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Your feedback about 'Reviewing Success'

ICEBREAKER  How to find your way around

Break the Ice with Brief Encounters

Thank you Bryan, Tina, Jeppe and Nina for sharing your successes and tips about using 'Brief Encounters'.

Alternatively go straight to the exercise description below.

new Brief Encounters is being turned into a ready-to-use packs of cards on the topics of Success, Communications, Teamwork, Leadership. If you would like to be the first to know when these (and other titles) are ready, sign up to receive my Active Reviewing Tips newsletter - tips for facilitators who like making learning active.
Bryan writes ...

Brief Encounters was brilliant ... It seems to work best when you ambush people with cards as they enter the meeting area for the first time.

Bryan Gladstone
IdeaSmiths Consulting Partnership
Tina writes ...

I used your success exercise with much success - it really got an organisation going as an icebreaker in a positive creative tempo for the whole day - very timely and appropriate.

Tina Cook

People and Organisational Development

Jeppe writes...

I've used the brief encounters exercise more than a couple of times .... Always creates great succes in different settings. My experience is that the crucial thing is the introduction and the way it is conducted from the facilitator - once it's fairly clear how it works people always get sucked into the conversation.

I have had good experience with background music - particularly something that establishes an underlying yet discrete pulse.

Here's some questions I came up with and that proved to work well:
  • what kind of leadership inspires you?
  • in what ways do you consider yourself a good citizen?
  • can you describe one of the most energizing meetings that you have experienced?
  • what makes you smile about your family?
Jeppe Lajer
performer and interaction artist
CSI Live

Nina writes...

I had literally 15 minutes to come up with a warm up for my staff that has been stressed out for weeks on a seasonal project. I searched the web for 1 minute, found this website and in 10 minutes made up the cards for Brief Encounters.

It was a wonderful warm up, the staff become relaxed and positive and all said they really liked it. Thank you!

After our success, I came back to the website, read all the warm ups and I am very impressed at how they each afforded experiences for learning about each other and gave insight to the work. I found most interesting those that include children and adults.

Nina Laboy
City of Seattle
Seattle Youth Employment Program

If you would like to add your own story about using Brief Encounters, please write to:
I will only share your story with the world if you give your permission.

'Brief Encounters' - an icebreaker for sharing success

Purpose: to get to know others while learning about their experiences of success.

Briefing: The briefing is on the cards that you give out. One side of each card has the standard briefing. The other side has two unique questions about success (or any topic you want to focus on).

Comment: This is an excellent way to start an event where people are arriving at different times, but it can be introduced at any point. My own collection of questions brings out people's strengths and their humour and focuses attention on the theme of the day (which in this case is 'success'). Everything you want from an icebreaker!

This briefing appears on one side of the Brief Encounters card

  • Find a partner and stay on your feet.
  • Ask one of the questions on the back of this card.
  • Answer each other's question in < 1 minute.
  • Swap cards and find a new partner.
The purpose of this exercise is to meet everyone
and to hear about their experiences of success.

Be kind: adapt or change your question
if your partner is struggling to answer it.

Examples of SUCCESS QUESTIONS for the reverse of the card     [Plain Text Version] [Easy to Print Version]

  • What is one of the most mouth-watering meals you have ever cooked?
  • As a consumer, what's the most successful complaint you have made?
  • When have you stuck your neck out and were really pleased you did?
  • When have you really surprised yourself and impressed others?
  • When have you most deserved a prize for your negotiation skills?
  • If you were awarded a medal for bravery, what would it be for?
  • When were you pleased that you went out of your way to help someone?
  • What is your claim to fame?
  • What is one of the best things about your job?
  • When have you had to improvise and were delighted with the results?
  • Have you ever stood up against group pressure and were pleased you did?
  • Have you ever made what you could describe as a 'successful compromise'?
  • When has working to a plan really paid off for you?
  • Can you describe a success you are proud of outside work?
  • What is one of your most physical achievements?
  • In what ways do you think of yourself as a creative person?
  • What things really motivate you?
  • What is one of the best presentations you have given?
  • What was your most recent success?
  • What was your smallest success ever?
  • What is your recipe for success?
  • What are some of the most recent skills that you have developed?
  • How did you learn to ride a bicycle?
  • How did you learn to manage people?
  • What was one of your first successes as a child that you remember?
  • When have you felt that you achieved the impossible?
  • How did you learn to dance?
  • How did you learn to find your way around on the internet?
  • What is the longest applause you have received?
  • What challenging goals are you on the way to achieving?
  • Can you describe a turning point that led to your success in a new skill?
  • Have you ever communicated with someone without knowing each other's language?
  • Who inspires you and how are you a bit like them?
  • From your own experience, what advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
  • Have you ever been a successful go-between in helping to stop a fight or resolve a dispute?
  • What's the closest you have been to winning an Oscar?
  • Can you name a fear that has held you back, but no longer gets in the way?
  • How did you learn to talk?
  • What's the closest you have been to becoming a pop star?
  • What's the closest you have been to becoming prime minister?
  • What's the closest you have been to becoming an Olympic champion?
  • Have you ever succeeded in getting publicity for a cause you believe in?
  • How do you make dreams come true?
  • How do you learn from your successes?
  • How do you help those around you to be successful?
  • How many successes do you have on an average day?
  • When have you felt that you deserved a big pay rise or an extra holiday?
  • How might you make it into the Guinness Book of Records - based on something you have already done?
  • What 3 small successes have you already achieved today?
  • What do you see when you picture success?
  • What 3 things have you already done today to help others succeed?
  • Have you ever been successful without really trying?
  • What is the quietest success you have ever had?
  • What is the loudest success you have ever had?
  • What is the longest song, poem or quotation that you can recite?
  • What is one of your favourite sayings or quotations about success?
  • Have you ever turned a failure into a success?
  • What would you like to be remembered for?
  • Have you ever had an unexpected success that really surprised you?
  • Have you ever had to work really hard for success?
  • How do you inspire others?
  • What is good about your time management?

[Easy to Print Version]

Acknowledgement: 'Brief Encounters' is based on an ice-breaker introduced to me by Jim Cain, co-author of Teamwork and Teamplay.
In Jim's version the starting point is a central briefing where everyone has a blank card and writes down their own question.
The 'Brief Encounters' version is self-running - people can collect their cards as they arrive and enter the room. With the briefing on each card, there is no need for a central briefing. If you want to know more about Jim's book this link will take you straight to the book at
Teamwork & Teamplay

Icebreakers on this site
Icebreakers on other sites
  • Ice Breakers for all types of groups and occasions; training, conferences, parties, reunions and youth groups
  • Improv Encyclopedia claims to be "the largest collection or resources for improvisation theatre on the web". Here you will find tons of stuff related to improvisation theatre - including a section on icebreakers.

Sharing Success - Use stories about training successes to engage key stakeholders

Feasting on Achievement is an article from Cal Wick and Michael Papay (Fort Hill Company) which describes a range of ways in which the creation and sharing of success stories can add impact to training. It is not simply a restatement of the value of spreading good  stories: it also creatively considers the range of good stories worth spreading. For example, encouraging course participants to write about good ways in which their managers have supported them after training - which helps to alert other managers to what they could be doing. They also use some smart 'crowdsourcing' software which seems to add visibility to the best stories (a bit like Amazon reviews work). The software is We Achieve: "Imagine if you could make achievements contagious in your organization".

Development Means Sharing Happiness

Here are some inspiring extracts from an article about rural and community development using Participatory Rural Appraisal PRA - a philosophy and a toolkit that shares much common ground with active and creative reviewing.
These extracts are presented here with kind permission of the author, Kamal Phuyal, Nepal. You can find the full article  at
Once one of my colleagues told me that, ''You know, what does development mean? In my experience, it is mainly sharing happiness with others.'' He explained, with various cases he had experienced, and I liked his idea of development.
The women explained about their project during our sharing: 
A Didi (sister) came to work in our village. We ignored her for a long time. You know, the villagers told her to go back (as they had some bitter experiences with previous development workers) but, on the other hand, she would think about our problems for the whole night. She was so nice. Eventually, we liked her and worked together and completed many things. Now we have our own co-operatives. We did literacy classes. We did have very nice time to be with her. We were very happy while working together and enjoyed a lot. We completed all our work happily, you know. We get excited even now by remembering those days. We love our project very much and we never let it die even to recall our time with her. 
We came to know that her only motto was to share happiness with other people. Both villagers and Didi shared their happiness. The drinking water project was the means for them to share happiness. And, that happiness brought that project into success... During the whole evaluation period, they recalled their happiness repeatedly. That happiness encouraged them to do many other things. Now they have their own co-operative, they have formed a maintenance committee among the women. They have saving groups. ''We are happy to be in a group and we come there, we share our problems and in fact we can share our happiness there,'' they said.
It has been through this process that I have learnt from the experiences I have had so far that PRA helps us to share our happiness with the villagers as well as their happiness with us, and of course especially with those who are vulnerable and marginalized.  I believe that reflecting on the positive aspects (of anything) can help us to go forward for development.  Reflecting only on the negative aspects encloses us; we cannot go forward through concentrating on the negative alone.
Kamal Phuyal
You can read the complete original article at

Happiness Quotes
"Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony." Mahatma Gandhi

"A human being is happiest and most successful when dedicated to a cause outside his own individual, selfish satisfaction." Benjamin Spock

Happiness Research
  • The Happy Planet Index is an index of human well-being and environmental impact produced by the New Economica Foundation (NEF).
  • World Database of Happiness Continuous register of scientific research on subjective appreciation of life, directed by Ruut Veenhoven, Erasmus University Rotterdam.
  • The secret to happiness . . . just do it Christine Jackman's article in The Australian (12th Jan 2004) begins...
    "Money can buy happiness and the best investment advice may be as simple as the sports shoe slogan: just do it.
    That's the conclusion drawn by researchers who set out to identify what sort of spending made people happiest.
    The psychologists, from Cornell University and the University of Colorado in the US, compared "experiential purchases" – things such as holidays, concerts or dining out – with "material purchases" such as clothing, beauty products, stereos or personal computers."


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