I recently attended a training seminar in which the instructor provided the following exercise. (Of course it worked better in a face to face setting, but since I was suitably impressed with it, I thought I would share it will all of you as well – hopefully it will translate into text!)
The facilitator began by instructing all the participants to turn to their neighbor and face them. He then said -“Okay, now have a thumb war and keep track of how many ‘pins’ each person gets…you have 60 seconds.” Of course, all of you have been to these training seminars before, so there was a lot of sheepish laughter and a few rolling eyes, but pretty soon the small room echoed with overlapping calls of “One, two, three, four, I declare a thumb war!” Quickly the room was filled with laughter as everyone remembered how much FUN it was to try and pin someone’s thumb. I am sure you have done this before – or at the very least, you have seen someone have a thumb war before – so you can just picture the various contortions that everyone was putting themselves in just to gain a hint of advantage.
All too soon, the facilitator called a stop to the fun and asked, “Okay, let’s hear how many pins everyone had.” Once again, the responses started off as low mumbles….3 to 1…5 to 2…mumbles also soon gave way to laughter as the scores were tallied…8-0…15-1…no kidding…15 pins in 60 seconds. Wow! (Maybe we have a professional (thumb) wrestler on our hands…pun somewhat intended!) We thought we were done, but the facilitator had another trick up his sleeve. “Okay, now I want you to do this exercise again, but this time, I will pay you $10 dollars for every pin that you get.” Wow! you should have seen everyone’s eyes get bigger. The anticipation was palpable and manifested itself through people moving forward in their seats, licking their lips and just getting downright ready for some serious pins.
But wait. “Before you all start,” the facilitator interrupted, “I want to show you something.” He called up one of the participants to the front of the room and said, “Okay, let’s get ready for a thumb war.” They clasped fingers…with their thumbs sticking straight up…and then he said, “Let’s rotate our hands a quarter turn toward so that everyone out there can see our hands.” “Okay,” he said, “start the stopwatch…and….go.” Now the head fake (thanks Randy Pausch), the facilitator put his thumb down immediately and said, “Pin me….now let me pin you….now let’s speed it up.” By the time the stopwatch hit sixty seconds, we lost track of the number of ‘pins’ that each person recorded because they were moving so fast working together.
You could have heard a pin drop. Did you see the head fake? As soon as the facilitator mentioned that he would pay every participant $10 dollars for each pin – EVERY ONE of us made it a zero sum game. We all approached the activity from the viewpoint of scarcity. NOT ONE PERSON approached it from a view of abundance (Thanks Benjamin Zander!).
What a powerful lesson. How many times a day to we look at our learning problems as zero sum games? How many times a day do we view our projects through scarcity rather than abundance? This isn’t rocket science here, but it sure was an eye opener.
Next time you encounter a problem…take a minute and have a thumb war…maybe a more creative solution – one that enlarges the pie – will come to mind.