Friday, December 19, 2008 by Dave Blum

Several years ago, at my favorite conference (the annual gathering of the North American Simulation and Gaming Association, NASAGA), I observed the following remarkable icebreaker. It was presented by Ken Bellemare, a Vancouver-based trainer and magician, who proved to me that the mind is stronger than the potato.

alt=”potato and straw” title=”potato and straw” _width=75 _height=75>Everyone in our class was handed a potato and a straw — not one of those flimsy stirring straws for coffee, mind you. These were good, sturdy restaurant straws. Ken instructed us to position the potato (a hard, red Russett) in the crook between our thumb and forefinger. Then, on the count of three, we were to summon up our mental and spiritual energy, let out a might “Yawp!” and thrust the straw straight down and all the way through the potato. I’m a pretty optimistic fellow ordinarily, but I’m telling you, I was pretty skeptical. Are you telling me this little piece of cylindrical plastic is going to slice through a firm, starchy tuber?!!  I don’t think so. But what the hey, if I fail, it’s the facilitator who’s going to look bad, not me. Grabbing my potato as instructed, I lined up my straw, visualized it piercing the potato like a knife through butter, and uttered my most full-throated “Yawp!” And by golly – the darn thing worked! My straw shot right on through the potato, no problem. Remarkable!

I use a variety of corporate team building activities in my sessions, but this one never fails to impress my students. Not only is it a great magic trick, but I love the take-away lesson it offers: How often are we faced with challenges in our life that seem impossibly hard and impenetrable? And yet, with the right tools and and our own focused intention, there’s no obstacle we can’t overcome!

[What other everyday objects and props are you using to bring alive your team building ideas?  I’d love to hear.]