A fun exercise that can illustrate the importance of knowing criteria in advance is called Pins and Straws.

Groups are each given 200 plastic straws, 100 straight pins and instructions.  They are allotted about 20 minutes to build something using just the supplies that were provided.

What groups don’t know is that the instructions are different for the groups.  One group is told to build a structure that will be judged on its height.  Another learns that they will be judged on its beauty.  A different group believes they will be judged on their structure’s strength.  

When the time is concluded, groups share their construction with the whole room and proudly show off their designs.  The differences in instruction are still not shared, so people look on with puzzlement and giggles.  For example, the “tall” structures often reach to the ceiling, but are most fragile and precarious in doing so.  People in the “strong” group have a hard time giving any credence to such an obvious flaw, and the “tall” builders fail to see how a small structure matters even if it could be thrown across the room and survive.

Finally, when the true purpose of the exercise is revealed, light bulbs tend to go on in participants’ heads about the elementary lesson that they failed to see.  We use this to set up groups to do a more substantial project later in the workshop, and almost all spend time clarifying their goal before just jumping in to start.

In most cases, there is no right or wrong.  It all comes down to which option is more closely aligned with what you value.  Try to be as clear about what that is before you start making decisions and choices.

— beth triplett

About the Author leadership dots by dr. beth triplett

I'm the chief connector at leadership dots where I serve as "the string" for individuals and organizations. Like stringing pearls together to make a necklace, "being the string" is an intentional way of thinking and behaving – making linkages between things that otherwise appear random or unconnected – whether that be supervising a staff, completing a dissertation or advancing a project in the workplace. I share daily leadership dots on my blog to provide examples of “the string” in action. I use the string philosophy through coaching, consulting and teaching to help others build capacity in themselves and their organizations. I craft analogies and metaphors that help people comprehend complex topics and understand their role in the system. My favorite work involves helping those new to supervision or newly promoted supervisors build confidence and learn the skills necessary to effectively lead their team.

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