Instruct each person to change three things about their appearance within 30 seconds.
When time has expired, each person turns around to face their partner.
Taking turns, each person attempts to identify each of the three changes which their partner made.
Repeat, asking each person to make a further three changes to their appearance.
Video Transcript for Spot The Difference
presented by Mark Collard
Here’s how the exercise works, and I’m going to start you right now all at the same time. So can I ask you now to stand back to back with your partner.
I’m going to be a part of this. I’m actually doing this at the same time I’m going to be describing it.
So Reno, you and I are back to back, so are all of our partners here. We’re not going to turn around. So for the next 30 seconds for all of you, I’m asking you to change three things about your appearance. So don’t turn around.
By all means you can look at other people, that’s not important, but I want you to be able to change three things about your appearance so that when you, in a moment, when I say turn around, the objective for your partner is to identify the three things that you changed.
Okay? Got the idea? Alright, thirty seconds starts now. Don’t turn around. If you need to you can turn away a little bit from your partner.
(people preparing to play Spot The Difference)
Try and do it as secretly as you can. A lot of stealth going on. This is really kicking out of the park all that wonderful trust we have developed up to this point. It’s actually nothing to do with that.
Okay, everyone in a good spot? Does anyone need more time?
Okay. In a moment when I ask you to turn around, your objective is to find those three things that your partner has changed about their appearance. Got the idea? GO.
(Okay. Watch on the other hand.)
So now go back to back again. Now you don’t need to actually be touching, so I suggest just pull away just half a step from your partner, but you are back to back.
Okay, whether or not you managed to get all three, my guess is you probably got most of them if not all of them. Change another three things, so new three things you need to change about yourself. Okay?
They need to be visible.
Alright, everyone ready? Okay, turn around. Try and find those three new things.
(group playing Spot The Difference…)
Alright, the collar. The belt is out. Oh, you’ve taken your shoes off.
How To Play Narrative
This two-person exercise is ideal for slowing the pace of your program, and to encourage your group to notice the subtle things about other people that we often overlook.
You need pairs. Try a group-splitting exercise such as those discussed in Categories or Getting Into Pairs to randomly form these partnerships.
Ask each pair to start by standing back to back with their partner. It’s important that you do not telegraph what you are about to do in advance of this step, for reasons that will soon become obvious.
Next, instruct each person to change or alter three things about their appearance during the next 30 seconds – without sneaking a peek!
No need to give them examples of what to change – they always work it out. Swap a watch to the other wrist, fold up cuffs, unbutton a shirt. The key is that all changes have to be visible, so moving the lint from one pocket to another doesn’t fly.
When the time expires, ask each person to spin around, face their partner, and taking turns, identify all of the changes that have been made.
Now for stage two.
Return the pairs to their original back-to-back stances, and ask them to change three more things about their appearance. Once you get past the initial groans of “What, another three?” your group will soon discover that there are an endless number of changes they can make by adding to themselves, and not just taking away.
You could probably squeeze another three changes if you wanted, at which point, some people are reduced to subtle and not-so-subtle changes in their facial appearance! Hilarious.
Practical Leadership Tips
Observe that, in most cases, the first round of changes (sometimes even the second) focus on material items, such as shoes, clothing, jewellery, etc. That’s okay, but invite your group to consider what other changes could be made. For example, changing one’s facial appearance (to a bigger smile,) not to mention, changing one’s mind, opinion or attitude.
Note that many people will benefit from looking at what others do to inspire their own changes. Nothing wrong with this, but it will give people a few ideas of possible differences to look for in their partner. If you wish to make these observations more difficult, form two lines of people with their backs to one another.
You could integrate Spot The Difference 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:
Identifying Personal, Cultural & Linguistic Assets
You can learn more about SEL and how it can support character education here.
Health & Wellness Programming
There is no specific health & wellness perspective to this activity other than promoting the benefits to one’s wellbeing of sharpening observation skills.
In a small way, you could argue that the focus and effort required to successfully spot some types of difference in a partner may leverage the presence of emotional intelligence insofar as one’s ability to read certain social cues and situations. For example, it may be possible to identify certain unusual behaviours that point to the presence of a difference in one’s appearance.
If you can think of more explicit ways in which Spot The Difference could be purposefully integrated into a health and wellness program, please leave a comment at the base of this page.
Small Groups: Establish groups of four (or six) people, and invite two (or three) people to identify all of the changes in the other two (or three) people.
Memory Test: Pairs remain back-to-back throughout the whole exercise. Their challenge is to recall/remember as many details about their partner as they can, such as the colour of their clothing, which way they part their hair, shirt tucked in or not, etc. This exercise often highlights the little details we do not notice.
Advanced Spotting: Take a look at The Rock to explore another simple trust-building exercise which focuses on the subtle changes in the appearance of others.
Open the Virtual Adaptation tab to learn how to present this activity online.
In advance, frame the experience and announce that each person will have approx 2 minutes to share the exercise with a (random) partner. Explain that each partnership will start with 10 seconds facing the camera, then 30 seconds with their back to the camera (making changes to their appearance) and then upon returning to the camera, another minute or so to spot the differences in their partner. When ready, use the breakout room function to (randomly?) divide your group into pairs. Reflect, and then repeat as necessary with the same pairs or different pairs.
So as to not limit the spotting to the upper torso only, invite people to stand back from their screens to permit their partner to see more of their partner’s body. Admittedly, this variation will demand higher quality video cameras to assist partners to clearly identify what the differences are.
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Useful Framing Ideas
I often joke with my partner that if she was ever lost, I may never see her again because I would rarely be able to describe to the police what she was wearing the last time I saw her. Horrible I know, but it’s true. Maybe you’ve had this experience too? It’s not uncommon for people to overlook the smaller details of something, but sadly, even really obvious details are missed too. Let’s sharpen our observation skills just a little in this next exercise…
You may have heard of the general principle that approx 75% of our communication is picked up via non-verbal cues, such as facial expressions, eye contact, etc. Much the same is true for our vision – most of what we ‘see’ is more than just a reflection of the objects which hit our retinas. Yet, only a small fraction of this information is ever consciously noted by our brain or memory. This next exercise will illustrate this point brilliantly…
A favourite game of my 5-year old son is ‘spot the difference’ – you know, this game often appears in children’s activity books, in which two very similar images appear side-by-side and you have to identify the 5 or so differences which exist between them. We’re about to play something very similar…
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 partner observation-skills exercise:
Was it difficult for you to change three (or six) things about your appearance? Why?
Was the first round easier than the second round to spot the differences in your partner’s appearance? Why?
Where did you focus most of your attention to spot the difference?
Early on, did you think to change your facial expressions, or attitude? Why?
Can you think of examples of subtle differences we often overlook in others? What is a possible impact of this?
The inspiration for Spot The Difference, and many more fun, trust-building exercises, was sourced from the following publication: