Glenn Hughes

This interview was originally published in the August 2012 issue of TGL.

Glenn Hughes is Director of Global Learning for KLA-Tencor Corporation, a leading semiconductor equipment company and inductee to TRAINING Magazine's “Top 10 Hall of Fame”. He is also founder of SMART as Hell, a firm that creates high performance tools for individuals and companies working in competitive environments. Before entering the learning and development industry, Glenn lived in Asia for 10 years, managing multi-million dollar service accounts for some of the biggest semiconductor firms in the world.

Glenn is the creator of SMART as Hell Activity Cards ( ). These card-based learning games cover topics ranging from SMART goals, Credibility, Values discussions, and Creativity. Glenn also recently adapted Robert H. Thompson's book The Offsite: A Leadership Challenge Fable into a 1-day experiential workshop.

TGL: Glenn, what is your specialty area?

Glenn: My mission at SMART as Hell is “to provide tools that help individuals and organizations change their world one goal at a time”. To serve that mission, I focus in two areas. The first area is goal creation. I'm consistently amazed by the poor quality of goals that people (and organizations) write and I want to improve that situation. My second area of focus is learning tools. I am particularly interested in card sorts. I find that cards allow for visual, verbal, and physical engagement. This makes them suitable for all types of learners.

TGL: How did you get into designing and using games?

Glenn: My involvement with games is a natural result of my bias towards problem solving. I love to talk and theorize as much as anyone, but—possibly due to my engineering background—I eventually have to see a change in behavior and results that solves a problem.

Games are a great way to see those behaviors and results, so I started using them before I realized they were “games”.

TGL: How long have you been designing and using games?

Glenn: I've been using games since I entered the learning field seven years ago. I started modifying and designing them about five years ago.

TGL: Where do you use games?

Glenn: Everywhere. I use them in team-building sessions and in most workshops that I teach. I also use them in one-on-one coaching. I carry my card decks everywhere I go, so I'm always ready to use them.

TGL: How do your clients/participants respond?

Glenn: Very positively. The great thing about cards is that they provide us with a “thing” to talk about. This is very comforting for people who don't want to talk about emotions, relationships, visions, or even strategies. If I get someone to pick a photo that is a metaphor for their new product, they feel safe talking about the photo. Of course, that leads us into a discussion about their vision and the customer and all the things they didn't want to talk about. In that sense, games are a Trojan horse and they work just as well today as the first Trojan horse did.

TGL: What is the most horrible or embarrassing moment you had in conducting games?

Glenn: I can't think of one. For me, learning games are never really about the game. The game is merely a catalyst for discussing the actions and reactions that occurred during the game. Filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock called this a macguffin—a device that seems important, but ultimately isn't, except to drive behavior. Quentin Tarantino used the glowing briefcase in Pulp Fiction as a catalyst for character behavior. I use games. As a result, any failure in the game is just another cause for behavior and, subsequently, a topic for discussion.

TGL: What advice do you have to newcomers about interactive training?

Glenn: Make sure there is a point to the game when you design it. Nothing is worse than having an attendee ask, “What does this have to do with our problem?” and you don't have an answer.

That said, don't fret if the game doesn't actually reinforce your point. Just debrief what actually happened. You can debrief anything with the “What, so what, now what…” technique. Ask the participants to describe what happened. Ask “so what” does that mean? Finally, ask, “Now What” will you do to apply the lessons you've learned?

TGL: What types of games do you use most frequently?

Glenn: Card games.

TGL: What is your favorite game?

Glenn: Photo Jolts. I lay out a collection of photos and ask the participants to choose one that serves as a metaphor for their topic of discussion. This can be used for customer service, diversity, or idea generation.

TGL: Who are your favorite game designers?

Glenn: My students. I love seeing them take any game and make it into something different—something that's their own. When they reach a point where they will play the rules and not just the game, that's when it gets interesting

TGL: Do you have any book recommendations?

Glenn: The Thiagi library, obviously. Gamestorming. Thinkertoys. The Art of Game Design (book and card deck).

TGL: What is your prediction about the future of games?

Glenn: Games will continue to exist in multiple camps. Most executives will continue to punish us if we use the term games and thus miss out on some great learning opportunities. Many designers and lazy trainers will continue to believe that games are an end to themselves—and then be surprised when the impact is minimal. Scholars will continue to test games in laboratories and write books that no one reads. Marketers will turn gamification into the latest pet-rock and ruin it for all of us. Kids will continue to ignore everything we're doing—building sim-farms and blowing up aliens—and therefore learn more than they do at school. And a few of us—led by you, Dave Gray, and a few others—will continue to grow the use of games as a tool for meaningful debrief, dialogue, and discovery.