So please stand in a place where you can see what I have set up on the ground. You will notice what I have on the ground apart from the cute little witches’ hats, which is not actually part of the exercise so let me remove that. That was really… I know. This is where all the big ones come from. If you water them they get big.
Alright. Alright. So we have gathered around this piece of rope which I have twisted and contorted in a particular way. Here is your task as a group, and this won’t take very long, and then maybe possibilities for change.
But I have actually created this on the ground to give you one of two choices. Don’t say anything right now. I don’t need a response just yet but just hear me out. But I’m going to ask you to consider as you’re looking at it right now when I get down on my knees and I pull the two ends of the rope slowly, that once I pull them all the way, do I end up with a knot or not. So is it a knot or is it not a knot?
There’s only two results. It’ll either be one completely straight line or it’ll end up in some form of knot. You don’t get any prizes for guessing what the knot is if in fact it turns out to be a knot.
So have a look at it now, don’t say anything, because in a moment I’m going to ask you to make a choice, to elect, because on one side of me I’m going to ask all those people who think that it’ll end up as a straight line to stand on one side, opposite standing the group of people who believe this would be a knot.
No one ever gets to touch it. You’re welcome to look at it from all sorts of angles. So over the course of the next 10, 15 seconds do whatever you need to do in your mind without touching it, move your position to be ready for when I ask you to make that election. Is it a straight line or will it turn in to be a knot?
So go ahead. Do what you need to do. I’m going to pull both ends at the same time. Yup, I’ll just do it, jiggle it. So feel free to move your position if you need to. Don’t talk to anybody else. This is a personal choice.
Alright, does anyone need more time? Okay, at this point if you believe that by pulling on both ends slowly and gradually we end up with a straight line I’d like you to stand to my left. If you believe that after pulling it we end up in a knot you’ll be on my right. These are the folks who believe what?
Straight line, no knot, and over here we do have a knot.
(Figure eight knot)
No, not on this occasion. Alright, has everyone made an election? Alright, roughly, maybe 50/50, maybe one or two more people on the straight line side compared to the knot side.
Okay. Listen carefully now to what I’m about to say, is that I’m going to ask you now to share with one or two people who already have a similar belief to you to confirm that you’re on the right side. So take now no more than 30 seconds to discuss why you believe you’re on the right side.
(people discussing Not a Knot)
Okay. Remembering at any point in time you can choose to change your mind. So here’s the next step. Again, listen carefully to what I’m about to say. If you need to, avert your focus from the rope to me.
Now and this is going to work out relatively even because there’s about the same number of people on both sides, your objective now individually is to find one person who sees the world differently to you and to convince them that your belief is correct.
You’ll have only two minutes. You can’t touch it. You can’t replicate it in any way, but people from this side are going to find someone from this side and vice versa, have a conversation. Each of you are looking to convert them to your side, to have them change their beliefs.
This is not the end of the exercise, there’s still more to come, but this is the next step towards the revealing of the truth. Go. Take two minutes. Find someone. Don’t touch it.
(people discussing is a knot to not a knot)
Okay, start to wrap your conversation and return to the side… or return to the side that now… don’t touch… So again on my left-hand side are all those people…
(I’m not really sure… is it a not a knot)
All people on my left-hand side are those folks who believe it will end up in a straight line. It’s okay to have moved. And then on this side are the people who believe it could be a knot. Now it could be just me but I have a feeling we’ve had some converts. Hands up those folks who were on one side have now just moved. A couple of people. A couple of people. Okay, that would be the difference.
Alright. Does anyone need more time? They feel that they are confident in their position… You know, some of you have to be wrong. There is only two results here. Someone has to be wrong.
(I’m wrong all the time.)
Here’s what’s about to happen. I’m slowly going to pull these two ends apart. As I do that if you see something that changes your mind swap sides immediately. You are not required to stay where you are if the truth is obvious.
Alright. So, acknowledge where you are right now and then you’ll also acknowledge where the truth lies. Is everyone ready?
Remembering you can change it in… Oh, a last minute swap. Last minute swap. Did he make the right move though? Let’s find out.
Alright. Sometimes it gets a little caught up so I may have to jiggle it a little bit. Is everyone ready? Alright.
(It’s still a knot. It’s still a knot.)
(No, it’s not, it’s not, it’s not.)
(Ok, you could sell a twelve dollar steak knife…)
Alright. You guys still on this side, you still believe it’s a knot?
(I stuck to my guns.)
I’ll presume that you do know this is not a knot, that you just hadn’t bothered to move. Alright, what is it folks, a knot or not a knot?
(It’s not a knot.)
It’s not a knot. Okay. So we can now very easily just point to… oh, well you were right, we were wrong, whatever it is.
(Let’s do that.)
And we could do that, because isn’t that what we do as humans is that we don’t like being wrong, we like to be right for all the right reasons, and better than that we like to point at other people who were wrong or particularly those who don’t have the same belief systems as us, the same values, and so on and so on. You could point to many different topics, controversies, conflicts in the world that are based around knot or not a knot.
The key is the process. So would anyone, maybe a couple of you, just share what was the ways that you tried to convince somebody else that they saw the world the wrong way? What were some of the ways?
Blind confidence. So that you thought…
(I’m so sure. I’m 100% sure it’s going to be a knot.)
So just your assurance you’re hoping would be enough for them to change their mind.
(Yeah. It didn’t work.)
Didn’t work. Okay. Tim.
(I have a background in rock climbing and rope access and I was pretty confident it was going to create figure 8 knot and… I was wrong.)
So what do you say to yourself about that now?
(I’ve got to double-check my knots before I climb.)
Yes. I would be.
So the concept, the general concept would be that looks can be deceiving.
Half and half at the beginning that believed it wasn’t and another half that thought it was. And even as it became clearer and clearer that it wasn’t, we still stuck to the same side. And that happens a great deal in life as well.
Even when it’s absolutely obvious that you are wrong, I’m still going to… No, no… I’m going to be stubborn about this and hold my ground. And look, there’s a lot to be said for that on occasion, but then there’s an impact of that, isn’t there?
Who moved? So why did you move?
(So I had no facts to base my original decision. I just made…)
It’s a hunch.
(Yeah, I was like there’s so many winds, surely one of them will turn into a knot I nearly got convinced but I thought no, be stubborn.)
So you stayed here then.
(Yeah. And then once I got the facts, once I could actually watch it, then I quickly moved.)
(I just needed some more facts.)
Great. So facts versus opinion.
And like that’s been a huge issue in the last 12 months around this whole concept of fake news…
(It’s a fake rope.)
It’s a fake rope. It’s just a mirror, Tim. It’s just a mirror. It’s not real.
How To Play Narrative
This is such a terrific puzzle, I often doubt myself in the middle of it, and I know the answer!
In advance, and out of sight of your group, lay a length of rope in a pattern exactly as shown in the diagram above. To be sure you have it correct, it should be possible for you to pull on the two ends of the rope slowly, to result in a straight, untangled line, ie not a knot.
When ready, invite your group to gather around the rope. Ask them to study the rope and the way it is laying carefully for one minute, but they should not touch it, or poke it with anything. Visual only.
Then, set your group a challenge: to achieve consensus on whether the rope will end up in knot (or not) when the two ends are pulled slowly apart from one another. It’s as simple, and as easy as that.
Most groups will quickly form two groups – those who believe it will form a knot, and others who do not.
Initially, when faced with this result, and in an effort to achieve consensus, ask each person to ‘cross the floor’ and speak with someone from the other side to understand their viewpoint. Suggest that if the argument seems valid, then each person is entitled to change their mind and swap sides.
Continue to encourage your group to take whatever steps are necessary to achieve consensus. Some will, some won’t. No need to push it, unless exploring the process of seeking a consensus is your sole objective.
At some point, your group will be keen to seek a resolution. Pick up the two ends of the rope and slowly pull them away from each other, until…. voila – not a knot.
There will be cheers and anguish all at the same time, expect a real potpourri of emotions. Your group is now ready to reflect on their process, and in particular, the way in which they sought consensus, or perhaps, reached only a compromise.
Take a look at some suggested processing questions in the Reflection Tips tab.
Practical Leadership Tips
Clearly, it is very important that you set-up the rope correctly. But even if you don’t, the objective doesn’t change – the group still needs to decide if the rope is a knot, or not a knot.
Practice setting up the layout of the rope and pulling it, until you can consistently achieve the ‘no-knot’ result without too much effort. Remember, it’s all in how you set it up and the way you pull the rope.
Like many activities which explore and develop interpersonal skills, the learning is in the journey and not so much the destination. It matters little if the group adopted the correct viewpoint – it’s how they got there that counts.
You could integrate Not A Knot 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 ample opportunities to explore and practice the following social & interpersonal skills:
Linking Feelings, Values & Thoughts
Identifying Personal, Cultural & Linguistic Assets
Anticipating & Evaluating the Consequences of One’s Actions
Promoting Personal & Collective Well-Being
You can learn more about SEL and how it can support character education here.
Health & Wellness Programming
The manner in which a group manages and conducts its decision-making process says a lot about what’s important and what is valued within its culture. If your group is struggling to set common goals and letting go and moving on, this simple, yet extremely dynamic group initiative is ideally suited for your program. Frame this experience as an opportunity for your group to reflect on the following outcomes:
Cooperation v competition
Accepting help and advice from others
Fixed v growth or benefit mindsets, eg adaptability
Further to above, strong and effective leadership can help groups to make supportive and consensual decisions as one entity. Help your group to explore what this would look like, sound like and feel like in contrast to the alternatives. Importantly, it will be important for your groups to understand that even though consensus sounds good ‘on paper’ it can often be quite hard to give up or change strong long-held views. For guidance about some leadership issues, take a look at the questions described in the Reflection Tips tab.
Is A Knot: As above, but result in a knot. Working with the existing diagram, tuck one end of the rope over itself instead of under, and see if you can pull the rope and achieve a knot.
Rope Puzzle: Take a look at Rope House to explore another intriguing, yet difficult ropes-based team puzzle.
Open the Virtual Adaptation tab to learn how to present this activity online.
It takes a little more prep, but you can present this initiative virtually. First, connect a second webcam (to your device) that is focused on the rope and knot and when required, switch screen views to display this to your virtual gathering. When it comes to splitting the Yes’s from the No’s, the simplest way is to often ask people to place their hands on their heads (to represent one of the results) when it’s time to declare one’s intentions. Guided by the instructions listed in the Narrative tab, the course of conversations and decisions will proceed as normal, albeit respecting the usual online etiquette rules.
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Useful Framing Ideas
We all know how hard it is to convince another person of your point of view. Our perspective seems so obvious, often we cannot understand why others view the same issue or problem differently to us. This next exercise will provide you with a wonderful opportunity to explore this issue…
Have you ever interacted with someone who would not change their mind, even when all of the evidence suggested that they were wrong? We are often taught to stand by our convictions, but at what point should we admit that we are wrong? What are the costs involved in making such a stand? This next exercise will explore these issues, and many more…
To achieve true consensus is for each person to willingly agree to vote the same way as everyone else. That is, it should not be necessary for some people to have to ‘give-in’ or compromise on some issue just to make the rest of the group happy. But how often does this truly happen? Have you ever been in this situation? If not, then you soon may be…
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 challenging team-building exercise:
Did you change your decision?
How hard was it to change your mind? How did it feel?
What steps did your group take to achieve ‘consensus?’ Was their true consensus?
How did each person feel once the rope had been pulled?
What types of leadership were displayed during the exercise? How effective were these styles?
What is necessary for a group to achieve consensus on any issue?
The inspiration for Not A Knot was sourced from the following publication: