day poster in 1970. For me, this one representation of Pogo and the thought expressed so cleanly carries over neatly to issues of organizations, motivations, and management.

Background: Pogo was the title character of a long-running American comic strip created by cartoonist Walt Kelly (1913–1973) and distributed by the Post-Hall Syndicate. Set in the Okefenokee Swamp of the southeastern United States, the strip used some anthropomorphic animal characters who shared a wide variety of satirical comments on many aspects of life.

Three years before his death, Kelly penned Pogo into a poster for Earth Day, one that apparently first used the quote that became so universally known, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”


(If you look at Pogo’s feet, you will see a variety of trash and litter…)

For Earth Day 1971, Kelly did a two-panel expansion of his theme and included another of the characters of his comic strip (Porky) walking through a trashed swamp and shown below:


There are nice write-ups on the cartoons and their evolution in a number of sources, including this webpage and this site on wikipedia.

In 1998, at a PogoFest celebration in Waycross GA, organizers produced this brass plate on a wooden plaque:

plaque 1998

This latter framework closely reflects us, individually, as the enemy. Each of us creates and maintains our own issues and problems (while having all the solutions within us at the same time). Each of us is creative and motivated and human, and we can look to find those qualities that will make us contribute even more to the world around us.

The theme is not so much about litter and Earth Day, in my opinion, as about human potential. As leaders, we should be looking to see what we can elicit and support from the skills of others. If we do not work to optimize and maximize the performance of those around us, we are the enemy in that we are not effectively engaging, involving and/or motivating our people.

Maybe one of those plaques should be on each of our walls,

For the FUN of It!

Scott Simmerman, team building facilitator

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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Please note that all images are copyrighted by various sources including a 1982 Simon and Schuster book and other locations. Simon and Schuster produced 45 Pogo books over the years.

In November of 2011, Fantagraphics Books published the first of a 12-volume hardcover series of the complete run of Kelly’s works. In no way do I want my blog to reflect any issues of copyright infringement — I just wanted to use this illustration to illustrate a critical point and I refer any and all of you with any interest in this material to contact the publishers listed.

Illusions and Management – Some thoughts about Reality

I posted up what I thought was a pretty fun blog last week, one that used illusions as the tool for communication. My initial intent on writing it was to use the illustrations as a metaphor for organizational innovation and creativity, but as I wrote, I poked a bit at management and leadership and perspectives. What bounced back were a lot of comments about the management themes that were mentioned. So, what the heck, go with the flow and all that…

Perception of how things work SWs One

In the cartoon above, which I use like an inkblot test, I can generate a lot of involvement and engagement with people seeing how their organization tends to work. Not so much that they see it that way  but more as how they perceive things to work. It’s useful, though, because it allows people to play and it gives them a language for how things work.

Okay, maybe things are different in Asia… Things there might look more like this:

Perception of how things work Asian SWs One

Square Wheels become “The things that don’t work smoothly” while round wheels become ideas for improvement and possibilities. The key is how to implement change and improvement and the workshop session stops the pushing and pulling for a period of time. Stepping back from the wagon is useful perspective, for sure. Perspective is good because it changes how we view things.

The reality is that many people in the workplace, as demonstrated by countless surveys and other research, actually see their time flowing something like this:

Reality of how things work SWs One

But I kid. Let’s move along to talk about how we think and how we see things and how our perceptions can influence our thinking. Take a look at this:

Moving hole in cube

Consider the circle

In the above, it you actually take a few moments and look at it, the circle should remain in the center of the box for a while and then move to the back surface as the image shifts from right to left. Or, it might start left to right for you. I actually have trouble keeping it in the same place the more I look at it — it shifts regardless of how I want to see it look. My brain makes it change. I think the same thing occurs when one views performance from different perspectives.

The person who takes a lot of time with customers may not complete as many transactions per hour but they may contribute more money to the organization, over time, because their average sale might be higher or they have fewer customer complaints that take up the time of others. The perception of performance will shift depending on what you look at. It gets more complicated when one considers the contribution to the development of other people or the willingness to train or innovate or help solve problems.

There are lots of examples of these shifting circumstances. And for some people, this illustration shifts around more easily to demonstrate the same effect.

reversing cubes 2

Then, we have the issue of how we perceive things in the workplace/

half full

Is that glass half full or half empty? And the answer to that may depend on whether you like to drink what is in there or not! It’s only half full of that cool, fresh water but it is half empty of that vinegary stuff the Nurse wants you to drink.

And performance can be influenced by perceptions. The Pygmalion Effect is one example. Basically, it suggests that people will perform as they are expected to perform. What you expect is what you get. Wikipedia does a nice job of detailing the early research on this but it is a commonly seen phenomenon in the workplace. If you expect someone to do well, that is what you will commonly find. Wikipedia says it this way: “The Pygmalion effect is a form of self-fulfilling prophecy and, in this respect, people will internalize their positive labels and those with positive labels succeed accordingly.”

Look at it this way:

Only 3 colors

Those of you with red-green color blindness (mostly us males — about 10% as opposed to 0.4% of females) will certainly see this differently than others. But take a look. How many colors are used to create it? (Answer embedded below.)

Observing and rating performance is often a difficult job, and that observance will spill over to how we motivate and reinforce. Some people we will invariably see as good performers and others as less so, simply because that is how we perceive them. May the heavens help us if our measurement systems do not really manage to track behavior in perfect alignment to company objectives.

So, what are those? Well, those might look like this to many observers:

parallel lines

You know, the funny thing is that all the lines are actually parallel to each other in the above. Yeah, LOOK AGAIN.

And I notice that it helps if you view the one above that as a smaller illustration, since the illusion seems to disappear. Funny how that works, eh? And it is caused by perceptions and how we look at things.

Only 3 colors

Yeah, there are only three colors in the X above. Your brain does crazy things, right? So who is your top performer? Who is the most engaged and involved in generating ideas for workplace improvement? Who is more motivated? Who gives the best customer service? Who has the most leadership skills and should be sent to a training program? Might be the same person as one of the people below? Which one of these is obviously bigger than the others.


Well, they are all actually just the same, and I would love to do this so that the “little one” is actually bigger than the biggest one — that would make it funner! It is the context of the positioning of the figures in the environment that gives the appearance of them being different. This same kind of illusion can appear everywhere in the workplace and it does get almost impossible to measure or observe everything that you want.

Some people are quite good at doing the design work to make things appear as they do. For example, we have:

Street hole tower

I mean, really? Or fabulous street art below:

Painted Wine Optical Illusion

These artists weave their illusions into their art intentionally to make amazingly spectacular art. These things look real. Yet some things, although they seem real enough, just aren’t going to happen. I think maybe a lot of people think that their organizations work something like this:


It all looks good until you try to actually build one. Or you can be challenged to simply count the squares…


(I can count 35 squares in this — there might be more)

Somehow, I had to simply work the following one in, not because it says that much about people and performance but just because the illusion seems to work so well. Not much square about this one, I guess… Do read the text at the bottom of the black border, though.


I will admit that it took me a long time to get that one…

Back to work!

Yep, there are a lot of issues of perception in the workplace and in the forest around us. We have to pay attention to performance results and we need to measure the right things and have solid performance feedback systems in place to make things operate smoothly.

I hope you liked the basic ideas included within as to how what we think and how we think about things does influence what we see.

If you want to see my thinking about performance results, consider looking at my Feedback Analysis Checklist. You can find it here: Analysis of Feedback

Square Wheels are an excellent metaphor for how things work in most organizations because they get people thinking about and talking about the things that do not work smoothly, with the understanding that people are better problem solvers than problem identifiers and that the ideas for improvement already exist. The metaphor also allows people to focus on the things that don’t work smoothly and the reality that we need to address systems and processes a lot more than people and performance.

We sell a variety of simple toolkits, complete with worksheets at

Things that get in the way are a lot more demotivating over time than most people realize. When things do not get addressed, people become de-moralized, dis-engaged and un-empowered.

The Square Wheels are Everywhere
and the Round Wheels are already in the wagon,


2 For the FUN of It!     Round Wheel for CJ gamesRound Wheel for CJ gamesRound Wheel for CJ games

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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A Haiku poem on Management and Improvement

A Haiku poem on Management and Improvement

I continue to play around with the cartoons and the themes of innovation and improvement in the workplace, intrinsic motivation and engagement.

In this case, we can become so busy doing things that we will often fail to see obvious ideas for improvement.

Some interesting points to ponder about CEO performance

Okay, let’s start with a simple question:

You are in a race and you overtake the second person.
What position are you in?

Well, if you overtake the second person, then you would be in second, right? Not so hard. So, if you are in that same race and you overtake the last person, what place are you now in? Well, the reality is that you cannot overtake the last person since you would be that last person when you would have overtaken them. How can you overtake yourself?? …

Okay. This kind of thinking will now help us understand some of the issues around CEO performance as summarized in a post called, “The Morning Briefing: CEO Lifestyles” by Charlie Osborne on the site. I thought that the points were interesting.

1.) Lavish CEO pay doesn’t work as intended.
 The arms race in CEO pay doesn’t help performance or retention, according to a new study.

2.) Bosses feel less stress than underlings.
 It’s good to be the king. In news that will shock no one who’s ever had a boss, a new study finds that leaders are far less stressed than their minions.

3.) Doing the math on CEO pay.
These days, there’s ample outrage about continuously skyrocketing levels of CEO pay. Lately, though, corporate managements and boards as well as CEO pay apologists have started angling to persuade us that CEO pay isn’t that badly out of whack.

4.) How much do bad bosses cost American businesses?
According to a new movement, three out of every four people report that their boss is the most stressful part of their job. Bad bosses are bad for employees, bad for business and bad for our communities.

Each of the above is linked to a source and the overall picture is that we need to look carefully at leadership style and performance at all levels of all of our organizations. I thought that this was interesting and that last link takes you to a page on positive psychology.

Michelle McQuaid is taking on workplace bullying, one boss at a time. She says improving leadership behavior will save our economy $360 billion in lost productivity each year. For harassed employees, it’s also likely to save their health and family relationships, which are all too often strained by this increasingly bad situation.

You can read that stuff yourself. Interesting and thought provoking. Me, I focus more on the organizational structural stuff and the behaviors of people in teams and between teams.

I have said many times that, “A desk is a dangerous place from which to view the world” and that, “Boss spelled backwards is self-explanatory.”

I do NOT think we can change much in the upward direction.

But I also DO think that we can improve workplace performance and morale by solving more of the Square Wheels issues and problems that exist. Taking on bad management is a whole ‘nother animal, altogether.

In times of rapid change with demands for continuous continuous improvement in productivity and innovation, learners are the ones who have the opportunities to grow and change. These people often find themselves thumping and bumping along in systems and processes that used to work just fine. But they are now working in a world that no longer rewards past successes. Those that ask are those that succeed. Continuous continuous improvement is the requirement for organizational and personal change.

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

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Metaphors, Business Impacts and Behavioral Anchors

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

He starts it off:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


Caterpillars can fly, if they just lighten up.

Have FUN out there!


For the FUN of It!

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

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

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

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


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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