To begin, can I ask each of you to stand and basically gather somewhere close behind this white line and this group somewhere behind this white line over here.
Okay. Here is the problem I’m going to ask each of your two teams to solve. I’m going to give each of you what I’m going to call a pair of magic shoes. This pair of magic shoes can only be worn by each person in your team once, and they can only ever be worn in one direction when you are wearing them. They are the two parameters.
Your object is to be able to wear this pair of shoes once and in one direction to move your whole group from this side of the room to the other side of the room.
Naturally there’s only one pair of shoes so generally that means there’s going to be one person who has the shoes on. You can’t share the shoes and hop across. If you are using the shoes you are using both pairs, both shoes at the same time.
Your objective is to get your whole group safely from this side to the other side without touching into the space between the two white lines.
Got the basic idea? A to B, so each person in your team needs to move from here to the other side and you’re entitled to walk across here with this thing called the magic shoes, and you can only use them once per person, and when you are wearing them you can only travel in one direction.
You have everything you need to know. Take the next two minutes to buddy up, do whatever you need to do to think about how you’re going to solve this problem, and then when you’re ready start to execute.
(When you’re wearing the shoes you can only travel in one direction?)
(Only one direction.)
Yes, only one direction.
(Can we ….ahhhh?)
Yes, you’re welcome to do that. Any other questions? If not over to you.
(people discussing how to solve the Magic Shoes)
Alright, go ahead.
(people crossing with Magic Shoes)
Okay. So what I would recommend is that you separate those that have worn the shoes and those that haven’t. So in this case Con you’d be one side. You have got the shoes. You don’t have to go too far away, just to make it easier. You can stand. So what do you do now? The shoes are this side. There’s only one solution.
(Nate, you’re got to put the shoes on.)
(people discussing, crossing with Magic Shoes)
Good work. That was good work.
(people discussing, crossing with Magic Shoes)
Notice the combinations.
(people discussing, crossing with Magic Shoes)
And you even got a spare, exactly. So of this group who was the only person who did not wear the shoes?
(I didn’t wear them.)
Thomas. That’s okay.
So each of the two teams managed to succeed in solving the problem. We may or may not be happy about the fact that we chose to carry or not carry. That doesn’t really matter. It’s that thing that we mentioned earlier today, maybe the process is more important than the task. Did we complete the task? Technically, no. But was the process perhaps more important? You could argue yes.
Now that’s always going to depend on the group you work with. If you’re going to work with a group of elite athletes, I can guarantee you task is critical. It doesn’t matter about the process, we just got to keep that goal if it’s going to be really fast or whatever the athleticism is being measured by. Task is critical. It’s king.
But then you might work with a group of maybe social workers where it’s not about getting it done, it’s about the process by which we actually manage to get it done is more important.
There is no truth but truth will be found somewhere between those two points, task and process for each group that you work with.
How To Play Narrative
Mark out two areas on the ground about 5 to 10 metres (16-33′) apart. Although distance is not a critical factor, owing to the physical nature of this activity, anything beyond 10 metres gets tough for most groups.
Start your group on one side, and explain that their mission is to get from here (pointing at the safe area they are presently standing in,) across the ‘poison peanut-butter’ pit (or whatever hazardous material you choose to concoct), to over there.
Other than their collective genius, all your group has at its disposal to solve this problem is an imaginary pair of poison-repellant ‘magic shoes.’
Tell your group that it is not possible for anyone to enter safely into the ‘peanut-butter’ pit, lest they be swallowed whole. However, the magic shoes will permit who ever is wearing them at the time to walk across the quagmire unharmed.
But – and here’s the catch – these shoes are so special, they can only be worn once by each person, and then only in one direction. Did you get that? Read it again. Worn once per person, and then only in one direction.
That’s it, go to it.
Typically, the solution will require a series of people to piggyback combinations of one or two people across the pit.
To this end, watch for unsteady crossings, or risky loads. Be prepared to stop any move that appears it could come a cropper before it does.
Practical Leadership Tips
Consider the needs and abilities of your group, not to mention, your sequence of program lead-in activities before launching into this exercise. Unless you judge that there are a bunch of people in your group who are capable of carrying two people over the distance, think of another activity.
To extinguish some of the more clever ideas which may emerge, the shoes can only be worn by one person at a time (ie disqualifying the option of two people hopping on one foot each,) and they cannot be thrown across the pit.
While involving a fair degree of physicality for some group members, this activity does allow the more cognitive members of a group to shine as they nut out the most efficient solution.
There will be lots of trial and error as your group thinks through a possible solution. To this end, allow several minutes of planning time in the safe area before you invite the group to actually cross the pit.
In the likely event your group manages to strand themselves in an effort to find a solution, you have two choices. Either allow the group to start over, or conclude the activity and facilitate a powerful debrief about what happened and what could be learned from this experience. Themes of planning, communication, problem-solving and contingency are valuable discussion points (see Reflection Tips tab for more.)
You could integrate Magic Shoes as part of a well-designed SEL program to develop your group’s ability to understand and manage their emotions, thoughts and behaviours effectively in different situations and to achieve goals.
Specifically, this activity offers ample opportunities to explore and practice the following social & interpersonal skills:
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
Magic Shoes is a wonderful problem-solving activity that can help your group to explore many pro-social behaviours and cultural norms. It is ideally suited for being introduced to your group in advance, during or after you facilitate a conversation about developing positive and supportive full value group norms. Look for opportunities to explore leadership, adaptability and resilience throughout the exercise, not to mention specific full value tenets such as Be Safe, Be Honest and Care for Self & Others.
In addition to those described in the Reflection Tips tab, invite your group to reflect on their responses to the following questions to help them identify what’s working and what is not:
Can you think of a time that someone’s leadership was useful to your group?
Can you think of a time when your group could have benefitted from more effective leadership? How?
Share three examples of when you or the group had to adapt? What happened?
Do you think your group got the balance between planning and execution right?
What helped support your group achieve its goals? Be specific.
Multiple Shoes: Assuming one person can only ever carry one other person (at most) across the pit, challenge your group to calculate how many pairs of ‘magic shoes’ (blessed with powers as described above) would be required to move everyone to safety?
Cognitive Crossing: Take a look at River Crossing to set your group a less-physical ‘cross-the-river-with-limited-resources’ team puzzle.
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Useful Framing Ideas
This is one of those problems that comes with only limited resources to help you solve it. As a group, you’ll require both brains and brawn to complete your task. And while a simple task, it’s not easy…
If presented with a hazardous area that I really had to cross, I think I’d pay a handsome price for a pair of magic shoes that could transport me safely from one side to the other. Of course, there is no such thing… or is there?…
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 physically challenging, team-building group initiative:
At what point did your group get stuck in its process? Why?
What challenges did your group encounter? Did you resolve them?
What particular skills were critical to the success of this exercise?
Did you feel that your role was important? Why?
Did you observe any behaviours that concerned you? What did you (or did not) do?
In terms of process, what would you do differently if your group was to undertake this exercise again?
The inspiration for Magic Shoes, and many more challenging group initiatives, was sourced from the following publication: