The Tinker Toy (C) Exercise

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Steve Prevette

Deming Disciple
Staff member
Super Moderator
#11
Wes Bucey said:
Deming made it clear after the red beads that the process was at fault, not the workers. Tinker toys puts the burden on the students because they didn't cooperate - the instructor doesn't say the result is: "Always question the motive of the authority figure setting the task." (I don't think that kind of message would work in the US Marines, would it?) It sure wouldn't work with a goofy CEO like "the Donald."

Your camp experience really brings home the point you were set up to fail and got no reward for success. What does an instructor do if the class cooperates in Tinker toys? Usually, he suspects someone of knowing the "trick" and thus invalidating the "test."
Robert Crow of the DEN is the originator of the exercise. Actually, there are other aspects to the exercise other than just the cooperation/competition part. If two groups did decide to cooperate (which neither Robert nor I have seen yet), they would still be faced with other problems, and the exercise would still be "worthwhile". Purposely, as with many exercises, the students are provided minimal information, and are supposed to develop their own answers. In this case, no one on record has yet gone "outside the box" and chosen to cooperate.

I did "win all you can win" the week after this. One student did belatedly figure out what was happening, but still could not convince the other three groups to cooperate on the final round.
 

Steve Prevette

Deming Disciple
Staff member
Super Moderator
#12
Bill Pflanz said:
Since Deming knew the normal outcome of the bead box experiment, does that mean he was a poor instructor? If we learn from mistakes, I could argue the case that having the teams fail is probably more effective and memorable than having them succeed.

Of course, I participated in one of those company team building camps where you do various team activities where I learned a lesson by succeeding. We managed to complete almost all the activities as designed because we were already working well as a team. The one activity that we completed irritated the camp facilitator since she had her prepared failure speech already but not a success speech. Her first comment was that we screwed up the entire excercise by succeeding.

Bill Pflanz
I must tell the story that a Human Resources instructor embarked to give a group of 30 new hires (mostly all ex-Navy nuclear people) an exercise. The directions were very nebulous. Much consternation was starting amongst the group. I (one of those new hires) then asked out loud "Is this one of those exercises where you give a new group a nebulously worded exercise to see how they interact to determine what to do?"

The instructor stormed out of the room and we ended up with the afternoon off.
 

Steve Prevette

Deming Disciple
Staff member
Super Moderator
#13
What if a group "beats" an exercise?

Actually I would love to see a group "beat" the Tinker Toy exercise, the Beer Game, or the Win all you can Win. In all cases, even if a single person "knew" "the answer", they would still have a tough time convincing the rest of the groups.

But if they succeeded, this would be a great opporunity to debrief - what did you know before you came in, and how did you convince others to follow you?

I have also openly stated the names of the exercises we are going to do, and I have yet to have a student research the exercise and "cheat". I am reminded of Capt Kirk's methods to win exercises in Star Trek 2.

By the way, I will need to have this board hidden prior to running this class again!!!!
 
B

Bill Pflanz

#14
Steve Prevette said:
Actually I would love to see a group "beat" the Tinker Toy exercise, the Beer Game, or the Win all you can Win. In all cases, even if a single person "knew" "the answer", they would still have a tough time convincing the rest of the groups.

But if they succeeded, this would be a great opporunity to debrief - what did you know before you came in, and how did you convince others to follow you?

I have also openly stated the names of the exercises we are going to do, and I have yet to have a student research the exercise and "cheat". I am reminded of Capt Kirk's methods to win exercises in Star Trek 2.

By the way, I will need to have this board hidden prior to running this class again!!!!
I was wondering why no one cheated since the websites that you provided for the games gave the solution. Is it possible that they did try to cheat but because of the way the game is structured, that you cannot taint the results even if you tried? Or maybe they did know the right way to do the exercise but were afraid that they would be accused of cheating?

I removed myself from some of the various quality and team building exercises in the past since I "knew the answer". The instructor agreed to let me sit out of them so I never tested your theory about whether I could have convinced them that I knew the correct answer.

This forum thread is providing some interesting views on how people learn.

Bill Pflanz
 
W

wealthbuilder

#15
Steve Prevette said:
Actually I would love to see a group "beat" the Tinker Toy exercise, the Beer Game, or the Win all you can Win. In all cases, even if a single person "knew" "the answer", they would still have a tough time convincing the rest of the groups.

But if they succeeded, this would be a great opporunity to debrief - what did you know before you came in, and how did you convince others to follow you?

I have also openly stated the names of the exercises we are going to do, and I have yet to have a student research the exercise and "cheat". I am reminded of Capt Kirk's methods to win exercises in Star Trek 2.

By the way, I will need to have this board hidden prior to running this class again!!!!
Then is appears, that if we researched or worked together to learn all we can to do the best we can. . ."cheat" as Capt Kirk did, we are really just maximizing our resources to get to the optimal "true or best" solution. Then why does our society (education & work environments) set us up to sub-optimize our actions and results? Wouldn't it be better to "cheat" - work together, even on school exams to get the best results - ultimately learn the correct answers and solutions!!!? Cooperation should become the desired norm. . .for us to maximize our learning and acheive the best results! Even on the Final Exam. . .
 
#16
wealthbuilder said:
Then is appears, that if we researched or worked together to learn all we can to do the best we can. . ."cheat" as Capt Kirk did, we are really just maximizing our resources to get to the optimal "true or best" solution. Then why does our society (education & work environments) set us up to sub-optimize our actions and results? Wouldn't it be better to "cheat" - work together, even on school exams to get the best results - ultimately learn the correct answers and solutions!!!? Cooperation should become the desired norm. . .for us to maximize our learning and acheive the best results! Even on the Final Exam. . .
You have done some good analysis. Add this to your data list:
  1. the point of Capt. Kirk's "exercise" from Star Fleet's point of view was to present a candidate with the reality he might have some situations in the future where he would have to make a choice between "bad" outcomes. Kirk's cheating only emphasized that saving life was more important than following "rules." Kirk didn't so much "cheat" as add another "bad" choice to the mix - cheating on the rules. This is certainly similar to governments condoning assassinations during wartime, as well as "weapons of mass destruction" and "collateral damage" of killing innocent noncombatants. Star Fleet never told Kirk he could NOT "cheat" merely because none of the Star Fleet hierarchy had the initiative to cheat themselves.
  2. the lie in Tinker Toys is that the object is to build the tallest tower, when the real object is to see whether participants will ignore the implied rules and work in concert to achieve a shared goal. The instructor deliberately drags a red herring across the trail by creating two teams and giving each a box of tinker toys.
  3. Deming had a multitude of "points" to make in Red beads. Among them:
    a) He wanted participants to feel the frustration regular workers feel in a bad system.
    b) He wanted participants to understand how unfair the punishment and reward system was.
    c) He wanted to make a lasting impression. (few who have been Willing Workers EVER forget the experience.)
  4. The real question should be: what does the participant in Tinker Toys come away with as his lasting impression?
    a) that he was easily duped into competing instead of cooperating?
    b) that he plunged into work without clarifying the rules and the real goals?
    c) that as a manager he should foster cooperation versus competition among his employees? (this last one is tough in light of "Survivor" and "Apprentice" reality shows which glorify competition over cooperation.)
    I'll bet a dozen Dunkin Donuts more people talk about Apprentice than about Red Beads and Tinker Toys combined, despite the fact either Quality game is more beneficial to the average organization than Apprentice .
Woefully, the situations we face in real life are hardly ever clear cut choices between right and wrong, because there are always extenuating or mitigating circumstances which affect our approach to solving problems. The amount of input we get into problem solving is greatly affected by how high we rank on the food chain of the organization. In addition to being able to "recognize" the correct course of action, we have to be able to "sell" it to peers and superiors. It takes a VERY enlightened business leader to accept input about business strategy from production or maintenance workers, no matter how many suggestion boxes are out on the plant floor.

Even more woefully, no matter how right or how persuasive the champion, sometimes the organization still chooses the wrong strategy. I remember back in the early 70's, despite the strenuous objections by me and my strongest ally in the company, our organization plunged $10 million into a construction loan for a weird hybrid shopping mall/indoor amusement park. We ended up losing $7.5 million of our initial investment when the project failed. Our partner in the deal was Ford Motor Credit who also lost $7.5 million on that transaction plus at least that much more on a disasterous hotel deal we did NOT join only because we didn't have enough liquid cash. Our organization went into the first deal despite insider objections because the majority of the Board wanted the "prestige" of doing a deal with Ford Motor Credit. At my bonus level, that was $325,000 I did NOT earn that year.
 
C

Craig H.

#17
Wes Bucey said:
[/list]Woefully, the situations we face in real life are hardly ever clear cut choices between right and wrong, because there are always extenuating or mitigating circumstances which affect our approach to solving problems. The amount of input we get into problem solving is greatly affected by how high we rank on the food chain of the organization. In addition to being able to "recognize" the correct course of action, we have to be able to "sell" it to peers and superiors. It takes a VERY enlightened business leader to accept input about business strategy from production or maintenance workers, no matter how many suggestion boxes are out on the plant floor.
Wes, I think you have gone to the core of what is going on in the experiment, as well as in working environments in general.

Too often we draw lines without even knowing it. Usually our "programming", the result of past experience, does well for us - it lets us make assumptions that lay the groundwork for solving a particular problem. As has been mentioned in this thread, competition is very much a part of this, and why not? We are constantly competing, and watching others compete (anyone watch Monday Night Football last night?).

Even though a given organization is supposed to be pulling in the same direction, there are often sub-competitions, for lack of a better word, that lead to inefficiencies. The budgeting process is but one example. The various departments compete for a limited amount of funding.

Also, as you said so well, we tend to be cognizent of our place within our social hierarchy. Those below us are, after all, inferior to us, right?
:rolleyes:

Our environment and past experiences can be a bit of an impediment, at times.
 

Steve Prevette

Deming Disciple
Staff member
Super Moderator
#18
wealthbuilder said:
Then is appears, that if we researched or worked together to learn all we can to do the best we can. . ."cheat" as Capt Kirk did, we are really just maximizing our resources to get to the optimal "true or best" solution. Then why does our society (education & work environments) set us up to sub-optimize our actions and results? Wouldn't it be better to "cheat" - work together, even on school exams to get the best results - ultimately learn the correct answers and solutions!!!? Cooperation should become the desired norm. . .for us to maximize our learning and acheive the best results! Even on the Final Exam. . .
Please do note that for those that did not do so well on the Midterm I offered an extra opportunity for those folks to relook at what they missed and demonstrate they met the learning objectives. The final exam does not have the time availability to do a similar thing, but I have provided plenty of opportunity for folks to know what will be on the final, and this board is a place for the students to kick around ideas for the essay. Certainly some of the ideas from outside the class may provide interesting things to add to your essay about this exercise.
 
J

jaimezepeda

#19
Self-interest?

Steve Prevette said:
Actually I would love to see a group "beat" the Tinker Toy exercise, the Beer Game, or the Win all you can Win. In all cases, even if a single person "knew" "the answer", they would still have a tough time convincing the rest of the groups.
It's amazing how self-centered we all are.

It would be difficult to convince others that giving up one's self-interests can be beneficial to one's self and all others involved.

People, by nature, are self-centered and not readily willing to give up one's own gain.

Jaime
 

Steve Prevette

Deming Disciple
Staff member
Super Moderator
#20
Games

I will admit I am a bit of a game freak. I loved the old Avalon Hill wargames during college. In those games, you did need to know "the rules", and what loopholes there were in the rules to take advantage of situations. Monopoly players have also analyzed the "system" that is Monopoly, and know all of the ideosyncracies and interations in the system.

I think this is true in the "real world", there are the "rules" and the common ways that we perceive things to be, then there are those "breaking of the rules" actions that can gain huge benefits. Or fail miserably.

I am told by a former Polaroid employee that a Polaroid engineer came up with an idea for "digital photography" in 1982 and proposed it to their management chain. Management completely shot down the idea. Now, you may ask, what has become of Polaroid today? Versus what if they developed digital photography in the early 80's?

I do not advocating "cheating" in terms of "I don't care by what method you do it". But there is a fine line between "cheating" and "thinking outside the box".

I also hate game and simulation developers who don't do their homework and don't develop a complete system. During Total Quality Facilitator training in the Navy I labored with a group to do the final project. Much information was withheld and we struggled mightily. At the end, the instructor stated "well, why didn't you ask for the information?" To me that seemed cheesy. But I did learn the lesson to question assumptions.
 
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