Invite your group to look at the ceiling directly above them and imagine the face of a clock.
Instruct each person to extend their pointer finger (palm facing to them) towards the 12 o’clock position.
Ask them to move this finger slowly in a clockwise direction around the clock face.
Continue to move this finger in a clockwise direction while slowly lowering their hand ( and rotating finger in the same horizontal plane) below the height of their shoulders.
Keep rotating one’s finger several more times.
Ask your group to observe the direction of their movements, ie the finger will now be moving anti-clockwise.
Repeat the exercise two more times.
Invite your group to reflect on why the direction of their rotating fingers changed.
How To Play Narrative
Nothing beats a simple yet powerful exercise to reinforce an important point.
Standing in front of your group, simply ask each person to look to the ceiling directly above them or the sky if you happen to be outside (but not directly into the sun.)
Ask them to imagine a large clock face staring back at them and then extend their pointer finger above their heads to point at the 12 on the clock face. Although it may feel a little awkward, it’s useful if you suggest they face their palm towards themselves.
Then, following your lead, instruct them to slowly move their pointer finger around the clock face in a clockwise direction. That is, the finger moves from 12 to 1 to 2 to 3, etc, all the way back to 12.
But don’t stop there, keep rotating.
Encourage your group to continue making these slow rotations over and over again. And over the course of 5 to 10 seconds, slowly lower their hand (while also maintaining their rotations in a horizontal plane) until it is situated below the height of one’s shoulders.
Then ask one simple, profound question: What direction is your finger turning now?
The correct answer will be anti-clockwise. However, many people will think they have made a mistake because it started in a clockwise direction. So, they’ll do it over.
No matter how often you repeat this exercise, you’ll get the same result every time. Once the rotating finger drops below one’s eyes, the direction will appear to turn in the other direction.
Why? Because their perspective changed.
Each person started by looking underneath their hand, finishing by them peering at it from above. The direction switched from clockwise to anti-clockwise because their perspective changed.
For many, this is such a powerful illustration of the impact of changing one’s perspective.
So… can you think of a time when your group could benefit from exploring different perspectives about a topic they are struggling with? Relationships, agreements, conflict, project teams, etc.
Take a look at the Reflection Tips tab for some useful starting points that will invite your group to draw some useful lessons from this fun finger exercise.
Practical Leadership Tips
Be careful in the way you frame this experience. Your group should not feel that they made a mistake, rather, they are surprised that something changed without them noticing. The critical element is that they learn the power that comes from simply changing one’s perspective.
Consider leading this quick exercise before embarking on a conversation about the benefits of expressing empathy and compassion for others’ points of view.
It is suggested that you ask your group to point up with their palm facing towards their face because this helps keep the hand spinning in a constant direction as one lowers their hand below their nose.
To reiterate, be sure to instruct your group to rotate their hands in a continuous rotation on the same horizontal plane as they first started (peering at the ceiling.)
You could integrate Paradigm Shift as part of a well-designed SEL program to develop your group’s ability to understand the perspectives of and empathise with others, including those from diverse backgrounds and cultures.
Specifically, this activity offers opportunities to explore and practice the following social & interpersonal skills:
Taking Other’s Perspectives
Demonstrating Empathy & Compassion
Understanding & Expressing Gratitude
Communicate & Listen Effectively
Seeking and/or Offering Support
Build Positive Relationships
Demonstrate Cultural Competency
Demonstrating Curiosity & Open-Mindedness
Anticipating & Evaluating the Consequences of One’s Actions
You can learn more about SEL and how it can support character education here.
Health & Wellness Programming
Mindfulness & Emotional Intelligence
This exercise quickly teaches a person to take notice of something they may not have considered beforehand, ie that the direction of one’s rotating finger changes when viewed from a different perspective. Mindfulness activities often invite participants to do the same thing, to notice hidden things. To this end, Paradigm Shift could be a useful framing activity to begin a mindful practice.
In the same way, many emotional competencies are often hidden from view until we learn how to take notice. Lessons could also benefit from weaving in a conversation about adaptability or the ability to change one’s perspective to learn how another person may view a particular situation.
Spinning Objects: If you can spin a basketball on the end of your pointer finger (kudos to you,) this will also work. Start with it above your head, and let it continue spinning while you lower the ball below your shoulders. Voila! The same result.
Take a look at Culture Shock to explore another activity that invites empathy and understanding.
Ask your group to switch to Speaker (video) mode, then follow your audio and visual instructions (as described above.) You may find it useful to ask your participants to stand back from their webcams when they are rotating their fingers so that you can observe all of the action. The critical feature of this activity is how you facilitate the conversation once everyone realises what just happened. For example, engage your group by asking them to enter their thoughts in the chatroom.
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Useful Framing Ideas
I’d like you to follow my lead on this next exercise. It’s so simple, yet I expect some of you will think that you made a mistake because of the results you observe…
Do you often wonder how and why some people view the world so differently to you? Have you ever noticed that it is possible for ten people to witness the same event and yet can end up seeing ten very different results? To see the world through another person’s eyes can be a very powerful skill to learn. Our next activity will allow you to explore an event from two different perspectives…
Many examples come to mind that illustrates a paradigm shift in our thinking. We once thought the world was flat. We once believed it was impossible for humans to fly or break the 4-minute mile, etc. In every case, a shift in perspective changed everything. And that’s what this next exercise is all about…
Reflection Tips & Strategies
Coupled with one or more reflection strategies, here are some sample questions you could use to process your group’s experience after playing this simple finger exercise:
How many times did you need to repeat this exercise?
Did you think you made a mistake at first when you observed the switch in directions? Why?
Were you able to accept the switched direction easily? How?
What assumptions did you make?
How did you challenge these assumptions? What was the result?
Can you think of a time when your perspective was very different to others around you?
How do you resolve a difference of perspective or opinion?
Why is it so hard to accept a different truth?
Can you think of one thing in your life that may benefit from a different perspective? Please explain.
The inspiration for Paradigm Shift was sourced from my friend and colleague Tania Lewis who demonstrated this simple exercise with a corporate group we were working with during the 1990s. With thanks.