Hands Down

Type of Activity:  Problem Solving

Props Needed:  Pick-Up Sticks/pencils

Set Up:  People generally see what they want to see or only what is being shown to them.  From the standpoint of trying to solve an initiative problem, such  tunnel vision results in frustration and limited success.  This simple problem (demonstration actually) is designed to point out that immediately observable facts are not necessarily the combination needed for a solution.  Obtain five lengths (about 6") of any type of matching material (e.g. pencils, dowels, pick-up sticks).

Process:  Kneel down on the floor, pavement, ground, and place the five pencils on the flat area in front of you so that a pattern is formed--any pattern will do.  Ask the group surrounding you to indicate the number from one to ten that this arrangement of sticks   demonstrates.  Set up two or three different patterns so that the group gets to see and guess additional numbers that you are depicting.  The gimmick--Set down whatever fanciful combination or pattern of sticks your imagination conjures up, placing your hands, palms down, on the floor next to the sticks with the number of fingers exposed indicating the number you have in mind.  The sticks do not indicate anything.  Change the pattern of sticks and change the number of fingers you extend (two fists on the ground is zero: two hands down with all fingers extended is ten.)  Someone will eventually figure out what you are doing.  Use that person to maintain group interest by asking him/her to name the number indicated by each new pattern.  If no one catches on after a few patterns, place your hands closer to the sticks or eventually throw the sticks on the floor and ostentatiously slap your palms on the area in front of you.  People standing behind you are generally the first to figure out the gimmick.  Be sure to finish up with a brief statement of what you were  trying to accomplish.

Debriefing Topics:

  • Did it take long for you to figure out how to play the game?
  • What was frustrating about this activity?
  • Did anyone lose interest if you could not figure out the pattern?
  • Why would we do an activity like this?
  • How does it feel to be left out of the loop on issues?
  • What type of environment do we want to establish in this group?

For original write up purchase "Cowtails and Cobras II.”  

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