(First published, May 2004)
I recently used this jolt in the middle of a diversity presentation for hundreds of participants assembled in an auditorium.
To explore how it feels to be excluded—and to be excluding.
Any number, but preferably more than 10.
6 minutes for the activity and 2 minutes for debriefing.
One sticky dot for each participant; half of them green, and half of them red.
Organizing groups. As each participant comes to the session, randomly give him or her a green and red dot. Distribute approximately equal number of dots of the two colors. Ask participants to stick the dots to their name tag or their forehead.
Brief participants. In the middle of a presentation, ask all participants to independently decide how they should spend 3 minutes of free time in the middle of your session.
Assign planning strategies. Explain that you are going to conduct an experiment on right-brain and left-brain strategies for planning. Ask participants to check the colored dot given to them. People with green dots (“greens”) will prepare a linear to-do list for the 3-minute period. Ask participants with red dots (“reds”) to close their eyes and visualize what they will be doing during the 3 minutes of free time. Ask the reds to keep visualizing with their eyes closed until you blow the whistle.
Give secret instructions to greens. Ask greens to keep their eyes open. Project the following messages on the screen, one at a time.
Shhh…! Follow these secret instructions.
When I blow the whistle, start an enthusiastic conversation. Share your ideas for how to spend the free 3 minute time period.
But talk only to other greens. Ignore reds. Don't talk to them.
Shout across chairs to other greens. If necessary, walk over to meet other greens.
If reds talk to you, don't respond. Ignore them.
Begin the free-time period. Turn off the projector, and after about 2 more minutes, blow the whistle and ask the reds to open their eyes. Start the timer and invite all participants to discuss their plans for the 3-minute free time. Watch the activities. Blow the whistle after 3 minutes and announce the end of the free period.
Conduct a quick debrief. Follow this suggested sequence:
Ask “How did you feel?” Establish that reds felt uncomfortable about being ignored and excluded. Also establish that greens felt uncomfortable about ignoring others and excluding them.
Ask “What happened?” “As a green, what did you and why did you do it? As a red, what did you do and why did you do it?”
When greens explain that they were merely following instructions, explain the set-up to reds. Display the secret instructions on the screen again. Continue with debriefing.
Ask greens “Why?” Discuss why the greens chose to follow the instructions even though they felt uncomfortable. Point out that you indoctrinated them in just a few seconds. Ask them how strong their behavior would have been if you had “enculturated” them for several years.
Relate to the workplace. Ask, “In what ways is this activity similar to what happens in your workplace?” Discuss responses from participants.
Ask what-if questions. Use questions such as, “What if there were a higher number of reds than greens?” and “What if the free time period lasted for 10 minutes?”
Ask “What-next?” questions. Use questions such as, “Knowing what you learned from this activity, how would you change the way you include or exclude people who belong to different groups?”