I once attended a conference that included about 300
participants. Our emcee took us into the lobby and had us stand in a
huge arc holding hands.
She asked us to send a hand-squeeze from one end of the arc to the
other. That is, the person on the far left was to squeeze the hand of
the person standing to their right. Each person in the arc was to
transmit the squeeze by squeezing the hand of the person to their right
as soon as their left hand was squeezed.
The first time we did it, it took about a minute and a half. The second
time we did it in under a minute and the third time we got it down to
about forty seconds. More than 100% improvement with common concerted
Then our facilitator told us the world record was less
than two seconds!!
The group became one – we developed a unified zen mindset. And we did
it in 15 seconds.
Our facilitator reminded us, the world’s record was under two seconds.
How could that be? It seemed impossible. Someone stepped forward and
said, “Hey, I have an idea. Let’s be hyper-vigilant. Everyone wake up
and focus. Don’t wait for a full squeeze. At the first sign of a
squeeze, create a rapid response!”
Ok. Everyone was on board.
We did it in seven seconds.
The facilitator reminded us: world record, less than two seconds.
We tried again. It went back up to over twenty seconds.
Spontaneously four people stepped into the middle and started talking
to each other. One of them turned to the group and said, “We’re going
to do this thing. Are you with us?” “Yes!” came the cry.
“Then let us come up with a plan and we’ll tell you what it is in a
couple of minutes.” Then he turned toward the others in the center and
said something like, “We’re going to get creative now. Who’s got an
About a minute later (there was a lot of pressure for action) the four
self-appointed leaders turned toward the larger group and the same guy
who spoke up originally said, “Ok. Here’s what we’re going to do. We’re
going to send this thing around the arc at the speed of light. Now I
don’t think that’s possible, but it doesn’t matter what I think. It
matters what the clock says.
“So, here’s how it’s going to go. When we give the signal, everyone is
going to do it at the same time. Now, I know that sounds like cheating,
but it’s not going to be cheating. We are going to move this pulse
hand-to-hand faster than is humanly possible and we’re still going to
play by the rules.
“This guy over here on the end is going to wait until we give him the
signal to start and as soon as he gets the signal everyone is going to
do a left-right squeeze. I figure that this will count because you’re
all going to feel your left hand squeezed before you squeeze the person
on your right.”
Then he paused and looked at the facilitator to see if she was going to
shut him down. Everyone else looked, too. She smiled and shrugged her
shoulders. “Yes! We’re going to do this!” he said. And then we did it.
We had at least tied the world record! We were elated. People jumped up
and down and hugged each other, introverts and extraverts alike were
united in a frenzied moment of celebration.
“Hold on!” screamed the facilitator above the deafening roar, “Hold
on!” The room grew quiet. We were all prepared for the worst. We
thought for sure she was going to disqualify us.
Instead she said, “There is no world record. I made that up.” There was
stunned silence and few nervous laughs.
“Look what you can do when you all get behind something. You can do the
impossible. You sent a handsqueeze across 300 people in less than two
seconds just because I told you it could be done. What if I said it
happened in less than one second. Would you have done that?”
So, this is obviously not a rigorous experiment. The lessons here are
not hard. They are soft. Group concentration. Creativity. Power and
will. Fun and playfulness. A lying facilitator. And then we found a way
to do what seemed impossible.
The whole exercise lasted about twenty minutes. In twenty minutes we
300 people got our response time down from ninety seconds to less than
two. That’s going from averaging a little over three people per
second to somewhere around 250 people per second.
to do that seems impossible?
Maybe you need is a lying facilitator.