Rapid Responses

(First published, December 2002)

Here's an experiential introduction to this activity:

What is your preferred technique for learning something new?

Write your answer on a piece of paper. If you don't have a piece of paper, just say your answer out aloud.

I am now going to ask you a different question. Once again, write down your answer (or say it out aloud).

What method do you usually use to train other people?

Compare your answers to the two questions. Are they consistent with each other? If not, why is there a discrepancy between the way you like to learn and the way you train others? Should you not help others learn the same way you like to learn?

Does this inconsistency exist because you believe that training is different from learning? Don't you believe that training has to result in learning?

Does this inconsistency exist because you believe that your learning preference is unique only to you? Don't you think that other people may have unique learning preferences? How does your training accommodate these individual differences?

Instant Polling: Advantages and Limitations

One of the advantages of having a group of participants is that you can collect valuable information from and share them with everyone. A few obstacles hamper such this strategy. Some types of questions (example: Have you ever visited a pornographic website?) require anonymity to obtain truthful data. With less intrusive questions, you may require participants to write or select their answers. Usually, you don't have time to analyze the data analysis and provide feedback within the short period of 99 seconds.


To explore inconsistencies in participants' responses to two related questions.


Any number

Basic Idea

You ask participants to rapidly respond to a pair of questions, one after another. The questions are related to each other, but you don't emphasize this fact. After participants have given their responses, you point out that most responses reveal some fundamental inconsistencies. You ask a series of probing questions to focus attention on these inconsistencies.


Create your question pair. Write two related questions that approach the same topic from opposite directions: Here are some samples:

  • When you are in a foreign country, how would you like the natives to treat you?
  • How do you usually treat foreign tourists?
  • When you are solving a problem, how would you like other people to support you?
  • How do you support other people while they are solving problems?
  • What are two important characteristics of email letters that you enjoy reading?
  • What are two typical characteristics of email letter that you usually write?
  • What irritates you the most when other people try to influence your decision?
  • How do you usually try to influence other people's decisions?

Write probing questions. Prepare questions to focus participants' attention on the inconsistency between their two answers. Use these questions to investigate the causes and consequences of these inconsistencies. For samples, refer to the questions from the introductory example.


Brief participants. Explain that you are going to ask them a series of questions. Ask them to rapidly write down the first answer that to each question that pops into their minds.

Ask the first question. Remind them to write an immediate answer. Pause briefly while participants write the answer.

Ask participants to turn the piece of paper over so the written side is hidden. Tell them that you are going to ask another question. As before, they have to write the answer immediately.

Ask the second question. Do not point out that this question is related to the first one. Pause briefly while participants write their answers.

Ask participants to compare the two answers. Point out that the questions are related to each other. Invite participants to raise their hands if the two answers are consistent with each other. Usually, you will get very few people raising their hands.

Discuss the inconsistencies. Explain that most participants find inconsistencies between the two answers. Ask probing questions to explore the inconsistencies. Use a helpful guiding tone rather than a righteous provocative tone. Because of the limited time, invite participants to just think of the answers rather than discuss them with each other.